Index non-zero

Junior citizens, this is an antique calculating device called a slide rule. On its fixed D scale and sliding C scale (click to enlarge) it physically represented multiplication and division by adding or subtracting measured lengths proportional to the values of the terms’ logarithms:

log (ab) = log a + log b

Length proportional to product = sum of lengths measured on scales C and D

In the notation for a base-10 logarithm, the digit to the left of the decimal point is an integral exponent of 10, with (for instance) 2 representing 10 squared, or 100. Likewise, 3 represents 10 cubed, or 1000, and a number larger than 2 but smaller than 3 represents a value between 100 and 1000 such as 500, whose logarithm is 2.69897.

But nothing to the left of the decimal point appears on the slide rule. There, the digit 5 is a right-side value only, understood to represent symbol as such, stripped of any idea of quantity. It may stand for 5 or 500 or 0.0005, but to learn which you’ll have to supply the zeroes yourself, filling them in from mind. Zero’s only domain is mind. It isn’t to be found among the physical symbols of quantity cycling from 1-on-the-left to 1-on-the-right along C and D. Zero doesn’t come to mind through the senses.

But quantity does. It is of the body. On a slide rule you can perceive it through the cursor’s body-warm glass. And see: even when the plenum beyond rule goes empty, what remains to be seen is not nothing.


Book with brick

The image you see is without consciousness. Whatever interpretive inference you made of it was not original to the image. You drew your conclusion in your mind, where the words are. The inference was the perception-effect of a silent surface, and to think that it was a reading in words of a wordlesssly depicted life would be sentimental.  On its surface, an image of a cat is not a cat but an image. Its surface is only a dead layer of ink or pixels.

But ink can depict. If it happens to depict words, those can establish an off-image connection between what is seen in the image and what is thought imagelessly with words. Off-image, you can imagine a cat clawing open a book whose title includes a word: Krazy. Then you can read the book and learn the word.

George Herriman, Krazy’s creator, was a black man passing as white. With its never-changing but ever-morphing language and its never-changed theme of love met with a thrown brick, his daily comic strip must have borne a connection with the secret life of his mind.  Herriman gave the secret a black disguise and a blurred name: kat. Thereafter, day after day, pulsed by clock and calendar, George Herriman would sit before his drawing board and throw an image of a brick toward kat’s head. Day by day, it seemed that kat’s love-words were about to echo from the brick’s arriving surface. But the echo never came and the brick would always bounce off kat’s skull. The calendar page would turn; daily between 1913 and 1944, kat would speak love and then his silent brick would fall. But the next day, undyingly, as if its trajectory were a route of spring hope, the fall would be redrawn.

A clock in the dark

reveals an idea latent in the idea of the seen. An optic anti-form, shadow shapes unseenness into a law of shadow’s nature and imposes its code moment by moment upon the territories that it has separated from light. The new regime is named dark, and within its boundaries hands can no longer be seen in front of faces. Under dark’s restrictive new law, the clock and its own hands and face have been replaced by an unseen, unthought metaphor.

Seen and thought, then: beakshadow and capacious birdbrain.

Imperfectly to be known

Not just the delicate temporary touching down from the air, unknowingly populated skyline, and fingerprint just inside the barrier that margins you off from the dead,

Reconstructed from George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

but even the defacing scratches and spots on the record itself. For a brief intermission between oblivions, the ordinary is perceived. A moment too late after that, it is understood to have been extraordinary.

Her mother sleeked her hair, forever. She looked down, forever.

Not much history seems to have survived this remnant. It is a daguerreotype, apparently American, apparently dating from about the 1850s, and that seems to be almost all we know about it now. The Library of Congress’s catalog link at notes that the image was acquired in 2014 from a Dennis A. Waters, but Waters

( )

was a commercial dealer, not an archivist. In any case, this isn’t one of the pictures in the Library’s daguerreotype collection that are archivally identified by name and place and date. Almost all that remains to be known about it now is almost all that remains to be seen. It is almost nothing but picture. Almost nobody except a fashion historian or possibly a medical historian could articulate a word about it now. Because all the words that were once spoken over it by the people it depicts have fallen away, it has become an abstract idea of what was once flesh-round and warm to the touch.

Consider a lens, then. It seems to be a portal through which life goes into the past and brakes to a stop.

That’s so!

To record any moment is to make it supreme. When a memory prosthesis (in a cave in the Pyrenees, a finger dipped in soot; on an American lawn during the Edison era, a camera) translates a momentary perception to something that can be referred to in after times, perception’s momentary allotment of time within life comes to an end and it is translated to memory and the immortal dead language of history. You could call the text of such a translation a truth.

Or at least a word: a word that says “Truth” to you about itself. You’re reading it now. It reads itself to you about what you have just seen, and so it reads to you about yourself.