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a secret veiled by a secret

Foucault's Pendulum - Trithemius
It's the simplest possible system. Consider only the outer circle. To code something, you replace each letter of your original message with the letter that precedes it: for A you write Z, for B you write A and so on. Child's play for a secret agent nowadays, but back then it was considered witchcraft.

For all its overwhelming scholarly depth, clever code play and its appeal to the secret conspiracy theorist that's in all of us, the story of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco is ultimately disappointing, and (at 600+ pages) easily outwitted by any old short story by Borges.

It's kind of ironic that Eco, a professor of semiotics (the study of signs and symbols), should lose sight of the forest for the trees - but then, that's probably the postmodernist point he wants to make.

To cite two of the book's many (and mostly very obscure) quotations:

Our cause is a secret within a secret, a secret that only another secret can explain; it is a secret about a secret that is veiled by a secret.

- Ja'far as-Sadiq, sixth Imam

The conspiracy theory of society ... comes from abandoning God and then asking: "Who is in his place?"

- Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 1969

a sample of blocks

In the short Dutch novel "Blokken" ("Blocks") by Ferdinand Bordewijk, the main character is the State, a communist totalitarian regime. The State forbids any individualism, hence the story has no individual characters.

Except in one place, where a dialogue of rebels is recorded. One says:

Man is a born discoverer. He made a discovery, the most terrible of all times: he found the finiteness of the universe. He abolished God. The astronomical scale became nothing. And man, who needed an idol, took himself. This idol, projected into the abstract, became the State. But when there is no room for God in the universe, because man has scoured it, I see God outside the universe. This universe is spatial and temporal, that much is now certain. This universe cannot but be small, because we have discovered its structure. But we can believe in big things. My faith has grown. My belief is that the universe is connected, beyond sense perception, to other universes into a new unity in the fourth dimension, and this again to others and so on to infinity and boundlessness. And that, perhaps, is God.

The State, a-religious, reacts thus:

The execution took place ten days later, on the population’s day of leisure. The sentenced limped to the scaffolds. Their eyes were hideous. Their eyelids had been cut off, then their eyes radiated with a high-power quartz lamp. After ten minutes, there were utterly blind. There was a woman among them.

Their blindness made them file meekly and helplessly between their guards, along streets full of onlookers, who followed them. The Council had disfigured them to make them repentant. They were repentant.

The above is a sample of the translation of "Blokken" Peter Shenk and i attempted, and finished yesterday. A complete and presentable draft of it at least, with some polishing to do.

Update: I've added a short introduction to the book, discussing its relation to new realism and its position as an early dystopia...

Continue reading the full post ยป

cryptical arabesques

H.P. Lovecraft, one of the grandfathers of horror stories (and probably one of the few writers that can be called gothic and baroque at the same time), turns out to be quite philosophical as well. Take the story "The Silver Key", which starts:

When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams.

(...)

Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.

(...)

Wise men told him his simple fancies were inane and childish, and even more absurd because their actors persist in fancying them full of meaning and purpose as the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.

Until, of course, Carter finds the silver key:

...a huge key of tarnished silver covered with cryptical arabesques; but of any legible explanation there was none.

And at the end of the story, after Carter has disappeared into the realm of dreams, the narrator concludes:

Certainly, I look forward impatiently to the sight of that great silver key, for in its cryptical arabesques there may stand symbolized all the aims and mysteries of a blindly impersonal cosmos.

electric acrid smell

It's good to be back online. My computer literally blew itself up this week, with a big bang and an electric acrid smell that reminded me it's still a nuts and bolts machine and not just a ones and zeroes box.

The resulting 3 days of offline made me think what an incredibly complex and multifunctional McLuhanesque extension of me the computer has become - in other words, how deprived (almost typed 'depraved' there) one feels without it.

Like, things you can't do without a computer:

  • emailing
  • surfing
  • googling
  • blogging
  • skyping
  • gaming
  • burning
  • printing
  • scanning
  • photoshopping
  • downloading

the customer is king today

Yes i know these pages need redesign. For the time being added a hint of sun, which according to some is not an overwhelming improvement ("it's like on fire") but will have to do for now...

Update: Years later reused this image, one of the first I shot with my trusted Powershot, as a monthly background (August 2010).