From the archive of the not to be archived

Hagerstown, Maryland, October 1937, by Arthur Rothstein. Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Black & White Photographs, Library of Congress, Photoshopped. The library’s annotation explains, “Negative has a hole punch made by FSA staff to indicate that the negative should not be printed.”

An optical toy

Attributed to Alexandre Quinet and published in 1853, this drawing of names is titled Le Stéréoscope des enfants. Entangled in the puzzle of their own letters, the names are the names of optical toys: the polyorama panoptique (a magic lantern with fade-out and fade-in effects for changing the pictures without a break), the jeu pyrique (a simulated fireworks show that used colored projections), and, yes, the lorgnette enchantée through which you’re intended to look at and thereby solve the puzzle. You can also read about its pieces in the history of technology at (for instance), and they’re otherwise readable as primary texts in this anaglyph.

(Requires a red-and-blue stereo viewer.)

Seen in the anaglyph as they’re meant to be seen, with both eyes operating at full power, the terms exhibit themselves in a polyhedral cage.  Down the centuries, schools have trained us to think of encaging concepts like this one and the others that confine us in an as if mode: as if  we were free actually to see them in three dimensions. However, this bulletin from 1853 notifies us that thought has taken a small physical step closer to actual, non-metaphoric freedom. Empowered by optical illusion beginning circa 1853, the idea of a polyhedron became realizable elsewhere than in the mind’s eye. It began enforcing belief not by recourse to thought but by recourse to sight.

One human consequence is that the idea of polyhedron has been unmoored from the two-dimensional plane it once shared with text. Set afloat in three-dimensional space, it now orbits the mind that once seemed to hold it firmly down. Yearning to reunite itself with that escaped form circling it in the dark, mind now desires to know it in three dimensions as it once knew it in two: as immediately as an axiom. And now, too, such a change in the ways of contemplation seems possible. As from 1853, all the polyhedron will require to complete its metamorphosis from an object of mediated thought to an object of unmediated sight will be a momentary withdrawal into the dark. There in pure thought, unseen, the concept Polyhedron will be able to change. And at the end of that interval, to think of it again will be to see it for the first time in the round.

But the eye didn’t change in 1853. It has always been locked and held still within its own orbit, an orbit of bone, and there it has always resisted ceding even a moment of its sight to the idea of dark. Inside the eye, moment by moment, a muscular iris is at its work of holding constant the desire for what dims and rebrightens, only dims and rebrightens. The eye contemplates neither the dark idea of death nor the illuminated idea of rebirth but only changing light, unbeginning and unending. In the dark before the eye began to see was only the lightless terminal space of death. Seen within the blinking eye are only the flashlit heres and nows of life.

On paper

The picture depicts a sheet of paper, matte-textured and a little wrinkled with age. Floated onto its surface has come this Baldwin airship, circa 1910, bearing the pioneer aviator Lincoln Beachey into the air on a girder.

Toward the front of the girder you can see the airship’s little motor, with its gravity-feed fuel tank and its propeller shaft extending forward. The propeller isn’t visible, though. Instant by instant, its blurry trace was taken up into the bright light as it prolonged itself up through the air. Then even the light and the air were taken up by the paper. Of the moment of seen flight no record remains except, on paper, the Baldwin.

On that surface, though, there have been made to remain the Baldwin’s support wires, cloth-covered empennage, sewn seams around a contained body of that which is lighter than air, and just below the gas valve the body of a man (1887-1915) unmoving now but flying then, and having left a trace of flight still on the wrinkled paper.

Source: Photoshopped.

I am still not I, but now I’m updated to 1595

Last December, for at least the second time, I received a handwritten letter bearing a Spanish stamp but signed by somebody using a Romanian woman’s name. Enclosing three low-resolution photographs, the writer asked if these depicted me and requested in vaguely menacing language that I get in touch with her or him. 

The address was correct, but I’m not Tony Morris and the man in the pictures is not me. My earlier blogpost about that is at I took the post’s title from the last line of one of Sidney’s sonnets:

I am not I, pity the tale of me.

That’s still a great last line, but after more than 400 years it’s no longer the last word. Just now, for instance, I’ve done something I couldn’t have done in the days of Sir Philip: scanned one of the pictures to my desktop and then dragged it into Google for a search by image. Up it popped there, instantly: the identical face and pose, and attached this time to a LinkedIn name. The name was Tony Morris, too, and furthermore, wondrously! the text attached to the name was a poem. It wasn’t just any poem either; it came to me demanding to be read in the lofty spirit of Horace’s odi profanum vulgus.

Those are the words of George Chapman, him who spoke out loud and bold to John Keats. As a principle either of writing or of reading, they’re right. Hear for yourself as you give ear to the tale of Tony.

Tony Morris Linkedin

Singing its way down the page as from a score, the reading will complicate beautifully into counterpoint when it reaches the words “Hawaiian Islands,” because nobody in Hawaii refers to his home that way — not even if he also lives simultaneously in Florida and Hong Kong. And Hawaii, ordinarily referred to as such, happens to be part of the United States, where the British-spelled word “defence” isn’t in the name of any of the armed forces. Likewise, the academic abbreviation “BSc” is British, not American, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa doesn’t offer a degree in chemical engineering.

And Tony: you harmonize the registers of mathematics and capitalized General Problem Solving? And you sing not just of Asia but of Asia Good morals? Plus chemicals? Romanian lady of Spain, no wonder this Tony is the man you want to link! He is not I; he is far more. He is language itself, a self-singing lyric with an illustrated libretto: “High and hearty invention expressed in most significant and unaffected phrase.”

And best of all, he is, as Chapman says of his own poems, strange.

Source: George Chapman, Ovid’s Banquet of Sense. London, 1595; facsimile, Menston, Yorks., Scolar Press, 1979.

Technical note: in memory of the online library

In 2012 the Emily Dickinson International Society inaugurated a series of online publications called New Directions in Dickinson Studies. Unfortunately, members of the society showed little interest and the series came to an end in 2013.

I posted an article there myself in 2012, and it’s still up on the site’s page at However, all of its image links are now broken. To spell out what that means: it got published with peer review (good!), and fast, unlike paper publication (good!) — but now it can’t be read (as if every library that held it had burned down!). So, academic types:

do your students refuse to buy textbooks because they think everything is online?

Do your administrators say they don’t need libraries because they think everything is online?

If your answer to either of those questions is Yes, then please join me as we all say as loudly as we can, to students and administrators and Silicon Valley / Wall Street “reformers”:

There’s a moral there.

And here, a tiny dandelion timidly sprouting in the ashes of the library, is my article with its links intact.


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