Saturday, January 17, 2015

a light crown of tufty scum standing high

A proposition affirms every proposition that follows from it.

Wittgenstein, tr Pears/McGuinness, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Now, at the end of the spring runoff, dead creatures were everywhere. Osmotic shock had killed shrimp outnumbering the flies. Corpses, a couple of centimetres each, lay in hydrogen-sulphide decaying stink. Interlayered with the oolites on the bottom of the lake was a kind of galatine of brine shrimp, the greasy black muck of quintillions dead.

John McPhee, Basin and Range

In an enclave of rocks the peaks of the water romped and wandered and a light crown of tufty scum standing high on the surface kept slowly turning round: chips of it blew off and gadded about without weight in the air.

From the diary of Gerard Manly Hopkins, August 16th, 1873


  1. Brilliant! Propositions as "tufty scum...gadded about without weight." Conclusions as "greasy black muck." I am planning a novel that will feature a philosopher much like Wittgenstein in his Tractatus phase (before he began arguing against those particular claims). I may steal this idea when I write my book. I apologize in advance for forgetting from where I will have stolen it.

    1. Theft, inspiration, potayto, potahto. I'm still puzzled myself about the way those three bits seem to add up to something. I don't know quite what they're doing. But now I'm wondering if my aversion to McPhee's writing comes from the contrast I can see here, now that I've put him next to Hopkins; the fact that his words are evocative only as definitions ("stink," "quintillions dead") and not also as shapes that the sentences move through, whereas in H. you have rolling sounds like "tufty scum standing high," and each word pulls its weight poetically as well as dictionarily.

    2. There's no action at the metaphorical level in McPhee's language. Whereas Hopkins' water and scum dance together. A list of facts versus a ballet.