Daily Archives: November 4, 2014


As some of you know, I am on Twitter (@sesquiotic). Twitter allows you to post publicly, for the benefit of anyone who follows your feed or looks you up, messages of up to 140 characters each. This is not very much, and the terseness can lead to tenseness; Twitter is often like communicating in Morse code using car horns. So sometimes I will tweet sequences of tweets so I can fit in a larger thought. Instead of a message here about something, a message there about something else, I send out a spate of messages, six or ten or fourteen in a row, all in a sequence on a specific topic.

I’m certainly not the only person to do this. Actually, many tweeters do it from time to time. Some do it a lot. @HeerJeet practically specializes in it, numbering the tweets so they can be followed. He and some others of those who send such sequences call them Twitter essays.

The thing is, even if you send 14 tweets, that’s still less than 300 words. We’re talking about an “essay” that is less than a page. It’s a short essay, more like a fleshy thought. And on Twitter it’s experienced as a sudden burst of tweets, like a spring shower, a flash flood… a spate.

Yes, I think spate is the word we need here. It’s a word we get from Scots English, a word that may be related to spout. It referred first to a sudden flood, as from a heavy rain (we’ve had a few of those in recent years in Toronto, thanks in part to more extreme weather, and in part to paving over too damn much so the ground doesn’t absorb the rain before it flows into the sewers). It can also refer to a sudden and/or heavy rainstorm.

Or, more often, to a sudden intense pouring forth of something that comes in individual instances: a spate of books, attacks, bombings, shootings, incidents, mergers, murders, kidnappings, suicides, lawsuits; occasionally it refers to mass objects such as violence or publicity. But it is more often the raindrops than the flooding creek.

The sound of the word is so suggestive. Listen to its echoes: spit, spat, spout, spurt, also spite and spot. A spate can erupt from your pate until you are sated. What comes in a spate is no paste, nor is it even-paced. If it is words, it is a spatter of expatiation. And then, as quickly as it began, it is done.

Are you a fan of its?

Sometimes editors (and others) wonder what the difference is between, say, “He’s not a fan of Cher” and “He’s not a fan of Cher’s.” Is there a distinction? Is it equally important in all instances?

There is a distinction: it’s between possession and association. In some cases it’s the same thing; in others, quite different. “A picture of Mr. Goldfine” is not a picture belonging to Mr. Goldfine but a picture depicting him; “A picture of Mr. Goldfine’s” is a picture belonging to him. (“Mr. Goldfine’s picture” can mean either because we use the “possessive” for both possession and association.)

When you talk about fandom, there is again the possible distinction between association and possession, but in that case it really refers to the same thing, just from a slightly different angle. “A fan of Cher’s” is the same as “a fan of Cher” but in the “Cher’s” case it gives a sense of there being a collection of fans belong to Cher, as opposed to it being simply an attitude on the part of the fan.

It also follows that because running in the rain is a kind of action, not an entity that can possess, “A fan of running in the rain’s” is odd.

English pronouns are more archaic than the rest of English; they preserve case distinctions that have been lost everywhere else, mainly because they’re so entrenched and we used them automatically by habit and without analysis. In cases such as this, a distinction can be made with them when there is a real distinction to be made: “A picture of him”; “A picture of his.” In instances where the distinction is not a significant one, we may hew to the older construction, which in this case uses the genitive because that was the case governed by this construction: “A fan of his” may seem more natural than “A fan of him” (though this will vary from speaker to speaker). (Languages that have full and productive cases systems for nouns tend to use different cases after different prepositions and depending on context; German and Latin are two languages that do this. Old English was another.) Note, however, that the association/possession distinction still matters: “I am not a fan of it” is fine; “I am not a fan of its” is probably not.


What does space sound like?

What does the vast expanse between the burning stars sound like? What do the dark empty spaces around and between planets sound like? What does the space between my computer and yours sound like? What does the distance between me and the library on my wall sound like, what does the cliff gap between my window and the high-rise library of people across the street sound like? What does the space between an atom’s nucleus and its electrons, proportionally so much greater than the gap between sun and planets, sound like? The great unknown? The emptiness that is full of dark matter and potential matter? What do the spaces between thoughts sound like? The spaces between minds?

NASA has recorded electromagnetic pulsations in space and converted them to sound. Hear them at canyouactually.com/nasa-recorded-sound-in-space-and-its-absolutely-chilling/ if you wish; they are reminiscent of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (such as Kontakte), and not altogether coincidentally.

But to me, space sounds more like Ligeti.

Ligeti György Sándor. The closest you can come to saying that with English sounds is “Liggety Jrrj Shahndor.” Hungarians put the family name first. Ligeti was a Hungarian Jew born in Romania who moved to Hungary and later Austria and Germany.

Ligeti was one of the great modern composers. Even his name is musical. It is three canonical syllables, licking and bouncing tip-back-tip of the tongue, the vowels all up and front. It sounds like legato and ligature, and it looks almost like light. And no one seems to know what it means. Like life and music, it is there and we use it anyway.

Ligeti will remind us of space because his music was used in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and some other films. It is music that I learned, in my youth, not to listen to when I was alone by myself at night in our large house surrounded by dark woods at the foot of a mountain. The foreboding, the voices so discordant and confused and full of empty and howling like the wind through the trees, building and swirling. The famous Kyrie that we hear when the monolith is first revealed on the moon. Kubrick’s movie, in so many scenes, keeps space entirely silent, amazingly so. But here, no.

But this is not why Ligeti’s music is the sound of space. Stanley Kubrick doesn’t get to decide everything for everyone. Listen to Lux Aeterna, “eternal light”:

And listen to the famous Kyrie:

Watch them, watch them sing, watch. They stand there, scores out, reading, counting, hitting every note.

The words are simple: kyrie eleison, christe eleison, kyrie eleison, ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy’. It is from a requiem mass, the mass for the dead, those whose voices have stopped generating and are now forever dissipating into space. Can you hear that, the words, the supplications, the mercy, can you make it out from all of those voices?

I have seen the score to that Kyrie. Every note is written on it. Each voice has a line. Each voice has its own notes, its own bar divisions and rhythms. Every one of them has its plan and its clear line and purpose and statement. Every one of them has been rehearsed, has rehearsed carefully, sedulously, has burned the midnight oil to prepare for this. We hear them all together and we simply hear an enormous texture. We hear an ebb and flow and a hive of noise. We hear so many individuals and intervals that what we hear is not them but the relation between them, the attempt to reach and meet and join, the negotiations and failed connections. The space between them. The concert of solipsisms. Like a hundred metronomes, each in its own tempo, all making individual sense, together making… noise.

Space is voices. Voices express minds, minds that experience. Space is the experience of space, is the experience of reaching and not touching. It is full of the dark matter of the mind, the belief in distance and separation. Space is the only way that everything is not just one thing. And yet we are tied across the gaps, legato, with ligatures. We are all celestial bodies, burning in our dark suspension, and the reaching out is light.