## Thursday, June 2, 2011

### Poets <> Mathematicians

In writing a novel about a mathematician and his computer scientist son, I've begun thinking about literature in terms of equations.

For instance, I thought about the famous phrase by John Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." I decided that his equation is imbalanced. Truth is rare. Beauty's cheap. Any jerk can flatter people. What do you think?

Separately, as part of my novel, I rendered the first scene of King Lear as instructions in an Apple BASIC program, the first programming language I learned and still one of my favorites.

20 PRINT "OUR DARKER PURPOSE"
30 GONERIL=FLATTERY
40 REGAN=FLATTERY*2
50 CORDELIA=FLATTERY*0
60 IF KING(CORDELIA) < KING(GONERIL) THEN 70
70 IF KING(CORDELIA) < KING(REGAN) THEN 80
80 KINGDOOM = LAND/2

The above lines mix BASIC's structure with function call syntax from the C programming language, but they get the point across. I didn't include every line I wrote to summarize Lear I,i in the novel. But I liked the typo KINGDOOM, and thought that line (80) condensed the play decently in one command.

1. This is so elegant - I love the parallels between computer code and poetry - both condensed, parts representing a whole.

2. "Any jerk can flatter people. What do you think?" --- the majority, probably, of great writers are (and were) the greatest jerks,...

3. The set of jerks and the set of great writers overlaps, and the set of flatterers overlaps with those. Ah, Venn diagrams.

But there are many jerks, writers and otherwise, who have no interest in flattery. And there are some who write masterpieces about flattery's dangers. I'll take heaping helpings of jerkiness from the author of Lear. A jerk myself, I always liked Faulkner's comment about Ode on a Grecian Urn being worth any number of little old ladies...

But I think my point gets lost in writerly self-hatred here. Spurious creation of beautiful lines that don't amount to much truth is rampant, and what I was intending to highlight. Examples: Ashbery, later Pynchon, much of Merrill.

Counterexamples: Blake, Yeats, Penn Warren, Melville, Dickinson, Woolf, Marquez, and on and on.

4. You could implement your Lear code elegantly in C. For example:

void main ( void ) {
float flattery, goneril, reagan, cordelia, land, newland, king, doom;
flattery = 100 ;
doom = -1000000 ;
goneril = flattery ;
reagan = flattery * 2 ;
cordelia = flattery * 0 ;
printf("Publish daughters dowries.\n");
if ( pleaseTheKing( goneril ) ) { divfactor++ };
if ( pleaseTheKing( reagan ) ) { divfactor++ };
if ( pleaseTheKing( cordelia ) ) { divfactor++ };
if ( divfactor != 0 ) { newland = land / divfactor }
if ( newland < land ) { king = doom ; }
printf (king ) ;
}

if (daughter > 0) { return true } else { return false } ;
}

The use of numeric values for such things a king and flattery are of course arbitrary, but the code could be refactored in several ways to permit non-numeric expression.

Perhaps an implementation should be done in LISP; the only problem then is that few would be able to read it.

5. I prefer objective C.

NSLog(@"Our Darker Purpose");
float goneril = flattery;
float regan = flattery*2;
float cordelia = flattery*0;
if ([self king:cordelia] < [self king:goneril])
[self setKingdom:land/2];
else if ([self king:cordelia] < [self king:regan])
[self setKingdom:land/2];
}

- (void)setKingdom:(float)area {
landArea = area;
}

6. I forgot the king method.

- (float)king:(NSString *)kingName {

if ([kingName isEqualToString:@"cordelia"]) {
return 100.0;
}
else if ([kingName isEqualToString:@"goneril"]) {
return 110.0;
}
else if ([kingName isEqualToString:@"regan"]) {
return 120.0;
}

return 0.0;

}

7. This comment has been removed by the author.

8. I meant to say that Lear's first scene is not a competition between kings, as I think Woody's king method implies, but between daughters for their inheritance from King Lear. So Woody's code is syntactically strong and Shakespeareanly weak.

But I love having three computer languages represented here. Is this the new multiculturalism?

9. 1 ( IF BEAUTY > TRUTH ) GOTO LINE 2 ( IF BEAUTY < TRUTH ) GO TO LINE 3

2. RANDOM NUM SQR 10 GO TO LINE 4

3. 10 / RANDOM NUM GO TO LINE 5

4. GO TO LINE 1

5. GO TO LINE 1

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"For instance, I thought about the famous phrase by John Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." I decided that his equation is imbalanced. Truth is rare. Beauty's cheap. Any jerk can flatter people. What do you think? "

The grotesques is a variation of beauty thus beauty is a variation of the Grotesques . What changes? the sands of time, the stage, the players, the entrance , the exit ( y sqr / 8 ) * random number / x..

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A roes is a rose is a rose is a ............................. ( hold on a second ) are we still talking about the same rose ?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yeah, I think it is a fun idea, however I'm missing much necessary data so All I can do is speculate on the code..

10. EITHER THINGS APPEAR AS THEY ARE AND THEY ARE WHAT THEY SEEM OR
THINGS APPEAR AS THEY ARE AND THEY ARE [ NOT ] WHAT THEY SEEM
OR
THINGS [ DON'T ] APPEAR AS THEY ARE YET THEY ARE WHAT THEY SEEM
OR
THINGS [ DON'T ] APPEAR AS THEY ARE AND THEY ARE [ NOT ] WHAT THEY SEEM

~ • ~

TRUTH IS ABUNDANT AND YOU PERCEIVE IT
OR
TRUTH IS RARE AND YOU YOU PERCEIVE IT
OR
TRUTH IS ABUNDANT AND YOU DON'T PERCEIVE IT
OR
TRUTH IS RARE AND YOU DON'T PERCEIVE IT.

Truth is rare. Beauty's cheap. Any jerk can flatter people. What do you think?

11. ARISTOTLE:

Anybody can become angry, that is easy;
but to be angry with the right person,
and to the right degree,
and at the right time,
and for the right purpose,
and in the right way,
that is not within everybody's power,
that is not easy.

~ • ~

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."
— Albert Einstein

~ • ~

"A smile is the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities. "
— Herman Melville

~ • ~

"Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken."
— William Shakespeare

~ • ~

"Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth."
— Pablo Picasso

12. Perhaps the algorithm needs fuzzy logic. Where's Tansel when you need him?