Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Woke Up At The Dawn Of Day

the just man rages in the wilds

man has no body distinct from his soul

milton... of the devil's party

the voice of honest indignation

is he honest who resists his genius...?

i was in a printing house in hell...

prolific & devourer'd the bible and lo!
it was a deep pit...

a confident insolence...

... a candle in sunshine

jesus... acted from impulse not from rules

one law for the lion & ox

(Thus far, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The notes [in my hand, pencil of course, mostly at the tops of the pages they're "pulled" from; notes not in the form of quotes appear elsewhere on various pages; I'll spare you] become quite a bit more sparse through the rest of the book and I don't intend to give the references. The whole file's in my Norton Critical Blake's Poetry and Designs by the way.)

his stored snows he poured forth
and his icy magazines

a self contemplating shadow
in enormous labours ocupied

rage, fury, intense indignation

envy sung at the rich man's feast

let the brothels of paris be opened

go love without the help
of anything on earth

my generousity is to my friends

(and) miseries increase/is .mercy.pity.peace.

uprose terrible blake in his pride

crownd with warlike fires & raging desires

with soft repentant moan

how to know love from deceit

fiends of commerce!

to be flogd into following
the style of a fool

thousands of connoisseurs with joy ran raving

the iron hand crushd the tyrant's head
and became a tyrant in his stead

the child's toys & the old man's reasons

we are led to believe a lie

i wonder whether the girls are mad

the daughters of memory
shall become the daughters
of insiration...
...the silly greek & latin
slaves of the sword

set your foreheads against the
ignorant hirelings!

expensive advertizing boasts (!!)

there is a class of men
whose whole delight
is in destroying

soft sexual delusions
of varied beauty

from out the portals of my brain

a bard's prophetic song

sports of wisdom

he became what he beheld

a male form howling in jealosy

their god i will not worship in their churches

our virtues and cruel goodnesses
have deserved eternal death

onward his shadow
kept its course among th Spectres...

los the vehicular terror...

and thus the shadowy female
howls in articulte howlings:

annihilate the selfhood
of deceit & false forgiveness

the mouth of a true orator

Man must & will have Some Religion!

god wants not man to humble himself

i'm sure this jesus will not do
either for englishman or jew

mirth is better than fun

why is the bible more entertaining
and instructive than any other book?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Won't You Light Up And Sit For A Spell

Suppose I were acquainted with my own desires, though. What then? Well, I'd probably want to do something to gratify the son-of-a-bitches, right? And maybe that would involve me stepping outside my little comfort zone. And that could be a problem. Now, with liberal dollops of good old fashioned denial, along with a few heaps of even older fashioned repression, for just so long as one can keep such-and-such desire at bay... why you could nurse a problem like that along for a lifetime if you knew how to play your cards right. Right?

Anyhow. I was having a blast ripping into my lifestory. I think of Chimera sometimes when doing so but only in my latest parenthesis extravamaganza (at the single link of the previous post) thought to mention that there's some Barth influence in that no-doubt-annoying-to-many little stylistic tic, one I've been indulging quite a bit lately. In fact, I begin to feel as if Chimera provides part of whatever weird scripts I've been "acting out" on our current working model of my pathology (or for all I know, my radiant mental health... I'm not at all sure how crazy I am compared to the next guy... all I do know is I sure ain't "neurotypical").

Oh. Here's some (crossposted) doggerel.

Well I tried to differentiate a constant
But I never got a whole lot outta that
That's 'cause differentiation gives the slope
And the slope is nothing if the line is flat.
If a function only has a single value
Then its dee-dee-ex is zero where defined
And conversely if why-prime is always zero
Then why's the same for all ex in the line.

I'll be here all week. Anyhow, forget Barth... even Pynchon (the verses are in part a hat-tip in that direction... and wait!... now that I say it, I've seldom felt so much like Tyrone Slothrop as right in here these days...). A few weeks ago I came to what right then felt like some gobsmacking realization... which might stand up in the court of considered opinion... that I was undergoing an episode very like that of Phædrus in ZAMM. It's sort of uncanny. But I'm hoping to avoid electroshock. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece would sure be nice though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Rare personal story in my Lumpenprole blog. Memo to self: human contact good, protective masks of urban indifference bad.

Personal Slogans Of The Season

Publish the notes. Show 'em how to care. I'm studying studying. Under the paperwork radar. Trust the code.

I'll have mentioned "it almost makes you glad to be alive"... and today a stranger pointed out a rainbow to me and I tried out a variant along the lines of "it's like just for a second you can believe God wants us to be happy" on her and she took it smiling. The quote's probably not quite right. Because not only am I "not even acquainted with my own desires" but I can't even remember my own doggone words. Which reminds me.

That second quote's from a line of Dylan's. At first I thought it was just the turn of a phrase (to the effect of "I can't think straight"... or, more memorably, "they've got their hooks in him so deep he doesn't know which end's up" [On The Waterfront (from memory at second hand; an ex of mine was impressed with "hooks" here—the characters worked with big hooks—and mentioned it to me; I find it worth reporting now because Dylan swiped a line from the same picture ["for the love of a lousy buck"])]). But no. I say it all the time now and indeed it's sort of taken on some almost mystical Deep Truth feeling.

I'm not even acquainted with my own desires. Like suppose I'm getting real impatient working with a tutee: that feels like it's because of things going on between us in working on whatever our math problem is... but I've recently convinced myself on at least a few occasions that it's "really" because it's been way too long since I had anything to eat. (Oh. So this "hunger" you speak of feels like everybody's being deliberately obtuse. Good to know.)

Now, that kind of thing has got to be pretty common, and might even serve as sort of a counterexample: you're just as aware as the next guy and becoming more aware all the time, there, Vlorbik... stop being so paranoid.

But then there's this.

I told Ma recently "I don't know why I feel like I have to do everything the hard way... I just do"... and a little later had worked out enough of a theory to've told Madonn' that

"I seem to've decided never to believe anything that 'everybody' says: I refuse to learn from anybody else's mistakes... I have to act everything out for myself." So we're evidently looking at something like classical freudian neurosis (which of course is still well within the range of the normal but begins to suggest that there may at last be some point... "where id was, there will ego be" and all).

It turns out this is a far bigger can of worms than I can chew at this point... I've got several more paragraphs but they now appear to be too unformed even for me... this is a deep vein.

So. Six AM. The coffeehouse is open. Free WiFi. Out the door, with joy in my heart, to go meet my beloved students once again (or close up the walls with our english dead)... and my brandnew favorite personal slogan: "let's go publish something!".

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fearless Asymmetries

If you start with great material you can munge it up pretty badly and still have a pretty good product; this is my ace-in-the-hole as a math teacher. Suppose I approach songwriting with this in mind. My guitar chops are improving rapidly but are still very much at the beginner level... I'm physically incabable of swiping much from the master players I've admired all my life (but I'm working on it and can feel myself getting closer like a change in the weather). But I can read (about as well as the next guy) and there's, like, what, five hundred years of English poetry lying around the place... so there darn well oughta be plenty of proven crowdpleasers that move me personally.

That scan, and rhyme, and don't jar the ear (in an offputting way; a certain amount of jarrage is what poetry is for...); in short, something I can sing. Now, David Byrne (to swipe from a master) said something somewhere to the effect that lyrics are just a trick to get you to listen to a piece of music a few more times. But they're actually a far more versatile trick than this suggests. I'm using lyrics to distract my brain from my hands so my body can better take over (they don't call it rhythm guitar for nothing). So it helps if I don't know the words real well. Open up Harold Bloom's The Best Poems of the English Language to a likely prospect and see what happens.

Well, who are one's favorite poets, then? Blake probably leads the pack and I turned to Blake first and immediately found one I could use. (But while I'm at it. Coleridge and Byron round out what I only now realize is my top category: English Romantics. [Shakespeare and his contemporary "King James" are omitted here as categories-unto-themselves.] Pope and Dryden before 'em ["Augustans"]; a few Americans like Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, and Robinson Jeffers; toss in American-by-adoption W.H. Auden... and that's about it off the top of my head. And don't get me wrong... these are the poets I've read at all... Crane's poetic output was quite small but I'm well under halfway through any of the others... never been much of a poetry guy...)

Blake then. Well, this guy was a prophet as far as I can see; stuff like Proverbs of Hell is more like Scripture than most Scripture. And what's this? "Tyger, Tyger". I think I read somewhere that this is, like, the number-one most anthogized English poem of, like, all time or something. Could very well be for all I know, too (if I admit that such a thing could be well-enough defined for there to be a fact-of-the-matter). Okay. Take a look. Here's the result.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
Did he who made the lamb make thee?
Did he smile his work to see?

What immortal hand or eye?
In what distant depth of sky?
In what furnace was the brain?
What the hammer? What the chain?

And what shoulder and what art
Can twist the sinews of the heart
When the stars throw down their spears
And water Heaven with their tears.

Because I'm not gonna stand up on a stage and try to pretend with a straight face—or any face—that "hand or eye" rhymes with "symmetry". Anyway, this version is only half the length and "shorter is better" isn't always true but playing at the level I'm at right now it might as well be. So maybe I'll go ahead and learn it and maybe I'll try it out on some actual listeners. If not, no harm done. Blake won't mind.

Obviously, I'm not claiming to've done a whole lot here that should count as "songwriting"... maybe it's more like a remedial songwriting exercise. But, hey. Not only was "Turn, Turn, Turn" a monster hit in its time. Paul Simon had a version of an E.A. Robinson poem at around the same time... and Phil Ochs did a very moving version of "The Highwayman"... one could go on. So it may have been a really useful exercise... I am here stealing the master's trick of stealing some other master's words (in order to get on with the music).

I'm first aware of having used this trick back around the late Seventies when I began singing the ol' Gettysburg Addy while strummin' out a basic 12-bar blues (in E). I've done this song hundreds of times (though only a very small handful of people ever will have heard me do it).

Anyhow, it's my trick du jour. Open the book; choose a poem; pick a few notes... try and make 'em fit. Fail again, better. Bound to learn something...

Dire Straits... Live on CD

"Assume a virtue if you have it not", so I've been sort of acting out my vision of how things oughta be around the office and getting what feel like amazing good results there. Both classes are a blast and I've even done some calcblogging. Legion's battery is wearing out so I'm posting right away for insurance. Yrs from the Enclave at the end of a great workweek. We won't mention taxday yesterday in this post, okay?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Power Of Our Methods

"Gary"'s a Tuesday-Thursday guy so I ran into him in the natural course of things today; said I was pretty sure I'd been projecting some of my own bad behavior onto him in Tuesday's encounter and he gave the only possible right answer, which was to shrug off the whole thing as not even worth mentioning. Right; good. We even went on to prove it a short while later by talking for a good ten minutes about Voting Methods (a more-or-less standard topic in Liberal Arts Mathematics... you know, Math For Poets... the "terminal introductory course" that avoids the "you need lots of math to learn any math" pitfall [that ruins many a Servitude Arts Mathematics course] by simply starting from scratch with some really cool math that, weirdly, most math majors never look at even once). So that went better than I'd've probably dared imagine since talking with colleagues about math rates very highly with me (even if we hadn't had an audience... showmanship need not enter into it but it helps).

And the Calc class went great (again) but that oughta go in the Calc blog which I seem to be neglecting somewhat (but whattaya gonna do). Beautiful spring day if still chilly. Lots of stuff going right. "It almost makes you glad to be alive", as I used to like to say until I found out the humor's too dark here for nearly everybody and that it's even possible to be misinterpret this, coming from me, as some sort of suicidal-ideation cry-for-help type deal (when I'm aiming for the sad-clown so-sweet-I-cried vibe or something: life's a struggle, joy is fleeting... I think I should only try this line anymore with people knowing me fairly well and looking at me grinning with joy [at being in their company]). Just the old graphomania here, folks, excuse me. I started this file intending to gloat about my new song (okay, verse-and-chorus... verses to come?); whatever other good things happened today are by way of introduction. I'll need to walk up to the Enclave Coffeehouse and post before six. So here goes.

Measure For Measure
I know my people are behind me
Even though you think they've run away
And I know my people are behind me
And they're gonna have to fight another day
So you're gonna have to go ahead and kill me now
You're gonna have to go ahead and kill me now
You're gonna have to go ahead and kill me now
Cause I won't give in!
Take my defiance!
Take my defiance!
Take my defiance!
Take my defiance!
Cause I won't give in!

And DC ad infinitum as far as I'm concerned right now because it's a blast singing it. It looks pretty sparse in type even to me but I've been practicing the guitar part that goes with it—I'll go ahead and admit I think of as "composing" it even though it's a pretty simple doggone thing—for months (beginning in the great D-string Drought; I used to call it "Ringing the Neck") and now I have a version I can sing. I'll be doing a set in the courtyard soon if I have anything to say about it and I need material. My only other recent song as of now is For John Henry. This machine kills fascists.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Morbid Navel-Gazing

The boss was very understanding about me refusing the new-format tutoring work so the issue I was ripping my own emotional guts out over on Friday has essentially blown over. I'm about as sure as I can be that I made the right choice. Of course I have to at least question turning down work—during massive nationwide layoffs, for god sake—when my credo has always been to at least shoot for "anytime, anywhere" (show me students needing help with math problems for pay; I'm there).

I sort of gave up on a program at another college several years back that kept giving me real small classes... but at cut rates ("Hey, Vlorb... we'll have to cancel this unless you want to do it for practically nothing... whattaya say?"). It's a blast working with a class of three... it may be pretty close to ideal... but at the end of the day one is not only an Ivory Tower Intellectual (wannabe) but also a struggling member of the Working Class and this finally skirts too close to scabbing after a while. Okay. But this was a different kind of thing altogether.

I've got an awful lot invested in doing the one thing in the world I can be said to do at all well; much of whatever peace of mind I've got left seems to come from the times I can "get in the flow" of a math problem with an audience (a fellow worker-on-the-problem is of course better still—much better)... also, despite my downward mobility and my the-company-is-always-wrong attitude, I've got at least the remnants of a pretty fierce work ethic.

I was raised among talented and hardworking people by very talented and hardworking parents. I've been given lately to saying that Indiana University is, not only my University (all three degrees, indeed) but my very hometown (most of my public school peergroup had University connections... often a professor father like mine). Partly the point here has to be sheer sentimentality... I feel there's something poignant to be understood about my life by blending the "Alma Mater" vibe with that of the "hometown"... maybe because of whatever it is in me that led me never even to seriously consider going to school anywhere else.

(Okay. Bartending school. Also I interviewed a few of the faculty at Big State U as a prospective candidate for a [nother] doctorate but chickened out as maybe I always knew I would. These are too short [a couple-few weeks] or too late [after Indiana wouldn't have me anymore] to count. [Plus another time I forgot. Ignore this. Compulsive truth-telling.])

Anyhow, I'd like to feel that one of the attractive things about the Academic setting would be crossing verbal lances with well-informed articulate opponents about whatever comes up. But lived to find out... again.. today that I can get caught up in wanting an audience and allow myself to act sort of asshole-ish.

Cause there's this new guy, "Gary" we'll call him, that's just the kind of articulate opponent I sort of wish I unequivocally wanted to run into a lot more of. So today, I'm doing some textbook-bashing. This is an area where I'd cheerfully admit I've frequently been known to hold forth. So I say something like "They're all bad in the same way; they all copy each other" and Gary sez "No, really what's going on is that they're all shooting at the same set standards" (kinda thing; not even a good paraphrase but the general idea... I have a tin ear for dialogue as I've observed elsewhere... please don't take quote marks too seriously in this passage) and I acknowlege that "what California and Texas wants, everybody gets" and then go on to put my foot in it: "it amounts to the same thing".

At this point, I seem to've felt unconsciously that Gary ought to know that I mean that "meet such-and-such standards" is just another form of "copy the one that got the grant". Because I sure didn't say anything like this. Just felt like, okay, we're in basic agreement anyway, let's change the subject.

And we did. Sort of. I toss out a sort of trial balloon and allow as how it would be an interesting scholarly project to do a sort of genealogy about ways-of-doing-thing-wrong in math texts... "Forget the reasons things happened anyhow... you can't look into human motivation in a scholarly way..." and some other stuff and Gary comes back with "Are you saying Sociology isn't scholarship then" and no I'm not saying that at all but "well, probably there are a few sociologists doing what I'd like to think of scholarship but mostly it seems to be about quantifying everything and studying these ghastly statistical models" and then it's like, "so now statisticians aren't scholars either" and the conversation's completely going to hell.

So I'm all, "what is this, just disagree-with-Vlorbik-on-principle day?" and at this point it's clear to Gary and presumably everybody else in the room... except me... that I've become very defensive about having my stated opinion questioned at all but I'm still flailing around trying to find some way to continue to deny this perfectly obvious fact and end up accusing him of "bad faith"... something like "it seems to me there's a common notion of scholarship that I ought to be able to just invoke; you asking me about that feels to me like you're just disagreeing-on-principle" or something; at which point "Well I disagree" is about the only thing one can say I suppose; anyway thank god he does say that, so I reply with "Fair enough; let's leave it at that". And buttonhole him shortly after out of the office to debrief; but enough.

Now, I'm determined to get along with everybody. I've recovered from much worse embarassments then this during the getting-to-you stages with at least a few of the others in this... and seem to've been forgiven by 'em all. I get along with Naomi, for hecksake, and she's a rightwing Repubican. I have blown up in her face (to the extent that I couldn't face her for a couple days) and sometimes I have to tighten up my grip on myself when politics (specifically, you guessed it, labor relations) come up. I'm reasonably confident of getting along swimmingly with Gary... probably there are lots of very pleasant conversations in our future. Being able to disagree about nearly anything in a civil way is an academic ideal I treasure; I'm willing to work for it.

The guy I want to be would welcome, not only a rival for my self-hallucinated title of "the guy who always has something interesting to say", but a flat-out new uncontested office champ. Evidently that's still quite a ways off. Here we go.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

By These My Son Be Admonished

As I was saying a moment ago.

A Short Account of the History of Mathematics (W.W. Rouse Ball) is, as its back cover claims, one of the most honored histories of mathematics. Its influence is incalculable. I've owned one copy before this but I gave it away or had it stolen. This one appears to date from the late 60s or so and arrived only slightly shopworn (and with a dealer mark indicating previous ownership inside). The glue was pretty stiff but I was able to crack it in gently in several places without damage and could now hand it to a random reader without fear of having the spine cracked like a dried twig. Which happens more than you would think.

A Long Way from Euclid is Constance Reid's lay-level history of geometry. Reid is a great popularizer; I read her biography of Hilbert in grad school (twice). Her sister was a famous mathematician (to the extent that such a thing existed in the 20th century...). This looks like a good volume to give away to a beginner I'm trying to convert to the faith (after a good looking-over, of course...).

Facts on File Dictionary of Mathematics (John Daintith & Richard Rennie). I'm a sucker for a dictionary. This one's like new except for a bookplate from the reference section of some library. I'll set it on the desk downtown for a while until I get the feel of it. It'll obviously never compare to my beloved Universal Encyclopedia of Mathematics (New American Library). That's scholarship for the masses on a scale undreamed of since, say, the Reagan Revolution. A buck and a half would get this "translation of a widely used German compendium" in the mid-sixties. You'd see all kinds of great reading right up in the very dimestores and bus stations in those days. The establishment was soon to find out that having more and more well-educated people all the time wasn't exactly in their interest and took steps. But that's my life fucking story. We were talking about the Facts on File thing. Looks pretty good of its kind.

The Archimdedes Codex: How a medieval prayer book is revealing the true genius of antiquity's greatest scientist (Reviel Netz & William Noel). My dad claimed in some book he did in the sixties that he didn't know exactly what the word "palimpsest" meant. Because, even though he'd long since had a pretty good idea of it, he hadn't looked it up. I know this because he was showing me an office on a campus new to me and I saw it there in whatever of his books it was in. And I offered to tell him what it meant exactly and he sort of waved it away as if he didn't want to break the jinx. But my dad had a raging love of words and I'll bet he knew all along. Anyhow, this is about a palimpsest. I've got quite a thing for old books... and Archy? Well, let's just say "antiquity's greatest scientist" is probably putting it too mildly.

Mathematics in Civilization (H.L. Resnikoff & R.O. Wells, Jr.) is a history-of-math text (with exercises). Gorgeous monochrome pages outclass many a hugely more expensive text. I'll be stealing something from this soon if only to have an excuse to bring it to class and wave it around.

Most of these will live downtown in the barracks. Indefinitely I hope. Tomorrow I've got to write a burst of emails quitting the tutoring and we'll see how everybody feels after all that settles down.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this. The Mad One is off at the annual Libra party with a bunch of people she knew from before me. I went once and so can get off the hook. Anyway it's mostly women and they like it that way. So a couple of same, a couple we've hung out with quite a bit, came and picked her up and, in the way these things happen sometimes, girltalk, whatever, "male menopause" gets mentioned and I realize suddenly: oh, that's the name of this crisis I'm in these days...

Plus Six More Here In Front Of Me

So I found the "/sale/Mathematics" stuff at Powell's and went a little nuts. Not as much as it might appear. A lot of 'em were pretty cheap. Anyway, in the spirit of this books-received-list (cum gesture of acknowledgement of my pre-blogging fanzine roots) of about a month ago, here we go.

Kiln People (David Brin) is the novel I went to Powell's to get in the first place. A hometown buddy I've been touching base with in F'book put this in a list of "ten books that influenced me" that was meme-ing around last week or so. David's recommended great stuff to me before... Chernev's 1000 Best Short Games comes to mind for some reason... so I figured what the heck. This one's a used mass-market, in real good shape. The first printing of the first Tor edition (December 2002). I know Brin only by reputation and little enough of that... only enough to say he's a "hard" SF man. A glance at his homepage and wikipdedia article has just told me a little more than this... because I wasn't confident enough even to post that with confirmation so close at hand and not know for sure... but I won't be researching his other stuff unless this one grabs me. No, wait. There was a book of reviews cited. I'm a sucker for those.

Felix Holt, the Radical (George Eliot) was the only other non-math entry in this shipment. Middlemarch I read several years ago; Scenes From Clerical Life just a few months ago; most of the other major works in between. "Victorian Novels" has been a slowly growing presence on my hit parade for the past twenty years or so and Eliot's right at the heart of that (Thackeray and Trollope are next; Dickens is of course in a class by himself). This one's the "Wordsworth Classics" (instant remainders) so it started out life cheap and I got it cheaper. It appears to've been read by someone who knows how to break the binding evenly... almost. So there's a little bit of a tilt to the spine. No big deal. I might even be able to correct it slightly by reading it even harder.

Mathematical Bafflers (Angela Dunn) is a personal classic that I haven't seen in book form since the Flood. The first problem is the classic Four Fours puzzle and it grabbed me at about age 10 like few problems then or since. The Mad1 too. I showed it to her last night and she just kept working out one after another. Usually she calculates only for practical purposes or as a way gratifying me, but this looked an awful lot like outright intellectual curiousity. The Litton Industries edition of 1964 is the one I knew as a kid; this is the 1980 Dover reissue (which... I think... I've never seen till now). I have a pamphlet of some of this material—with its distinctive woodcut graphics for each problem—that (I think) predates even the book itself (but doesn't include "four fours").

Symmetry and the Monster (Mark Ronan) is the story of, just as the subtitle has it, one of the greatest quests of mathematics—the classification of the finite simple groups. I was an Algebra major so a lot of the background will actually be familiar to me; as is often the case in these matters, my choice of this volume was influenced by a review in the Notices; this is the kind of thing that makes online shopping much more fun than I would've guessed (alas).


Friday, April 3, 2009

Hey Hey My My

Maybe with any luck I'll know when I've finished writing this out whether to quit the tutoring gig. I'm leaning to hell yes.

I mentioned it a few days ago but evidently I was in denial about how little I want to do it. They sort of snuck up on me with it, too, so I'm even sure at what point I ought to have begun wriggling out of the whole ghastly deal. The real deal-breaker is the paperwork. They want a form filed for each encounter with each student. This is pure poison. For one thing, it's much more of the only part of the job I don't like when I run my own classes for twice the money. This is to say nothing of trying to turn me into a robot and whatnot. Hold on. Spinning up a movie. Posting anyway. Anybody out there?