Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


November reads

My reading schedule was abbreved this month perforce ... all were good, but nothing blew me away (Mehigan's poetry came closest).

Samuel Schuman, Nabokov's Shakespeare [Bloomsbury]: As per prior post, I'd hoped more would be made of the concordance. As it happens, Schuman passed away shortly after that, and will be sorely missed by the Nabokovian community, scholarly and otherwise, to which he long contributed.
Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World (Carol Brown Janeway) [Vintage]: an historical comedy of errors ideas, cruel & deadpan (that last aspect exculpating the flatness of the prose) (& how german is it?), and for me Gauss & von Humboldt is a great hook. [MAO]
Italo Calvino, Collection of Sand (Martin McLaughlin) [HMH/Mariner]: late and various essays, the first third on exhibitions the strongest, followed by progressive lightening in occasional pieces and reflections on travel. [tranlator's intro]
Joshua Mehigan, Accepting the Disaster [FSG]: per Adam Kirsch, prompting my picking it up. Transcends "New Yorker" styling (which, yes, I have a problem with).
Edouard Levé, Works (Jan Steyn) [Dalkey]: Art: apprehension & appraisal, an unmanifested manifest. [MAO]
Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows [only large print avail in US]: A further extrapolation and involution of his distinctive writerly concerns, perhaps pushing the boundaries a bit too far (but plaudits for taking the risk). [Emmett Stinson]

Coming up: I seem to have instigated a reading group on Shakespeare's sonnets ... part of my interest is in Booth's annotations recasting to the Renaissance eye: the flux in English though seems largely fixed by Shakespeare (who was twice as close to Chaucer as we to him) but more by circumchance than design (and the sonnets themselves not rehabilitated til the Romantics, later then than the plays).


back up some more

Once again, a curiosity fished from comments at thevalve (and re-dressed here); in a response to a question regarding overlaps between chess and poetry, rather than taking the route of chess problems as the poetry of chess (or bringing up Nabokov as is my wont), I went the other way round and posted a conundrum poem I'd concocted long before:

magic won the tourney’s quintain
the knight’s sheer determination too
detouring only when facing six
completing the circuit though outnumbered
and skewering the anchored ring

I'll get to its solution below, in due course (for those who would rather ponder). Meanwhile, notes on form: the traditional conundrum / riddle poem / charade is typically of the "What am I?" variety, with an unknown object given voice to list its properties or attributes, often from its own perspective (to further defamiliarize). Popular in England over 200 years back (farther if one counts kenning), the form never really went away, not just in current constructions as a minor form anyone can play, but also contributing along the way to the sensibilities of such as Emily Dickinson & Sylvia Plath, the latter f'rinstance in "Metaphors":
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

Nine syllables in nine lines ... pregnant with meaning, one might say (via, more). The form doesn't require the first person, though, so long as the context of a hidden meaning is clear.

In the example I pose, the explicit description is of a jousting tournament at which one event is a quintain, attempting to run a lance into a fixed target. I've complicated it a bit by adding opposition to overcome along the way. But, not being satisfied with mere correspondence to the implicit meaning, I've tried to embed an algorithm for unveiling it within the wording. The reader may be the judge as to how well this succeeds. I'll repeat it so as to obviate scrolling:
magic won the tourney’s quintain
the knight’s sheer determination too
detouring only when facing six
completing the circuit though outnumbered
and skewering the anchored ring

So, consider this as an instruction set operating upon itself. Without excessive parsing, then ... quintain, defined as a jousting contest, tilting at fixed target (or the target itself), alternatively denotes a 5-line poem. This particular 5-liner has 5 words per line; a square (skewer?) matrix, if you will.
outnumbering suggests numbers are relevant, though only six appears explicitly, unless one counts homophones, in which case the matrix has these entries:
xx 01 xx xx xx
xx xx xx xx 02
xx xx xx xx 06
xx xx xx xx xx
xx xx xx xx xx
I'll bring in the chess aspect now, as the knight's tour, in which the piece visits every square in succession, is signalled by tourney, detouring and by sheer determination (determinism), circuit, and outnumbered (since the representation is shown by which move number occurs on which square). 5x5 is the smallest square board on which a knight can complete the tour, but in this instance 01 and 02 do not appear to be a knight's move apart.
This can be resolved, though, by attaching the left and right edges, top and bottom likewise, to form a torus (aka anchor ring). Then 01 and 02 are a knight's move apart, and continuing in that direction one can add 03, 04, 05, before hitting the starting square 01, but the square labelled 06 is a knight's move away in a different direction (detouring only when facing six):
xx 01 xx xx xx
xx xx xx xx 02
xx xx 03 xx 06
04 xx xx xx xx
xx xx xx 05 xx
With this pattern established, resume the prior direction (with diversion on hitting 6 modulo 5) to fill in the rest of the grid:
12 01 20 09 23
16 10 24 13 02
25 14 03 17 06
04 18 07 21 15
08 22 11 05 19
Result is a knight’s tour on a torus that resolves into a magic square (same sum in adding rows, columns, or diagonals) by cutting the joined edges, squaring (skewering) it, as it were.

In 25 words or less, a fair bit of complexity/abstraction, but hardly a lasting cultural artifact. It was brought back to mind by The Guardian on magic square stamps, which in turn made me aware that I had unknowingly employed a known variation of De la Loubère's (or, the Siamese) method (cf Wolfram's MathWorld). Also, this was constructed before I'd encountered the writings of Georges Perec (yes, I was geek enough to work out the knight's tour in Life: A User's Manual, but blanched at the Graeco-Latin square for being unable to identify its constituents), but I offer it in homage.

(as noted, a much-stripped down version of the above appeared at thevalve)


back up

As far as I can tell, I was the first to use the phrase "persistent ephemera", in a comment to Scott McLemee's farewell QuickStudy blogpost (which is dated over a year after QS's "archive" ends, and which isn't his last post either, not by a long shot, he even took it back). These days the top hit is for a largely unviewed BelfordSyndrome vid, go figure. Meanwhile, "persistent ephemeral node" became a datastructure thang, go reconfigure.

The nature of the nets is that some things fade away, others remain, without rhyme nor reason, and especially without context, as with historical phenomena but quicker. There are still a score of my Usenet posts out there, and even then I knew enough to take some care with what I committed to posterity, however uncertainly. The other side of the coin was losing stuff I'd rather not have, such as when the NYTimes, so-called newspaper of record, wiped their literature forums clean. When spinozablue went white last year, not just sorry to see it go, I had to reconstruct and repost my Philosophy of Composition take-off atop my take on Shakespeare.

So, to exercise a bit more diligence, I'm scraping up some other net-droppings, odd bits that might otherwise evanesce, adding a bit of embroidery as seems fitting. First up, flashfic fished from the comments to a piece on (not that I think it's going anywhere, but the site's been inactive for years now) on the problem of signage with a half-lifetime guarantee to warn future civilizations not to dig up a transuranic radioactive waste dump:

Casually wielding the geigerdowser like a walkingstick, Amgen Horsson made his way through dense undergrowth, intermittently lit by shafts of sunlight penetrating the flowering canopy high above. Midwinter, while the foliage lapsed into dormancy, was the only window open for exploration in this region; as spring approached the vegetation would regenerate faster than it could be hacked away even with the most finely honed machete. Tales were rife about the Lost Expedition of a decade earlier, which tarried too long and was not located by rescue teams until the following year, when skeletal remains were found entwined 50 feet above the ground. But even this impediment would not have discouraged the truly intrepid energy prospectors, had not the area been designated holy ground, a cultural reserve marked off by large granite plinths bearing mysterious markings attributed to a long-lost civilisation that possessed, in addition to a vindictive cosmology evidenced by the anguished totems, a surprisingly advanced technology. It had been surmised that the array had functioned as a astronomical calendar, but recent excavations nearby had identified large energy discharges that pointed to another function for this central site, perhaps as a repository of concentrated decaying matter much more efficient than the naturally produced black substances that were previously thought to be the bulwark of this ancient society’s energy production. Given the increasing need for extended half-life sources, interest became intense in the possibilities afforded by the foresight of these anonymous forefathers. Fortunately, the enlightened Council of Convenance had lifted the taboo on exploratory development, over howls of protest from Ur-ologists claiming that a still untapped heritage was being forever pissed away.

So yeah transurinic waste, but recent developments suggest another waste disposal issue connected with another potentially hazardous substance ...


Poor Yorick

Samuel Schuman's Nabokov's Shakespeare [Bloomsbury] fell short of expectations, too much gloss for one steeped in VN or WS, in other words too much time spent in précis (aside: sans accent, precis is the Commodore genus of butterflies), but not without its moments, one of which was a citing of fellow Nabokv-lister Jansy Mello, of excellent fancy, demonstrated by the following from her recent talk in São Paulo on "Art and Infinity" in psychoanalysis: