Wednesday, November 30, 2005



Globulos is a small, entertaining drawing tool from Dimitre.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I am Knot Theory

I am Knot Theory

In which I try to emulate all other journals.

Which Graduate Text in Mathematics are you?

You are Lickorish's Introduction to Knot Theory

This is probably close to true. But I always favored books on Lie Algebras (tied back into particle physics and such) and Stochastic Processes. When I was in college, stuff like Chaos theory was just beginning its sexy rise.

I am currently listening to:

Camille Saint Saens Danse Macabre

Actually, I've never really "gotten" classical music. The few concerts I've been to have done nothing but put me to sleep. Jazz, on the other hand, can put me into a euphoric state. These days I mostly listen to electronica - the sort of stuff played on SOMA FM's Groove Salad. I also like 80's music.

Jokes I like:

Okay, two sausages are sitting in a frying pan. The first sausage says, "Is it getting hot in heir to you?" The second sausage then replies, "Holy shit, a talking sausage!"

I was having dinner with Charles Manson the other day and he turned to me and said "Is it hot in here or am I crazy?"

A grasshopper walks into a bar and orders a martini. The bartender looks at him and says "You know, we have a drink named after you." To which the grasshopper looks at him quizzically and says "You have a drink named Steve?"

As you can see, I tend to favor the short and absurd. I was always a big fan of Steven Wright type jokes.

Playing online:

A surreal game called Kafkamesto.

I found this through Jayisgames.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Death and the Orange Tree

Death and the Orange Tree

This past weekend a close family friend passed away. She had just recently turned 40 and had been fighting lung cancer.

I first heard the news from my father who told me all this and laughed. "How are you? You're not dying of cancer are you?" He says and lets out another laugh.

Here is the stark difference between my mother and father. My mother was not home; She was still at the hospital consoling the family. She cried with them, hugged them, persuaded them all to tell stories and to grieve. She gathered them all together and led them in prayer. My mother is as European Catholic as they come.

My father is more the taciturn native, the spiritual but mischievous indian. He is a self-proclaimed Catholic too but it is not hard to tell that he does not completely buy into it. He takes the affairs of this world more lightly: laughing at the antics of life, at the silly rituals of death. Its not hard to see that his people are the same people who came up with Dia de los Muertos, a holiday where musicians play in graveyards, everyone gets drunk and the children consume candy skeletons.

My father himself was on his deathbed (or so we thought) only a couple years ago. He had been diagnosed with acute pancreatitis - a disease often acquired by people who are enjoying life a bit too much.

I remember the time clearly because I flew home for a week to take care - not of him - but of my mother. She was weeping when I drove with her to the hospital to see my father. My cousin Lori was there and she was doing imitations of other family members for my dad. He was laughing so hard we heard him in the halls of the hospital.

"Shhh.." my mother said "This is a hospital. We should all be more respectful."
"Yes...but its the patient on his supposed deathbed who is laughing!"

My father not only made it through that trial but also made an impression on the doctor who saved him. "Usually this condition is fairly serious" the doctor confided to my mother early on "but I have a lot of hope in him. He has an uncanny will to recover."

After my father recovered he told my mother that one of his brothers had brought him fresh oranges to the hospital, oranges just plucked from a private orange grove. They had shared the oranges with the doctor who had said that oranges were one of his favorite foods and proclaimed these to be the best, sweetest oranges he had ever tasted.

As my mother tells it, a few days later my father went to a small nursery and bought a small orange tree. He then drove to the doctors house and knocked on his door. After he delivered the orange tree, they wandered around the house, eager as children, deciding on the best place to plant it. My father and his doctor became fast friends. Before he left, my father, a gifted gardener, carefully explained how to water the tree, how to nurture it, how to make it grow and bear fruit, how to discover the right balance between both soil and sun.

Moon and Memory and Muchness

I was away camping for a couple days with no access to phone or Internet. It was cloudy during the day but the sky opened up at night to reveal the moon. One of the books I took with me was Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. I've read this book so many times that I must have memorized it.

And yet, parts of it seemed newly unfamiliar to me. For one, there was an extra character in the book, one I did not remember from before. Carroll (I assume this is still Carroll's work) refers to her only as "the thin brunette" In Chapter 7, for example, the chapter known as "The Mad Tea Party" she appears first in this paragraph, halfway through the chapter:

"He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse's place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. A thin brunette who had been watching, with her head cupped in her hands, moved into the place Alice had been sitting. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate. The thin brunette picked up the tea cup Alice had been drinking and sniffed it gingerly."

Now, I don't recall the thin brunettte, although earlier in the chapter Alice remarks:

"`I didn't know it was your table,' said Alice; `it's laid for a great many more than three.'"

So perhaps these additional characters were always there? In any case, this chapter also ends differently than I recall it. The action in the chapter continues even after Alice has left the scene. Here, I have typed in what I have in my edition as the conclusion of Chapter 7:

"The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `--that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory...
The thin brunette at the end of the table joined in: "...and melancholy and madness and milk and...."

"...and teapots and tables and silk!.." exclaimed the March Hare triumphantly.

"Well..." the thin brunette, said, attempting to interrupt "...I dont think---"

The Dormouse continued as if he had never been interrupted ".. and muchness-- you know you say things are "much of a muchness"--did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?'

`Really, now you ask me,' said Alice, very much confused, `I don't think--'

`Then you shouldn't talk,' said the Hatter.

This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.

"Oh! I know the answer to the riddle!" exclaimed the thin brunette and smiled to herself.

"What riddle?" said the Mad Hatter, gasping as he pushed on the Dormouse's feet.

"A raven is like a writing desk because Poe wrote on both!" said the thin brunette.

"Who is Poe? How does one write on a raven?" muttered the Dormous, his voice echoing inside the teapot. "Never mind her. She knows nothing." insisted the Hatter. The answer is "Because raven has no S in it."

"That makes no sense at all." said the thin brunette as she lazily stirred her tea.

"The next riddle" stated the Mad Hatter, ignoring her objections is "How does one fit a Dormouse into a teapot?"
"A perplexing problem" agreed the March Hare.

"Oh! That riddle is easier." said the thin brunette. And with this, she walked over and sat on top of the Dormouse the way one might sit upon a piece of overpacked luggage that will not close. Soon after, a large "Pop!" sound was heard and a tiny squeal could be heard from within the teapot. The March Hare promptly closed the lid of the now full teapot and the Mad Hatter took a ceremonious bow. The thin brunette walked off into the woods and neither of the others took the least notice of her going.

"That was fun" she said more to herself than to anyone else since there was nobody else to talk to in the woods. "Now I want to go see what happens when I wake up the Red King!"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Miracle of Correlative Deconstruction

"This consists in passing through walls and doors by taking advantage of holes of pseudomaterial density, and can be practiced in combination with apparitions, adding considerably to the effect. The technique goes back in the annals of classic alchemy to the famous solve et coagula: the disintegration of the body into permeating atomic particles that subsequently join together again in their original structure in accordance with the dictates of a particular frequency or acoustic vibration"

Photographs from Joan Fontcuberta's trip to a little-known monastery in Finland where miracles are taught and performed.

I discovered Fontcuberta through the Mexican arts journal Luna Córnea - a series of monographs published 2-3 times a year. I discovered Luna Cornea at Casa del Libro here in San Francisco which stocks many of their back issues.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Story-telling Machines, the Self-Begotten

- a drawing of Mymosh? by Daniel Mroz

The idea of stories within stories is a common enough literary device. Hamlet contains a play within a play whose themes echo the larger one. Scheherezade's stories of love and danger are told within the larger story of a woman soothing a King.

What I call a self-aware story is a story within a story that is also aware of its story-nature. So far I have only found two examples:

1. Douglas Hofstadter, in his book Godel, Escher Bach, introduces the characters of Achilles and the Tortoise, taken from the more famous characters used by Lewis Carroll (who in turn was inspired by Zeno of Elea) They engage in a series of dialogs so as to illustrate and argue points for Hofstadter. In one dialog in particular, Achilles and the Tortoise tell each other stories that involve themselves as the characters. Within the story, they both are aware they are in a story and may decide to tell a further story - spawning a new world for them to inhabit.

The extra device they use is the notion of Push and Pop. In Alice and Wonderland, Alice uses food and drink to make herself grow big or small (Is Alice in Wonderland an example of a self-aware story since she is the Red King's dream?). In the tale of Achilles and Tortoise, they similarly can also Push themselves down into a story or Pop themselves up to become the narrator of the story they are in.

Most stories of this nature, stories within stories, end with stories ending and the story "ending" at the same level that the story started. I believe in Achilles and the Tortoise they end a couple stories in, running from some Beast that the storyteller above them had invented.

2. One of the most interesting stories in Stanislaw Lem's collection The Cyberiad is "The Storytelling Machines of King Genius". The King in this story asks an inventor, our hero Trurl, to construct storytelling machines that will satisfy him. Trurl constructs three machines, each of which tell different types of stories. The King, in the story, listens to each machine tell a story in turn. The stories themselves often involve Trurl and so Trurl appears as a character within the storytelling machine's stories. The last machine tells a story that involves three dreaming machines; We get to also hear the dreams of the dreaming machines as told within a story by the last storytelling machine. For a story, the Frame Structure can get complex.

As an aside one of my favorite storytelling machine stories is the short tale of Mymosh the Self-Begotten. The principle behind the story of Mymosh is that if you wait for enough time - the age of the universe if necessary - even junk will coincidentally form itself into a conscious being. And so this is how Mymosh is born - a poor sentient being, an accident of nature, who forms out of a trash heap. Mymosh has a short life: because of his fragile nature he only lives long enough to ponder his own existence and then falls back into the void:

"Truly, I am beautiful, nay, perfect, which clearly implies the Perfection of All Created Things!! Ah, and how good must be the One Who fashioned me!'...
'Apparently, I am! ....Yes I am! And there's no apparently about it! Yet the question remains, who is it who says that I am?.... If only there was something else besides me, any sort of something at all, with which I might juxtapose and compare myself - that would be half the battle. But alas, there's not a thing, for I can plainly see that I see nothing whatsoever! Therefore there's only I that am, and I am everything that is and may be, for I can think in any way I like, but am I then - an empty space for thought, and nothing more?' [his senses had rusted out]...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

En el 32, Ellington grabo Baby when you aint there, uno de sus temas menos alabadas y al quel fiel Barry Ulanov no dedica mencion especial. Con voz curiosamente seca canta Cootie Williams los versos:

I get the blues down North
The blues down South
Blues anywhere
I get the blues down East
Blues down West
Blues anywhere
I get the blues very well
O my baby when you ain't there
ain't there, ain't there...

Por que, a ciertas horas, es tan necesario decir: "Ame esto"? Ame unos blues, una imagen en la calle, un pobre rio seco del norte. Dar testimonio, luchar contre la nada que nos barrera. Asi quedan todavia en el aire del alma esas pequenas cosas, un gorrioncito que fue de Lesbia, unos blues que ocupan en el recuerdo el sitio menudo de los perfumes, las estampas y los pisapeles.

-from Julio Cortazar's Rayela

I'll leave this untranslated from Spanish except for: "Why, at certain times, is it necessary to say 'I loved this"? I loved some blues, an image in the street, a poor dry river in the north. To give testimony, to fight against the Nothing which confronts us."
The Godfather

Churchlunch: baby ruth and mom

london: soho hotellondon: obligatory tate modern photo

I was in London this weekend. My college roommate and friend, now living in London, had asked me to be godfather to his daughter. The Christening was held in an old 12th Century Church. The goddaughter is also pictured above, as well as a Botero cat in the lobby of the Soho Hotel where i stayed and a shot taken at the Tate Modern's current Turbine hall exhibition by Rachel Whiteread.
The Loss of Words

The recurring theme for me is that the life of the mind, with all its hints and allusions, its soup of coexisting ideas has no choice but to funnel itself into the poor vessel of language. This is all we can do.

A perfume smell ignites a memory of a first kiss. The musty stink of abandoned boxes evokes the electric thrill of discovery. The mistake is to confuse language with thought or with memory. The carnival roar complexity of thought and imagination, of memory and longing are left to be ignited by, to hang upon dull associations of the senses, mere colors, textures and smells.


The Letter of Lord Chandos is a letter of defeat, of the loss of literary innocence.

As once, through a magnifying glass, I had seen a piece of skin on my little finger look like a field full of holes and furrows, so I now perceived human beings and their actions. I no longer suc­ceeded in comprehending them with the simplifying eye of habit. For me everything disintegrated into parts, those parts again into parts; no longer would anything let itself be en­compassed by one idea. Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes which stared at me and into which I was forced to stare back-whirlpools which gave me vertigo and, reeling incessantly, led into the void....

I have troubled you excessively, my dear friend, with this extended description of an inexplicable condition which is wont, as a rule, to remain locked up in me.
You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, "to compensate for the loss of our relationship." Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out har­moniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a lan­guage in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge

-Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Letter of Lord Chandos

Friday, November 04, 2005

Manifestations of the Bogeyman

In Goya's Que Viene El Coco a cryptic and threatening figure looms over a woman and her child. The title of this piece, one of Goya's Capricho paintings intended as an illumination of society, is usually translated as "Here comes the Bogeyman" (The best known Capricho is likely The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters)


One website, CocoWeb, has collected the thousands of names for the Beast that lurks in the darkness.

Sleep, child
Sleep now
For here comes El Coco
and he will eat you up

In Mexico we knew him as "El Cucuy."

Do not wander into the streets our parents and grandparents would warn us, or you will be stolen away by El Cucuy. It was either him or the abductress known as La Llorona, the weeping woman who was also bent on taking us away. They are both a class of phantom known as "Asustadores" - Frighteners. In any case, the message was clear: Darkness looms out there beyond the circle of warmth of safety that is our own family. And the darkness is inhabited by monsters.


I am making my way again through Donoso's Obsceno Pajaro de la Noche (The Obscene Bird of Night). The title comes from a Henry James Sr. quote:

Every man who has reached even his intellectual teens begins to suspect that life is no farce; that it is not genteel comedy even; that it flowers and fructifies on the contrary out of the profoundest tragic depths of the essential death in which its subject's roots are plunged. The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.

Mudito, the main character, lives his life in different worlds. He is the outcast, a hunchback living among children and nuns in a labyrinthine monastery. He is also the servant of a wealthy couple who have given birth to a deformed child. The child is known simply as Boy. To insulate Boy from the world, his parents decide to seclude him, to keep him apart from the world. In the universe they build for him, mirrors have been banished and his parents have recruited monsters and freaks, culled from hospitals and circuses, to keep Boy company - to show him he is not alone in the world and he is not different. Mudito's qualifications are that he is more hideous than Boy.

The Coco too makes an appearance. In the course of Donoso's novel, a main character suddenly finds himself inside a burlap sack. The world becomes dark. The character is removed from the novel. What happened to him? In one of my Spanish editions of this novel, the cover shows a sack against a black background. Jose Donoso, the author of the novel, is himself Chilean. In Chile, the "Coco" , the universal abductor, takes the form of "El Hombre de la Bolsa", the Man of the Sack.

(I've been using up some spare time to put together my notes on this novel and write them up on a different website: Notes on the Obscene Bird. It'll be ready when its ready.)