Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Invention of Communication

The researcher Bruno Galantucci, in an effort to understand how humans invent languages, constructed a series of experiments [PDF] in which two people are together in a series of rooms. They cannot communicate with each other except through a set of limited symbols (so they cannot write familiar letters or draw) They have a common task they must fulfill but, to do so succesfully they must first agree - they must first communicate.

The results are fascinating. Several of the pairs in the experiment established systems in a matter of hours. Another never managed to communicate at all. An article in the economist concludes "...people only need to convey a small amount of information to communicate effectively, and they can do so while holding fundamentally different ideas about how their language describes the world."

Galantucci plans to conduct further experiments in which several subjects must communicate in order to chase down and catch a common "prey", just as hunting animals do today. The oustanding question is whether primitive symbols of coordination are the true forerunners of language. One of Galantucci's other early results is that a system of communication develops more quickly when it is proposed by one person and adopted by the rest. That is, the more collaboration or conflict that is involved in developing the system, the more likely it is that the entire process becomes bogged down into confusion. The authoritarian way is more effective.

Lawrence Roberts

The Tuxedo

The artist Lawrence Roberts takes photos and then strips them down until what is left is only a hint of reality. As he says "the images here describe photography as a representational art form as much akin to painting, drawing and sculpture as to traditional photographic techniques."

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.)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Saturday, October 29, 2005

the buddhist nuns; quest for happiness

Last night, my task was to pick up two Buddhist nuns at the San Francisco airport. When A. and I arrived to find them, we joked about running around frantically: "Help! We've lost two Buddhist nuns!"

They were easy enough to spot, descending the staircase, with huge smiles and easy laughs. Seeing them against a backdrop of commuters with weary eyes and tense jaws was a ridiculous conjunction. I had taken my camera along but never discovered the moment in which a photograph would not have been rude (Is photography essentially unBuddhist in that it is less about experiencing the present moment than about trapping it in a cage?)

One Sister was only 23 years old. She was French and told us that she had been certain she would be a nun since the age of 16. That is the age at which she started approaching the monastics at Plum Village in the Bordeaux region of France.

The destination for the nun delivery was a small party in Berkeley where there were other monks and laypeople preparing for a weekend retreat in Ukiah. (I am not among them. I am simply reporting this as a privileged observer)

The focus of the retreat is to engage in Zen meditation as well as to ponder life's questions. My friend A. herself was one of the organizers. Here is an excerpt from an email exchange from the young organizers to the Buddhist monks who will be in attendance:

I'm emailing in regards to the questions. I wrote the questions as a way of trying to capture the key issues that young adult practitioners face in the secular world. When we come to visit you in the monastery, we are surrounded by the wonderful monastics and the peaceful atmosphere of the monastery; and we try to see clearly and quiet the noise inside of us. But when we leave the monastery, we come out into the securlar world, and all the hopes and dreams and fears and aspirations that we put aside when we were with you come back to us. ...
The questions are a way of trying to open the gateway between the world of the secular practitioner and the world of zen. If I could ask one thing of you, it would be to think through what parts of the dharma, espcially the mindfulness trainings, the heart sutra, the dharmapada, and hakuins song of zazen, and to speak to the questions below. However, please understand that these are all only words and concepts and perceptions, and what I am asking is really beyond words (you are thinking. stop thinking.
when we secular folks are looking at each other, comtemplating sex, we are caught up in an emotional and hormonal whirlwind. And it is very difficult to maintain our footing. And we have been very lonely for a long time, for most of us, our families are not close to us, and maybe we don't have anyone to cuddle with or to hug us. So this whirlwind of emotion and hugging and being loved and cared for and feeling safe is very powerful. We feel we see truth after a long time of lack of clarity. We feel we are able to drink a glass of water after a long time in the desert.
Despite all this griping about how our social fabric is broken, we love our freedoms as individuals. And more and more, young adults opt for an extended adolescence that celebrates this freedom. The adolescence means unlimited travel, exploring new places, lack of obligation, many opportunities, and a certain kind of freedom that is deeply pleasurable. But lonely. One of the things that we find confusing, is "the pursuit of happiness"... The thing about a consumption culture is that you think you choose what you want to buy. Well, we're not consuming obligation and commitment very much anymore. If we were to become monastics, our obligations and commitments would be very clear. ..
Questions I have for you: What is true freedom? What does the dharma tell us about freedom and how to realize it? What is happiness? What obligations should we take on and should free oursevles from? What does the dharma say about obligation and resonsibility? What does the dharma say about doing what you want? What does it say about family commitments? About community commitments?
These are all only words. My objective is not to ask you to respond in words. But to help us realize the real nature of zen on a fundamental and inituitive level that we can use as we struggle in the secular world. I hope this email makes our suffering and delights more clear

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Birthday in Portugal


madrid: hotel urbanmadrid: parque del retiro

evora: initiationevora: bones

lisboa: bairro alto hotellisboa

lisboa: otterlisboa: restaurant

From the top of the Templar wellQuinta da Regaleria

happy birthday mevideo: me in lisboa

Notes on the photos above:

**Tapas place in Madrid's Plaza Santa Ana. Not too far from the Hotel Urban where I stayed.
**The FNAC bookstore in Madrid has a section where you can sit down and read as many books as you like.

**The Hotel Urban in Madrid. A beautiful but dark hotel which I think was built for vampires.
**A colorful art exhibition in the Crystal palace at the center of Madrid's Parque del Retiro

**Uperclassmen initiating freshmen in Evora, Portugal
**Evora's Ossuary: composed of the remains of over 5,000 people.

**The BiarroAlto Hotel: where I stayed in Lisboa.
**Street in Lisboa

**The otter that was enraptured by Claudia. (Claudia can also speak otter-language, a squeaky high-pitched tongue)
**At a restaurant with Claudia

**Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal. This is from the top of the Templar well.
**Quinta da Regaleira

**Happy Birthday to me: At Olivier's. Possibly the best chocolate dessert I've ever had.
**One frame of a video of me

Saturday, October 08, 2005


"One of the many ways of contesting level-zero, and one of the best, is to take photographs, an activity in which one should start becoming adept very early in life, teach it to children since it requires discipline, aesthetic education, a good eye and steady fingers. I'm not talking about waylaying the lie like any old reporter, snapping the stupid silhouette of the VIP leaving number 10 Downing street, but in all ways when one is walking about with a camera, one has almost a duty to be attentive, to not lose that abrupt and happy rebound of sun's rays off an old stone, or the pigtails-flying run of a small girl going home with a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. Michel knew that the photographer always worked as a permutation of his personal way of seeing the world as other than the camera insidiously imposed upon it (now a large cloud is going by, almost black) but he lacked no confidence in himself, knowing that he had only to go out without the Contax to recover the keynote of distraction, the sight without a frame around it, light without the diaphragm aperture of 1/250 sec. Right now (what a word now, what a dumb lie) I was able to sit quietly on the railing overlooking the river watching the red and black motorboats passing below without it occuring to me to think photographically of the scenes, nothing more than letting myself go in the letting go of objects, running immobile in the stream of time. And then the wind was blowing."

-Julio Cortazar, Blow-Up

This is from the short story upon which Antonioni's famous movie was based. I've been meaning to post this excerpt here for some time, as it is a kind of tribute to my photographer friends. This is specifically for Paul who recently announced his engagement. He is getting married next year in Hong Kong and I can't wait.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Perhaps the best balance between the moments of anticipation and the moments of revelation is that moment of initiation, when the curtain draws back. The moment of unfolding. As when the organist at the Castro theatre dissappears down below the stage as the lights dim and the machine sound of rolling curtains begins.

Re-reading the opening passages of my favorite books: Bowles Sheltering Sky, Di Lampedusa's The Leopard, Durrell's Justine is a re-enactment of that moment of transition between ignorance and amazement.

"The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes.."


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Stillman Maps 1. In Paul Auster's novel City of...

Stillman Maps

1. In Paul Auster's novel City of Glass (published in 1985), the detective Quinn is trailing a man named Stillman. As he follows Stillman, he notices that the man is not up to much, seemingly spending his time idling around an area of New York and engaging in a variety of pointless tasks. But Quinn faithfully records all of this in his journal:

"Pick up pencil in middle of block. Examines, hesitates, puts in a bag ... Buys sandwich in deli ... Sits on bench in park and reads through red notebook" These sentences seemed utterly worthless to him.

Frustrated, Quinn decides to map out the path that Stillman has traced in his walks.

It seemed to him that he was looking for a sign. He was ransacking the chaos of Stillman's movements for some glimmer of cogency. This implied only one thing: that he continued to disbelieve the arbitrariness of Stillman's actions. He wanted there to be a sense to them, no matter how obscure. This, in itself, was unacceptable. For it meant that Quinn was allowing himself to deny the facts, and this, as he well knew, was the worst thing a detective could do.

Nevertheless, Quinn traces out Stillman's path and discovers that on a particular day Stillman, in his walks, has traced out a letter of the alphabet. Each day, a different letter. And the letters traced out across the city form a word - a message.

2. In his metaphysical detective novel titled The Investigation, the writer Stanislaw Lem introduces us to a bizarre series of crimes commited across the city. The detectives in the novel, struggling to find an explanation that fits all the facts, arrive at one of two possible conclusions:

The first is that a bizarre and completely unlikely series of coincidences have happened, so as to make it seem that all the murders have the same underlying cause. This explanation also presumes a series of inter-related events: cancer rates, truck schedules, well-positioned cemeteries and insomniac drivers colliding together in such an absurd way so as to create the equivalent of a wide-scale Rube Goldberg device.

The second explanation is much much simpler and fits all the facts neatly. There is only one problem with it: The explanation involves the supernatural - specifically corpses who become zombies and rise out of their graves.

The novel ends with a question: Which explanation should a detective or scientist accept? Which explanation is more likely? How should our mind make sense of the bare facts?

3. On his Radical Cartography site, Bill Rankin introduces us to "A series of maps of the cities I've lived in or know well, showing only those routes and destinations that I actually use" Here, for example, is New York.

He calls them "Personal Use Maps". I call them Stillman maps.

4. The Waag society attaches GPS devices to several people in Amsterdam and then maps their travels around the city. The participants include a cyclist and a marathon runner.

Here is one map of Amsterdam produced by these wanderings. The process is referred to as "real-time GPS" The maps are just called maps.

5. It was Einstein who first introduced the concept of World Lines. A world line marks the travels of an object or person in both time and space. In fact, the Theory of Relativity can be restated in terms of World Lines: Its not that nothing can travel faster than light - its that no person or object can walk across the Light Cone.

A Stillman map is a World Line where the Time axis has been collapsed. It is the projection of the World line on a flat map. It is a cartographic diary.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


A few weeks ago I received a print of "Corazon" one of Teresa Villegas pieces, each a new interpretation of the icons in the Mexican game of chance - the Loteria.

I associate La Loteria with small Mexican traveling circuses which went from village to village. The circus was accompanied by a Fair - small amusement rides, vendors of strange little crafts and toys, and games of chance. The Loteria tent was always the largest, with some barker on the stage, lit up by floor lights, shouting out the names of the symbols - "El Valiente!" (The brave man!) or "La Muerte!" (Death)

The traditional cards can be seen here.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mythology to Metaphysics Reading Roberto Calasso'...

Mythology to Metaphysics

Reading Roberto Calasso's books: Ka and The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. The former a retelling of Indian mythology. The latter, a retelling of the Greek myths. Also, re-exploring De Chirico who has always been close to my heart:

"Prajapati lay with his eyes closed. Between head and breast an ardor burned within him, like water seething in silence. It was constantly transforming something: it was tapas. But what was it transforming? The mind. The mind was what transformed and what was transformed. It was the warmth, the hidden flame behind the bones, the succession and dissolution of shapes sketched on darkness - and the sensation of knowing that that was happening. Everything resembled something else. Everything was connected to something else. Only the sensation of consciousness resembled nothing at all."

-Roberto Calasso, Ka

"Abandoned in Naxos, Ariadne was shot by Artemis’s arrow; Dionysus ordered the killing and stood watching, motion-less. Or: Ariadne hung herself in Naxos, after being left by Theseus. Or: pregnant by Theseus and shipwrecked in Cyprus, she died there in child birth. Or: Dionysus came to Ariadne in Naxos, together with his band of followers ; they celebrated a divine marriage, after which she rose into the sky, where we still see her today amid the northern constellations. Or: Dionysus came to Ariadne in Naxos, after which she followed him around on his adventures, sharing his bed and fighting with his soldiers; when Dionysus attacked Perseus in the country near Argos, Ariadne went with him, armed to fight amid the ranks of the crazed Bacchants, until Perseus shook the deadly face of Medusa in front of her and Ariadne was turned to stone...No other woman, or goddess, had so many deaths as Ariadne."

-Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

Ariadne inspired De Chirico. In his solitary landscapes, she is the reclining woman, the grief-stricken woman, the incarnation of nostalgia. The woman of many deaths: Giorgio De Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne

And finally a quote from a book written by Giorgio De Chirico:

"Hebdomeros concluded from this that perhaps they had not really understood what he meant, and he reflected on the difficulty of making oneself understood when one’s thoughts reached a certain height or depth. "It’s strange," Hebdomeros was thinking, "as for me, the very idea that something had escaped my understanding would keep me awake at nights, whereas people in general are not in the least perturbed when they see or read or hear things they find completely obscure."
- from Hebdomeros by Giorgio de Chirico

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Traveling Spider Maman in Spain, Canada, ...

The Traveling Spider

Maman in Spain, Canada, Tokyo and London.

Over the past few years, I've been watching Maman the spider travel the world. She is the creation of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois. I saw Maman in person when she visited the Tate in London and arched gracefully over all the visitors to the museum. She is named Maman because she is carrying eggs, as seen clearly here. There has been no information on when her children will be born.
Dictionary of The Inexpressible (part I)

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera devotes an entire chapter to the expression or idea of litost. Succinctly, litost can be defined as "a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery" But it is more than that, as Kundera goes on to explain. It is also a fallen state, a tumble after a realization. That is, he explains, the fallen are to some degree immune from litost:

"Anyone with wide experience of the common imperfection of mankind is relatively sheltered from the shocks of litost. For him, the sight of his own misery is ordinary and uninteresting. Litost, therefore, is characteristic of the age of inexperience. It is one of the ornaments of youth."

Like Kundera for the Czech, the poet Garcia Lorca famously went on about the Spanish concept of "Duende" in his essay The Duende: Theory and Divertissement writes:

"... people constantly speak of the duende and find it in everything that springs out of energetic instinct. That marvelous singer, "El Librijano," originator of the Debla, observed, "Whenever I am singing with duende, no one can come up to me"; and one day the old gypsy dancer, "La Malena," exclaimed while listening to Brailowski play a fragment of Bach: "Olé! That has duende !"- and remained bored by Gluck and Brahms and Darius Milhaud. And Manuel Torres, to my mind a man of exemplary blood culture, once uttered this splendid phrase while listening to Falla himself play his "Nocturno del Generalife": "Whatever has black sounds has duende." There is no greater truth."

This idea of the duende has been characterized succinctly too as that spirit of the sublime in art - but that darker aspect of the sublime, a baritone depth, a minor key rather than a major key. The duende lies near the realm of the fantastic and is so palpable and complex as to have a sense of physical embodiment. The Duende arrives, like a medieval spirit or like a Greek muse:

"The arrival of the Duende always presupposes a radical change in all the forms as they existed on the old plane. It gives a sense of refreshment unknown until then, together with that quality of the just-opening rose, of the miraculous, which comes and instils an almost religious transport."

It is in the nature of Arts to strive towards the duende, at least in Garcia Lorca's view.

Finally, there is that Portuguese state of mind known as Saudade. The article on Saudade from Wikipedia does a fine job and makes the following reference:

In his book In Portugal of 1912, A.F.G Bell writes: "The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness."

Saudade seems to sit at the intersection of solitude and longing. But perhaps more of a passive sense of dislocation: Of being "here" instead of "there" I will say no more about Saudade since I am still learning what it means.
Dictionary of the Inexpressible (part II)

I've tried to add my own unclassifiable states to the previous list. This is an attempt to begin a classification of states that defy words.

We experience claustrophobia and this can be mapped to, say, being trapped in a tight tunnel or wooden box. But we also fear being trapped by circumstance, by our inabilities or by our fears themselves. Sometimes the feelings are so indefinable that we can only hint at them and hope that the person we speak to has felt the same. Conversely, we all have had those moments of liberation, of flight, where the world seems open and limitless. But, are you feeling the same as me. Or, to use the analogy of color: Do you see the same lime-green as I do when I say "lime-green" or do you see magenta?

Nostalgia of the Infinite
So-named for a favorite De Chirico painting. (The first use I found for a color copier was to take a postcard of this painting and then post the copies on walls, doors and telephone poles)
There is a sense, akin to a claustrophobia but not quite, of being trapped in this particular moment as this particular person. The moment is suffocating because there is no alternative to it and one can feel Time as one feels a rough wind, shoving leaves down a hill. Combine this with a distant memory, or sense, of being somehow larger than circumstance, of being able to fly against Fate, to ascend out of this moment, not unlike a liberating dream.

Amnesia of Identity
This happens usually upon waking. The world has fallen away. At first it is like that feeling you have when you have dived into a large pool and have lost your sense of gravity. The world which consists of yourself, your place, the people who inhabit it arrives in layers or in waves, or like sheets of rain, or like clothes pulled around your body, dry and weighty, after surfacing from a chilly swim.
Identity arrives first (who am I? who else is here?) followed by time and space and then artifacts of the world, filled in roughly at first, still half-dissolved, like a painting with faded colors.

Dislocation;"Homesick for another state of being"
The English word "homesick" is an inelegant word. It describes one of a variety of feelings that occur when one has been too abruptly snatched from one state to another. But it is the closest word in English to what I am trying to describe: a homesickness which is more of a nostalgic yearning, a longing that can be felt with the entire body. It is the feeling of being displaced or dislocated but not lost. The Portuguese word "Saudade" also comes close.

The Potential Moment
Something is about to happen. You can feel it in your chest, taste it on your tongue (its a metallic taste). Writers will often use the phrase "the moment was charged with potential" and I believe they are trying to describe or unravel this same emotion. Anything might happen now. Events are happening too fast to either comprehend or control. It is a momentary dizziness. It is standing on a precipice where you do not know if you will fall or you will fly.
But, it is more than just a feeling of possibility. It is also the feeling that the decisions you make now will be far-reaching and continue to manifest themselves in your future. These are the transitions in an episodic existence.
These moments have almost a religious significance and so I can see some similarity to the Bardos of Tibetan Buddhism - those junctures in life where possibility is at its peak.
(Also discovered that Jung, that explorer of inner worlds was himself profoundly affected by the notion of these Bardos)

Feeling of The Unseen
Let us say you walk through an empty room at a party or function where there are others about - one which you have walked through only a few minutes ago. But, since you were there last you notice some small detail has changed. Perhaps a pillow has been moved - or a cup of coffee now sits on the table. But, you see nobody there.
This is akin to that "feeling of being watched" in that a "presence" is nearby but cannot be seen and that affects all perceptions. It can also be the feeling that there is an unseen mechanism, of people and things, which move the world forward. It can also be noticing that someone has closed the door, or the door has closed itself, when there is a cold wind blowing outside. .
Dictionary of the Inexpressible (part III)

Curiously, the notion of the unnameable has its attractions. Drawn by the beauty of words such as duende and saudade, new, forged words have appeared. One such word is "Razbliuto" which is supposed to be "the feeling a person has for someone he or she once loved but now does not."
But, languagehat does away with that one handily.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Night Sky as a Performance

Photo by eddy/aqui-ali. This was at an underground party in San Francisco last night. You call a secret phone number and are told the location. A DJ is there as is a bus serving drinks. I sat in that chair on the right. The moon was full and the sky had a cinematic clarity.

Only what is interior has proved to have substance and a determining value

"Fate will have it - and this has always been the case with me - that all the 'outer' aspects of my life should be accidental. Only what is interior has proved to have substance and a determining value. As a result, all memory of outer events has faded, and perhaps these 'outer' experiences were never so very essential anyhow, or were so only in that they coincided with phases of my inner development."

-Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections; Introduction (1961)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Love poem (ten minutes after the end of gravity)

-Adam Cvijanovic's Love Poem (ten minutes after the end of gravity)
The city of Los Angeles, ten minutes after gravity has failed, with floating lawns, beds and kitchen utensils.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I try to evoke...

When I go to see art, I always read the artist statements. Typically, the artists stated intentions bear no relation to the actual effect of the art. That is, I am of a mind, that an artists statements can be disregarded. Once their creation has been released to the world, it no longer belongs to them.

For fun, a quick Google of artist+"try to evoke":

I try to evoke the process of self–organization and emergent behavior
I try to evoke some type of emotion in the viewer by the way that I paint the nude
I also try to evoke childhood memories, sometimes weird
I try to evoke an excitement and passion while capturing the fleeting effects of light
We try to evoke elements of the style of objects installed in a room
I try to evoke what Zen practitioners call nothing and everything
A sense of uneasiness and fear is what I try to evoke in my viewer
I try to evoke bodily systems and fluids in a way that allows the objects to seem like mutilated matter
I try to evoke the feeling of images beginning or passing away in ephemeral change, and full of mystery to be discovered

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Temporal and spatial distribution of high energy electrons at Jupiter

Temporal and spatial distribution of high energy electrons at Jupiter

I have seen this man before. One friend of mine referred to him as "The Pigeon Man" because of his habit of holding injured pigeons in his arms, tenderly, cradling them like a treasured pet and feeding them, dropping breadcrumbs into their beaks.

He is here now at Cafe La Onda carrying a sheaf of paper. He is distributing leaflets to everyone here. Most people wave him away but I know that his leaflets contain secret messages.

Each leaflet is a xeroxed copy of something he typed up on an old typewriter. It has that beautiful rough look - the irregular type, the randomly bolded letters where the ribbon carried extra ink or the key and lever was hit hard in exclamation.

This particular piece of writing is a random diatribe. The usual suspects are here - "Galactic Stranger","the Businessman's Messiah", medicine, taxes, "the rich and powerful" In this piece, the author, who calls himself JM Ratliff is apparently proposing a scheme of government reform but there are also fragments which I would not hesitate to call prose poetry, cosmic reflections, peeks behind the veil:

"The soul is you in the nite-dream standing thinking seeing feeling & flying, with feet, hands & eyes & wearing memory clothes. Once you are dead it won't matter to you if you lived short or long or at all so why preserve the crims or the basket cases. All things die--birds, trees...If it is to the Something we go, we mite wish we had got there younger."

After he departs, I decide to type his supposed name into Google. The only JM Ratliff I can find is a co-author of a scientific paper titled "Temporal and spatial distribution of high energy electrons at Jupiter" Could it be the same man?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Reading list

"There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music of New Orleans or Duke Ellington. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly"
- Boris Vian's L'Ecume des Jours (oddly translated as Foam of the Daze)

I was turned on to Vian by Claudia. Her and I made a City Lights expedition to stock up respectively on new books.

There is a grisly story associated with Vian. He wrote another small book called "I Spit on your Graves" and had told a friend that he intended to make it a bestseller.

The book did not sell particularly well at first. But, later a copy of the book was discovered next to the body of a murdered prostitute. Her killer had underlined several passages in Vian's book and had used it as a sort of instruction manual for the murder. After all this came out in the press, the book became a best-seller.


Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling
The photographs of Lourdes Grobet

This book, with its striking photographs, covers the mythology of the masked Mexican wrestlers. Most of them inhabited several worlds: appearing in the ring of course, but also in films and comics. The central dogma in the mythology was that a Masked Wrestler (Enmascarado) was never to appear in public without his mask. This makes for some surreal photographs of wrestlers at home, leading ordinary domestic lives, holding their children, going on errands - but always with their mask.

I had not realized the depths to which each one had worked on their own story. Here for example is only a small fragment of the backstory for a wrestler called Tinieblas:

"He is the prototype of the Mexican science fiction superhero: a survivor of a superior pre-Hispanic race that cultivated physical, mental and intellectual powers; a civilization bonded by the magical energy emanating from the universe. His name is Tinieblas ... a direct descendant of beings from another world, who, mistaken for gods, arrived with our forefathers. One of their vessels that reached the Earth, a pyramid-shaped spacecraft, was covered by boulders somewhere in the southeastern jungle..."

And this goes on for pages and pages. Here is a photo of Tinieblas along with Tinieblas Jr, and their dwarf alien sidekick. Incredible stuff if only because it is so fantastic and outrageous.


Osman Lins

From my first impression - a convoluted labyrinth of a novel. What else can be said about a novel whose organization stems from the structure of a Latin palindrome? In the book's introduction the translator, the well-regarded Gregory Rabassa, calls this an architectural novel but one that is more akin to "De Chirico than Vitruvius"

Saturday, September 03, 2005


My parents are both extroverts, by even a loose definiton of that term. They both "know everybody" and are well-loved in return. My mother befriends people at the grocery store- always coming back with some story about how she met a wonderful person in the vegetable aisle. My father is the grand entertainer, hosting parties every weekend, even to this day.

I still like to tell the story that as a child - it was me who was diligent about doing his homework while my parents and ten of their closest friends were dancing to salsa music downstairs, my mother cooking up small plates of food, my father passing out beers and going through his immense record collection. It was me who would say "Can you keep it down, please? I'm trying to get my schoolwork done." It was my own parents who replied "Aww. Always so serious! Come on down and have some fun!"


When traveling to visit family abroad, I was known as the "serious" child - the one who seemed lost inside himself. I made friends warily and only with others who seemed to have something to say. Otherwise, I kept to myself, a private person who some still consider to be unfriendly or aloof. I know that this sometimes embarassed my parents. They would anxiously try to explain me away - "That Ricardo lives in his own world." - "He has a rich inner life, you see."

That inner life consisted of my own explorations. Imagined worlds. I still have old notebooks that I used to write in as a child. I see them today only as the monologues of a lonely child. They are full of stories, dreams, invented worlds, attempts to create the axioms of new geometries. There's even a touch of paranoia that I can see now - I was convinced that the role of parents and teachers were to quickly feed us illusions about the world, quickly, before we could see it as it really was - a sort of naked view of things, the world laid bare. And, just as the memory of a dream vanishes quickly upon awakening, most of us have forgotten what we once saw, the pulleys behind the stage, the un-interpreted world.


My brother was more like my parents. He started drinking at an early age. He started dating girls before me even though I was two years his senior. He partied downstairs and away at other people's houses while i studied upstairs. He got involved with street gangs, was thrown in jail for graffiti he painted on walls. He never graduated from high school.

As children, and even later as adults, we would have these tremendous fights. We would sometimes hit and punch and brawl, sometimes drawing blood, until our mother, in screams, would separate us. And yet, and yet, despite our seeming differences I will always tell people that the person who is most like me in the world - is my brother.

All of us have a mischievous side - the child-like part of us that loves to play and laugh. That part of us that attacks the world. That part of us that confirms the act of being alive by embracing risk.

That particular part of me is just like my brother's. We have the same sense of humor and the same sense of what is attractive danger. Despite our seeming differences, it is not uncommon to find us both in the corner, laughing together at some joke or plan that only makes sense to us and to nobody else. If our mischievous side is like an inner demon, then the only difference between me and my brother is that he let his demon have too much control. Uncharitably, my brother is how my inner demon would appear - fully unleashed.


At the age of 16, I did not know what to do with myself. I can't say that I had many friends although that seemed to be of my own choosing. I did have girlfriends - for some reason I had the inverse problem of most young introverts: I knew how to talk to women but had trouble making lasting friends. My fellow high school students had inexplicably voted me as "Most likely to start a cult."

As I was reeling in indecision, a recruiter from a distant college named Harvard called me at home. He said that all of my high school teachers had urged him to talk to me and that he was impressed by what he had heard. I hadn't really decided that I was in fact going to college. I thought that an ideal life would be close to a monastic life - except with some sex involved somehow. But, maybe academics would suit.

I recall telling my mother: "These people from Harvard keep calling me - urging me to go to their college" Her response was: "Well, that sounds suspicious. I've never heard of the place. Let me ask my friends."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Photographer of the Supernatural

Everytime I've considered giving all this up - this strange little online journal - I manage to get a reminder of why I shouldn't.

I once told my friend Mina that I was giving up - privately archiving everything here and then making it vanish. Her response was pure commonsense:

That's ridiculous. Write every day if you want to. Or, abandon it for months. Just leave it there until you are ready to write again. Don't think of it as an obligation.

Then there is misteraitch. I've never met misteraitch but his weblog is fascinating and well-loved and one of the few I still bother to read. He manages to prove that weblogs can be about more than just navel-gazing or about linking to the same inane things everyone else is linking to. Giornale Nuovo stands apart as a well-curated library of the extraordinary and under-explored.

Finally, there are the emails I've received and the people I've met. When Claudia, of O Mundo de Claudia mentioned she would be visiting San Francisco, I offered to show her around. I had always been a big fan of her writing and photography and observations. (Her weblog, like mine, is linked to by misteraitch - creating essentially a small circle of journals whose themes tend to be the underbelly of culture and arts, the exotic and the mysterious and the sublime sense of the unknown)

I discovered several things about Claudia. Firstly, she is like her weblog - a cultural explorer, a lover of the artistic and the curious. She also has at least two superpowers that I know of:

The first is that she has some secret power amongst the spiders. They seem to know when she is around and react strangely to her presence. If she sees one, as she did on one of our walks, she will pick it up by its little legs and drop it onto her arm and study it.

The second is that she can take photos of dreams. Not unlike, I suppose, those Victorian photographers who managed to snap pictures of ghosts. Here, for example, is a photo she snapped of me, and of a woman who was running at the edge of my imagination. A perfect capture.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera

The story of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is now well-known. The whims of popular culture has rescued this pair from obscurity, especially Kahlo who up until recently was no more than a footnote in the history of Art. (In my opinion, Kahlo's art, imbued with genuine suffering, will outlast Rivera's)

Rivera has always been well-known but he was but one of a holy trinity of Mexican muralists. The other two were David Alfaro Siquieros and Clemente Orozco. Of the three, I'd always preferred the bolder style of Siquieros and considered Rivera to be more showman than artist - like a Mexican PT Barnum (both in audacity and proportions). Siqueiros could be extreme in a way that Rivera could not - I certainly can't imagine Rivera painting anything like Siquieros' "Echo of a Scream"

Still, I had always dismissed all of the muralists - I love the grand format but the style has always seemed to obvious, too full of easy symbolism. I've always preferred their contemporary, the modernist Rufino Tamayo who fused abstraction with Native symbolism and has produced works that are both gorgeous and vivid with color but can also be terrifying and inexplicable. I've never been able to exorcise the image of Tamayo's primeval hounds from my imagination.

"If I could express with a single word what it is that distinguishes Tamayo from other painters, I would say, without a moment’s hesitation: sun. For the sun is in all his pictures, whether we see it or not: night itself is for Tamayo simply a sun carbonized."
-Octavio Paz

There are no works of Tamayo here in San Francisco that I am aware of. But, Rivera and Kahlo paid a visit here. San Francisco is where they remarried. And Rivera had a chance to creatively vandalize some of our walls. The mural at City College is one I have not seen in person. I have seen the image before but had never noticed one thing - Right in the center of the mural, standing as if she is either joining or dividing two worlds, stands Frida Kahlo.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I dont know what this means, this juxtaposition. The antique and the modern clash on the rooftop of a neighbor's house. It is only visible though from a hidden staircase.

I've also started taking photos of colorfields - large expanses of pure color. I've discovered that this works best when there is some small imperfection in the field - an object, a speck, an impurity. The enormity of the snow field is best seen as a contrast to the footprints of a small animal which has wandered through. The sky seems limitless as a field of blue intensity, broken only perhaps by a white wisp - a tiny roving cloud.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"In Italy, the magnetism of museums is irresistible. Last June the Roman Institute of Psychology released the results of a national study involving 2,000 visitors that found 20 percent of them had embarked on an "erotic adventure" in a museum. Also according to the study, a Caravaggio painting or a Greek sculpture is more likely to lead to sex than works by Tiepolo or Veronese. The experts have even compiled a hit parade of Italian museums, listing the institutions in order of their ability to awaken Eros. This state of emotional arousal has been called the Rubens Syndrome, a term derived from the sensuous, superannuated nudes painted by the Flemish Old Master.
This isn’t the first examination of the emotional response to art to have been undertaken in Italy. In 1989, Professor Graziella Magherini, a Florentine psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, made her name with the publication of The Stendhal Syndrome, addressing clinical instances of queasiness, disorientation, heightened sensitivity, and panic in people confronted by great works of art or architecture. Some skeptics have attributed the Stendhal Syndrome to fatigue in the age of mass tourism. But the basic difference between the Rubens Syndrome and its nobler forebear is simple—while Stendhal merely makes you swoon, Rubens makes you go out and act on your feelings."

-from a past issue of ARTnews

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bernini's Armadillo-ish

Bernini's rendition of an Armadillo
from The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What is Poetry?

¿Qué es poesía?, dices mientras clavas
en mi pupila tu pupila azul.
¿Que es poesía?, Y tú me lo preguntas?
Poesía... eres tú.

-original by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

What is poetry?, you ask
while your blue eyes rivet mine.
What is poetry? And you ask this?
Poetry... is you.

-translated by Howard A. Landman

What is poetry? thou say'st, and meanwhile fixest
On mine eye thine eye of deepest blue;
What is poetry? And canst thou ask it?
Why, - poetry - is - thou!

-Translated by Owen Innsly, Copyright ©1882 by A. Williams & Company

"What is poesy," you ask
While you fix your pupil blue
On my own. - An easy task
To reply; but why should you
Put this question unto me?
- You, yourself, are poesy.

-Translated by Jules Renard, Copyright ©1908 by Richard G. Badger

"What is poesy?" you ask me, gazing
Into mine eyes with your eyes blue.
What is poesy? And do you truly ask me?
Poesy . . . are you.

-Translated by Young Allison, Copyright ©1924 by Young Allison

"What is poetry?" you ask, as you hold
My eyes with your eyes of blue;
"What is poetry? Well, since you ask me,
It's you."

-Translated by Rupert Croft-Cooke, Copyright ©1927 by Rupert Croft-Cooke

What is poetry? you say,
Holding my eyes with yours of blue,
What is poetry? . . . You ask that?
Poetry . . . it is you!

-Translated by Ina D. Singleton, Copyright uncertain - from Poet Lore magazine circa 1939

Monday, July 18, 2005

Celebrations of the Devil


I have these cycles of sociability. I am capable of being extremely extroverted. But, a few months later I will tumble into an introverted state that is almost monastic in its extent.

I first met my friend A. during an extended social streak in high school. We have remained friends over the decades. He has never let go of this image of me, of this popular person, this charismatic being that he knew then. I think I was juggling several girlfriends at the time and first impressions are lasting.

A. lives in San Francisco now and every few months he holds private sessions at his loft with some of the most well-known DJs and musicians in the city. The guest list for these things is kept small. As he confided to me "This should be small enough to cultivate a sense of family but large enough to qualify as an event"

I sometimes make a showing at these things. I saw M. again who I have not seen in two years. She made me promise again that I would pick up my jazz piano again and her and I would play every hotel in town.

M. and her husband D., also an old friend of A's, are one of the few people I recognize. The guests at these events may be small but they are also always changing.


Afterwards, we wandered over to PapaTobys cafe on 22nd St where we got a private performamce. Talented singing girl with violin.

The night before, I was at the GenArts event which was fantastic. Firedancers, interactive art, large indoor and outdoor spaces, a number of smaller spaces where you could walk in and feel as if you have stumbled into something new. I showed someone some of my salsa moves. I was there with AH. We had walked into the event without paying ($35 I think) and right into the open bars.

I just told her "Lets walk forward confidently until someone stops us"
Nobody did.


The week before, I attended an event (I was there with Bryan who was meeting all his fans) at which a woman whom I had never met came up to me and said this:

"You are the Devil."

When I tried to get her to explain, asking her what was it about me that had prompted that remark, she just looked at me suspiciously and added:

"You do like to talk about yourself, don't you?"

Saturday, July 16, 2005

All that comes out of me is a landscape in which you are everything, tree, bee, flower, toast, salt; you are the hard bright stamen of the kingcup, the Greek asphodel, the nervous speaking calyx.

-The Black Book, Durrell

Friday, July 15, 2005

From Ossian to Oscar Wilde

James MacPherson discovers an ancient poem written in Gaelic.
The author is Ossian, son of Fingal.

Thomas Jefferson establishes himself as a great fan of Ossian

The Sorrows of Young Werther is published by Goethe, another fervent admirer of Ossian.
Within it, Werther exclaims:

Ossian has, in heart, supplanted Homer.

Various editions of the Ossian poem are widely distributed and well received.

Napoleon declares himself a huge fan of Ossian and commisions a painting by Ingres: The songs of Ossian

Napoleon's godson becomes King Oscar I of Sweden.
Oscar was not a name in use at the time but had been imposed by Napoleon.
Oscar appears in Ossian.

Named after King Oscar, Oscar Wilde is born

An excerpt from Ossian:

As the dark shades of autumn fly over the hills of grass; so gloomy, dark, successive came the chiefs of Lochlin's echoing woods. Tall as the stag of Morven, moved stately before them the king. His shining shield is on his side, like a flame on the heath at night; when the world is silent and dark, and the traveller sees some ghosts sporting in the beam! Dimly gleam the hills around, and show indistinctly their oaks! A blast from the troubled ocean removed the settled mist. The sons of Erin appear, like a ridge of rocks on the coast; when mariners, on shores unknown, are trembling at veering winds!


This is all well and good. It draws a literary line of influence through history. Napoleon held his dear book with him, printed up with old poems. The poems themselves however - were an invention.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

-Stephan Doitschinoff
The polymathic Piet Hein was an artist and mathematician. He invented the game of Hex, created a unique puzzle called the Soma cube and also is the father of an entirely new geometric entity - the SuperEllipse, as seen in Sergels Torg:

Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then stumbles over. In the whole pattern of civilization there have been two tendencies, one toward straight lines and rectangular patterns and one toward circular lines. There are reasons, mechanical and psychological, for both tendencies. Things made with straight lines fit well together and save space. And we can move easily — physically or mentally — around things made with round lines. But we are in a straitjacket, having to accept one or the other, when often some intermediate form would be better. To draw something freehand — such as the patchwork traffic circle they tried in Stockholm — will not do. It isn't fixed, isn't definite like a circle or square. You don't know what it is. It isn't esthetically satisfying. The super-ellipse solved the problem. It is neither round nor rectangular, but in between. Yet it is fixed, it is definite — it has a unity.

—Piet Hein

But, Piet Hein for me and for many others is best loved and remembered as the father of grooks:

consolation grook

Losing one glove
is certainly painful,
but nothing
compared to the pain,
of losing one,
throwing away the other,
and finding
the first one again.

what love is like

Love is like
a pineapple,
sweet and

Grook to warn the universe against megalomania

The universe may be as great as they say.
But it wouldn't be missed if it didn't exist

A grook is a short aphorism and Hien wrote thousands of them. Each one is a short statement of truth or an admonition. And most were accompanied by a small drawing or cartoon. An encylopedia of abbreviated wisdom.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The City Unraveled

So, I was going by Philz coffee again. (I had written about his popularity with women.)

As I was getting my coffee this time, I noticed a small pile of handmade books titled 'Love Letter to San Francisco' by a certain Spiralgirl. I bought one, the next to last.

The small booklet is divided into two parts. The first half is a series of love letters to san francisco. For example:

"Everything is timed, to the second. And
when you are synchronized with her, time
gets wider. And when time is wide, there is
more of a chance for the people to come into
your life who you are meant to meet.

When time is narrow, we barely notice
what we are doing, we are just going
through the motions."

The city is depicted as a woman, a lover. In these series of short pieces, Spiralgirl reveals a city that can be at times elusive, at times warm, a capricious creature who taunts us with her ravishing architecture but betrays us with her frigid weather. A city full of faults "She's impossible (when it comes to parking)" but redeemed by her charm , her "creative fire."

The second half of this little book is a list of specific places that Spiralgirl has collected. We all have collected places like these, those of us who have made a home here. A small private treasury:

"If you were a film director looking for the perfect lounge for your two characters to have an affair, I'd take you here..."


"Expect to see older men wearing white aprons at these places..."

The associated blog for this book is here.


"This is the city and I am one of the citizens,
Whatever interests the rest interests me. . . ."
-Walt Whitman

How do you characterize an entire City?

In 1925, the artist Frans Masereel set out to do just that in a small novel called Die Stadt (The City)

It is a wordless novel. Through a series of images, Masereel presents us with a collection of glimpses into this vast accumulation that we call a City.

Start here and then click on the words "Die Stadt" on that page to get started.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines -- not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master's call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality. Solly was in a measure a victim of this unscrupulous passion, but Freddy was wholly in the grip of it.

-Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Aztec Religion

On that Saturday, I decided to eat my lunch in Dolores Park in the Mission. The amount of activity at the park is always surprising for its size. Tennis players in one corner. Children playing in another corner, not too far from where gay men in speedos sun themselves on a hot day. In between, Mission area hipsters have picnics alongside large Latin families. You can hear the ringing bell of the Mexican popsicle vendors with their little carts.

Entering the park, I heard the sound of drums. Loud and deep drumming coming from one edge of the park. I followed the sound and discovered that the drummers were a pair of men - tan, muscled men who seemed to be wearing not much more than colorful loincloths and feathered head-dresses. Flowers lay around their feet and they were circling three other people who kneeled solemnly. Two of them were a young couple. The third was an older woman who wore a colorful dress and had her eyes closed intently, as in a deep reverie. She sat among piles of flowers and incense.

I sat down to watch. Sitting around me were about twenty others who, by their dress or by their serious gaze, seemed to be part of all of this. There were also a few spectators, like myself, but most of the others didn't seem particularly dark or Latin.

Sitting near me was a young girl, in her late teens perhaps. She was tall and slender and beautiful with dark skin but sparkling green eyes. Tattoos, abstract glyphs from afar, decorated most of her bare legs.

"What is this about?" I asked her "What is going on here?"

"This is a wedding." She answered. "We are all descendants of the Mexica and these are our ceremonies, our rituals. We follow the old ways. Some think that we have disappeared but we are here, all around this area. Everyone here is so out of touch with their culture [waves her hand to indicate San Francisco] and they forget what came before them. They live their lives not aware of all the treasure they have inherited from their ancestors. These people here around us now, these tourists, they come and just watch, like its a show. They take pictures. But this isn't a show. This is how we honor the gods of Fire, the gods of Death and of Life. A wedding is a sacred event, like a harvest, that connects the old life with the new, and also how we say that we are still here and this will continue - forever."

"Until the end of the world?"

"Until the world is reborn."

"I am just here too, watching"

"Yes, but you are one of us, one of the tribe, are you not?. We are speaking Spanish but Spanish is the language of the conquerors. I am learning Nahuatl. You should too. You should join us."

"How do I find you again?"

"We are meeting next Saturday. Let me tell you the address..."

"Yes. Ok. I'll try to remember. Yes."

The Other Mexican Empire

When Hernan Cortes landed on the coast of Mexico. he stumbled into an existing war. Much of Cortes' skill, as documented in first-hand accounts such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo's Conquest of New Spain (a fantastic read!), was in knowing how to play different Mexican tribes off of each other. The Aztecs were great warriors but they were not well-loved.

Prior to the arrival of Cortes, the Aztec empire was not only fighting small border wars and dealing with internal conflicts but it was also in the midst of figuring how to deal with a formidable new enemy - the Tarascan empire which controlled much of Western Mexico.

The Tarascans were an independent Mexican empire. Their capital was at TzinTzunTzan, the land of the hummingbirds, where a series of small pyramids still stand today. Their language is an isolate, markedly different than other Mexican languages. Many linguists believe that the Tarascans were a South American tribe which had ventured north.

Whatever their origins, the Tarascans were clearly an advanced, warring state. Their metal-working skills were unrivaled in the New World and their new empire was quickly expanding. Over a period of approximately one hundred years, the Aztecs mounted several expeditions to try and conquer the Tarascans, but every attempt resulted in griveous losses. The most well-known is in 1478 where the Aztec king sent forth a force of 24,000 of his elite warriors. They were confronted, however, and ultimately decimated, by a force of over 40,000 Tarascans.

The Tarascans have not been as well-researched as the Aztecs. They left behind few written histories. But there has been a surge of recent interest. In an article titled "Mesoamerican Anomaly? The Pre-Conquest Tarascan State" one author writes:

Recent investigations, particularly over the past twenty years, have revealed a complex culture far more interesting than anyone had imagined. Not only did the Tarascans rule a substantial empire at the time of the Conquest, second in geographical size only to the Aztec – they had also created a culture which was in many ways unlike anything else in Mesoamerica.

As the Aztec empire was crumbling, the king, in a final act of desperation, sent messengers to the Tarascan king Tangaxoan. In effect, asking their greatest enemy for help. The Tarascan king sacrificed the Aztec messengers.

The Tarascans themselves fell quietly. Before the Europeans reached the West, the Tarascan empire was already crumbling from the ravaging effects of disease. Smallpox and Measles killed this powerful and mysterious empire.

Finally, a personal admission. I am Mexican but I am not descended from Aztecs. My paternal great-grandmother walked in bare feet and wore colorful skirts. She and her husband spoke no Spanish. They only spoke Tarascan.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hinton's Cubes


-From C.H. Hinton (click for larger pictures)

Charles H. Hinton, the author of the 1906 book The Fourth Dimension, believed he had developed a system that would allow anyone to actually visualize the fourth spatial dimension. He went one further and invented a set of colored cubes that, if used properly, would develop this 4th spatial sense.

The 2nd dimension is best visualized as a piece of paper. Inhabitants of this piece of paper can move left or right (1 dimension), backwards and forward (2nd dimension) but cannot move out of the paper up or down (3rd dimension). We are three dimensional creatures who live in a three dimensional space. The fourth dimension is yet another "direction" that we cannot point to, anymore than an inhabitant of the piece of paper can point out of the page.

Hinton was the son-in-law of the famous logician George Boole, the inventor of Boolean logic. He was obsessed with the possibilities of the fourth dimension and published several books on the subject.

His visualization attempts focused on the Tesseract, a word which he coined himself and made its way into popular culture, for example in Madeleine L'Engle's children's book A Wrinkle in Time. A Tesseract is a four-dimensional object which completes the following analogy:

Square (2-d) is to Cube (3-d) as Cube (3-d) is to Tesseract (4-d)

A Tesseract wont fit into our universe. Although, we can construct both the shadow a Tesseract would make onto our plane and we can also construct an unfolded Tesseract. An unfolded Tesseract, for example, is the cross that Christ hangs from in Salvador Dali's Corpus Hypercubus.

The premise behind Hinton's colored cubes is that with sufficient exercise one can develop an intuition for how four-dimensional objects move and rotate in our space. Although it makes no sense at first, the properties of four-dimensional objects are well-defined and known precisely.

After a period of limited popularity, Hinton and his strange cubes lapsed into obscurity. They were re-discovered again in the 1950's when they were featured in an article in Scientific American by Martin Gardner. Gardner presented some of the same history I have given here. Shortly after the publication of his article, he received a series of letters from readers who were both amazed and also a little concerned about the rediscovery of the cubes. Here is one such letter:

Dear Mr. Gardner:

A shudder ran down my spine when I read your reference to Hinton's cubes. I nearly got hooked on them myself in the nineteen-twenties. Please believe me when I say that they are completely mind-destroying. The only person I ever met who had worked with them seriously was Francis Sedlak, a Czech neo-Hegelian Philosopher (he wrote a book called The Creation of Heaven and Earth) who lived in an Oneida-like community near Stroud, in Gloucestershire.
As you must know, the technique consists essentially in the sequential visualizing of the adjoint internal faces of the poly-colored unit cubes making up the larger cube. It is not difficult to acquire considerable facility in this, but the process is one of autohypnosis and, after a while, the sequences begin to parade themselves through one's mind of their own accord. This is pleasurable, in a way, and it was not until I went to see Sedlak in 1929 that I realized the dangers of setting up an autonomous process in one's own brain. For the record, the way out is to establish consciously a countersystem differing from the first in that the core cube shows different colored faces, but withdrawal is slow and I wouldn't recommend anyone to play around with the cubes at all.

After Gardner's article and another small revival, the cubes were again forgotten. Recently the author Rudy Rucker has also tried to revive interest in Hinton's toys. Although I haven't felt the urge to do so, my copy of Hinton's book gives all the details for constructing the cubes.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

This week I just received my copy of the "Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1990, Fifteenth Anniversary Report" in the mail. All 1600 of my college classmates, their lives laid out on the page. Except of course for those 11 listed in the back of the book as Deceased, including Maria Psychas, talented and beautiful, an acquiantance of mine who died long before her time.

In the 5th year report, and to some extent in the 10th year report, the dominant theme was success and ambition. Everyone was making partner in their Law or Consulting or Investment Banking Firm. Everyone was writing a favorably-reviewed book, touring the world giving concerts or working hard at the billion-dollar Internet firm they had founded.

Now, in the 15 year report, there is a change and it is visible to everyone. One girl, who I happen to know is a famous Hollywood TV writer and Producer with a string of well-known TV series to her credit, mentions this not at all. Instead she writes:

I have heard the opinion expressed that there is no point in a woman getting a Harvard education if she's just going to shunt her career aside in favor of being a mother. Of course, that presumes there is nothing before or after being a mother and that it wouldn't be awfully nice to have a mother who could explain Latin American history or got me thinking what it all means, this new religion called parenting. It is easy to satirize the parent of today, but I think parenting had to become a religion because it is competing with the religion called career.

Another acquiantance, who grew up near me and is now a succesful investment banker in Manhattan, devotes the space in his biography to encouraging other classmates to call and set up "playdates" between his children and theirs.

In an email mailing list, set up to allow all of us to communicate, yet another classmate (and former roommate of mine) writes:

I'm not going to be at the [reunion] but I, like [another classmate], am pretty interested in what the whole thing means. One interesting thing was that the 15th anniversary reports followed a much tighter typology than the 10th--I think kids are a crucial homogenizing moment, at least externally.

There are still some in the Report who write about their career trajectory but, with few exceptions, they tend to be single. After 15 years our class seems to have suffered a stark split into two religions- the religion of family and the religion of career. On the other hand, 40% of us, including me, wrote nothing at all. What is the third religion?