CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
text and illustrations by Prof. Oddfellow (for Red Column magazine)
William Gibson's cyberpunk vision was prophetic: the fuzzy gray sky above us is "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" (Neuromancer, 1984, p. 1). Technology woven into the fabric of the heavens? As in the Hermetic maxim, "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above," and vice versa (The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus). Just as there are weather patterns in the atmosphere, there are weather patterns in what Teilhard de Chardin dubbed the noosphere. Life, like the sky and "like the sea, has its storms and calms, its uproar and great vistas" (pseudo-Fourier, quoted in Maurice Halbwachs' The Psychology of Social Class, 1958, p. 9). Indeed, there are many types of storms on many dimensions: "psychological, emotional, winds of afflictions, and winds of adversity" (Herbert C. Gabhart, The Name Above Every Name, 1986, p. 72). We speak of "cloud computing," but a cloud can have any number of shapes, determined by the principal quantum number (Edward Edelson, Parents' Guide to Science, 1966, p. 63). Looking up to the Neuromantic sky, we realize that we lack a language for prognosticating the climate of our cloudy computing. The earliest records of weather among every culture are to be found in myths and folklore, which describe clouds and other natural phenomena in highly figurative language, referring them to supernatural agencies or astrological influences by way of explanation (Ralph Abercromby, Weather: A Popular Exposition of the Nature of Weather Changes from Day to Day, 1887, p. 3). Over the centuries, the premonitory signs of good or bad weather became formulated into short sayings. In the spirit of this tradition, we offer ten immemorial proverbs translated for Second Memory:
If the crow speak by night and the jackal by day, a torrent there'll be in an unusual way.
Flash memory never strikes the same address twice.
A rainbow at night is the admin's delight.
If latency 'fore seven, 'twill cease by eleven.
On St. Michaelmas Day, the devil puts his foot on the Blackberry.
If an Apple has a worm, the day lengthens.
The flapping of an Amazon butterfly's wings may set in motion a chain of events that culminates in a midwest outage.
If the sky beyond the iCloud is blue, be glad; there's a picnic for you.
What goes up in a FLOP comes down in a drop.
The full moon has the power to drive away the cloud.
We've been reading a history of how alchemical secrets were passed down via various coded messages woven into different philosophies and religions through the ages. In The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye: Alchemy and the End of Time (a companion to Fulcanelli's Les Mystère des Cathèdrales, about how the cathedrals of Europe aren't churches but rather stone books hiding the wisdom of alchemy in plain view), we learn on page 214 that the esoteric motive behind cathedral building was to make living grails that house the spirit of the (Mary precursor) black madonna/goddess Isis as a tangible "mystereion" designed to last through the centuries. We took a photo at Exeter Cathedral two years ago, and back then we didn't have eyes to see the holy grail. We've lately been ruminating on how a third party might be able to experience the grail-ness of a cathedral without having to read in advance a 200-page explanation, and it occurred to us that lens flares can distill the gnostic light that cathedral windows channel. Then we remembered the Exeter Cathedral photo, and sure enough — there was the grail! (We did an overlay of a chalice to clarify what we're seeing in our photo.)
Hotels are places people come to sleep, and thereby hotels are imbued with the dreamtime. A recent study sought to explain why it's difficult to sleep that first night in a hotel -- it's apparently quite a widespread phenomenon, "sleeping with one eye open" -- but the study didn't mention what seems most obvious, that a hotel is saturated with dreams, and as we all know it's difficult to re-enter a dream that has been interrupted. Plus, hotels are places with many, many rooms, which is significant. We're reminded of a snippet (a passage we didn't already know but which we went searching for just the same, as one does), from Wild Nights by David Deida.
From Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping: "There is so little to remember of anyone—an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is tured over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long."
(According to the internet, Buddha really did say this!) "What's all this? There's a path, so just go and find it! What's with you guys? You want me to solve all your problems?" From The Hero Yoshihiko and the Key of the Evil Spirits (Yuusha Yoshihiko to Akuryou no Kagi, 勇者ヨシヒコと悪霊の鍵). The scolding Buddha is played by comedian Sato Jiro.
You've seen people at a table, all looking at their phones. This isn’t a new phenomenon. As Pamela Taylor has said, "We keep looking at all of the ways that technology pulls us apart from one another—we should start thinking about ways it can bring us together." (Photo via KULTÚRA.)
They say that everybody has a novel inside them, but that's patently false. If you don't have a novel inside you, there may at least be an article that inspires someone else's novel.
We're gobsmacked that our groundbreaking research into the relationship between pirates and parrots ("Buccaneer Birds and Parrots of the Caribbean," first published in Amercian Cage-Bird Magazine, March 1993) went on to be an inspiration for acclaimed author Gary Barwin's novel that's narrated by a parrot pirate, Yiddish for Pirates. This qualifies as a Retroactive Lifetime Goal (phrase used courtesy of literary humorist Jonathan Caws-Elwitt).
Unrelated except in the sense of the Barwinism that underlies all that we see and hear, Gary Barwin has dreamily transformed our recording for the Poet Laureate of Calgary, in which we set to clockwork music the punctuation of an otherwise-erased page from Andy Warhol's a: A Novel. Here's an mp3 of the otherworldly Barwinian transformation:
We’re so glad that our cloud-busting app hadn’t been invented when this postcard came out. Don’t you just know that there’d have been somebody on the street who’d have taken delight in dissolving that bunny?
"Take metaphor, for example: everything is a metaphor in the hyperkinetic microscope of my psyche, everything is instead of something else. But you cannot extract yourself unscathed from the whole: the whole creates a system of pressures that distorts the metaphors, moving their parts around between metaphors, thereby establishing a continuum." —César Aira (as translated by Katherine Silver), The Literary Conference
This is really something: the Hamilton Public Library has categorized as non-fiction our book of imaginary Kafka parables, Franzlations. As library patron Selway noted, "What higher commendation for a book of parables could there be?" This qualifies as a Retroactive Lifetime Goal (phrase used courtesy of literary humorist Jonathan Caws-Elwitt). Here's a page from Franzlations, which symbolically shows that chickens' eggs are oblong in accordance with the earth's elliptical orbit around the sun. Chickens are famously linked to the sun, as the rooster announces each dawn.
How to measure the velocity of a thought: "I am trying a method of my own invention: I shoot a perfectly empty thought through all the others, and because it has no content of its own, it reveals the furtive outlines—which are stable in the empty one—of the contents of the others. That ... Speedometer is my companion on solitary walks and the only one who knows all my secrets." —César Aira (as translated by Katherine Silver), The Literary Conference
We thought we'd stumbled upon the most scathing satire of prejudice against other cultures when we saw a Vice "documentary" about a gay man and lesbian visiting Japan to criticize that nation's heteronormativity even as they film themselves getting married to each other in an extraordinarly welcoming Buddhist temple. "This is going too far," we gasped. "This is too sharp a commentary on gays' embarrassing desperation to be mainstreamed."
We laughed when the filmmakers decried Japan's attitude toward public displays of affection, as if being inappropriately intimate on the street is somehow a mark of societal freedom and "progress."
We presumed the piece was satire when they purported to depict a typical night in Tokyo's gay club district, when it was anything but genuine given non-hidden cameras and pre-arranged permissions for faces to be filmed (not to mention the ludicrousness of foreigners presuming to witness an underground culture when they're not part of it and when their very presence changes everything). Here's the elephant in the room: the filmmakers note that in Tokyo there's a gay club for every possible proclivity, which presumes there's at least one gay club for judgemental upstart westerners with cameras to make documentaries about how non-progressive ancient civilizations are.
We thought the piece was obviously a send-up when the newly wedded gay man and lesbian exploited a young Japanese man who was ready to tell his mother about his sexuality — they shoved their camera into the mother's face as she heard the news and then got exactly the reaction they were hoping for: she fled the room in mortification, presumably (and legitimately) insulted that her son had so little respect for her that he'd put her on the spot in front of strangers and a camera. This obviously wasn't an example of Japanese homophobia but of American-style rudeness. But here's another elephant in the room: the man ready to come out had hired someone to accompany him from a company that provides actors to fill up wedding parties, funerals, and such, so how do we know that the mother wasn't also a hired actress for the son to practice coming out? Or what if it was the mother who had hired someone to play a gay son on the verge of coming out, because that's an experience she wished to role-play? How do we know they weren't all actors (beyond the fact that "all the world's a stage," of course) hired by said company in a paid advertisement spot? Any which way you frame it, it's unbelievable.
We laughed when the filmmakers scratched their heads over the culture of Japanese heterosexual women who read manga about male lovers (since we all know that heterosexual males are interested in lesbian lovers, so it's a direct parallel to a famous phenomenon). "Westerners aren't that clueless," we cried in indignation.
We tittered uncomfortably when the filmmakers asked a Japanese trans woman if she was offended that the people at a cross-dressing bar (featuring racks of clothes to try on) are 70% heterosexual. Why would anyone expect the Japanese to share America's bizarre attitude toward so-called cultural appropriation? The Japanese woman was delighted that people felt free to experiment with expressing themselves. Duh. (Oops ... is our attitude showing?)
Wow -- this documentary calls homophobic a nation with a wildly thriving gay literature market with customers of all sexual orientations, flamboyantly gay actors on television (just pick a show at random; enough said), an extraordinarily long history of institutionalized gay relationships (such as samurai/apprentice, sempai/kohai, Buddhist priests/acolytes [and while we're at it, Shinto sports at least four guardian deities of male-male love]), cross-dressing in both theatrical and hostess settings (kabuki, anyone?) ... and so on and on. The filmmakers decry marriages of convenience even as they get married to each other for the convenience of their documentary and to experience mainstream heteronormativity. It would be so very funny, Ellen Page and Ian Daniel, if only it were a deliberate joke.