Archive for December, 2001

Notes on "Reviews of This Book"

Wednesday, December 19th, 2001

Richard Herley writes:

I feel that all contributors should mark the following. It is part of the email Mr Kelly sent with his submission:

         When the thing takes off, perhaps you could get people to do some anonymous reviews in the style of great reviewers deceased. I myself can do a passable George Orwell when my blood is up.

Secondly, when you start inviting real reviewers to contribute, as well as getting literary heavyweights, perhaps you could also invite book reviewers from specialist magazines such as "Angler's Weekly" or "Breville Sandwich Toaster Monthly", the sort of publications they use for the caption competition on "Have I Got News For You". It might be fun to get the sort of review that Lady Chatterley got from (I think it was) "Gardening Monthly" or something, saying something like, "I was disappointed by the lack of references to composting techniques...this book is interesting in parts but is no substitute for the Gardening Handbook." Or, again, you could get people to fake such reviews, but the real thing might be better. Perhaps magazines connected to things mentioned, if briefly, in existing reviews, e.g. "Benzene Monthly" or something. Just an idle thought.'

Mr Kelly is much too modest. These thoughts are by no means idle and require elaboration.


(1) Style

Any writer worth his salt can do impressions. As a teenager I could do quite a good Ian Fleming and once passed myself off as J. P. Donleavy for several pages on the trot. I eagerly await Mr Kelly's George Orwell. I might even try my hand at Franz Kafka -- not in German, which I barely know, but in the manner of his translators, Willa and Edwin Muir. I wonder how they managed to get that particular voice in English. Did Edwin do the donkey-work of translation and Willa polish things up? Or did they collaborate all the way? What bizarre conversations passed across the marital pillow? I should imagine that of all Kakfa's stories, The Burrow must be the least aphrodisiac.

Where was I?

Ah yes. The people in publishers' offices who write blurbs have been known to ape the style of the novel they are promoting. And what of the tyro author, unduly burdened by his influences, who has yet to find his own style? Again, which of us, in youth at least, has not emerged from the cinema imagining we are the hero? The degree to which a work of art affects our vision of the world is in direct proportion to our liking for it. (A corollary is that we can only be permanently influenced by art we like, but that's by the by.)

So the extent to which the style of a review imitates that of the book reviewed tells us quite a bit about the critic's real feelings about his subject; and the extent to which our reviews begin to resemble one another as the project unfolds will reflect the spirit of our community.

Given a wet afternoon, one might devise a simple equation to measure what I shall call the 'Coefficient of Mutual Critical Hostility', (0 = no hostility, 9 = maximum). A language analyser could then be put to work on these web-pages to calculate a running figure. At this inchoate stage I would deem our figure to be unhealthily low. It needs to come up, up! But not necessarily as far as the CMCH found in the press, which operates under a different paradigm.

We mustn't forget that Hofstadter's original proposal did relate to the press. To replicate that environment I hereby encourage bickering, dissent and threats of litigation; but draw the line at physical violence, which of course is what happens when language fails. (Acknowledgement to W. H. Auden for that thought.)

Hence if you think that, say, Metamorphosis or even The Trial is less aphrodisiac than The Burrow, please feel free to express your views impolitely -- but look to your verbal defence!

And please do submit reviews in the style of deceased reviewers.


(2) Obscure sources

Mr Kelly's suggestion in this regard is extremely valuable, though I regret to inform him that 'Breville Sandwich Toaster Monthly' has for some time been amalgamated with 'What Poptart?'

Since we don't know what Reviews of this Book is about, we don't know what sort of publication it should be reviewed in. At the moment, "Psychiatry Today" seems a suitable candidate.

Look here, I can't do all the work of soliciting reviews myself. For one thing I am too lazy. If you know of some particularly recondite publication, do please email its editor with a request. We want our book to speak to as many readers as possible. Why should we limit our horizon to the literary pages of the Sunday papers?


(3) Fake reviews (as opposed to those purporting to come from deceased reviewers)

I see no reason why we shouldn't have them. The lamented Joe Orton and his hammer-wielding lover embarked on a career of forgery at their local library (in Hornsey, North London, if my memory serves). Their target: innocent dustjackets. For instance, the blurb and bio on one how-to on rose culture (by some moustachioed colonel, retired) was altered, with steadily decreasing subtleness as one read, to the most alarming effect, leaving the prospective borrower with the impression that the book in his hand would teach him all he could ever wish to know about certain depravities which I blush to enumerate in mixed company. A famous prosecution ensued. Doctored books continued turning up for years, even after Orton's death.

Literary forgery (as opposed to the financial sort) can be creative and funny and I think everyone should encourage these qualities. After all, without them one ends up wearing a dressing-gown like Osama bin Laden's.

The only condition I must sadly attach, for obvious reasons, is you do NOT misrepresent yourself as a living person.

Enough editorializing: back to the reviews!

Reviews of "Reviews of This Book"

Friday, December 14th, 2001

An unusual book (Andrew Jenner)

Reviews of This Book is an extremely unusual book, and therefore calls for a most unusual review. The book consists of nothing but reviews of itself. At first glance, one might think that this would make the reviewer's job extremely easy - all he or she has to do is reproduce part of the book. However, this seemingly cunning plan has a fatal flaw - the book hasn't been written yet. Writing a review of a book without reading it is itself a formidable task, but in this case, the reviewer's job is doubly difficult because, in the process of reviewing, he or she has to write part of the book! This brings to mind an old joke about critics becoming critics because they lack the talent to write books themselves, so one might expect Reviews of this book to be somewhat mediocre. But just as one shouldn't count one's chickens before they are hatched, one shouldn't judge a book before it has been written.

Book reviews can be entertaining in their own right, even if you have never read (or have no intention of reading) the book in question. Hopefully, some of the world's leading reviewers will review (and therefore contribute to) this book, and hopefully this will make it extremely entertaining reading and raise it above the level of "just a gimmick".

Although he has not contributed to it directly (other than providing inspiration), Reviews of this book is the brainchild of Douglas Hofstadter, author of such classic books as "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" and "Metamagical Themas". In the latter of these, Hofstadter writes:

         ...Reviews of This Book, is just a fantasy of mine. I would love to see a book consisting of nothing but a collection of reviews of it that appeared (after its publication, of course) in major newspapers and magazines. It sounds paradoxical, but it could be arranged with a lot of planning and hard work. First, a group of major journals would all have to agree to run reviews of the book by the various contributors to the book. Then all the reviewers would begin writing. But they would have to mail off their various drafts to all the other reviewers very regularly so that all the reviews could evolve together, and thus eventually reach a stable state of a kind known in physics as a "Hartree-Fock self-consistent solution". Then the book could be published, after which its reviews would come out in their respective journals, as per arrangement.

That was written in 1985. Since then, technology has evolved which could make the task of writing Reviews much easier. It could start off with just one "review", which doesn't really need to be a review at all (indeed it cannot really be, since there is nothing to review at this point). Then other people could come and review that review, adding their work to the work so far. Of course, the process of reviewing changes that being reviewed, so each reviewer will probably want to edit their reviews many times, stopping only when all the reviewers feel that their reviews are good and fair reviews of the entire book. This can all be done on a website - regularly updated with the latest reviews and therefore always an up-to-date copy of the book. That website is what you're reading right now.

Like any community, this one will need rules to keep it from deteriorating into anarchy. The rules are simple: authors will have complete editorial control over their own reviews, but our benevolent[1] dictator of an editor, Richard Herley (see review below), will choose which reviews become part of the final project. When the Hartree-Fock state is finally achieved, the book will be published electronically and any proceeds donated to some charity which seeks to improve communications between people, such as the RNID (contributers would be expected to grant their copyrights to the project for this purpose.)

A few weeks before the eBook is due to be published, the organizers can email an announcement to newspapers, magazines and broadcasters all over the world and invite editors to download just one review to publish or read out. Reviews could also be posted on any websites hosted by contributors, and could also be posted in discussion groups all over the net, with links to the project's home page so the curious can download a copy of the book.

Perhaps reviewers who work for major journals will pick up on this and contribute, and (if the finished result is good) maybe it will even be published in paper form.

I hope that the reviews will not all say "Reviews of This Book is an utterly pointless waste of time, consisting of the same sentence repeated hundreds of times", but will instead bring out the best in book reviewers - allowing them to write thought provoking essays on the nature of books, reviewing, and self-reference. Some fantastic jokes have been made in reviews[2] so hopefully the book will be very funny as well as thought provoking.

Anyway, if you're a book reviewer for a major journal (or even if you're just a budding proto-reviewer, but especially if you're a book reviewer for a major journal) and would like to write a review of Reviews of This Book, please go ahead and write it, and then send it to me, Andrew Jenner, for inclusion here.

In conclusion, I think that Reviews of This Book has great potential and is already quite entertaining, although is a little short at the moment to be accurately called a book.

Andrew Jenner

[1] I say benevolent, but Richard says: "I hereby warn innocent contributors that the description of Charles Kinbote -- annotator of John Shade's poem in PALE FIRE by the divine Mr Nabokov, as given on the back of the Penguin edition -- could equally apply to myself: '... this all-too-efficient editor is not as other editors are. Haughty, inquisitive, eccentric, intolerant he certainly is; but is he -- can he possibly be -- mad, bad, even dangerous?'"

[2] Although usually at the expense of the book, as in:
"The covers of this book are too far apart",
"This is a book to kill time for those that prefer it dead",
"This is not a book to be laid aside lightly. It should be hurled with all your force into the furthest corner of the room,"
"Once I'd put it down I couldn't pick it up again,"
"Of all the books Mintzberg has written, this one is without doubt his latest,"
"This books is a jewel - insomniacs will find it invaluable" and, of course, Groucho Marx's classic
"From the time I picked up your book until I put it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it." (Thanks Michael)

A New Take on the Written Word (Richard Herley)

Nature is essentially uncertain. From the quantum level upwards, Heisenberg is king[1]. Electrons can be in two places at once; the properties of benzene[2] are understandable only if you accept that its molecule exists simultaneously in two mutually exclusive isomers, called from their shape the 'boat' and the 'chair'; and the cosmos will continue to expand indefinitely, even though it began by contraction to a single point and the consequent Big Bang was only one in an infinite series of similar bangs.

This selfsame uncertainty is manifest in human perception. The brain interprets external stimuli using memory and imagination. You recognize the things you already know. New things are processed in part by comparing their familiar aspects, if any, with those of the known; but their unfamiliar aspects are processed by the imagination. In so doing the brain strives to come up with the best, the likeliest, answer for each set of data it receives.

All this usually happens at breakneck speed. The blizzard of information -- sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, feel, kinetic feedback -- reaching the brain is continuously being made sense of. The software responsible is so subtle that most of us, most of the time, are not even aware of the miracle we are performing.

Sometimes, when this process is interfered with, we cannot decide on a best answer and ambiguity is produced. Typically this happens when the distinction between the remembered and the imagined becomes blurred. We have developed, for instance, certain conventions to represent three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional medium like paper. Optical illusions exploit these conventions and the assumptions they require.

We find these puzzles enjoyable but vaguely unsettling. It reminds us that our interpretation of the world is nothing more than that. Which brings me to a remarkable new book, Reviews of this Book, comprising solely reviews of itself. Like an optical illusion, Reviews of this Book can be regarded as an exploration of ambiguity. Ambiguity is the father of paradox, and it is paradox which lies at the heart of this work.

You see, I am reviewing this book before it has even been written, yet my review will be, or might be, part of the book. The book exists in that Escherian[3] otherworld of illusion and ambiguity, the world of the imagination: it has existed there since at least 1985, when it was proposed by that tireless investigator of paradox, Douglas R. Hofstadter.

In Metamagical Themas he says of this idea: '[it] is just a fantasy of mine. I would love to see a book consisting of nothing but a collection of reviews of it that appeared (after its publication, of course) in major newspapers and magazines. It sounds paradoxical, but it could be arranged with a lot of planning and hard work. First, a group of major journals would all have to agree to run reviews of the book by the various contributors to the book. Then all the reviewers would begin writing. But they would have to mail off their various drafts to all the other reviewers very regularly so that all the reviews could evolve together, and thus eventually reach a stable state of a kind known in physics as a "Hartree-Fock self-consistent solution". Then the book could be published, after which its reviews would come out in their respective journals, as per arrangement.'

Computer technology has overtaken the world of conventional publishing. We no longer need newspapers and magazines, or the co-operation of their editors, to turn Hofstadter's vision into reality.

Because this book is as yet unwritten, it is perfect. This, putatively the first review, is already sullying Hofstadter's vision by defining and delimiting some small corner of it. My choice of words and the effect it has on subsequent reviewers have already done their damage. This most beautiful creation has now been compromised, much as paradise is corrupted by the arrival of the first tourist.

Yet the finished work is a celebration of what it means to be human. We are human because we can imagine and make connections to a level of abstraction unknown elsewhere in the animal kingdom; and we are human because we can communicate our imaginings to one another. In conveying them, we raise each other to new heights of consciousness.

Reviews of this Book requires a new tense. Past, present, and future tenses are inadequate to the task. It has been written; is being written; will be written. As the verb blends from future to past the quality of the text changes, becoming realized rather than imagined. But even the realized text is subject to revision, and so the verb becomes even more complex.

The labyrinth made by these complexities is for me the chief interest of the book. Like Theseus[4], the reviewers are unspooling thread on their way to the centre where dwells a creature whose form they can, while writing, but dimly imagine.

If you find the human imagination the most fascinating mystery of all, I urge you to read this book. You won't be disappointed. Unless, of course, it turns out to be a complete load of rubbish.

Richard Herley

A partial commentary on Richard Herley's review, by himself

[1] Heisenberg is king: Or rather, his Uncertainty Principle. Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901-76), a wily physicist, upset everyone with his calculations about the momentum of electrons.

[2] Benzene: An organic compound composed of carbon and hydrogen, liquid at normal temperatures and pressures. Has a notionally hexagonal molecule. One of God's neatest ideas. Inhaling or drinking benzene is briefly fun but fatal and is therefore NOT RECOMMENDED.

[3] Escherian: By, or pertaining to the works of, M. C. Escher (1878-1972). Another clever fellow, Dutch I believe, noted for his intricate representations of impossible scenes. I like the Dutch a great deal and one of my happiest memories involves eating fish and chips at the market in Enschede in May, 1984.

[4] Theseus: Son of Aegeus, king of Athens. A hearty. He volunteered to be one of the seven youths, with seven maidens, whom the Athenians were obliged to send each year to be devoured by the Minotaur[5] in Crete. You guessed it, Theseus slew the beast with a special sword, then found his way out of its labyrinth using a clew of thread -- I'm sure you now remember the story in all its detail and can spare me the need to go on.

[5] Minotaur: A fabulous creature, half man and half bull, partial to human flesh. Its labyrinth was constructed by Daedalus, the legendary genius of sculpture and architecture, whose name was borrowed by James Joyce[9] for one of the characters in Ulysses, my favourite sentence of which reads as follows: 'He[6] kicked open the crazy[7] door of the jakes[8].' (Page 83 in the 1960 Bodley Head edition.)

[6] He: Mr Leopold Bloom, protagonist of the book.

[7] Crazy: Hanging askew.

[8] Jakes: Privy.

[9] James Joyce: A Hibernian, cleverer than Heisenberg and Escher put together. Friend of Flann O'Brien (Brian O'Nolan), whose novel At Swim-Two-Birds first saw daylight in 1939. Initial sales were unfortunately too small to avert World War II.

By these means we have finally arrived at Mr O'Brien's yarn (or thread, unclewed for the benefit of his readers), whose book-within-a-book, written by one Dermot Trellis, has many parallels with the project in hand. The characters gang up on the heartless author [Trellis] and try him for his crimes. His maid, Teresa, puts paid to his literary ambitions by inadvertently lighting the fire with his manuscript, exemplifying the sad but inevitable conclusion of all human endeavour.

I say nothing about the self evident book-within-a-bookness of Ulysses and hereby assign to others hereafter, at present unknown, the task of continuing, amending, refuting, ridiculing, exploring, ignoring or disproving my adumbrations.

Dated this 14th day of December, 2001

Reviewing Their Possibilities (Michael Kelly)

Stephen Potter in his timeless Lifemanship books succinctly defined the art of literary reviewing as that of becoming one-up on the author without actually tampering with the text. 'In other words, how, as critic, to show that it is really you yourself who should have written the book, if you had had the time, and since you hadn't, you are glad that someone has, although obviously it might have been done better.'

This being so, the reviewer of Reviews of This Book is faced with both a unique opportunity and a dizzying challenge, since he gets to both tamper with the text and help write the book, but is also faced with the necessity of becoming one-up not only on the other contributors but on his own self. Like the book itself, he must end up like the mythical serpent Ourobouros, with his head lodged firmly up his own fundament.

A word of explanation is in order. Reviews of This Book is an evolving metadocument consisting only of reviews of itself. It was inspired by an idea by one Douglas R. Hofstadter, who I imagine to be the kind of genius-nutcase pointy-head who lives in an attic giggling to himself over his favourite irrational numbers, who whiled away a long winter evening once by positing the notion of a book composed of nothing but reviews of the book. When he first revealed this brainwave his friends and guardians made soothing noises and backed away slowly, but, thanks to the magic of the internet and the misplaced energy of a couple of imbecile-savants named Andrew Jenner and Richard Herley, Hofstadter's batty scheme has become a reality. Over a period of months a group of critics, thinkers, and graduate-school goof-offs will/have/will have contribute(d) reviews of Reviews of This Book, palimpsesting their original reviews periodically to take into account new additions. The idea is that eventually the work will metastasize into a stable form which will then be published, reviewed in journals by parts of itself (an act which brings to my mind a certain auto-erotic practice dogs indulge in Because They Can), and filmed by Peter Jackson starring New Zealand as the book.

Joking aside, the idea is a fascinating one and the book itself, while at the moment shorter even than such famously slender volumes as The Thoughts of George Bush or Laugh Along With Franz Kafka, lives up to its promise. If I may echo Mary McCarthy's review of Nabokov's Pale Fire (a book to which Herley acknowledges himself indebted for his editorial style and the delightfully scatty footnotes adorning his review), Reviews of This Book is an elaborate arrangement of mirrors reflecting each other. It is a many-sided crystal every facet of which contains every other, or a shredded hologram postcard like the one in William Gibson's story 'Fragments of a Hologram Rose', every shard of which contains the image of the whole. It may be the first book ever to achieve self-awareness; again to reference Gibson, it reminds me of the ending of 'The Difference Engine', with Lady Ada's mega-computer overloading with the synergy of its multiple viewpoints and triumphantly achieving intelligence: 'The Eye at last must see itself. Myself...I see: I see, I see I!' It is a droll investigation into the difference between being and becoming. It may well become an exercise in literary log-rolling reduced to an absurd level. It recalls the language-laboratory experiments of writers such as Nathalie Sarraute or Robbe-Grillet. It is a cucumber or a stick of seaside rock, every slice of which is the same and yet different. Yes, that is how I will think of this book, as a marvellous metamagical cucumber.

Be that as it may, what does the book actually contain? Enough about the sum of the parts, what of the parts?

Both Jenner and Herley are clearly men C.P. Snow would have been keen to hang out with. Indeed, he would have kitted them out with matching gang jackets with 'Two Cultures' embroidered on the back and the three of them would have gone swaggering around campuses together shouldering Science-or-Humanities chauvinists off the pavement. They are equally at home discussing Hartree-Fock states or Nabokov, Escher or Heisenberg, and I hate them.

Jenner performs the difficult task of introducing the project with aplomb. I was surprised, however, that in his appended list of humorous book reviews he neglected to include Groucho Marx's classic, 'From the time I picked up your book until I put it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.' Herley propounds his vision of the book as a celebration of the transcendence of the human imagination with an infectious fire in his belly, yet does not neglect the art of narrative. From the beginning, with Heisenberg enthroned as King, through the second act curtain, with Ambiguity sensationally revealed as the father of Paradox, to the gripping climax in the labyrinth of Knossos, it is clear we are in the hands of an exponent of high drama and classical tragedy almost on a par with Sophocles.

His conception of the first review as causing The Fall from a tabula rasae Eden of infinite possibilities is touching and poignant. But lest he be wracked with guilt, let us rather see it as the first stroke which determines the rest, the Word which was in the beginning, the flaw in the cosmic mirror giving rise to Creation.

I was sorry, though, that Herley references Flann O'Brien's At-Swim-Two-Birds as paralleling this book yet fails to mention the same author's The Dalkey Archive, which, with its theory of mollycular exchange and policeman becoming part bicycle while his bicycle becomes part policeman, will surely become equally relevant to the project as the contributors' various styles and obsessions slowly but surely rub off on each other in the months to come.

As for Michael Kelly's review, I am afraid it marks a disappointing falling-off after the early promise of the first two contributions. Kelly never really achieves consistency of tone. He begins with some jocular faux-naif egghead-baiting, then suddenly abandons this and tries to turn intellectual himself. He throws in a couple of likely-sounding words such as 'metastasize' and 'palimpsest' and 'synergy' and drops a few O.K. names, but he is bluffing and he knows it. He fawns over the other critics in the hopes they will be kind to his own effort, while making obvious attempts at Potteresque oneupmanship.

I also have to regret that, after the almost monastic asceticism of the first two pieces, so refreshing in our salacious modern literature, Kelly's review drags an unwelcome note of prurience into the enterprise, ending as it does with the word abdomen.

Michael Kelly

Sartre, Lenin, Hartree and Fock: quantum physics and the ontology of Marxism (Charlene V. Babbage, Reader in Philosophy at the University of Muskateegee)

[This review has been withdrawn at the request of the author]

A Beautiful Idea Abused (Natalie Praed)

I unreservedly reject everything Charlene Babbage has to say about Reviews of This Book. She misses the point. And like far too many of the reviewers on this site, she regards it not as a place for serious consideration of Hofstadter's ideas, but as a forum for showing off and angling for smartass laughs. It's juvenile and pathetic and Douglas R. deserves better.

I have tried in vain to find out from our so-called editor how Babbage's contribution came to be written. Was it on her own impulse, or was it solicited by him? Does he know her, socially, professionally, or even in the biblical sense? His silence on this matter is sinister and, I think, a cause for concern.

O.K., Babbage is a professor of existential philosophy, but the best she can get these days is a chair at some crappy midwestern university where most of the students and not a few of the faculty are functional illiterates. She may once have sat at a café table with Jeal-Paul Sartre, fed his cat when he was on holiday, or for all I care taken part in a threesome with Simone de Beauvoir, but that doesn't qualify her to go so far beyond the tenets of existentialism as to claim that ' ... application of Hartree-Fock parameters to such plays as Huis clos (1944) and Altona (1960) casts the whole of Sartre's canon in an entirely new light' or that 'in Men Without Shadows [he] gives a stunning prognostication of the whole paradox enshrined in Reviews of This Book', or, even worse, 'when my spellchecker balked at "existentialism" it offered the alternative of "exprobation", which strikes me as a miraculous window into the unknown possibilities of cyber-language' etc., etc.

Really, this will not do. It is not good enough for someone like Babbage to come along and impose these constructs on the work of the greatest mind of the 20th century. Where in her piece is evidence of the most basic academic rigor? Peer examination? Or even logic? And where, pray, is a shred of evidence that Sartre ever 'betrayed his underlying contempt for Marxism by peevishly complaining, like some petit-bourgeois, that the dry-cleaners had shrunk his beret'?

Until Herley makes plain the nature of his connection with la Babbage, I feel other contributors should withhold their reviews in protest. If it transpires that favoritism of any sort is at work, we should demand that her review be erased. Only when this has happened can the stately progression of our project towards Hartree-Fock stability be resumed.

In anger

Natalie Praed

Cool it, Natalie (Paul Vermeyer)

I was lucky enough to read the Babbage piece before it was pulled. It made its points most pithily and I for one am a convert. Dr Praed's familiarity with the works of J.-P. S. is not as complete as she pretends. In Iron in the Soul (p. 221 in the Viking edn of Sparshott's translation) Mathieu enters the dry-cleaner's shop and complains 'you have shrunk my cardigan, you stupid bastards, and at the same time you have managed to stretch the arms so that it makes me look like a chimpanzee'. In a footnote, Sparshott shows that this incident is based on Sartre's diary entry for October 23rd, 1933. His best beret was indeed ruined. In the subsequent uproar [Sartre] was 'thrown into the street and landed on my arse'. The proprietor of the shop became a personification of capitalism and Sartre's dalliance with Marxism dates from this time: it has nothing to do with Hitler, as Praed simplistically argues elsewhere.

So cool it, Natalie, and accept that there are other views of the world besides your own. This is no place for intolerance.

With this is mind I urge the editor to reinstate the Babbage review.

Paul Vermeyer

[Alas, the umbrage taken by Prof. Babbage at Natalie Praed's attack seems permanent. Incidentally, I have never met her and have no designs on her body. Charlene, if you change your mind why not send an email with your permission -- together with your phone number and a recent pic?

A snapshot of Sartre's cat is appended for the curious.]

Praed of Ignorance (Veronica Smoot-Hawley)

I agree with Paul Vermeyer that Natalie Praed's review was stupid, vicious and unfair. While it may go too far in places -- I am still not sure how she thinks quantum theory relates to the films of Jerry Lewis -- Charlene Babbage's thesis was a timely hand-grenade lobbed into this moribund project. I also strongly urge that it be reinstated. In fact, I am considering embarking on a hunger strike until it is.

I am bemused by the aspersions cast by Dr Praed on the academic standing of the University of Muskateegee. Praed may not know that Muskateegee is the repository of all Sartre's surviving correspondence with his dry-cleaners. Moreover the municipality of Muskateegee is known to many as the existentialism capital of the prairie states, and the number of motiveless murders and random life-choices there is well above the national average.

As to Charlene Babbage's own credentials -- the fact is, unlike Dr Praed, who I doubt has ever got closer to the Left Bank than Paris, Texas, Babbage has spent time in Sartre's milieu -- Praed seems not to be aware that Babbage's first husband was Sartre's close disciple Charles Boisson[1]. And while I have no information as to whether Babbage ever fed Sartre's cat, it is not actually that far-fetched given the fact that on two well-documented occasions Sartre entrusted the care of his house-plants to the Boissons while he was away. So much for Praed's crass sarcasm!

I must take exception with Mr Vermeyer on a couple of minor points, however. He is in error if he believes that the shrunken beret incident took place in 1933. In fact it was 1953. The date matters because several authorities now consider that Sartre's breach with Albert Camus can be attributed to the latter's insensitive reaction to the mishap -- according to Juliette Greco[2], upon beholding Sartre wearing the resized headgear Camus giggled and said, "Is that a beret or did a poodle crap on your head, cock-eye?"

A more important point is that the picture he provides is not, by any means, Sartre's cat. For one thing, the cat in the photograph is clearly reading the collaborationist newspaper Je Suis Partout. In fact, it is Celine's cat, Bebert, which was tarred and feathered after the Liberation for allowing Germans to rub its belly.

I must also deplore our editor's blatant attempt to hit on Charlene Babbage. Whatever the function of this book-in-embryo may turn out to be, it is certainly not a pick-up joint. That said, I must inform him that he would have better luck with Natalie Praed, unless she has changed her habits greatly since our Vassar days.

[1] Charles Alain Boisson, 1910-1979. Marxist, resistance hero and Cahiers du Cinema journalist. Author of a seminal work on Hitchcock's films, "Modes of Alienation in Tippi Hedren's Hairstyles". Notorious for his unfavourable review of Francois Truffaut's "Day For Night", in which he proposed that Truffaut be executed "Pour encourager les auteurs".

[2] Juliette Greco, 1927- . French chanteuse and bohemian figure.

[Thanks for the tip, Veronica. If you're reading this, Natalie, give me a buzz. I made the mistake of reading Mary McCarthy's The Group, so I know all about Vassar girls. Ed. And hey, Veronica, you can give me a buzz, too! Even though you know diddly-squat about Jean-Paul S. and his posse.]

"Sartre's Cat": A Hermeneutic Approach (Janet Ingram)

My attention has been drawn to the controversy surrounding the identity of the cat pictured on this website. I should explain that I am a forensic scientist employed by the Home Office in Britain. My special area is hermeneutic examination of films, videos and photographs.

Cursory examination of the snapshot shows that the cat is morbidly overweight. Obesity on such a scale suggests that this pet has learned to visit many places for food besides its owner's. In all probability it has also been ingesting anabolic steroids. The fact that it has fallen asleep on a table indicates a low level of alertness, consistent with consumption of steroids.

Turning now to the surroundings, we note that the skirting-board is of the same shade to be found in all extant photographs of Le Café Grec post 1937. This was a Left Bank establishment much favoured by the existentialists (see Babbage 1990, Grincheux 1973). The red table-top and beechwood chairs are also typical of that café.

It has been suggested that the newspaper is Je Suis Partout. In terms of format, print density, and pulp colour I find nothing inconsistent with this suggestion, though the comparatively coarse (200 ASA) grain of the emulsion does not permit the sort of enlargement necessary to read the type. If required I could pass the image to one of my colleagues for digital enhancement.

The orange-red footstool and matching plant-stand (?) cannot be identified. The object on the plant-stand (?) is an early example of a Moulinex croissant-heater (Model A-09) which was not on sale before October 1939 and which was superseded by the A-11 in April 1947.

Chemical analysis of the print itself (my thanks to Mr Herley for providing this) reveals that the paper was made by Kodak between 1941 and 1945. The heavy-metal content of the emulsion indicates a manufacturing date around June 1942. The reverse of the print is stamped in pale grey with the legend: "Kodak Paper, Sep 1942". Unless this is an elaborate forgery perpetrated for obscure reasons of academic rivalry, we can take this as indicating the date of printing.

It is reported (Herring and le Blanc, 1968) that Sartre hated cats. He writes in his 1966 essay, Dégoût, "I hate them", and later in the same piece eulogizes The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea. The protagonist in this story is one of a gang of schoolboys who kill and dissect a kitten. The scene is praised by Sartre for making him throw up while reading. Sartre is also reported (Farnweiter 1988) as getting in trouble over the neighbourhood cats when he visited Camus in Algeria. He told the Oran police: "They are large enough to present a satisfactory target, but small enough to provide a challenge." Farnweiter reproduces an arrest-sheet dated 7 April 1952. Sartre narrowly escaped the charge that "(i) with a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver he did lie in ambush for and shoot an elderly marmalade cat, property of Mme Ernestine Ploc; and (ii) he did with said firearm destroy 7 roof tiles, a chimney pot and a radio aerial, property of the aforementioned. Suspect released with a caution. Ammunition confiscated."


Evidence for the cat being's Sartre's rather than Celine's: the picture may well have taken in Le Café Grec, one of Sartre's haunts.

Inconclusive evidence: date of photograph, June -- September 1942, fits both possibilities. Identity of newspaper not established.

Evidence against: all other data.


Babbage, C.V., 1990: Sartre As I Knew Him (New York)
Farnweiter, Wilhelm, 1988: My Happy Years in the Algerian Police (London and Marseilles)
Grincheux, Jean-Luc, 1973: Pêcher en eau trouble: chez Albert Camus (Paris)
Herring, P.J. and Le Blanc, H., 1968: Fictional Description of Cat-Dissection as Emetic, Proc. XVIII Symposium Psy. Rev., 66-73

Janet Ingram

[I remain unconvinced. Ed.]

Cristy Gottberg

An intriguing look into the world of paradox, not only discussing it, but illustrating it in a way even the simplest person can understand.

A Review That Has Little To Say About the Previous Reviews Which is Something of a Challenge Given the Content of Reviews of This Book and is Excessively Titled (Bren MacDibble)

There were world wars fought over less volatile differences than those of the fans and nay-sayers of Reviews of This Book. This ground-breaking work has been charged with being innovative and visionary or juvenile and pathetic, depending on whom you talk to. What needs to be noted, however, is that at its heart Reviews of This Book is a 'feelgood' book designed to put a smile on your face (the questioning your own existence thing is just an unforeseen side-effect).

This is a bizarre, disturbing and yet oddly comical look into the creation of a paradox. With a steadily increasing cast of protagonists as diverse as they are devious (including a cat of dubious credentials and a very small beret which the cat may or may not from time to time wear), and antagonists almost as scary as sheep, the reader cannot help but hope the goal of the plot will win through. The goal, of course, is one man's desire (Douglas Hofstadter's) to make his mark on the world (well, a further mark, he does have a few nice books out, after all). An unusual mark. One of those marks that, if you stare at it long enough, it seems to spiral upon itself until you cannot tell the beginning from the end or even the middle (and if you stare at it any longer you become a gibbering fool and feel compelled to add to the tale) BUT, a mark nonetheless.

Asking the cart to pull the horse is not likely to serve you well in the future. This much we know (although someone is yet to inform Messrs Jenner and Herley, the driving force behind this particular cart which may indeed learn to pull the horse or at the very least cause the pair to be fined for erratic use of media). It does, however, make for a delightful read.

Bren MacDibble

My Cat (Erwin Schrödinger)

I do not wish to stoke the fires of controversy, but the cat belonged neither to Sartre nor Celine. He was mine, and famously featured in my 1935 paper, Die gegenwartige Situation in der Quantenmechanik, Naturwissenschaftern 23: 807-812; 823, 844-849.

If you are familiar with quantum mechanics you will already know my 1926 equation for the wave function of a particle, the time-independent version of which is:


where psi is the wave function, \nabla^2 the Laplace operator, h the Planck constant, m the particle's mass, E its total energy, and u its potential energy. In accordance with current consumer law, I must add that my equation is exactly soluble only for very simple cases. Approximations are needed for more complicated atoms and molecules, which is where our ingenious and charming friends, Hartree and Fock, come in.

It is not generally known that my cat expired during the 1935 experiment. Poisoning by hydrocyanic acid is at least swift, a fact of which the Nazis were apprised. (I will return, very briefly, to this unpleasant line of thought in a moment). The photo shows poor Albert laid out on a table in the sun-room of my house in Headington. He was buried in the garden and given all due honours in the name of wave mechanics. A bronze plaque still marks the spot.

I left my native Austria in 1933 to avoid the Nazis, who as you know had worrying plans. I went to Oxford, but three years later returned to Graz thinking perhaps I had judged them too harshly. No: I was right the first time, and in 1938 fled to the safety of Dublin and the Institute of Advanced Studies. Here I was assigned to a team headed by Professor B. O'Nolan.

O'Nolan was a man of such extraordinary insight that he rejected mathematics as the natural language of physics. His formulae were instead all expressed in literary form. It was quite a culture shock for me, I can tell you! Here I was, joint winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize for physics, reduced to the position of mere factotum. For the first three weeks all I was allowed to do around the lab. was sharpen pencils and fill inkwells.

As time went on O'Nolan showed more confidence in me and soon I was a full member of the team. We were working on a project so revolutionary, so incredible, that I was at first dazzled by its potential. To put O'Nolan's Primary Equation into crude mathematical terms:


where alpha is the 'immanence of God' and omega is the 'sum of possibilities in all possible universes'. Even today I find this formulation easier to understand than its literary equivalent, which I nonetheless reproduce:


O'Nolan thus reduces the whole of science, including the knowledge which allowed the creation of nuclear weapons, to a mere corollary of his unifying theorem.

My friend Albert Einstein was moved to epiphanous tears on reading the Primary Equation. We scurried at once to the pub, where he cried: 'What's your shout, Schrödinger, my dear fellow?' I could tell he had already grasped the very crux of the Theorem. Later, describing this moment, he wrote: 'as far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.'

The spring and summer of 1938 were for O'Nolan's team an exhausting race against its own limitations. We knew that, if only we could publish in time, widespread dissemination of the Theorem would render all conflict impossible.

On 3 September 1938 - how little then did we realize the ominous significance of that date! - the manuscript was completed and rushed by courier to the London offices of Messrs Longmans Green, who had on instructions from the War Office cleared their lists for the Book to End All Books. The publishers tried to change the title from 'At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien' to something they regarded as more commercial, but were overruled on the direct order of the British Prime Minister.

The publishers were right and we were wrong. Sales in the period to 30 June 1939 did not even cover the £50 advance (this sum having already been disbursed on Grandchild, which fell in the 4.30 at Gatwick on Friday 16 April, 1937). With such low sales, the combined sensibilities of readers could not achieve a Hartree-Fock stable state, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Erwin Schrödinger

A Review of Reviews of This Book
(William Alan Rieser)

Clearly, clarity is amorphous, as enthusiasts of this tome should comprehend. At first, I thought the weightless brevity of under-stimulation rather non-thought provoking, reminiscent of ritual political sidetracking or the suppository demands it inspires. But, having just examined a comparison of Bush/Blair inanities, I am forced to acquiesce the amazing parallels and their relevance to contemporary lunacy.

Thoughtlessness merely appears to be mindless inefficiency. It most certainly has not achieved such a lofty status and deserves the explanation afforded by these critics. To characterize it as inept is premature but neither should I award it anything resembling a provocative kudo. True, the review of a review is little more than an exercise in stagnation to some, blithe bliss to others and surely a wealth of resources for the American and British literary press, assuming literacy has survived J. K Rowling.

Some might wish to compare it to reviews of Peter Jackson's LOTR, where all the columnists failed to anticipate the sequel. Why haven't they accused Jackson of threatening Treebeard by telling him that the entwives were spotted screwing bushes in the south, or worse, shrubberies? Such oversights are not seen here, where lack of vision is less an achievement than a requirement. Surely the dearth of reason ought to establish some sort of guideline for prospective critique drawn unprofessionals.

Then again, we don't want to be controversial and assign sentience to those who exhibit a void where synapses ought to dwell. Mayhap the lapses seen here are mere figments of imaginative constipation? Perhaps what is needed is a poll to solidify the public's desire for another circumspect analysis. And if that is insufficient, surely a probe might be adequate to determine whether reviews satisfy the psychological urge to have one's words unread, like mating during an earthquake or pushing the progenitors of The Simpson's into the sea.

In conclusion, I would suggest that ignoring reviews is tantamount to the foolish perpetration of sanity. Consider how many civilizations have succumbed in the wake of their failing to flaunt their failings and permit them to subside via observation. I, for one, loathe the thought of society crumbling without having had the crumbs submitted to an exhaustive and penetrating exposition. Let those who are erstwhile enough to examine such behavior proceed to their illogical culmination.

William Alan Rieser

Forensic Phrenology (Dr S.A. Murphy PhD)

Edward Gorey on Henry James, "I've read everything he's written, and I loath and detest all of it".

Now that is truly an exemplary review. The man knew his subject. Thoroughly exhausted it in fact, and only then formed an opinion, absolute as it is, on his subject. When given an item to criticize, this is the preferred methodology. The dilemma we face with our task is that this is, of course, impossible.

As stated, the logical way to approach a serious work of criticism is to know one's subject thoroughly. As I am not able to comment on the work of those that follow me, any attempt at criticizing becomes an utter absurdity. So, how to go about this then? Being forced to ignore future work lends itself to several freedoms. If I am to ignore the work of future critics, I am then free, should I choose, to ignore the work of past critics also. And so, I will undertake my aspect of this work as a truly independent exposition. In other words, I may pick and choose, and diddle around.

Interesting though the comments on Groucho Marx were, I noticed some glaring literary omissions. It is admittedly a little known fact that Groucho was a great fan and reader of Somerset Maugham. His admiration was so great that he arranged a meeting with Maugham on a visit to England. This meeting was much anticipated by both parties and Groucho even brought along first editions for Maugham to sign. When the two finally met at Maugham's home, Groucho was immediately offended by Maugham's effeminate manner and that both men wore the same necktie. When invited by Maugham to have tea, Groucho stormed out of the house snarling, "No thank you, we Americans prefer more manly recreations!". Groucho forever held a grudge against Maugham, and from then on referred to him only as "Mr. Margaret Dumont".

I am also a bit surprised by the slavish devotion to one J.P. Sartre. Why some of the reviewers would spend their time arguing about a cat owned by a man who was known to spend his Sundays sashaying about town dressed in nineteenth century garb and a fake walrus moustache, all the while proclaiming himself to be "Zee Grand Flaubert!" is beyond me. Simon de Beauvoir had written many times in her journals, "I wish he would just stay home on Sundays". An embarrassment if nothing else, Sartre's obsession with Flaubert was responsible for more conjugal strife than any other matter in his life, even his inability to balance a checkbook. Simon de Beauvoir wrote at length in several journal entries: Goddamn him, he has torn apart my best feather pillow looking for the perfect moustache substitute....

As is commonly known, Sartre devoted much of his later years to dissecting Flaubert's life and his four part major reference work on Flaubert speaks volumes, if nothing else.

So, after a thorough reading of the wilder statements made by previous reviewers, I am near nervous exhaustion wrestling with what I consider to be the ultimate question or perhaps the penultimate if the other question regards drink preferences: Are we to believe everything that we read? The answer is obvious, yet that is no guarantee that we are not informed by mendacities in print. For instance, if one is to take Lombroso at his word, I am a small, slightly overweight man with a tendency to slip into degeneracy and having an almost triumphant ability to stare fixedly at large breasted women, or men. That I have never rubbernecked my way into a lad's heart goes without saying, but what of the rest? I am small in stature, this is true, but my girth is reminiscent more of a large herbivore than only slightly overweight. So, we have caught this one out in the cold, have we not? Do I slip into degeneracy? I've been told that on certain late evenings, I make people uncomfortable, but I've never been charged with a criminal act. So, shall we call strike two? No, let us make that three, as I am hardly alone in straining my ocular apparatus to glean a glimpse of a well powdered and flush bosom.

These musings do nothing if not bring to mind early attempts by Kerouac at stream of consciousness writing. To quote from his own "Barstool notes at the Tiger Club":

"Hmmmmm... going... going to need to go... Barman's pouring, taps are running and he's pouring... oh, pouring and flowing, GOD I'VE GOT TO GO... he starts the tap and pours and pours and pours. Christ, you'd think they'd have more than one john in this joint... gotta go-gotta go-gotta go. Whew... I gotta go... oooh, when will that guy get out of there? I really gotta go... I'm full, totally full and need to pee... be free... be free my pee, be free... wee-wee-wee, I really need to pee... Jesus, what the hell is that guy doing in the crapper for this long? Oh-whoa-whoa-whoa-oh, Jeeee-zus... Jeeee-zus... Jeezus-Jeezus-Jeezus-WEEEEEEEZUS CHRIST! How friggin' long does it take to drain a pipe? Oooooooooh..."

FINAL THOUGHTS: I've noticed no mention of cash flowing into the hands of contributors.

This is a disappointment.

Seamus Andrew Murphy

A short note (Don Stockbauer)

I believe that the amount of information on the web has finally become infinite. I was rather amazed the Reviews of this Book had actually been pulled-off. Being a long time Hofstadter fan (having read GEB when it came out and almost all his other works since) it's nice to know that someone accepted the challence and brought it to fruition. I always thought that it would be hard to do, due to the first review basically having nothing to say, but one should never underestimate the creativeness of a writer, and it was done quite well.

Charlotte's Blank Page (Charlotte Brewster)

[Review to follow - ed.]

Insert Observe Astutations with Whimsical but Appropriate Po-Little-Cal(ifornia) Implications that Require Much Rugging Under the Sweep Here. News at 11: Bren MacDibble Peeved Over Newest Review's Title: Called Tactic "Use of Excessive Farce." The Odder Author, Charlotte Brewster, Flippantly Replied with a Nonchalant "Toe" Before She Added: "You Say Tactic; I Say Tictac (Helps Keep Your Title Fresh Even When Your Review Is Not Being Read and Is Green with Envy)."

Polytemporal Discourse: A Digression Of Humorous Origin (Greyston R. Cindertoke)

"Man plans, God laughs."
--Rabbi Hillel

The idea that God (whatever that term might mean to any specific individual) laughs is at the heart of the suggestion made in a non-fiction book (referenced extensively elsewhere in this document) popular among those prone to make references to books of that kind, because finding humor in a situation is to see it's essential properties. How funny something is can be said to depend on how artfully a rational construct is exploited and, however enlivened or bereft of humorous expertise any endeavour might seem, the most important thing to keep in mind is the original premiss: whether it was intended to be funny, or not. As the author of the aforementioned popular book is seen as something of a hip-intellectual pseudo-deific pop-cultural figure, and since the idea that laughter and humor are known to motivate ultimate deity (ie: "God"), the aforementioned author undoubtlably intended his suggestion as a pseudo-hip pop-intellectual joke, for within the fabric of a joke (ie: exploitation of rational construct) can be discovered patterns of relationship which underlie the fabric of human consciousness, and it's not important that it doesn't neccessarily make people laugh. Also, the very idea that "God" (a rhetorical device referring to the First Cause or Prime Mover; the impetus for existance) likes to laugh can be quite distrubing to those individuals prone to being tight-asses, undermining the short-sighted arrogence of those who believe that their minds have encompased all that there is to know. In fact, making fools out of those who foolishly believe there is nothing more to learn is highly characteristic of the sort of humor often attributed to whatever is representated by the term God. Therefor, writing a pompous critique such about the self-referential quality of this document is exactly the sort of thing that makes God laugh, which is a good thing because, at the very least, it annoys uptight pricks. Rabbi Hillel also said, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?", which doesn't have too much relevance to this discussion, but it's a pretty cool idea and is vaugely applicable to the idea of procrastination, which is a common affliction of those who are terribly intelligent and insightful, ie: those inclined to write critiques similar to this.

But why bother to write yet another critique as part of a potentially hubric construction intended to reach into the foundation of linguistic coherence? Hasn't the topic been enumerated to a sufficient level prior to the writting of this critique? The answer is "no, there is never a good reason to stop beating a dead horse". This is not to imply, of course, that this document is in any way characteristic of a dead horse, but the reader may wish to take precautions regarding the potnetial smell, just in case.

A literary critique is, essentially, a story about a story. Literary critics are, after all, detailing their personal interpretation of the cogntitive experience induced by reading something someone else has written. Such a cognitive experience is, of course, a neccessary quality of the act of reading in general[1], except in this specific case, literary critics exploit that experience and flog it for money, fame, and the raw sensation of power that comes from knowing that some other mind has become irrevocably warped by exposure to the words contained in the critique. That is to say that literary critics pre-eat intellectual food and allow the general public to sample the results.

The genius behind the aformentioned Girddle, Esher, Back guy's idea about a self-referential literary construct is readily apparent, and many people agree with that. Unfortunately, the greater public tends to ignore the salient fact that this idea was suggested by someone too lazy to do it himself, and - as such - constitutes what is clinically known as a "lazy idea". This practically ensures that only very lazy people will be attracted to it. To whit, the literary critic, the product of which is both the content and context of this literary construct (ie:>>insert name of this document here<<[2]).

The concept of an entirely recursive document undoubtably holds interest for many people due, in part, to the fact that it resides at the borders of impossibility, just beyond the reach of rational analysis, yet still remains tantalizingly cogent, much like the fundamental nature of existence itself. Other interesting observations regarding this topic will be made later in this critique[13], but for now, on with that critical examination of the document in question which is the primary substance of a literary critique.

Starting out with a few well-placed patronizing platitudes is a typical example of a rhetorical strategy employed to signal to the reader the fact that the extremely brilliant and subtle wit contained in this critique will be cleverly incorporated amongst what will otherwise appear to be particulalry lame commentary. The author is not suggesting that this document (which includes this critique) is the expression of such a crass and manipulative strategy, but pointing it out is the kind of sophistic crap that goes over well with snobs and morons, so it can't hurt to pander to the majority right off the bat.

It is worth again stressing the point that this very critique which the reader is currently reading[4] is included in the document being critiqued. The intent of the document, as has been sufficiently expounded upon elsewhere, is to provide a context for polytemporal discourse; that is, to be the arena within which human language is challenged to produce an adequate representation of concepts and conditions which exist independant of (or, at least, in conjunction with) a strict linear temporal progression. Human languages (with the exception of a well-known few, which - for the sake of propriety - will not be mentioned other than to point out how extremely innapropriate to this discussion they are, and everyone damned well knows it) tend to have grammatical rules which favor the expression of ideas in a manner which reflects a cognitive state engaged in linear temporal experience. The very words themselves - verb, nouns, adjectives, and all that stuff - are constructed to work within a syntax based on the principle of cause and effect. At least the English language is, and since that's the only language the author is fluent enough to write a critical discourse in, the grammatical rule of that language is assumed to be universally applicable[5]. The endeavor to engage in a polytemporal dialog is, therefore[6], a cogent and meaningful act, rather than the trite and diversionary pursuit it might otherwise seem to be.

A valient attempt at kick-starting the anteroliterative process (which is the substance of this document) had already been made by that point in the so-called four-dimentional "space-time continuum" occupied by (ie: the temporal thread being traversed by) this author as this critique is being written[7]. Many of the major salient points defining this project have been eloquently expressed by other authors, not the least of which being the general absurdity of the whole thing. Also, Sartre was mentioned, giving this document the kind of existentialist credentials that good post-modern deconstructionism needs to make the critics really sit up and take notice[8].

Speaking of existentialism, let us examine more closely the applicability of this document to the nature of self-conscious perception itself. Similar to the way the mind of a human being develops over the course of a lifetime through the accumulation of experience, so this document strives to attain a literal representation of self-reflective awareness by the accumulation of self-referential content. It would be no exageration to say that this document - which, excavated like a midden at an archeological site, provides the understanding reader with a sense of transendence verging on (if not completely embracing) the realm of the mystical - is as important as it (or anything like it) can possibly be, for without attempts to exceed the realm of the possibile, how can the limits of possibility ever be known?

Like a mutant cross between a magic carpet and a talking mirror, this document takes on mythical proportions of its own makings. It is a tapestry made with threads of time so intricately interwoven that this document will eventually gain self-awareness and takes on a life of its own, destroying the city of Cincinatti, Ohio in a wild rampage brought on by tranquilizers and a generally shitty feeling about life, but that's not important now. Sartre's cat was also mentioned, but there was some uncertainty about the cat's ownership and a suggestion that it might be Edwin Schroedinger's[10] was made, which brings up the topic of historical dialectics.

Consciousness evolves by much the same process as life: though a combination of innate factors and the interaction of those factors with the environments within which those factors are expressed. History, too, can be interpreted as if it were an individual evolving towards sentience. Much as the previously mentioned metaphorical dog no longer needs the metaphorical lamp-post to exist in order to metaphorically pee on it, a self-reflective literary construct such as this document strives to pee on itself.

It was Hegel who developed the idea that "history" is the human species conducting a form of dialog with itself through social action over the course of time. Later on, Marx updated the idea, pointing out that if it's a dialog, that means people can say things. Meanwhile, Kirkegaard decided that life sucks and, following in Kirkegaard's shadow like Marx echoed Hegel, Sartre made a career out of saying that yes, there's no doubt about the fact that life sure does suck, thereby empowering himself with a great excuse to act like a pompous twit and take a lot of speed[11], but that was his choice and he's dead anyway. The Beatles summed up the feelings of many with the succinct phrase "everybody's got one".

As the dialog of human history (which is nothing a pack of lies hobbled together to tell a story which justifies its own existence, by the way) is an analogy of the evolution of human consciousness, so this document contains the tattered and fragmented remnants of lofty dreams that turned all too quickly into a heap of shattered ambitions. Like the flash of a strobelight in the dark, each addition to this document discloses another freeze-frame image of its true form, leaving the reader to assemble that series of flashes into a terrifying clear image of the Frankenstien-like madness that spawned the birth of this document, leading the authors onward with a promise of that same vital thrill that must have consumed the very first satirist to recognize the power of a smart-assed remark. The fact that some of the original contributors to this document have subsiquently withdrawn their participation due to conflicting interpretation of what constitutes god-like humor, is ...well... typical, isn't it?

While it may be possible to formulate a cogent syllogysm by which the self-reflective nature of human consciousness and the socio-historical dialog of the human community are proven to be substrative to this progenative documentary of the anteroliterative effect of recursive exposition in the pursuit of polytemporal discourse, the author was simply looking for an excuse to use the word "syllogysm" without refering to illicit acts involving a window.

[1] A thoroughly pointless statement.

[2] This is a replacement tag that was forgotten by the author until after the document had been submitted for publication and it was too late to fix[3].

[3] Same goes for the footnote.

[4] A footnote won't help if you can't sort it out for yourself.

[5] Blind arrogence is a hallmark of Western Civilization, and probably other Civilizations as well, come to think of it, given the fact that human beings are notoriously pigheaded.

[6] Ok, ok. No explicit arguement has been made, so there is no logical basis for make this statement of conclusion, but the author needs to speed things up a bit, so will the reader kindly get off the author's back about it?

[7] Deal with it.

[8] The author has resolved not to descend into an embittered diatribe about how fickle, cruel, or deeply ignorant some critics can be and would rather focus on catering to the interests of those remaining critics who know a really talented author when they see one and aren't afraid to take money in exchange for making that fact known.

[9] (deleted)

[10] After many long hours of debate concerning the ontological implications of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr drove Edwin Schroedinger to tears by being right.

[11] Yup, Rabbi Hillel really hit the nail on the head a coule thousand years ago when he pointed out that God had a really good sense of humor.

[12] This is, of course, the crux of the whole issue.

[13] Well, maybe not.

all rights reserved - 2003
Greyston R. Cindertoke (post-graduate student since 1991 - Univ. of Wolftick)

Reviews worth a re-view? (Helge Jensen)

The authors of Reviews of This Book set out to explore self-referral by publishing a book consisting solely of reviews of itself.

This may sound self-contradictory, but the books introduction goes to great depths to explain that it may indeed make sense, since the book can evolve through stages of not actually being self-referring, while still at some point obtaining self-consistency, and thus achieving it's goal.

"Reviews of This Book" is co-written by many authors. The authors do not seem to share any common ground, and the different reviews clearly shows that the process of obtaining a "Hartree-Fock self-consistent solution", as one part of it claims is the books goal, may indeed have a better chance of succeding if the book was not literally being written by a thousand monkeys with typewriters.

Some parts of the books contains discussions of whether other parts "misses the point", goes to far in critizizing which other parts are "too vicious", etc. There is no common thread, and most reviews completely misses the point.

Saying: "hopefully the book will be very funny as well as thought provoking.", is (just about) the funniest and most thought-provoking sentence in the book, with very few exceptions.

The introduction to the book states: "...But just as one shouldn't count one's chickens before they are hatched..", actually pecks (in a metaphorical sense) on the shell of the old problem "was the egg or the chicken first?", to which the process of the creation of the book is the answer. Unfortunatly, this interesting fact is only stated much later in the book, when it really should have been stated both before and after to have things in the proper order.

I suggest that readers actually interested in self-referral and recursion go elsewhere for knowledge on this subject. Self-referral is thoroughly treated in the branch of mathematics called logic where you would probably do much better to invest your time than in reading this book, any re-view or review of this book is a waste of time.

The book states: "technology has evolved which could make the task of writing Reviews much easier", which must make any creator ask "OK, which of you m***ns let the monkeys use internet?".

Review of 'Reviews of this Book' (Charles Fox)

Reviews of this Book was a concept conceived well before its time. The idea of a book containing reviews only of itself was detailed in Hofstadter's 1985 book Metamagical Themas, which specified a converging dynamical system of reviews all referring to one other, gradually being updated to take account of the changes in other reviews, and causing other reviews to update in turn. Hofstader was concerned with questions of convergence and integrity could such a system ever reach a stable point? The idea was born before its medium the internet. Only now do we have the technology to enable such a rapid review revision process, and Andrew Jenner has brought about the latest attempt at its instantiation.

Jenner's own review is functional, explaining the core concept of the book and an overview of the rules by which it was generated. He writes clearly and concisely, but suffers from a lack of reference to the other reviews. This is clearly because he wrote the first review and has yet to take account of what happened after he wrote. If his project is to work, he needs to put more work into updating his review.

Echoing Hosftadter's Godel, Escher, Bach, Richard Herley's review draws upon themes of quantum mechanics (Heisenberg is king) and Zen Buddhism (Because this book is as yet unwritten, it is perfect). He also will point out the interesting fact that the tense of this book had to be left ambiguous, as each review referred both backwards and forwards in time. This however presents the following paradox:

  1. Each review can refer only to what is reviews, so should be past tense
  2. Each review should refer to the all other reviews, including the ones not written yet.

Perhaps Herley's problem is resolved in this book by its now constant use of the present tense, allowing all reviews to exist in the same moment of simultaneity?

Michael Kelly's review draws the inevitable comparisons of this book to both Oroborus and what dogs do because they can. (Which I believe is a reference to Jasper Carrot). He also used some great phrases like graduate school goof offs and metastabalise. His comparison to holography is intriguing as each shard of a hologram contains (a degraded version of) the whole image, so should each review of this book. In this sense, the book is also reminiscent of neural net theory; whose discussion of so-called optimal brain damage demonstrates how a biologically plausible computational system can store global information in its parts. And if such a Perus-ian holographic net can be called conscious, then what of this organically evolving book? Kelly's reviews of the other reviews are focussed on a single line of criticism: that of leaving out references to other works, which Kelly fills in. This of course is a useful way to add new material to this book, by bringing in new lines of thought not yet mentioned in other reviews.

There seems to be a theme of consciousness and the mind emerging in this book. In fact the idea of multiple drafts in endless circulation of improvement and revision is indeed reminiscent of Dennets model of consciousness in his book Consciouness Explained. (More cynically known as Consciousness Ignored by non-behaviourist philosophers.) Further, the process of review convergence is suspiciously analogous to current research in loopy bayesian belief propagation Is this book really a metaphor for something much bigger than some of the light-hearted reviews suggest?

An interesting practical problem facing the creation of this book is that as the number of reviews increases to N, each review will have to review all N of them. Or worse, some reviews may wish to discuss each review reviewed by each review. Will this book face some kind of exponential meltdown as its complexity increases?

Thorstein Veblen divided human activity into useful work and pecuniary work; the latter being work that is essentially useless except as a display of waste of resources. It is work that accomplishes nothing except to display the wealth of its creator. Could this book be the ultimate pecuniary activity, one which contains precisely no information except the meta-information that its authors have too much free time on their hands (and therefore make attractive mates?). As a publicly funded graduate student (or goof off, as Kelly would have it) I feel partly ashamed to be expending resources on such a project, It is not our own wealth we are squandering here but that of the taxpayers. As such, the completion of this book should not be taken as an indication of our greatness, but like the snapshots from the Mars Rover as a symbol of greatness of the whole society which has given rise to the project. (A further credit assignment problem presents itself when we consider the privately funded reviewers - should their names appear on the cover along with the taxpayer?)

This book has been criticised as a form of pecuniary intellectual masturbation, and for attempting the supposedly impossible task of creating something from nothing. But let us not forget the ancient Egyptian myth that our entire world was created by our God swallowing his own semen and giving birth to the whole of creation. The existence of their belief shows at least that this form of creation is logically possible!

Taken together, the reviews form a deeper message than any one of them could contain. Like Cage's 4'33" this is a book that makes a statement about books. Cage took rational western art to its logical end-point, the zero point, the end of modernism. However, this book shows that there exists another extremum, a kind of opposite, infinite point of recursion, of potentially unlimited complexity constructed out of the same nothingness. A truly postmodern work, we have moved beyond rational construction of art, and embraced the repetition, stealing and sampling of others as an artform in itself. Art has nowhere new to go, so it collapses in on itself, endlessly digesting its own intestines. And this book captures that zeitgeist precisely. However in demonstrating that postmodernism does in fact have a logical end-point, and taking us to it, Fox's review raises the interesting and possibly unanswerable question of where on earth we are supposed to go next?

Charles Fox
Robotics Research Group
Univeristy of Oxford, UK

See also: Notes from the Editor.