Ah, that leg, that leg
. . .


When the pseudopodium of an Amœba has reached a certain development it suddenly retracts, or rather collapses, for Kassowitz regards the phenomenon as a rapid tumbling to pieces of the molecular structure owing to stimulation: certain protoplasm-molecules are shattered, atom-groupings of carbon and hydrogen split the molecular oxygen and are at once burnt to CO2 and OH2, the heat-vibrations evolved during the combustion shattering more molecules, and so on, throughout that part of the mass. This process exhausted, a period of restitution sets in, and new molecules are built up from the fragments of proteids, carbohydrates, fats and mineral substances at disposal, and become interpolated between those which had escaped destruction, and a new pseudopodium is put out by assimilative growth. Among other arguments for the view that this is really a process of growth, Kassowitz points out that the rate of protrusion of such a pseudopodium, rapid as it appears under a high power, is really not much more rapid than the growth of a stem of asparagus, a mushroom or a bamboo.
- Nature, 5 July 1900
My reviewers felt no sense of need to understand me if they had they would have developed the mental organism which would have enabled them to do so. When the time comes that they want to do so they will throw out a little mental pseudopodium without much difficulty.
- Note-Books, Samuel Butler
Pseud's Corner
"I call that good whiskey," says the father as I came in. "Good whiskey?" exclaimed Phelim; "did ever you see any whiskey that was bad?" "Now that you mintion it," says his riverince, "I never did; but I've seen some that was scarce." "Another bottle, Aunt Molly," says Phelim, "his riverince has a hollow leg."
The Turquoise Cup, Arthur Cosslett Smith

. . .

What the —!?

This serial publication began life with a throwaway name to match its experimental status. I figured if we were all still around in five years, I could revisit the question.

In the event, that name had to be thrown away even earlier than anticipated. Its replacement was a desperate choice, befitting the times.

As our fifth anniversary approaches, the befit begins to pinch. This is no longer an appendage to a personal web site. The appendix has swallowed the patient whole. One might even call it a life work, if one can call trivialities produced in a fragile medium by a middle-aged man with bad habits a "life work."

At any rate, something I can live with. Now with a name to match.

The changes aren't just nominal. With apologies to our more humanist readers, there's a vehemently requested RSS 1.0 feed, and dutiful pings of, Technorati, and More dangerously, what were once two sites have been collapsed into one, sending URLs scurrying every which way under a dark cloud of CSS. If you can spare the time, and you notice a broken layout or broken link or even a broken bookmark, please let me know via email or the comments box up top.

. . .

The Two Cultures

Every ambitious work of literature was written either by someone who had insomnia or by someone who was supported by their family.

Well, not every. A particularly generous grant or a particularly cushy quasi-job might play the role of the supportive family, as the church did for Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, and the lecture series did for Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, and the tenured professorship did for Vladimir Nabokov and Quincy Troupe. As an ugly, wearying compromise, one might minimize expenditures and alternate periods of insomnia with periods of draining the bank account.

Still, it's universal enough a truth that I imagine it brings the Comp Lit department together with the MFA program every year for discussion. Whenever we read a book, we should ask ourselves "Was this person left alone to write because everyone else was asleep, or because everyone else was at work?" And whenever we plan to write something, we should ask ourselves "Can I go without rest, or can I take someone else's money?"

An aesthete knows few sadder sights than an artist needing both a full-time job and nine solid hours of slumber. If I were rich enough, I'd marry them all.


If you were rich enough, I'd let you.
Luckily for us both, I'm in the same boat as this guy:
Five and a half and nine bucks in checking
What about Trollope?

A true hero of the insomniac class, Anthony Trollope wrote for hours before and during the commute to his post office job, finishing twenty-five books before he resigned. My personal role model.

. . .

Shake a Leg

Predictably, the first request Pseudopodium received was:

Kick Me!

Along similar lines, Juliet Clark forwards this story from the Free Lance Star:

Authorities say the fight started when the victim, Michael Clapp, 38, discovered a bottle of medicine missing from his Townsend Boulevard apartment Wednesday night.

Clapp suspected his neighbor, 27-year-old Rodney Prophitt, and went next door to confront him around 7:15 p.m., city police spokesman Jim Shelhorse said.

When he did, police say, Prophitt knocked Clapp to the ground, then pulled off his artificial leg and struck him with it several times.

"At some point, Mr. Clapp was able to grab his leg back, get back to his apartment and call 911," Shelhorse said.

Clapp was treated at Mary Washington Hospital for a broken nose and other facial injuries. Shelhorse did not know what type of medication was taken or why Clapp has a prosthetic leg.

A reader is puzzled by our "Respond at brief" box:

But where does this go?
To the top, Johnny!

Another asks:

Is The Scarlet Letter a protofeminist novel?

Speaking of old Turks of the deepest dye, pf takes issue:

"Shakespeare's drama individuates rather than inflates." But his poetry does the opposite.
Intensifies instead, I'd say unlike D. H. Lawrence, who really didn't shouldn't have wasted so much time getting to those last five words of his. What a snob he was. As if suburbanites didn't need bombast just as much as anyone else.

In other news that stays news, copyright extension has worked its special magic again; cf. And Mister Pants and Dirk Hine are back and badder than ever. Which would make them superquadruperbad!


The use of courier as a font gives me nightmares involving Charlie Kaufman. Just thought you should know.

And what a burden that knowledge will be. If you have access to ITC American Typewriter, it's a worthy alternative.

Still the nightmares keep coming:

oh god no not stephen joyce pf (ps dh has got a bit of his own empty bombast which is what appeals to me about that poem)

. . .

This Is Monad Country

You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you'll join us,
And not a goddamn thing will ever get done.

Most of the people I've met who voted for Nader in 2000 have told me they'd vote for Nader again.

That makes sense. In 2000, Greens voted to feel righteous and Republicans voted to take over the government. After voting, Greens felt righteous and Republicans had taken over the government. Both parties could consider the election a success.

Myself, if I have to be willing to die or kill for my country, I'm certainly willing to make the sacrifice of voting for someone I don't like personally. Especially if it'll postpone those other duties. After all, I'm not so likeable either.

How sleazy am I? How many compromises am I prepared to make in the dirty world of politics? OK. Here goes. In a Bush-Kerry contest, if I thought the Bush adminstration would push tax rates and intellectual property laws back to 1950s levels, well I might vote for Bush.

Wuddya know? I'm an independent!


Instead, Bush-Cheney is only willing to push mass hysteria and socio-gender-sexual mores to 1950's levels...

. . .

Lossy Compression

Sending a message to Washington is a nice idea. Even Washington must get lonely sometimes.

But since the complexity of a transmission is limited by the resolution of its medium, a carefully thought-out message sent through a binary winner-takes-all election will likely be delivered as a single null bit.


Pass me that null bit, Jimmy, this plywood's thick!

. . .

Notes & Queries

Regarding our makeover, a reader shudders:

J-peg, the hook
Another poses the riddle:
Q: Why wasn't Ulysses S. Grant an anti-semite?
A: Because he was a son of Jesse!

We tend to be a bit down on copyright extension around here. Providing some balance, Doug Asherman exemplifies its promotion of the progress of science and useful arts.

And that's just the half of it. Other recent reader responses can be found appended to Lossy Compression, Monad Country, Shake a Leg, and The Two Cultures.

. . .

History That Stays History

Put on the light, and then put out the light
ANNA: Oh, please, for heaven's sake, stop making him in your own image. Harry was real. He wasn't just your friend and my lover. He was Harry.
A person doesn't change because you find out more.

Given any analytic technique, our all-too-human tendency is to turn it into a bill of indictment. "The three tasks set you by the King symbolized your desire to castrate your father, and your déjà vu in the forest symbolized a return to your mother's genitals. You pervert."

That tendency's expression in all-too-humanities departments has ranged from prescriptive grammar to pseudo-activist poststructuralism. As example, John Holbo singles out Terry Eagleton, who diligently seeks evidence that novels were written by actual members of the society in which the novel was written and then dismisses them for that flaw. (Eagleton's own writing certainly doesn't read as if he's part of any social milieu, no sirree.)

Historicism is as abusable as any other technique. A revisionist history can constructively revise our ideas of sainthood. Or, destructively, it can revise a saint clean out of our calendar, leaving us righteously untouched, if just a little bit lonelier. Remember, Thomas Jefferson could probably find reasons to damn us too if he'd half a mind.

When studying symbolist poetry, 19th-century medicine's treatment of masturbation might be brought up as a way to block premature identification or even, god help us, emulation. But to use it to block all sensation whatsoever as an anesthetic?

Basic hedonism teaches us that would be wrong. It would make inaccessible a previously accessible pleasure.

. . .

The New Historicism

Q: What happened during edgar allen poes life that changed or affected him during his life. Please list five and in complete sentences
-- Nicholas Prado (, November 26, 2002


Laudanum Mercy! Great Scotch!
Please erase 'The New Historicism.' Please.

Sometimes I feel a mad impulse to fling open the library window, stick my head out, take a deep breath, turn green, rush to the men's room, turn greener, rush to the other men's room, come back much refreshed, and shut and brick over the window. Don't you?

Besides, it's an election day, and these are the voices of America's future.

But, respecting the feelings of our gentler readers, I regretfully dropped the veil. Lift it at your own risk. is an insain gay website with drug habbits and probably wants to MARRY another insain gay website with drug habbits!!!!

. . .

No Single Reason in the World

"Evolution poses a metanarrative, a story of history, that seems plausible to modern people unlike, say, the old story of the infinite stack of turtles that holds up the earth. The notion that 'why' questions might find their home in 'because it's better for survival and reproduction' is one that could really guide us."
- Ezra elias kilty Cooper

A thoroughly worked-out and proven scientific theory is one which has successfully replaced a puzzle with a logical necessity that is, replaced something interesting with something trite.

But take the dull proven truths of one domain, and apply them to another where they haven't (and probably can't) be proven, and wow! They're interesting again!

And that's because they're false.


Better for survival and reproduction as far as we can see, but there's all those damn' turtles in the way...
... to be continued ...

. . .
No Single Reason in the World, cont.

The biggest influence on a human mind may be the meat it starts with. It's misleading to claim, however, that the initial state and suitability of that meat was determined by its winning the Gene Olympics, unless you mean the kind of Olympics where every participant is guaranteed a medal.

A species is more or less defined by the ability of its individuals to reproduce other examples of the species. It's reasonable, then, that biology traced the origin of species to aspects of reproduction: selectivity, mutation, combinatorics. The eradication of species, on the other hand, tends to have little to do with genetics per se, and species isn't the only categorization applicable to the organic world. Culture holds more than can be described by the taxonomy of species. An individual existence holds more than can be described by the taxonomy of culture.

By speaking of "the species," we've set our boundaries as survival and reproduction. That doesn't mean that most of what actually goes on among individual members of that species is directly determined by maximal survival and reproduction. Natural selection isn't obsessive or hyperactive enough to bother with optimization. It forgets important details; it remembers worthless trivia and childish habits; it scoops up its soup with its knife; it barely gets by, until it doesn't.

Which is just as well. Perfection wouldn't have much give, and life is what takes place in the wiggle room.

In brief: What does not kill me makes me living.


Our question was: Name the motivator of existence. Richard said: "The selfish gene." Ray said: "It's a trick question." And survey saaaays:
The secret agendaagent of mumbo-jumbo. Species fades into species, the line between us and the chimpanzee can't be drawn with any precision ever. But it's there. Women bleed for reproduction, men scheme for it. Individuals are vehicles for what's really going on, the journey of DNA from soup to...aaahh...nuts!
Better luck next time, Ray!

David Auerbach's genes efficiently capture the prey while my genes dawdle:

I gather you still have a ways to go with the evolution/evolutionary biology topic, but I wanted to comment that a lot of its abuses--social darwinism, eugenics, evolutionary psychology, etc., seem to come from an impatient desire to see evolution in action on humans /now/ with none of this waiting around for uniformitarian or catastrophic change, whenever that'll show up. So the laws are drawn in and used to explain cultural behaviors that disappear or mutate hopelessly over mere hundreds of years, or else the laws are applied to improve "fitness" proactively, layering "selection" over what would probably more gently be termed genetic drift.

Having taken the trouble to learn a context-dependent set of rules, our gene-given impulse is to misapply them everywhere we go, like a tourist pitting the Fifth Amendment against shock batons. Just look at all the damage done nineteenth-century psychiatry by the law of conservation of energy, or the place of competitive sports in contemporary American politics. Sorry, bub, it doesn't matter how loudly and carefully you speak: llamas don't understand English.

... to be continued ...

. . .
No Single Reason in the World, cont.
One possible definition of a function is that it is something whose implementation can be seen as 'contributing to the survival and maintenance of an organism'. But this gets us into the familiar circularity that bedevils ('classical') evolutionary functionalism in biology as well:
  1. The fact that an organism is alive at a given time shows that it is 'fit to survive'; i.e. 'this (living) organism is fit' is analytic.
  2. In the case of an organism that has failed to survive, the only ones where we actually know the precise cause of extinction usually do not give evidence of maladaptation in the usual sense: i.e. for the immanent 'unfitness' of the organism itself. ... If for instance the passenger pigeon had been maladapted, it would not have been as common as it was; by all criteria except edibility and vulnerability to shot it was a superbly adapted and successful organism. It is rather the case that human technology and greed were such that nothing could have survived under those precise conditions.

* * *

I suggest that what really counts, the first reason we have for believing in the potential fruitfulness of a type of explanation, and for holding onto it in the face of a lack of obvious warrantability (or even in the face of evidence that it makes no sense) is some kind of criterion of INTELLIGIBILITY, which serves as a quasi-esthetic control on the evaluation of explanations. I think that we often judge (what we call) the 'explanatory' power of a statement or model on the basis of the PLEASURE, of a very specific kind, that it affords us. This pleasure is essentially 'architectonic'; the structure we impose on the chaos that confronts us is beautiful in some way, it makes things cohere that otherwise would not, and it gives us a sense of having transcended the primal disorder.
- On Explaining Language Change, Roger Lass

Functionalist arguments tend to take the following form:

  1. There must be an explanation for this trait.
  2. This is an explanation.
  3. Q.E.D.

But maybe the trait has nothing to do with functionality, except insofar as it didn't kill all humanity before breeding age. Or maybe there were a wide range of functional possibilities, in which case we still haven't explained why this is the one we got. Or what we see is non-optimal genetic detritus left by something that was once optimal in some way we can't imagine. Maybe it's genetic cruft that became optimal later. Maybe some eccentrics somewhere don't show the trait and yet still somehow manage to be classified as human.

Prehistory involved too many unknowable factors, human culture is too volatile and varied, and confirmation or disproof is too unlikely for the hypothesizing of "evolutionary psychology" and "evolutionary sociology" to be much better than a Just-So Story.

As a harmless diversion, is it at least no worse than a Just-So Story?

That would depend on just how the diversion is used. A fable which asserts inevitability and hierarchical value with the language of psychology and ethics might be handy in all sorts of situations. Greed and selfishness aren't personal failings or noxious to society; they're the fucking foundations of life itself, boy!

And who's going to argue with life?

You and what army?


Regarding the foundations of life, a reader suggests:
on a roll
Unfortunately I'm unsure whether that's as in "One tuna melt..." or as in "...of a die will never abolish chance." Both are possibilities according to another reader, who's drilled for a while without striking bedrock:
Greed and altruism both, and your mom's combat boots and the propensity to screech at pain and the stoic impulse, nature plays dice, late at night, when God sleeps
Almost makes me wonder if life even needs foundations. Doesn't a foundation tend to limit mobility? The poor thing's loaded down with baggage as it is.

Lawrence L White seconds my query:

An excellent question! As I'm always saying (& I have noticed the repeating myself thing, & I am dreading how this will get worse as I get older), if there's one thing I learned from Wittgenstein, it's "don't forget why you're asking the question in the first place!" What problem are we trying to solve?
Ah, that hard-nosed goal-driven Wittgenstein.... Is a hint to be found in this reader's suggestion?
Life is an undergarment
"Life is bare
Life has nothing clean to wear
Stormy weather..."
but what about the survival and maintenance of an orgasm?
Dr. Lass doesn't touch on that topic, but Dr. Funkenstein covers it somewhere On Provoking Language Change, maybe? Speaking of whom:
George Clinton was a functionalist and look where it got him

Actually, I think the good Doctor is, like me, more of a believer in Cosmic Slop and Mother Wit.

... to be continued ...

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

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2004 Ray Davis.