Thursday, 24 November 2011

Over Supper we Discuss the Yeti

'Over supper we discuss the yeti...Tukten says quietly, "I have heard the yeti," and cries out suddenly, "Kak-kak-kak KAI-ee!"-a wild laughing yelp, quite unlike anything I have ever heard, which echoes eerily off the walls of the cold canyon.
 Stirring the embers, Tukten is silent for a while. Dawa stares at him, more startled than myself. According to Tukten, the yeti is an animal, but "more man-creature than monkey-creature". He has never seen one, but intends to turn quickly when he does and pretend he hasn't; the yeti never attacks men, but to see one is bad luck. Yetis were once common in the Khumbu region, but in the time of his grandfather, the people set out poisoned barley to keep yetis from raiding their crops, and killed them off - there were dead yetis everywhere, said Tukten's grandfather.
 Looking up, he gazes at me peacefully over the flame.Then he says something very strange: "I think the yeti is a Buddhist." When I ask him if he means a holy man, a hermit with strange powers, a naljorpa, he just shrugs, refusing with uncustomary stubbornness to explain further.'

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

It would be easy to assume that technology has given us a view of the world so comprehensive as to include the yeti, the sasquatch, the trinity alps giant salamander (described by one witness as being the size of an alligator), the dorset ouser - all conveniently labelled on Google Earth. Large mammal species are still discovered with surprising regularity.
The world is still imbued with mystery.

In 1959 European and American explorers stole parts of a relic purported to be the hand of a yeti from the Pangboche monastery in Nepal. Bizarrely, it was the actor James Stewart who smuggled the remains to London in his luggage. Here they were analysed and described not as human but as 'near human'. 

Of course. It was a yeti hand.

For those at Pangboche for whom the relic had a genuine importance, scientific analysis of its yetiness was maybe not so significant. Unfortunately, several years later the rest of the relic was stolen and its present whereabouts are as obscure as the creature which once  used it to shield its eyes from the glaring snow at the unknown summit of this earth.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Never Odd or Even- Crab Inscriptions

Asteroid 2005 YU55 has just passed within 202 000 miles of the centre of the earth which may explain those red tendrils all over the kitchen. It's an impressive lump of space rock but it carries a name that is hard to make an imaginative connection with. Asteroid 2817, however, discovered in 1982, was named after french writer, Georges Perec. I've just finished reading his extraordinary novel 'Life a user's manual' (La Vie mode d'emploi) which I found in a Summertown Oxfam. 

Perec set himself bizarrely complex constraints to his writing such as using a version of the 'Euler Square' to determine the contents of the chapters in 'Life'. His novel 'La Disparition', and the english translation, omit the letter E, the most common letter in french and english. Apparently there is a spanish translation which omits A instead as that is the most common letter in spanish. Reading about it reminded me of E Prime, the version of english which omits all forms of the verb 'to be'. Consider what E Prime translations of political and religious speeches would sound like...

Georges Perec also wrote a book in which E was the only vowel used and composed a 5556 letter palindrome. 

It was Ben Jonson who came up with the word palindrome. Before that, the ancient greeks called them 'Crabs' or 'Crab Inscriptions'. A famous latin palindrome, 'In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni' translates as 'We go wandering at night and are consumed by fire' and is understood as a reference either to moths or insomniac spontaneous human combustees- in either case it is gratifying in that it makes sense. 

After a conversation with a soapstone salesman in a market in Helsinki, Gospodin Stotinki was inspired to undertake a palindromic world tour and, while on a train from Laval to the island of Krk, he began work on a palindromic novel. As his creation unfurled from its central axis, he was disturbed to find that the inspired and spiritually uplifting prose with which the novel began was mirrored by an ever more violent and obscene conclusion and, in panic, he hurled the incomplete notebooks containing it into the sea and cut short his tour with a flight to Yreka, California. On entering the town's bakery he realised that he had yet to escape the crab's clutches.

This was the bread product that had drawn him into the Yreka Bakery, and coincidentally it appears when searching the internet for images of Georges Perec.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

New Work from Gospodin Stotinki

Admirers of the work of Gospodin Stotinki were sent into an international apoplexy this week by the news of the discovery of previously unseen works sealed in buried boxes in the garden of his central french residence. The quality of the work is generally abysmal and Stotinki experts already seem to agree that, unwilling to destroy work with which he was not happy, he chose instead to hide it in the ground for eternity. Among the material is the drawing entitled "The Magic Mirror Reveals to Tiddles that his Plans have been Disrupted by the Mexican".
This childish sketch seems to confirm Stotinki's complete lack of  artistic talent and will serve as ammunition for those who claim that Stotinki used his abilities to plagiarise work from eras ahead of his own (see Lloyd Jackson's "Temporal Adventure Without an Apparatus" pp.117-119).

The publication of the story "Cardboard Elvis", discovered alongside this drawing, would certainly confirm Stotinki's inability in the area of literature, despite the interesting date- 1927. The original manuscript was partially obscured by obscene oaths in half a dozen eastern european languages. Only one thing is certain: controversy will rage over Stotinki for some time to come. Fascinatingly, one of the only images of Stotinki in his 'Fern Headdress' period was found in the cache. On the reverse was written the obscure message, "Only humour can elude absolute evil."