Thursday, April 16, 2020

Grey Goo (or is it gray goo?) and Other Obscure Viral References

Goo may have only one spelling, but is it really even a word? Is it coincidence today that in my random (Pareto) walk across the vast reaches of writing on or via or with the Internet, I come across "grey goo" as a term deployed by over-confident writers in the urban centers, likely much younger than I am and (therefore?) much more confident?

The term is vaguely familiar, likely from science fiction as what may happen when nanotech pervades our world in the dystopian version of Kurzweil's geek rapture. But no, the term is from my former teacher of classical Chinese poetry, Stephen Owen, exalted member of the Harvard faculty for quite some time now. Exalted here means distinguished from any specific department as a sort of university-wide scholar.

I'm not sure. I make shit up when I can't or won't or just plain don't take the time to go looking. I am always impressed by the authors, thinkers, leftie philosophers known to young gamer/gaming/coding students of my acquaintance. I can only assume they read them.

I don't feel any stigma about making shit up. The alternative would be to not wonder at all; to stop from speculation. It's not as though anyone could possibly be aware of everything, though as I remember him, Stephen Owen comes pretty close.

He seems diffident, oddly. No big fan page, hard to find on the Interwebs. Easier in China. I'm pretty sure that he was and likely is a proud and even ruthless academic who clawed his way to the top. He wasn't always kind to women, like a lot of the professors I met at Yale just before the fall to co-education just before I got there. I shall love him always, no matter what they say about him.

He chiseled open my mind a bit. I often forgive brilliance its sins, and won't stop liking the films that
Stanley Weinstein brought into the world. No, wait, I mean Harvey. Stanley taught Buddhism. Fuck! Anyhow, nobody's perfect, as Tony Bennett - no it was Jamie Lee's dad - once said, dressed as a drag queen when the cowardly lion fell for him. No, I mean the cowardly lion said, driving his Chris-Craft, when Tony Curtis pulled off his wig to expose himself.

So grey goo is related to viruses. In sci-fi nanotech, these are self-replicating automata, which might be created for beneficent purposes, but which ultimately might overtake all of what we mean by 'true' life on the planet. The relation to what we mean by 'real' viruses is made clear in the essay linked above.

Steve Owen made some enemies, I guess, when he used the term gray goo in a recent work about The Making of Early Chinese Classical Poetry. I can't see clear to buy the book because it costs too much (for scholars only, puhleeeze). And just now I'm quarantined away from any library that would have me as a member. The book isn't available electronically, if you can believe it.

I know the reference from this review of it, which my friend with access quoted to me disparagingly when it came out. I trust that the term is there, since I don't have access to check the reference. Perhaps I can figure out how to get access since Jstor, the entity which was the proximate cause for Aaron Swarz' suicide, has made some kind of COVID-19 accomodation, though I wonder if that covers me, just like I wonder if I will ever get a stimulus check.

I feel confident that Owen was referring to a kind of swamp of words and phrases from which literature was built. Perhaps it is related to Dawkins' selfish meme soup, which would relate it to viruses. This makes quite a span for stringing reads together. I'm almost proud!

But there is no end to feeling an idiot now. Writing is mostly to beat a person down by means of chest-pounding, since even though the ones who get published (unless they're among the diminishing ranks of tenured professors) get paid Uber wages, you're just doing it for free. I am. I'm hoping not for immortality or acceptance into the ranks of world literary producers. I'm hoping to crystallize something like sense from out the grey goo of the Internet.

I mean, it's dirty work, but somebody's got to do it, right? Someone's got to turn all the gray goo into actual sense. No-one can keep track of all the nichey websites spreading trendy memes to some minuscule set of illuminati. Is there even any sense to reading classical Chinese now? Is there even a way to do it on the outside?

I placed my considerable personal library of Chinese classics into a storage shed (I gave away all the replaceable stuff in dead English). It's better than any library which would have me as a member has, but who even knows if it's all turned to dust now; to grey unreadable goo?

Humpty Trumpty sat on his wall,
Humpty Trumpty had a great fall,
All the king's horses and all the king's men,

Full stop! There are no kings here!

We'll have to start all over again.

After the fall:

Humpty Trumpty sat in his stall,
Humpty Trumpty had a great wall,
All of his forces and all of his men,
Couldn't make his shit be a person again.

I mean really, why bother to be original when everyone else tries so hard? What would be the point. My friend, who is a signal/noise distinguishing synthetic aperture radar statistical genius, tried his hand at reading modern poetry and realized that T.S. Eliot's Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is a poem a clef regarding a bout of diarrhea after drinking. I think he's right, though his lit professor threw him out of his office when he presented his read in a paper.

I disagree with my friend that the thesis about grey goo undermines poetry. I disagree that he's debased Eliot. I think he agrees with me on that. Reading-in the toilet doesn't wreck the poem.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to jerk we go. . . (I mean no criticism of the link - it's just the longest webpage I've ever seen adn the only one returned by google to include both Stephen Owen and gray goo. Or is it grey. I can't remember). Here's the actual one. The links returned by Google depend entirely on the spelling of grey/gray. It's what's for dinner.

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