Witch Switch

Below is one of the best album-covers I’ve ever seen. It’s a triumph of subtlety and simplicity:

Burning Witch, Crippled Lucifer (1998)

The American blackened doom sludge-sters Burning Witch used Sorgen / Sorrow (1894-5), a painting by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), to conjure an atmosphere of despair and darkness. Here is the original painting, skilfully combining snow, darkness and despair:

Theodor Kittelsen, Sorgen (1894-95)

But while the painting and album are good examples of less-is-more, the album is also an example of less-and-more. Part of its power comes from the contrast between the simplicity of the wandering figure and the complexity of the scripts used for the band’s name and album title:

Crippled Lucifer (detail)

Usually images are more detailed than writing. Here it’s the reverse. And while you can easily read the writing, despite its complexity, you can’t “read” the figure, despite its simplicity. Kittelsen’s skilful simplicity raised questions that can’t be answered. Is the figure male or female? Why is it sorrowful? Where is it going?

Well, you can say where it’s going in one sense: it’s walking from left-to-right. And that made me wonder whether the album could have become even starker in its contrasts. If you’re literate in Norwegian or English, you naturally read images from left-to-right, because that’s the direction of the Roman alphabet. On the album, you read the figure and the writing in the same direction. They contrast starkly in other ways, but they don’t contrast there. So let’s try making them contrast there too. Compare these two versions of the cover:

Crippled Lucifer (original cover)

Crippled Lucifer (figure-and-snowscape mirrored)

I think there’s something emptier and more despairing in the mirrored figure, walking from right-to-left. On the original cover, the figure is in some sense walking into the future, despite the weight of sorrow it carries. As we read from left to right along a piece of writing, what’s to the left of our eye is the past, and what’s to the right is the future. The figure carries the same implication. And because the figure moving towards the highly-complex-but-perfectly-intelligible band-name-and-title, there’s almost an implication that its story will be told, even if it’s moving towards death or suicide.

When the image is mirrored, all that disappears. Moving from right-to-left, the figure seems to be walking into the past, not the future. It’s no longer near or moving towards the complexity-and-intelligibility of the band-name-and-title. It’s abandoning the world more strongly: there’s no hope, no future, no implication that its story will be told.

I think the same happens, though less strongly, when the original painting is contrasted with a mirrored version:

Sorrow (original)

Sorrow (mirrored)

The contrast is less stark because, unlike the album-cover, there’s no complex patch of writing in the painting and the figure is moving away from what writing there is: the artist’s signature in the bottom left. In the original, the figure is abandoning identity and intelligibility by moving away from the signature. That’s why I’ve removed the signature in the mirrored version of the painting. It would be anomalous on the right, whether or not it was mirror-reversed, and it would be anomalous if it stayed on the left.

Finally, here’s a photo of two musicians in Sunn O))), the band into which Burning Witch eventually evolved:

Sunn O))) in black robes

In the original, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are walking from right-to-left. Here’s a mirrored version for comparison:

Sunn O))) photo (mirrored)

I think the original photo has more power, because the robed figures are walking against the grain, as it were — against the direction in which our Roman-alphabet-conditioned eyes read a photo.

Freeze Please Me

“Ich habe unter meinen Papieren ein Blatt gefunden,” sagte Goethe, “wo ich die Baukunst eine erstarrte Musik nenne.” — Gespräche mit Goethe, Johann Peter Eckermann (1836)

• “I have found a sheet among my papers,” said Goethe, “where I call architecture a frozen music.” — Conversations with Goethe

N.B. The aphorism “Architecture is frozen music” has also sometimes been attributed to Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854) and Ganopati Sthapat (1927-2011).

Peri-Performative Post-Scriptum

The toxic title of this paronomastic post is a key reference to core Beatles album Please Please Me (1963).

Letishist’s Labor of Love

Вряд ли где можно было найти человека, который так жил бы в своей должности. Мало сказать: он служил ревностно, нет, он служил с любовью. Там, в этом переписываньи, ему виделся какой-то свой разнообразный и приятный мир. Наслаждение выражалось на лице его; некоторые буквы у него были фавориты, до которых если он добирался, то был сам не свой: и подсмеивался, и подмигивал, и помогал губами, так что в лице его, казалось, можно было прочесть всякую букву, которую выводило перо его. — Николай Гоголь, «Шинель» (1842)

It would be difficult to find another man who lived so entirely for his duties. It is not enough to say that Akakiy laboured with zeal: no, he laboured with love. In his copying, he found a varied and agreeable world. Enjoyment was written on his face: some letters were even favourites with him; and when he encountered these, he smiled, winked, and worked with his lips, till it seemed as though each letter might be read in his face, as his pen traced it. — Nikolai Gogol, “The Overcoat” (1842)

Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

Бу́ква, búkva, the Russian for “letter”, may be related to the German Buche, meaning “beech”, which in its turn may be related to the English word “book”. Why so? Because beech-bark was once used for writing.

Strength thru Joyce!

Here is a Clarificatory Conspectus for Core Comprehension of Key Counter-Culture:

(open in new window for larger version)

Please note the inclusion of James Joyce (1882-1941). You will see that he is at one remove from the Heart of Darkness represented by the despicable, deplorable and downright disgusting phrase “in terms of”. That is, I put Joyce in the clarificatory conspectus because he is popular among the abusers of “in terms of”, not because I think he would have abused “in terms of” himself. Although I can’t stand Joyce’s writing and think it has had a very bad influence on English literature, I also think he wrote too well and was too aesthetically and linguistically sensitive to use “in terms of” in the degraded fashion of his countless modern admirers and imitators.

Please note, however, that being at one or more removes from the Heart of Darkness is not exculpatory for any other inclusees in terms of the Clarificatory Conspectus (Marty Amis, Sal Rushdie, the LRB, etc).

Elsewhere other-accessible:

Ex-term-in-ate! — core interrogation of why “in terms of” is so despicable, deplorable and downright disgusting…
Titus Graun — core interrogation of key deployers of “in terms of”……
Don’t Do Dot — core interrogation of why “…” is so despicable, deplorable and downright disgusting dot dot dot

Termed Out Nice Again

In 2013, I made a key discovery that disturbed and distressed core members of the non-conformist maverick community on a global basis dot dot dot… In America (or so it appeared) a key lexical marker of non-conformist maverickness was rapidly declining in terms of core usage, thusly:

At the same time, the non-conformist maverick community in Britain had maintained their core commitment to this key lexical marker of etc, thusly:

I expressed my puzzlement at the decline of “in terms of” in America. I couldn’t see a linguistic explanation and should (I now realize) have expressed doubts about the reliability of the data. Yes, in 2020 I’m very happy to report to members of the non-conformist maverick community that they need be disturbed and distressed no longer. The term has turned and it seems Google’s nGram wasn’t working properly at that time-period. Key statistics for core usage of “in terms of” are now in core accordance with key expectations, thusly:

“in terms of” (American English)

(open in new tab for larger image)

“in terms of” (British English)

Sadly, however, non-conformist mavericks in French- and Spanish-speaking countries seem to have stopped being non-conformist:

“en termes de” (French)

“en términos de” (Spanish)

Peri-Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this incendiary intervention radically referencizes a key catchphrase of core comedian George Formby (1904-61), viz, “turned out nice again”. Formby’s home-county of Lancashire (England) was — and remains — a core hotbed of non-conformist maverickness dot dot dot

Core discussion around “in terms of”…

Seis Segundos de Salvador

“Será tan breve que ya he terminado,” — Salvador Dalí, Con la frase “Ja soc aquí”, Dalí abrió una surrealista conferencia de Prensa, El País, 25×1980

   Salvador Dalí […] once gave the world’s shortest speech – six seconds in duration. He said, “I will be so brief I have already finished,” and he sat down. — Edward O. Wilson

Previously pre-posted

A Seriously Sizzling Series of Super-Saucy Salvadisms — more good quotes by Salvador Dalí

FractAlphic Frolix

A fractal is a shape that contains smaller (and smaller) versions of itself, like this:

The hourglass fractal

Fractals also occur in nature. For example, part of a tree looks like the tree as whole. Part of a cloud or a lung looks like the cloud or lung as a whole. So trees, clouds and lungs are fractals. The letters of an alphabet don’t usually look like that, but I decided to create a fractal alphabet — or fractalphabet — that does.

The fractalphabet starts with this minimal standard Roman alphabet in upper case, where each letter is created by filling selected squares in a 3×3 grid:

The above is stage 1 of the fractalphabet, when it isn’t actually a fractal alphabet at all. But if each filled square of the letter “A”, say, is replaced by the letter itself, the “A” turns into a fractal, like this:

Fractal A (animated)

Here’s the whole alphabet being turned into fractals:

Full fractalphabet (black-and-white)

Full fractalphabet (color)

Full fractalphabet (b&w animated)

Full fractalphabet (color animated)

Now take a full word like “THE”:

You can turn each letter into a fractal using smaller copies of itself:

Fractal THE (b&w animated)

Fractal THE (color animated)

But you can also create a fractal from “THE” by compressing the “H” into the “T”, then the “E” into the “H”, like this:

Compressed THE (animated)

The compressed “THE” has a unique appearance and is both a letter and a word. Now try a complete sentence, “THE CAT BIT THE RAT”. This is the sentence in stage 1 of the fractalphabet:

And stage 2:

And further stages:

Fractal CAT (b&w animated)

Fractal CAT (color animated)

But, as we saw with “THE” above, that’s not the only fractal you can create from “THE CAT BIT THE RAT”. Here’s what I call a 2-compression of the sentence, where every second letter has been compressed into the letter that precedes it:

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (2-comp color)

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (2-comp b&w)

And here’s a 3-compression of the sentence, where every third letter has been compressed into every second letter, and every second-and-third letter has been compressed into the preceding letter:

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (3-comp color)

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (3-comp b&w)

As you can see above, each word of the original sentence is now a unique single letter of the fractalphabet. Theoretically, there’s no limit to the compression: you could fit every word of a book in the standard Roman alphabet into a single letter of the fractalphabet. Or you could fit an entire book into a single letter of the fractalphabet (with additional symbols for punctuation, which I haven’t bothered with here).

To see what the fractalphabeting of a longer text in the standard Roman alphabet might look like, take the first verse of a poem by A.E. Housman:

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves. (“Poem XXXI” of A Shropshire Lad, 1896)

The first line looks like this in stage 1 of the fractalphabet:

Here’s stage 2 of the standard fractalphabet, where each letter is divided into smaller copies of itself:

And here’s stage 3 of the standard fractalphabet:

Now examine a colour version of the first line in stage 1 of the fractalphabet:

As with “THE” above, let’s try compressing each second letter into the letter that precedes it:

And here’s a 3-comp of the first line:

Finally, here’s the full first verse of Housman’s poem in 2-comp and 3-comp forms:

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves. (“Poem XXXI of A Shropshire Lad, 1896)

“On Wenlock Edge” (2-comp)

“On Wenlock Edge” (3-comp)


This is a possible lower-case version of the fractalphabet:

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #49

• «Планета есть колыбель разума, но нельзя вечно жить в колыбели.» — Константин Эдуардович Циолковский (1911)

• “Planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.” — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Sigh-Lent Night

Morrissey’s stag night, like sim. Descriptive of a public house peopled entirely by broken men of indeterminate age staring silently at their half-empty pint glasses. […]

mortal adj. Refreshed (qv) within an inch of one’s life.

mortal combat n. Fighting between intoxicated fellows. Or occasionally, in the case of certain self-sufficient Harold Ramps (qv), between a single intoxicated fellow. — from Roger’s Profanisaurus: Das Krapital, The Revolutionary Dictionary of Bad Language (Viz 2010)