Weekend links 520

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Cover art by Ethel le Rossignol for To Kiss Earth Goodbye by Teleplasmiste.

• I’ve been listening to London Zoo by The Bug this week so two new releases by The Bug’s beatmaster, Kevin Martin, seem well-timed. Martin’s music isn’t all pummelling rhythms and abrasive noise, he also favours doomy ambience, as demonstrated on his landmark compilation album, Isolationism (1994). The new releases, Frequencies For Leaving Earth, Vols 1 & 2, are isolationist in multiple senses of the word, being further products of lockdown life, with the second volume described as reflecting Martin’s “ongoing obsession with scarce sci-fi scores”.

• “It was designed to run counter to formalist & Hollywood Structuralist definitions & expectations.” M. John Harrison in a discussion about his cycle of Viriconium novels and stories. Harrison’s new novel, The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, will be published at the end of this month.

• Mix of the week: 31st May 2020 (Lovecraft 2) by French Rock Sampler, a recording of Warren Hatter’s radio show devoted to French underground, synth and progressive music of the 1970s. The current season may be heard each Sunday at 3pm (London time) on Resonance FM.

This is a very important book. It may even be a historic book, one with which gay history can arm itself with more sufficient factual veracity as to start vanquishing at last the devil known as queer studies. Queer studies is that stuff that is taught in place of gay history and which elevates theory over facts because its practitioners, having been unsuccessful in uncovering enough of the hard stuff, are haughtily trying to make do. […] It is not only breathtaking to read this all in a work the likes of which so many Americans long to have written about our own gay history, but when one finishes reading it, one utters an audible huge sigh of relief. Of course this is how it was! Why did we all not know and accept this instinctively without having to create and/or buy into the Foucaultian and Butlerian (to name but two) nightmares with the obtuse vocabularies they invented and demanded be utilized to pierce their dark inchoate spectacles of a world of their own imaginings. Homosexuality did not exist because there was no word for it, say they. What bushwa.

The late Larry Kramer in 2009 reviewing Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform by Charles Upchurch

• I mentioned in April that I’d designed the CD and vinyl packaging for Roly Porter’s latest album, Kistvaen. It’s another monumental release, and it’s out now. Hear it for yourself at The Quietus.

To Kiss Earth Goodbye, the new album from Teleplasmiste, features cover artwork by Ethel le Rossignol, and a previously unheard trance recording of occultist Alex Sanders.

• “It’s impossible to completely quantify the effect of I Feel Love on dance music.” John Doran on Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s finest moment.

• More film lists: 10 great Japanese film noirs selected by Matthew Thrift, and the 15 best Czech horror films selected by Jason Pirodsky.

Mark Blacklock selects a top ten of four-dimensional novels (one of which isn’t a novel at all but a short story by Ian McEwan).

• At Dennis Cooper’s: BDSM.

Angry (2008) by The Bug feat. Tippa Irie | Insane (2008) by The Bug feat. Warrior Queen | Fuckaz (2008) by The Bug feat. Spaceape

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