Tuesday, August 24, 2021

In cathode dark space


Dossier #1

It’s the year of less-than-half the true extent of time.

There is water on the moon

And on Gliese exostar 1214b.

Its constellation is all wound up.

Its struggle will last forever.

There’s even an emoji for it, a U

With a tilde, a sling dash: U̴

An oviform filled by an approximate, to mean:

∼ is now called ______ etc.

So what is your I.D.?

Just a grapheme?

This is the first part of Four Dossiers, a poem by Jane Lewty (from Leeds, now in Baltimore), which appeared in Heavy Feather Review in July 2019

So yes, apparently there is water on the moon, though not much. Maybe there's frozen water in the permanent shade of deep craters. 

Gliese 1214b is an exoplanet (a planet that's outside our own solar system). It was discovered in 2009. According to Wikipedia it's considered the most likely of currently-known exoplanets to be ocean-based.

I suppose Gliese 1214b falls into the "hycean" class of large exoplanets discussed in today's Guardian:


Its star, the red dwarf Gliese 1214, is a mere 42 light years away from us. 

Gliese 1214 is in the constellation Ophiuchus, which is imagined as the figure of a man struggling with a serpent (Serpens Caput, Serpens Cauda).  ("Its struggle will last forever"). 

The symbol for Ophiuchus is   (a U with a wiggly line across it); the symbol represents a man grasping a snake. 

All about Ophiuchus, from Ian Ridpath's brilliant site:


Ophiuchus brushes the ecliptic, between Scorpius and Sagittarius, so it's sometimes described as the thirteenth sign of the zodiac, and a few astrologers have gone with this idea (though arguably it confuses constellations with solar houses).  

Character of Ophiuchus People

Since Ophiuchus is a constellation consisting of two (Ophiuchus and Serpens), people under this sign have an entangled character, just like the war between Ophiuchus and Serpens: sometimes they are rational and sometimes sensitive; sometimes philanthropic and sometimes indifferent. That's why they often wonder whether they are like Scorpian or Sagittarian. No matter what they are like, however, they cannot deny the trait of the other half.


Four Dossiers is an alternative version of the poem Case Study #8: Symmetrical Sympathy Pain, which appears in Jane Lewty's formidable 2016 collection In One Form To Find Another. I won't speculate which version was written first. There are significant differences between the two versions, but here I'll mainly follow Four Dossiers because you can read it online. 

Dossier #2

Immune to all type of poison

Inscrutable as any myth.

Eg. Big literature

Eg. Ptolemy’s Almagest, for

The recipient

In cathode dark space

Upper so on page because decoder left

Out so willfully.

In my next email

Let me send you another quote that may be of use

About your star sign.

Ophiuchus was one of the 48 constellations listed in Claudius Ptolemy's Almagest (c. 150 CE). I've tried to find a complete online text of Almagest Books VII-VIII (the star catalogue), but failed.

List of Ptolemy's 48 constellations: http://www.ianridpath.com/startales/almagest.html#48

Here's Almagest Book 1: https://bertie.ccsu.edu/naturesci/Cosmology/Ptolemy.html

This is the basis for the influential geocentric view of the heavens. Ptolemy knew the earth was spherical, and he could see, as others could, that most of the movements of the heavens could easily be explained by the earth rotating. And since he also knew the earth is only a point in comparison to the size of the heavens, wasn't that, like, the obvious conclusion? But he couldn't understand how the earth could be moving. He was that close. He even came close enough to accept that maybe the atmosphere might be moving along with the earth, which would explain why we don't feel a constant rushing wind. Yet he apparently still couldn't understand how someone jumping on such a rapidly moving surface wouldn't get left behind. (He might have tried jumping while on a ship or chariot.) 

It was because Ptolemy's book was such impressive science that it cemented a radically false view of the heavens as the orthodoxy of the next 1400 years. 

Science is truly our friend, isn't it? 

On the other hand, though Martianus Capella's chaotic De nuptiis (5th century CE) was popular and influential, the author's astronomical fantasies were not allowed to have any authority. Probably they were described as "baseless". Martianus was ignored when he said that while everything else went round the earth, Venus and Mercury went round the sun. 

Venus uero ac Mercurius non ambiunt terram  (Book VIII, 854)

Evidently there were people, way back then, who had reflected intelligently on the striking differences between the inner planets and the outer planets; e.g. that the inner planets seem to be attached by dog's leads to the sun, and never show up in the anti-solar region. 

"Let me send you another quote that may be of use"

In the note to this poem (In One Form To Find Another), Jane Lewty quotes: "You are markedly introspective at this time, perhaps isolating yourself from worldly activities and acquaintances in some manner. Health issues, generally of a psychosomatic nature, may come to the fore". 

"Symmetrical sympathy pain" may refer to e.g. pain in the hand that isn't affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. Or the pregnancy pains of expectant fathers. 

As a whole, In One Form To Find Another terrifyingly inhabits experiences that may not match reality. What is reality, after all? 

Dossier #3

A screen corresponds to what its user expects of it.

Numbly wan, only a page

Or utterly sharp and scriptural.

This year, the World Digital Library shows

An illustration of what it means

To be immured.

The World Digital Library is an unfolding project, the collaboration of UNESCO and the US Library of Congress. Responsibility for the S in UNESCO ("Scientific") lies with Joseph Needham, later the creator/author of Science and Civilisation in China

But to be immured is to be invisible. To be one who is known but not illustrated. 

Dossier #4

Dear grapheme,

I know you have too much to read

You’re up against the impossible

As much we ever will be.

The Ptolemy dynasty stacked papyrus to the hilt of Alexandria, and sent forgeries back
to those they borrowed from. Copies bred more copies, script as information, process 
as memory. What lines remained the same, which altered? Which discarded?

You have your own library—you write me—same name as a butterfly. You jog past it.
Every day. You want to age like the hairdresser’s husband.
Last night you were rained on.

You passed by a window, where women smoked, inside and beautiful.

You walked home, again, you wrote me everything.

I dreamt of every letter’s death but I couldn’t delete.

"Ptolemy" is a common Greek name. Claudius Ptolemy has no known relationship to the Ptolemy Dynasty (305 - 30 BCE), named for one of Alexander's generals. 

It was this dynasty, Ptolemy I or II, who founded the library in Alexandria.

Well, that was another "world library".

Claudius Ptolemy did come from around Alexandria and he doubtless used the library, in whatever form it still existed. (The story that it was destroyed by fire in Julius Caesar's time seems to be a romantic simplification.)

Galen tells us that the library impounded any original texts found on ships visiting the port of Alexandria, returning scribal copies in their stead. And it did the same thing with the works of the Greek tragedians, loaned from Athens. (Lewty's use of the term "forgeries" rather than "copies" is arresting.) 

Jane Lewty's poem poses the idea of a library not as a benevolent tool for scholars but as an act of aggression: an impounding, a possession, maybe a falsification inherent in the very act of amassing data. 

The creation of an addiction ("I couldn't delete").  A distraction. An impossible task ("You're up against the impossible") that is separate from and perhaps antagonistic to the living of our lives, which contain so many possibles and impossibles already. 

Or is a library, maybe, an enormous and potent generator of sympathy between far-flung human beings: that precious and painful and necessary thing?

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