Monthly Archives: July 2006

What the Bird Said

The words are common, and yet each imagines a distinction. But the paths do not diverge.

I don’t if anyone remembers Uninvited, an Icom graphical adventure game from the 80s, but it also invoked fr. 60.

How many times has “Burnt Norton” been quoted in the popular novel? Hannibal, that’s one. Is it always the rose garden?

The Live Action, Large Area, Alternate Reality Role-Playing Game

I’ve been fascinated with this concept at a distance for some time now, though I can’t help but to regard it as faintly ominous. Having recently read Jane McGonigal’s Modern Drama article “SuperGaming: Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community,” I’m wondering again about the technoutopianist slant of the concept, mirroring, as it does, the demotic gnostic nightmare of Dick. I’ve taught “The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero” and The Magus (and eXistenZ, come to think of it) over the last few years, and I’ve always asked the students to compare them with the ARG/LARP phenomenon. (Another, more topical, comparison might be The Little Drummer Girl.) Surprisingly few of the students seemed to be enthusiasts. I had assumed that an interest in these or even an autochthonous culture of them would have grown around Georgia Tech.

My default mode for imagining the likely social consequences of these activities is a peculiar combination of Rona Jaffe and Lem (The Futurological Congress or Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, say). I can’t bring myself to see The Game. But the genre/concept is also a decent, though perhaps mildly anachronistic, explanation of this nonsense, which, again, I can’t help but to find fascinating.

Wolfe’s “From the Cradle”; The Obsolescence of the Gabelsberger Shorthand

I’ve turned some of my recreational reading attention to Starwater Strains, and the aforementioned story is worth teaching as an introduction to reader-response theory. A lot of Wolfe might be, actually, but this exemplifies precisely.

Another of the many interesting things that happened in 1926 was the switch to the Einheitskurzschrift system of shorthand in Austria from the Gabelsberger method (“Gödel’s Gabelsberger Shorthand,” Cheryl A. Dawson, Collected Works III: 7).

Another bit from Gödel:

A real contradiction between relativity theory and Kantian philosophy seems to me to exist only in one point, namely as to Kant’s opinion that natural science, in the description it gives of the world, must necessarily retain the forms of our sense perception and can do nothing else but set up relations between appearances within this frame (“Theory of Relativity and Kantian Philosophy,” CW III: 257).

I’m really hoping to learn what Gödel thought of automated proof discovery (“invention?”), and what, if anything, connected this to his theological (and scattered demonological) notes. But this is something. Though I admire Chomsky and Fodor a great deal, their complete dismissal of almost all scholarship as essentially clerical in nature (or “natural history”) has always rankled me, as one who holds out little hope for discovery of the fundamental processes of literature (though I do work on problems in narrative theory that could be optimistically described this way, I suppose).

Recreational Scholarship in Latin

I miss the times where the Victorian alchemist William Alexander Ayton could write an unadmiring biography of John Dee in Latin. I studied Old Norse a bit in graduate school, and it occurred to me at the time there should be a journal devoted to contemporary literature and media studies written entirely in that language. I think it would necessitate a considerable refinement of the working concepts.

Taste in Poets

Michael Bérubé posts about Yeats, mentioning in passing that he’s the greatest English-language poet of the 20th C.

I replied there that I prefer Stevens, Eliot, and possibly also Auden; but “prefer” is not quite the same thing as “consider the greatest.” Outside of some appreciative pockets, this kind of question is something I haven’t heard anyone take seriously since I was an undergrad, if then (though the problem trended more apathetic than contemptuous thereabouts).

I’m fascinated by Yeats’s mind, certainly, and I enjoy comparing A Vision to Lewis’s roughly contemporaneous encyclopedic (though decidedly non-occultic) works (The Art of Being Ruled, Time and Western Man, The Lion and the Fox, The Childermass, Paleface, and The Apes of God). But to say that “Sailing to Byzantium” makes, for example, the Four Quartets seem “thin and watery” is the type of error with which there can be no compromise, if you’re into that sort of thing.

All-Too-Brief Remarks on Gene Wolfe’s Innocents Abroad

“The Tree Is My Hat”

I mentioned earlier that I found the anthropology in this story to be dubious. What difference does that make, though? I’ve been wondering for some time now about the phenomenology of error in fiction. Are there ever legitimate grounds for determining when a writer’s incomplete understanding of some concept or fact can be separated from that of the narrators’? (Enormous portions of the critical corpus rely very heavily on drawing this distinction to be sure, but I think it’s a poorly understood topic.) Did I find myself reminded somehow of Robert Stone, Joan Didion, and even The Stars at Noon here? Yes, however improbable. What kind of aid work is it that Baden does?

Human sacrifice, used to memorable effect in the Long Sun series as a way of communicating, through an automated alarm, one imagines, with the uploaded consciousnesses of the ark’s builders, occurs in several of these stories. That the Assyrian (it’s also possible that Phoenician/Carthaginian Molek-worship is the reference, I suppose) cultures practiced it does not seem to be in doubt; that they colonized Polynesia, however, remains dubious (as before).

“The Old Woman Whose Rolling Pin Was the Sun”

I don’t much care for Wolfe’s folk-cosmogonic mode.

“The Friendship Light”

Wlould you say that this was a better story than “Sometimes They Come Back?” I would. I seem to remember some uninformed commentary about the supposedly monological quality of Wolfe’s voice about the blogs a while ago; the narrator of this story is only one of many aggressively countervailing instances. I don’t know if I like the Huysman reference as much upon further reflection, but that’s ok. One of the highlights, and typically uninterpretable.

“Slow Children at Play”

Have I had students use this sign, putatively seen at a McDonald’s playground, as an example of ambiguous language? Yes. Yes, I have.

“Under Hill”

Wolfe seems to have one of the highest participation rates of any writer of his stature in oddly themed collections. I don’t know if this is because of genuine personal enjoyment or “blockhead” reasons, and it seems that an unusual number of the stories in Innocents Abroad were first published in them. Not that it matters, I suppose, but the distinction between pot-boiling throwaways and the “serious” efforts is often readily apparent.

I wouldn’t mind having a working bibliography of every known fictional presentation of the technological elimination of the will-to-violence. Nine-to-one dystopian, I would bet they run.

“The Monday Man”

Not a bad last line, as last lines go.

I know from fishing that you never catch anything on the last cast.

“The Waif”

One treatment I’m relatively sure has gotten an extensive bibliographic analysis is that of the relativistic effects of the return from near-light speed space travel.

“The Legend of Xi Cygnus”

Here’re some astrofacts about Gienah.

Has a rather different mood than the Stevens poem “The Plot against the Giant,” doesn’t it?

I don’t know.

“The Sailor Who Sailed after the Sea”

Some cursory searching did not reveal an image of the “tenth hour of the night,” sadly.

“How the Bishop Sailed to Inniskeen”

Unlike the whiskey tradition.

“Houston, 1943″

Fiction and magical thinking. Childhood recollected at will.

Is there a cultural history of the concept of “imaginary playmates?”

“A Fish Story”

Would Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me have been improved had Lynch been able to use the entire original script?


Patronymy again. The concluding epigraph (is there a term for it?) is strongly inversely correlated with my level of interest in these stories.

“The Eleventh City”

I’m curious to learn more about the actual non-demoniacal characteristics of domesticated swine of first century Palestine.

“The Night Chough”

Holdover from one of the least amusing aspects of the Long Sun.

“The Wrapper”

The book he saw might have been something like the Codex Seraphinianus. Typically ominous holy fool here.

“A Traveler in Desert Lands”

The first story about kuru, sort of?

“The Walking Sticks”

Taps and Sighs turned out to be a volume of ghost stories, as opposed to ghost stories about ashplants.


I wanted to say “folk cosmogony” again, but that’s not quite it.

“Pocketsful of Diamonds”

I hope David Lynch got some royalties from Carnivale.


Loveliest hamadryad story of them all.

“The Lost Pilgrim”

A parable about teaching.

All in all, this may be the least satisfying Wolfe collection I’ve read, though the good ones are very good.

On Chesterton

Is this such a bad thing to aspire to? “The fat man in the cloak and the brigand’s hat forever stopping for a pork pie and a beer while he scribbled yet another poem or article on his cuff or on the back of a sugar packet” (D. J. Conlon G. K. Chesterton: a Half-Century of Views [1987]: xxiii, qtd. in ODNB entry).

I especially like the “sugar packet” there.

CFP for Distribution and Future Reference: Virginia Woolf and Deviancy

For the Fall issue of the Virginia Woolf Miscellany, the subject is
Virginia Woolf and Deviancy. Possible topics might be: “How and why did
Woolf present what the dominant culture found deviant? How and why was
Woolf deviant in her own writing? How did Woolf change the meanings of
deviancy or the understandings of what was deviant in her culture? Is
Woolf deviant for readers today? How has Woolf’s deviance influenced
later writers? How have later writers or visual artists interpreted
Woolf’s deviancy into their own texts? How did Woolf create textual or
narrative deviancy? How, in Woolf’s incorporation of other texts into her
writing, did she create deviancy?

The deadline for submissions is Monday, August 14, 2006, by email Word
attachment. Please put as subject heading: VW and Deviancy. Articles
should be about 1000-2000 words only. Send submissions to Georgia
Johnston at johnstgk at [S]aint [L]ouis [U]niversity dot edu. All submissions will be acknowledged, so
please re-send if acknowledgement is not sent promptly.

Please note my preliminary spam-proofing of the email address there.

Upcoming; Codex Seraphinianus

I’ll be joining the English Department at East Carolina as a Visiting Assistant Professor next month.

The picture in the post below comes from Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, in case you were wondering. The internet puzzlers’ consensus seems to be that the numbering system is a base-21 and that the rest is what Peter Schwenger calls, in a useful essay, “glyptolalia.” Without a doubt, I will be demonstrating this the next time I teach “Tlön Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” which may be in the spring, depending.

I have longstanding interest in “outsider art, “l’art brut,” etc., particularly when it takes cryptographic forms. (I may be, though I continue to hoard my findings like the sea, one of the leading authorities on this, for example. I can’t recommend that you follow the preceding link.) Will we see a Library of America edition of Henry Darger, I’ve sometimes wondered.