an ordinary evening in new haven?

John Crowley and The Chemical Wedding

For reasons I can no longer remember, I seem to have changed my userpic to the Photoshop fiction of me walking ahead of John Crowley in New Haven (a city I have never visited); an image that is particularly appropriate for this post, because I am using it to call the following to the attention of the very, very, very few LJ friends who are not also friends on other social media:

The Small Beer Press campaign on Kickstarter featuring the hardcover edition of John Crowley's translation of The Chemical Wedding by Christian Rosencreutz:

The softcover version of what looks to be an extraordinarily handsome book is scheduled for October publication, but the hardcover will be made available only during this Kickstarter campaign, and for as little as $35 (actually, $30 but Kickstarter seems to be adding $5 shipping in spite of the campaign's offer of free shipping).

If you need an introduction to The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, or "by Christian Rosencreutz" as Crowley translates the title, then you probably need an introduction to the novels of John Crowley as well, in which case this would take too long. It would be a worthwhile project, but one that has been undertaken on this journal so many times that I refuse to believe there are any readers of it who haven't been properly introduced to them. (Indeed, I wonder if there are any readers of it any longer, period.)
an ordinary evening in new haven?

publishing for the historical record

Am feeling melancholy about the various LiveJournals likely to disappear in the not-so-foreseeable future, some of which (not just mine) were designed to possess a degree of permanence. Does anybody know the status of the publishing agreement LJ had (I know, I could websearch it, but am also feeling lazy at the moment)? I know they disabled my favorite make-your-own-book software (or I can't make it work any longer, anyway). I should think the desirable outcome would be a version of public posts in which all the irrelevant or no longer relevant posts would be reset to private and the remainder produced as a downloadable e-book and/or print version.

I have concluded that I am not going to produce the definitive explanation of our historical moment (or even my confused version of same) and have now restricted myself to topical posts on and may resume on, but I am also thinking of writing some off-the-cuff (why the cuff? I know, I could look it up) or off-the-top-of-my-head notations about such topics as St-John Perse's poems fifty years later, and what is and is not relevant in what has lately been termed The Age of Earthquakes (regarding which, see my review essay on Counterforces).
mughal virgin and child

"It is a terrible thing to see a world die twice...." [K. Rexroth, "Un Bel di Vedremo"]

I have let my commentary migrate away from LiveJournal because the conversation I started with myself seems to have been evolving in parallel strands in the worlds of academia, and since none of the other scholars clawing their way up Mount Analogue ever read this journal (and if they did, I invite them to e-mail me to that effect or private-message me on some other social media), it is difficult to continue to bore my handful of LJ friends with my usual topics. The friends-only summary I offered of my essay for a European university press met, as I expected, with zero response. (It doesn't help, of course, that it was so tedious in its condensed version that I myself couldn't get through it.)

LiveJournal is still an excellent vehicle for the extended meditation, and I find ones on my friends page that cry out to be collected into an eminently publishable book; but as Basar, Coupland, and Obrist write in The Age of Earthquakes, their update for the digital age of McLuhan and Fiore's The Medium Is the Massage, "Your blog is now one of seven billion blogs." Which is a witticism, since it only seems like every human being now alive on earth has a blog. In fact, some of them only use Snapchat.

I have been somewhat more active on, which people tell me they actually follow (and thank me for).

And I do read my LJ friends page, with the feeling that there is still the core of a community there even if all of us are mostly engaging in soliloquies that can be appreciated but not commented on (because to do so adequately would require an eloquence some of us rarely possess).

I was struck, reading my friends page just now, by the realization that most of the posts that moved me most profoundly were public.
in a dark wood


I note a spike in non-LJ visits to the blog when I post friends-only LJ entries. I don't know if this is a coincidence or some obscure effect of off-site conversation. I also note that the one account that a friend established in order to read one friends-only post, but never accessed again, has been purged completely.

I don't know what all this means, but I'm sure there are some people whom I would like to have read certain friends-only posts, but who don't have LJ accounts. I have set up some ludicrously specific custom friends groups, so anybody who wants to discuss this on some other social medium (or even a couple of social media) or message me on LJ, please do so.

Topics sufficiently developed for general perusal will probably migrate to the dreamwidth joculum account eventually. Other posts wouldn't interest anybody (or even be understood by anybody) outside of a small circle of friends, to quote the late Phil Ochs.

crowdsourcing question

This is a rather smaller crowd than the one on Facebook, but it is actually more likely to contain a member who knows the answer to this:

What is the origin of the now independent tale of the little girl who returns the big book about penguins to the library, telling the librarian as she does so, "I'm sorry, but this is really more than I wanted to know about penguins." Many years ago, a fellow doctoral candidate identified the book from which it came, but now the only author-specific citation I can find online is as suspect as the ones ascribing it to the grandmother of the person posting the anecdote, or to the introductory course for librarians in which they heard it.

It occurs to me, belatedly, that just because my fellow grad student told the story in greater detail and cited chapter and verse which I cannot now remember, it doesn't mean he wasn't spouting nonsense.
cupid in the tropics

Another couple thousand words nobody has time to read, and that nobody really wants to read, anyway

Melancholy Reflections on the Rapid Demise of Vehicles of Information

I should start, as a certified Old Fart, by paying homage to antique academic proprieties (George Steiner would once have started such an essay as this with such a meditation) but my heart’s not in it. However, since I just read an essay by the founder/editor of the online journal n+1 surveying the onetime range of Partisan Review while bemoaning the decay of the idea of the public intellectual, I’ll begin (sigh) by noting the assorted print quarterlies that have come and gone over the decades, and mostly gone as the twenty-first century has come on apace.

But in fact my subject isn’t quarterly print journals, which I peruse these days via Arts & Letters Daily ( when I seek out their contents at all. Academic libraries are hard to get into for people outside the university, the public libraries carry few such titles, and the surviving magazine stands in this part of the world stock a dwindling number of such journals. I am astonished, or was astonished as of a few years ago, to find that some of my favorite topics are now covered by new specialized journals, which keep their contents online firmly behind Jstor walls, as do a growing number of the surviving general-audience intellectual journals—if that isn’t an oxymoron, which at one time it wasn’t, there having been many “general audiences” in the sense of what was once meant by “middlebrow.” Today there are more niche "general audiences" than ever, many of them quite scholarly in pursuing their own particular obsessions, too. “Lowbrow” is a field of intellectual activity with its own hyperserious publications, galleries, and online discussion groups. There is also an online publication that proudly calls itself Hilobrow (, which is singlehandedly passing on the information once provided by middlebrow quarterlies of various sorts, although not the sorts in which the New York intellectuals published their pontifications on public events (he said Peter-Piper-ishly).

There, I got that out of the way. And I got, however obliquely, into my real subject, which is a typically meandering complaint about the condition of rapidly evolving digital information sources.

I don’t know why I should be bothered. In the bygone days of print, “little magazines” were launched and died after a couple of issues, and did so with monotonous regularity, and most of them were even harder to locate than the most interesting online information sources—which is typically one reason they died off so quickly. A more common reason was that the editor lost interest or surplus income, which also is the reason that a good many online journals disappear completely. The difference is that as far as I know, some of the online journals genuinely disappear—when the servers that held them are wiped or the accounts are deleted, semi-decayed back issues are not offered for sale on eBay. One once-popular repository of photographs was recently completely obliterated, after a decent interval in which individual account holders could recover their own material if they saw fit. Presumably something like that will happen to Flickr someday, and to Instagram after or before it. (Snapchat has figured out how to self-destruct, or rather pretend to self-destruct, moment by moment.) The deletion of blog or photo hosts is not like shutting down a magazine; it is like burning down a library, only the library is the equivalent of the library Richard Brautigan once imagined, in which unpublished authors deposited the manuscripts of their unpublished books for perusal by library visitors. In the era of print-on-demand, we can foresee similar events of destruction—growing numbers of image-heavy books and periodicals depend on online publishers, which means that instead of such titles being available in the future from booksellers for one American cent, as is the case today with many secondhand titles for which there is only a small market, the half-dozen hard copies of some print-on-demand titles will be worth thousands of dollars. This is, by the way, already the case with recently published hard-copy exhibition catalogues with a short press run and no digital availability—there appear to be only two copies of one such catalogue for sale anywhere on the planet, both of them going for a few thousand dollars to whichever library or well-to-do connoisseur was too negligent to acquire them two years ago before the supply was exhausted.

This is a tedious topic, but I am struck by the fact that it appears to be so tedious that no one is paying particular attention to it, at least not in widely distributed discussion groups. There are ample numbers of library sites, I'm sure, that write about it all the time.

I continue to badger publishers to produce at least PDF-format versions of out of print books (e-books migrate among incompatible platforms, which is why I am happy that some people produce pirated online editions of books that were published in now-defunct electronic formats—bad for the authors’ royalties, but good for the accessibility of books that otherwise can’t be acquired, period. So far, the PDF has been a lasting multi-platform format.) —I continue to do that, I say; so I am not completely averse to the digital revolution. In fact, I have benefited from it beyond my wildest dreams, in terms of the coming of the universal library, and to the point that I feel deprived when I can’t locate some obscure title at least among the lists of the world’s antiquarian booksellers.

But I am disturbed by, among many other phenomena, the thoughtless wiping out of things like the popular websites of 2005. I’m sure they exist on the backup servers of entities that I shall not enumerate, but scholars can’t get at them. There is quite enough on the internet that its creators wish could be wiped out, but which cannot, not quite, so “the right to be forgotten” has become a popular topic. But things that ought not to be forgotten are also sent down the memory hole, as those who grew up on George Orwell's novel are wont to write.

Arts & Letters Daily is such a useful aggregator that the academic community stepped in to maintain it when its wonderfully opinionated editor died. (But of course it provides links, not copies of articles, and the links go dead.) And perhaps the ephemera of popular websites are too voluminous to be kept accessible over the long term; some years ago, the now-endangered film company Kodak established a program to collect donated home movies, snapshots and snapshot negatives, but most family photo albums end up in antique shops when they aren’t hauled off to the dumpster, and home movies simply decay beyond recovery, like digital information on 1980s diskettes. Historians of social trends would like to have access to every letter ever written, but few archives have the space to collect them en masse. The difference is that as far as I know, it has never occurred to a public archive to copy everything on Flickr or Pinterest. (If there is such an archive, I'd like to know about it.)

But archiving is, as is usual for me, not what I intended to grumble about, although I am glad I downloaded certain essays while they could still be downloaded. The fact that ten years from now I may find them as impossible to open as certain essays I wrote and stored on obsolete media in discontinued programs—that is a separate topic, also.

Actually, I am writing this because the modes in which information is produced are shifting so rapidly that it becomes difficult to know where best to look for it, or it is not being produced at all in the formats and lengths in which it was once produced.

Facebook is excellent as a crowdsourced aggregator, for people who accumulate the right sorts of Facebook friends—a whole range of links to essays in specialized topics appear in every hour’s news feed, and that makes it worth wading through the posts from otherwise highly intelligent friends obsessed with the strange habits of their cats. We all have our kinks, and now all of us can let the whole planet know about them.

But people’s Tumblr accounts are usually merely frustrating; Pinterest is an intermittently excellent if insufficiently catalogued visual resource for many things; and many excellent specialized blogs still exist on Blogger, a few on LiveJournal, a few on Wordpress—overall, so many of them that even when I discover them via someone’s link to a specific post, I can’t keep up with them and doubt that I could even if I put them all on RSS feeds. I don’t open many of the innumerable press releases I find in my inbox, and I don't look at a good many blogs I should be reading.

So I am not grumbling about lack of information per se (“at last he is getting to the point,” you say, but I have been covering, as usual, points I had long intended to make about other interconnected topics). I am feeling melancholy about the shift in our modes of attention themselves.

It’s a Twitter world, and unless it was an ironic aside in an advice column that seemed too genuinely earnest for that, someone’s not having a Twitter account is regarded as a major plus for certain millennials when it comes to making initial judgments as to who might be worth pursuing for more than a hookup. (One of my Facebook friends writes for Bustle and summarizes lots of stuff, but usually the satire is easier to tell from the real thing than it is on political websites.)

But for those of us who are a generation or so behind the curve, Facebook seems to have become as good as it gets for the mix of ideas, information, and images that blogs once gave us in greater profusion than they currently do. So many LiveJournal friends, and I myself, now limit themselves to random outbursts where once they would have gone on for pages (or very long scrolldowns) in far greater depth. Some have apparently said what they had to say in this format, and moved on to the immediate gratifications of posts in which they know from the sheer lack of “like”s whether it has gone over like the antique metaphor of the lead balloon. LiveJournal statistics don’t indicate whether a post was read by an interested person too busy to compose a comment or by a bot searching for a place to park an irrelevant spam message written in a Slavic or East Asian language.

I have moved or copied some of my most serious posts to another site ( that I try to keep clear of offhand remarks like this one, but I miss what once was a profusion of similar ambitious but not-ready-for-prime-time lucubrations by people who have given up on such pursuits because they get their spur-of-the-moment ideas out elsewhere. The elsewheres are too transient or quick-paced to be entirely useful; I sometimes remember to click through to someone’s Facebook timeline to see what I missed while I was having a life or writing for publication, but more often I forget, and more often what I missed consists of an enigmatic paragraph instead of a few thousand interesting words. (People increasingly write entirely for the people whom they private-message or see on a daily basis, making their posts unintelligible to 90% of their actual audience.)

Perhaps all this bloggy meandering, the written equivalent of thinking out loud for an audience, always was a bad idea. But I am feeling its absence severely, as my LJ friends feed has shrunk to almost nothing. The more so in that many of them never post to Facebook, either, and I refuse to migrate to Twittr even though the ill-chosen and ultimately unretractable 140 characters is the wave of the (near) future, or rather of a future so short-lived that it is already mostly becoming the past. (Don’t try to remind me that this has always been the case—as has recently been noted in some essays linked to in Facebook, the future is arriving much faster than it used to, which means the past is piling up at an accelerated rate, also. The ruins viewed by the Angel of History who is being blown forward by the storm from Paradise get bigger with considerably more rapidity as the wind picks up.)
cupid in the tropics

"The universe is not only"...or wait, is it "the world" or "reality" that is not only?

I have several reasons for moving my most ambitious intellectual investigations to and But there are ample numbers of inconsequential but interesting topics that can still be explored here, including discovering how the simplest of intellectual references opens to depths of immense incertitude.

“The Universe...Is Stranger Than We Can Suppose.” "—Play it again, Sam"?

I have finally found a reasonably containable discussion (although I doubt that I’ll contain it successfully) that doesn’t fit into or, where I increasingly park my more megalomaniacal intellectual outpourings. (I see that most of my LJ friends have simply given up on the blog as a medium for extended disquisition.)

Friend Grady Harris and I (I won’t, for once, a.k.a. to his many online pseudonyms, of which “Grady Harris” sounds like one and on one level actually is) have long traded comments on how it comes to be that all famous quotations are parceled out erroneously on the internet: Wryly ironic observations are said to be by Mark Twain unless they are by Woody Allen, and people who think that Twain must be the originator of everything vaguely ironic sometimes compel Twain to use slang terms from the 1960s. Slightly gnomic but lyrical lines of verse are almost all said to be by Emily Dickinson but occasionally by a handful of others, although the lines usually contain enough internal clues to warn a diligent websearcher that they were not written by any of the poets cited. Observations about science are typically assigned to Albert Einstein; for a significant exception, see the discussion that follows these longwinded general observations.

There are subcategories of generic aphorisms that end up being ascribed to whatever other authors and thinkers most internet users already know, so that on a more arcane level of discourse, the persons most often cited in introductory college courses in anthropology or sociology become associated with authentic quotes (sometimes by their academic opponents) that express opinions they never held. This shades off into the more common phenomenon of supposed quotations of recent remarks by the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis that neither of them ever uttered but that sound sort of right; the “Play it again, Sam” syndrome, one might call it, and probably someone already does.

The game of quotational distortion and erroneous ascription is, of course, much older than the internet, as the “Play it again, Sam” reference indicates; and longtime readers of this blog who also have long memories will recall my patient tracking down of who first reported on an experience with ether in which the user was granted the revelation that the universe is permeated with a strong smell of turpentine, or was it that an odor of petroleum obtains throughout? Actually, it was neither one, not exactly, although very similar expressions occur in the retellings that now include this one.

What happens, often enough, is that writers remember an anecdote or a quotation pertinent to their argument; the writers, if they are intellectually responsible, don’t want to put a loose paraphrase in quotation marks, and if they trust the reader to be familiar with the quotation in question or omit the name because they themselves are not sure who said it, they will find the quotation ascribed to them as the originator, not always in the exact words they used in paraphrasing.

I bring all this up because recently I saw on Facebook one of those familiar overlays of an edifying quotation on a semi-appropriate photograph, in this case one saying, “The universe is not only stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think. —Werner Heisenberg”. This annoyed me because I was convinced that Heisenberg couldn’t have written that; and that some other well-known physicist had said it; and that the correct quotation was the more elegantly phrased “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

It took a fairly short time to find that the more elegant version is ascribed, wrongly, to Arthur Eddington, who never wrote such a sentence even if he expressed vaguely similar opinions. The preponderant opinion of commenters was that this is a distortion of J. B. S. Haldane’s 1927 aphorism, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.” Since no one gives a page reference to Haldane's Possible Worlds, even when they identify it as the source, I must withhold judgment on what Haldane actually wrote, but he does seem to be the locus classicus for this particular thread of morphing aphorisms.

Subsequently I found that the Heisenberg quote often comes attached to a book title, his 1974 Across the Frontiers, but the page reference hasn’t migrated along with the quotation, and I haven’t searched long enough to find the book online. If the entire passage from which the quotation comes has ever been ever cited by someone, it is buried so deep in the pages of search results that I haven’t had time to locate it.

Citations of the “imagine” instead of “think” version never seemed to get beyond the misascription to “Sir Arthur Eddington,” which bothered me, as I thought I had seen it ascribed otherwise. A more comprehensive websearch found that it is now often ascribed to Richard Feynman. A slightly different set of search terms turned up a mind-numbingly exact citation of Richard Feynman’s The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume II, Section 41, page 12, but unfortunately in that passage Feynman is actually quoting J. B. S. Haldane’s original remark, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.”

At long last, I discovered that a source purporting to impart “the deepteachings of Merlyn” actually transcribes the passage in which Feynman says “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine,” and it is in a popularizing lecture on the mysteries of quantum mechanics in which he makes offhanded allusions and, in the transcribed passage at least, doesn’t give oral citation of his sources. The writer cites the URL, but unfortunately this page has been taken down for copyright infringement so the accuracy of the transcription can’t be verified.

I am left with the feeling that Feynman thinks he is quoting somebody else quite accurately, and considers the quotation too well known to require him to cite the name in a lecture in which his rhetoric is on a roll. He imagines a firmly established identity for the author of an aphorism that turns out to be far more fluidly attributed than he supposes.

One webpage of quotes about science wisely ascribes the “imagine” version to that prolific producer, Anonymous. Somebody is the actual author.