Saturday, January 20, 2018

Furlough Reading

Many of you may know some poor unfortunate Federal worker who has been reduced to a piteous and meaningless existence by the furlough.   What (you ask yourself) can You do to help??

Wonder no longer!  Here is a list of perfect Furlough Gifts -- thrilling reading to keep your loved-one functionary from drifting into senility and despair:



All of them available -- with free excerpts -- here:


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Mystery of the Analytical Chemist (further updated)

Among the unpublished manuscripts of my late friend Dr. Watson … no, just kidding.

Our Mutual Friend, the last finished novel of Charles Dickens, does not lie at the center of most readers’ affections;  yet connoisseurs there are, who wóuld award the palm to that late work.   And one of the most memorable minor characters therein -- as minor as might be, since (if memory serves) he utters not a word at any time -- is the discreetly appearing and vanishing figure of the Analytical Chemist.  His denomination is never explained, and he is given no other name.  His ostensible function is to wait on the Veneering’s table, at that elegant or elegantesque or simili-elegant supper party which is to seal the coming-out of these arrivistes or nouvel-arrivés; his deeper purpose is … well, it must be guessed-at.   But whatever it was, Dickens was evidently quite satisfied with the results.

What does he mean, then -- and especially, why ever is he called that?
The proper approach, I now believe, is not to be overly … analytical about it (as I tried to be, upon first encountering the character, with wonder).  The phrase simply wandered into Dickens’ mind,  without any nicety of correspondence to the Dalton or Lavoisier theory of the day, and serves perfectly to suggest what needs suggesting:  neither fawning nor class resentment  on the part of the table-attendent, but cool detachment, and unwavering observation.  In this he is a forerunner of that other supranatural butler, Jeeves.
(There are differences, but these are subtle, and must await another time  for treatment, when Jeeves himself shall consent to appear at the center of our lens.  -- Compare further another Wodehouse character, Lord Emsworth's secretary, The Efficient Baxter.)


If Hawthorne had not been a story-teller, he might have been a famous chemist, for he was a mental chemist in his method of handling emotions and passions.
-- Van Wyck Brooks,  New England:  Indian Summer (1940), p. 297

This what-if re Hawthorne is implausible;  but the citation has merit in displaying the contemporary connotations of chemist.

Bonus quote:

Hungarian goulash, always a dish to be avoided unless you had had the forethought to have it analysed by a competent analytical chemist.
-- P.G. Wodehouse, Ice in the Bedroom (1961)

Note: in a British context, the modifier analytical is necessary to distinguish what Americans call a chemist from what Americans call a pharmacist.

For further Dickensiana:

[Postscript May 2016] A foretaste of the denomination may be found in chapter 8 of Barnaby Rudge (1841).  Describing the farcical Tubby’s-Clubhouse-style subterranean meeting of the ‘Prentice Knights:

One of the conductors of this novice held a rusty blunderbuss pointed towards his ear, and the other, a very ancient sabre, with which he carved imaginary offenders as he came along  in a sanguinary and anatomical manner.

Savor the semantics of that “anatomical manner”, and you will be well on the way towards the Analytical Chemist.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sunrise Monostich

cocks passing the reveille  from farm to farm

-- Washington Irving

[For a matching monostich about the dusk, try this.]

Monday, January 15, 2018

Twinned Witnesses

For Christmas, our son gave me a brace of books -- carefully boxed together, a kind of electron-positron pair.   He conceived them as forming, not a mere set-theoretic union, but a tensor product of two Hermitian conjugates, intricately linked.  These are:

J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power:  An American Tragedy (2017).

BLUF:  both excellent, and “better together”.

To comment on their sociopolitical content  would be beyond our brief.  But a literary note on the structure of the former.
An anthology of articles spanning years  is problematic.  At the worst, it can be a gaggle of op-ed pieces  that turn out to be less than the sum of their parts.   Eight Years is notably successful in this respect.  It reprints the original (memorable) pieces of essay-reportage, from The Atlantic (these have aged very well), and embeds them successively in the skeleton of a memoir of those very years.  The personal/reportorial dialectic proves energizing.

Historical footnote:  As most who have even heard of him  know, Mr Coates champions an old idea -- Reparations -- whose current status in the zeitgeist resembles that of a letter-bomb.   Some perspective, from a wide-ranging book of psychosocial history, which begins in Colonial times  and concludes with a chapter called “Native Sons”:

Faced with expanding black claims, resistance and repression may become more bitter, even, than in the past. … A more equalitarian ideology  might itself increase savagery if repression occurs, given the tricks guilt plays in the human mind.
-- Wilson McWilliams, The Idea of Fraternity in America (1973), p. 613

Orthoepic footnote:  Mr Coates’ puzzling prénom put me in mind of Nefertiti; but adepts assure me that it rhymes with Tallahassee.   Thus, it is not exactly “pronounced the way it’s spelled”, but then neither is François.

Mirror Monostich

Words   form    in the eyes of the dwarf:
I too was made in His image!

[quarried from:  Jean Toomer, Cane (1923) ]

Recent sightings of giant penguins

This just in:

Figure shown 1/50 of actual size

For full  scientific background on these discoveries, google

   =>  Pinguinus ingens

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Deep Dusk / Monostich

a mellow glow arose
and   spread   fan - wise
into the low-hanging heavens

[from:  Jean Toomer, Cane (1923) ]