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2007 03 14
Angle of Incident #45: Seminar 7, Surveillance, Part 4
Though we sometimes tend, in the heat of discussion, to lose track of the fact that the seminar is based on the gradual construction of an Alphabet of Ideas, there was a certain amount of consideration of the nature of one this week’s letters: the quirky and quixotic “Q”:

Here are Jody Patterson Finch’s initial Q-definitions:

Meanings for Q
In international licence plate codes, Q stands for Qatar. Q is the symbol for dynamic pressure, and an abbreviation to describe a hypothetical lost written "source" of the New Testament. Q is a symbol for the reaction quotient in chemistry and the queen piece in chess. Q is the codename for Windows Home Server and an abbreviation for 'question'.
Q is a three piece rock band from London. Q is a character in the James Bond series and a historical novel by Luther Blissett. Q is the pen name of Arthur Quiller-Couch and the nickname of Ilya Kutuzov, as well as of Quincy Jones. Q is a 1983 movie about Quetzalcoatl in Manhattan. In Taiwanese, Q means "flexible" especially for food. In Scientology, Q refers to a "common denominator" of subsidiary information. Q is also a bacterial infection; see Q fever. In recent years Q has adopted the meaning of everything, and nothing at the same time.

The Q-consideration that followed was, I thought, really invigorating, coming in the end to a discussion of the letter’s morphology (the completeness of its full circle compromised by the cutting of that circle or, in the alternate form of the Q’s appearance, kissed lightly by that cedilla-like mark that adheres, asymptotically, to the letter’s bottom). The whole discussion reminded me of the opening pages of Helen Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (Columbia University Press, 1993), during which she talks about the first letter of her first name as object and invocation: (“H: you see the stylized outline of a ladder. This is the ladder writing climbs….”).

Lisa Hirmer based her discussion on two disparate texts which, nevertheless, seemed oddly inter-related:

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge:

While flipping through a book called Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, I stopped on a page with the heading Unnatural Nature. The short paragraph there described The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, a site of more than 17,000 acres just outside of downtown Denver Colorado, as “The Nation’s Most Ironic Nature Park”. The Arsenal was constructed by the US Army during the Second World War as a chemical weapons factory. After the war it was briefly used to produce commercial fertilizers before returning to the production of chemical weapons during the cold war. The site, now one of the most toxic places in America, was left abandoned until the mid 1980s when biologists investigating the contamination were surprised to discover a thriving wildlife population, which included a roost of endangered bald eagles. Ironically, the contamination had protected the land and the wildlife from the threat of urban development. Now under remediation it seems that, even though the site is designated as a future wildlife refuge, chunks of newly ‘clean’ land have already been given up for development.

William Cronon, Ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996) p.57


In the introduction to his book Wind, Sand and Stars (originally titled Terre des Hommes in French) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes his first night flight:

“It was a dark night, with only occasional scattered lights glittering like stars on the plain. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness.”

Years later in an essay commissioned by the 1967 Montreal World Exposition (which was named after Exupéry’s work), Gabrielle Roy meditates on that memory:

“Years after that first night flight over Argentina, Saint-Exupéry was to rediscover the lights of the pampas more alive than ever in his memory. […] But if he was moved that night to the point that he actually counted those scattered lights on the plain confirming man’s presence in the great solitude all around, was it not because he himself, sailing along in his frail cock pit through star-studded space felt perhaps as never before the sense of being very much alone?
In truth, being made aware of our own solitude can give us insight into the solitude of others. It can even cause us to gravitate towards one another as if to lessen our distress. Without this inevitable solitude, would there be any fusion at all, any tenderness between human beings?”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wind, Sand, Stars (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1995)
Gabrielle Roy “The Theme unfolded by Gabrielle Roy” found in:
Mark Bell. Gabrielle Roy and Antoine de Saint-Exupery:”Terre des Homme”-Self and Non-Self (New York: Peter Lang, 1991) p.249-269

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 03/14 at 01:05 PM

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