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DoubleQuotes — origins

[ by Charles Cameron — IMO a really neat Zork-ish visualization game in one “passage”, albeit not in the least “twisty” ]

My first glimpse of the power of DoubleQuotes came to me after a visit to the Archives theological bookstore in Pasadena, where I had picked up a book by Haniel Long. I was reading it waiting for a bus to take me home, and ran across a paragraph that reminded me vividly of something else I had read. I had to get back to my bookshelves and find it. But which book?

It turned out to be a book by Annie Dillard — like Haniel Long, a fine and under-appreciated American stylist — and she wasn’t quoting Long, she had a styory of her own to tell..


Not long afterwards, I made a “visualization game” out of the two paragraphs, which I posted to a hermetic studies mailing-list on November 14, 1994:

Simply imagine this…

You walk along a white corridor. There are two framed texts, one on each side of the corridor, at eye level.

You stop and look at one of them, perhaps the one on the left, and read this quotation:

My friend Jens Jensen, who is an ornithologist, tells me that when he was a boy in Denmark he caught a big carp embedded in which, across the spinal vertebrae, were the talons of an osprey. Apparently years before, the fish hawk had dived for its prey, but had misjudged its size. The carp was too heavy for it to lift up out of the water, and so after a struggle the bird of prey was pulled under and drowned. The fish then lived as best it could with the great bird clamped to it, till time disintegrated the carcass, and freed it, all but the bony structure of the talon.

A note says this comes from the American writer Haniel Long’s book, Letter to Saint Augustine.

What does the citation say to you? Do you like the sense that hawk and carp are gripped in a mutual embrace, like the two hands drawing each other in an M.C. Escher print?

While you are reading this quote, your back is turned to the other. Do you turn round and read the second text?

If so, you find a second quote, this time from Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk:

And once, says Ernest Seton Thompson — once, a man shot an eagle out of the sky. He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won. I would like to have seen that eagle from the air a few weeks or months before he was shot: was the whole weasel still attached to his feathered throat, a fur pendant? Or did the eagle eat what he could reach, gutting the living weasel with his talons before his breast, bending his beak, cleaning the beautiful airborne bones?

The two texts have the same weight: their images (osprey, carp, weasel, eagle) mirror one another, their language is similar, the quotes are roughly the same length, there is even a parallel between the framing of the first story in terms of Jens Jensen and the second in terms of Ernest Seton Thompson. They are twins.

Standing between them can be like wearing stereophonic headphones.

You walk on towards the open doorway at the end of the corridor, on the right…

That post, with that pair of quotes from Long and Dillard, was the immediate precursor to my HipBone Games, providing me with an insight into what a single “move” in a Hesse-style Glass Bead Game might look like.

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