The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

by Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefewicz

A compelling and masterful examination of the arduous effort to understand what hieroglyphics are and how to read them. The Rosetta Stone was only the beginning of the solution, because it was not clear what sort of writing the other two scripts were using, and what sort of language they represented. The problem attracted many of the best minds of an age replete with fine minds, and sadly also attracted more than its share of academic jealousies. Everything was made worse because the aftermath of revolution engaged the involved scholars in politics, and then embroiled them in troubles. Nobody with sense had nearly enough money. The successful solution was partly premised on an assumption that later turned out to be false, but was nevertheless sufficient to advance the solution until the goal was within sight. Naturally, it all begins with a dinner party.

by Mady Lee

Memorandum: an experimental lamb and cheese pie, based on Mandy Lee’s fascinating and experimental book on The Art of Escapsism Cooking. Changes:

  • Lee uses an asian hot-water crust. I’ve had some bad luck with these; I used Ruhlman’s 312 biscuit dough. That might have been too bready, but it was fine.
  • Lee used ground lamb, uncooked. I had a pound of leftover sous vide leg. I was worried it would be dry: it wasn’t.
  • Lee used 10 shallots(!); I just used a medium onion.
  • Lee used 10oz of gouda, but I didn't have fresh gouda and I don't think she was thinking of aged gouda. I had some Oaxacan cheese that needed to be used; I used 5oz.

All these worked well. I was a very nice dinner. One thing that worked less well:

  • I happened to have 2T of chili powder and cumin mixture, left over from some Xi’an lamb skewers, and I used it to make the chili oil. Ground chilis really lost potency in the open air. This surprises me because, after all, they sit on the shelf in a bag. But clearly those volatile oils recondense in the bag but not in the kitchen.
Nov 20 17 2020


Stacey Mason, who runs the Fortnightly Fiction Jam, tweets an interesting thought about failed projects:

Creativity is a muscle you flex by trying things without being precious about your ideas. Those half-finished things you drift away from? They're not your magnum opus. Your magnum opus is an idea you haven't had yet. It might be the 3000th thing you try. Fail fast & fail better.

I don’t disagree, but sometimes the answer is to buckle down and finish the damn thing. 90% of success is showing up.

I wish Stacey were writing this at Cerebral Arcade where it would have more space!

by Michael Chabon

Revisiting the book in the wake of the Intl. Conf. On Interactive Digital Storytelling, for which I delivered the closing keynote and from which I departed (virtually, of course) with an idea for a new sort of hypertext story or game for which Chabon’s techniques seem especially attractive. It’s impressive work and lots of fun, and it’s also a picture of the great modern argument over the purpose of writing.

Just wrapped up an outstanding virtual conference, this year’s Intl. Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling. Lots of interesting research and good ideas, though not nearly enough beer and wine.

I got to do the closing keynote — more on that presently. Mirjam Eladahari took notes.

Digital Storytelling Research

I suggested seven big issues for research, and want to get these down for reference:

  1. What Do We Want? Transcending the Victorian sentimental novel.
  2. Arguments With The Dead
  3. The Nature Of Stories
  4. Humor
  5. Art, Craft, Links, and Structural Edits
  6. Immersion and Abstraction
  7. Conversations With Non-Humans
We can do this now. It’s a few good dissertations. And, beset by resurgent fascism and the planetary storm, now is what we have. We don’t have time to wait for E.T., or even for A.I. If we’re ever going to argue with inhuman minds, we’d better do it now. I think we can.
We have big problems and small ambitions. I urge this community to raise its sights. These are all research projects that can be pursued now, without unimaginable technology or titanic resources. Yet these are things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

The other day, I was preparing a lecture for a Computer Science course at Brown, working to demonstrate some aspects of Storyspace in order to illustrate some questions of literary theory. At one point, I thought I’d show a bit of Those Trojan Girls, just because I wanted to dodge the intentional fallacy. We can’t talk about what the author intended, but I’m happy to tell students what I thought I wanted to do.

Anyway, I usually detest revisiting old fiction. But this one passage, which I chose at random, held up pretty well. It’s the summer of the occupation, at a country house party. Two girls are arguing with each other: Cassie (who knows what is coming but to whom no one pays attention) and poor, doomed, unknowing Polly Xena.

“You? Cassie Randolph, tagged at birth for a seat in Parliament? A loner? Pull the other one.”

“For crying out loud, Polly, put down the chip on your shoulder and look around. It’s not just who has money and family: that’s not the way the world works.”

“Maybe not if you’re heir to two separate fortunes and a pocket borough.”

“I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you, Polly Xena. Stop being so selfish.”


“If you’re going to be head girl at Hill, you’ve got to wake up and understand that everybody’s family is fucked up. It’s not just you.”

“My family is fine, Cassie. Thank you very much.”

“Your father the country doctor is fine. How’s your mother?”

“How’s yours?”

“Mine’s dead. As you know. As everybody in the goddamn world knows. You probably watched the funeral on television.”

Polly stops short, her fury evaporating. “I did, actually,” she tells Cassie, chastened.

“So, like I said, head girl Polly, how’s your mother?”

“She’s a mess, OK? I don’t know why. No one will tell me anything.”

“Everybody’s family fucks them up.”

“OK, Cassie, you win.”

“I don’t want to win.”

“What the hell do you want?”

“I’m your friend. I always have been. Not that you’ve noticed, of course.”

Polly thinks. “OK.” She pauses. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it, but OK.” She offers her hand. “Maybe I misunderstood.”

“I just wanted to warn you.” Cassie takes her hand.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, enough!”

Not skilled, not quite right, and too long — but it was nice to hear them again.