More Lichtenbergian Distractions: the outline game

The struggling, infighting, name calling, and outright legerdemain which is taking place right now on the official Lichtenbergian web site has me tired and somewhat frightened. As a break from a nasty fracas, I thought I’d offer here, in among peaceful–very quiet–lacunagroup hills, another distraction away from all the bickering.

I was going to introduce The Outline Game by making reference to Herman Hesse’s novel Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game, but after stumbling over this, I don’t want to say too much and be accused of trying to make some sad little addition to an already imposing wealth of mumbo-jumbo. I’ll merely say I was inspired in my adolescence, after reading Hesse’s novel, to conceive of this game. Not able to recruit players, I soon forgot about it, but I was recently reminded of it while reading a description of the ancient Eastern strategy game Go (another perfectly acceptable Lichtenbergian distraction, by the way). The passage touched on the “cosmic” implications of the game, and I wondered if Hesse was inspired in part by Go when he wrote The Glass Bead Game. I then remembered the game Hesse’s novel inspired me to envision back in the Seventies, and that led to something of an epiphany. Back in the Seventies, the game would have been very difficult to chart, elaborate and preserve with nothing but pencil and paper; but now, computer layout software should make it relatively easy to play. And I also realized that it could be the Lichtenbergian pastime, par excellence. It’s a creative undertaking, a form of poetic composition, masquerading as a kind of encyclopaedic gathering-in of knowledge in true Enlightenment fashion. No single participating player has to bear the burden of The Whole, however, so its vaulting ambition is quite easy to bear.

The game is for any number of players and the object is to create an outline for some imaginary topic. The outline itself becomes the work of imagination inspired by the fanciful topic. The topic could announce it’s fanciful nature: A Tour in Autumnal Twilight or The Thoughts of Five Silent Stones or The Cheese Ambulance, etc. Or the topic might not betray a whiff of fancy: Shrubs of West Central Georgia or The Facts About Adoption or Bass Fishing. The players are to elaborate an imaginative outline for the topic, mingling knowledge and whimsy, until the result reads like a kind of poem. As we speak, Dale is finding the best computer software to use to develop an outline in the manner the game requires. Stay tuned. I’ll update this post with a possible link to our playing area, etc.
To give you some idea how the game unfolds, here’s the nuts and bolts description I sent to Dale:

A Topic or Subject or Title is chosen, pertaining to materials natural or fanciful or a little of both. Players set about creating an “outline” for this theme, subject, topic, or title by offering various headings, sub-headings, and other embedded delineations. The group as a whole decides when the outline is complete. The outline is to be read as a creative expression, so choice of headings and sub-headings and so on is the meat of it.

Start by proposing some headings numbered with roman numerals. If there is a I there must be at least a II. (This rule applies at all levels of headings.) If someone proposes a IV first thing (why not?), there must also ultimately be a I, II, and III. (This, too, applies at all levels.) Further numbering is a choice; though, again, if someone skips forward and introduces an X, then V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX must also be produced. (Applies at all levels.) Roman numeral headings can then be added at any time, as can any sub-heading, etc.

Once you have a roman numeral heading, you can choose to embed capital letter sub-headings. If someone proposes an A, however, there must be also at least a B. From there it’s up to the group, above restrictions and rules applying, as to how many sub-headings to include for a heading. You might also, as a whimsical challenge to the group, start a sub-heading by choosing an E and expect A through D to be supplied subsequently. Once you have a sub-heading you can choose to move to ordinal numbers embedded within: with a 1 and 2, at least, by the time of completion, but ultimately as many as the group wishes. Then of course lower case letters: a, b, then c, d, etc. After that you could go to lower case roman numerals, I suppose, and we could formulate further conventions. As with the Hindu conception of the cosmos, at a certain point it’s elephants all the way down. No heading need have further sub-delineations, of course

The game would be most rewarding if players could view the whole outline as it’s developing and then easily insert either titles or further embedded headings as they see fit.

I am now jotting down a date in February and a time. Players should send topic suggestions by way of comments to this post. The topic which is timed and dated closest to the time and date I’ve just jotted down will be the first one we go with.

Lichtenbergian Activity: sharing bookmark lists

Not the embarrassing ones, mind you. Just the ones that bear witness to the diverse peaks and valleys of your wanderings and avoidings. You could even annotate them, time permitting. I will attempt to paste what I’ve copied in a Comment. I’m proposing this activity here because the official Lichtenbergian web site is besieged by weightier matters at present

A little time to kill in Barnes & Noble, so I sit down with Swann’s Way…

This is the new translation by Lydia Davis. Says on the back cover she got a MacArthur Genius Grant. I had a French professor in college who told me French people don’t read Proust. It’s in what’s called a literary tense, he said. Probably the equivalent of my trying to converse casually but couching everything in “at this point last year I would have been such and such…” I can imagine such an attempt to sustain verbally those kinds of constructions might lead me to stutter. I’m going to skip the introduction and go right to “Combray I.” Otherwise it’s like holding back in some way. My reluctance to verbalize in social gatherings has often been characterized as “withholding.” I like this chair. My daughter once described these chairs as squishy. But I think this one’s pretty nice. Metempsychosis. Good word. A touch arcane. I wonder if Proust is using it wryly. I wonder if it was a literal translation. Probably have to be with a word like that. Can’t imagine Lydia Davis thinking a genius grant is license enough to plug in a word like that on a whim. I wonder if this is the official Christian Reading Pit since it sits in the middle of the Christian shelves. If it is, I’m not sure I should be here with Swann’s Way. I feel almost aggressively humanist. Pinter was profoundly affected by reading Proust; it changed his artistic agenda, some say. Many long and moment to moment descriptions about what it’s like to wake up from a dream. The “artist as psychologist” is how the summaries like to summarize it. Heh, heh, summarize Proust. Wait a minute, the woman who just sat down on my right has a book with SEX on the cover. Either she, too, is being aggressively humanist, or it’s a book about Christian SEX. I can’t tell. The man and woman pictured on the cover are wearing sweaters and look healthy and happy. There are no italics in Proust. I must confess I’m intrigued by the fact that the woman with the SEX book did not choose a SEX book with an African-American couple on the cover. She is African American, and I want to know if her book choice indicates her lack of strident allegiance to some cultural camp, because you know there must be a number of SEX books available targeting African Americans explicitly. Or if she has chosen the book because it is a Christian SEX book–and perhaps that is in fact why she feels safe and enclosed and un-self-conscious about sitting down with such a book in this pit–if it is a Christian SEX book, would she have chosen it due to not seeing any Christian SEX books with African Americans pictured in sweaters on the cover? Never thought of myself as aggressively humanist, per se. I bet my particular curiosity about the African American woman places me among the great unwashed. If that is true, surely dipping into Swann’s Way counts for something. Fewer commas, too, than I would have thought; Proust looks nice on the page. I’ve started re-reading this paragraph at least three times. Do you think anyone will see me sitting here with Swann’s Way and find it funny? If I’ve started re-reading a paragraph three times, how many times have I read it? Hah, got you. I will confess the decision to sit down with Swann’s Way was formulated in my mind in advance as a kind of “living joke.” I went to the P’s on the shelf with the plan already well-baked. Somewhere in my mind a notion takes shape about documenting my attempts to undertake a series of “living jokes.” And writing a book. And, heart swelling with secret pride, I see it on a bargain table at Barnes & Noble. Just like I want someone to see me sitting here and get the joke. And the person who did see me and did laugh quietly, possibly silently, perchance inwardly, would walk away transformed, briefly relieved from suffering. Or, to confess to my true craven selfishness, the person, a metaphysical being in disguise, would walk away having registered me in some transcendent Book of Days. When I finish my coffee I will stop reading and tell my daughter and her friends I’m ready to go.


We could actually do this, you know. I’m remembering John Russell Brown’s Free Shakespeare, in which he proposes that we do away with directors and designers and instead just cast some actors, send them their sides, have them memorize their lines, maybe let them meet on and off for a couple of weeks, and then presto! turn them loose in front of an audience.

I’m game. For scenes, mind you, not for an entire play. (Marc, this could be a fun GHP thing as well.)

As mentioned before, we’ve got the Court Square and all its attendant night spots to play with.

Any ideas for scenes? I have a book or two of scenes, actually.

No Dead Artists

In the midst of my daily reading, I noticed a link reading “Artists who died in 2007”. Given recent debates on the subject of art, I gleefully clicked away hoping to find more grist for the mill. Much to my dismay, a quick perusal revealed disclaiming language referring to the contents as “…the artists, entertainers and pop culture figures who died in 2007.”

Given the additional categorization, I quickly lost interest. Instead, I pose the following, far more interesting question (to be answered by more interesting people): “Who are your candidates for a list of top 5 living artists?” Inclusion may be based on any number of factors:

  • the quantity of produced product qualifying (in the nominator’s eye) as art
  • the overall percentage or product qualifying as art
  • their production of art (however infrequently) that is so moving, earthshattering, trancendant, or whatever that it bears inclusion
  • some criteria far less mundane than those presented here

I dare not define for each of you either what qualifies as art or encourages your inclusion of the artist. Rather I challenge you to present your respective lists, and more importantly, explain your choices. If you are feeling particularly chippy, provide a themed list…