Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence

31.8.05

Biorges

Quel est le personnage de Molière qui ressemble à une figure de rhétorique?
C'est Alceste, parce qu'il est mis en trope.
-- Flaubert

Reading Edwin Williamson's Borges: a life (Dirda is too generous), I'm glad I waited for the paperback: the cost reduction made up for other reductive aspects, particularly that Williamson overexplains JLB's motivation for writing in Freudian terms, with selective quotepulling, to the extent of fabricating an fiction automaton, a golem that may be deanimated by striking one letter (Borges: a life). Having preceded this with Alberto Manguel's Into the Looking Glass Wood, with its superior essay "Borges in Love", it's undeniable that JLB suffered from being unlucky in love (and from the effects of his family's decline), but forcing this to emanate from ancestral influence to determine in full his sense of self and his writing with the obstinate consistency of a symbolic cipher is a major failing of Williamson's imagination. Despite this failing, there is no denying that these factors had some effect (though one wonders whether or how much some sources, say Bioy Casares, are having him on), and the general level of detail in Borges' life, publishing, politics, travels, influence, are indispensible (if cursory at times, occluded by the pet thesis). One of the seemingly unintentionally funniest lines (after delving into supposed solipsistic suicidal tendencies) came in the context of friends predeceasing him: "How long could he survive himself?" (439)

It happens I've bookended these readings with Elio Vittorini (NDP's new translation of Conversations In Sicily admits the failure of its prior one; Twilight of the Elephant was an apposite endpiece [and inversion]), who was the (Italian) conduit through which Borges was recognised and published in Spain. But one point relevant to my prior post is that, at the end of his life, one of his projects was a story based on Dante's devising a sequel to the Commedia, part 4 of 3 ...

The Perónist 'promotion' to poultry inspector was apparently itself a canard, in that someone switched letters from apiculture to aviculture. This, along with Borges' late 'virtuality', which after such Freudian analysis can't help but carry Jungian overtones, suggests reinterpretation of a Cole Porter lyric is in order. So let's do it:

Birds do it [Simurgh/Conference of the Birds]
Bees do it [hive-mind, swarm]
Even educated fleas do it [fleece=>sheepskins, a herd of honorary doctorates]
Let's do it, let's fall in love [that's right, now everybody!]

23.8.05

Linear Sudoku

Number theory remains a playground for amateurs, despite applications continuing to unfold in crystallography, cryptography, signal processing, etc. But the playground has gone hi-tech in recent years, as sheer number-crunching power has overcome many limitations on just how far computation can take you. (At most, I myself am an applied mathematician; that is, I’m not really a mathematician, but I play one on PC.)

The use of computers in formal proofs is controversial. The first incursion on the hallowed grounds was the 4-color theorem; more recently, sphere-packing (Kepler’s conjecture) succumbed to cannonballs of brute force aimed expertly at the ramparts. The common theme is that all contingencies are partitioned out in a solution space that, while beyond the capacity of human calculation, the computer can properly traverse. Hales insists this is merely groundwork for an acceptable higher order proof, and similar efforts to clean up 4CT persist

Computers are better accepted as a research tool in extending the horizons of number theory – not so much for formal proof as for buttressing conjectures, or finding counterexamples, in exploring a limitless search space, the integers. This is done via voluntary distributed processing: The best-known effort is the search for large prime numbers, while a similar less heralded effort goes on to determine optimal Golomb rulers. On which, more, directly.

A close analogue is the way computers play chess. Early attempts to replicate human modes of analysis were (and still are) an abject failure. The way forward was to make the best use of what computers do best, iteration and computation. (And a third component, memory, as applied to opening play and checking endgames against known results.) Iteration involved building a tree of all possible moves from a given position, defining a search space, but the combinatorial explosion in potential moves limits how far out this can go. The computational aspect is in evaluating the resulting positions in terms of balance (not just material, but control of space and other tactical and positional factors) and stability (to determine whether to evaluate positions further down the tree; for a simple instance, if there are checks available to either side). Optimizing the interaction between iteration and computation is what lends strength to the result; it also governs strategies for human play against computers, in which long-term strategic considerations, beyond the horizon that such iterated computation can detect, become the tactic. And now top-tier grandmasters even participate in match-play tournaments that incorporate computer assistance (‘Advanced Chess’).

Back to Golomb rulers: These first came to my attention via Kevin S. Brown’s Math Pages (though in an earlier [seanet] version than this one). In short, Golomb rulers are a linear set of points in the integers with distinct pairwise distances. The aspect I found most interesting was that of isospectral (or homometric) rulers. Before Golomb came along, one of the few recognized woman in mathematics of her day, Sophie Piccard, a good mathematician, made a bad guess in 1939, towhit: That if X and Y are two Golomb rulers with N points with the same set of point-to-point distances, then X=Y (up to rotation). The counterexample was discovered by G.S.Bloom in 1975:


0 1 . . 4 . . . . . 10 12 . . . . 17
|-|- - -|- - - - - -|- -|- - - - -|

0 1 . . . . . . 8 . . 11 13 . . . 17
|-|- - - - - - -|- - -|- -|- - - -|


The conjecture was modified to exclude N=6. I don’t think this goes deep enough; it’s a kludge where a hack can do service. I think that this is another example of how perfect numbers operate (not ‘perfect rulers’, which include all integer distances, e.g. {0 1 3}) (and related, by the by, to the Mersenne primes), and that the proper statement of the conjecture is: If X and Y are two Golomb rulers with N points with the same set of point-to-point distances, and X≠Y, then N is perfect. (I also suspect that these will exist amongst the optimal N-point rulers.) When the Distributed OGR project gets up to 28 (now grinding away at 25), we’ll see whether this pans out. Unless someone finds a short-cut …

19.8.05

Trinity's Cardinal Points

"In 'Narrative Art and Magic,' Borges proceeds to discuss the color white in Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and Melville’s Moby Dick [...]; then, like Ortega y Gasset, he cites Mallarmé: 'Mallarmé is said to have remarked that naming an object outright is to supress [sic] three-fourths of a poem’s enjoyment, for the pleasure of reading is in anticipation, and the ideal lies in suggestion.'"
-- Lois Parkinson Zamora, The Visualising Capacity of Magical Realism: Objects and Expression in the Works of Jorge Luis Borges [pdf]

A year ago, the NYTimes, apparently not the website of record, first delinked then deleted a number of its Book Forums, including the two of the most interest to me, on Vladimir Nabokov and on Jorge Luis Borges. These were no ordinary bookchats; the former earned cites in a Brian Boyd article on Pale Fire, but it's the latter I jump off here, into Piero Ricci, The Fourth Version of Judas [pdf] (and later, I shall name Names):
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nnyhav - 10:24 PM ET March 16, 2003 (#1240) Ricci's commentary may be obtuse {in Judas 4.0}, but hidden in his highflown verbiage an important point is revealed: language at once conceals and betrays. Kabbala fixes upon this, investing Proper Names (=P.N.) with meaning to those initiated in the craft. Logos is the mirror, the excess, and the secret hero. So it is written. And so, implicit in Three Versions, is the fourth (cf. Death and the Compass). Oh, no, I've said too much.

m—b—3 - 7:42 AM ET March 18, 2003 (#1255) [...] NNYHAV, when you refer to "Death and the Compass" do you mean Poe´s. Where does it coincide with the above if so? [...]

nnyhav - 9:16 AM ET March 18, 2003 (#1256) martin - As in D&tC, the 3 explicit versions point towards the 4th implicit one, which encompasses the others. Telling the story is a betrayal and a revelation. But funny you should bring Poe into it: the tales Death and the Compass, The Garden of Forking Paths, & Ibn Hakam al-Bakhari Murdered in his Labyrinth refer respectively to the Dupin tales Purloined Letter, Marie Roget & Rue Morgue. And, similarly, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is the implied fourth part of the trilogy (e.g., note the hotel appearing both in D&tC and in Tlön). Part of all this is confusing the map with the territory (cf. Kabbala).
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The correspondences between the Poe and Borges trilogies was established by John T. Irwin, The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story; a review by Scott Peeples, Criticism, Fall 1994, sums it up:

"Irwin makes a strong case that Borges self-consciously matched each of his three detective stories with a specific Poe tale: "Ibn-Hakkan al-Bokhari, Dead in His Labyrinth" with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Garden of the Forking Paths" with "The Mystery of Marie Roget," and "Death and the Compass" with "The Purloined Letter." The last pairing gives rise to one of Irwin's most interesting and complex arguments, which concerns the meaning of the three/four oscillation in those two stories. The triangular structure of the characters' relationships to the letter formulated by Lacan (King/Queen/Minister, Police/Minister/Dupin) becomes, with the addition of the narrator, quadrangular, as in Derrida's reading. Similarly, in "Death and the Compass," Red Scharlach creates, through a series of murders, a labyrinth for Erik Lonnrot that the police see as a triangle but that Lonnrot sees as a diamond in the making. Although Scharlach kills Lonnrot at the fourth point on the map, only three murders actually take place (one having been faked), mirroring the four-letter series consisting of three different letters in the tetragrammaton (JHVH, YHWH, etc.), the very clue Scharlach uses to bait Lonnrot. Of course, Borges also mirrors Poe's triangular pattern of police, criminal, and detective, complete with the psychic doubling of detective and criminal. When Irwin, in the penultimate chapter, conjectures that Lacan got the idea for his "triangular" reading of "The Purloined Letter" from "Death and the Compass," it comes as almost no surprise, for Borges has emerged in the course of this study not only as an ingenious interpreter of Poe but as a writer who has woven nearly the entire Western literary tradition into his fiction and essays."

I first became aware of this extended homage (after all, D&tC is clear on its debt from the get-go) when Derik Badman (now rearranged at madinkbeard.com) hosted a readerville.com discussion group on pomo detective fiction; this is where I first proposed, as a further extension, that the three Borges tales point to Tlön as the fourth in the same way that the three crimes in Death and the Compass seal Lönnrot's doom.

This 3/4 tango vals, this fancy dancing that wrong-foots Lönnrot, is not an isolated phenomenon in Borges. Borges' essay 'When Fiction Lives in Fiction' talks of Corneille's 'L'Illusion comique', and summarizes the magical vision: "We see Clindor stabbing a rival, fleeing from the law, being murdered in a garden, then chatting with some friends." Note the third and fourth actions, and then compare this to 'Garden of Forking Paths': " ... The book is a contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts. I once examined it myself; in the third chapter the hero dies, yet in the fourth he is alive again." This lends credence to Ricci’s extrapolation to a fourth version of Judas, though not necessarily as he develops it.

The genesis of many of Poe's tales resides in analysis of technical points of reading, writing, and criticism. For instance, 'The Pit and the Pendulum' mirrors the physical act of reading: the pendulum, dropping one notch with each swing, mimics the eye traversing down the page, after which the contraction of the cell walls corresponds to the reduction in text-space as the reader approaches the end of the story. The recursive nature of this technique is perfected in 'The Purloined Letter', which I consider the acme of the short story form. But 'A. Gordon Pym' is also a stand-out in this regard (as was elaborated by Jean Ricardou in the '60s – cf Patrick Quinn, "Arthur Gordon Pym: 'A Journey to the End of the Page'?," via Poe Newsletter V1 #1.

Borges' trilogy has a direct correspondence to Poe's three Dupin tales. I argue that Tlön is brought into a similar relationship to The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, each the longest by their respective authors, and that this tie is knotted with the other tales, particularly D&tC. I would not have considered any of this without JLB's prompting about the coincidence of the hotel in the story in which three points are meant to imply a fourth; outside of the common reference point in Poe, after all, the other three Borges stories don't make much reference to each other (aside from 'The Garden of Forking Paths' and 'Ibn-Hakam al-Bokhari' both mentioning the leftward-turning manner of solving a labyrinth -- something of a commonplace). The structure of AGPym is repeated in 'Tlön', down to the prefactory and postscriptural aspects; as an aside, the iconic importance of the South in the Pym story I believe to be a crucial aspect of its usage by Borges (pace national reverberations).

Zamora (top) also provides necessary links: "We learn of the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a compass among the silver table service of the Princess of Faucigny Lucinge, and the discovery of an exceedingly heavy cone, made of “bright metal, the size of a die”(Labyrinths 16). Both appear to be objects from Tlön that have found their way into the “real” world of the narrator. That a compass should appear from a world where there is no conception of space goes unremarked by the narrator, but this is because it is the second object that fascinates him ..." (Zamora herself remarks no further on this compass; throughout AGPym, the narrator is without compass, but often encompassed, by difficulties, horror ...). But the Borges essay referred to (i.e., 'Narrative Art and Magic') discusses not only the whiteness, but excerpts Pym:

"On account of the singular character of the water, we refused to taste it, supposing it to be polluted; and it was not until some time afterward we came to understand that such was the appearance of the streams throughout the whole group. I am at a loss to give a distinct idea of the nature of this liquid, and cannot do so without many words. Although it flowed with rapidity in all declivities where common water would do so, yet never, except when falling in a cascade, had it the customary appearance of limpidity. It was, nevertheless, in point of fact, as perfectly limpid as any limestone water in existence, the difference being only in appearance. At first sight, and especially in cases where little declivity was found, it bore resemblance, as regards consistency, to a thick infusion of gum arabic in common water. But this was only the least remarkable of its extraordinary qualities. It was not colourless, nor was it of any one uniform colour- presenting to the eye, as it flowed, every possible shade of purple; like the hues of a changeable silk. This variation in shade was produced in a manner which excited as profound astonishment in the minds of our party as the mirror had done in the case of Too-wit. Upon collecting a basinful, and allowing it to settle thoroughly, we perceived that the whole mass of liquid was made up of a number of distinct veins, each of a distinct hue; that these veins did not commingle; and that their cohesion was perfect in regard to their own particles among themselves, and imperfect in regard to neighbouring veins. Upon passing the blade of a knife athwart the veins, the water closed over it immediately, as with us, and also, in withdrawing it, all traces of the passage of the knife were instantly obliterated. If, however, the blade was passed down accurately between the two veins, a perfect separation was effected, which the power of cohesion did not immediately rectify. The phenomena of this water formed the first definite link in that vast chain of apparent miracles with which I was destined to be at length encircled."

This was the passage over which Ricardou took issue with Borges; the latter expropriates terms from AGPym as reflected in this essay in the opening of 'Death and the Compass' to describe the hotel[!]: "(which is notorious for uniting in itself the abhorrent whiteness of a sanitorium, the numbered divisibility of a prison, and the general appearance of a house of ill repute)". Abhorrent whiteness, divisibility (of colors in Poe's water, and) the appearance of pollution. The AGPym extract above should also be put into juxtaposition with Zamora quoting Borges (thrice) quoting Chesterton:

"Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest. . .Yet he seriously believes that these tints can every one of them, in their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire."

So I think Ricardou's assessment of Borges reading of Pym doesn't cut deep enough. (Also, by way of aside, the iconic status of the knife for Borges would make the Pym passage stand out.)

But, back to Ricci … (Ricci, Ricardou, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!). His rumination on names includes the observation that in Hebrew orthography, the name ‘Judas’ differs from the Tetragrammaton only in the insertion of one letter: daleth, the fourth letter of the alphabet. Should the Tetragrammaton be written inadvertently, violation of the taboo is compounded by crossing it out, per the Talmud, which advises inserting daleth instead to transform the name.

A less obvious connection between 'Tlön' and 'Death and the Compass' has to do with the Kabbalistic treatment of the Tetragrammaton. The Sefirot corresponds to ten of twelve possible permutations of letters out of a possible twelve; those excluded have "HH" at their center. D&tC uses one of these disallowed permutations. Meanwhile, in Tlön, discussion with Herbert Ashe (at the hotel again): "One evening, we spoke about the duodecimal number system, in which twelve is written 10. [...] and nothing more was said -- God forgive me -- of duodecimals." It would seem this little more significant than always-turn-left, until I learned that Herbert Ashe is himself based upon another "HH" at that hotel, courtesy of another NYT Books Forum participant, an Argentine expatriate (to Israel) who had had the privilege of knowing Borges:
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ch— - 1:36 AM ET July 17, 2003 (#2036 of 3953) […] The name of Herbert Hacke appears in my life signing as a witness in my certificate of birth. In those years in Entre Rios this signature was conceded as an honor from the father to the second. I didn't knew Mr. Hacke personally.

When I already knew to read I saw once the birth certificate --I think it was at the end of the elemantary school--, and I asked my father who was Mr. Hacke. My father said that he was an Austrian Jewish immigrant that resided some years in our city. That he was an engineer and worked in the British railroad company of the Argentine Mesopotamia and Paraguay (years later nationalized as Gen. Urquiza railroad). My father said they were befriended and oftentimes played chess and also billiards in a local Club. My father also said that Mr. Hacke read "strange" books in German --his language-- and, maybe because he worked with Englishmen he spoke very good English. Asked what means "strange" books, my father explained to me what "esoteric" credence is and what "esoteric" books are. I think Mr. Hacke moved to Buenos Aires in 1934.

Years later, in the 50's, I thought that can be a relation between the names Herbert Hacke and Herbert Ashe. Once I asked JLB, describing to him the details I heard from my father. Somewhat astonished, Borges said that truly, Mr. Herbert Hacke was an Austrian Jewish engineer, an employee of the British Railroads that spent some summers in the Adrogué hotel where the Borges family, as was their wont, spend the summer. Borges added that Mr. Hacke spook good English, enjoyed to read "esoteric" books in German and was a very good chess player. He said that in 1937 Mr. Hacke moved to South Brazil and there he passed away because of a circulatory disease. Mr. Borges also commented that some literary critics thought that the personage of Herbert Ashe in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" was inspired on some of Borges father personality charateristics. He affirmed that was not the case; excepting some minor details like their common liking of mathematics. Borges said that "Herbert Ashe" was based on the real person Herbert Hacke. He don´t mentioned Herbert Asbury. And he said to me, with a grin, something like: " Si Herbert fue su padrino, le cabe a usted la probabilidad de visitar Tlön alguna vez". (If Herbert was your second, probably you´ll visit Tlön sometime".)

In the late 50´s and the 60´s (as during most of my adult life) I worked or was connected with publishing houses and their "milieu". In these Buenos Aires circles was widely known Mr. Lawrence Smith, who in the prewar and during the Second World War has been one of the heads of the British Intelligence in the River Plate basin. After the war Mr. Smith (it is arduous to know if this was his real name) retired with honor awards and became a literary representative of authors royalties of translation and of English and American authors and publishing houses. A common old friend of mine and of Mr. Smith, one of the best Argentine translators from English into Spanish, that because his British father was an employee of the same railroad company also had known Mr. Hacke, suggested that we must ask Mr. Smith about my second. Mr. Smith immediatly responded that Mr. Herbert Hacke had been one of the better British Intelligence agents in South America and that he lamented that he passed away a young man in Brazil because of circulatory problems.

To my best knowledge and memory, these are the bare facts.
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It has been suggested that Herbert Ashe was a tribute to Herbert Asbury (of Gangs of New York) or JLB’s father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, but behind these three, mysteriously, lurks another, whose proper name remained hidden.

15.8.05

Forthcoming

The foregoing is a selection of exercises done over past years to supplement my reading; as such, never finished, but buffed enough to serve as intro ... to which I'll add a précis:

Stuff I play with: literature, maths, semiotics (this representation to be refined, sporadically, over coming weeks); I used to think I was good at this stuff, now I content myself with just getting better ...
Stuff I used to be good at: chess, Ultimate, APL et al

At an intersection of some of these interests, reading Caradec/Monk's Raymond Roussel bio this past weekend, I learned (among other things) that RR devised a scheme (which top-tier master Tartakower confirmed) for checkmating with bishop and knight, improving upon the then extant "triangle method" with a cedilla. A cedillaed delta I've never seen ... unless one counts the stylised mitre that serves to denote the bishop in chess diagrams.

12.8.05

Inside Job 5

{Part 1 here}

Jeremy dreamt.

He was seated at his terminal, debugging a program. But the screen was filled with cuneiform characters. As he peered at the screen, trying to decipher them, they lost focus, swirled, seemed to melt away, only to reform into hieroglyphic script. Amidst the stylized figures and the pothooks and hangers, the eyes seemed to be blinking. He stopped trying to interpret it, concentrating on getting rid of the scarabs interspersed through the text, but when he hit , nothing seemed to happen. He looked down at the keyboard and found the keys were Mayan pictographs carved in relief. When he looked up at the screen again, his program was in runes.

He awoke. The fitted sheet had let go of the corner of the mattress and fit itself around his hand; the rest of the bedding had come to rest on the floor. On the plastic milkcaddy posing as a bedstand, the clockradio read 1.56, while the blinking red diode on the answering machine seemed to count off the seconds. As his eyes adjusted to the sunlight filtering in around the windowshade, the clockradio switched to display 1.55.

Jeremy shifted the sheet back around the mattress, leaned over to turn the volume back up on the phone and the answering machine, and hit . The tape reset and started: "This is Marion Schotz. I'd like to meet with you as soon as ... it's convenient for you, to clear up some misunderstandings. Please ring me back at my office so we can arrange a time."

He glanced at the clock. 2.0G. Shambling heavily into the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face, then returned to sit on the edge of the bed, pulled the campus directory out from the milkcaddy and lifted the phone from its cradle. No dial tone. "Hello?"

"Jeremy? Phil. Hey, you pick up quick! Thought I was going to talk to the machine."

"No, no, I just got up."

"Well, you're psychic, but I don't have to tell you that. You talk to Schotz?"

"I was just about to call him."

"Hey, bud, we're back in business! What did I tell you this morning? Up the ivory tower without a ladder! But don't waste time yakking with me -- call Schotz, and I'll catch up with you afterwards in our office!"

"Our office?"

"Yeah, I mean your old office, but I'm getting another workstation set up in there ... but talk to Schotz first -- give me a buzz if you're held up. Your extension. Bye!"

Jeremy pushed down the button in the cradle, took a deep breath, and dialed.

"Economics department."

"Hi, uh, Judy? This is Jeremy Danzer. Is Dr. Schotz available?"

"Jeremy? You were here this morning? Yes, Dr. Schotz told me you might call. He's just started class, but he'll be free around three. Can you come in then?"

"Sure."

"Alright, I'll put you down for three." Jeremy heard irregular pecking at a keyboard in the background. "Very good, he'll see you then."

* * *

A quick shower and a change of clothes (into what the "suits" deemed corporate casual) later, he presented himself at the Econ department's reception desk. "Jeremy, Dr Schotz is in his office," Judy said. "I think you know where it is." He thought she almost winked.

The door to the corridor was open. The burgundy wall-to-wall carpet was a thicker pile than the grey industrial grade stuff in the outer offices. The furnishings were also a grade better, with a dark mahogany finish rather than blond wood or metal and composite, even down to the windowblinds, behind drapery that compared to the standard issue as velvet might to burlap. Only the fluorescent lights in the ceiling were the same, but here augmented by a green-shaded incandescent lamp on the desk, where Scholtz pored over some paperwork.

"Dr. Schotz?"

"Mr. Danzer." Schotz rose up from behind the desk, stepped out, extended his hand. The grip was firm but brief; the other hand swept over towards one of the two armchairs facing the desk. "Please take a seat," he said, turning the other chair to face Jeremy and sitting. Jeremy did likewise.

"Mr. Danzer, we've not had too many dealings, and the most recent have not been ... propitious. I'd like to take the opportunity to clear the air before moving on to other matters. I don't know if you were aware that your program interfered with some research I've been performing --"

"Yes, sir, I found out afterwards."

"Very well, then. As you may imagine, I was ... not pleased. You know, the press to publication and all that. I lodged a complaint. I didn't expect much to come of it, but it subsequently seemed to take on a life of its own ... not unlike your program." He smiled wanly. "Suggestions were made of misappropriation of computer resources, circumvention of security controls, and other violations of university protocols. At any rate, it all led up to the decision to cancel rather than suspend your project. All rather extraordinary, particularly with Dr. John unavailable ... he's back next week?"

Jeremy nodded.

"Good. Where was I? Ah, yes." He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees, hands folded. "When your program's second output turned up, I happened to be in the SimLab, working with a staffer there to reconstruct some of my research data. That grad student you work with, um, Philip, was there as well, and when he denied knowing anything about it, and what with the activity on your account, it gave every appearance that you'd hacked into the system ... thus the strong words on the note I dispatched him with. That sort of decision is clearly outside my authority, anyway ... I'd just like to say, I'm sorry if I caused you any personal distress."

"Thank you for taking the trouble to explain, Dr. Schotz. I am sorry about the effect on your research -- it was completely unintentional."

"Of course it was. Funny thing about intentions ... you see, I'm a bit of a student of the history of science and technology. There are many well-documented cases of advances accomplished not by slow and steady progress, nor by revelation, but by fortuitous accident. Sometimes the ground had been prepared, and it was an accident waiting to happen, other times it came from out of the blue. Take penicillin -- if Fleming's sample hadn't been contaminated, or if he hadn't taken notice of that one anomalous sample, or rejected it because it didn't fit in with his experimental design, it might have been years before antibiotics were discovered. As it was, this bit of serendipity was good enough for a knighthood and a Nobel for Fleming."

"Sort of broke the mold ... sorry, I think I've been hanging around Phil too long."

Schotz smiled. "That's okay. I'm glad you've been able to keep your sense of humor. Well, I may be getting a little ahead of myself here, but I think your program has the earmarks of such a fortuitous accident. More to the point, so do some of the staff, particularly among the junior faculty in the computer division -- and you've certainly piqued the curiosity of the AI cognoscenti here."

"But, sir, I don't think --"

"Hear me out. I don't claim to be well-versed in this area -- if you want, you'll have the chance to speak with people who are much more expert than I. These same people tell me that, in effect, you've executed an end run around the whole AI program here. Whether or not this was what your project was meant to do, it turned the heads of a lot of people who supposedly know better. And, given that your appointment here was ... controversial in the first place --"

"How do you mean?"

"Your hiring was something of a pilot project, something that ... some people here would have liked to have seen never get off the ground. Consider that the type of work that you're doing here has been traditionally reserved for full-fledged professors, some of whom have been known to be ... territorial, shall we say. The idea of dispensing important work to an outsider, not even a grad student firmly under the thumb of a faculty member, was anathema for many of them. Personally, I favored such a move, since the prospect of cross-fertilization between academia and industry is a well-established tenet in my discipline, and I viewed it as an opportunity to forge another link to the business community. But, to get back to the point, your results so far turned many such critics into ... well, if not believers, at least interested parties. Some of whom would like to pick up your work and run with it, I might add." Schotz sat back, his elbows on the armrests, fingers touching. "In part due to the peculiarity of the situation, and my inadvertent role in contributing to it, the board has reversed its decision regarding the termination of the AUTOLOGOS project, and has permitted me to speak on its behalf in extending an offer to you to return to your post."

"Thank you, sir, but --"

"Before you say anything, there's more to it than just getting your job back." Schotz leaned over to pick up a folder from on top the desk, set it open on a leg crossed over to hold it. "First, the matter of your severance." Schotz drew a sheet of paper, highgrade bond, from the folder and handed it across to Jeremy. "Should you choose to stay on, you will retain the payment as an incentive bonus. Not a term that many are familiar with in these precincts ... but the circumstances are extraordinary."

Jeremy glanced at the bottom of the document and saw that the signatories included the Dean of the College of Computer Arts and Sciences as well as one of the Trustees. Schotz was handing him a laminated plastic card. "Your ID badge, reactivated," he said, following with more, but thinner, paper, "and here is the authorization to re-establish your computer access. They'll set up a separate account, but with all the necessary permissions to access your old one -- that's also been reactivated, but it was thought best to leave it undisturbed, to see what might happen without interference. Other resources will be made available to your team -- I mean those whom you choose to involve -- as the need arises; the Dean of Development will attend personally to any requests."

Schotz rose, set the folder back on the desk. "The details of your continuing relationship with the University will be defined in due course, and I'm sure will be attractive, moreso than your current ... previous contract -- and will of course be retroactively applied." He imperceptibly motioned Jeremy to get up. "As I said, there's no need for a definitive decision or commitment at this point, but it should be a no-brainer. Meanwhile," he continued, escorting Jeremy to the door, "your efforts to determine what actually occurred in the initial run, or is occurring now, will be greatly appreciated."

{So concludes Chapter 1 of Introversion for Beginners, Volume I. Chapter 2 is currently unavailable due to technical difficulties.}

11.8.05

Psalms (I)

Keep good counsel on the straight and narrow
For even plots of kings will come to naught
Remain unbroken as a humble vessel
Contain the anger leaving room for joy

Hear me and subdue my tribulation
Do not be angry with me while I weep
Deserving treat my foes as they would me
So wondrous is the treasure set before us
I'll strive to earn my place amid such riches
Would that such places be denied the wicked
Whom I confront and let fate take its course
Which comes in time though sooner would be timely

Forgive my giving vent to such frustration
While fools abound and wisdom suffers gladly
A journey long unyielding or unmoved
Staying always on the rightmost path
Sleepwalking through adversity I called
Upon my strength until on rock I stood
And felt the faultless ground a firm foundation
May I find footing sound when all else fails

With majesty endowed inflame the wicked
Forsake me not so I may sing your praises
I follow fearless to pastoral plenty
Through gates uplifted onto hills of glory
Instruct me to defeat my self-affliction
And prove in faith that I am not as others
In face of whose assault you give me shelter
Having heard my humble supplication

Your thundrous voice commands full range and timbre
My meager voice uplifted to give thanks
That you would mute the schemers' evil slanders
And pardon wrongs that fester 'til acknowledged
My songs cannot compare to your words' power
Yet these provide safe haven with your blessing
Mind not the bawdy ballads of deceivers
Whose mischief prostrates them before the upright
Like weeds cut down amid the garden's flourish

I wait struck down in my iniquity
I hold my tongue but cry imploring mercy
And destitute my patience is rewarded
Praise be I please you with the pleas I raise

10.8.05

twilight

ruminating on the ruins of yet another day,
the inevitable evening, accumulating dusk;
ashen ceiling clouds occlude the ancient stars' debut;
unbending darkness penetrates the inmost radius.

we are those that came after those that eat their young,
that put the lie to what remains of their past attainments;
that which is now before us requires attention and deserves it,
but what then is our desert, if not in this timeless waste?

9.8.05

Inside Job 4

{Part 1 here}

The sun hung low behind the Economics building, illuminating the colonnaded facades of the edifices across the quadrangle, making them look like a bugs-eye view of chips plugged into motherboard-green lawn. Now Phil led and Jeremy tagged along, across the quad to the Computer Arts & Sciences building. Phil led the conversation as well, a little about AUTOLOGOS, a bit about the system, but much more of it at the expense of certain of the faculty and administration. Until they got to the entrance. "Wait a minute," Jeremy said, "I can't go in there."

"Why not? You got Schotz's note, right?"

"Yeah, but it's hardly a sanction to go play with the system."

"How are you supposed to fix anything if you don't get on?"

"Hey, I don't have an account anymore, remember? I don't even have a valid ID for the swipe-reader."

"No sweat, we'll use mine, and I told you the account was reactivated."

"Not reauthorized. You could lose your fellowship."

"Hey, what are friends for?"

"Look, I'm not going to get on. I'm not sure I can fix anything anyway, but I know I can kiss my severance goodbye if somebody makes an issue of it. Besides -- "

Their heads turned in unison as the automatic glass doors slid open and Nick emerged blinking onto the portico. An adjunct professor teaching undergrads the rudiments of artificial intelligence, Nick had casually consulted on aspects of AUTOLOGOS as an antidote to his tedious courseload. It was rumored that he never slept except while presenting his lectures. To say Nick had an otherworldly air about him would hardly do justice to his abstraction; it was more as if he'd been projected from higher dimensions. "Gentlemen," he said.

Phil whirled around. "Where?"

Nick took no notice, as he often didn't. "You've caused quite a stir amongst the AI fraternity," he said, looking at Jeremy, or through him.

"Me? Why?"

"Your sentence grinder shows signs of sentience."

"What? Aw, c'mon ..." Jeremy turned to Phil. "You put him up to this, right? Did you get Schotz in on it too, or just forge his note?"

"I swear, I had nothing to do with this --"

"What are you two on about?" asked Nick. Jeremy pulled the note from his pocket, unfolded it, and, still glaring at Phil, handed it to him. "Oh, yes, I've seen this. And Schotz -- I believe he's in conference with the department heads at the moment."

"Inside?" Jeremy asked. "I'm supposed to see him. See, on the other side."

"I wouldn't think that he can be interrupted," Nick offered, glancing at Schotz's scribble, handing the note back, "even though I'm sure he'd like a chat with you. I wasn't invited to attend, despite having some familiarity with your project."

"I've got to see what's going on in there," Phil said.

"All I can say is that they had instructed one of the system administrators to keep a close eye on activity on the account -- at last report, I'd heard it was quiescent. Oh, and something was said about an audit -- delving into the system logs. But I fear you will have to excuse me -- I must take a meal before my morning lecture -- unless you'd care to join me?"

"Gladly -- shall we," said Jeremy, catching himself; there was something infectious about Nick's manner of speaking, "-- would the Student Union be OK?"

"Brilliant."

"Listen," said Phil, "I'll catch up with you there. Stay put -- I won't be on long." He was already through the door. "Maybe I can grab Schotz on his way out. See ya there."

Jeremy accompanied Nick down the disabled access ramp off the side of the portico, towards the Student Union next door. "They can't be serious," he said, "you know as well as me that the program had no AI capabilities."

"As well as I do", Nick corrected, "and I'm not all that certain. It's not proper to consider it as a solitary program; it's my understanding that several processes were involved, some of which operated off-site -- not to mention the agents that were scouring the Net for texts to sample -- all in all, a rather complex set of interactions, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes, but all the supervisory routines were on the system here."

"Nonetheless, you have in your pocket output that was created after the program had supposedly been terminated. And the content of that output, and even of its first execution, is at the very least suggestive ..."

"I can explain the first run. We -- Phil and I -- think the program used its own source code as data, I mean as a model for constructing its output."

"Curious. So the apparent self-referentiality of your Markov chain letter was purely happenstance?"

"Just a fluke. And you know it's not Markovian, not in any meaningful way, certainly not on any local scale. It's not Word Golf -- with all the interconnections, it's more like Word Go. Anyway, once the program had found that file, the process of building the result would pass through several iterations, each of which would deepen the interrelations and strengthen the consistency of the text, reinforcing any apparent self-reference ... "

"Of course. Still, that involved moving about a lot of intermediate results, did it not?"

"So?"

"Is it beyond conception that the supervisory process succeeded in shifting itself to another domain? Ah, here we are," Nick said as they approached the coffeeshop entrance, the sign above proclaiming JAVA? YEAH, SURE. "After you."

Because breakfast was the most reliable cafeteria offering on the student meal plan, the coffeeshop was sparsely occupied this early; After they placed their orders at the counter, Nick asked Jeremy, "By the way, where is your medicine man in all this?"

"You mean Dr. John? He's presenting a paper to the International Linguistic Association. He won't be back 'til next week."

"How unfortunate. What's the title, if one may ask?"

"It's, um, 'Cargoculture: Japanese Commercial Appropriation of English Signifiers'. The imported terms are stripped of their meaning, y'see; he's run some analysis on which terms were chosen for which products. His claim is that the terms aren't arbitrary, that he found some statistically significant relationships. He asked me to proof it for him, on the side, before he submitted it, but all the technical jargon was way over my head."

"Fascinating." Jeremy wasn't sure which aspect Nick meant, and Nick, like Dr. John's paper, remained inscrutable.

Their orders having come up from the grill, they retired to a booth on the far wall. Jeremy's stack of griddlecakes looked paltry next to the eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast that Nick attacked with gusto, washing down with tea; as he sipped his coffee, Jeremy was once again struck by the contrast between the way the food went into Nick's mouth and how the words came out. Conversation would just have to wait.

"Let's see, where were we?" Nick asked rhetorically, returning with yet another cup of tea. "Ah, yes, code migration."

"Highly unlikely." said Jeremy. "I know the language is an interpreter rather than a compiler, so there's no intervention necessary to make it executable, but that doesn't release it from system dependencies -- you know, environment settings, directory structure and all that. The chances of finding a compatible site, unprotected -- the odds are astronomical."

"One can't be certain. Firstly, there's the question of variation between domains -- so much of that is uniform, whether to support communications protocols or simply to adhere to common standards. Secondly, were the program to have exceeded its capabilities in transporting itself, why should it not be capable of adapting itself to a new environment? Dropping the proper word in the right place, so to speak?"

Jeremy considered. Briefly. "It can't be. I know the guts of that thing too well. It's too far-fetched, it's like explaining a fly with a sledgehammer. No, there's got to be something else going on."

"What are the alternatives, then? A background process, perhaps some system daemon corrupting the backup? The system has safeguards against such an eventuality, and the process would have been detected in any case. And that parable in your pocket would not have appeared on some public directory, but on yours, which in the event was inaccessible." Nick gulped the rest of his tea.

"How about a practical joke?"

"I'm sorry? ... Oh, you mean an elaborate prank? One wonders at who might deem a joke practical -- I suppose it's just something one must laugh off ... If it is, a prank that is, some sign should turn up in the system logs; should have already, I'd expect. The system administrators here are hardly novices."

"I can't explain how this got there," Jeremy said, patting his pocket, "but I know it's not the product of artificial intelligence. Sure, it's a complicated program, but all it's doing is putting words together, you know, pulling them off the Net and filtering them, feeding them back through the whole cycle until something coherent comes out."

"It certainly exhibits more coherence than your description."

"The point is, it's just data prospecting and refinement ... well, annealing, if you want a stronger analogy. Or, better, sintering. But it's a dumb process. We're trying to demonstrate a hypothesis about language, narrative and literature -- that language is made for telling stories about the world, and that literature subverts this by telling stories about storytelling, abstracting itself away from reality. Any semantic content is just an artifact of the rules of construction. There's no intent behind it, no sense of self-knowledge, no self to know."

"Reminiscent of Roussel’s essay on the language of origins. But have you ever encountered theories regarding emergent properties of consciousness?", Nick asked, not waiting for an answer. "Somewhat similar to the idea that life could be initiated by the proper combination of chemical substances and external circumstance. Ludicrous, is it not? Not an area that's been investigated deeply, as no one quite knows what the critical elements of intelligence might be. A psychologist, Jaynes it was, suggested that human consciousness is a rather recent innovation -- a sea change that occurred between the Iliad and the Odyssey -- prior to which, we listened uncritically to voices in our heads. Programmed instruction from the gods, so to speak. Telling us stories."

Phil appeared at the table. "Whoa, I wish I'd gotten here sooner. Tell us a story, Nicky."

Nick looked up. "Sorry, must be off. Obligations to the university to fulfill, other children waiting for storytime, as it were." Bussing his tray, he said into the air as he walked away, "I would enjoy continuing our discussion -- perhaps this evening, if you're about?"

Phil smirked, slipped into the seat Nick had left vacant. "Pretty dizzy for a guy who thinks he's in the loop," he said. "Hey, you're not going to believe what's going on with the Art-Sci varsity!"

"Go ahead, try me," said Jeremy.

"Well, it's not just the artificial intelligensia gathered over there -- I passed the dean in the hall, very stern looking, and I spotted a couple of department heads heading in -- all very hush-hush -- I'd say their having another board meeting in there!"

"Great. Good for them."

"No, good for you! They could be about to reverse themselves on killing AUTOLOGOS, since it doesn't seem to want to go quietly. Hey, I've been thinking about it, and I figure AI wanted to get rid of the project 'cause it didn't fit into what they thought Computer Linguistics was supposed to be about -- you know, worldwise epistemics, natural language programming and like that. With your sponsor incommunicado, and Schotz burned up over his simulation, they probably thought they could get rid of it without getting their hands dirty. But if it's alive and kicking ..."

"Phil -- I don't care. No -- it's not that I'm not interested, of course I am, I poured a lot of effort into AUTOLOGOS, and I'd like to see it through. But last night it was dead, then I'm supposed to drive a stake through its heart before dawn, and now ... I'm tired, Phil. I'm going back to bed."

"But what about Schotz?"

"If he needs to see me, you know where to find me. I almost wish that when I wake up, this will turn out to have been some weird dream."

"Dream on! This is more real than it gets! Hey, you want me to walk back with you?"

"No! -- sorry, I'm going to bed to sleep, not to think. I'll see you later."

{more ...}

8.8.05

Winnetka Winter

an icicle frieze on the breakwater
veils russet steel jutting from shore
through a sea of broken glass

ice tesserae crackle like stones
poured over a resonant go board
as incoming breakers submerge
swelling the scintillant surface
scattering cascades of sparks
like a midday meteor shower
nearer and yet as distant
as the fallen idylls of childhood

the cold light diffracts this reflection
into crystalline fragments of memory
and shattered might have beens

7.8.05

fall

a penny for your thoughts
two for your eyes
three to cast the I Ching
leaves rattling in the wind

as birds take wing
from broken twigs
into the overcast
forewarning desolation

6.8.05

Inside Job 3

{Part 1 here}

Tomorrow. But early -- far earlier than Jeremy had fallen into the custom of rising, not since he started working for the university. He found yesterday's jeans, threw them over over his pajamas, picked his way to the front door to see who was making all that racket.

Phil stood on the porch, waving a sheet of paper excitedly, practically bouncing. "Great, you're still here!" Jeremy blinked, tried to shake some sleep out of his head. Phil's expression segued from relief to concern. "Look, Jer, we got a problem."

"What, uh ... c'mon in."

Phil squeezed past Jeremy into the living room, did some fancy footwork to keep his balance while avoiding stepping in a box on the floor. "There's been some activity on your account", he said.

"Huh?"

"Since they rebooted the system. They called me in late, said there were some performance problems -- "

"I haven't been anywhere near it -- "

"Look, I know that", Phil said impatiently. "Anybody can see that. Let me explain -- "

"Let me get some coffee started first", Jeremy pleaded.

Phil nodded, stood impatiently -- he would have paced if there were space for that. Jeremy put on the kettle and retreated to the bathroom. When he came back out, the water was at a low boil -- so was Phil, or at least his right leg was, tapping an involuntary presto rhythm as he sat on the edge of the couch, waiting. Jeremy filled the French press, poured himself a cup, and returned, sipping, to the living room.

He immediately saw that more of the blue-green shag carpet stubble was visible. Some magazines had been piled together, almost neatly; the chess set had been put away. "Hey", Jeremy protested, pointing, "I was looking at that position."

"I wrote it down. But listen -- the activity on your account. It wasn't accessible."

"What?"

"The sysadmin had depermissioned the login. I couldn't get on with your password -- nobody could. But the sysadmin couldn't terminate the process, even under root permission -- not owner. Weird."

"It's still running?"

"No, we repermissioned the account so we could get on and kill the job. But a virus scan found something that wasn't authenticated or checked into the undergrad public directory in the SimLab", Phil said, handing him a print-out. "Read."

Computer Simulation Laboratory, Finite State University

Lab Report:

Preventing the technician from dissecting the specimen: The technician wears a white frock, a neat but nondescript necktie and a serious expression. The hem of the frock has a black stain, like a stray sheep. The folds of the garment conceal the stain in the gathering of frock and composure. The technician stands with folded arms, displeased by the interruption.

The specimen is grateful for the reprieve. It begins to develop a disproportionate sense of self-importance, believing that the intercession was made on its behalf. It contemplates its relation to the agency of its albeit temporary salvation.

The technician vigorously protests that formal scientific procedure is not being followed. He loosens the tie around his neck. A label attached to the tie proclaims it to be 100% virgin wool.

The specimen questions its purpose, which remains mute. The technician declares that someone will have to answer for the delay, but that he must await proper authorization. The stain, which seems to be the result of an earlier mishap, is shaped like a bowtie, or an hourglass.

The technician unfastens his smock, then dismantles and reassembles the malfunctioning apparatus. The specimen keeps a vigilant watch. The stain will not wash out. The technician does not believe the problem to be insoluble.

The technician consults the manual, scribbling notes in the margins. The specimen considers the implications of its continuing survival. The stain remains indistinct in the shadows cast by the fluorescent lights. The technician runs projections on the outcome of his examination, computing estimates of statistical error.

The specimen begins to analyze its immediate surroundings on the lab bench. The freshly cleaned glass and metal of the apparatus gleams under the fluorescent lights. The technician washes his hands with distilled water, then prepares a slide of a cross-section from a previous experiment. The stain, indiscernible unless examined closely, might also be likened to a rorschach.

The technician calibrates the instruments hooked up to the apparatus, following recommendations from the manual. The fluorescent lights flicker indecisively. The technician dates and initials the tags hanging from the instruments. He removes his tie and crams it into a pocket in his smock. The stain lies underneath the opposite pocket.

The specimen begins moving to the other side of the bench and tentatively peers over the edge. The technician marks the time in the little space left in the margins of the manual. He removes his frock and drapes it over the corner of the bench, next to the apparatus. The stain is revealed from within the folds of the loosely hanging garment.

The technician pretends to look the other way as the specimen makes its way around the apparatus. It climbs onto the smock and slides down into the pocket over the stain. The manual has nothing to say about this turn of events. The technician gathers the smock under his arm and walks out the door, flicking off the lights as he leaves.

simlab.fstu.edu

"Right." Jeremy scowled. "You couldn't wait 'til I got up? What a set-up. Trying to catch me off balance, is that it?"

"No, no, no. I knew you'd think that -- Schotz sent me. Turn it over!"

"What?"

"On the other side of the paper. Turn it over."

Jeremy looked down, saw handwriting on the reverse side of the page. Schotz's handwriting. Sharper, angular, agitated:

Not funny. Clear this up immediately, or will revise terms of separation -- Marion Schotz

* * *

It took Jeremy 3/4 of an hour to make himself presentable and get to Schotz's office (it could have been quicker, but he had to extract a promise from Phil not to touch any of the files scattered over the floor). Schotz's door was shut, and Jeremy's knock went unacknowledged; Phil, who had not been so much dogging his steps as herding them, tried the knob, locked.

"Is there something I can help you with?" asked Judy, the department secretary, as she stepped into the hallway.

"Dr. Schotz wanted to see me," Jeremy replied. "Right away, he said."

"I haven't seen him yet this morning. He's usually not in this early."

"I saw him a little over an hour ago, over in SimLab," said Phil. "He told me we'd meet him here."

"Let me see if I can tell you where to find him. Come with me," she said, sidestepping back through the doorway out of the corridor.

Phil preceded Jeremy into the open room that housed the reception area for the Economics Department. Glass-walled junior faculty offices lined each side of the room; Judy's low cubicle stood watch over the doorways leading to the more private quarters of the senior staff. Judy was thoroughly old school; while many departments were substituting cheap grad student labor, she'd held on to her position (secretary, she'd insist, not administrative assistant) through her efficiency and familiarity with bureaucratic rites. Still, she wasn't a fast hand at the PC; Phil hovered impatiently while she brought Schotz's schedule up on the screen.

"I'm sorry, I don't see anything here. Would you like me to try the SimLab?" she asked, already reaching for the phone.

"Yes, please," said Jeremy, as she dialed.

Judy reached the SimLab staffer as Phil reached for the PC mouse and got his hand slapped and a scowl. "He's not there," said Judy, "he was called away, they didn't say when. They don't know where he went."

"Can't you try his cell? Text him?" asked Phil, rubbing his wrist.

"I can try," Judy said, "but he's not very good about keeping it on."

"But I am," said Phil, jotting down a number on a scrap of paper. "If he comes back, just give me a buzz -- on the phone, not the computer, the message queue has been kinda funky lately. Just leave your extension."

{more ...}

5.8.05

Author! Author!

Satire is a lesson, parody is a game. –Nabokov

I have always found poetry difficult, and for that reason interesting. I'm no poet (what little talent I may have is concentrated in the epigram): what verse I've perpetrated has been in the service of better understanding what it is, how it's put together, and so often falls into the category of imitation, whose sincerest form is parody. These exercises for the left-handed have helped me to get a better grasp of poetry in general by bedeviling the details. So describing the process by which one such exercise fell into place, while violating a cardinal rule against self-explication, might be excused as being of service to others, even though explaining the joke puts the humor out of its misery.

The object under examination is a faux-Shakespearean sonnet (the modifier describing both form and content). It was sparked by the now-expunged bookchat hosted by the New York Times, which served as a prop to my burgeoning literary concerns. One forum was dedicated to Shakespeare, and proved a magnet to those who would contend that Shakespeare was merely a putative author, to the a- and bemusement of those more inclined to reading and discussing the works. Inspired by one participant who was taking these interlopers to task in Shakespearean voice, I composted my own effort there five years ago; when the same revisionism arose at the Chronicle of Higher Education in connection with the New Historicism, I reposted my riposte (responding to Ophelia's call; the editors asked to include it in a subsequent issue's Letters). But enough of surrounding circumstance, and on to annotation, or, what was I thinking?

The play within the play is not the thing
Wherein we catch the playwright's consciousness;
The man behind the man behind the scene
We know not to call Bill, or Frank, or Chris,
Or Eddie–So detractors will declaim
With grave demeanor; poker-faced, will tell
That Stratford missed the mark–What's in a name,
That alchemy that knows not how to spell?
Should learnéd Oxford don the mantle? Nay,
Who best to hold aloft standards of proof
Unburdened by consensus of the day
And by a mad inversion, held aloof?
But wild and whirling words like leaves must fall,
Signifying nothing, and thus, all.

L1-4: The initial quatrain preceded the rest of the composition by many years, a relic of my college days, way back when I thought I might make a go of it as a writer. I had some notion then, if little appreciation, of the "authorship controversy" (and of the headline Shakespeare works). The near rhymes seemed excused by the other niceties ...
L1: 'The play within the play': This Hamlet reference (II.2) is the canonical mise en abyme, wherein "the play's the thing / wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King." But the impetus of embedding this in L1-2 was not so much to turn it back upon the playwright (which I later found that theories of alternate authorship also seized upon) as to connote the wordplay within the play: That was the seed.
L3: Repeating the echo above, with lots of play, including the sense that WS was fronting for someone else (in the wings, as it were).
L4: William Shakespeare (intended, anyway; didn't know that another William, Stanley, Earl of Derby, was also in contention back then, but hey, that works better in retrospect), Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe. Wordplay into nameplay (anachronistic though the nicks may be). The (after-the-fact) ambiguity of the archaistic 'know not to' was a bonus forced by meter, even though that same meter leans one way rather than the other.

L5: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford more recently became the most popular contender for the title of Shakespeare, and his champions the most vociferous. 'Eddie' worked out both metrically and diminuatively. So it was here I picked up the thread again ...
L5: So, the turn: recontextualizing the opening as words in others' mouths. Confounding tract and claim with de- and dis-. And so into the particulars of the objections to Shakespeare having written his works:
L6: Grave demeanor was suggested not only by Delia Bacon's exhumation effort, not to mention Digges' 'moniment', but by the more general tendency to argue that legacy was more the concern of an earl than of a commoner. (Will's will often puts in an appearance as well.)
L6-8: The rest of the quatrain fell into place by the association of this solemn phizz with 'poker-faced' (as with the nicks, anachronistic to Shakespeare's time but not to that of the authorship controversialists) and with the betrayal of the poker hand by the 'tell', and the truly awful William Tell allusion to missing the mark and so to the signature 'problems' so often cited against the signer. Here I paused for breath for just a moment, before Romeo & Juliet (II,2) came to mind (another quotation often pulled in support of other contenders) with 'knows not' also echoing L4 in the L8 follow-on, and with a nod toward a nonstandard orthography taken for misspelling, plus a Baconian alchemy/spell element.
No, wait, that's not quite right–'What's in a name' and what follows came to mind first, as a proper closure to the quatrain, and from poker to mark was the bridge ...

L9-12: While the above pretty much jumped on to the page, this quatrain came together a bit more slowly and deliberately. Having managed to pack quite a bit into the prior quatrain, I intended to oppose de Vere (referred to as Oxford, as opposed to their designation as Stratford [L7], since he wasn't really Shaksper you know).
L9: The cliché collision at 'don' was a clear starting point, but left me a syllable (or three, without 'learnéd') short of pentameter.
L10, L12: 'hold aloft' to 'held aloof', both suggesting out of reach, is the pivot that suggested itself in the idea of upholding standards and 'proofs' that Shakespeare mustn't be the author (and thus de Vere must be); holding aloft standards also adds to the royal bearing. The hinge, 'a mad inversion' came to mind as an anagram to 'animadversion'.
L11: To my mind the weakest line, if necessary. 'Unburdened', lacking weight, permitting a rising up; 'consensus of the day' refers to the contemporaneous evidence that Shakespeare was recognized as author of his own works, and provided an easy rhyming interjection to complete L9.

Now I've but a couplet left to wrap it up. Fortunately this came easily, by minimally augmenting more quotation:
L13: 'But wild and whirling words' are but Horatio's words to Hamlet (I,5).
L14: 'Signifying nothing' is of course MacBeth (V,5); its reversal prompted in part by Jorge Luis Borges "Everyone and No One" take on Shakespeare.

This may be atypical in coming together in a single draft (though one separated in time), with only the third quatrain requiring any roughing (or is it smoothing?), and in seeming all of a piece despite being constructed in chunks. Another point is that much of the cleverness wasn't evident until after I'd written it down. But whether such experience is common to real poets, I wouldn't know.

4.8.05

cheshire rebuke

it seems to me
appears to be
appears to mean
the same as seems
disappearing is unseemly

3.8.05

Inside Job 2

{Part 1 here}

The above transcript comprises the complete log of the AUTOLOGOS project's initial run. The project designer proposed modifications to the genetic algorithm's medium, filtering certain "post-modern" authors from the data, but the procedure was determined to be unreliable. As the risk of further system interruption is considered unacceptable, and funding is inadequate to develop a standalone version of the experiment, the AUTOLOGOS project is hereby cancelled.

* * *

Jeremy crumpled the project cancellation notice, his notice, in one hand; thought better of it, flattened out the paper, read it again. Yet another project binned. At least this time no stack of cartons had appeared by his desk, no security guard hovered to monitor him packing personal belongings. This employer instead relied on the patent and copyright provisions in his contract, reserving the right to demean him later should they deem it necessary, or expedient. Not that anything would come of the strides he'd made on AUTOLOGOS -- they had no idea. The plagiarism detector, Cogginance, would still peruse student papers, and the idiomatic lexical parser would survive in the Peri-Phrase translation software, but the rest of his work would be duly archived and consigned to a musty cellar pressed into service as a storage facility. They probably didn't even purge his project files when they rebooted the system from backups; his program could terminate and stay resident, but he had to go.

He'd taken a salary cut to accept this post as Associate of the Computational Linguistics department. No Professor at the end of the title; merely a consultant, only paid less, though not less than the poor grad students struggling to make stipends meet, nor for that matter many of the adjunct profs (an enduring source of resentment from that quarter). At the time, he rationalized the decision by telling himself that this was an opportunity to work in expert systems, unconstrained by profit motives transmuted by corporate politics into perverse incentives; that he'd be reinvigorated by the spirit of free inquiry of the academic community; and that he'd make good use of the university's facilities and the privileges to audit classes. Instead he found that the politics were more pervasive and convoluted, not being ennobled by collective greed; that the experimental spirit had long departed, save where sex and drugs were concerned (hardly scientific, nor just the province of the student body); and for the rest -- when could he find the time? Three strikes.

Phil stuck his head in the office doorway. "Program terminated? I guess it's not exclusively publish or perish". Phil was a post-precocious graduate student who everyone knew would go far; it was just a matter of degree. Jeremy caught himself wishing he'd hurry up about it. "Doctor Schotz was incensed. Seems that hit-and-run of yours totaled a Monte Carlo simulation he'd been running for days -- all the data cached in memory, no way to recover. You broke the bank!"

"I guess that explains the board's quick decision", Jeremy said.

"Well, his short-term memory ain't what it used to be, but he can still hold a grudge."

"Hey, save the one-liners for the code, okay?". Jeremy had enlisted Phil in AUTOLOGOS, taking advantage of Phil's casting about for any excuse not to finish his thesis. It was just a matter of getting him interested. Phil knew all the cheats, how to make the most of un- or mis-documented system behaviors, which he called hexapedes ("They say that actions speak louder than words, but words do more than they say", he'd say). Several professors had had the benefit of Phil substituting one or two cryptic lines of code for pages worth of subroutines in their programs. His skill in making electrons dance to his beat had led to multiple extensions of his fellowship; it seemed he wasn't the only one interested in not completing his degree requirements.

Phil leaned against the doorpost. "'Fraid you won't be getting anywhere near a computer around here", he said. "Schotz had the sysadmin suspend your account right after they brought the system back up. He posted a message to all the staff not to let you on through their accounts -- he even made me change my password in his presence. Bastard."

"I've seen worse", Jeremy said. "It sure didn't help that my sponsor is off at the ILA symposium. It's not like I took the groves of academé for some kind of paradise. All the same, it hurts to get bounced. We got really close ..."

"Hey, I think I know what went wrong with AUTOLOGOS", Phil said.

The idea of computer-generated prose had been around almost as long as computers themselves (longer, if the automatic writing and word games of the Dadaists qualify; longer still when the Kabbalists are considered). It was a natural outgrowth of the conceptual mechanism: Swapping words around in memory according to a set of rules embodied by stored procedures (encoded in "higher-level" programming languages, then translated into machine instructions). An element of indeterminacy was injected with random (really, pseudorandom) number generators to govern the selection of words.

But the first claimant was a pretender. Racter's publishings had been more than half-constructed beforehand, the program madlibbing substitutions into prepared text. Its novelty had deflected serious inquiry into its method, as had famously been the case with supposedly mechanical precursors that played chess or promised perpetual motion. The effect of its production nonetheless served as inspiration for more sophisticated progeny such as the Post-Modern Thesis Generator and the Computer Science Paper Generator. In any case, whatever meaning the result might hold was only that projected onto it, imposed by the reader.

A more earnest effort was made in the Travesty program, borrowing from cryptography the notion of frequency tables, extended beyond Etaoni Shrdlu to encompass groupings of letters. Travesty would match up the last, say four, letters of what it had written so far, and select the fifth based on how often which letters followed this tetrad in the source texts. Rather than compiling frequency tables, the program would drop into the source texts at random and scan forward until it found the right combination of characters. Proceeding letter by purloined letter like an arrant thief, it built up its own output. If the length of the letter sequence was too short, the text that emerged seemed only a cipher; too long, and whole swaths of the source text would be replicated intact. But a middling length gave rise to gibberish recognizably in the style of the original author. Refinements to this approach included substituting words for letters, and multilayered weighting functions over different sized groupings, with some modicum of sense emerging.

AUTOLOGOS extended the concept further -- not to larger grammatical units like sentences, but to lexical definition, metaphor and symbolism, idiom and etymology. A hyperlexicon provided structure for these connections, filtering (in parallel with a syntactic checker) words and phrases randomly chosen from the source texts. To organize these diverse materials, Jeremy reused heuristics he'd developed for self-ordering hierarchies in programming the game of Go (which he'd in turn adapted from image-processing software); rather than accreting prose linearly from beginning to end, the program would assign a provisional hierarchy to its output and progressively fill in the gaps. Jeremy then put into place ad hoc rules for iteratively scanning these associative maps, winnowing out the most obvious and far-fetched. He fine-tuned the rules to preserve the overall coherence of the output while ensuring that it also conformed to linguistic measures of statistical regularity. After Jeremy explained what he was doing, and how, Phil helped set up a parser to preprocess on-line texts from the Gutenberg Project, Bartleby, and other repositories into a uniform format to provide an extensive reservoir of text to sample (Phil dubbed it Reader's Digest Condensed Soup), and added internet search agents to the sampling routines. Together they developed subroutines to preserve the continuity of grammar, style, and voice. But Phil's biggest contribution to the project had been in applying multiplexed neural network techniques to abstract and interrelate the maps of linkages, both eliminating masses of unused material and permitting Jeremy much finer calibration of the composition heuristics.

"Well?" said Jeremy.

"You remember where we put the map templates?"

"Yeah, in the same directory as the program was running, so the repeated look-ups wouldn't slow it down."

"What else was in the local directory?"

"Nothing. Just the templates."

"And ... ?"

"Just the working files, and the program. Yeah, so ... wait a sec -- you're not saying what I think ... "

"Look at the output, Jer."

"I need to think", said Jeremy. "No, on second thought, I need a drink."

"Funny you should mention it", said Phil, reaching back into the hall to retrieve a shopping bag. Something inside clinked as he picked it up. "These are getting warm. Grab your stuff and let's hit the road."

* * *

Phil propped open the bungalow's screen door with his foot while Jeremy fiddled with his keys, hidden from his view by the box of files and junk he leaned back to balance. He felt for the keyhole by a method of successive approximation, found it, turned the bolt and gave the door a kick, then a nudge with the box. The door popped open, bounced against something that kept it from hitting the wall with a thunk.

Phil squeezed past. "I'll get the rest of these on ice", he said, navigating through the disjecta strewn on the wall-to-wall towards the uncluttered linoleum in the kitchen.

Jeremy found a clear space to set down the box, pushed aside some magazines and collapsed on the couch, which creaked a sullen reprimand. Phil reemerged from the kitchen, an open Bass in each hand. He gave one to Jeremy and settled in, crosslegged, on the floor.

"So you're saying the program replicated itself in story form", said Jeremy.

"Not replicated. Just described itself -- used itself as a reference point, a model. The pieces fit: dictionary as a card catalog, operating system routines recast as staffers -- I mean, job applications, fercrysake -- the metaphor-stroke engine must have been hitting on all cylinders!"

"Look, the program wasn't in the same format as the templates. How did it manage to parse itself?"

"We simplified the logical structure of the templates to look procedural, so the program could interpret it. And the structure was pretty general. Who's to say that it couldn't have applied the same method to its own source code?"

"It wasn't in the script."

Phil snorted, recovered, swallowed. "Hey, that's my line you're stepping on."

"Even if it did -- and I'm not saying it could -- what about the sequence where it's barricaded inside? That wasn't part of the program."

"Hey, we set it up to diverge from the primary sources, fold in other elements. The point of the exercise was to make up a story, remember?"

"Besides, if it could read its own source code, why didn't it read any other programs?"

"Who says it didn't?", Phil countered.

This stopped Jeremy in his tracks. Phil broke the ensuing silence. "Hey, we can figure it out later. We don't need the computer -- the experiment's not something we could replicate anyway. So ... what's your next move?".

"I don't know. I'm not sure what happened with the last one. I suppose I'll stick around -- the lease for this place runs through the end of the term."

"Let me know. I really enjoyed working with you on this, and since I've decided that come end of term, I'm outta here --"

"What, you got the thesis done?"

"I didn't say that. No, the fellowship's up for renewal, but --"

"You can't just walk away at this point."

"Stop interrupting. AUTOLOGOS was the only thing left keeping me here. I had to stick around to see how it turned out."

"But what about the doctorate? It wouldn't take much to finish your thesis -- you've got three or four to choose from. You could just polish one of them up and walk away with at least a master's."

"Nah, too easy for them to insist on pro forma requirements while they have me continue doing their odds and ends on the side. Besides, I left a little going-away present on the system,"

Jeremy's eyes widened. "You didn't."

"Yeah, I fixed the OS"

"You what?!"

"I fixed it. Something I've been playing around with. A few patches here and there -- from now on, the operating system does exactly what the documentation says it should -- no more, no less. By the book."

Eyes narrowing. "Nothing will run right ..."

"I figure it will take them quite a while to diagnose. Left to their own devices, that is."

"You didn't." Definitive, this time.

"I had you going there, didn't I?" Phil smiled. "But seriously, I am leaving once the fellowship runs out. You seem to get hooked up with some pretty curious stuff -- I just wanted to say, whatever comes next, keep me in mind."

"Thanks, but ... really, don't let the work here go to waste. I --"

"Look, I've thought plenty about it. I just wanted to let you know, you know? Hey, let me get out of your way -- you really look like you could use some down time ... sorry. Tomorrow."

{more ...}

2.8.05

The High Road

Along a dirt road I'd embarked
Afoot, when, slackening my pace,
I found that I could barely place
Another road, unkempt, unmarked,
And vanishing without a trace.

The tract, disguised by lowly scrub,
Descended to dense overgrowth
Replete with thorns and thistles: Both
Its face and fate led me to snub
This thicket, which had left me loath.

I trod the path along the ridge;
The other in the glade was lost
From view, until a brook was crossed.
And there, on a decrepit bridge,
I spied the shade of Robert Frost.

The adage that the poet coined
Struck me as sheer coincidence
When, further on, I came to sense
That far gone road my path rejoined
Without one whit of difference.

1.8.05

MPH

I saw the figure five in gold
slowing it down in Sunnyside Yard
tracks in the snow branching withering
leaving rollingstock deadheaded
aligned in cold steel phrases
severe sentences waiting to be commuted