Birds under alabaster, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna; photo by Juliet Clark
pseudopodium
. . .

Every man his own Montresor

While writing "Adaptive Manifold Learning" I envisioned a guy slowly bricking himself into a corner.

I suppose some other people must be single-celled organisms, too that's where the Bildung comes in, right?


To change the subject, I'm reading through Henry Green's novels in publication order and recently finished Living, and then looked in on the secondary sources. Admittedly I'm restricted to virtual library access, but I was surprised by what I found.

The twenty-four-year-old male aristocrat who wrote the novel included only two females in its ensemble cast, both of them baby-mad. The younger more central character has lost two potential husbands, has no prospects in sight, and lives among men who prefer to keep it that way. The older more peripheral character, heavily populated, boasts the ensemble's most consistently smug consciousness: "She had now in her feeling contempt for this girl which had never had kids."

In the next to last line of the book, the younger woman is overcome by just how cute, oh look at that pretty little thing, oh I just want to eat you up, yes I do!, um-mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh! ahhh, um-mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh! And the secondary sources agree that this "is clearly an act of redemption and hope at the novel's end."

What surprises me is that they don't mention the last line of the book, which struck me as acutely memorable, if possibly ambiguous, and perhaps my own interpretation just goes to show how warm-hearted I am?


When you get down to it it's hard to really change the subject.

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are : Jolly Coppers

The Policeman
"Jolly Coppers on Parade"

They're coming down the street,
Coming right down the middle.
Look how they keep the beat.
They're as blue as the ocean!

How the sun shines down!
How their feet hardly touch the ground!
Jolly coppers on parade.

Here come the black-and-whites.
Here come the motorcycles.
Listen to those engines roar!
Now they're doing tricks for the children.

Oh, they look so nice,
Looks like angels have come down from paradise,
Jolly coppers on parade.

Oh, mama,
That's the life for me.
When I'm grown
That's what I wanna be.

Coming down the street,
Coming right down the middle.
Look how they keep the beat,
Coming through the heart of the city.

Oh, it's all so nice!
Looks like angels have come down from paradise,
Jolly coppers on parade.

"The Laughing Policeman"
- as sung by Charles Penrose

I know a fat old policeman. He's always on our street.
A fat and jolly red-faced man, he really is a treat.
He's too kind for a policeman, he's never known to frown,
And everybody says he is the happiest man in town.

Oh ha ha...

He laughs upon point duty. He laughs upon his beat.
He laughs at everybody when he's walking in the street.
He never can stop laughing. He says he's never tried.
But once he did arrest a man and laughed until he cried.

Oh hoo hoo...

His jolly face it wrinkled and then he shut his eyes.
He opened his great mouth. It was a wonderous size.
He said "I must arrest you!" He didn't know what for.
And then he started laughing until he cracked his jaw.

Ohhhh hoo hoo...

So if you chance to meet him while walking 'round the town,
Shake him by his fat old hand and give him half a crown.
His eyes will beam and sparkle, he'll gurgle with delight,
And then you'll start him laughing with all his blessed might!

Oh hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ooooh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ahh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!


The 3rd Degree: A Detailed Account of Police Brutality
by Emanuel H. Lavine, 1930

(The book's title page has it as "A Detailed and Appalling Exposé of Police Brutality," but Manny Lavine never sounds anything near appalled and so I'll stick to the cover's version. The linked PDF excises a few chapters of redundant jollity; if any dear readers simply must have more Lee-Tracy-ish sadism in their lives, let me know and I'll try to oblige.)

It's not what anyone would call an authoritative and deeply considered overview of American policing, but I found this relic of jaundiced journalism worthwhile in a 'twas-ever-thus-except-where-not way. Cops and criminals have always shared a code of silence, with swift vengeance taken against any transgressors (transgressors of the code of silence, that is; not of the law), but it's been far better preserved by the cops: they suffer less competition from amateurs and fewer interruptions by prison, and benefit from open advocacy groups and freely donated propaganda, guaranteeing generation upon generation of apprenticeship. The complicity of the crime reporter is explicitly in evidence. Even the pundit's favorite comparison point was a chestnut by 1930:

It is for the public to decide whether these practices are really necessary and inevitable. The police in Great Britain, infinitely more efficient than our own, operate without resort to violence....

And then as now the police were merely the most broadly distributed and frequently encountered layer of the American system of injustice, handing off to unjustly distributed attorneys and juries, unjust judges, and unjust punishments, with the powerless pushed farther down and the powerful lifted farther up each stage of the way.

What's changed since 1930? Well, here as everywhere else, Americans have become more productive. Quantified goals for fines, arrests, convictions, and prison populations have goosed the good old lazy beat cop. Across the country, civil forfeiture has formalized the shakedown, with great gains in efficiency. Abundant access to militarized weaponry combines with training on the importance of hysterical panic even in the face of underwhelming odds, so that routine-to-unnecessary tasks can begin already escalated and escalate on from there. There are fewer second-gen Irish on the force and more of anyone else who can follow the rules of the game. And we've now got a genuine fully-attested crook at the top of American law enforcement. The meritocracy works!

What's next? Frankly, I don't see much room for further improvement. Maybe it's time to outsource?

. . .

To Matt Cheney's "Drifting"

The revelation that Matt Cheney skims or skips block quotes shattered my (admittedly distant) Matt-Cheney-conception. As my father always said while I tweezered chunks of pork fat to the far side of my black-eyed peas, "That's the best part!" I do crave the sort of complicating ornament that Will Elder called "chicken fat"; what bothered me were the clarity and simplicity of the chunks.

Speaking of/in quotes, "irksub" is a lovely word. A submerged, suffocated version of feeling irked and irking others. A vector of what might be subversion if issued from a position nearer power, but absorbed by mulch instead. Where Melville's poor devil of a Sub-Sub realizes he might as well join Melville's scrivener.

Speaking of not speaking, Tom Lehrer is another one who took that Abyssinian trip. I hope Cheney doesn't follow them, of course, but of course I'm not the boss of anyone.

I keep worrying at how much more puritanical I feel about COVID-19 than I did about AIDS. Partly it's that my-life-for-love seems a more worthwhile gamble than unknown-number-of-lives-for-a-haircut-and-sitting-in-a-restaurant. Mostly, though, I suppose it's the difference between being in one's early twenties and being in one's late teens or early sixties.

. . .

"The martini is a mixed drink of some strength that has something wrong with it."

. . .

Graphemics 2020

While socially distancing in our backyard this morning and praising the goodness of Graham Mackintosh, I fetched my treasured copy of Language to show it off and opened it at random to "(The children don't even wear masks)".

. . .

To Joshua Corey's Ten Thousand Words

The world is too much with us and the world would like a chance to be with someone else for a change.

. . .

Manifolds

The Philosopher's Calculus, or Stone : 1977 1980

Fear of the irrational undoubtedly feeds on our lack of knowledge, but above all on those points of omission, on a certain impatience that keeps us from penetrating to the heart of the operative by confusing learning with the talent for rapidly consuming an "informational content." But to learn is to prepare oneself to learn what one in some way already knows. and to put oneself into such a state where the connection between things reverberates in the connection of the mind. The operation is not at first given as an arrow that links a source to a target, but rather emerges in the places where variables become merged and get tangled up without being policed by parentheses.
- Figuring Space (Les enjeux du mobile) by Gilles Châtelet
Have I no weapon-word for thee some message brief and fierce?
(Have I fought out and done indeed the battle?) Is there no shot left,
For all thy affectations, lisps, scorns, manifold silliness?
Nor for myself my own rebellious self in thee?
- "To the Pending Year" by Walt Whitman

The next few years were the most intellectually transformative, emotionally mercurial, and socially toxic of my existence, which I suppose is only to be expected when an eighteen-year-old autodidact is removed from years of rural seclusion (but not the gentlemanly sort) and deposited in two of America's finest colleges and near one of America's largest cities.

In that despised and now inconceivable final phase of public support for education, financial aid flowed but first-gen student advising did not. Ten years after I graduated, I discovered that my fellow students considered collaborative reverse-engineering of textbook-and-chalkboard proofs as essential for mathematics as language drills were for French or German classes. If I'd known, maybe I wouldn't have squandered so many opportunities.

On the other hand, who am I kidding? I was a stubborn cuss, and my introduction to the mores of prep-schooled young men the differences money made and the differences it didn't had started me on the cynical foot, a stance reinforced when Haverford's presidency passed from two-fisted activist Jack Coleman to dispiriting English toad Robert Bocking Stevens. Told what could be gained from a study group, I'd have said, "Who wants to hang out with math majors? It's bad enough I have to hang out with myself."

As was, I envisioned "college" as that phase of life in which massive blunders incur relatively minor penalties, and I behaved accordingly.

The result was the Great Work advertised by my self-assigned Yeats-and-Joyce-centered curriculum (pursued alongside a full externally-assigned course load): mortared and pestled; flamed and boiled in shit; buried to ferment; seasoned to taste. The most practiced of my little loves once confided on our way out of bed that she'd described me to her mother, a research psychologist, as "probably psychotic," and what shocked me about that was the idea of anyone disclosing their own life to their own parents.

If only to warn young people against the dangers of unsupervised reading, I suppose I should mention the precipitant of my greatest tumble, after which I saw only a choice of downhill slides: an all-out unrequited amour fou, an experience never to be repeated and best avoided in the first place. It's not that the Tudor poets and Baudelaire and Dowson and Yeats and the Confessionals and so on made the idea sound exactly desirable; more, I think, that there are only so many times you can rehearse a part before you put on the show.

Let's keep the rest on ice; there's way too much here for one meal. As a placeholder, though, and because COVID-19 isolation's got me nervy, and because I'm sick to death of writing without any identifiable human beings other than "I" and "me," and most people skip Acknowledgments anyway so no harm done, I'd like to cite some names. Bless this bed that I lie on.

Over away from Dane
Axe Edge sends down the Dove,
gathers the Manifold
and lets it slip
through complexity;
the hills in their turns tantalise

and instruct, then the learning
dissolves. There's no
holding it all.
- A Furnace, by Roy Fisher


Graduation : 1980 1982

No more education was possible for either man. Such as they were, they had got to stand the chances of the world they lived in; and when Adams started back to Cambridge to take up again the humble tasks of schoolmaster and editor he was harnessed to his cart. Education, systematic or accidental, had done its worst. Henceforth, he went on, submissive.
The Education of Henry Adams: a Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity

As my dropout year drew to its close, I took inventory:

This was as soft as a hardscrabble bohemian life was ever going to get. And I had not found the experience productive; it was not conducive to inspiration. All I'd achieved was that list of unpleasantries.

There was no way around it. Insofar as I had anything to offer existence (and we'll set that question aside for the nonce), I'd need a steady income.


Entry to the alleged sanctuary of Academe was barred by Customs: grades and required classes were cruel mockeries of education, and I'd resolved never to become a perpetrator.

Thanks to my tremor and lack of sustain, physical labor was out, as were (due to different uncorrectable flaws) most of the worthwhile jobs open to mouthy intellectuals. (Nowadays I guess I might find hire as the concern troll equivalent of an agent provocateur, but that sounds even less attractive than grifting throwaway money from a venture capitalist.)

I was rarely picked for retail positions, and when I won one, I'd be fired within the month. Having been cursed with a rubber, stage-ready face that exaggerates any fleeting emotion, I couldn't hide contempt and hostility well enough to keep any other sort of service job, either.

It would have to be some sort of clerical position, then, and I'd need a degree to paper over my too-evident defects. Petite bourgeoisie or bust!

And to obtain that degree, I'd need to clean up my act for the sake of the kiddies, stop flinging my Sad-Harpo-Marx seduction technique at all and sundry, buckle down more and under less.

But before and beyond all that, I needed then as I needed later, as I need now to invent some "justification" is too presumptuous a word some motivation which could be reconciled with my life as stubbornly lived: one which has always compulsively extracted, deformed, misapplied, modified, inverted, ripped, and generally not-left-the-fuck-alone abstract verbal models which then, in their own right, tend to go all Frankenstein's monster on my sorry ass.


Before the fiction grew threadbare, announcing myself as poet was meant to signal harmless redundancy. If asked to elaborate, I'd declare an ambition to be a minor poet not a prophet, not a School-of-Me founder with a job at the Post Office 1 and an apartment which could host friends. Downscale Eddie FitzGerald, not shitkickin' Al Tennyson.

Later, stripped of laurel and intimates, I sought guidance in others from that narrow intersection of people I admired and people I felt akin to: the exceptionists, the easily ignored; those who pursued eccentric interests or contributed to essential goals in oddly irrelevant ways; amusements or annoyances to more important names.

But I anticipate. Returning to 1980:

I'm only of use as a persuasively dissenting voice, but I must never be so persuasive as to dominate.2 If I couldn't talk I had nothing to contribute, but left unmuzzled I was a menace to the community. Well! A short leash, then, and a fenced yard for exercise. Try to avoid battlegrounds which might incur meaningful casualties. Reserve untrammeled discourse for nearest-and-dearests, preferably as I decided not long afterward, post facto, based on new evidence, per SOP preferably within the safe all-accepting bounds of a monogamous sexual relationship, where static build-ups and short circuits could be grounded by bed.

I didn't necessarily want to be worthless, but if that was the price of pointlessness, so be it.


The advent of this story's shaggy "Rosebud" dogsled, the "image", wasn't memorable. As previously admitted, it's been a cheap sturdy utilitarian thing for daily use, like my father's CPO mug, not a major purchase or knock-me-down Damascan reveal.

I know for certain that by the fall of 1980 I was keeping it within reach: an easily graspable and transportable geometric reminder of the insufficiency of logical discourse, and geometric hint as to how that insufficiency might be addressed and deployed, and then subjected to reminder. A surveying tool for local maxima.


I re-entered college and lightened my course load.

With fewer sins to confess, there was less impetus to poeticize, and I diverted attention to my role as lyricist and lead vocalist in my friends' rock band. (I was lead vocalist because I had the least semblance of talent and the most brazen disregard for public humiliation. It was a very traditional rock band.)

Early in 1981 I wrote a song paying homage to my new lover. In honor of those of her friends and family who quite reasonably doubted my worth as boyfriend material, I also drew imagery from those exemplars of disappointing promise, Orson Welles and John Barth. That referential weave kept the lyrics memorable, and on long walks the happy yowl of its third verse still sometimes sets my pace:

After she hits the end of the funhouse or gets lost in the road,
The mirrors will be dusted and the ditches will be mowed.
Oh, but anything worthwhile must be empty, base, and vain!
Extremities are foolish. Even fools get paid.

1  Reagan's cuts erased those dreams, along with some of my friends.

2  Fellow Delanyites may here be reminded of the double-bind of Bron Helstrom's female destination in Trouble on Triton. And I've never denied the resemblance. Identity is not endorsement.



Publishing the dissertation : 1989 2020

There must be no cessation
Of motion, or of the noise of motion,
The renewal of noise
And manifold continuation;

And, most, of the motion of thought
And its restless iteration,

In the place of the solitaires,
Which is to be a place of perpetual undulation.
- "The Place of the Solitaires" by Wallace Stevens

Eight years later the naysayers were proven right. In our last meeting, my newly-ex cheerfully remarked, "I feel like it's been years since I did my own thinking" (a hot roar flooded my ears) that's not true!
how had I broken so much?

Predictably enough, I fell apart substance-abused, fecklessly self-harmed, shucked my duties, composed formal verse, rock-n-rolled all night (well, occasionally past midnight, anyway), re-entered social media (now including a new medium), made some friends, and received far more comfort than I gave.

But this new cycle of breakdown and crawl-from-the-wreckage didn't weaken my faith or smash the icon of my "image." It merely persuaded me to modify some expectations and some habits.

One of the latter modifications brought us together here today.

Hi. How are you?

All those diversions,
The years and decades, the manifold span of life
—These were the dialectic of a fold
Formed out of almost nothingness, a fold of hours
In a space where the “hour” is eccentricity.

- The Astropastorals by Douglas Crase

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