• εἰ πάντα τὰ ὄντα καπνὸς γένοιτο, ῥῖνες ἂν διαγνοῖεν. — Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος

• • Si toutes choses devenaient fumée, on connaîtrait par les narines. — Héraclite d’Ephèse

• • • If all things were turned to smoke, the nostrils would tell them apart. — Heraclitus of Ephesos, quoted in Aristotle’s De sensu, 5, 443a 23

Swan Klong

Ghìrkýthi mhlóSphálákhtthi mhlóDwèlrthi / The Swans of Queen Sphalaghd1

(Translated and edited by Simon Whitechapel)

In the black mirroring surface of the canal, these things: a sky very high and clear, the blue infinite interior of the skull of a god2 brooding beauty and pain into the world; the walls that line the canal, white marble, sharp-edged; the vivid mosaics of precious stone with which the walls are set: oval belladonnic eyes of emerald and obsidian in faces of sculpted mammoth ivory; the mouths of jade3-lipped bayadères leaking ruby threads of wine; the topaz fingers and wrists of rhodolite4-crowned lutanists; quartz-glistered sinews in the arms of capon5-plump eunuchs fanning the dances of turquoise6-skinned odalisques who prance and beck in frozen heated showers of opal-drop sweat.

But all, in the mirroring water, is grey.7

In the black mirroring surface of the canal, these things: a broad slab of basalt to which is bound a naked man8, white against the stone’s darkness, black-haired and bound with soft unbreakable bonds of purple silk; on his belly have been painted the red strokes and hooks and curls of the ideogram for death, like the roaring fist-talon and shank of a stooping hawk9 or the opening hungry maw of a leopard10, a splash of red tissues ringed and spiked and shaped by white barbs of teeth.

But all, in the mirroring water, is grey.

In the black mirroring surface of the canal, these things: five swans; their bright, forward-sweeping eyes are set in white, oval-skulled heads that are enwedged with yellow, black-rooted beaks; their white, smooth-feathered, twice-curved necks, slender as stems, are shivered on the ripples of the passage of bodies that are white seed-pods curling to smooth, hooked tails. Five swans, silent white swans. Their beaks are small and regular as the hardened gold heads of the ritual axes of the Temple of the Thanatocrator11, which sound tchlunk tchlunk tchlunk in the skulls of the sacrifices, opening slotted, red-welling ways for the prosempyreal passage of the soul.

But all, in the mirroring water, is grey.

In the black, mirroring surface of the canal, this: the white swans clustered on the white body of the sacrifice. Their necks dart and sway, sowing moist red blooms into the fertile milk of his skin. He strains against his bonds, but the necks fall, the heads hammer with steady, unconscious grace, opening the blooms to full flower. In the mirroring water they are beautiful, like strewn blossoms12 for the feet of the Thanatocrator, who dances his hatred into the waking dreams of the world. The sacrifice is dead and the swans are streaked and smirched and spotted with gore, like heavy white flowers in a garden of torture.

Their necks bend and sway, and their beaks open and close, but in the mirroring water their voices are silent, and how may we tell what they say?


1. Trained swans were the favored form of execution under the insane and semi-legendary nymphomane Queen Sphalaghd (1-143 Anno Dominæ; 1137-1279 Anno Secundi Imperii), whose extravagances came nigh to ruining the kingdom before, after many hesitations on and retreats from the threshold, she converted fully to the austere and life-denying doctrines of the Thorn-God in the final lustrum of her nigromantically prolonged life.13 She was canonized by the Temple thirteen years after her death.

2. An obvious reference to the Thorn-God, and in another context the Yihhian (mhló)Kiùlthi might be translated “(of) the god”, but the use of the non-hieratic noun marker gives the flavor of the indefinite article in English and contributes to the sense of brooding anonymity in the story.

3. This is believed to be a satirical reference to Yokh-Tsiolphë’s own religion (see note 8 below), that of the Moon-Deity, whose abstemious priestesses wore strongly colored make-up while performing their ritual dances under the full moon.

4. From its use in other texts retrieved oneirically from the Temple, the hieroglyph appears to refer to some rose-colored semi-precious mineral, and I have chosen to translate the word as “rhodolite”: coronemus nos rosis antequam marcescant (“let us crown us with roses before they be withered”, Sapientia Solomonis 2:8) was a sentiment accepted in its widest possible sense at the week-long feasts held during the long years of Queen Sphalagdh’s dissipation.

5. Possibly a castrated form not of the domestic hen (Gallus domesticus) but of the peacock (Pavo cristatus).

6. Again a possible satirical reference to the priestesses of the Moon-Deity.

7. Mirrors in the Temple were only of dark minerals, principally basalt, haematite, and black coral (Gorgonia spp), for the priests taught that color was one of the snares of sensuality by which the world entrapped men’s souls. Accordingly, possession of a fully reflecting mirror was an excommunicable offence for members of the Thorn-God’s congregation.

8. The story is believed to refer to the execution of a nobleman called Yokh-Tsiolphë (Yugg-Siurphë in some texts), who had offended the Queen either by refusing to sacrifice his eldest son and daughter to the Thorn-God or (as most scholars now believe) by falling under suspicion of having composed an anonymous pasquinade against the Thorn-God which was briefly circulated at the royal court in 38 A.D./1174 A.S.I. The execution would have been one of the earliest signs of the Queen’s growing regard for the Thorn-God.

9. The Yihhian here is a little unclear and the reference is perhaps to the Osprey (Pandion haliætus), which was second only to the Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) in the ornithomancy of the Temple.

10. The Yihhian kiuthi literally means “spotted one” and can refer to several species of animal; “leopard” seems the most appropriate translation in this context.

11. Niédýthithlà (mhló)Nhriúlr, literally “deathly lord(’s)”, was a title of the Thorn-God, but the foreign derivation of the words in Yihhian means it is perhaps best translated into English as “thanatocrator”.

12. Blossoms of gorse (Ulex spp) and other spinose plants were thrown beneath the feet of dancing priests during rituals at the Temple, and many of the Temple’s hymns refer to osmomancy, or divination by the scents released from the crushed petals.

13. She is said to have been planning another round of the puerile and puellar sacrifices with which she purchased her unnatural youth at the time of her death, occasioned when she slipped on trampled petals in the Temple of the Thorn-God whilst approaching the altar for blessing and was impaled on the silver thorns topping a newly erected altar-rail. Some contemporary commentators hinted at numerological significance in her death, saying that the priests of the Thorn-God had persuaded her that by laying down her life at that age she would regain it at the beginning of the next cosmic cycle. It is possible, therefore, that the encephalotomy and cardiotomy of her ritual mummification were feigned.

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.

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


Album primo-avrilesque, meaning April-Foolish Album, is a collection of visual jokes published by the French humourist Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) on 1st April 1897. Note that some of the captions can’t be translated fully into English, because they use French idioms that refer to color.

Combat de nègres dans une cave, pendant la nuit
Negroes fighting in a cellar at night

Stupeur de jeunes recrues apercevant pour la première fois ton azur, O Méditerranée!
Astonishment of young naval recruits seeing for the first time your blue, O Mediterranean!

Des souteneurs, encore dans la force de l’âge et le ventre dans l’herbe, boivant de l’absinthe
Pimps, still in the prime of life and with bellies to the grass, drinking absinthe
(Pimps were then known as dos verts or “green-backs”)

Manipulation de l’ocre par des cocus ictériques
Handling of ochre by jaundiced cuckolds
(According to one page I’ve found, coucou is the name given to some yellow wild-flowers, and cuckolds can be yellow with jealousy)

Récolte de la tomate par des cardinaux apoplectiques au bord de la mer Rouge (Effet d’aurore boréale)
Harvesting of tomatoes by apoplectic cardinals on the shore of the Red Sea (effect of the Aurora Borealis)

Ronde de pochards dans le brouillard
Dance of drunks in the fog
(Slang for “drunk” in French is gris, which also means “gray”)

Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige
First communion of anaemic young girls in snowy weather

Marche funèbre, composée pour les funérailles d’un grand homme sourd
Funeral March, composed for the obsequies of a great deaf man

Nail Supremacy

Ὁ γαρ ἡδονής και ἀλγηδόνος ἧλος, ὃς πρὸς το σώμα τήν ψυχην προσηλοῖ, μέγιστον κακὸν ἔχειν ἔοικε, τὸ τα αἰσθητά ποιεῖν ἐναργέστερα τῶν νοητῶν, καὶ καταβιάζεσθαι καὶ πάθει μᾶλλον ἢ λόγῳ κρίνειν τήν διάνοιαν.

• ΠΡΟΒΛΗΜΑ Β’. Πώς Πλάτων ἔλεγε τον θεὸν άεὶ γεωμετρεῖν.

Nam voluptatis et doloris ille clavus, quo animus corpori affigitur, id videtur maximum habere malum, quod sensilia facit intelligibilibus evidentiora, vimque facit intellectui, ut affectionem magis quam rationem in judicando sequatur.

• QUÆSTIO II: Qua ratione Plato dixerit, Deum semper geometriam tractare.

For the nail of pain and pleasure, which fastens the soul to the body, seems to do us the greatest mischief, by making sensible things more powerful over us than intelligible, and by forcing the understanding to determine them rather by passion than by reason.

• Plutarch’s Symposiacs, QUESTION II: What is Plato’s Meaning, When He Says that God Always Plays the Geometer?

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #48

• « S’il est un homme tourmenté par la maudite ambition de mettre tout un livre dans une page, toute une page dans une phrase, et tout une phrase dans un mot, c’est moi. » — Joseph Jourbet (1754-1824)

• “If there is a man tormented by the cursed ambition to compress an entire book into a page, an entire page into a phrase, and that phrase into a word, it is I.” — Joseph Jourbet

A Seriously Sizzling Series of Super-Saucy Salvadisms

Some good quotes by Salvador Dalí (1904-89), who will need no introduction to keyly committed core components of the quixotically contrarian community. The Spanish should be reliable, but the English translations may not be (coz i dun em).

• A los seis años quería ser cocinero. A los siete quería ser Napoleón. Mi ambición no ha hecho más que crecer; ahora sólo quiero ser Salvador Dalí y nada más. Por otra parte, esto es muy difícil, ya que, a medida que me acerco a Salvador Dalí, él se aleja de mí.
 — At six years of age I wanted to be a chef. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambition has only grown since then, but now I only want to be Salvador Dalí and nothing more. Still, it’s very difficult, because the closer I get to Salvador Dalí, the further he gets from me.

• El canibalismo es una de las manifestaciones más evidentes de la ternura.
 — Cannibalism is a sure sign of affection.

• El que quiere interesar a los demás tiene que provocarlos.
 — He who wishes to interest other people needs to provoke them.

• …Es curioso, a mi me interesa mucho mas hablar, o estar en contacto con la gente que piensa lo contrario de lo que yo pienso, que de los que piensan lo mismo que pienso yo.
 — …It’s strange, but I’d much rather talk with or be in touch with people who think the opposite of what I think than with those who think the same as I do.

• Es fácil reconocer si el hombre tiene gusto: la alfombra debe combinar con las cejas.
 — It’s easy to tell if a man has good taste: his carpet should harmonize with his eyebrows.

• De ninguna manera volveré a México. No soporto estar en un país más surrealista que mis pinturas.
 — Under no circumstances will I return to Mexico. I cannot bear to be in a country more surreal than my own paintings.

• Hoy, el gusto por el defecto es tal que sólo parecen geniales las imperfecciones y sobre todo la fealdad. Cuando una Venus se parece a un sapo, los seudoestetas contemporáneos exclaman: ¡Es fuerte, es humano!
 — Today, a taste for the defective is so strong that the only things that seem attractive are imperfections and, above all, ugliness. When a Venus looks like a toad, the pseudo-aesthetes of today shout: “That’s great, that’s human!”

• Los errores tienen casi siempre un carácter sagrado. Nunca intentéis corregirlos. Al contrario: lo que procede es racionalizarlos, compenetrarse con aquellos integralmente. Después, os será posible subliminarlos.
— Mistakes almost always have a sacred character. Never try to correct them. On the contrary, you need to ponder them, to examine them from every angle. Afterwards, you will be able to absorb them.

• La Revolución Rusa es la Revolución Francesa que llega tarde, por culpa del frío.
 — The Russian Revolution is the French Revolution arriving late due to the cold.

• La única diferencia entre un loco y Dalí, es que Dalí no está loco.
 — The only difference between a madman and Dalí is that Dalí is not mad.

• La vida es aspirar, respirar y expirar.
 — Life is aspiring, respiring and expiring.

• Lo importante es que hablen de ti, aunque sea bien.
 — What’s important is that people talk about you, even if they only say good things.

• Lo único de lo que el mundo no se cansará nunca es de la exageración.
 — The only thing the world never tires of is exaggeration.

• ¡No podéis expulsarme porque Yo soy el Surrealismo!
 — You cannot expel me: I am Surrealism! (After being expelled from the surrealist movement in Paris.)

• Picasso es pintor. Yo también. Picasso es español. Yo también. Picasso es comunista. Yo tampoco.
 — Picasso is a painter. So am I. Picasso is a Spaniard. So am I. Picasso is a communist. Nor am I.

• Sin una audiencia, sin la presencia de espectadores, estas joyas no alcanzarían la función para la cual fueron creadas. El espectador, por tanto, es el artista final. Su vista, corazón, mente — con una mayor o menor capacidad para entender la intención del creador — da vida a las joyas.
 — Without an audience, without a circle of spectators, these jewels would never realize the purpose for which they were created. The spectator is therefore the final artist. His eyes, his heart, his mind — whether better or worse equipped to understand the purpose of the creator — give life to the jewels.

• Llamo a mi esposa: Gala, Galuska, Gradiva; Oliva por lo oval de su rostro y el color de su piel; Oliveta, diminutivo de la oliva; y sus delirantes derivados: Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Siliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. También la llamo Lionette, porque cuando se enfada ruge como el león de la Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.
 — I call my wife Gala, Galuska, Gradiva; Oliva for her oval face and the colour of her skin; Oliveta, diminutive of Oliva; and its delirious derivations: Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Siliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. I also call her Lionette, because when she’s angry she roars like the MGM lion.

• Sólo hay dos cosas malas que pueden pasarte en la vida, ser Pablo Picasso o no ser Salvador Dalí.
 — There are only two things that can go wrong for you in life: being Pablo Picasso or not being Salvador Dalí.

• Si muero, no moriré del todo.
 — If I die, I will not die completely. (Compare Horace’s Non omnis moriar, I will not wholly die.)

• La inteligencia sin ambición es un pájaro sin alas.
 — Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.

• No tengas miedo de la perfección, nunca la alcanzarás.
 — Don’t be afraid of perfection, because you’ll never achieve it.

• Para comprar mis cuadros hay que ser criminalmente rico como los norteamericanos.
 — To buy my paintings you have to be criminally rich like the Americans.

• Hay días en que pienso que voy a morir de una sobredosis de satisfacción.
 — There are days when I think that I will die of an overdose of satisfaction.

• El termómetro del éxito no es más que la envidia de los descontentos.
 — The thermometer of success is nothing more than the envy of the discontent.

• Lo menos que puede pedirse a una escultura es que no se mueva.
 — The least that one can ask of a sculpture is that it stays still.

• Mientras estamos dormidos en este mundo, estamos despiertos en el otro.
 — When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.

• Yo no tomo drogas. Yo soy una droga.
 — I do not take drugs. I am a drug.

• Los que no quieren imitar nada, no producen nada.
 — Those who refuse to imitate will never create.

• Las guerras nunca han hecho daño a nadie, excepto a la gente que muere.
 — Wars have never done harm to anyone, except to those who die.

• Gustar el dinero como me gusta, es nada menos que misticismo. El dinero es una gloria.
 — To relish money as I do is nothing short of mysticism. Money is a glory.

• La existencia de la realidad es la cosa más misteriosa, más sublime y más surrealista que se dé.
 — The existence of reality is the most mysterious, most sublime and most surrealist thing of all.