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Birthday surprise

Friday, November 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the bell just tolled 72 for me, so it’s no longer Thanksgiving, it’s Psalm 90, still early in the “labour and sorrow” zone ]

A propos, then, of nothing in particular — and because it is a glorious work of art, here in a tweet is Marcel Duchamp‘s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2:


And because it shows the paucity by comaparison, not just of language but of constructed languages — and also how finely tuned such languages can be, as in this extraordinary translation into the Ithkuil:


Now — how many words are worth a picture?

Roff, Danks and Danks meme meets the Turing Test

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — once again learning the language i already speak ]

SPEC danks meme meets turing test


Okay, now the humor:

Pursuant to my interest in learning the language which is now my mother tongue — including such terms as sperg out and edgelord —– Adam Elkus today updated me on the concept of the Dank Meme

Dank meme? It’s another of those serpent eats tail things:

Dank Meme Urban Dict

— scrambling my mind in time for breakfast by introducing me to Thomas the Dank Engine:

I must admit I’m more used to his Tank Engine cousin:


I’m a big fan of Gordon, the fictional anthropomorphic tender locomotive, by the way — it’s a clan thing.

Must Beethoven really roll over?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away ]

I’m more than a little proud of these two tweets from my nephew, the conductor Daniel Harding, who was in Japan at the time of the March 2011 quake:

SPEC Daniel Harding Tokyo quake

I remembered them today while reading Anna Goldsworthy‘s The Lost Art of Listening — subtitled Has classical music become irrelevant?


Goldsworthy’s central theme is this:

Reports of the death of classical music are not new. There are those who have made a career out of eulogising it, such as the English journalist Norman Lebrecht, who has written the same book on the subject several times; the late pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen quipped that “the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition”. Classical music has absorbed a number of deaths already – the death of patronage, of the composer-virtuoso, of tonality. Clearly it is made of stern stuff, but can it survive the death of its audience?

It was this sentence, however, that reminded me so vividly of Daniel’s tweets:

Might there be a concert a few decades hence in which – God willing – my trio is still performing, but only to an audience of one? And if that listener were to perish mid performance, would we keep playing?


I’m wondering whether Goldsworthy’s question — Has classical music become irrelevant? — may not parallel a similar concern about poetry.

Language shifts. Eliot caught it nicely:

                                  Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced its plan to “provide translated texts in contemporary modern English as performable companion pieces for Shakespeare’s original texts..” The OSF comments:

We have asked the writers to limit their efforts to updating the more antiquated language in the plays. Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that in the last 400 years, many of the words, phrases and references have fallen out of use. So our focus is squarely on translating this antiquated language to increase understanding, while maintaining the vibrancy of the original.

So there you have it: Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that..

And so the wheel turns.


When I was researching 4chan clues to the recent Umpqa shooting, I had to avail myself of the Urban Dictionary to learn the meanings of such terms as sperg out, pepe, normie, edgelord


A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers

— and there isn’t even a definition for libcucks as yet. Hey, I’m an Ancient. It’s what happens to the young.

So I get the feeling Shakespeare may have now reached the point of obscurity that Chaucer had reached in 1951, when I was yet a child and Penguin published Neville Coghill‘s verse translation of The Canterbury Tales.


One of many notable comments in Goldsworthy’s piece was this:

In 1942 starving musicians performed Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in Leningrad while the city was under siege. The musicians were given an hour-long ovation, and the concert was broadcast to German forces as a form of psychological warfare.

Pablo Neruda, Andrei Voznesensky: I’ve seen it suggested that poetry has urgency — and the large audiences to prove it — in those times and places where poets also risk imprisonment, perhaps torture, and even death.

Irina Ratushinskaya described her writing habits while in the Soviet Gulag:

In defiant prose, she tells of her refusal to cower in the camp “like a frightened mouse.” Determined to continue writing poetry, she would scratch verses onto bars of soap with the burnt end of a matchstick. One poem described “the first beauty which I saw in this captivity: a window in the frost!” Another confided: “We live stubbornly/like a small beast who’s gnawed off his paw/ to get out of a trap on three.” After memorizing her words she would wash the evidence away. Later she copied the poems, in minute handwriting, onto four-centimeter—wide strips of cigarette paper and smuggled them out to Igor, who passed them on to Western journalists. “All poets should have such a school,” she says now, with a laugh. “It taught me to be very spare and concise.”


Daniel’s tweets:

  • Daniel Harding, Wonderful atmosphere on strangest of days
  • Daniel Harding, Would have played just for the 69 year old
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival announcements:

  • News Release, OSF Launches Three-Year Shakespeare Translation Commissioning Project
  • Play On FAQ, 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare
  • Next year, Daniel takes up the post of music director of the Orchestre de Paris.

    Whose mind hath the finer blade?

    Monday, October 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — robert frost, the poet, or yogi berra, the player? ]

    SPEC Frost Yogi


    Also of interest, Frost‘s comment, quoted on the Classic Poetry Pages:

    One stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’ was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn’t bear not to finish it. I wasn’t thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.

    As that page shows, I’m certainly not the first to note the overlap between Robert Frost and Yogi Berra — but it caught my attention today as I was reading a comment on Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse‘s On Some Yogisms:

    And “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” was his joking way of giving directions to his NJ home. You could get there by going either way once you reached the fork he was referring to; both roads led to his house eventually.

    That gives a literal context to Berra’s flight of fancy — and yeah, some roads are looped, it’s true — but without the wit, there’s be no wisdom.


    Witty Wittgenstein, as apparently quoted by Ray Monk and in the Aikin and Talisse piece:

    A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.

    Two alchemical substance-scapes

    Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — the material world meets the immaterial in our humanity — cognition & language ]

    I came across two views of what you might call “alchemical substances” today — one mixed and one unmixed — and in each case the wording of the description fascinated me.

    SPEC scapes

    The upper panel is taken from the late Oliver Sacks‘ description of the elements as he found them in his childhood, displayed in London’s Science Museum. There’s alchemy in that description, in the fusion Sacks achieves between scientific observation and poetic insight.

    In the lower panel, we have an overtly alchemical fusion, this time achieved by the interweaving of words from the language of the material (tobacco, leather, oak) and the immaterial (mystery, wisdom, knowledge) — both under the rubric “materials” — the work of Marcus McCoy.



  • Oliver Sacks, Mendeleev’s Garden
  • House of Orpheus, Cunning Man sample vial
  • **

    Any self-respecting legal desk will contain both pigeon-holes and loop-holes.

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