Rubber-Stamp Poetry

“Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den,” a poem by Zhao Yuanren, in English:

In a stone den was a poet Shi Shi, who loved to eat lions, and decided to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
One day at ten o’clock, ten lions just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi Shi just arrived at the market too.
Seeing those ten lions, he killed them with arrows.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that those ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this.

… and in Hanyu Pinyin:

Shishi shishi Shi Shi, shi shi, shi shi shi shi.
Shi shishi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi Shi Shi shi shi.
Shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shishi.
Shi shi shi shi shi shi, shi shishi.
Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shishi.
Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
Shi shi shi shi.

Nude, Descending

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goya_Maja_ubrana2.jpg

Goya’s La Maja Desnuda and La Maja Vestida. In 19th-century Europe, it was common to have two paintings of the same subject, swapping them out depending on who’d be visiting. Still, the Inquisition confiscated both of these as obscene.

Said the Duchess of Alba to Goya,
“Do some pictures to hang in my foyer”;
So he painted her twice —
In the nude to look nice,
And then in her clothes to annoy ‘er.

— Cyril Bibby

Globetrotters

When you’re a traveling pig, you need a good phrasebook. Estonian pigs go rui, French groin, Polish chrum, and Czech, improbably, chro. English pigs have been oinking only since 1940. And in Rome, presumably, they speak Pig Latin.

Mr. Versatile

Whose resume is this?

  • Received four write-in votes in the mayoral election in Boise, Idaho, 1985
  • Spokesperson, the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, 1987
  • Received the Presidential Sports Award from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports, 1992
  • Threw out first pitch at Wrigley Field, 2000
  • Named official ambassador for the Rhode Island State Tourism Board, 2000
  • Likeness rendered as 85-foot hot-air balloon, 2001
  • Rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, 2002

Answer: Mr. Potato Head.

I Think …

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_Ren%C3%A9_Descartes.jpg

Squashed Philosophers is like Reader’s Digest with a Ph.D. Glyn Hughes takes the high-calorie tomes of 41 world-class thinkers, from Plato to Popper, and squeezes them into tasty little capsules, without losing the flavor of the originals.

René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, for instance, fits into 6,488 words — or even, in the “very squashed” version, into six simple assertions — but they’re all stated in the author’s own words, and nothing essential seems to have been lost.

That’s a tribute to Hughes’ editing skill, but it’s also a pretty scary commentary on the original works. Kant is notoriously unreadable in the original, but Hughes estimates that his 5,700-word condensation of the Critiques of Pure & Practical Reason can be read and understood in 23 minutes. If that’s true — if that’s even close to true — then I don’t see how Kant’s original can be called a great book.

Musaeum Clausum

Imaginary pictures “cataloged” in Thomas Browne’s Musaeum Clausum of 1684:

  • “A Moon Piece, describing that notable Battel between Axalla, General of Tamerlane, and Camares the Persian, fought by the light of the Moon.”
  • “A Snow Piece, of Land and Trees covered with Snow and Ice, and Mountains of Ice floating in the Sea, with Bears, Seals, Foxes, and variety of rare Fowls upon them.”
  • “Pieces and Draughts in Caricatura, of Princes, Cardinals and famous men; wherein, among others, the Painter hath singularly hit the signatures of a Lion and a Fox in the face of Pope Leo the Tenth.”
  • “Some Pieces A la ventura, or Rare Chance Pieces, either drawn at random, and happening to be like some person, or drawn for some and happening to be more like another; while the Face, mistaken by the Painter, proves a tolerable Picture of one he never saw.”

Borges wrote, “To write vast books is a laborious nonsense, much better is to offer a summary as if those books actually existed.”

A World of Good

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Dymaxion_map_unfolded.png

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map avoids the weird provincialism of other global projections — it does a good job showing the relative sizes of the continents, and there’s no “right side up.” Makes sense.