December 5

One of several Towers of Babel by Emily Allchurch

"The library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order)."
Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library At Babel”

Early comments on this blog include several asking why so many dates appear to be "random" and "arbitrary" - "why this one's birth but that one's death?" is the most common. And indeed, sometimes, appearance is as appearance seems; blogs get posted in an entirely random and arbitrary manner, because that is when I happened to research it; or on a whim; or because it took my fancy (God apparently works in the same haphazard manner, and also calls it Order); in several cases because I had no date for the item (Beruriah coming soon on January 12 for example, and Nursery Rhymes ditto on March 15), but also dates with nothing at all on them... and so I resolved both problems by employing each other as each other's solution.

But behind the randomness there is also a serious purpose: a wish to break away from the illusion of linear time and create a structure for the book that more accurately represents the helictical nature of time. Helictical, not spiral, certainly not cyclical. That is another of our illusions about time. Cyclical infers that the identical events recur, whereas in reality they are only similar events, containing elements of the previous one, but still uniquely individual, like genomes. But it seems to me that our ability to learn from history depends, to a considerable degree, on our ability to transcend both of these illusions, to see history as part of time, and time as part of history, eternally simultaneous, in constant flux and reflux, and with each cause leading to each effect, but also altered, at least in our perception, by that effect, and by the next cause, the next effect.

So, on today's page, because my diary for December 5th 2003 has an annotated page of possible choices for the day's entry, but almost nothing that I even want to place in amber mode, let alone consider for a journey into the green; so why not take the opportunity to have this conversation - which is, after all, about the method and the substance of this book.

December 5 (2003)

Choices for the Book of Days should eventually, over a period of many years, have the same effect as bowling averages or cost-of-living indexes, the provision of a mean statistical outcome. On any given day that I scour the almanacs, I am looking for something or somebody that interests me sufficiently to pass a half an hour finding out a little more about them. What I choose becomes a predictable pattern, and thereby holds up a mirror to identity. What I do not choose is also a usable statistic, and for the same reason. In between there are people/events that I might well have chosen, and rejected only because they were too similar, or too elaborate, or... so perhaps even these indices are still only provisional, hypothetical, speculative. (Perhaps Douglas Adams’ 42 is not actually an answer in itself, but only the rounding up - or down - of the mean of several possible answers!)

So, taking today, but stopping at 1920 because there is no more room on the page:-

Pope Boniface VIII’s decree Ausculta fili
not interesting
500 Jews are massacred at Nuremberg in Black Death riots
not again!
Bishop Jona of Moscow chosen as Metropolitan of Kiev
how exciting!
Earthquake strikes Naples; about 35,000 die
cf Voltaire’s Candide
Columbus discovers El Hispaniola, Haiti
cf Grahame Green: The Comedians [1]
Jews are expelled from Portugal by order of King Manuel I
again again! [2]
Niccolo Sfondrati chosen Pope Gregory XIV
worth a look; no, looked, not interesting
Giulio Caccini’s “Eurydice” premieres in Florence
never heard of it
Battle at Leuthen: Prussian army beats Austrians
London auctioneers Christie’s holds their 1st sale
could be fun to use Chatwin for this
Phi Beta Kappa. 1st American scholastic fraternity (William & Mary College) is founded
not the college but the Greek & the Oxbridge connections
George Washington re-elected US President, John Adams Vice-President
Government troops occupy Hasselt
Where is Hasselt?
Thomas Jefferson re-elected US President, George Clinton Vice-President
no (any relation of Bill?)
Lubeck surrenders to allied armies
I've heard of Lubeck
Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonique fantastique” premieres in Paris
worth an entry (but I already have Berlioz on Dec 11)
Former President John Quincy Adams takes his seat as member of House of Representatives
Andrew Jackson re-elected President of US, Martin Van Buren Vice-President
Hector Berlioz’ “Requiem” premieres
no, because of 1830
Uprising under William Lyon Mackenzie in Canada
Yes, but only because of my move to Toronto; and then no, because he's already in "Leo Bloom"
C.F.Schoenbein obtains patent for cellulose nitrate explosive
Who? What? Why?
President Polk triggers Gold Rush of ’49, confirms California gold discovery
A good idea for a short story - by Jack London, not me
Aaron Allen of Boston patents folding theater chair
worth a cartoon? [3]
Dion Boucicault’s “Octaroon” premieres in New York NY
Are you kidding?
Gatling gun patented
another cartoon?
Battle of Coffeeville MS
just because of the name, yes
1st American bicycle college opens (New York)
just because it’s so weird, yes [4]
Daniel Stillson (Massachusetts) patents 1st practical pipe wrench
no, because of the 2 above
Fire at Brooklyn Theatre kills 295, trampled or burned to death
possible; best if it was an Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Harry Potter and the Marketing Scam, and they gave up writing or composing altogether in honour of the people killed in the scramble to get me out of here. I'd happily write about that
1st automatic telephone switching system patented
47th Congress (1881-83) convenes
come off it
Stanley’s expedition reaches plateau at Lake Albert, Congo
"Doctor Noah I presume"
Berlioz’ opera “Les Troyens” premieres in Karlsruhe
no - is this coincidence or satire?
Anti-semite Hermann Ahlwardt elected to Germany’s Reichstag
ought to be but not
1st electric car (built in Toronto) could go 15 miles between charges
yes, but see 1837
Georges Feydeaus’ “L’hôtel du libre échange” premieres in Paris
worth a momentary thought, then reject it
Henrik Ibsen’s “Kejsor og Galileer” premieres in Leipzig
Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal) becomes PM of England
no [5]
British Government - Balfour resigns
no [6]
1st football uniform numerals used (University of Pittsburgh)
potential for some serious fun; but no
6th CFL Grey Cup: Toronto Argonauts defeats University of Toronto. 14-2
no [7]
Oil refinery on Curaçao opens
Pro football playoff game Akron v Buffalo 0-0 tie, title undecided
no [8]

[1] and my tale "The View From Hispaniola" in "The Captive Bride"

[2] and see Roderigo Lopes

[3] worth noting that I have no note on the page as to where I found this particular list, but I didn’t generally use American-generated ones, because frankly there weren’t many; and yet this list is quite ludicrously US-centric; did nothing at all happen, in the whole of history, between Baghdad and Kabul going eastwards, between the Yukon and Yokinawa, going west? “A Journey In Time’ suffers from precisely this flaw.

[4] and a follow-up satire on today’s US colleges - PhDs in quarterbacking and the number of top golfers who went to - Atlanta was it? High-school students who I knew, who got scholarships to wear sexy bikinis while playing beach volleyball, or lycra suits for rowing. Or the "experiential" work for another student-I-knew's film course, in which his essay on Truffaut and Film Noir was late because he had to film the training sessions before the college superbowl. I like the idea that Americans need to go to college in order to learn how to ride a bike. With or without training wheels? (On the other hand, see 1908)

[5] shouldn’t that be “PM of Great Britain”? Or of “the United Kingdom” even? Bizarre enough to see what the historians choose to remember, what to ignore, what to wilfully and deliberately leave out; but then there is history as propaganda. “PM of England and its Welsh, Scottish, Irish and other colonies”? I must go back and see what dates of significance are missing from this catalogue, and footnote them.

[6] and then there is the simple laziness or ineptitude of the chronicler, the historian, the journalist. Has he simply cut and pasted data from other sources, not bothering to check, cross-check, edit, correct? How else does "England" in the last become "British" in this? And if so, is that how Wikipedia works - a bot, a computer robot, trawling cyberspace like an Atlantic fisherman, bringing back the intended cod, but mixed up with so much bream and sea-weed, halibut and crab, the entire enterprise is rendered worthless? And sadly, yes, that is precisely how Wikipedia works, and why I will not use it.

[7] that should read "why would anyone have given a damn, even at the time?" And, December 5th 1914 - wasn’t that there a minor skirmish of some sort going on in Europe at the time?

[8] Fool, Prashker - you missed out on an opportunity to write the greatest satirical novel in human history. A sequel to the David Kalischer novel entitled "A Journey In Non-Time", in which a severely dislectic historian writes an account, spelled as best he can, and grammatically and syntactically error-riddled, of all the most insignificant non-events of history, the ones that somebody actually bothered to record, like this one. (And wouldn’t that last entry be even better if it could have recorded that nobody turned up to watch the game).

But there are one or two items that can be parked behind the STOP sign, waiting till the road is tarred and the traffic lights plugged in

Christina Rossetti, born today in 

Fritz Lang, film director, born today in 1890

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer, died (yes, this one definitely on his death-date), today in 1791: in poverty, possibly driven to it by Saglieri...

And today in 1955, the bus boycott began in Montgomery, Alabama (see December 1). Did it really take so very little time, from Rosa's refusal to a black people's boycott? Amazing.

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