Zilch & Co., Ltd.

0. Isn’t it interesting how numbering things or ideas imposes a sense of order? It points toward the realm of the eternal, because numbers are pure abstractions. In that respect they differ from other modifiers, which function rather to qualify, to describe or locate more precisely, to present. Quantification lifts out of context, unembeds, disembodies: both the quantified and – I would argue – the quantifier.

1. Imagine if glass were as rare as gold: how our fingers would tremble to touch mirrors or raise wine to the lips, and with what great wonder we would gaze out a window at this gray-and-brown morning in late November! (Garcia Marquez imagined the same thing about ice, and ended up writing One Hundred Years of Solitude. So look out.)

2. Is the spirit medium the message? Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant, had a bad cold… Did the spirits blow their noses?

3. How about the role of the abstract in communicating ideas? No, not THE abstract. I mean the kind that appears at the head of a journal article: a digest, something boiled down, a summary, a rendering. (I could say the essence, but I’m not sure it’s appropriate to use such an abstract word for something that is, in the end, quite concrete.) Anyway: the study stretches toward that vanishing point, I’m thinking. What does that do to science? (See Zweig poem “Anything Long and Thin.”)

4. I am getting in the habit lately of composing these posts in 12-point Garamond rather than 10-point Times-Roman (the default for MS Word on my computer – I’m too lazy to fix it). Can you tell the difference? I like to think Garamond makes me focus more on each word; in general, it’s more pleasurable to read. Perhaps that would make some people more verbose, but not me.

5. O.K., smartass, let’s pretend we’re not playing make-believe. Do you have any idea what that would do to The Economy?

5 #2. Abstraction as a form of distraction . . . or not. For all I know, the preoccupation of mathematicians differs not a whit from the total absorption in the work that is the main narcotic for us artist/writer types. (I’m curious about that pre- in preoccupation. What, there’s something else coming?)

6. One of the benefits of having a slow Internet connection is that I get a lot of poetry read while I’m waiting for pages to load. This is a good way especially to re-discover old favorites. My current companion here is Paul Zweig (Selected and Last Poems ed. by C. K. Williams, Wesleyan, 1989). Their strong epigrammatic and gnomic tendencies make Zweig’s poems well suited to distracted or interrupted reading:

The dancing fit of history,
The fathers, my magnificent liars…
(“A Theory of Needs”)

I want to jostle strangers in the street,
Not knowing which of them stole death.

The precarious daylight hollowed by their knife-like wings.
(“The Wasps”)

And then, more tender than eyesight:
Eternity mooning in a glass,
Or a flagpole stubbing itself against the sky.
(“Anything Long and Thin”)

Why can’t anything stay still?
That was Pascal’s question, God
As idea of stillness, in a small room…

As on the day the animals received their names
And swam and ran in terror, stung by a new sort of clarity.

7. (Gratuitous insertion of a reference to something outside my window: a sparrow in the lilac, for example.)

8. –I think you’re rather losing sight of the whole point of the numerical post, old chap.
–Yes, I know.

999. Clarity! Stillness!

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