[ by Charles Cameron — with an eye for form, paradox, self-reference ]
I’ve found three self-references already today, and its only 8am.
Unless of course you count architect Matteo Pericoli‘s building design to illustrate the structure of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s mystery novel The Judge and His Hangman:
— in which case, I’ve found four. Pericoli comments:
As in the novel — with its surprise ending that flips everything upside down, transforming the structure we had taken for granted into a profound moral and existential dilemma — in the building, what seemed to obscure now illuminates, what once concealed now is hidden, what seemed to give support is now nothing but a weight to bear and understand.
Now tell me, is that self-referential and ouroboric, or merely boustrophedonic or enantiodromic?
For Greek fun, wait till the end of this post*.
On firmer self-referential ground, my first self-referential account has to do with a Nobel Prize, just awarded. Gina Kolata and Seawell Chan in the New York Times explain:
Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for his discoveries on how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy, a Greek term for “self-eating.” It is a crucial process.
Self-eating: even the ouroboros can’t say it plainer than that.
The second comes from an article on artist Jennifer Trask titled Death and Decay Lurks Within These Stunning Works of Art in the Smithsonian magazine. The description of Jennifer and her work begins:
Those who encounter a piece by Jennifer Trask are likely first struck by its elegance: a baroque gold-coated necklace or an intricate floral broach. But a closer look reveals much more happening below the gilt surface: antlers woven into the necklace; snake vertebrae used as the “petals” of the broach’s flower, giraffe femurs…
Death, here, as in earlier artistic tradition, is a reminder of the fickleness of life. The article gives us the self-referential paradox as it explains:
Trask draws on the tradition of vanitas — moralistic paintings that were popular in 16th- and 17th-century Netherlands. She says her interest is now focused on the “symbolism and the ironic nature” of the paintings, and “how the vanitas itself ultimately became another of the luxurious objects they were meant to warn against.”
And the third might even count as two recursions — one analogous to the other.
You may have read the New Yorker‘s profile, Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny: Is the head of Y Combinator fixing the world, or trying to take over Silicon Valley?, and you may just be cooler than I, and either way you may already know that the Y Combinator is the startup starter-upper par excellence.
Here’s the self-ref, from their FAQ:
Why did you choose the name “Y Combinator?”
The Y combinator is one of the coolest ideas in computer science. It’s also a metaphor for what we do. It’s a program that runs programs; we’re a company that helps start companies.
A hat-tip here to Steven H. Cullinane, whose Log 24 blog today pointed me to this particular quote.
*It’s all Greek to me:
ouroboros, a snake or dragon devouring its tail, standing for infinity or wholeness
boustrophedon, written from right to left then left to right, as in ploughing with oxen
enantiodromia, tendency of things to change into their opposites, as a natural principle
Well, it’s past 9am now, but I haven’t been scouting around for further examples since I began this post.