The Damask Notebook, part 1

Harry Haller found an old manuscript belonging to his aunt, which was written in Wolfish.

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19 thoughts on “The Damask Notebook, part 1

  1. Now, as far as Harry knew, his aunt was not an avid reader, nor was she one in the pursuit of intellect, but she was literate, yet so the mystery goes: What was the manuscript made for? After all, Wolfish was a considerably complicated language to learn for fellow humans. Starting with its throat-wrenching phonology, which had many ways of pronouncing the letter ‘r’ with a good amount of diacritics and diphtongs to cover up on itself, along with things like the constant use of back and central vowels, which meant you could never really say ‘Ah’ as in ‘ask’, and had to settle for Dutch sounds, kind of like ‘auw’, ‘eeuw’ or even ‘oer’. Then you’d have other things to try and wrap your head around like Free Word Order, the Object-Subject-Verb exceptions to rules, variables and invariables, different use of plurals depending on context, mood-dependent verbs and the horrendous agglutination of simple words to make even bigger ones. It was like the Voynich Manuscript with less confusion and yet also more. It wouldn’t have made sense for a human to speak in that way, but it sure did to a wolf… or so he thought. Adding on to the fact that few of wolfkind possessed the ability to read; even fewer of them were fluent in the language, and more so when it came to writing or preserving. After all, he should know, his aunt had taught him Wolfish as a second language. Most of the wolfkind passed down their history through tradition of the mouth, where it is told, not written. Perhaps it was what kept them from becoming a society of wolves with advanced technology and a powerful civilization, but perhaps he was overthinking all these things a bit.

    To say the least, the mystery was ever more so apparent the more he kept dwelling on it. So, with trepidation and a tinge of The Shakes, Harry unsealed the manuscript.

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  2. There was a note in English, “This is a time capsule of sorts to be opened in 2016, for reasons you will understand then. Love, Aunt Phoebe”
    [Narrator: The flat Harry had was nothing great but he saw homeless humans and animals daily. There were panhandlers everywhere.]
    It was about a 5 pound book! It was untitled.
    Aunt Phoebe was famously psychic and warned about 2016 decades earlier. Nobody understood, of course. She spoke of economic collapse and more, like the podcasts he now listened to daily. It creeped him out.
    The book had 300 or so pages. He had coffee before opening it. The caption on the intro was. “Have coffee before starting to read. I know you too well.”
    The first sentence was, “Today was the first day of World War I”.

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  3. Harry slammed the book shut. If the book contained warnings or predictions about the end of the world or something, he should read it as soon as possible. On the other hand, since prophecies were BS, he could afford to savor the book like Ivan Denisovitch in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — one sentence per day. He would have to give this some thought.
    It was a large book, about 11 x 17. He hefted it in his hand. About five pounds or so. Curious, he checked the pagination. An actual total of 310 pages, 155 sheets. That is odd, ha. That is strange. Books are bound in folded signatures having an even number of sheets. The large size would be 8 page signatures maximum. He looked closely. Yes, 8’s sewn in. 310 pages would be… 38 8 pagers, one 4 pager, and a single 2 page sheet. He checked the last page. Sure enough, it was a single sheet tipped in. The last 3 sheets were blank. Why would the person who had this bound have insisted on 310 pages when 312 pages would have been cheaper? Simply doing 39 8 pagers wouldn’t require the extra cutting and gluing in the 2 page sheet. The cover was cheap so price was apparently an issue. Harry felt the text with expert fingers. 80 pound book weight. He got a ruler from his rolltop desk and measured the text. 12 by 16 inches exactly. 1000 one square inch sheets of 80 pound book weight paper weigh 0.1684 pounds. Quickly doing the math in his head, Harry came up with 5.011584 pounds. Strange… Hold on a second, a folded signature has “creep” which means an inner 4 page collated within an outer 4 page and trimmed flush at the face is slightly smaller than the outer 4 page. He estimated the creep and recalculated the weight — 4.999375 pounds. He calculated the precise factor for 80 pound book — 80 / (25 x 38 x 500) = .168421053 — giving a weight of precisely 5.0 pounds. Astonishing. That had to be intentional. What could it mean? What a mystery! Or maybe he was just overthinking things a bit.

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  4. His aunt left journal entries in there, the first of which was from 1916, age ten. There was a sign saying don’t feed the birds, but she and her brother Johann ignored it. They empathised with the birds, despite the wartime madness. Their dad worked in Gloucester in the emergency communications room of the RAF. He bought her a copy of The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence, whose work she loved. Harry had the book as a gift later.
    Johann changed his name to John due to rampant anti- German sentiment, except at home. Mum was a good cook and Grandpa hunted, so they never lacked meat. Life went on and Dad was home weekends, most of the time. It ended there.
    Harry put the book down again and drank another cup of coffee.

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  5. He had another cup, then another, until he felt a sense of anxious urgency. He went to his enormous and extravagant marble bathroom, the incongruous bathroom his mother said he could not afford, and relieved himself. The anxious urgency remained. He returned to the manuscript. The journal filled only the first 40 pages. Next came mathematical formulas and things. Harry pondered over the first page, titled “A method for calculating pi.” There was a diagram of a circle cut up into slices, like a pie. Was this a joke? The formula was recursive, the slices became infinitely small. At the bottom of the page was a formula for calculating the volume of a torus.
    The next few pages were complete gibberish to him. Then came this, in his aunt’s spidery script:
    A way to calculate how many 8 bit numbers have n 1’s in them popped into my head one day:
    take the series 1,1 and recursively convolve it 3 times: (convolution is an asterisk)
    1,1 * 1,1 = 1,2,1
    1,2,1 * 1,2,1 = 1,4,6,4,1
    1,4,6,4,1 * 1,4,6,4,1, = 1,8,28,56,70,56,28,8,1 which is: one 8 bit number has zero ones, 8 have 1 ones, and so on. The sum is 256, or 2 to the power of 8. This can be continued to 16 bits and so on. It also happens to be a binomial distribution, which is how many balls land in bins when dropped through a series of pegs. Today I noticed this: (multiplication is an asterisk)
    1 = (8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1) / (8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1)
    8 = (8*7*6*5*4*3*2) / (7*6*5*4*3*2*1)
    28 = (8*7*6*5*4*3) / (6*5*4*3*2*1)
    56 = (8*7*6*5*4) / (5*4*3*2*1)
    70 = (8*7*6*5) / (4*3*2*1)
    56 = (8*7*6) / (3*2*1)
    28 = (8*7) / (2*1)
    8 = 8 / 1
    Which leaves 1 = ?? Obviously the series progresses to not zero, but nil divided by nil. Not dividing anything by nothing else is equal to one. So take comfort in the fact that NO MATTER WHAT, YOU ALWAYS HAVE A ONE. Unless you divide something, then it goes away and you get some other answer.
    If anyone reads this and cares, those numbers are the count of all the combinations of selecting any 1 to 8 units of 8, in any order. I’m sure they apply to other things as well.
    When I spoke to a mathematician about this, he told me zero factorial is one, which made me feel sensitive and misunderstood. Patronizing misogynistic pig.

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  6. She and Johann were obsessed with the mathematics of language and music, thanks to having both a Theramin and an Ondes Martinot in the house – invented in 1920 and 1928, respectively. Phoebe had a collection of pens and small notebooks, which ended up in this volume. She learned bookbinding by herself.
    Thus music and literature could simultaneously merge into some other entity, just like that. Harry inherited both synthesizers and played them occasionally. His neighbours told him to limit this to when they were not sleeping. He did bookbinding for his own journals. This did not make noise.

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  7. However, one particulary night, there was one thing Harry found that almost had him making noise, specifically, towards Uncle Johann and Aunt Phoebe. Looking through a string of papers of ancient texts, Harry found a piece of sheet paper with peculiar notations. These were similar to musical score sheets, but arranged in a spiral order… perhaps it was some abstract piece? He pulled out several other pieces of paper and compared them, Spirals with small dots scattered around them, with strange writings scrawled at each side of the paper, like some kind of notation device.

    Quickly, he rushes into the distance with his peculiar findings.

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  8. The University had a labyrinthine library which had books on Wolfish. There was free coffee and Harry helped himself to it. After three hours, he wondered if he could find his way out of this music library…and he did. Whew!
    This untitled composition was best played before noon, so he waited until the neighbours went to work. Both synthesizers operated by hand motions, and there were no instruction books. One book at the library had some instructions, written in 1928. He photocopied pages for reference and put his pince-nez on. The type was rather small.

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  9. The instructions explained that the musical notation is written along a helix (x = a sinθ, y = a cosθ, z = b θ) from which an axial view is projected with perspective onto a two dimensional surface, resulting in a spiral. Alternatively, a longitudinal view, perpendicular to the axis, can be created resulting in a sinusoid (x = b θ, y = a cosθ). This is not as compact as the spiral form and must be printed on long scrolls. The theoretical form of the primary notation is a complex sinusoid of which a full description is beyond the scope of the instructions. Reading music from the composer’s original three dimensional helix (usually constructed of bamboo) should not be attempted by the tyro.

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  10. K. lived next door and worked as a demonstrator at the manufacturer of these said musical instruments, so he and Harry met for tea and talked for hours. Harry’s favourite tea was lapsang souchong or jasmine.
    Leonine, another neighbour, owned the occult bookshop Harry and K. were long time customers of. Lucy, a black cat, was the official greeter.
    This was the old part of town, where small shops flourished.

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  11. “…and so the axis of projection is perpendicular to the axis of the helix, the sinusoid is parallel to it,” explained K. with a faint smile.
    “I see,” said Harry, his teacup rattling in the saucer, “I confess that kept me tossing and turning half the night.” He set down his cup carefully and drew away from it cautiously, as if sudden movements might startle it. “And then,” he said, uncertain what to do with his hands, “when I did fall asleep, I had a strange dream. I seemed to be floating, as if I was a disembodied camera. It was dusk, and in my view was Leonine’s bookshop, which seemed to be pulsating with life. Suddenly, it put forth a slender tendril which grew rapidly along cracks and crevices. I followed the growth of its tip through the narrow alleys of the old part of town, entering cast iron gates, down hidden walkways, around the quaint squares of the district. It plunged down a sewer grate, through a slimy, dripping stone tunnel then up out of a pipe into a tiny cobbled square with an old dry fountain. Night had fallen and there were no lights in the square or in the windows of the buildings, but the square was lit by a full moon. There was no apparent entrance to the square. The tip of the tendril put forth a bud which grew into a small bookshop. It was an ancient bookshop, constructed of wattle and daub. The heavy oak door was ajar. Within was a flickering blue light. My screams awakened me, although in the dream I felt no fear.

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  12. The statement startled Harry. How did K. know he was slavishly subservient to his cat? He thought he had kept this secret rather well. K. had spoken as if it was common knowledge. Afraid to question him about it, he wondered if he should give him a knowing nod. A second passed slowly. Was it too late to feign an amused chuckle? Harry did so impulsively, but his throat was too dry.
    “What’s the matter, Harry, cat got your tongue?”

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  13. The Queen, as Harry’s tortoiseshell tabby was known, was very talkative and used a KittyMac.
    “We do talk a lot and hang out together.”, Harry said. “In this world, cats are nicer than most humans. The Queen teaches me to relax!”
    K. understood.
    Harry lived simply, K. knew. He had no tellie, newspaper, smartphone or laptop. Just musical instruments, books, radio and grammophone. It was by choice, for sanity’s sake.

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  14. The Queen’s full name was Elida Sorenson, but this was known only by a handful of close friends, one of them being Harry. She met him three years ago, attracted to the sound of his humming theremin that wafted out the front door. To her it resembled a mother singing to her litter. She had little memory of her mother, as she had been disowned at just a few months old.
    One damp September evening she was awoken by the cackle of a pack not too far away. Rather than flee with her siblings, Elida’s ears pricked forward, and she froze in fascination. By the time she turned round to join her brothers and sisters, they had already left her. She lacked the instinctual abhorrence of Wolfish that the entire feline species shared, and to her family she was considered a threat to survival.

    Elida was found by a forest ranger the next morning and brought to Packard Animal Shelter. It was here she earned her nickname The Queen. Elida initially struggled to navigate the conflict between felines and canines as a vulnerable kitten with a knack of mimicking canines. As she grew older, however, her knowledge of Wolfish gained much respect among the other cats, and she became a liaison between the rivaling species.

    With no one to compete with her skill set, she started calling shots herself, and her nickname The Queen stuck with her.

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  15. The grammophone played Wallingford Rieger’s “Blue Voyage” (1927) and then Leo Ornstein’s “Suicide In Airplane” (1916).
    The former had a very Expressionistic aura – the pianist played as if ina dream state, in fits and starts – like

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  16. A Klimt painting. Harry loved piano music and had not listened to either of these compositions. Parts of the former felt like riding the subway, others like visiting the haberdasher. The latter reminded him of his old neighbourhood, which resembled a Cubist painting. Sensory impressionx came at you from all directions.
    It was closing time now.
    The Queen was waiting at home.

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  17. “H-hello, your majesty,” mewled Harry.
    “Oh, Harry, relax. You know I love you,” purred The Queen as she paced figure eights about his feet while marking his calves with her cheeks.

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