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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Hinton’s hypercubes

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Illustration from The Fourth Dimension (1906) by Charles Howard Hinton.

A slight return to the worlds of Borges. I happened to be re-reading some of the stories in The Book of Sand (1975), one of the later collections which includes the story Borges dedicated to HP Lovecraft, There are more things. Borges’ writings are nothing if not filled with references to other works of literature, philosophies, religions, and ideas in general; following up the less-familiar references would preoccupy a reader to the detriment of the writing so there’s a tendency when reading a Borges piece to take for granted many of those nuggets of esoteric information. I’ve read There are more things many times—it’s a favourite in part for having the additional thrill of Borges going Lovecraftian—but only realised with this reading that I can now fully appreciate the following:

Years later, he was to lend me Hinton’s treatises which attempt to demonstrate the reality of four-dimensional space by means of complicated exercises with multicoloured cubes. I shall never forget the prisms and pyramids that we erected on the floor of his study.

Prior to reading this I did know that Hinton was Charles Howard Hinton (1853–1907), the British mathematician and dimensional theorist. Hinton’s name tends to turn up in discussions of the work of his mystical contemporaries, notably the Theosophists who were more taken with his theories than those in the scientific fields. (A conviction for bigamy didn’t help his reputation.) But those multicoloured cubes were a mystery until the publication of (fittingly) the fourth number of Strange Attractor Journal. Among the usual selection of fascinating articles the book contains a piece by Mark Blacklock about Hinton’s ideas including those mysterious cubes. Drawings of the cubes first appeared in A New Era of Thought (1888) where Hinton proposes using them as aids to a series of mental exercises with which the reader may visualise the higher dimensions of space. Hinton invented the word “tesseract” to describe the four-dimensional structure projected from the faces of his three-dimensional cubes.

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Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus, 1954) by Salvador Dalí.

Hinton may not have impressed his mathematical colleagues as much as he hoped but his ideas have an understandable attraction, as the Borges story demonstrates. The story concerns the refashioning of a Buenos Aires house for an unusual resident; thirty years earlier Robert Heinlein wrote “—And He Built a Crooked House—” in which an architect builds a house in the form of a four-dimensional hypercube: only the lowest cube attached to the ground is visible from the exterior. I read that story when I was a teenager, and was already acquainted with tesseracts thanks to school-friends who were maths whizzes; I was the arts whizz, and I think I was probably the first of us Dalí enthusiasts to discover the artist’s own take on the hypercube, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) from 1954. Borges and Heinlein in those stories were both writing their own forms of science fiction, and Dalí’s painting finds itself co-opted into another story with sf connections, The University of Death (1968) by JG Ballard, one of the chapters in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970):

He lit a gold-tipped cigarette, noticing that a photograph of Talbot had been cleverly montaged over a reproduction of Dalí’s ‘Hypercubic Christ’. Even the film festival had been devised as part of the scenario’s calculated psychodrama.

If we seem to have strayed a little then it’s worth noting that Borges was familiar with Ballard’s work: he included The Drowned Giant in the later editions of The Book of Fantasy, the anthology he edited with Adolfo Bioy-Casares and Silvina Ocampo. The two writers also met on at least one occasion.

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JLB and JGB, circa 1970. Photo by Sophie Baker.

Charles Hinton’s coloured cubes and tesseracts are described in detail in The Fourth Dimension (1906), a reworking of the ideas from A New Era of Thought, and also the source of the colour illustration that everyone reproduces. Mark Blacklock has his own multi-dimensional website where you can read about his construction of a set of three-dimensional Hinton cubes. As for the mental exercises, Blacklock’s piece in Strange Attractor contains an anecdotal warning that the auto-hypnotic system required to fully visualise Hinton’s dimensions can result in a degree of obsession dangerous to the balance of mind. Proceed with caution.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

 


Dubliners

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Woman walking past a stationery shop on O’Connell (Sackville) Street. Photo by JJ Clarke.

This year is the centenary of James Joyce’s short-story collection, Dubliners, so the book provides a predominant theme for this year’s Bloomsday. Not a great departure when both Dubliners and Ulysses concern the inhabitants of the same city. Dubliners would have been published before 1914 but the book was refused by several publishers and printers who objected to Joyce’s brand of realism.

The picture above is from a selection of photos of Dublin’s citizens by JJ Clarke, all of which were taken during the time depicted in Dubliners and Ulysses. Elsewhere:

• In honour of the Dubliners centenary 15 writers were asked to create new stories as a response to Joyce’s originals. Eimear McBride is one of the contributors. The Guardian posted her response to Ivy Day in the Committee Room, and she writes about Dubliners here.

• An introduction to Dubliners by Anthony Burgess, written in 1986 then never published, with illustrations by Louis le Brocquy.

James Longenbach reviews The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ by Kevin Birmingham.

Richard Hamilton‘s series of drawings and prints based on Ulysses are on display at the British Museum.

• Stefany Anne Golberg on the old people, young people, and priests of Dubliners.

• Illustrations by Robert Berry for Dubliners‘ final story, The Dead.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Covering Joyce
James Joyce in Reverbstorm
Joyce in Time
Happy Bloomsday
Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
Books for Bloomsday

 


Weekend links 212

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Poster for the recent Ballard-themed Only Connect Festival of Sound in Oslo. Design by Non-Format.

Bulldozer by Laird Barron was my favourite piece in Lovecraft’s Monsters, the recent Tachyon anthology edited by Ellen Datlow that I designed and illustrated. So it’s good to hear that Nic Pizzolato, writer of the justly-acclaimed HBO series True Detective, is among Barron’s readers. True Detective, of course, created a stir for referencing Robert Chambers’ weird fiction in a police procedural. The series is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and I can’t recommend it too highly.

• Citation-obsessed Wikipedians don’t believe Hauntology is a genuine musical genre, a sentiment which will probably surprise some of its practitioners. Whatever the merits of the argument, I rather like the idea of a musical form that resists strict definition.

• “This year, in order to do things differently, I will make a conscious effort to separate the man from his writing.” Giovanna Calvino, daughter of Italo Calvino, remembers her father.

With ideology masquerading as pragmatism, profit is now the sole yardstick against which all our institutions must be measured, a policy that comes not from experience but from assumptions – false assumptions – about human nature, with greed and self-interest taken to be its only reliable attributes. In pursuit of profit, the state and all that goes with it is sold from under us who are its rightful owners and with a frenzy and dedication that call up memories of an earlier iconoclasm.

Alan Bennett delivers a sermon.

Zarina Rimbaud-Kadirbaks, aka Dutch Girl In London, reviews the Chris Marker exhibition that’s currently running at the Whitechapel Gallery, London.

• Exteriorizing the Inner Realms: Christopher Laursen talks to Phantasmaphile and Abraxas magazine‘s Pam Grossman about occult art, past and present.

• The Beast is back: Erik Davis talks to Gary Lachman about his new book, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World.

• The body as factory: anatomy of a New Scientist cover image. Rick Poynor on the recurrent use of a familiar visual metaphor.

• Mix of the week without a doubt is FACT Mix 445 by Stephen O’Malley, a three-hour behemoth.

• Jennifer in paradise: Photoshop developer John Knoll on the story of the first Photoshopped image.

• The trailer for Grandfather of Gay Porn, a documentary about Peter de Rome by Ethan Reid.

Giorgio’s Theme is a new piece of electronic music by Giorgio Moroder.

Agender, a series of androgynous photo-portraits by Chloe Aftel.

• RIP Little Jimmy Scott

Evil Spirits

Chase (1978) by Giorgio Moroder | Call Me (1980) by Blondie | The Apartment (1980) by Giorgio Moroder

 


Wildeana 12

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The Wilde Years (2000), a poster by Jonathan Barnbrook for an exhibition at the Barbican Centre, London.

Continuing an occasional series. Recent (and not-so-recent) Wildean links.

Sander Bink writes that Beardsley-esque artist Carel de Nerée tot Babberich was in Paris in the summer of 1900, the summer of the Exposition Universelle which has been a subject of many posts here. Did he meet Oscar Wilde? It’s a possibility.

• “Was Oscar Wilde’s outlandish personality more influential than his writing?” asks George Woodcock.

These were the years when Zola was at the height of his international fame but Wilde pans the fashionable Naturalist school by contrasting it with another phenomenon that was then sweeping through Europe: Russian fiction. One of the small gems of these volumes is a cluster of very interesting and little-known articles on modern Russian novels. Wilde rated Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky far above “the obscene brood of pseudo-realists which roosts in the Cloaca maxima of France” and welcomed their influence on modern literature. He was certainly among the first critics to review the English translations of Crime and Punishment and Injury and Insult, praising Dostoevsky’s command of detail and ability to probe into “the most hidden springs of life”.

Stefano Evangelista on Wilde’s world of journalism

• “An idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all.” A print by ObviousState.

Robert McCrum looks at The Picture of Dorian Gray for the Guardian‘s 100 Best Novels.

• Oscar Wilde provides the Pinterest legions with a thousand and one quotes.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

 


Recent signals

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Signals (2014): vinyl front cover. Photo by Nico Hogg.

Seeing as my design for the recent Signals album by Wen has been deemed one of the best covers of the year so far I thought I ought to mention some of the other albums I’ve worked on over the past few months. I tend to give the most attention here to my book designs and illustrations but I’m still working on music releases, albeit with less regularity.

One reason the book work receives more attention is that there’s more of my input involved. Almost all these recent releases have begun as picture selections from the artist which it’s been my job to work into a printable form then place the relevant information in a suitable typeface. This isn’t to downplay the work involved: the careful placing of type becomes more critical the more the design tends to minimalism, and even the best photo can be ruined by clumsy typesetting or an unsympathetic typeface. The challenge of working in a more minimal direction can be a refreshing one when much of the work I do tends to visual excess.

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Signals (2014): vinyl labels. Photos by Nico Hogg.

Wen’s album for Keysound Recordings is a collection of dark urban rhythms for which Nico Hogg provided some suitable views of nighttime London. The numbers on the vinyl labels are lift buttons from a high-rise block, while the abstract scene below is a photo of the Thamesmead housing estate.

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Signals (2014): CD interior. Photo by Nico Hogg.

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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin