Performativizing Papyrocentricity #67

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Killer Chiller ThrillerNight Without End, Alistair MacLean (1959)

Above and BelowThe Archaeology of Underground Mines and Quarries in England, John Barnatt (Historic England 2019)

Wannabe Wonder-WeaverThe Best of Robert Westall Volume One, Robert Westall (1993)

All Glitter, No GlowA.C. Swinburne: A Poet’s Life, Rikky Rooksby (Scolar Press 1997)

Recycle, RepeatRevival, Stephen King (2014)

Gained in TranslationCuentos de Averoigne: Todos los Cuentos de Averoigne de Clark Ashton Smith, traducción de Enric Navarro (Pickman’s Press 2019)

Sean of the HeadAm I Evil? The Autobiography, Brian Tatler with John Tucker (2009; second edition 2017)

Posted at Overlord of the Über-Feral:

Maximal MozMorrissey in Conversation: The Essential Interviews, ed. Paul A. Woods (Plexus 2016)

Absence and EssenceAbandoned: The Most Beautiful Forgotten Places from Around the World, Mathew Growcoot (Ebury Press 2017)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

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:

Dull ’Un

There was a lot of drinking. One sunny morning [Dylan] Thomas and friends were in a field above Newlyn, sampling a “champagne wine tonic” sold by a local herbalist. Thomas talked and talked, then stopped abruptly. “Someone’s boring me,” he said. “I think it’s me.”

After his Vassar reading, Thomas stayed with a staff member at the college, Vernon Venable. He and his hosts sat up half the night, talking and drinking. When he finally retired, Venable sat on the bed while Thomas launched into a drunken account of his unhappiness. According to Venable, it went on for hours — “just misery, misery, misery, which seemed to me so pervasive that it had no source except a psychological source. That is, the man was deeply neurotic.” Venable is unable to remember details, except that part of the monologue was concerned with his love for Caitlin [Thomas, his wife]. In effect, says Venable, he was declaring that life was a nightmare and he couldn’t stand it. […]

In the morning Venable said goodbye to his guest, then discovered to his annoyance that Thomas had stolen his best white shirt. — Dylan Thomas, Paul Ferris (1977) (ch. 7, “Caitlin”, and ch. 10, “Laugharne and America”)

Purple Poesy


It is with pleasure that we announce our ability to offer to the public the papers of the Re-Echo Club. This club, somewhat after the order of the Echo Club, late of Boston, takes pleasure in trying to better what is done. On the occasion of the meeting of which the following gems of poesy are the result, the several members of the club engaged to write up the well-known tradition of the Purple Cow in more elaborate form than the quatrain made famous by Mr. Gelett Burgess:

“I NEVER saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.”



Oh, Cow of rare rapturous vision,
Oh, purple, impalpable Cow,
Do you browse in a Dream Field Elysian,
Are you purpling pleasantly now?
By the side of wan waves do you languish?
Or in the lithe lush of the grove?
While vainly I search in my anguish,
Bovine of mauve!

Despair in my bosom is sighing,
Hope’s star has sunk sadly to rest;
Though cows of rare sorts I am buying,
Not one breathes a balm to my breast.
Oh, rapturous rose-crowned occasion
When I such a glory might see!
But a cow of a purple persuasion
I never would be.

Elsewhere other-engageable:

The Purple Cow Parodies
Diversions of the Re-Echo Club
Such Nonsense! An Anthology (c. 1918) — with this and other parodies

Russell in Your Head-Roe

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry. What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement. Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world. — Bertrand Russell, “The Study Of Mathematics” (1902)

The title of this incendiary intervention is of course a paronomasia on these lines from Led Zeppelin’s magisterial “Stairway to Heaven”:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now:
It’s just a spring-clean for the May Queen…”

And “head-roe” is a kenning for “brain”.

Feel the ’Burne

The Poets at Tea […]

3.—(Swinburne, who let it get cold)

As the sin that was sweet in the sinning
Is foul in the ending thereof,
As the heat of the summer’s beginning
Is past in the winter of love:
O purity, painful and pleading!
O coldness, ineffably gray!
Oh, hear us, our handmaid unheeding,
And take it away!

Barry Pain (1864-1928)

A Melton-Mowbray Pork Pie

Strange pie that is almost a passion,
     O passion immoral for pie!
Unknown are the ways that they fashion,
     Unknown and unseen of the eye.

The pie that is marbled and mottled,
     The pie that digests with a sigh:
For all is not Bass that is bottled,
     And all is not pork that is pie.

Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947)

Wysts and Mellow Flutefulness

(To Randolph Churchill, but not about him)

Broad of Church and broad of mind,
Broad before and broad behind,
A keen ecclesiologist,
A rather dirty Wykehamist.
’Tis not for us to wonder why
He wears that curious knitted tie;
We should not cast reflections on
The very slightest kind of don.
We should not giggle as we like
At his appearance on his bike;
It’s something to become a bore,
And more than that, at twenty-four.
It’s something too to know your wants
And go full pelt for Norman fonts.
Just now the chestnut trees are dark
And full with shadow in the park,
And “Six o’clock!” St. Mary calls
Above the mellow college walls.
The evening stretches arms to twist
And captivate her Wykehamist.
But not for him these autumn days,
He shuts them out with heavy baize;
He gives his Ovaltine a stir
And nibbles at a petit beurre,
And, satisfying fleshy wants,
He settles down to Norman fonts.

John Betjeman (1906-84)

Whet Work

What, still alive at twenty-two,
A clean, upstanding chap like you?
Sure, if your throat ’tis hard to slit,
Slit your girl’s, and swing for it.

Like enough, you won’t be glad,
When they come to hang you, lad:
But bacon’s not the only thing
That’s cured by hanging from a string.

So, when the spilt ink of the night
Spreads o’er the blotting-pad of light,
Lads whose job is still to do
Shall whet their knives, and think of you.

Hugh Kingsmill’s famous parody of A.E. Housman

Les Sez

In Terms of My Natural Life

(a pome crafted by Les Patterson)

I am an Australian in terms of Nation
And a Public Servant in terms of vocation,
But there’s one thing amazes my critics and that’s
How many I wear in terms of hats:
I chair the Cheese Board, I front the Yartz
You could term me a man of many parts.
I’m a Renaissance type, if you know the term
And I’ve held long office in terms of term,
Yes, I’ve long served Australia in terms of years
And in terms of refreshment I like a few beers.
My opponents are mongrels, scum and worms
Who I bucket in no uncertain terms
And my rich vocabulary always features
Large in terms of my public speeches.
My favourite terms in terms of debate
Are: “broadbased package” and “orchestrate”.
But one term I never employ is “failure” —
Especially when talking in terms of Australia!
For in terms of lifestyle we’ve got the germs of
A ripper concept to think in terms of.
Yes, in terms of charisma I’ve got the game mastered
In anyone’s terms I’m a well-liked bastard.

From the Back With A Vengeance Tour Brochure © 1989 Sir Les Patterson.

Elsewhere Other-Engageable:

Sir Les’s Website