[NetBehaviour] six weeks left

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Aug 4 22:12:55 CEST 2021

Thanks Alan!

In youth I focused on math and rock music, writing no prose or poetry to speak of.  No drawing or painting either, but I did take one photography class in high school and did a moderate amount of pottery.  For sports I played tennis.  However my goal since age 12 was to write.

In college I changed to English major, studying modern drama (Brecht, Ibsen, O'Neill, Baraka) first, but only got quite interested subsequently by a class on the Romantics (Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Keats).  Later Chekhov, some philosophy, Milton, one art history survey based on Gombrich, ancient Greek tragedy esp. Aeschylus and Sophocles but also Thucydides and Herodotus, modern poetry like Yeats, Frost, Eliot, and a lot of Shakespeare.  Later I studied some modern fiction, and an assemblage of other genres and periods, but did not excel in modern theory preferring low amounts of it and favoring a sort of Habermasian pragmatism which was skeptical toward and not fully informed about the Hegel-Nietzsche-Heidegger and Freud lineages.

I've never studied how to write poetry or prose, and haven't written very much of the former.  I'd say most of what I know about poetry is just a bit of iambic pentameter absorbed by osmosis from reading old standards.  My focus regarding "key figures" has usually been on the everyperson, which is terribly unfocusable, and on whatever I see in various traditions about the everyperson.  I have studied meditation from a neuroscience perspective off and on but with more focus in the teens.

Thats a roundabout way of saying my interest in Leonardo and Dante is recent and happenstance.  In January 2018 someone in my book club chose if on a winter's night a traveler by Calvino, who I'd never read before then, and for context I also read his book of essays called Six Memos for the Next Millennium, which discusses Dante and Leonardo (neither of whom I had studied before).

I liked Six Memos a lot, partly for its informative commentary on many writers I hadn't read or studied much.  Its unfinished state, missing the sixth memo which was to have been about Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" (a story I had admired since high school), was interesting somewhat like a detective story or puzzle.  One very interesting aspect was Six Memo's discussion of Leonardo as a writer which was totally novel to me.  Hence when I by sheer luck happened to miss seeing the Louvre and the Mona Lisa on vacation in May 2019 -- because the museum was closed for a one-day strike -- I was motivated to look at the ML in reproduction to compensate.

Looking at the ML through a Calvino lens was also very interesting like a puzzle or quiz, so it became my pandemic hobby to research a question that occurred to me about the bridge and garment.  They seemed like time-based metaphors of human construction in the painting -- contrasted to a lifelike human element, parallels to which I later saw in Leonardo's written allegory of Esperienza -- an impression which occurred to me also completely by happenstance.  I've read ten or 12 books about Leonardo since 2019, and some articles, and contacted some experts trying to find out if anyone has interpreted the bridge or garments as metaphors similar to those Leonardo used in his writing.  Several of the books and articles discussed Dante, so I decided this year to read Dante (also spliced into the Calvino lens of Six Memos which is, I now think, based to a significant extent on Dante).

So that's about it!  I'm studying all of this material as I go, making many errors and omissions, and don't have really any education or training to base it on beyond the above.


After writing the above I had to run an errand, but reminded myself to add that last year I wrote a book MS of essays about the ML in the Six Memos style, which is conversational, easy to use, and freely allusive.  By the time I finished the Mona Lisa MS I realized Dante had to be read in order to understand the allegorical and literary context of Leonardo, so I started another book of essays or memos this past January and am just over half way through.  For the Dante essays, I've been writing at least one canzone (similar to a sonnet) for each essay just to better apprehend the Commedia and other odes.

The errand I just ran was to pick up my copy of a 1929 collection of essays about Finnegan's Wake or "work in progress" by Joyce, titled oddly Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress.  I have read the first essay, by Samuel Beckett, and winced to see a racial slur in the second sentence.  I don't know much at all about Beckett, just the title and concept of his play Waiting for Godot and that he's considered modern, and chose to write in French not English.

His essay titled "Dante... Bruno.  Vico... Joyce." is Beckett's first published work and compares FW to Dante, by way of Vico and Bruno, emphasizing their common attempt to invent a new vernacular language freer than the existing.  The FW is specifically equated on multiple levels to Purgatorio, along with several links to the Convivio including Ode 1.  Beckett discusses many of the same topics we've been discussing here recently, and the essay is pretty short, so it would be fun to discuss but I don't know if it's widely available.  I'm not sure if I'll read all the essays, but plan to read the one by William Carlos Williams and one or both of the "negative" essays.

One thought: if the FW is as sometimes thought a dream narrative then it might compare to one of the dreams in Purgatorio; and canto 27 seems the most likely candidate I'd say, either 27 or aspects of all three combined.  I'm not sure if I'll have time to read FW this year but hope to.

All best,


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Tuesday, August 3, 2021 5:17 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Alan Sondheim <sondheim at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] six weeks left

A great poem! And probably one of the strangest I've read!
One question, you move between/through Leonardo and Dante - what other people, periods, intensities, have you written within/without? It's fascinating work -

Best, Alan -

On Tue, Aug 3, 2021 at 6:11 PM Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:

Hi all,

It's about six weeks until the 700th anniversary of Dante's passing.  There may be some more activity around this time; I've looked for some around here in Minneapolis but haven't found any.

There is an article by Barbara Newman in the new London Review of Books, titled "Seven Centuries Too Late," that reviews five books on Dante from 2020.  The article starts with a concise history of Dante's life and works, and contains some assertions with which I cannot fully agree.  Yet these need no further detail as of course I'm likely mistaken.

The question occurs to me, what is the range of possibility for positive developments on the planet regarding Dante between now and the anniversary?

Six weeks is just a drop in the bucket compared to 700 years, so by math one could say only 0.0164 percent of whatever positive developments have already occurred in the previous 36,400 weeks can occur in the next six.  But the math isn't necessarily proportional here, and there's no reason the percentage couldn't be 1, 10, 50, 200, or 1000 percent.  It could also be zero or minus 1000, or minus 10,000, in theory.

Concurrent events also constrain how positive such hypothetical events might be.  Due to the climate and Covid crises, and all other difficulties, there may be a very small window for positive developments of any sort in the next six weeks.  One could say it's inevitable that conditions will be worse than the status quo in six weeks no matter what, due to climate and Covid.  However, they might not necessarily impact conditions regarding Dante.

One could certainly say that human interpretation of Dante is too sensitive, since he addressed politically difficult issues, and therefore must be kept mainly unchanged.  By this logic, any change greater than 0.0164 percent would be, by definition, bad or negative.  If so, how positive might a change of 0.0164 percent or less be?  However, it is possible that the degree of changelessness the planet's safety requires regarding Dante could be subject to change over time and therefore also in the next six weeks.  It is possible, but to what extent can it be known?  Are only wild guesses possible?  Perhaps it is most logical to say that the percentage of change should be lowered in proportion to the risk of too much change, vis-a-vis Dante, but could still be pretty high like even 1 or 10 percent due to the occasion.  After all you can usually change back pretty quickly too if needed, or often can.


When too many topics proliferate for standard interpretations one can get new results that are "interesting" as they say in AI, but one can also just get "mud" as they say in painting.  Just trying to make sense of and parse one painting -- the Mona Lisa -- I tried to bring in words, namely Esperienza, from Leonardo's handwritten journals.  These journals led of course to Dante, because they place the relationship between words and images (or painting and poetry) at the very center of nature, culture, art, and science.  Anniversaries like Leonardo's in 2019 and Dante's in 2021 can sometimes offer constellations, or novel  permutations, but half the time or more they offer the opposite.

Johannes' mention of Purgatorio 27 seemed relevant to Dante and change, as did Graziano's information on Dante's language project (to make a network vernacular of sorts), the vitae activa and contemplativa as parameters for information experiments, astronomical language metaphors in Tolstoy/McLuhan/Joyce/Eliot, plus Nail on postmodern theory and rivers in drought or flood seemed a reasonably simple arc.  Yet one can easily make too many assumptions and every piece that sort of fits could go in a completely different direction or a completely different puzzle.  I don't know what vectors and bundles are, only extremely vaguely, so if Alan's images of the heron and the star pertain I couldn't necessarily say how except perhaps to mention Doré's images of Dante.

What about place?  Free association aside one can look at Finsbury Park, a green space in a city by a river, beset by Covid and uncertainty like perhaps all cities by all rivers.  It opened the year War and Peace was published, in part to help alleviate Dickensian conditions of the urban working poor.  How many more incomprehensible conflicts will its plane tree see?  The range of possible occurrences within its grounds is infinite, in one sense, yet bounded in another.

Though by the laws of physics it can't be ruled out, it's not clear to me how any permutations at all of Dante or Leonardo could help the park or with the park's help change or keep the same anything in European or global history for the better.  How could it be clear even if it were possible?  (A meditation class on Leonardo and resilience might fly, or go over like a lead balloon.  🙂 )  I do still try to see more chiaro at local parks here this summer -- of which there are also about six weeks left -- and a few afield, but the only permutation with any purchase beyond random may be as it perhaps should even more local than local.

Very best regards,


PS -- I wrote the below Sunday and Monday, for the Purgatorio 27 chapter, amateur and derivative doggerel but it was fun to write.


On Canto 27

1            Sage Dante’s passing nearly sept siècles past

2            I read an article by Barbara Newman.

3            The clock of Purgatorio ticks its last

4            To show us what transforms can change the human,

5            Comparing antique stimuli-response

6            Gold yolk’s emergence into clear albumen

7            To fabric that our human beauty wants

8            And thereby may make image for itself.

9            Once seen and spoken, such an image haunts

10          All memory and time, as White Guelph

11          Did the Black, the Ghibelline

12          Of both a coral ship-destroying shelf.

13          In twenty-seven, three times nine, is seen

14          By Dante fire most fatal to behold

15          Since public pyre should grace his Florentine

16          Return, a curse that kept his footing cold

17          On roads of poverty and gifted roof.

18          Yet past that wall of fire his shepherd told --

19          Virgilio that is, to Dante’s hoof

20          Aeneid author holding verse’s hook --

21          His Beatrice’s eyes remained aloof.

22          The laureled Poeta even shares a look

23          A “seem to see,” parea and the like,

24          To burn all hesitance from Dante’s book!

25          Thus spurred he walks on through, because to hike

26          Reversing couldn’t be and went nowhere

27          To nothingness in fact, his soul to strike

28          From both his body and our world so fair

29          Far worse than fire could, murmured what the hell,

30          Burned hot, stepped forth, to hear the new song blare.

31          Endorphins sweet and dopamine that dell --

32          Well really a narrow canyon, rocky stairs,

33          Steep walls that hid the sky almost -- a spell

34          Of hard-earned rest infused, dispelling cares

35          Like last and ashy sparks of fading flame.

36          He calls himself a goat and slumber shares

37          With few but brighter stars above like fame.

38          What happened there is that his brain was burned,

39          “His” meaning Dante in the poem’s frame,

40          To rid it of vestigial data learned

41          Like doubts and fears, defeats that weighed him down,

42          All pettiness, misapprehension, turned

43          To crumbling papery leaves or scaly brown

44          Skin cells that lost their use and atomized

45          As in the old and Jovian eagle’s crown

46          Of burning eyes and sight restored comprised.

47          He slept in other words right tired so dream

48          Is what we all can sense he realized.

49          Some dreams are weird, plain nonsense, not a gleam

50          Of relevance to them.  Yet half awake

51          They sometimes mix an image fresh and seem

52          With parallel a question's thirst to slake.

53          How else would Dante read his burning up

54          Of old debris than as a way to stake

55          His own imago of himself a cup

56          Of wine from grapes he sought and grew to drain?

57          The taken breath must outward ever sup

58          On emptiness within as sweet refrain.

59          How though?  Like dancing, duplicate repeat

60          Would be as a ricordo but inane

61          Because the spot is new and dancer fleet

62          And each new turning is its very own;

63          A slightly different glance each reel must meet

64          And every spring new flower from what was sown.

65          The brain must mix.  It knows no other way.

66          And so to see the eyes his thoughts were flown

67          To match a something third, a story say,

68          That would the not yet real event allow

69          A form that would not in an instant stray.

70          This third was chosen loosely, much as how

71          We pick a word somewhat by chance when one

72          We thought of first does not quite speed the plow.

73          A ripple on a stream, a glimpse of sun

74          Through leaves on water or avian on the wing

75          Percussing lightly in a pattern begun

76          Elsewhere just enough is just the thing

77          To balance in a pertratatto knot

78          The dancers’ feet to what the voices sing.

79          Alike, yet not alike, the mind will spot

80          A match, yet not a match, with subtle touch.

81          The fire with which he had to burn yet hot

82          With charcoal black and soot his mind as such

83          Still smoky, yet in hope of seeing seen

84        The image of two vitae would do much

85          To move him past scorched waste to verdant green.

86          Yet how to move from spent exhausted blank

87          To what he never was is to careen

88          From one shore to another without rank

89          Or ship intact.  A way he saw:

90          To gather flowers on a riverbank.

91          Convivio makes simple, clear, the law

92          That languages do what they want.  They change

93          And dance according to the times in raw

94          Profusion.  Improvised and sleek they range.

95          If speakers fish, at sea they find their speech.

96          Each passing moment words will rearrange.

97          What better form than poetry’s spring could reach

98          This fact of flowing improvisation?

99          Musicians kept the time, that book did teach.

100        A swaying river grass in currents’ run

101        Is how the Poet’s changing mountain jaunt

102        At Book Two’s base auspiciously begun

103        Is shaped to us, and so as not to daunt

104        Our frail and battered crisis-riven heart

105        The river-grass grows instant back, as wont

106        For everything from which life cannot part.

107        This holds as much for images as words,

108        For themes and narratives and place as art.

109        So Lia’s way of living undergirds

110        The brighter, starker truth our fear now past

111        We long to see as air uplifts all birds.

112        An information experiment can last

113        As long as can be imagined.  A time crystal,

114        Announced last Thursday, arguably could cast

115        A shadow of a theme, to distill

116        Echoes found in a computer’s quanta.

117        The simple case of folk songs that persist will

118        Show the same.  A thing can be like A,

119        And like not-A, contra Aristotle,

120        As every science knows it should display.

121        Life flows like rivers and forests, and to bottle

122        It up for observation and control

123        Is simply vain, a duckling’s baby waddle,

124        Not flight from inferno, fiery death of the whole,

125        The all, from which no living thing survives.

126        Something more sturdy cares, call it a soul.

127        To crown us each with one Vergil contrives

128        His final lines of play benign to do

129        Then logic and reason fade.  Beatrice drives

130        The vision thence with certainties but few.

131        This error-checking self-awareness gained

132        Constructive peaceful art and science grew.

133        Or did they?  Maybe we’re still caught, restrained

134        By something we get really, really wrong

135        With nature and cities’ ruin by deluge pained.

136        We see in twenty-seven simple song

137        Consistent, sung and heard, the only bridge

138        From Purgatorio sufficiently strong

139        To Paradiso, of sciences' presence the image,

140        Experience of the spheres by nature’s art

141        Informed, coeval sight's renewing vintage.

142        “The purification is real,” for Newman’s part;

143        “The earthly paradise within reach” we start.






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