Wednesday, 15 April 2015

No-oooooonne WRITES like Gaston, douses LIGHTS like Gaston

I just don't like Gaston Bachelard.

I'd go into it but even I don't fully understand my reasons for not liking him. Frenchness. Psychoanalysis. Flowery fucking writing style. Philosophy. World-view. Assumptions. Everything.

I owe him a bit more than that because he's pretty good. I was wondering if he was a Deepak Chopra and I don't think he is. Much. And my differences with his way of seeing the world are subtle and deep enough that I should make some concerted effort to untangle them.

But I can't be bothered so I just put quotes from him underneath pictures of Gaston from Disney's. Beauty And The Beast. Great movie.

Here are all the D&Dable fragments from pretty much one chapter of Bachelards The Psychoanalysis of Fire. Almost all of these are fragments of quasi-scientific thinking which he summons up to 'smilingly reduce' as he would put it. They are all from various thinkers from the middle ages to around the enlightenment, all trying to work out what fire is and how it works. I think I like all of them more than I like Bachelard.

To start with, everything must be called into question: sensation,
common sense, usage however constant, even entomology,
for words, which are made for singing and enchanting, rarely make
 contact with thought. Far from marveling at the object,
objective thought must treat it ironically.

"The element of fire is born from a specific germ. Thus, like any power which engenders, fire can be stricken with sterility as soon as it reaches a certain end. If fire is left to live its natural life, even if it be fed, it grows old and dies like the plants and animals."

1. Fire has an age. Each specific fire has an age. Fire elementals have an age and no matter how big they get they will die when they get old. A gaming world in which fire does not infinitely renew with fuel would be an interesting one.

"Each thunderbolt could well be the effect of a new production of igneous beings, which, increasing rapidly in size, because of the abundance of vapours which feed them, are collected by the winds and carried back and forth through the middle regions of the atmosphere. The many new volcanoes in America, the new eruptions of the old craters, also give proof of the productiveness of the subterranean fires."

2. Igneous beings whose birth brings thunderbolts. Carried back and forth in the middle reaches of the sky.

"Hooke, having struck a flint over a sheet of paper and having examined with a good microscope the spots where the sparks had fallen, which were marked by little black spikes, observed there some round and shiny atoms, although the naked eye could see nothing.. they were little shiny worms."

"At the slightest incident, the ants can be seen swarming tumultuously out of their underground dwelling, similarly, at the slightest shock to the piece of phosphorous, the igneous animalculae can be seen to collect and come forth with a luminous appearance."

3. Fire is a microscopic living thing. A kind of burning microbe, or very tiny insect. An animal, and can be understood and influenced as such.

"To explain the seven colours of the spectrum Robinet does not hesitate to propose "seven ages or periods in the life of the igneous animalcular ... these animals, in passing through the prism, will each be obliged to suffer refraction according to its own strength and age and thus each will bear its own colour."

4. Light is a microscopic living thing. Red light is old light. Old light gets tired and slow, stays behind after sunsets. Young light is bluer. Light dimming is light getting tired. perhaps darkness is light sleeping, or dying.

Everyone must learn to escape from the rigidity of the mental
habits formed by contact with familiar experiences. Everyone
must destroy even more carefully than his phobias, his
"philias", his complacent acceptance of first intuitions.

"Fabre does not think it impossible that through proper food, conductive to building up a hot and dry constitution, the feeble heat of females may become so strong that it may be enabled to thrust outwards the parts which its weakness has kept back within. For 'women are men in a latent state because they have the male elements hidden within them.'"

5. Woman are men in a latent state. By feeding them the right things you can gradually covert women to men. Certain spices are useful for this. Perhaps by cooling men enough you can convert them back to women.

"Like any  form of wealth, fire is dreamed of in its concentrated form. The dreamer wishes to enclose it in a small space the better to guard it."

6. A dream of fire is a dream of wealth. To possess wealth is to dream of fire. Thieves steal the fire from your dream. If someone takes the fire in your dream, wake up quickly because someone is taking your wealth.

In order that we may indicate clearly the resistance offered by
the deeply hidden unconscious values, we shall give some examples
 in which this resistance is so weak that the reader can smilingly
 make the reduction himself
 without our having to call attention to the obvious errors.  

"Three sorts of fire, the natural, the innatural and the unnatural. The natural is the masculine fire, the principal agent; but in order to obtain it the artist must take great pains and use all his knowledge; for it is so torpid and so strongly concentrated within metals that it cannot be set into action without persistent effort. The 'in-natural' fire is the feminine fire and the universal dissolvent, nourishing bodies and covering with its wings the nudity of nature. It is no less difficult to obtain than the natural fire. The feminine fire appears in the form of a white smoke, and it often happens that in this form it may disappear because of the negligence of the artists. It is almost impalpable, although through physical sublimation, it appears to be corporeal and resplendent. The unnatural fire is that which corrupts the chemical compound and which first has the power of dissolving that which nature had strongly joined together."

7. Fire has three genders. The male, found in metals and released in forges. The nourishing female in the form of white smoke. The third 'unnatural' gender which dissolves things nature has bound. (And clearly does most of the work.)

"And thus we have the intuition of Rodin, quoted without comment by Max Sheckr, doubtless because he failed to see its clearly primitive character "Each thing is merely the limit of the flame to which it owes its existence."

8. Each thing is merely the limit of the flame to which it owes its existence.  

A psychoanalysis of objective knowledge must constantly
denounce this claim to inner depth and richness.

"D'Annunzio portrays Stelio who, in the glass works, is contemplating in the annealing oven:

The extension of the smelting oven, the shining vases, still slaves of the fire, still under its power... later the beautiful frail creatures would abandon their father, would detach themselves from him forever; they would grow cold, become cold gems, would lead their new life in the world, enter the service of pleasure-seeking men, encounter dangers, follow the variations in light, receive the cut flower or the intoxicating drink."

9. Glass is a kind of concubine and former slave of fire. Or a daughter, perhaps with some old loyalties and resentments in its new privileged, yet dangerous role. Glass speaks to fire, or perhaps refuses to speak.

Almost always a case of incendiarism in the country is the sign
of  the diseased mind of some shepherd. Like bearers of sinister torches,
these men of low degree transmit from age to age the contagion of their lonely dreams.

"The elements of fire are everywhere; they are found in gold, which is the most solid of all known bodies, and in the vacuum of Torricelli."

10. Fire is within metals. Not applied to them. Clearly this is the 'masculine' fire spoken of above. Fire is the dominant element, sustaining all things. Whether its true or not you can bet Fire Elementals believe it is.

"The Egyptians said that it was a ravening insatiable animal which devours everything that experiences birth and growth; and after it has eaten well and gorged itself, it finally devours itself when there is nothing left to eat and feast upon; because, having both heat and movement, it cannot do without food and the air it requires to breathe."

11. A literal animal of Fire that literally Eats itself. But only when everything else that can be consumed has been. Some kind of Godzilla of fire maybe. 

12. "The Persians, when they made sacrifices to fire, would present food to it on the alter while uttering the phrase... 'eat, and feast of Fire. Lord of all the world.'

We would like to be able to concentrate all
chemical action into a handful of gunpowder,
all hatred into one swift poison,
an immense and unutterable love into a humble gift. 

Thus one of the most common notions in the cosmologies of the Middle Ages and if the prescientific period is that of food for the stars. These exhalations feed the comets. The comets feed the sun...  Thus Robinet writes in 1766:

"It has been stated with a good deal of probability that the luminous globes feed on the exhalations that they draw from the opaque globes, and that the natural food of the latter is the flood of igneous particle that the former are continually sending to them; and that the spots of the sun which seem to spread and darken every day are nothing but an accumulation of crude vapours of expanding volume that the sun attracts unto itself ; that these clouds of smoke that we think we see rising from its surface are really rushing towards the surface; and that in the end it will absorb such a quantity of heterogeneous material that it will not only be enveloped  and encrusted by it, as Descartes claimed, but will be totally penetrated by it. When this happens it will be extinguished, it will die, so to speak, by passing from the state of light, which is its life, to the state of opacity, which we may call a true death when speaking of the sun. In a similar fashion the leech dies when it has slaked its thirst for blood."

13. The Sun is feeding on the earth and one day it will become full and go out.

..among eighteenth century thinkers that "all the stars are created from one and the same celestial substance of subtle fire." They consider that a fundamental analogy exists between the stars formed of rarefied celestial fire and the metallic sulphurs formed of crude terrestrial fire. they believe they have thereby united the phenomena of earth and sky and have obtained a universal view of the world.

14. The Sun is a kind of complex metallic substance. Lesser forms of it can be found on earth. They will have some of the powers of the Sun.

If one has not had a personal experience of this hot sugared alcohol
 that has been born of flame at some joyful midnight festivity,
one has little understanding of the romantic value of  punch;
one is deprived of a diagnostic method of studying certain phantasmagorical poems.

"In the same story when the witchcraft, which was to have brought back the student Anselme to the poor Veronica, is completed, there is nothing left "but a light flame rising from the spirits of wine which burnt in the bottom of the cauldron." Later in the story the salamander, Lindhorst, goes in and out of the bowl of punch; the flames in turn absorb him and reveal him. The battle between the witch and the salamander is a battle of flames; the snakes come out of the tureen filled with punch. Madness and intoxication, reason and enjoyment are constantly presented in combination. From time to time there appears in the stories a worthy bourgeois who would like to "understand""

15. Ok this ones just a straight up encounter.

We are never completely immune to the prejudice
that we spend a great deal of time attacking.

"It is especially within the oils,the bitumen's, the gums, the resins that God has locked up fire, as if in so many boxes capable of containing it."

16. Fire is in the gums. It was put there by god. Presumably people will be upset about you letting it out. Others will insist that you do.

"It is reported that mulberries will be fairer, and the trees more fruitful, if you bore the trunk of the tree through in several places, and thrust into the places bored wedges of some hot trees, as turpentine, mastic-tree, guiacum, juniper etc. The cause may be for that attentive heat doth cheer up the native juice of the tree."

17. Tree alterations. This ones just quite quiet and sweet. But wealthy horticulturalists would presumably pay very well for fragments of strange or rare trees. And who knows what freaky shit they might splice together once they got them.

18. "The branches of that tree which antiquity dedicated to the Sun in order to crown all the conquerors of the Earth, (Laurels) when shaken together give out fire, as do the bones of lions."

"To describe the fire of nitric acid (or aqua fortis), Trevisian says that its hidden fire is "subtle, vaporous, digesting, continual, encompassing, airy, clear and pure, confined, non-flowing, corrupting, penetrating and sharp." Obviously these adjective are not describing an object, they are revealing a feeling, probably an urge to destroy."

19. Acid actively wants to burn you. No-one should be surprised by the malicious nature of acids.

"...the big tall men are humid and mercurial; shrewdness, made up of wisdom and prudence, is never at its highest degree in these men; for the fire from whence come wisdom and prudence is never vigerous in such large and vast bodies, since it is wandering and diffused; and nothing in nature that is scattered and diffused is ever strong and powerful. Force needs to be compact and compressed; the strength of fire is seen to be all the stronger when it is compressed and contracted. Cannons demonstrate this fact...

20. As with cannons. So with men.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Not A Review Of Michael Crichton's 'Prey'

In Spain my Dad gave me a Micheal Crichton book called 'PREY -

(To be Human.. is to be Hunted.) I started reading in the airport while we were waiting for a plane home.

We were half way through the flight when my girlfriend remarked that I was 200+ pages through the book. She was reading Nabokov and was (I think) about 40 pages into it.

I said 'yeah but its Micheal Crichton so its designed to be easy to read'.

Which is interesting.

In his writing style, almost no idea or action is implicit. Every single thing that the narrator says or does has a clear and explicit structure of thought and experience behind it.

This is most obvious when talking about the technological mystery in the book. The narrator has to solve a difficult problem in adventurous circumstances. To do this he has a number of directly technical conversations with work colleagues.

The presence of these conversations in a book is a kind of cultural marker for the kind of book it is. Like, someone going into work, speaking to a co-worker and saying: "Yes, slot A is wrongly configured. We should to change the shape. What kind of shape do you think is best?"

"Well I think this triangular shape would work well because of the following reasons.."

This is the kind of conversation that takes up a meaningful part of each persons waking life and which are almost unimaginable in a work of modern literature. You can't have people go into work and just talk about work.

You can but it has to have a subtext. "It is good that you have finally learnt the details of baking and are baking good loaves in the following way.."

"Yes the theme of bread was introduced with my relationship to my mother in chapter one and after the failure of my advertising company and return to my home town my mastery of the baking process  became symbolic of my personal re-growth based on a new sense of selfhood gathered from my re-integration with my family history."

"Yes this bread has several meanings to it and therefore all that talk about yeast in chapter three is now validated as having a meaningful artistic reason and not just nerdy bullshit about baking."


(Or you can probably do it when its a Zadie Smith thing and its like "So Harvard Colleague, I hear your field of study in **human-culture-subject-A** has thrown up some radical yet topical opinions."

"Yes, Oxford Colleague, let us discuss this field of study in depth for it mirrors YET ALSO COMMENTS UPON cultural shifts in the wider world.)

So people talk-about-the-problem in a very talk-about-the-problem way. The way you might at work with a new colleague, or with someone with whom you do not share a first language, in a slightly over-clear over-emphasised manner.

"Due to your background in developing parallel processing you will understand the nature of this programming challenge."

"Yes I do, and will re-describe it in my internal narrator voice with a brief reference to the history of the topic."

The book is in first person, but when secondary characters walk off screen and do something important to the plot the narrator will confirm their exact actions, either by talking to them in the story and saying something like "what were your actions?" or by commenting he has 'reviewed the tapes' or 'talked to her after the event'.

(People lie in the book, but its rare that they lie and the narrator does not get a 'funny feeling'. I think they never lie without the narrator being suspicious of them already or being made suspicious of them by the lie. A lie exists to be found. Like a trap in D&D in part exists to be found. A trap in a dungeon that you can never find, intuit, predict or understand is a bad trap. It has no story potential.

Old-school games push this pretty far towards the traps being very hard to find but still you can always possibly find the trap. I have never read the phrase "this trap is undetectable" in a module or adventure.

So the discontinuity in the system, the trap in the dungeon, the lie in the Micheal Crichton story, is not truly what it is. It is an inverted symbol of a thing. In real life we lie to get away with things and set traps to be invisible to the target but in stories and games often the failure of this trap or lie is the reason it is in the fiction.)

This armature of certainty exists at ever level of the book. Right down to the basic text. Each sentence is a clear description of event with the circumstances locked in.

"It was ten minutes after the swarms had gone and we were all standing in the storage room. The whole group had gathered there, tense and anxious."

"Having watched Julia's demo tape, I was immensely curious to see what he showed me next. Because many people I respected thought molecular manufacturing impossible."

"With the vibration of the helicopter, I must have dozed off for a few minutes. I awoke and yawned, hearing voices in my headphones. They were all men speaking:"

"It was a warm evening and we had dinner in the backyard. I put out the red-checkered tablecloth and grilled the steaks on the barbecue, wearing my chef's apron that said THE CHEF'S WORD IS LAW, and we had a sort of classic American family dinner."

We were all standing in the storage room - the whole group
I was immensely curious - because people I respected
helicopter - headphones - voices - men speaking
the voices were men, speaking
warm evening - backyard dinner - grilled steaks - chefs apron - classic American family dinner
It was a classic American family dinner.


The cognitive load of most Micheal Crichton sentences are almost exactly the same. Everything is what it is. It runs through your mind like smooth directly-stated ticker tape. That's why you can read it almost five times faster than Nabokov. It's designed to be read that way. To be clear.

This extreme clarity and directness is exactly the kind of thing you are not necessarily meant to do in Art. In Art each sentence and paragraph would have an individual cognitive load and the subtlety of that load is part of how we judge its quality.

A while ago on G+ there was a conversation about art and popular culture and I came up with an idea that I think was something like this:

Some people draw joy, pleasure, from the closeness, interconnectedness and familiarity of their ideas. Therefore, for them, a family drama in the present day is an ideal form of entertainment as all the ideas are directly relateable. They have a strong background of knowledge about families and therefore can energise the work more powerfully as they can increase the interconnections between ideas. It's literally more powerful for them, like a different thing is happening in their brain when they read. Beauty is different for them.

Others draw more power from the distance between ideas and the tenuousness of the connection between them. So the further apart two concepts are, (and I mean here across every aspect of the created thing from general themes to stylistic tricks to detail and observation, everything) but the further apart they are, the greater the charge when they are meaningfully connected. So to push an idea further is always good.

I imagine these two states of being as, on one side, a closely interconnected Archipelago, with everyone trading and making and conversing and swapping cultures, then on the other, some distant exploration-obsessed island, sending out single ships on wild expeditions to unknown lands and cold seas, waiting years for each message or report to return, each report being stranger than the last.

Or like a closely interconnected interplanetary civilisation, a knot of lights around a star, verses an world obsessed with interstellar exploration, sending out long range cryo-ships on eons-long expeditions.

I think that part of what Micheal Crichton is doing with his fiction is building this very-certain, very-explicit ladder or web of association, so that when we reach the strange bit at the end, the hard to believe bit, there is a relentlessly clear sequence of actions and discussions which make every single thing explicitly possible.

Like, you could stand up in court and argue the events of a Micheal Crichton book with the description of the Micheal Crichton book. Everything backs everything else up.

I like this.

It robs me of nothing, and its an interpretation of something I love (weird nanite hive minds, secret labs, nerds solving impossible problems) written explicitly for people who are not minded like I am. The people who would read about the nanites and get nervous, or feel like they were lost, people for whom there would be no pleasurable release of cognitive energy, have that solid banister or safety rail of clear description there for them. Everything can be explained, everything leads neatly to everything else.

This isn't about intelligence.

You are all skilled at reading. You probably got rewarded for it at school. Not only are you skilled at it but you are good enough at it that you can easily draw pleasure from it. The difficulty of normal writing, like this blog post, is not hard enough for it to be meaningful. It's like walking for you.

And you probably work in a nerd industry or in one of the culture fields where reading and comprehension ability is essentially like fitness for an athlete. You just have to have it and to have it at a high level to be in that industry or to do that job. You probably aren't fully aware that reading is a high level skill for you, any more than someone who went straight from school to athletics in college then to a professional sports team is fully aware that a high standard of fitness defines almost their entire social group. You know it but you don't feel it because that's just your world.

I've had a bunch of jobs and most have been shit. many have been hard. Sometimes they were hard like being punched in the face is hard but sometimes they were hard like a maths puzzle is hard.

I wasn't very good at most of those jobs. Its rare that I wasn't the most well-read person on the team. Where an aspect of the job was intellectually difficult (judging someones credit score against their payment history and inferred social background, assessing a claim for tens of thousands of pounds in charges against a chain of ten or more interacting accounts across 15 years and responding in a multi-page letter with interlocking calculations with 100% not-a-comma-wrong accuracy) I was rarely the best at it. I was usually in the middle of the field.

It's interesting to be clearly and obviously out-performed at something intellectually complex by a very pleasant person who thinks Dan Brown is 'a cracking read'. Its interesting for it to happen multiple times. I kind of suspect it isn't something that happens much to most people reading this. We get sorted in school into the social groups we will spend time with, the 'good readers' make lives, find careers and spend time with the good readers. The only time they bump into the non-good-readers after that is usually around an inter-departmental meeting in work, or at weddings.

So I suppose I got a decent education in not confusing reading level with moral decency, problem solving ability, data processing, social awareness, group management, accuracy or mathematical fluency, which are all qualities the workplace gives a lot more of a shit about than reading ability. (Except for moral decency, which is more of a liability in business really.)

When I say that Micheal Crichton or Dan Brown are writing with deliberate and continually re-stated clarity, that they are writing for people with (compared to me) poor reading skills, I don't consider it anything like an insult because I've met these people and seen them be better than me at a whole bunch of stuff.

So the presence of fiction like this on the best seller lists means a very different thing to me than it does to someone who has spend their entire life exposed mainly or entirely to a high-reading-level social circle. For them, reading level and reading fluency is a primary shibboleth, status symbol and illustration of personal and cultural competence. Its a world where to say that someone has read and enjoyed the wrong book is literally to degrade them. For them, seeing bad fiction on a popular list is like bumping into a crowd of people who proudly state that they fuck pigs.

For me it just means normal people are reading books. I'm glad they are. It's like a semi-professional footballer watching a bunch of people kick the ball around on a Sunday in the park. I don't feel like their poor football skills are bringing down the quality of my game because for these people, the choice isn't between reading Crichton and Nabokov but between Crichton and Television. I'm glad they got out of the house.

I'll be sad when there are no simple writers on the best seller lists because it won't mean that the general public has been uplifted to the UberSphere of Artistic Reading. It will just mean they have stopped entirely. Fiction will undergo a general rise in relative quality, shrink in audience, lose raw creative drive, and become a kind of boutique pursuit for members of the upper middle class.

Friday, 3 April 2015


Matthew Adams made this wonderful picture and I liked it so much I made Wonderful Knights to go with it.

Many are the tales of the Knights Of The Snail, their Slow Quests and Fates-Delayed, (for fate comes not quickly to a Snail-Knight, and that by strange and turning paths).

Oft deluded, always honourable (except for Sir Gorget Vile), endlessly turning in their slow spiralling search. For it is said that a Snail Knight will always start their quest as far from its object as can be, and may never approach it head-on, but only by paths oblique, yet growing slowly closer all the time. And it is said that they will always find the centre of their search, no matter how weird and distant it is. Great is the courage of the Snail-Chevallier, great their legends, great the names of those who sit around the Table-Whorled and nobly serve the Cochlear Throne.

Their Names:

1. Sir Rime Grotesque.
2. Sir Tumble-The-Tin Perchance.
3. Sir Bird Spiralling.
4. Sir Chesslike Hand.
5. Sir Babbling of Bromborough.
6. Sir Bedlam Frail of the Frail-Hearts.
7. Sir Twine Devise.
8. Sir Vortex Frail of the Frail-Hearts-Urge.
9. Sir Duno Chrime.
10. Squire Violet Chrime . (In truth, Lady Pendulum Chrime in disguise as a man).
11. Sir Furnace of Furness.
12. Sir Max Bassoon.
13. Sir Tangling Chase.
14. Sir Whirl, of Whirl-End!
15. Sir Latinate Verb-Cortex, of the Curve-Cortex. (In truth, Ham Floret, commoner in disguise).
16. Sir Lightly Gloom.
17. Sir Gorget Vile. (The Black Snail Knight)
18. Sir Lucent Void, of the Kensington-Voids.
19. Sir Sextant Wrought, the Permanently Lost.
20. Sir Coagulate Fast, the Knight of the Mind.

Many are the quests of the Snail Knights and many strange things are the objects of their Slow Oaths (or 'Sloaths' as a Snail Knight might say: "by my Sloath!)

Their Sloaths, or, what they seek:

1. The Bubbles Of Despair.
2. The Gambolling Brand, or 'Sword Of Springs Shade'. a blade which can restore the lost season which once lay between Summer and Spring.
3. To defeat the Knight Chromatic, who holds the Night Sky Black, and thereby restore it to its multicoloured state.
4. To find the 5th corner of the world.
5. To battle the Vowels and free the hidden consonant from its imprisonment behind the tongue. (A, E, I, O and U must be fought, and perhaps as well the traitor 'Y'.)
6. To win the Tears of Time and undo death for lovers everywhere.
7. To Wake the Lady Sorrow from her Sad Slow Dream and thereby mend all hearts.
8. To Prise the Virtuous Pine!
9. To Unknot the Seven Stygial Riddles of the Leviathan Mind.
10. To seek and serve the Princely Soul, hidden somewhere in a Goat.

The arms of the Knights Of The Snail are well renowned.

Their Arms:

1. The Lance-Curlicue, which, on striking true, corkscrews around its target, wrapping them securely in a spiral of steel.

2. The Shield of Ooms, whose bearer shall know neither fear, despair, despite, nor direction or discontent, who shall never know where they are going, yet always arrive, who can be neither lost nor found.

3. The Briar-Braddock Blade, which, when plunged point first into the earth, brings forth an acre of inconvenient dense bushland.

4. The Salt-Shaker Mace (curse'd tool of Gorget Vile), which casts about it a terrible withering with each blow, turning the grass to ash, the trees to sandpaper and shrivelling the feet of snails.

5. The Sabre Noit-Seuq the querying wield, those wounded by this sabre-weird must answer well or it shall rebound upon them with redoubling force.

6. Snickety-Limb, the famed Paraplegia Sword which grows deadlier the more limbs its target has, destined to be swallowed by a snake.

7. The Armour-Incomprehensible, emblazoned with unreadable words that paralyze the mind when seen.

8. The Iron Bream. A mace in the shape of a gigantic fish, wielded by its tail, it hangs limply yet strikes with incomprehensible force, as if the weight of many maces struck at once.

9. The Bow Geometrical, which fires at right-angles or curves round corners, yet which never makes and irregular line.

10. The Helm Of Dreams, whose wearer shares the dreams of whomever means them harm.

And famous also are the terrible delusions of the Knights Of Snails, for all of them are mad mad mad.

The Madness of this Knight:

1. Made of Glass.
2. Adores the Moon.
3. Big things are Small and Small ones Huge.
4. Can never speak the truth or entirely lie.
5. Believes Their Own Reflection Is the King.
6. Does not comprehend the difference between a depiction of a thing or the thing itself, believes self trapped inside a world of shifting visions.
7. Communicates in song and thinks the things in songs are always real reports.
8. Fears life not death, melancholic when safe, cheery when the chips are down.
9. Feverishly writes conspiratorial letters describing secret fears, abandons them in holes and the crooks of trees, fears then banished, but may return if the letters are retrieved.
10. Believes they are an aging scholar only pretending as a Knight.

This one is also good

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

not done by calculation nor defined by reason

".. I remember, during the last war, with what pleasure I welcomed The Spirit Of Man, the anthology by Robert Bridges which was published in 1916. The thin-paper edition of this book was thereafter my constant companion. But even that admirable anthology had, as time went on, noticeable defects. the very highness of its purpose, its sustained tone of moral seriousness, a certain abstractness in its idealism, failed to satisfy completely the realistic standards of our daily life.

I felt that I wanted, at any rate in a good part of my moods, something more objective, something more aware of material things, of flesh and blood, of action and experience. At least, I wanted the dialectic of life, the contradictions on which we have to meditate if we are to construct a workable philosophy. And in war, and in the daily struggle of everyday life, it is a workable philosophy that each man has to construct for himself if he is to preserve a serene mind.

The need for variety is , therefore, my excuse for the extreme constraints which the reader will find in this anthology. I do deliberately affirm that the average lively mind can stretch over a range which includes, at one extreme, Plato and Spinoza, and at the other, Edward Lear and the anonymous authors of "She was poor but she was honest" - can, and does, and should.

At the same time I must admit that my anthology is not without its argument. I hope it is too objective to seem to have a "palpable design" on the reader. But in my choice I have been guided by certain convictions. One is that the love of glory, even in our materialistic age, is still the main source of virtue. The real good is not done by calculation nor defined by reason ;  it is an act of courage or of grace. I have therefore given a certain prominence to great deeds and noble characters ; and here objectivity demands that we make no distinction of creeds - the persecuted anarchist like Nicola Sacco achieves absolutely the same kind of nobility as the Christian saint.

Another conviction I might mention, which is perhaps not so explicit though perfectly illustrated by the conduct of the Black Prince at Poitiers, is that even in action it is the virtue of humility that finally triumphs ; and that this same virtue is the secret of all human happiness."

Herbert Read in the preface to his Anthology 'The Knapsack'. First published in 1939 as a companionable book for those engaged in active service.

(some paragraph breaks added by me)

Saturday, 28 March 2015

She Is (d10)

She is there in every fragment of reality, in every plane, on every level, through all the histories and times. Like a fleck of darkness in a gem.

1. Sometimes she is a city of dark pines and darker towers, black iron bridges hung in chains, lit at night by pure white flames burning only on the highest points so that the masked and downcast wanderers below walk in their silver shadows to and fro. Sometimes the wind howls there, piping in the iron links, turning the white fires to blazing pennants and sweeping the robes of the flaneurs into blotches of spilt ink. The people love the wind and storms and racing catastrophic skies. Midnight gales are met by carnivals and wild parades, bone masks switched for harlequin grins, public dancing in their robes, puppeting constructed fantasies about, some lost and pulled from the hand by the barreling clouds, cast up and over the city like lost monsters in a dream, borne up on joyful laughter like the ringing of unexpected bells.

2. Once a dragon writhing in the shadows of a city ruined sunken in the bottom of a lake with water clearer than a cats eye. She nests immune, forty fathoms down, wandering in the markets and the floods of bone. You can see it like a window from the boat, and she see you. Hoards of Jade and Malachite are piled in coliseums and she sleeps blackly like the lines of a drunken script all tangled up in piles of precious stones. The lake is hers, and all the waters to it, and as far as she could reach when dusk or dawn, while the light of the sun is in the sky but its circle was not whole, she flies, taking everything that she desires. Summer is a hated season there, with its easeful shiftings of hourly light, and winter prized for its quick fastening of night. Warmth brings war as nearby kingdoms lose their tithe to her black wings, winter: peace, and a shield of ice upon the lake.

3. On some worlds she is a sybil to the god of visions, hierophant of the imagined thing. On some this leaves her begging in the streets, a faith of one, as all mad people are. On others armies move at her command, janizaries hurl them selves en-masse on pikes to form a road of flesh by which her word may pass. On every world she is alone, silent in the cell, hidden in the corner of the street, burning cities with her glance and whispering to the rats.

4. When she is a star she is alone, never placed in any constellation, and when the story of her star is told then the story stands alone, unconnected to the other tales, spoken as the fire burns down when most have gone to sleep. When written down she is apocrypha. Her star is bright and constant in the sky.

5. Sometimes she is a demigod or daughter of the gods. She knows no fear and walks, friendless and alone but unopposed, in the blackening moors where danger lurks. The brand she carries burns. She comes upon the traveller in the night, as friend if they are lone like her, or scourge if they be cheery, bright and gathered in a group. Heaven help those making noise. All single things attend her and all monsters either fear her brand or bow before her word. Her word is stone, her name applied to oaths to keep them tight, her honour inviolate and world renowned. Her promise absolute. She is a walker in the wilds and symbol of those things seen truly only when we see them on our own. The irreducible experience, the unremarked last stand, the final terrors and the secret joys.

6. When she is a land that land is high and cut by streams, rocks breach through the loam and forests bend and grow like curls of smoke before the infinite wind from the sea.

7. When she is a sea she covers wrecks and casts forth islands of ice like blue-white jewels cast idly on the ground, she mothers ancient serpents and freezes swimmers to death. She is banked with advancing cloud and mother to storms.

8. When she is a planet she is dark, cold and orbiting without a star, yet never still. Curls of rare matter condense in her Jovian skies. Strange gravitys clash through her obsidian continents and frozen carbon dioxide seas. Her moons orbit closely, sending tidal strands of stone and ice tornadoing across her face. She cradles darksome life, wise, ancient and indifferent to the wheeling of the distant stars. Her world goes on unnoticed, hanging in the darkness, far from the stellar empires. They are wise not to investigate too much. This world is not for them.

9. Sometimes she is a thought within the mind or a dream within the sleeping brain. She is a dark idea, not quickly put aside. She is an impulse to wander and walk out into the night alone, to abandon everything and disappear, climbing some forgotten crag or watching from a glass, releasing the tiller and tightening the sail, when the wind is navigator she is there, when the wheel is lose and the accelerator down then she is there. When she is a dream she lingers through the sunlit afternoon and makes you wish for silence and a darkened room.

10. When she is a god she is the last, either death or deaths destroyer. She is will and resolute desire. She gives visions for release and darkens the night sky. She is with the wild things in the woods, the shadow self, unrelaxed, aside from life. She is facing into the dark to see what comes. Her sacrifice is love and what you love. Her protection is absolute and her aegis unbroken by time, you should not worship her in groups. She is chthonic in the sacristy. Dark and mystic. Her testament is sung and never written down.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

from the fuming melancholy of our spleen

Thomas Nashe the 16th century writer, had a lot to say about the social networks of the 21st century

"From this general discourse of spirits, let us digress and talk another while of their separate natures and properties.

The spirits of fire which are the purest and perfectest are merry, pleasant, and well-inclined to wit, but nevertheless giddy and unconstant.

Those spirits of the fire, however I term them comparatively good in respect of a number of bad, yet they are not simply well-inclined, for they be by nature ambitious, haughty, and proud: nor do they love virtue for itself any whit, but becasue they would overquell and outsrip others with the vain-glorious ostentation of it. A humour of monarchizing and nothing else it is, which makes them effect rare qualified studies. Many atheists are with these spirits inhabited.

To come to the spirits of the water, the earth and the air: they are dull phlegmatic drones, things that have much malice without any great might. Drunkards, misers and women they usually retain to.
To come to the spirits of the air, which have no other visible bodies or form, but such as by the unconstant glimmering of our eyes is begotten, they are in truth all show and no substance, deluders of our imagination and naught else. Carpet knights, politic statesmen, women and children they most converse with. Carpet knights they inspire with a humour of setting big looks upon it, being the basest cowards under heaven, covering an apes heart with a lions case, and making false alarums when they mean nothing but a may-game. Politic statesmen they privily incite to blear the worlds eyes with clouds of common-wealth pretences, to broach any enmity or ambitious humour of their own under a title of their country's preservation: to make it fair or foul when they list, to procure popularity. or induce a preamble to some mighty piece of prowling, to stir up tempests round about, and replenish heaven with prodigies and wonders, the more to ratify their avaricious religion.

So that you see all their whole influence is but a thin overcast vapours, flying clouds dispersed with the least wind of wit or understanding.

None of these spirits of the air or the fire have so much predominance in the night as the spirits of the earth and the water; for they feeding on foggy-brained melancholy engender thereof many uncouth terrible monsters. Thus much observe by the way, that the grossest part of our blood is the melancholy humour, which in the spleen congealed whose office is to disperse it with his thick steaming fenny vapours casteth a mist over the spirit and clean bemasketh the fantasy.

And even as slime and dirt in a standing puddle engender toads and frogs and many other unsightly creatures so this slimy melancholy humour, still thickening as it stands still, engendreth many misshapen objects in our imaginations. Sundry times we behold whole armies of men skirmishing in the air: dragons and wild beasts, bloody streamers, blazing comets, fiery streaks, with other apparitions innumerable. Whence have all these their conglomerate matter but from fuming meteors that arise from the earth? So from the fuming melancholy of our spleen mounteth that hot matter into the higher region of the brain, whereof many fearful visions are framed. Our reason even like drunken fumes it displaceth and intoxicates, and yields up our intellective apprehension to be mocked and trodden under foot by every false object or counterfeit noise that comes near it. Herein specially consisteth our senses' defect and abuse, that those organical parts, which to the mind are ordained ambassadors, do not their message as they ought, but,  by some misdiet or misgovernment being distempered, fail in their report and deliver up nothing but lies and fables.

Such is our brain oppressed with melancholy, as is a clock tied down with too heavy weights or plummets; which as it cannot choose but monstrously go a-square or not go at all, so must our brains of necessity be either monstrously distracted or utterly destroyed thereby."

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Mr Turner in 3D

Mike Leigh's 'Mr Turner' is a really good 3d movie.

Turner is continually moving into and out of boxes, and his position in these boxes, or his depth within the box, contextualise, but rarely directly represent, his position in his social world.

The use of depth is not really a symbol on its own, its more like music.

Places this happens

- The big academy arts thing. The walls are tessellated with paintings, the upper walls lean in over the people inside and are also full of paintings laid almost edge to edge like tiles. Perspective leads us to a door at the back of the first room, inside is another, smaller room, also tiled with paintings like the first.

The models for the gallery room
Turner kind of motors around the first room in his introductory scene to this place, nodding to what we assume are the most successful painters in Britain addressing them with grunts or first names.

Then we get taken through into the back room where the characters argue. The back room is explicitly stated as a place of less prestige, so painters can trace the curve of their careers by where they are hung. This is probably the most explicit relation of space to social reality in the film because where you are (where your painting is) is literally who you are.

- A scene in a country house with Mr Haydon. Haydon talks to a bunch of painters (I think he tries to skive money off them), at the end of these conversations Haydon walks off, away from the house, into the meadows.

The camera holds directly in the doorway. The artists indoors effectively frame the shot as they discuss Haydon, disparaging him and pointing out what a fucking drama queen he is. In the centre of the shot, moving in a straight line so that his course deviates neither to the left or right, Haydon diminishes and shrinks as he walks purposefully away from the house, a tiny man growing ever smaller.

This is the same house but hot that scene.
You can kind of see how people are arranged by depth though.

- Turners gallery. Turner has transformed a central, windowless room in his house into a gallery of his paintings. He makes visitors wait outside this place in a darkened room until their eyes have adjusted to that dark, then opens the door to his room of images. The light in this room comes from a glass ceiling covered with what looks like linen, so it is bright, white and diffuse. Inside this room Turners exquisite and carefully made paintings are chaotically scattered on easels and sometimes simply leaning against the wall.

I don't know if Turner in real life actually did this sort of thing but in the film it is a powerful piece of stagecraft that makes sense in terms of the character of the man (you believe the Turner shown would actually do stuff like that), and as a simple but powerful piece of symbolism. The bright room of fine beauty, casually strewn, unseen in the centre, hidden by darkness. Pretty much the man himself.

Those scenes have the most distinctive use of depth, the ones in which its use is most clear, but the use of depth in general is a powerful element of the film, usually woven very subtly into its makeup. Turner is continually approaching and receding from us, never, or rarely, directly like Sickert in the example above, but in more deft movements.

In particular, british social life is presented like a kind of stage set or dolls house that we are peering into. On a ferry, Turner makes a kind of hook shape through the crowd, moving right across them, then back into the shot and up some stairs, then, on this higher level he moves left again. As he moves through these people he moves very subtly through some fine divisions of social class, if I remember correctly, even the physical relation of the people shifts a little as their class shifts.

The same is true of a theatre performance in a country house where people are arranged neatly in ranks according to importance, there are lots of neat diagonal interactions across the social space.

Turner goes to a seaside town to paint, he gives a false name to his landlady to avoid attention. This woman lives with her husband, eventually Turner will end up living with her in a different house after her husband dies.

We approach the seaside house from the left, the camera panning right as Turner walks along, he makes and enquiry and disappears inside. Turners relation to the house and to the life he will build with this woman is shown by him moving in and out of the depths of this house, going deeper into hallways, behind doors and cupboards. There are no long shots, there are just layers, layers of physical depth and layers of social presence and familiarity.

This gives us some idea of how 3d might eventually be used in films. Right now its so expensive that the only thing you can do with 3d is big massive stuff in big massive films. Its directly sensory rather than integrated. Like, you are meant to feel the 3d and never forget it really. Since very few films are made to take advantage of the way you can tell a story with actual depth (I think Avatar might be the only one that actually pushed it as a method of storytelling rather than just a cool thing to slather on top) The spectacle isn't that interesting and the number of 3d films is going down.

I think learning to use 3d well will be harder than learning to use colour was. It actually works well when it is quiet, when the visual and emotional volume of a scene is temperate and there is not a lot of brain noise, and the things it does, and the way it feathers, cuts across or inflects the emotional impact of a scene or sequence may be much more powerful when subtle than when made a deliberate artifact to which the attention is drawn.

Which is a problem because it costs a shitload and, even if it cost less you would still need to wear the glasses and I am not sure you could get people to wear the glasses if the 3d in a film did not draw attention to itself. You can't really say to an audience in their mid-40's "Hey put on these 3d glasses, it'll shift your response to this Chekhov adaptation to an imperceptible yet meaningful degree." They won't want to do it.

But if you could deal with the glasses problem and if you could push down the cost of the crap you need to cart around then we could end up in a world where stuff like social drama's and soap operas are in 3d but blockbuster spasgasms are in 2d but with lost of stuff and noise.

And then in 90 years a generation will grow up thinking that we use 'deep' and 'shallow' because the actually refer to the actual depth or shallowness of a piece of media.

(Mike Leigh's 'Mr Turner' was not actually in 3d, but it kind of should have been because it was made with a keen eye to the 3rd dimension. I talked about the film as it should have been, or as I recall it in my minds eye because that was more interesting.)