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Spraggle Upon Waggle

February 11, 2014

The interesting thing is that infinity plus one can actually be a meaningful term in mathematics, within the category of surreal numbers invented by the great mathematician John Horton Conway and named and first introduced to the world at large by computer scientist Donald Knuth in his curious little book Surreal Numbers: How Two Ex-Students Turned on to Pure Mathematics and Found Total Happiness (1974), a work of fiction in which the reader gets to follow along as an amorous young couple explores the properties of this wild and elegant numbering system. Not, as I recall, so very successful in literary terms, the novelette does have a unique place in the annals of mathematics and in the history of attempts to sex-up set theory.

So today I finally became a participant in art. I came in and took my seat, offering the artist a banana, because I had bananas at hand and because it seemed to fit the monkey-in-the-cage aspect of the work, as well as Restivo’s ardent (but mistaken) advocacy for the gorilla in the age-old debate over who would win in a fight, a gorilla or a grizzly bear. Then there was a long pause, it seemed a lot longer than it must have been, as he simply stared at me, seeking, I assume, the question he would ask. This created in me a sense of benign discomfort. I found myself looking away, to the wall. I noticed the way the locks of hair, dangling from the envelopes pinned there, moved in an otherwise undetectable current of air. But mostly I observed the boldly cast shadows on that wall. Anyone who is making a photographic record of this piece must capture the shadows of the late afternoon. As he sat still and straight-backed in his chair, Restivo’s silhouette projected only slightly beyond the line made by the edge of the window, so it was as if his profile was just a brief but striking deviation of that line. The effect was of a hierophantic mask, emerging from the darkness. Before it was the shadow of the typewriter, the instrument of the oracle. And then my own ungainly hunched figure, the all too human supplicant. Yes, this was the situation, from the shadows I understood: I was consulting an oracle. I was waiting for a question, not an answer, but weren’t the pronouncements of the oracles of old always, in truth, questions? To interpret them you would have to look inward, you would have to question yourself, and only in this way would you find prophetic wisdom.

Finally the shadow moved, arms came up to the typewriter, a question was quickly typed out and handed over. Then it was my turn to contemplate. I took my time. The question was personal but general, the kind we sometimes throw at each other, idly or solemnly, that may be taken as they will and do not put anyone on the spot but do invite some probing self-reflection. No answer came to mind at first and I let my mind wander, looked at the shadows, returned to whatever had been on my mind before I entered the gallery. A nearby envelope suddenly slipped and fell, pivoting around the tack that held it to hang downwards. Eventually an answer came to me. I would not call it a profound insight and I do not expect it to change my life, but it was something worth thinking about, something I came away with that I did not go in with. It may enter into a future report.

I gave my answer, it was typed up, the bit of hair harvested with a razor blade, and the ritual was over.

–from Restivo Watch Day 7: A Visit to the Oracle” (2/11/11)

After twenty year, the Regal theater downtown finally got rid of the thorn in its side and managed to drive Vinegar Hill out of business. And then, just half a year later, it turns out the Regal in turn will be leaving the Mall, turning over the building to a theater/bar/restaurant outfit out of Austin that is not the Alamo Drafthouse (which has also done early expansion into Virginia), but something called Violet Crown Cinema. Regal will retreat to its fortress up 29, where it has set up elaborate machinery for crushing the spirits of its customers with Entertainment.

I used to take the cranky and snobbish position that the only people who want to eat food while watching a movie are those that care about neither, and that they should be shot. But eventually the bloodshed got to much for me, the stains were impossible to get out, so I decided on poisoning. Nonetheless, I welcome this development, and wish the best of luck to the Violet Crown and the best of health to its customers. VCC has reserved seating for its shows, which I am also suspicious of — it is so counter-traditional, stuffy, uncinematic — but it could be a good way to lock down sales online, and if that helps keep good movies onscreen then it is worth it.

In other local news, according to Albemarle Police spokesperson Carter Johnson — according to the C-ville — there are “183 verified gang members in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.” No description of the verification process is given. Also, this Thursday the Smiffs are playing at The Main Street Annex, along with Dwight Howard Johnson and American Girl. They are quite good, combining heartfelt emotion with distancing irony via strong songcraft, kind of like Morrissey. $8 or best offer.

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