pseudopodium
John McNeill Boyd measures the tensile strength of Silk, Irish
. . .

New from the Repress: the Paradoxa Interview with William Tenn, AKA Philip Klass interviewed by Josh Lukin. We thank Dr. Lukin for the opportunity.

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The Futility & Avoidance of the Whole

The war between (on the slow side) structure and prosody and (on the brisk side) decontextualized points-foraging is older than Post-Its, highlighters, or even ballpoint pens:

Gradually the book in codex form superseded the papyrus roll. The literary codex was already known in the first century A.D., but in the second century more than 98% of the Greek literary texts which we possess were still written on rolls (the percentage might have been notably lower outside Egypt, but there is no specific reason to think so). In the third, fourth and fifth centuries the figures sink to 81%, 26% and 11%, respectively. One group in Egypt, however, had already long given its allegiance to the codex: the Christian biblical papyri of the second century, which are few (eleven are now known), are exclusively from codices. From roughly 300 A.D. the total production of literary texts in Egypt declined markedly, and those that were produced were mainly in codex form.

In order to understand this change we have to consider these two phenomena together: the overwhelming preference of the Christians for putting their holy books into codex form, and the much slower decision of those who wrote and commissioned non-Christian writings to change to the codex, a decision made during the last decades of the third century and the first decades of the fourth. [...] the suspicion must remain strong that the Christians saw some other specific advantage in the codex form, and, as others have suggested, this is likely to have been the greater ease with which a particular passage can be found in a codex. To find the passage which you want to read to the faithful or use against your opponent in a theological squabble, you would commonly have had to unroll up to ten feet of papyrus. How much easier to mark a page and turn to it immediately! It is interesting that in the lists of second-century codices that are unconnected with Christianity or Judaism, of which seventeen are currently known, six or more are texts which may have been needed for consultation and quotation more than for ordinary reading. Some are also texts which are likely to have been wanted in "one-volume" editions, such as Plato's Republic. Thus the codex had a number of advantages over the book-roll, and it should in general have made it easier for people to read literary texts. It certainly made it easier to look things up in a technical handbook, or in a legal textbook or in a collection of enactments such as was to be found in the new legal codes of the 290s. The victory of the codex over the book-roll was natural in an age in which religious books were gaining in relative importance, and in which consultation and quotation instead of independent and disinterested reading were becoming commoner.

The copying and the practical availability of secular literary texts underwent a decline which probably started in many places in the third century.

- Ancient Literacy by William V. Harris

Responses

On a more sinister note, excising unwanted material from a scroll is pretty much undoable w/o losing everything after it. Whereas the codex - snip. Or slip, on the insertion tip.

. . .

On or around Hammett's last two novels

The innocent live in a less complex world than the guilty. At their most intimate, that represents pure reflexive self-defense. A betrayer can afford to play flaneur: the false starts and blind alleys, the peaks and subterranean pipes, hold no threat; lingering tenderness can be revisited like an old diner in an old neighborhood. For the betrayed, that scenic view bristles with pikes, all converging on one target. Best by far to walk away quickly, somewhere smoother, someplace comprehensible.

When escape's blocked, the innocent would rather slit throats than let go of Occam's Razor.

Of course they're right that the mystery was important; it's only the solution that isn't.

. . .

Locally maximizing global minima for fifteen years

I've lived a long time for someone who's done so little.

I would have done even less if I hadn't lived so long.

Responses

RE:15 yrs of poquito y nada. The stature of our accomplishments isn't relative to our comprehension of them. I thought that was the point of Hesse's Magister Ludi, scholars archiving someone else's exegesis on lepidopteric classifications, then some wayward genius in another time sparks everything off a phrase the author never even recognized as significant. Because it wasn't, to him, or anyone else he knew. There is no cosmic metric, no scale that holds still. Not this side of the Big Pillow.

Not sure about Hesse, but otherwise of course I agree. My love for the discarded has everything to do with my "ambition," as I guess it's called, to be occasionally stumbled upon by similar eccentrics and to not unduly annoy anyone else.

Asimov, so Bellow

. . .

Voter seeks party

Robert Heinlein is to Libertarian as Robert Aickman is to?

Responses

Campaign song: "Natty Dread"

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are : Ed's Radio

Ed's Redeeming Qualities with Dom

On 12 October 1989, about four months after factory reset, near the end of my two-hour commute, WMBR's live music program Pipeline! announced Ed's Redeeming Qualities. During the first verse of "Coriander Eyes" I gingerly parked between my alotted concrete columns, then walked to my apartment and slapped in a cassette. (Later, Beth Rust very kindly filled in the start of the set by taping a re-run of the show.)

That cassette heard a lot of play over the next few years, a lot more than some friends could fathom.

Ed's Redeeming Qualities as trio

Its appeal certainly wasn't as self-evident as, say, the Bags' first album or Big Dipper's Craps or the Happy Flowers' Oof. ERQ were uneven from song to song. They were uneven within a song. (While in observational mode, "Minor League Pain" is the best song about depression I know. Spicing it up with surreal abstractions was sand in the spinach.) And even when they were most uneven they stayed kind of samey. (That level of musicianship can support only so much variation.)

But they played the Real Nice Folk Blues. They expressed a recognizably overimaginative underemployed working-class life of shoddy goods, bad coffee, leaking ceilings, suspicious neighbors, and three-legged dogs. They knew what suffering was for (to feed humor), and they knew what humor was for (to justify suffering), and they knew what a song consists of (suffering + humor + you're done). What appealed was something worth aspiring to and something almost within reach.

. . .

Educated and Uneducated Fools

"Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God"
by Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais, & Kali H. Trzesniewski, PLoS ONE 7.5 (2012)

"Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life's purpose"
by Aiyana K. Willard & Ara Norenzayan, Cognition 129 (2013)


"That's All" by Sister Rosetta Thorpe

"Mole in a Hole" by Richard & Linda Thompson

Many, maybe most, of the most understanding, generous, and actively good people I've known express (sheepishly, apologetically) some intuition of "a god" or "a soul." Which is why I haven't been gung ho for atheist proselytizers: I don't feel threatened by personal-belief-in-god(s) so much as by proselytizers.

Like other social psychology studies, these two rely on completely unrepresentative sample populations. However, as social psychologists have shown, we credit the accuracy of reports which confirm our prejudices. Therefore I judge them fine studies.

But also trouble from the get-go. You see, while the authors are professionally committed to secular causality, and presumably also willing to endorse Theory of Mind, they exhibit no opinion whatsoever as regards mind-body dualism and the existence of divinities. They aim to explain belief and disbelief by something other than those propositions' self-evident truth or error.

Which grossly flatters neither of the posited parties. Which means the ball's up for grabs.

And so I wished the papers' authors and editors had kept the likelihood of misreading foremost in mind. I appreciate their not using autism as headline bait in their title; still, they could have kicked off that starter-step more smartly.

Mostly they could have more forcefully distinguished "religion" from "belief in a personal god." A sense that there's something-bigger-than-Phi-il is just one of many nutrients bolted down the maw of the institution. It's neither sufficient nor necessary, and it doesn't link "mentalizing" to "religion-as-we-know-it-best." There's never been a Great Awakening of Unitarian Universalism; bible-belt airwaves don't thunder with embezzlements and threats from the Society of Friends; neither are lynch mobs and heathen burners celebrated for their empathy. And, on the supposed other side of the supposed great divide, although biological evolution isn't "just a theory," it can like the gospels provide fuel for "just another religion" whose salient points are blustering teleology, intolerance, and greed.

Oh, the researchers mention that "living in an area with greater religious attendance increased the odds of believing in God, largely independently of the influence of the cognitive biases"; they mention that applied analytical thinking decreases the odds of believing in God even among extremely helpful people. But with shit like this you gotta mention it every single paragraph, you gotta mention it like the warning on an Academy screener video, you gotta mention it till the rafters ring.

As is, the orthodox have exhibited their usual interpretive care. A SkepticInk member proposed that unequal access to religious feelings is, in itself, a knockout argument against God's existence. A Turkish authority explained the need to indoctrinate autistic children in Islam: "Researchers in the USA and Canada say atheism is a different form of autism." And an all-American troll drew his own mind-reading conclusions from the Turkish authority:

If u choose to leave me message, I will not even read ur comments let alone reply back because It's pointless to argue with a person who has limited cognitive ability, especially a person whose not even aware of it bait me into an immature, endless illogical argument. I don't wanna pick of the handicapped or as we say now in the era of political correctness..mentally challenged..So, I'm ready 4 all of your thumbs down, angry comments, general insults, personal attacks with no substance& illogical fueled bratty tirades. You can't handle the truth cause literally, you can't cause ur literally a cognitive misfit. I always knew there was something wrong with atheists and this proves it but I know atheists are goin2 try 2 downplay and discredit this study anyway because they don't like the results. That's typical..Well. you know what, it works both ways. They can't have their cake and eat it 2, even though it's their nature..

Responses

If my nature were cake, that'd be sweet.

. . .

Couch Platos

It belongs to the puzzling aspects of the allegory of the cave that Plato depicts its inhabitants as frozen, chained before a screen, without any possibility of doing anything or communicating with one another. Indeed, the two politically most significant words designating human activity, talk and action (lexis and praxis), are conspicuously absent from the whole story. The only occupation of the cave dwellers is looking at the screen; they obviously love seeing for its own sake, independent from all practical needs (cf. Aristotle Metaph. 980 a 22-25). The cave dwellers, in other words, are depicted as ordinary men, but also in that one quality that they share with philosophers: they are represented by Plato as potential philosophers, occupied in darkness and ignorance with the one thing the philosopher is concerned with in brightness and full knowledge. [...] he does not tell us why he cannot persuade his fellow citizens, who anyhow are already glued to the screen and thereby in a certain way ready to receive “higher things,” as Hegel called them, to follow his example and choose the way out of the cave.

- from “Philosophy and Politics” by Hannah Arendt,
February 1954 (published 1990)
Are YOU ready for televsion?

Glancing to the left, I could now see the actors’ trembling shadows, getting bigger as they proceeded toward us along the passageway; but I had to look at the monitor to see their intense expressions and detailed clothing. It was like Plato’s allegory of the cave: television, like philosophy, liberates us from un-seeing.

- from “Ottomania” by Elif Batuman,
The New Yorker February 17, 2014

Responses

All I ever wanted was a way to talk back to the screen. Now I have that. Why am I not content? Maybe I am content and don't know it? Maybe that wasn't what I wanted after all. I once met Jerry Mander when I was hitchhiking.
That really happened.

Lead author of The Great International Paper Airplane Book!

I used to be able to find good advice from your blog posts.

You used to be very unusual.

We sent away for a screen to cover the screen and special coloring pens. The show would tell us when and what to color. My life hasn't changed a whole lot since then.

. . .
Popular memory of 60s TV shows fading as fast as memory of 40s radio shows did during my youth. Heartening.
- Jack Womack, Twitter

I feel about the Long Tail the way Oliver felt about Green Acres.

Responses

the Long Tail of the Shaggy Dog?

Clay Shirky, slamming door: "We didn't mean that shaggy."

'Well, kids, they were sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit'
I feel about 40's radio shows the way Fibber felt about Molly

I feel about them the way Gildersleeve felt about the closet.

I live where the shadows are Herrimanical where the coyotes do five-part harmonies and there's only three of em also the adobe walls and a crazy cat, and bricks here and there
Big John and Sparky have ascended into the Van Allen Belt

I have few memories from pre-pubescence. One of the most vivid is the mix of admiration and betrayal I felt when Big John & Sparky survived landing on the surface of the sun.

. . .

Protest Songs

October 21, 1880.— Haslemere. Our last visit (this time) to Aldworth. Snow on the ground. We all drive up.

Tennyson repeated some lines of his own from an old idyll never published, they were something like this

The rich wed richer, and the poor the poor,
The mount of gold accumulating still,
The gulf of want enlarging, deepening, till
The one into the other sink at last
With all confusion.

‘That’s not quite the thing —“all confusion.” Oh, I’ve written thousands of lines that went up the chimney.’

After dinner Tennyson called on Hallam to sing ‘John Brown,’ which he accordingly began in a strong bass voice, T. joining in (the first time I ever heard him try any musical performance), and sometimes thumping with his fists on the table

John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave,
But his soul is marching on!

He urged Hallam to go on, saying, ‘I like it, I like it,’ but Hallam thought the noise too great, and drew off. The soul marching on delighted Tennyson.

- A Diary by William Allingham (1907)

. . .

Finally Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

Remember me? I'm the one who loves you

Returning to 1974, what do we see, peering close?

A hunter or explorer, whose bionic rifle looks about to pup. He has not encountered his intended prey or discovery. Any unsought attention points the other way. But predation seems too strong a word for the confident joy beaming from the beast's face? parasite? protective mimicry?

It could suggest a family visit or a singles bar. It could suggest an allegory of critic and art, or artist and work, or fan and artist. It insists only on its own (possibly unwelcome) presence: assured and unassuming.

In Philadelphia five or six years later I heard the song on an oldies station. It made me happy.

. . .

Still Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

I only once saw Mary Kay Brown in the flesh, in a panel discussion/interview at where was it? SFAI? SFMOMA? CCAC? anyway, at some venue with a very odd notion of the comics community. The panel consisted of maybe four of MAD magazine's Usual Gang of Idiots, and Brown.

I remember the guys as old fussbudgets who treated Brown like she was a biker gang. I remember Brown as instantly likable, assured, and unassuming. What I wish I could remember more clearly was her answer to a question about how her obvious traditional-realism studio chops had gone so very, very awry. It might have been as direct as "What drugs were you on?"

As I poorly remember, she partly credited ex-husband B. Kliban's advice to skip preliminary sketches from life, and instead draw loosely from memory and follow the line. If she didn't say exactly that, she said something I remembered as that thereafter.

How to Appear Normal - Lesson #1 Keep Your Hands Busy

This would have been in the early 1990s, not long after Twisted Sisters introduced me to Brown's 1980s work.

In the 1970s, she was Sun-Records Elvis, a force of nature, "no man could tame her," finding direction everywhere she happened to bound and footing wherever she happened to land.

She never became fat-Vegas Elvis, but she RCA-ified into something more controlled, more readable. She contextualized her lava-lamp illuminations in a couple of very welcome How-to-Read-M.-K.-Brown primers, "White Girl Dreams" and "I Can't Work Today." Otherwise, faces and figures were snatched from the fondue and set along Mort-Drucker-ish lines. Sets and costumes were borrowed from the New Yorker warehouse. She rubber-stamped White Girl. Gags stayed odd.

. . .

And Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

(part 5 of 7)

"The Sad Pony" was the most surprising Stranger than Life exclusion. The saddest was "The Magic Orange," if only because my own copy's so damaged by the years it spent on my wall as a motivational poster.

It motivated as magic's limiting case. Given only a glove and a sphere to exposit, Brown still Chymically Weds giddy enthusiasm to shabby resignation.

The Magic Orange

What I love most about the comics I love most is their sense of a whole world: "Anything which could happen in this world has a place in this world." (A whole world which is theirs, that is, not mine. Mine, by definition, is not whole.)

These worlds I love live in comics I love, not (for the most part) in the touch of the cartoonist. Although I attend the Church of Herriman at least thrice weekly, my rebirth could not have been induced by Baron Bean, the family downstairs from the Family Upstairs, or Tad-along sports spots. I medidade eklusidly upon the Kat Testamint, for the foundational miracle of the Church was Kat's effect on Herriman's art. Shari Flenniken and Vaughn Bodé, Jaime Hernandez, Aline Kominsky, Eddie Campbell, and so on, work upon me with the art of their their stories, certain characteristic stories, not with single panels or interstitials or commercial illustrations or "Batman" one-offs.

Whereas 1970s M. K. Brown delivered a world equally vividly in gag panel, narrative discourse, or execution of another writer's scripts. Her planet-producing-and-devouring virtues inhered in performance, and her characteristic story was one of composition.

Which sounds a lot like how one is supposed to appreciate (and how I did eventually learn to experience) "high art." It's hard to picture Piero della Francesca as a National Lampoon regular, but Philip Guston's not much of a stretch, and I find it very easy to picture "The Magic Orange" on a gallery wall: I'm used to seeing it on walls. Contrary to idiot opinion over the decades, Brown didn't rely on chemical stimulation to draw. But it might assist her audience.

. . .

Yet Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

The sui generis lacks blood relations, but convergent evolution remains a possibility. Any reader of M. K. Brown's "The Sad Pony" would have started at Kate Beaton's much later exercises in cheery grotesque pathos.

Admittedly, "any reader" might just have been me.

He grew fatter... and fatter...

. . .
Glacial Calamity by M. K. Brown and Ed Bluestone

A "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance with Ed Bluestone

Ed Bluestone was a stand-up comic from East Orange, NJ, who provided occasional pieces, aphorisms ("The sooner the animals are extinct, the sooner we'll find their money"), and comics scripts to the Lampoon. Most of them concerned death, although he also got off some racist and sacrilegious corkers.

His script about the degradation and death of Adlai Stevenson and his script about the thwarted last wish of a dying child were professionally executed by mainstream cartoonists to full cold-blooded effect. Anthropomorphism called for a different approach, though. "Mark Trail" beavers can't talk (they just can't); Donald-Duck cartooniness would miss the point. The nearest thing the magazine had to Walt Kelly was Vaughn Bodé, who was already fully preoccupied with mortality on his own terms.

Which I suppose is how Bluestone's animal gags ended up with M. K. Brown. Nothing of them but doth change into something funny-strange.

He's fading fast. You've got to remove that tumor, doctor. I'm winded. Let me go and you won't regret it, honey.

. . .

Another "True Life" M. K. Brown Romance

Unlike most reviewers of Stranger than Life, I grew up playing with monkeys fell in love with M. K. Brown on sight: on sight of a tiny filler topping the editorial page of the first National Lampoon I bought.

Well, Arthur, we are sure sorry to see you go but know it is for the best

After a belly-punching guffaw, what did we see, peering close, glasses off (we being, as we know, highly myopic)?

The grotesque made mundane; the mundane made grotesque. Across an invisible wall of mid-American reticence a line of family (barely readable barely shoved together lumps of clay) faces off a stout and sporty bird-man cradled by their slump of resignation, or rather launched out of that cradle.

On the artifact's own terms, easy confidence in a continuity of vision, improvisation, and realization, with elucidation left to look out for itself.

I was fifteen then; I'm fifty-five now and still likely to announce my commute with "Well, mother, I'm off to the zoo."

I bought back issues of the Lampoon as I could afford them, and for their scraps of Brown and Shary Flenniken bought new issues as the Lampoon began its post-Michael-O'Donoghue post-Henry-Beard post-Michael-Gross dissipation into YA-Penthouse. I bought so-so picture books when they had Brown's name on the cover; I might have bought Twisted Sisters without Brown's name on the cover but wouldn't have bought it so reflexively.

She's at the center of my sense of what comics do. She's my Jack Kirby. Naturally I recommend immediate purchase of her first and only collection; naturally I resent it not being two hundred pages longer and several inches taller and wider.

NEXT: What to do with those leftover oysters!

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .