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Posts Tagged ‘art

“Those distinct substances, which concretes generally either afford, or are made up of, may, without very much inconvenience, be called the elements or principles of them”*…

An interactive encomium to the elements…

A review of the Periodic Table composed of 119 science haiku, one for each element, plus a closing haiku for element 119 (not yet synthesized). The haiku encompass astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics, and a bit of whimsical flair…

Elemental haiku,” by Mary Soon Lee (@MarySoonLee) in @ScienceMagazine from @aaas.

Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist


As we celebrate chemical compliments, we might send illustratively-arranged birthday greetings to Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois; he was born on this date in 1820. A geologist and mineralogist, he was the first to arrange the chemical elements in order of atomic weights (in 1862). But De Chancourtois only published his paper, not his graph with the novel arrangement; and because it was a geology paper, it was largely ignored by chemists. It was Dmitri Mendeleev’s table, published in 1869, that became the standard– and the model for the periodic table that we know today.


“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

An Ernie Bushmiller “Cross Word Cal” cartoon, from Sunday New York World, 1925. Note how the animals are caged by letter length and genus — Source.

Roddy Howland Jackson (himself a setter of puzzles) considers the origins of, and reveals the pleasures and imaginative creatures lurking in Torquemada’s seminal puzzles, the original cryptic crosswords…

Just a few years after The Waste Land appeared — a poem whose difficulty critics compared to some “pompous cross-word puzzle” — Edward Powys Mathers (alias: Torquemada) pioneered the cryptic: a puzzle form that, like modernist poetry, unwove language and rewove it anew…

“The Swan” from Torquemada’s Cross-Words in Rhyme for Those of Riper Years (1925) — Source

T. S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, Torquemada, and the Modernist crossword: “Beastly Clues,” from @roddyhj in @PublicDomainRev.

See also “Topic: Surprise, Drowsy Cows RIP, as Corrected (2,5,7,10)

* Stephen Sondheim (who helped introduce Americans to British-style cryptic crosswords)


As we contemplate circuitous clues, we might note that today is National Thesaurus Day, celebrated each year on this date in honor of physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer Peter Mark Roget, who was born on this date in 1779. In 1852 Roget published his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition (or, as we know it, Roget’s Thesaurus), a pioneering collection of related words.

Modern thesauri tend to be collections of synonyms and antonyms. Roget’s Thesaurus was…

… essentially a reverse dictionary. With a dictionary, the user looks up a word to find its meaning. With Roget’s, the user start with an idea and then keeps flipping through the book until he finds the word that best expresses it. The organization of the book reflects the unique intelligence of the polymath that created it…

Roget’s was a two-for-one: it put both a book of synonyms and a topic dictionary (a compendium of thematically arranged concepts) under one cover.

Roget’s official portrait by Thomas Pettigrew


“Lying is done with words, and also with silence”*…

The redoubtable John Bayley deconstructs deceit in his 1990 review of Philip Kerr‘s The Penguin Book of Lies

Kipling’s unspoken criterion, that if a thing is well done enough it must be the case, has caught on in a big way. It is all made up by the media, and by those faithful camp-followers of art who tell us on radio or TV what they were ‘trying to do’ when they wrote, painted or composed. The fashionably perceptive novel, like Julian Barnes’s memorable Flaubert’s Parrot, cannot find out what it is looking for, or what is going on inside itself. The fashionable thriller does not know the answers, or which side is which. These reactions against realism discard, often to great effect, the idea of truth as solution. So, fortuitously, did Henry James in The Turn of the Screw, and Stendhal’s Fabrice when he could not find the battle of Waterloo, or be sure that he had taken part in it. That truth is a lie shows that life is stupid: once art could fix that, but now this is not so certain, even of the best art.

As Philip Kerr has perceived, and embodied in his choice of extracts, a self-consciousness about truth goes with scepticism about it to produce the modern science of propaganda. Truth is the first casualty in war, whether hot or cold; when Churchill remarked that truth in wartime was ‘so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies’ he was not just being cynical, like Bacon’s jesting Pilate, but assuming that truth, like right, must be on one’s own side: enemy truth, attended by her SS bodyguard, must be a false creature. As Orwell saw, faith in the truth leads to lying. Since the Party is always right, the concoction of deliberate lies is a moral duty. The victims of the show-trials in Moscow and Prague found relief in the lies they were made to utter. In 1940 Orwell supposed – which is interesting in the light of what happened later in the Soviet Union, and indeed in 1984 – that ‘already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying a historical fact.’ Today science can appear just as much ‘the father of lies’ as Herodotus himself: not because of our appetite for wonders, but because the scientist has become much more aware of the possibilities of propaganda, whether personally or ideologically motivated…

More on the forms of fabrication: “Art’ll fix it,” in @LRB

(Image above: source)

* Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying


As we ponder prevarication, we might rejoice in the naively and nobly inventive: it was on this date in 1605 that El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (or The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha— aka Don Quixote), the masterwork of Miguel de Cervantes (and of the Spanish Golden Age) and a founding work of Western literature was first published. Widely considered the first modern novel (published in the Western world), it is also considered by many (still) to be the best; it is in any case the second most translated work in the world (after the Bible).

Original title page


“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child”*…

There’s history… and then there’s deep history. C. Patrick Doncaster, a professor of ecology at Southampton University has created “Timeline of the human Condition- Milestones in Evolution and History.” Starting with the Big Bang (13.8 billion years ago) it marks significant events in Earth’s development, the evolution of life, and the development of human culture (science/technology, economics, politics, and art) all the way up to 2021.

It concludes with a trio of handy analogies…

Following the big bang 13.8 billion years ago, time passed two-thirds of the way to the present before the formation of the Sun 4.57 billion years ago. Rescaled to a calendar year, starting with the big bang at 00:00:00 on 1 January, the Sun forms on 1 September, the Earth on 2 September, earliest signs of life appear on 13 September, earliest true mammals on 26 December, and humans just 2 hours before year’s end. For a year that starts with the earliest true mammals, the dinosaurs go extinct on 17 August, earliest primates appear on 9 September, and humans at dawn of 25 December. For a year that starts with the earliest humans, our own species appears on 19 November, the first built constructions on 8 December, and agricultural farming begins at midday on 29 December.

Timeline of the Human Condition- Milestones in Evolution and History.” (via @Recomendo6)

See also: “How We Make Sense of Time.”

* Marcus Tullius Cicero


As we prize perspective, we might spare a thought for James Hiram Bedford; he died on this date in 1967. A psychologist who wrote several books on occupational counseling, he is best remembered as the first person whose body was cryopreserved after legal death. He remains preserved at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona.


“Every picture tells a story”*…

The author’s own images…

“What is the use of a book”, asks Alice in the opening scene to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “without pictures or conversations?” This question from Alice is at once a critique of her sister’s pictureless tome, and a paving the way for the delight of words and images to follow. Indeed, John Tenniel’s famous illustrations — for both the first edition of Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass — have become integral to how we experience the story, in both books and film. Tenniel, however, was not the first to illustrate the tale. That honor belongs to Carroll himself, whose original manuscript of the story (then titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”) is littered with thirty-seven of his own sepia-ink drawings. It seems this entwining of word and image — so important to the published version — was there from the beginning…

More of the backstory- and all 37 drawings– at “Lewis Carroll’s Illustrations for Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” via @PublicDomainRev.

For more of Carroll, Alice, and her adventures, see here and here.

* Cheshire Cat


As we believe impossible things, we might spare a thought for Robert Smirke; he died on this date in 1845. A painter and illustrator, he specialized in small pieces that depicted scenes in literature— for which he was elected to the Royal Academy.


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