Letter F

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In the 1995 Halloween episode of the award-winning animated sitcom The Simpsons, two-dimensional Homer Simpson accidentally jumps into the third dimension. During his journey in this strange world, geometric solids and mathematical formulas float through the air, including an innocent-looking equation:
178212 + 184112 = 192212

Most viewers surely ignored this bit of mathematical gobbledygook.

Erica Klarreich

Writing in Science News Online, 10 June 2006, in an article called "Springfield Theory". Now take a look at simpsonsmath.com!

dear boss it wont be long now
it wont be long
before man is making deserts on the earth
so that nothing but ants and centipedes and scorpions
can find a living on it...
it wont be long
till the earth is as barren as the moon...
i relay this information
without any fear
that humanity will take warning and reform

signed archy

Don Marquis

The concept (conceit?) here, back in the 1930s/40s, was a cockroach named Archy who typed his messages by leaping around on the keyboard of the apartment owner's manual typewriter. No shift key, of course, and consequently no capital letters. Archy was friendly with an alley cat, Mehitabel, who claimed to house the transmigrated soul of Cleopatra.
(Why is it, do you suppose, that no-one who believes themselves to have been reincarnated was ever an historical nonentity?)

Some of the old tomcats at the Players remember the day when Don Marquis (see above) came downstairs after a month on the wagon, ambled over to the bar, and announced: "I've conquered that god damn will power of mine. Gimme a double scotch."

EB White


I like everything in this way of life for which I planned so long. I like my quiet room, my typewriter, my desk and the loneliness. The loneliness is especially dear to me after the noise of a steel-melting shop. And I like the little cheques. I remember reading many years ago of Cole Porter's first visit to London. A lady at dinner asked him, 'Which do you think of first, the lyric or the music?' 'The cheque,' answered Cole Porter.

I'm much inclined that way myself.

Patrick McGeown

From his freelance article "The Wordster" in New Statesman, 28 May 1965

Freud mentioned in passing in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss (to whom he wrote that no woman had ever replaced the male comrade in his life), that at the age of 34, after the birth of her sixth child in eight years, Martha was suffering from writer's block. Impossible to imagine why. But like other mysteries about Martha's life, this new biography does not (or perhaps cannot because some of the source material remains unavailable) elaborate on what she might have been trying to write. A shopping list, I expect. Unless it was that book about interesting new ways she had thought of for interpreting her dreams, which she worked on in those odd moments when the children weren't down with chickenpox or needing their stockings mended...

While Freud was making his experiments with cocaine, he sent several vials of it to his fiancée extolling its effect on vitality, with instructions on how to divide the doses and administer it. Martha wrote and thanked him, saying that although she didn't think she needed it, she would take some as he suggested. She reported back to her fiancé that she found it helpful in moments of emotional strain. From time to time, Behling says, Martha 'enhanced her sense of well-being with an invigorating pinch of cocaine'. For how long she continued to do this is unknown, but it does suggest an altogether different way of viewing the devoted, domestically driven Martha Freud, who for half a century went about her frantically busy daily round of cleaning, caring, tidying, managing and arranging all the minute details of her husband's life with a fixed and unfaltering smile.

Jenny Diski

From her review of Martha Freud: A Biography by Katja Behling in the London Review of Books, March 2006.

Far from being the basis of the good society, the family, with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrets, is the source of all our discontents.

Edmund Leach

From his 1967 BBC Reith Lectures. I think Tolstoy may have got here first!

Although today's psychiatric establishment has largely disowned Freud, his reputation as a wise man lives on, in part because of his immense literary talent. Rumor has it that at one point Freud was considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature, so beautifully written are his books.

But Freud's reputation thrives mostly because he is still viewed as a scientist rather than as a philosopher. Because knowledge in science is cumulative, with each generation of scientists building on the work of previous ones, Freud's work is seen as somehow contributing to the great edifice.

This is wrong. In real science, things are given names because they have value — hence the words "atom" and "molecule." In Freudian psychoanalysis, things have value because they are given names — "Oedipus complex," "castration anxiety" — and only because enough people have been convinced of their value. If scientists ignored atoms and molecules, these particles would still exist and exert vital effects. If Freudian concepts are ignored, their value, their very existence, is gone forever. Freudian analysis is not science; it is fashion, totally dependent on public acclaim.

Ronald W Dworkin

With his thoughts in The New York Sun, 29 November 2006 prompted by reading "Dr. Peter Kramer's outstanding new biography of Freud".

Civilisation... Like everything else, it has a price. The down payment is freedom... when [it] is conferred from outside, the price is even steeper: someone else makes the laws.

Jack Williamson and James E Gunn

Jack Williamson1 and James E Gunn, in "Star Bridge (1955)". Even 1950s pulp SF could surprise me... This example gets re-read about once per decade, as does "Sunburst" by Phyllis Gotleib.


1  RIP 29 April 1908 — 10 November 2006, inventor of "terraform".