August 27, 2005

Another face and some meandering about unreadable words.

Yesterday, we saw the Face on the Barroom Floor. Here's a face I saw today, stenciled on a curb. What does it say?

Signs

(Enlarge.)

I'm fascinated by the almost legible. Have you ever imagined there were words somewhere that you could almost read? That's a theme in the movie "Waking Life," by the way. Did you like that movie? Did you like it as much as "Slacker"? I ask, deviating from the theme in a Slackerish way. In "Waking Life," the subject is the way you can't read in a dream. If you try, you won't be able to make out the words.

Maybe if you're getting a bit psychotic — struggling with that brain asymmetry — or using some psychotropic drugs, you'll think you're seeing letters rising up out of textured surfaces like that curb. Don't lose yourself trying to read those nonexistent words.

This subject is making me think of "The Shining," where the little boy keeps trying to read a word on the wall until finally he can and it's very shocking. Good horror idea! There must be many other stories about mysteriously nearly readable writing.

Here's a picture of my ex-husband from long ago. He's reading a book, and you can almost read the title of the book. Why does near legibility make the book seem so important? Why such fascination with things we can't quite see or understand?

Is there a theme of the day on this blog??

9 comments:

Elizabeth said...

That's a great picture of your ex. The face on the book echoes his in a ghostly way (no beard, but the tilt of the head is nearly parallel, and the darkness of the brows and facial hair are repeating images.)

XWL said...

"Goddess of the moment alone" (the smoke wafting up from the lit end of the cigarette mixing with the lettering makes the barely legible even less so).

If it doens't say that, it should.

(and as an aside, I think humans are misclassified as man the tool user, and instead should be classified as man the recognizer of patterns, that brain quirk I suspect was our real competitive advantage compared to the other human species we competed against)

Dave said...

And your ex is reading "Nostromo."

Pete said...

I know what the book is, since I have the same edition, but I won't disclose it, unless asked.

XWL said...

The book your husband is reading is "Nostromo" by Joseph Conrad, the length of the book is just about right for that story, and it seems like the kind of book that would have that kind of cover illustration from a late 60s early 70s paperback edition

(being nearsighted is good practice for this game, give me another, give me another!)

(And my previous aside might fit with the schizophrenia post, the price we pay for discerning patterns is the occaisonal recognition of false ones (and some would say God falls into that category))

and dave beat me to the post about the title, but honest I was typing this before his post

(those parenthetical statements will get you everytime)

Mark Daniels said...

While the mystery of the illegible book cover appears to have been solved, I think your original point is an interesting one.

There's something mesmerizing about the faintly illegible. What's the print at the top of the paper being held by the President in a news photo? What product is being advertised on the faint and fading billboard? What are the last four digits of the number of the phone in the picture of the rock star?

I suppose that part of our fascination with the illegible is that it holds the promise held out by all mysteries: some deeper insight, some sense that we've figured out something about the universe others haven't yet been able to fathom.

Back in the late 60s, "Paul is dead" rumors about Paul McCartney were fueled by seemingly knowledgeable people reading all sorts of signs that to the rest of we mortals had meant nothing: McCartney walking barefooted--like an Indian corpse--on the cover of 'Abbey Road;' Lennon's utterance of "Stawberry Fields," which some heard as, "I bury Paul," at the end of that song; sonic analyses of Macca vocals ostensibly showing that recordings from 1964 and 1968 had to have been done by different singers; McCartney being the only one of the Beatles with his back to the camera in an image on the back of the album sleeve. (Something I surmise he did with the memory of how ex-Beatle and non-musician Stuart Sutcliffe often performed onstage as a means of hiding the fact that he simply couldn't play bass.)

We create mysteries even when there aren't any. They make life more interesting and make us feel that there's a spark of excitement even in mundane circumstances. I liken this impulse to the inclination seen in something I did as a kid on Christmas mornings. I so loved the feelings of discovery and delight I experienced when I approached the Christmas tree that, later in the day, I would shove the presents back where they'd been and try to recapture the sense of wonder and mystery that had greeted me when I first awoke that morning.

As a really young child, I also used to look at the grain in my closet doors at night and imagined seeing some image or message that no one else had noticed before.

I think that this love of mystery--of mystery solved and mystery unknown--may be among the reasons that you're not the only one who's attracted to illegibility.

Just some thoughts.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it's fascinating probably because it frustrates the part of the brain that deciphers language. Like a bit of code that just won't quite fit, but the brain keeps trying and trying.

Incidentally I've always been able to read in my dreams. I never thought that that was strange. Is it?

Mark Daniels said...

Freeman:
I don't know if that's strange or not. But I can't remember a single dream I've had--and I admit that I don't usually remember my dreams--in which I've read.

Pete said...

D’oh! Looks like Dave beat my post, revealing the mystery, with Leroy W close behind, making my post look rather foolish. Easy enough to do, I guess, but I wonder, now that the mystery is solved, is the picture of Richard is less compelling? I know it is for me: now it’s just a picture of a man who looks like Al Pacino reading a book. Yawn.