Reading: Randall Monroe — What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Relativistic Baseball! Spent Fuel Pool! A Mole of Moles! Machine-Gun Jetpack! FedEx Bandwidth! Exclamation key broken1

Those are some of my favourites from the utterly brilliant xkcd‘s What if? And then there were ones I’ve never read! Periodic Wall of Elements! Orbital Submarine! Lost Immortals! Plus Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox!

This is probably the most un-obscure book I’ve bought in almost forever, so there’s not much I can say that’s new, especially as the internetz went into meltdown when it was published. Still, xkcd I’ve been reading for ages and is one of my favourite webcomics, and buying this was a bit impulsive but also like going to see a show of an old friend. I was expecting something not as … well, wow, it’s a beautifully presented book. Large, hardcover, with a very touchable dust jacket, really attentively and attractively laid out (it’s far, far from just a reprint of every What If?), a lot of little details (like the inside of the dust jacket) make it a pleasure of a book. I single-handedly (the other hand was busy eating) devoured it (metaphorically; there was already food in my mouth) in an evening. And had planetary surface-sized sadness when I turned the page and it was already the end.

I seem to read so many books that I think, “Kids would love this!” They’d probably think I’m wholly and embarrassingly out of touch old person. But in the small event I’m not, this is the kind of thing to make someone go off and become an astrophysicist, or geologist, or make comics.

Randall Monroe — What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Randall Monroe — What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

process/unprocess week 2 day 1

I am humming.

Gala stands over me. She is reading the Aftersong from Beyond Good and Evil. We look at a couple of translations and the German text. He is quite unfriendly.

I am humming still. Most of today was spent humming. Or when I couldn’t make enough volume, then, “Da Daaaa Da Daaaa LaLaLaLa—La La-La Laaa”. Yes, Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture.

We are not playing this scene for comedy.

There is quite a bit of (for us) potential comedy in all that we are doing, but this scene we both feel has a gravity to it, no matter how much our desire to play it for laughs of the schadenfreude type seek to overwhelm it.

Earlier, we worked on the other scene that has quite some text in it. This time, Wittgenstein. He talks about hands a lot. Coming back on the train from Amsterdam (much fun! much sleeping!), I read over On Certainty. He has a tendency in this text to pose questions as though someone was speaking, a rhetorical device. When the encumbrances around these spoken sentences are removed, one finds what is left is a strange but logical conversation. (For brevity in the performance, I removed the excess “I have a hand”s, as it lent a certain monomania to the proceedings.)

This week we are in another studio. Big? Yes! Places to hang? Also yes! Unfortunately the wall we have to jump off and I get to bounce off is decidedly concrete. Nonetheless, it should add an element of torment to our fun.

Here is the text. Perhaps to say that what I am referring to as a hand, which Gala is doubtful of, is not the hand you might expect.

Gala: I don’t know if there’s a hand here.

Frances: Look closer. I know it is so. There is a hand there.

Gala: She knows that there’s a hand there.

Frances: I’m incapable of being wrong about this: that is a hand. I know that here is a hand for it’s my hand that I’m looking at. What right have I not to doubt the existence of my hands?

Gala: How do you know?

Frances: Here is my hand. I know where you touched my hand. I know, I am not just surmising, that I am seeing a hand.

Gala: Have you got two hands?

Frances: I know that I have two hands. That I have two hands is an irreversible belief. I could not accept any experience as proof to the contrary.

Gala: And what is a hand?

Frances: Well, this, for example.

Gala: I don’t know if this is a hand.

Frances: I know that it means now for me. At least that I shall act with a certainty that knows no doubt, in accordance with my belief. I know that that’s a hand.

Gala: Is that really a hand? I doubt whether that is really a hand.

Frances: I know that this is my hand.

Gala: Are you sure? Do you know it is?

Frances: How do I know? I know that that’s a hand. I have two hands. This is a hand, not… This thing that looks like a hand isn’t just a superb imitation – it really is a hand. I know the position of my hands with my eyes closed.

process/unprocess – first week remainder

Today is a day off, my first in two weeks, so I am sitting on a train, north of Antwerpen towards Amsterdam—a weekend (or rather a night in parentheses of two part-days) visit to see Lewis and wander a city I last visited after my first time at ImPulsTanz in Vienna.

How do I remember the week, then? The first three days were very much spent on working with rope. Our initial ideas and talks moved around making something of our shared idiocy, but what we were doing these days was quite serious. Out of which, came what?

An unsurprising proof, that one can, using all the messy tying (untying), quite easily suspend oneself. Really, it’s just a matter of getting enough rope between self and floor. It’s somehow more comfortable that traditional shibari figures, as well as being much looser—especially when I tied myself. Contra this, many of the ideas for working together fail once suspended. The tension on the rope is simply too great to allow for easy unthreading. Instead, thinking of the long tying (long, loose connections between limbs), and applying that to the ring and body, it’s possible to make a low suspension with a lot of movement in it.

We left this on Thursday—also Lewis’ last day with us. Thinking back to what had entertained us that night in La Monnaie, it was a single rope (or maybe two). So we tried long messings-around sometimes with one rope, sometimes with many, until some ideas began to appear. This became the kernel of Friday.

We also had ideas to work with texts from Niezsche (Gala) and Wittgenstein (me). I was thinking back to last time I spent a holiday with Ludwig, and what had interested me then. It wasn’t the Tractatus, though admittedly I have a fondness for that, which is also a fondness for his thinking. I was thinking of his later writing regarding that text, but could only find an unpublished collection of his writings that may have become a text had he not died first. It is titled Über Gewissheit — On Certainty. Much of it deals with Wittgenstein’s thoughts on Moore’s ‘Proof of the External World’, and ‘Defense of Common Sense’, in a manner immediately recongnisable as in his style.

Gala and I spent yesterday—in-between trips to the café for macrobiotic lunch, coffee and pauses—making some sense of what we’d done in the previous days. It seems to have resulted in perhaps 20 minutes of unrefined yet interesting enough things to be worth spending more time on. We dance even.

We dance a lot in fact, and probably shall dance some more. It won’t be a finished piece of course, but it seems to have something within which is what we were trying to find. How is it possible to reproduce stupidity without loosing the original enjoyment? Stupidity here being a kind of play, for example like children do which has elements of taunting, cruelty, nonsense, hyperactivity (probably also not stopping when we should and living to regret it). It also has a duo of Wagner and Nietzsche (well, me humming the Tannhäuser overture and Gala reading the aftersong From the High Mountain ending Beyond Good and Evil.

There are other things to try next week, but after a week of a process I went into completely and intentionally unprepared, it seems to have found something a small but useful distance away from failure.

As for unpreparedness, it’s normal for me to go into a new work with much reading, research (yes, that word), and some notebooks worth of ideas. I can usually talk about what I intend to do with some clarity and coherency, and have enough ideas to work on to ensure that we won’t all be sitting around waiting for me to feel inspired.

It’s a curious method then to start with barely anything. An idea to work on our shared amusements, another to have Wittgenstein and Nietzsche make a showing, a third to have something of rope and shibari. That’s all. Sure all of this is not unfamiliar to me and occupies for some years a part of my attention, but to have no notebook, no roll call of tasks to try, no real idea what the first day might hold, let alone what we might be trying for is an uncanny way to make performance.

Somehow it works. I certainly wouldn’t use it as a working method for most of my work (for example abjection has over a year of systematic research, enough notes and ideas for more than a couple of works and has reached a point where I can almost watch it in my head as a film), but for this work and with Gala, it seems to allow both of us a freedom to entertain ourselves.

It’s also very nice to return to making performance. I feel like I haven’t done anything the past three years, even though I’ve been busy with others’ projects. This weekend is to think about Ludwig and Friedrich a bit more, maybe they can have a conversation next week.

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It was Michael Carter who I think coined the name, but I can’t find where. Last time I was in Brussels, I decided to throw together a quick application for Rosas Summer Studios, something Gala Moody and I could work on together for two weeks after the Yoga + Shibari workshops with Dasniya.

We don’t really know what we’ll be doing; which is something of the point, an un-process, an un-preparation. We have some ideas, things that amuse us – this is tricky though, can what makes us laugh when we’re messing around transcribe itself into something watchable? And not in a transfixed horror of , ‘What are they doing?’, but something quantifiable as a performance.

So we have three ideas to begin with. The first is our shared love of making each other laugh. It’s hard work. I wrote, “We would like to work with this in a more coherent manner, to see if is possible to make something repeatable from our improvisations, and to see if it can fit in with the other interests, and can transcend into subjects of debate and serious issues in performance.”

Then we like reading. For me, there is something of Wittgenstein in this. I’m thinking of what he wrote post-Tractatus on the contents of that. For Gala, she’s long had a Bertrand Russell lying about, but has instead gained a fondness for Nietzsche. He wrote some poetry at the end of Beyond Good and Evil.

And of course, Shibari. Ropes and bondage and all this.

We start in a little over two weeks, and I return to Brussels next weekend with Dasniya. It really is my second home. I am planning on writing again on what we do also.

fuck off little britain

It was so much a part of Zürich, along with Jam, The Mighty Boosh, brot, kasse, and living in the Dachstock, Little Britain was part of our every day life. And tonight watching the new series I was really just disgusted and thought what these assholes need is a fucking bat in the face. There’s lethal satire, vindictive black humour, gut-heaving toilet humour, and then there’s just a pack of wankers who are trying to get cheap laughs out of hatred of people who aren’t like them.

One of my favourite blogs, in a solid Zizek-quoting, Socialist Worker “blah blah will be first against the wall when the revolution comes” kinda way, that last year’s big favourite of mine China Mieville occasionally writes for is Lenin’s Tomb, and though in my all-pervasive nihilism I have about as much time for socialism in any form as I do for capitalism (I think I’m reverting to a shitty anarchist …), there’s nothing like a bit of hard-arse polemic to make me have some hope in humanity. So back when I thought Little Britain was kinda alright – after all it’s Dr Who doing the voiceover – and Lenin and Co. really went up to the hilt in an unrestrained assassination I thought, ” … well, maybe, but maybe it’s just humour too, and let’s not get too serious about this”.

That was until tonight and while I was watching this odious piece of crap, I kept on thinking of the post, “Chavs”, and when it got to that really fucking nasty lady-boy ‘skit’, well let’s just make this really clear: if anyone thinks that doing the Little Britain “I’m a laaady’ line around me is somehow funny, original, or bespeaks favourably of your intelligence, and I respond by say, telling you to fuck off back to suburbia you smart arse little middle-class prick, don’t take offense, coz it’s just comedy, right?

If such a woman dyes her hair and pulls it back in a pony tail, this is known either as a ‘Croydon facelift’ or a ‘council house facelift’. If she pushes a pram along, she is a ‘pramface’. This naked and unadorned hatred for the working class could not be made more apparent by adornment, and yet it is accepted because the stilleto knife is coated with the unction of ‘satire’ before slid between the ribs. Poisonous as it is, the main point is that someone who isn’t me is having the piss taken out of them. Shit comics like Jimmy Carr make a living out of that. You can be as vile as you like about fat women, mother-in-laws and even members of your audience, provided it is presented on the prettifying chopping board of irony. ‘Little Britain’, similarly, provides an ‘ironic’ veneer for social resentment (of ‘chavs’, wheelchair layabouts, gays etc), validating the undercurrents of hatred that it purports to satirise.

— Lenin’s Tomb