What is The Passenger about?

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  • 28 Nov 2015 at 3:52 pm #7899


    Glass: Thanks for the link. I have a fragmented memory of this: Which Bach piece either begins with the notes B-A-C-H (H, being one letter after G, is A in the higher octave than the other A in the name) or contains four movements each of which begins with the notes B-A-C-H in that order?

    To those who think “numeric value of the name “Maria Barbara Bach”” does not imply some form of gematria, I’d like to hear the interpretation.

    Candy: The date of the Leonids in Blood Meridian, plus the “rumored” reaction made by one of McCarthy’s friends that McCarthy had “overread” Plato’s The Republic for his novel, opens up some form of number mysticism, though not gematria. In The Republic, Plato, through some number mysticism of his own, calculated that the distance between a tyranny or despotism and a perfect republic is 3*3*3*3*3*3=729 degrees. The date of the Leonids can be written 111333 or, if the full expression of the year is used, 11131833. Note all the 3s, the three 1s in a row, and that 1+8=9=3*3. Take advantage of these. Using only addition, multiplication, and exponents, the ordered numerals of either date representation can be regrouped to result in 729:


    For additional number fun:
    1+1+1+3+1+8+3+3=21 (number of chapters in The Orchard Keeper)
    (1+1+1)*3*3*3=81 (number of scenes in The Orchard Keeper … doesn’t every reader count the number of scenes in that novel?)
    And of course:

    Oh, and, for the “date purists” among us who insist on year-month-day rather than month-day-year (I could be one of these date purists myself sometimes!), note that the “33” or “1833” is connected to the rest by either addition or multiplication, and hence would not change the arithmetic under the commutative property of either operation. Just saying…

    29 Nov 2015 at 8:00 am #7900

    Richard L.

    Re: Bach, the Goldberg Variations, and McCarthy

    Long ago, somewhere in the vanished ether of previous forums, a couple of us discussed Richard Powers’ THE GOLDBUG VARIATIONS, which involved Bach and numbers and Poe’s codes in his short story, “THE GOLDBUG.”

    The discussions were much too involved to be placed in a single post, but anyone who follows some of the authors I follow,–Douglas Hofstadter, Max Tegmark, David Berlinski’s THE ADVENT OF THE ALGORITHM, etc.–is bound to have an idea about this.

    I no longer think that McCarthy’s ciphers match Poe’s, but everything is still numbers, metaphors and analogies, even if we do not yet have the formula for the algorithm that creates the narrative. We believe in its existence, but it changes as we look at it, rather like Schrodinger’s cat, so as soon as we put our finger on a solution, the only proof we have is that it is, which is circular.

    So Kurt Godel was right and the only way the system can be explained is by going outside the system. When Cormac McCarthy says this in his parables, people scratch their heads.

    02 Dec 2015 at 9:00 am #7904


    …Chaconne by Johann Sebastian Bach…, as Alicia describes it, is built upon complex numeric symbols. Bach composed the piece a short time after his wife’s death. The sum of the tone numbers in the two first bars is 95. That is also the numeric value of the name “Maria Barbara Bach.”

    I wrote above (Don’t you love it when you quote yourself?):
    I wonder what system McCarthy used to calculate MB Bach’s number as 95. I sense it is some version of gematria, but which? The closest ones are: the English simple gematria (i.e., a=1 … z=26) which yields a sum of 99, and the Latin qabalah simplex gematria (i.e., a=1 … z=22 because k=c, j=i, and u=v=w) which yields a sum of 91….

    I suspected it was a variant of these two gematrias. In the name “Maria Barbara Bach”, note that the letters tend to occur early in the alphabet. Only 4 letters, 1 M and 3 Rs, occur later than I (and earlier than U). With i=j, each letter decreases the numeric value by 1; with k taken out because k=c, again, each letter decreases the numeric value by 1. So, it’s either 99 or 99-4-4=91. How is it 95? One possibility is only one of these is used, i.e., either i=j or k=c, but not both, so that 99-4=95. And indeed such is the case.

    I found this thesis paper: “Bach Ciaccona for solo violin: hidden chorales and messages” by Irene Stroh (2011) (pdf format), linked from this Ball State University webpage. On page 7, Stroh reveals the particular gematria used in Bach’s day, and indeed, i=j, but k remains and is not = c. Hence, in pp. 38-40, Stroh confirms that “Maria Barbara Bach” has a numeric value of 95 (as well as reveals additional gematria fun in the Ciaccona).

    03 Dec 2015 at 12:00 pm #7905

    Candy Minx

    I have the algorhithms. They are plain as day when you look at it outside the totalitarian agriculture. Or as Richard might say go outside the system. The problem is….everyone’s idea of “the system” doesn’t include the fact that they themselves are programed by all the systems. So one might want to find a cultural practice that helps one leave oneself.

    And Ken has been pretty much on this for years. It is mysticism in the language of industrial society. It’s just normal life for pre-literate, pre-farming peoples. I still have the drawing you made that day in NYC. It’s framed in our living room Ken. If I could post a fucking picture here I would take one for you. Maybe I will on my blog later LOL. And you and it features in the films I’ve got coming out on my compilation dvd shortly. I will have the dvd in New Mexico.

    I don’t think the book THE ADVENT OF THE ALGORITHM is especially useful to communicate what McCarthy’s structures are made upon. That book is charming to watch scientists and mathematicians from the system totalitarian agriculture try to learn what the whole history of humans knew already LOL.

    Scientists will just never be as as badass as poets and every self-respecting scientist knows this. LOL

    Wow, thats a wonderful essay on Bach by Irene Stroh. Thanks for posting it!

    The utter surprise by people when they realize all the codes and numbers hiddln in art work, poetry and literature always is so entertaining. Contemporary people tend to be so snobby and ethnocentric about knowledge. …really assuming that humans 5,000 years, or 3,000 years, or 100,000 years ago didn’t know what the hell they were doing. The joy is in contemporary people realizing….not only did they know what they doing, they knew how to teach it in ways that their children could learn and never forget!

    Last night I was a at a meeting, of some liberal, nicely rounded educated folks….it was a philosophical discussion around some study on Nietzsche….and Shakespeare.

    And no one at the table had any idea that Shakespeare has written about pilgrimage in many many of his plays. That every mention of a seashell is referring to St. Jacque and the Compesto de Santiago…many times in discussions about Shakespeare I am amazed how few people know what he was doing in his plays…it’s astounding to me. It’s remarkable that contemporary readers don’t seem to know that not only has he linked Protestant religious cults in England to iconography of the Catholic church…but he’s linked the Catholic Church to pagan and mathematic concepts going back thousands of years. So cute….how people think other people who think or communicate differently…are stupid

    I am so grateful that research and academic studies have become more and more interdisciplinary…

    And thinkers like Ken have had such an influence subtly in culture. Same as Glass. Both Glass and Ken are linked to the new research styles and ways of talking about knowledge. Glass and Ken are like the new academics….they are the edgy thinkers who post on this forum. It’s constantly inspiring to me to read your posts on numbers. Who knew it would take 20 years for you to be the person who was actually the one who really understood what McCarthy was up to!!!

    I really wish we could find some way to get you to write some books on this stuff Ken…and get you published! I wish I was able to do it…and I just hope some fancy publisher trips over this site and reads some of your stuff.

    03 Dec 2015 at 12:02 pm #7906

    Candy Minx
    03 Dec 2015 at 12:10 pm #7907

    Richard L.

    Re: Glass: “Reading about the great Bach piece of music, I wondered about possible parallels between what a great composer does and what McCarthy does with his writing.”

    The parallel is that of artistic synthesis. I don’t for a minute think that these artists painstakingly thought out these numbers and analogies; rather, their brains do it for them unconsciously. Synthesis.

    Scientists say that Janet Evancho could sing like an angel when she was very young not because her voice-box was somehow enhanced or substantially different from other little girls, but because her brain unconsciously made the transactions (analogies} to make such music possible. Her voice wasn’t different, just her brain.

    I don’t think that Cormac McCarthy himself is on the cutting edge of those understanding this, but he rubs shoulders with those that are, the scientists at the Santa Fe Institute investigating the way order arises from chaos. I think they’ll find that Kurt Godel–and Douglas Hofstadter after him–were right on a number of things.

    03 Dec 2015 at 12:51 pm #7908

    Candy Minx

    Hofstater was right in that he had a subtitle for his book “eternal golden braid”. The point is that…Hofstater’s “strange loop” of consciousness mirrors the structure of storytelling and art.

    Artists and poets are in the business of transmitting numbers, looping in and on themselves for thousands of years. Thats why Hofstadter says “eternal golden braid”….he wasn’t “right” he just finally noticed it ….it was always there.

    How would you know that unless you were a poet or studied poetry? Richard….it’s no surprise or a weakness that you don’t know that McCarthy, Shakespeare, Escher, Cervantes were practicing something that has been passed on for thousands of years….you would only know that if there was a decent art and music program or your parents had taught you.

    These are technical details that are passed on in the study of poetry, folk narratives, music….and they are lost to most contemporary peoples in industrial societies. These devices are passed on in shaman circles, in art schools and communities that have preserved the knowledge.

    In the same way that changing the spelling of “light” to “lite” destroys the etymology and history and connection of the word light to the past….we have destroyed the common understanding of the function of art and poetry….except for those of us trying to preserve and practice this ancient purpose.

    Of course McCarthy is doing this. What the fuck do you think I’ve been talking about here for twenty years?

    It’s not at all weird that anyone should live their whole lives without knowing the purpose of poems and stories and art-making….seeing as it’s been snuffed out like the spelling of “light.”

    It’s not your fault Richard….but if you came down off your defensive high horse….you might all of a sudden see the connections…

    Of course McCarthy knows what he’s writing. He’s left the overt clue of 117 three times in his work. Ken has told you one of the things that 117 refers to….

    I mean you’re not the only person Richard. This sin’t easy for anyone who lives in an industrialized country to comprehend. It’s probably almost impossible….because the group mindset of superiority in totalitarian agriculture is almost impermeable.

    When your house of cards fall down you will see McCarthy’s structures…and you will likely come back here and give Ken a great big humble virtual hug.

    Don’t give me a virtual hug…I gave up on you bastards ever thinking beyond western European academia and science and religion a long time ago LOL

    When one realizes there is a whole world out there beyond schools that cut arts programs, beyond religions that demand rejecting other culture, beyond the book on “discovery”….well…then maybe one will see how simple and obvious McCarthy has made his books….like Bach in the structure of the music.

    I’m just so impressed that Ken keeps on posting….he is a bloody genius though!!!

    03 Dec 2015 at 1:03 pm #7909

    Candy Minx

    Let me put it this way…

    Hofstadter’s book is written by, and for, people who did not have a clue about the purpose, structure and transmitting value of poetry and art and music.

    Traditional artists and poets already knew because it’s embedded in our art and poetry and myths. Everything about composing and sharing myths has the information of the universe within them as well as how to make a myth. Duh.

    And it’s so typical of a power structure to think it discovered something.

    If that power struggle didn’t go around changing the word “light” to “lite” or thinking art is for entertainment…and thinking that the traditions of the past were quaint….then Hofstater’s book would be as charming to you as it is to me….how cute watching dominant oppressive cultures learn what it’s oppressed already knew…

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by  Candy Minx.
    03 Dec 2015 at 1:17 pm #7911

    Candy Minx

    Or…let me put it this way….

    The following is backwards….

    “I don’t think that Cormac McCarthy himself is on the cutting edge of those understanding this, but he rubs shoulders with those that are, the scientists at the Santa Fe Institute investigating the way order arises from chaos. I think they’ll find that Kurt Godel–and Douglas Hofstadter after him–were right on a number of things.”

    Poets….artists…mythtellers…all know what they are doing. I mean the traditional storytellers….all know what they are doing. They were taught. They are the cutting edge.

    Science…did not know the poets were on the cutting edge until recently.

    You’ve got it backwards….

    And this is so difficult to communicate….to people who don’t study stories or myths or poetry.

    Poetry is passing on information. Specific useful, science-based information.

    Only recently are scientists beginning to realize this….or anyone in the industrial dominant culture.

    It’s as if I went to a doctor and said…”hey did you know when you perform surgery….and remove a cyst or open a heart valve….that person seems to recover and live longer”

    Can you imagine how naive it would sound to say that to a doctor?

    Well, thats how naive it sounds to hear you say “I don’t think that Cormac McCarthy himself is on the cutting edge of those understanding this”…OH MY GOD>>>

    YOU totally don’t know what writing or stories or poems or art are doing!!!!

    And how could you? No one expects you to….because there aren’t any aesthetics being practiced anymore!!! Except by aesthetics!!!!

    And this is what happens when we devalue the arts in funding…and devalue past traditions…

    It becomes a cult that only a chosen few understand….unlike a language of aesthetics that everyone used to understand.

    03 Dec 2015 at 5:02 pm #7912

    Rick Wallach

    I’ve been distracted the past week or so by other matters – the holidays (urrppp), my Cowboy Junkies book, restocking the online bookstore (it’s Christmas folks – see my post about this in the Society Activities section later this PM), and writing a comparison between Bart Giamatti’s Take Time for Paradise and A Great and Glorious Game, and C.L.R> James’ Beyond a Boundary for a sports blog I write when I find myself sleepless in Macondo. I have determined that the offseason is definitely the best time to try to explain cricket to baseball fans. Otherwise…well…never mind.

    Anyway, sorry I didn’t notice this thread sooner. So:

    “Mathematics is the world,” … Alicia says in the book. “A million years before the first word was ever said,” Man had mastered counting.

    Yes, this reminds me very strongly of Alexander Marschack’s classic study of primitive notation, The Roots of Civilization: http://www.amazon.com/Roots-Civilization-Cognitive-Beginnings-Notation/dp/0297994492

    Marschack traced the slow, halting progression of paleolithic epoch scratches on animal and human bones to keep track of things like lunar cycles and days passed since, oh, the planting of seed or the departure of migratory herds – until those numerical notations achieved symbolic value and ultimately became linguistic symbols: syllibaries, pictographs, alphabets. It’s a stunning work.

    I think the book was originally published in 1973, when I was working for Joseph Campbell. I had read a review of it in the Sunday NY Times and ran crosstown to Barnes and Noble (when it was a one-store operation) to pounce on my copy. I devoured it in one night and one day and brought it to Campbell. A couple of days later we were having lunch and I asked him what he thought about it. “He’s really discovered something,” Joe said with great seriousness, “but I don’t think he quite realizes what it is.” Well, over the next decade or so Marschack definitely “got it,” as he eventually added the subtitle “Cognitive Beginnings of Man’s First Art, Symbol and Notation.”

    As with every major instinctual breakthrough there’s been some back-and-forth about this but I think the validity of his assertion stands. Give it a try. It blew me away when I was still young enough to have conversations about it on acid, and it still awes me in my middle age.

    And yeah, you can bet I’ll be writing about it connection with The Passenger when the novel comes out.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by  Rick Wallach.
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