december 05, 2009.
Will the day be warm and bright,
or will it snow?
..." ( * )
Even if you did not (yet/at all) see reason for a nodding reflection upon the drawing to an end of this century's first decennium (colloquially referred to as the 'noughties'), the onset and on-rolling crescendo of the roar of all that do will make it difficult to avoid head-on collision with the many retrospects that are going to descend upon you over the weeks to come. Unless maybe you opt out into a (ca)bin way up in the mountains; where it's cold, but where there's sun and where snow will be; where narrow paths wind up and on to faraway tops, then unfold down again into some valley; and where there's enough bottles waiting, of a spicy red wine and maybe one or two of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin's Grande Dame; where there's loafs of fresh bread and hot stew. All to facilitate a gradual port and morph into this century's tens, with no reflection but your very own ...
Such in fact was our way of spending this time of the year for quite a while. It was the 1990s way, but it has not been the noughties' one: at the end of this, these 00s' final, year, I will roam the fatherland again, with one of the kids; hop from Paris to Brussels to Amsterdam, Maastricht, Amsterdam. And on to Meerssen, a village not far from Maastricht, where we will spend a couple of days with Penelope, who should come over for the holidays (and all sorts of complicated administrative matters, that - obviously - are none of my business). We should and will talk (again) about my idea to expose as one 20 cubic meter block all of the cassettes that she recorded as a 20 year audio-life archive ... Under what conditions, where and with what means ? ... I am much looking forward to this coming about, in whatever form. I do have set my mind on it, but the project, however challenging, will not be an easy one to realize. (The more so because as far as Penelope herself is concerned, this 'case' was closed already several years ago... )
It may be strange but is a given that in my personal history ever since the 1960s each of the ensuing decenniums in hindsight seamlessly fits a well-defined, delineated and pretty much rounded off 'chapter' of my life. And though the fact that we experience random periods like a decennium or century as being imbued with very distinctive characteristics cannot be but merely psychological, a side-effect of the way in which we measure and categorize the changing world that surrounds us, at each of the turns of the previous decenniums for me personally life actually did change in often radical manners...
We cannot but see a world along the lines that we use to measure it by.
Though chances are pretty slim that whatever way in which we see the universe is the way it really is,
by means of the temporal and other categories of our descriptions in hindsight it evermore becomes.
Therefore, were we to measure time in a way different from the one that we use now, it would profoundly alter the
way in which we experience the world. Yes. It would modify, it would change and twist what we mean by the reality of the ongoing flood
of events, indeed ... ... that many now try and tame by framing and interpreting
these ... noughties ... ... but hey, don't you worry. I won't. Instead will
take you back but one step furth.e..r..., to an even earlier future. Back
to the 1990s : there were the precise ten years that I was fully occupied
as a researcher in mathematics, a period that I then closed again, along
with the advent of a new millennium, a next century; and its noughties.
Factually literally symbolically.
When early 2000 I meticulously produced an edition (of a mere handful) of locked copies of The Noble Art of Linear Decorating, my PhD-thesis from 1994.
The 200 pages book ( ** ) describes research I did
in the early 1990s in Amsterdam and Paris, on the Gentzen
style proof theory for linear logic, introduced by the french proof theorist Jean-Yves
[ Content-wise, I will spare you the nasty details.
Should you be interested to learn a bit more,
click here for
a summary. ]
For those of you that could not care less for its scientific content, the book still will be of interest because of its form: french readers will immediately recognize the book's design as being that of the french novels published in Gallimard's nrf series. Also of interest for the general reader are the fine graphics by Jochem Hartz, and the book's last pages, containing a list of general statements and opinions (Stellingen, in Dutch) that, though not obligatory, are a traditional part of most Dutch PhD theses. The list starts enumerating the first couple of Roman numerals, naked, but then later on includes, for example, the description of an effective yet non-destructive mousetrap, invented by Jochem Hartz (there is a schematic drawing in the picture below). The 11th statement reads: "Muziek is de wereld zoals ik die hoorde." The use of past tense here was intentional and definitely relevant at the time of writing. I still consider its validity to be beyond reasonable doubt, though ever since the book's closing up, I probably would update it(s translation):
'Music is the world as I hear it' ...
The handful of closed copies of the thesis consist in copies of the original book, that I locked shut by means of two stainless steel butterfly nuts (as you can see in the picture). They were offered for sale through my WirWarts website, which back then still for a substantial part was devoted to my work in mathematics. Two went to Japanese buyers, each within mere weeks of their making. I have no idea though whether they bought the objects for art's or for science's sake... Maybe it was both.
I forgot about the 'closed edition' afterwards, until I recently came across the copies that remain...
Limited closed edition "The Noble Art of Linear Decorating". Original book locked with stainless steel butterfly nuts, in hand decorated cardboard box including 5 original handwritten pages of research notes and random period photograph.
price: € 129,=
Also very much a part of my 1990s: "Das Fegefeuer Theorem (De Purgatorio)",
partly written in German, partly in English, and wonderfully edited by the
Swiss 'Libelle Verlag' in 1992, in their Litzelstetter Libellen
series, which included a range of other fascinatingly curious titles, like
Alexandre Mehlmann's "De Salvatione Fausti" (a learned analysis
of the deal that Faust made with the devil, using methods of game theory
and operations research), and
George Perec's "Das Soprano-Project" (the famous empirical study
that this french oulipien
undertook into the yelling reaction of sopranos as a response to the throwing
of tomatoes). The history of "De Purgatorio" goes back to the days that
Jan van Neerven, Hans Heesterbeek and myself were research
assistants in mathematics. For some time we shared an office at the Centrum
voor Wiskunde en Informatica in Amsterdam, where one day we decided to
found a new and much needed mathematical discipline: that of mathematical
theology, or deo-mathematics. For the first official meeting of
our deo-mathematical society (which later came to include Harry
Buhrman as a fourth active research fellow) I prepared the outline
of a deo-mathematical proof of the existence of purgatory, using an axiomatic
approach to the topology of soul-ing and sin-ning, and
loosely following the form of Wittgenstein's Tractatus.
I wrote all of it in a one continuous evening-till-dawn long session of
hacking away at the extremely heavy Olivetti M80 typewriter that a few days
before I had acquired via a short text ad in a popular free Amsterdam
'buy and sell' weekly. My original manuscript thus was a typoscript, and
I wrote it in Dutch. For publication in the Litzelstetter Libellen series,
it got translated into English by Jan and Hans, who also supplied an extensive
introduction to the proof, combining deep philosophical insights and historical
Despite the expected immediate condemnation of both proof and its authors by the Vatican scientific bureau, there have been two printed editions of this little jewel. I have a few author's copies left that I am willing to part with; you will receive your copy along with a facsimile of the original Dutch typoscript.
J.A.P. Heesterbeek/ J.M.A.M. van Neerven - H.A.J.M. Schellinx : Das Fegefeuer-Theorem (De Purgatorio).
Eschatologische Axiomatik zum transorbitalen Sündenmanagement. Verlag die Libelle, Bottighofen am Bodensee (1992). ISBN: 3-909081-55_X.
price: € 89,=
"De bolbliksem, dat is iets verschrikkelijks. Die komt binnen langs de antenne en dan de buis van de televisie uit. Soms ook vanaf de straat, midden door het glas van de ramen. Zonder iets te breken. Als de geest van opa Henrik, maar dan een bal van vuur. Hij vliegt de kamer rond, rakelings de muren langs, dan fluit het heel hoog in je oren en schroeit het behang. Je kunt alleen nog maar bidden."
from: Pieterman (1996)
"Pieterman" is a third in this series of remnants from my pretty (and)
peculiar 1990s output. It is a short novella
(slightly over 14500 words) that I wrote
in Dutch, in 1995. The tale is a transposition (into the space and time of the Maastricht
of my youth) of a cruel fait divers that I overheard an Algerian housekeeper
recount during 1993's summer, that we spent on the French island of Rhé.
That was shortly after my son's birth, when I was spending most of my time writing "The Noble Art" in the attic; and decided I woul do an oil-painting of C., holding three tomatoes.
Around the time that I finished writing 'Pieterman', Acca Kapteijn and I were deep into the making of a short film based upon 'Commodore', a short story that I also wrote somewhere in these 1990s - we actually at the end of that decennium did most of the shooting for that film; and I do still have all of the video rushes; but apart from a number of loose fragments I never finished its editing.
On the occasion of her PhD (in medicine) defense, Acca made a private printing of 150 numbered copies of 'Pieterman'. Also of this curious little gem I now have less than a handful of original copies left. The rest Acca gave away, sort of as a literary supplement to her thesis, that was titled "Biopsy of the sentinel node in melanoma, penile carcinoma and breast carcinoma"...
"Pieterman", by Harold Schellinx. Novella (Dutch), 1996. 68pp. Private numbered edition of 150, made by Acca Kapteijn on the occasion of her PhD thesis defense in Amsterdam, on may 16th, 1997.
price: € 59,=
Each of the above.
Oh, and if on these final days of the first and only noughties that both you and I will
ever live through, you'd rather do me a present... may I humbly suggest one of
these gorgeous recycled
cassette tape neckties ...?
[ via Michael Peters ]
notes __ ::
(*) From the otherwise incredibly daft lyrics to Caravan's "Nine Feet Underground" (the B-side of their 'In the Land of Grey and Pink' album), of which for some reason though this particular question has continued to haunt me. Almost forty years now ... [ ^ ]
(**) Harold Schellinx, "The Noble Art of Linear Decorating". ILLC-Dissertation Series 1994-1. ISBN 90-74795-02-1. [ ^ ]
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