July 01, 2009

Spunge or sieve? Types of readers

"I like the idea of the Diagram Prize" began the comment from Moocho, who read up on it after my Kafka post in which I made a quip about this award for Oddest Title of the Year. He went on, "My favourite was How to avoid huge ships, something that keeps me up at night." At first glance, the lack of formatting made it seem as though the entire sentence was the title, a very good one at that. Or maybe "How to avoid huge ships, something that keeps me up at night" is really better for a song title, along the lines of "I've got the you don't know the half of it, dearie blues" (the great Gershwin).

"Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers" is the metaphysical-sounding winner of last year's The Diagram of Diagrams, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the prize and inspired by the Booker of Bookers. Or was that the Best of Booker? Anyway, more people voted for the Diagram of Diagrams than the Booker maxima, as it turns out, 8000 something to 7000 something.

I also liked last year's shortlisted "The large sieve and its applications", described as a 350 pg book with many tables and exercises. It's already a Google book (they work fast!) so you can further enjoy such gems among its chapters as "Explicit bounds" and "Random Walks in Discrete Groups".

Among applications for the sieve, we might remember Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was not only the great romantic poet of the dreamy, druggy "Kubla Khan" and the demented and terrifying "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" but an astute social and political commentator as well, who applied it to reading, or rather, to a type of reader. In all he identified four kinds of readers, beginning with the spunge, which I'm pretty sure would be me:

"1. Spunges that suck up every thing and, when pressed give it out in the same state, only perhaps somewhat dirtier.
2. Sand Glasses -- or rather the upper Half of the Sand Glass which in a brief hour assurdely lets out what it has received -- & whose reading is only a profitless measurement and dozeing away of Time.
3. Straining Bags, who get rid of whatever is good & pure, and retain the Dregs
4. and lastly, the Great-Moguls Diamond Sieve -- which is perhaps going farther for a Simile than its superior Dignity can repay, inasmuch as a common Cullender whould have ben equally symbolic. But Imperial or culinary, these are the only good, & I fear the least numerous, who assuredly retain the good while the superfluous or impure passes away and leaves no trace." 
(From his 1808 lecture series on Poetry and the principles of taste)

Try Coleridge's Biographia Literaria or Biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions in two volumes from the Central City Library basement stacks.







Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30
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