Convivial Question

What are the Questions that puzzle and inspire?

This doesn’t need an answer so much as it focuses one’s attention on what the Mind is doing, is working upon in the background of consciousness. Thus, it makes a good Question for each of us to consider and perhaps respond to in the familiar idiosyncratic and free-associative fashion. Consciousness is always busy processing sensory input, appreciating the seen and heard and felt and tasted. But what’s going on beneath? Are the three wonderments described below the SAME in some sense? Are they all entangled in the perennial Question of how complexity and dynamical systems work, perhaps? We are clearly off the fairway, into the weeds, the rough, the unknown. Where I love to be wandering, if the truth be told.

So here’s a sketch of my own current state, made up of Questions emerging from the stimuli that have drifted across the bow in the last few days. We can begin with the observation of many many thousands of tiny orange ants in the soil I’ve been sifting from the sod that was stripped from the garden space. What, we wonder, are they doing? Where do they fit in? Is there some mutualism with the co-occurring worms, and/or with unseen other somethings? How could we learn more? [partial answer: a soon-to-arrive Field Guide to the Ants of New England].

A second element is this video of “7 levels of jazz harmony”:

which may at first blush seem to have nothing to do with orange ants, but addresses elegantly and most provocatively a [very] long-running puzzlement over just what happens in jazz, and spawns various hatchings of plans to explore further.

And a third element in temporal conjunction with the two above is the just-published and just-arrived (via Kindle and Audible) Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake [who is, remarkably and synchronistically enough, the son of Rupert Sheldrake, of Morphic Resonance fame], which I started to read this morning.

Here are the passages I highlighted as I read the Introduction, to illustrate my habitual process of collecting bits of aide mémoire, breadcrumbs along the pathway:

Introduction: What Is It Like to Be a Fungus?

Page 10
…[mycelia] weave themselves through the gaps between plant cells in an intimate brocade and help to defend plants against disease .

Page 11
Mushrooms are a fungus’s way to entreat the more-than-fungal world, from wind to squirrel, to assist with the dispersal of spores, or to prevent it from interfering with this process.

Page 12
Mycelium describes the most common of fungal habits, better thought of not as a thing but as a process: an exploratory, irregular tendency.

Page 14
Unsustainable agricultural practices reduce the ability of plants to form relationships with the beneficial fungi on which they depend. The widespread use of antifungal chemicals has led to an unprecedented rise in new fungal superbugs that threaten both human and plant health. As humans disperse disease-causing fungi , we create new opportunities for their evolution.

Page 18
…many fungi can live within the roots of a single plant, and many plants can connect with a single fungal network. In this way a variety of substances , from nutrients to signaling compounds, can pass between plants via fungal connections.

Page 20
Tricked out of our expectations, we fall back on our senses. What’s astonishing is the gulf between what we expect to find and what we find when we actually look.

Page 23
Many scientific concepts—from time to chemical bonds to genes to species—lack stable definitions but remain helpful categories to think with.

Page 25
There was something embarrassing about admitting that the tangle of our unfounded conjectures, fantasies, and metaphors might have helped shape our research. Regardless, imagination forms part of the everyday business of inquiring.

Page 27
…wondered what it was like to be a fungus. I found myself underground, surrounded by growing tips surging across one another. Schools of globular animals grazing—plant roots and their hustle—the Wild West of the soil—all those bandits, brigands, loners, crapshooters. The soil was a horizonless external gut—digestion and salvage everywhere—flocks of bacteria surfing on waves of electrical charge—chemical weather systems—subterranean highways—slimy infective embrace—seething intimate contact on all sides.

I’ll also point to an article in this week’s New Yorker, The Secret Lives of Fungi by Hua Hsu, which references Sheldrake and also Anna Haupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, which I read with great pleasure last summer.

taking stock, May 10th

Today is Kate’s 50th birthday!


(see a Flickr album)


My life seems to be a long series of fascinations, sometimes discrete and self-contained, but often braided and intertwingled with one another. They seem to come out of Nowhere, but of course there’s always some grit-in-oyster provocation, which I can only occasionally reconstruct once the pearl has begun to take shape as a new fascination. The last few months have seen a joyous succession, beginning with explorations of pareidolia in November 2019 [though off and on for at least the last 5 years], which led to discovery of Roger Caillois, and thence [not quite sure how] to an immersion in Walter Benjamin in December 2019, and to Maria Popova’s Figuring in January 2020, and to explorations of my library of word books in February and March, which may or may not have sparked a diversion to Georges Perec, which then seems to have led to what has become a continuing bout with Oulipo (and OuXPo extensions), especially via Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature, which provoked a reading of Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler… and so it goes.

It’s worth wandering into the lexicographical weeds to record the history of the Ouvroir [which I gloss as ‘Workshop’] in Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, as summarized in the [just-arrived] OULIPO: A Primer of Potential Literature, Warren Motte’s anthology of translations of oulipist texts:

…an ouvroir—a word that has fallen into disuse—once denoted a shop and, as late as the 18th century, a light and mobile shop made of wood, in which the master cobblers of Paris displayed their wares and pursued their trade. The word could also denote that part of a textile factory where the looms are placed; or, in an arsenal, the place where a team of workers performs a given task; or a long room where the young women in a community work on projects appropriate to their sex; or a charitable institution for impoverished women and girls who found therein shelter, heat, light, and thankless, ill-paid work, the result of which these institutions sold at a discount, not without having skimmed off a tidy profit, thus depriving the isolated workers of their livelihood and leading them (as it was charged) into vice. Later, and for a short time only, ouvroir denoted a group of well-to-do women seeking to assuage their consciences in needlework for the poor and in the confection of sumptuous ecclesiastical garments. Curiously enough, it was this last notion, the “sewing circle,” that prevailed in the minds of the Oulipians: just like those diligent ladies, Oulipians embroidered with golden thread… (Noël Arnaud’s Foreword to Motte, pg xii)

The lexical playfulness of Oulipo is what attracts me most (despite the lamentable impenetrability to me of the French texts), and what connects me to offshoots (or Potential offshoots) like OuPhoPo (Photography) and OuMuPo (Music). As Raymond Queneau put it,

The word ‘potential’ concerns the very nature of literature, that is, fundamentally, it’s less a question of literature strictly speaking than of supplying forms for the good use one can make of literature. We call potential literature the search for new forms and structures which may be used by writers in any way they see fit. (Arnaud again, pg xiii)

This exemplifies the OuMuPo connection:

Daniel Heïkalo’s comment:

Probably one of the craziest improvisation that we ever recorded. It was the last track we played during a week long session. We threw all the rules into the wood stove and blew out the windows. Robert Kehler came up with the title. But in fact, we do believe that children SHOULD be exposed to this sort of music, and especially the ones that are studying in conservatories…

Elsewhere I’ve noted my personal entanglement with OuPhoPo, to which constructions like this advance my claim:

Mr Belaker







Rabbit Hole du jour

You just never know what the day will bring, and how thing will lead to thing.

I started with a chapter from Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, the second part of the first one, which finds the reader in a provincial town railroad station:

The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph. In the odor of the station there is a passing whiff of station café odor. There is someone looking through the befogged glass, he opens the glass door of the bar, everything is misty, inside, too, as if seen by nearsighted eyes, or eyes irritated by coal dust. The pages of the book are clouded like the windows of an old train, the cloud of smoke rests on the sentences…

Not in Kansas anymore, hein?

The word that springs to mind is “immersive” but whether anybody else has ever been so sprung upon I know not. At the end of Calvino chapter 1 I begin to read chapter 2:

You have now read about thirty pages and you’re becoming caught up in the story. At a certain point you remark: “This sentence somehow seems familiar. In fact, this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before.” Of course: there are themes that recur, the text is interwoven with these reprises, which serve to express the fluctuation of time. You are the sort of reader who is sensitive to such refinements; you are quick to catch the author’s intentions and nothing escapes you….

Hm. And so I put down Calvino and picked up where I left off yesterday in Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Calvino having been a Oulipian, this seemed perfectly sensible) and the feel of the reading seems the same, some amalgam of fictional narrative and factual discourse where it’s perhaps difficult or possibly pointless to say what is real and what imaginary…

And then a look at the RSS feed’s latest brought me this:

And I think: A new genre? Meld of sound and metacommentary, which turns out to have been “inspired” by William Eggleston, and in some sense the whole video is about William Eggleston.

You know what? Just google him now. Pause this video.

Now, I’ve never gotten William Eggleston as a photographer, and the why of that is surely worth exploring. I accept that he’s widely regarded as one of the modern masters, and I know that John Sarkowski, whom I revere, recognized him with an early solo show at MoMA in 1976 (the first of color photography): William Eggleston’s Guide is Szarkowski’s catalog for the show, and see also a pdf of Szarkowski’s Introduction. Here’s a section of the Amazon blurb for the book:

The book and show unabashedly forced the art world to deal with color photography, a medium scarcely taken seriously at the time, and with the vernacular content of a body of photographs that could have been but definitely weren’t some average American’s Instamatic pictures from the family album. These photographs heralded a new mastery of the use of color as an integral element of photographic composition.

My own photographic aesthetic is deeply dipped in the world of black-and-white photography, mostly before 1976, though I’ve taken to color myself ever since my transition to digital imaging more than 10 years ago. Eggleston’s color and composition just rub me the wrong way, and generally my reaction to his images has been “so what?”, but a couple of years ago I saw a selection at full size at Pier 24 in San Francisco, and began to realize that my judgements have been ill-placed. So I continue to try to reeducate myself away from long-running prejudices. But I’m still leery of Eggleston.

So back to the video, and its “new genre” possibilities, and how all of that might fit with Calvino and with OuPhoPo (the Workshop in Experimental Photography). The text of the video references a New York Times profile of Eggleston, in which he is revealed to be an over-the-top alcoholic.

…WE LEAVE THE OFFICES of the Eggleston Trust and go to his apartment. The first thing one sees upon entering is a bright red plastic sign with a yellow border, printed with capitalized white sans-serif text. It warns, “THE OCCUPANT OF THIS APARTMENT WAS RECENTLY HOSPITALIZED FOR COMPLICATIONS DUE TO ALCOHOL. HE IS ON A MEDICALLY PRESCRIBED DAILY PORTION OF ALCOHOL. IF YOU BRING ADDITIONAL ALCOHOL INTO THIS APARTMENT YOU ARE PLACING HIM IN MORTAL DANGER. YOUR ENTRY AND EXIT INTO THIS APARTMENT IS BEING RECORDED. WE WILL PROSECUTE SHOULD THIS NOTICE BE IGNORED. THE EGGLESTON FAMILY.” It is a devastating thing to see. Heartbreaking. I was also an alcoholic for decades, the kind who had shakes and saw spiders. I’m not even through the hallway and my mind is racing from “I want that sign” to “What kind of doctor prescribes alcohol for an alcoholic? Where was he when I was drinking?”

The text of the song in the video:

What if the thing that helps you live
Is also the thing that will get you killed
It’s the damndest thing

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Beauty Pill, but here are two more remarkable videos:

Africana Barista

Dog With Rabbit in Mouth Unharmed

which make me realize that I need to make more room in my musical universe.

And that was all before 10 AM.


Shubenacadie sediment post-processed

Big whorls have little whorls
Which feed on their velocity,
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.

–Lewis F Richardson, who “…studied fluid turbulence
by throwing a sack of white parsnips into the Cape Cod Canal.”
(quoted in James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science)

The day began with a by-chance glance at a short piece in the May-June Harvard Magazine, “Will Truth Prevail?” by Drew Pendergrass ’20, which takes off from the author’s reading of Edward Lorenz1963 article and included this:

How do we find the signal in the noise? Climate science is based on the observation that even though everyday weather is chaotic and can be predicted only a few days ahead of time, the weather in aggregate is much easier to handle… Climate, governed by the slow warming and cooling of the oceans with the seasons, follows different rules than weather does…

The article included a familiar image:

(By User:Wikimol, User:DschwenOwn work based on images Image:Lorenz system r28 s10 b2-6666.png by User:Wikimol and Image:Lorenz attractor.svg by User:Dschwen, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)

Another bit of the unexpected came in this morning via one of the blogs I follow:

something truly special is happening in the Southern Hemisphere: The air high above the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, anywhere between 20–40 kilometres (12–25 miles) above the surface, is warming a lot in just a few weeks… a “vortex breakdown” or “Stratospheric Sudden Warming”, and in the Southern Hemisphere it only happens for the second time that we know of, and certainly since the era of satellite measurements began in the late 1970s. The first time was in 2002… during Sudden Warmings, as their name suggests, the stratosphere over the pole warms a lot — by about 50 degrees celsius over just a few days… After the one previous event in the Southern Hemisphere, the entire following summer saw drier and warmer weather than usual in Southeastern Australia. We expect something similar to happen this year. Southeastern Australia is already experiencing a drought, and yet another dry and hot spring and summer could be devastating. (Martin Jucker)

Remembering that James Gleick’s Chaos had a whole section (pp 121-153) on “Strange Attractors” and that I’d never quite wrapped my mind around what it was that Lorenz kicked off in the 1963 paper, I got Gleick from the shelf and decided to try again, but first made a quick stop in the Wikipedia ‘Attractor’ article:

an attractor is a set of numerical values toward which a system tends to evolve, for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system

…A dynamical system is generally described by one or more differential or difference equations. The equations of a given dynamical system specify its behavior over any given short period of time. To determine the system’s behavior for a longer period, it is often necessary to integrate the equations, either through analytical means or through iteration, often with the aid of computers… The subset of the phase space of the dynamical system corresponding to the typical behavior is the attractor…

An attractor is called strange if it has a fractal structure. This is often the case when the dynamics on it are chaotic, but strange nonchaotic attractors also exist. If a strange attractor is chaotic, exhibiting sensitive dependence on initial conditions, then any two arbitrarily close alternative initial points on the attractor, after any of various numbers of iterations, will lead to points that are arbitrarily far apart (subject to the confines of the attractor), and after any of various other numbers of iterations will lead to points that are arbitrarily close together. Thus a dynamic system with a chaotic attractor is locally unstable yet globally stable: once some sequences have entered the attractor, nearby points diverge from one another but never depart from the attractor.

OK, just barely holding on here. It’s helpful to recognize that a not-strange attractor is exemplified by the phase space of a pendulum, which swings across a point at which it finally stops when its energies are dissipated. A dynamical system with many variables (dimensions) in play (that is, changing and being changed by one another) has a vastly more complex phase space. Gleick:

Every piece of a dynamical system that can move independently is another variable, another degree of freedom. Every degree of freedom requires another dimension in phase space, to make sure that a single point contains enough information to determine the state of the system uniquely… Mathematicians had to accept the fact that systems with infinitely many degees of freedom — untrammeled nature expressing itself in a turbulent waterfall or an unpredictable bra (in — required a phase space of infinite dimensions. (pp 135-137)

Gleick’s Chaos came out in 1987, and my friend Ron Nigh photocopied it and sent it to me, saying that it was the most mind-bending book he’d encountered in years. I duly read what I could grasp of it and was suitably impressed but still somewhat nonplussed. Other books that belong to the same state of personal nonplusment [knowing that what one is reading is really important but not necessarily assimilating the contents…] are Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach, Ann Berthoff’s Mysterious Barricades: Language and Its Limits, and David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

And that was only part of the day…


Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature rolled in yesterday and transfixed me from the very first page:

I’ve known of OuLiPo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, ‘Workshop for Potential Literature’) in a desultory sort of way for years, mostly via the work of Georges Perec (see Georges Perec provokes and Convivial Question and another genius) and largely thanks to my many years of friendship with Daniel Heïkalo, Oulipian avant la lettre. Becker introduces me to OuPhoPo, a Photographic avatar of the original institution, and a company of rats (“rats who build the labyrinth from which they plan to escape”) in which I feel I belong. “Cette association a pour de promouvoir la ‘Pataphysique de la photographie…”



morning egg duo


insect horror

are 3 examples of invocations of the playful, provocations to the literal and the staid.

And then in comes this bit of reality:

(from What Viral Shedding Looks Like During a Covid-19 Infection)

Much to think about. See Oulipo: freeing literature by tightening its rules from The Guardian.

Isogloss bundles

This morning, while waiting in the barn for today’s Zoom yoga session to start, I gathered up a few word books in the general realm of American English and one fell open to a map of isoglosses, which immediately called to mind a song written Donkey’s Years ago by my dear friend Ken Stallcup, who said that he got one good song out of every career. I quarried the mind for all that I could remember of the text as I lay on the mat, and here it is (there might be verses I haven’t remembered, indeed I hope there are…):

Little peasant upon the land
what’s that implement in your hand?
How many years have you been here?
What do you call your mother’s brother?
Tell me what you shouldn’t do and what you oughta,
Now that I’ve got my data I’m on my way

Anthropologist pen in hand
Now you’re standing here on my land
You to me are but a passing breeze
Kroeber, Lowie, Leach and Levi-Strauss
and even Malinowski have stayed in my house,
Now that you’ve got your data, where’s my pay?

Dialects run along isogloss bundles
Leaving little wavy lines across the Earth
With money from Ford and it’s all very interesting
But other than that, tell me what is it worth?
Other than that, tell me what is it worth?

I’m contemplating a heap of books on American English and on dialects thereof and trying to figure out how to make an efficient and interesting summary of their whats and whys, via comparisons and tasty extracts. How is one to make sense of these riches, thousands of pages of words and analysis and commentary, difficult of access and best consumed in sporadic tastings, not in epic bouts of reading? The collection or more exactly collocation would be perfect for bit-by-bit consumption in the Locale of Easement, but for the unwieldy format of the Large Book. A cleverly designed hinged or rolling desk might be the solution, but would perhaps not meet with universal enthusiasm if constructed and installed as a fixture in the Smallest Room. Perhaps a Dictionary Alcove built onto the side of the house…

At work upon several future posts in these realms.

The Blue Ship Tea Room, et seq.

Last night’s evening woolgathering on the day’s activities and discoveries (which is usually an hour or so after 9, accompanied by something tasty in the liquid line) found me reminiscing about the Blue Ship Tea Room, an uber-funky restaurant on Boston’s T Wharf in the 1940s and 1950s, which I visited with my parents on several occasions. They had whale steak on the menu, and the whole experience was memorable: you parked someplace on T Wharf itself, then walked up an exterior staircase to the third floor of a rickety building. The view of Boston Harbor was remarkable. Some searching discovered a wonderfully redolent photograph:

(photo by Nishan Bichajian, ca. 1955, from

There’s also a 1961 article from the Harvard Crimson On the Waterfront by Michael S. Gruen (in the series Around the Hub) about the character and characters of that long-vanished waterfront:

A long, faded-yellow loft building now used for apartments, a few lonely fishing boats, and an occasional tourist are all that remain today of what in better days was one of the world’s greatest fishing wharves. Perhaps the only fish people could see at T Wharf in recent years were those they consumed off of the willow pattern china at the Blue Ship Tea Room, a popular seafood restaurant at the tip of the wharf.

Situated near the foot of State St., where it meets Atlantic Avenue, T Wharf was built sometime between 1708 and 1718 as a relatively unimportant appendage to adjacent Long Wharf, which, until 1868, extended all the way back to historic Faneuil Hall and docked the greatest schooners of its day along approximately one mile of pier…

and so forth, well worth reading in full.

My search also caught an advertising brochure and the tails of a marvelous tale of Massachusetts legal history, in Priscilla D. Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room, Inc., which details a case that sprawled over the period 1959-1964 and turned upon questions of proper chowder. A few of the delicious chowdery bits:

The plaintiff, who had been born and brought up in New England (a fact of some consequence), ordered clam chowder and crabmeat salad. Within a few minutes she received tidings to the effect that “there was no more clam chowder,” whereupon she ordered a cup of fish chowder. Presently, there was set before her “a small bowl of fish chowder.” She had previously enjoyed a breakfast about 9 A.M. which had given her no difficulty. “The fish chowder contained haddock, potatoes, milk, water and seasoning. The chowder was milky in color and not clear. The haddock and potatoes were in chunks” (also a fact of consequence). “She agitated it a little with the spoon and observed that it was a fairly full bowl…. It was hot when she got it, but she did not tip it with her spoon because it was hot … but stirred it in an up and under motion. She denied that she did this because she was looking for something, but it was rather because she wanted an even distribution *423 of fish and potatoes.” “She started to eat it, alternating between the chowder and crackers which were on the table with … [some] rolls. She ate about 3 or 4 spoonfuls then stopped. She looked at the spoonfuls as she was eating. She saw equal parts of liquid, potato and fish as she spooned it into her mouth. She did not see anything unusual about it. After 3 or 4 spoonfuls she was aware that something had lodged in her throat because she couldn’t swallow and couldn’t clear her throat by gulping and she could feel it.” This misadventure led to two esophagoscopies at the Massachusetts General Hospital, in the second of which, on April 27, 1959, a fish bone was found and removed. The sequence of events produced injury to the plaintiff which was not insubstantial.

We must decide whether a fish bone lurking in a fish chowder, about the ingredients of which there is no other complaint, constitutes a breach of implied warranty under applicable provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code,[1] the annotations to which are not helpful on this point. As the judge put it in his charge, “Was the fish chowder fit to be eaten and wholesome?… [N]obody is claiming that the fish itself wasn’t wholesome…. But the bone of contention here I don’t mean that for a pun but was this fish bone a foreign substance that made the fish chowder unwholesome or not fit to be eaten?”

…The defendant asserts that here was a native New Englander eating fish chowder in a “quaint” Boston dining place where she had been before; that “[f]ish chowder, as it is served and enjoyed by New Englanders, is a hearty dish, originally designed to satisfy the appetites of our seamen and fishermen”; that “[t]his court knows well that we are not talking of some insipid broth as is customarily served to convalescents.” We are asked to rule in such fashion that no chef is forced “to reduce the pieces of fish in the chowder to miniscule size in an effort to ascertain if they contained any pieces of bone.” “In so ruling,” we are told (in the defendant’s brief), “the court will not only uphold its reputation for legal knowledge and acumen, but will, as loyal sons of Massachusetts, save our world-renowned fish chowder from degenerating into an insipid broth containing the mere essence of its former stature as a culinary masterpiece.”

and worth reading in its entirety, especially by New Englanders born and bred (and perhaps likely to be somewhat incomprehensible to others not so endowed).

Just one more bit of glorious serendipity in all of this: the MIT Libraries photograph above references György Kepes and Kevin Lynch (he of the still-essential The Image of the City). Kepes had worked with László Moholy-Nagy in Berlin and London, and “after immigrating to the U.S. in 1937, he taught design at the New Bauhaus (later the School of Design, then Institute of Design, then Illinois Institute of Design or IIT) in Chicago. In 1967 he founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he taught until his retirement in 1974.” (Wikipedia). He was also a colleague of Len Gittleman, our photography teacher at Harvard 1963-1965, and was himself a photographer. A few years ago, while exploring in Mount Auburn Cemetery, I came across his grave:

Gyorgy Kepes

The Spanish Inquisition

A hiatus from word book blogging, brought on by garden construction labors and the arrival of the 55th Class Report (Harvard Class of 1965). The latter has provoked quite a lot of thought about How Things Are Changing, abetted by various RSS feed incomings, the April 13th issue of the New Yorker, and assorted free-association mindstorms. The Leitmotif seems to be

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

(the text for which is here)

In this week’s New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl’s Mortality and the Old Masters, a reflection mostly upon his recent re-encounter with Velásquez’s “Las Meninas”, is particularly trenchant and apposite to questions of ?what’s next? and how shall we think about (and think about thinking about) that.

(and see the Wikipedia article)

This sort of reëvaluation can happen when events disrupt your life’s habitual ways and means. You may be taken not only out of yourself—the boon of successful work in every art form, when you’re in the mood for it—but out of your time, relocated to a particular past that seems to dispel, in a flash of undeniable reality, everything that you thought you knew. It’s not like going back to anything. It’s like finding yourself anticipated as an incidental upshot of fully realized, unchanging truths. The impression passes quickly, but it leaves a mark that’s indistinguishable from a wound. Here’s a prediction of our experience when we are again free to wander museums: Everything in them will be other than what we remember. The objects won’t have altered, but we will have, in some ratio of good and ill. The casualties of the coronavirus will accompany us spectrally. Until, inevitably, we begin to forget, for a while we will have been reminded of our oneness throughout the world and across time with all the living and the dead. The works await us as expressions of individuals and of entire cultures that have been—and vividly remain—light-years ahead of what passes for our understanding. Things that are better than other things, they may even induce us to consider, however briefly, becoming a bit better, too.

The 55th Class Report entries were composed in Fall 2019, and disclose a panoply of personal tragedies, observations on the Present as it seemed to be in late 2019, hopes and plans for the coming years, and reflections on the Harvard experience we shared all those years ago. My own augmentation of the printed submission updates to the present.

Whatever else happens, all sorts of the taken-for-granted will be no more. Hand-shaking, for instance. The Curtsy may return, granting unexpected salience to this bit of the Downton Abbey Movie: