Russell in Your Head-Roe

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry. What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement. Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world. — Bertrand Russell, “The Study Of Mathematics” (1902)

The title of this incendiary intervention is of course a paronomasia on these lines from Led Zeppelin’s magisterial “Stairway to Heaven”:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now:
It’s just a spring-clean for the May Queen…”

And “head-roe” is a kenning for “brain”.


Tott ist Rot

• Lautlos und fein rann der rostrot gefärbte Sand durch die gläserne Enge, und da er in der oberen Höhlung zur Neige ging, hatte sich dort ein kleiner, reißender Strudel gebildet. — Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Venedig (1912)

• Silently, subtly, the rust-red sand trickled through the narrow glass aperture, dwindling away out of the upper vessel, in which a little whirling vortex had formed. — “Death in Venice” (translated by David Luke)

Noise from Nowhere

• Es war, als ob er irgendwohin horchte, auf irgend ein unheimliches Geräusch. — Thomas Mann, Der kleine Herr Friedemann (1897)

• He seemed somehow to be listening, listening to some uncanny noise from nowhere. — “Little Herr Friedemann” (translated by David Luke)

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #46

“… for comic effect he also drew on neglected Arabic words, including buldah, or ‘freedom from hair of the space between the eyebrows’, and bahsala, to ‘remove one’s clothes and gamble with them’.” — Christopher de Bellaigue, The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle between Faith and Reason (2017), writing of the Lebanese Christian Maronite novelist Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1805-87) (ch. 5, Vortex, pg. 167)

Hair Today

“We had a roadie guarding his dressing room, to stop him [Graham Bonnet] getting out, because he was threatening to have his hair cut. It was very petty, but it had become an obsession with me. But he got out of the back window and went and got his hair cut. I didn’t see him until we went on stage, and, sure enough, he’d had his hair cut really short. He was doing it just to annoy me.” — Ritchie Blackmore: “[…] Music is very serious”, The Guardian, 25/v/2017

Pedal to the Medal

“Once, in a contest with a rival, he painted a blue curve on a huge sheet of paper. Then he dipped the feet of a chicken in red paint and persuaded the bird to walk all over the paper. The resulting image, he said, represented the Tatsuta river with red maple leaves floating in it. The judge gave him the prize.” — The Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (c. 1760-1849) described in Thomas W. Hodgkinson’s and Hubert van den Bergh’s How to Sound Cultured (2015)

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #44

H. Rider Haggard describes fractals:

Out of the vast main aisle there opened here and there smaller caves, exactly, Sir Henry said, as chapels open out of great cathedrals. Some were large, but one or two — and this is a wonderful instance of how nature carries out her handiwork by the same unvarying laws, utterly irrespective of size — were tiny. One little nook, for instance, was no larger than an unusually big doll’s house, and yet it might have been a model for the whole place, for the water dropped, tiny icicles hung, and spar columns were forming in just the same way. — King Solomon’s Mines, 1885, ch. XVI, “The Place of Death”

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #43

Me dijo que su libro se llamaba el Libro de Arena, porque ni el libro ni la arena tienen ni principio ni fin. — Jorge Luis Borges, “El Libro de Arena” (1975)

   He told me that his book was called the Book of Sand, because neither book nor sand has beginning or end. — Borges, “The Book of Sand