Eric Korn

Eric Korn, an antiquarian bookseller, was recently invited to restock Darwin’s bookshelves with inexpensive volumes of appropriate appearance, for a newly refurbished Down House.

Mr B.F. Hartshorne … states in the most positive manner that the Weddas of Ceylon never laugh. Every conceivable incitive to laughter was used in vain. When asked whether they ever laughed, they replied: ‘No, what is there to laugh at?’‘

Did Lady Brewster faint?

Eric Korn, 24 April 1997

In 1883, a Mr Wendell Phillips Garrison of New York published a travel narrative called What Mr Darwin Saw on his Voyage around the World, a narrative that follows pretty closely Darwin’s own line and Darwin’s own words, or at least the less intellectually taxing of Darwin’s own words. In a remarkable preface Garrison suggests that the text contains all a child needs at every stage of its education: a well-conducted parent could match the level of difficulty with the child’s evolving ability, telling the story in simple numbers for the babe in arms or on the knee, in greater detail for the toddler and schoolchild, until the grown student gets the undiluted works. Darwin’s text would teach not only reading, but mathematics, science, geography, history and physiography. Darwin in nursery rhymes to Darwin in Alcaics.

I am Gregor Samsa

Eric Korn, 7 January 1993

In the novels of William Gibson and other writers of cyberpunk, the new SF sub-genre, in the glittery non-realism of the movies, cyberspace is crystalline and neonlit and shiny, a place of infinite depth and detail, of towers and canyons and technicolor hypergeometry, the ‘consensual hallucination shared daily by billions … a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity … clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights receding.’

The Meaning of Mngwotngwotiki

Eric Korn, 10 January 1991

When I was somewhere between one and nine I brooded over the possibility of finding a new number, an integer between one and nine that had somehow been overlooked. Their names and shapes seemed so arbitrary, ten shapes out of a million trillion thousand hundred and eleventy possible arrays of lines and loops, so how on earth could the adult world, the world no longer in single digits, be so smugly sure it had got them all? This worry has not entirely gone. Like so many people who are good at sums, I turned out to have no aptitude for mathematics: the ciphers continue to haunt me, entering my dreams and my prayers and my obsessions.

Diary: The Eye of the Traveller

Eric Korn, 19 February 1987

‘Let the eye of the traveller consider this country and weep,’ said Auden about Ostnia. I’ve spent the last week reading three books that invite tears – and speculation about that curious organ, the eye of the traveller. The traveller may come from antique lands or from modern ones: the essential is that he comes from, which distinguishes him from the pilgrim, who journeys towards, defined by his objective, as the traveller is defined by his origin. Or often undefined. There has been a tradition of English travellers who assume a certain air of mystery, a lack of candour about origins and motives: ‘I’ll ask the questions,’ said the traveller, knocking at the moonlit door. Usually, it was an ambiguity of sexual, social or national identity that drove the traveller: out of the social context, he or she could pass, pass for detached sightseers, concealing their natures and motives (all those cool detached retinas floating around the Med with secret agendas, usually looking for boys). The type has largely gone now. Technology progressed, the eye became a camera, or came out (as artificial eyes will), grew pinpoint pupils, or turned the other way or shut in sleep. The traveller of the Eighties explores the ever-interesting territory of himself, every man his own Patagonia.’

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