The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Anomalous Music

March 16th, 2015 · 1 Comment


I will be presenting three programs of “Anomalous Music” at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. They will be in the form of informal talks, with musical examples on keyboard.

Wednesday, March 25: Music from the Ultraterrestrials; music attributed to fairies, banshees, trowies, gnomes, ghosts, aliens, and other supposedly nonhuman creatures. Selections include fairy tunes from Norway and the British Isles and the channeled piano music of Rosemary Brown.

Wednesday, April 1: Music from the Occult; music by Rosicrucians, alchemists, Thelemites, and members of various secret societies. Selections include Athanasius Kircher’s music of the spheres, Lawsonomy hymns, and a puzzling tune by Paschal Beverly Randolph. Plus: the proper use of a monochord.

Wednesday, April 8: A Collection of Curiosities; agricultural plainchant, artificial musical languages, the music of Rameau’s Nephew, the troubling history of the gizmo harp, and other oddities.

All events are at 8pm; admission is $8 apiece, or $20 for all three. The Morbid Anatomy Museum is at 424 Third Ave, in Brooklyn, at the corner of 7th Street. Their website is

(Depicted: Robert Fludd’s Celestial Monochord. Posted by Doug Skinner.)

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A Frog Fall in Fludd

March 9th, 2015 · No Comments

Falling frogs are particularly associated with Charles Fort, who collected many reports in his 1919 book The Book of the Damned. Frog falls, however, have been reported for centuries, and I always enjoy spotting a reference.

I was, therefore, gratified to find a frog fall depicted by the curious 17th century philosopher and nonpareil, Robert Fludd, and reproduced in Joscelyn Godwin’s monograph (Thames and Hudson, 1979). The frogs fall in Fludd’s 1626 book Philosophia sacra et vere Christiana Seu Meteorologia Cosmica. You can see them in the “Great Meteorological Chart,” which shows a variety of celestial and meteorological phenomena and their effects on man. Here is a greatly reduced image of the full picture, just for context:


And here is a detail of the frogs, which are tumbling from the top of the arch, between stones and thunderbolts.


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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The Squadron’s Umbrella

March 4th, 2015 · No Comments

The Squadron's Umbrella

 The Squadron’s Umbrella is now out from Black Scat Books! I quote the publisher:
Authored by Alphonse Allais
Translated by Doug Skinner

Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) was France’s greatest humorist. His elegance, scientific curiosity, preoccupation with language and logic, wordplay and flashes of cruelty inspired Alfred Jarry, as well as succeeding generations of Surrealists, Pataphysicians, and Oulipians. THE SQUADRON’S UMBRELLA collects 39 of Allais’s funniest stories — many originally published in the legendary paper LE CHAT NOIR, written for the Bohemians of Montmartre. Included are such classic pranks on the reader as “The Templars” (in which the plot becomes secondary to remembering the hero’s name) and “Like the Others” (in which a lover’s attempts to emulate his rivals lead to fatal but inevitable results.) These tales have amused and inspired generations, and now English readers can enjoy the master absurdist at his best. As the author promises, this book contains no umbrella and the subject of squadrons is “not even broached.”

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Children’s Card Games (211)

February 26th, 2015 · 1 Comment


“Domestic Animals” was published by Parker Brothers; there is no date. It contains 56 cards, with pictures of domestic animals and facts about them. The object is to pair animals with similar characteristics: for example, the horse can be paired with the cow, since they both eat grass.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Dinner in 18th Century England

February 16th, 2015 · No Comments

Guillaume Apollinaire, in his preface to a French edition of Fanny Hill, offered a look at dinner in that period. He may have paraphrased it from the book (I never read it); at any rate, here it is, in my translation.

Here is a description of a fine English dinner in the month of June.

A meal of this kind generally lasted more than four hours, and the diners were usually silent.

For the first course, the round table was laden one one side with a roast ham, resting sluggishly on a bed of fava beans. An enormous roast beef was on the other side. A plate of cauliflower adorned the middle of the table, flanked by two saucers, one with butter, and the other with a sauce of ginger and other spices. In a pot was found an undercooked stew, and, in front of it, a platter covered with chickens drowning in butter.

Then, a fat goose was served, followed by a turtle, peas without sauce, boiled in water to preserve their green color, and a sort of crunchy tart stuffed with gooseberries.

The guests had before them tumblers for the common wine, silver pots for beer, a plate, an iron fork with two tines, and a saberlike knife, rounded on one end to use as a spoon. Napkins were unknown.

After the second course, the tablecloth was removed, and dessert was served: strawberries, melon, cheese, and five or six kinds of wine. French glasses were brought, and toasts were raised, beginning with the health of the King. They continued with the health of the ladies.

Then punch was served, followed by tea and coffee, with bread and butter.

In one corner of the room was the pisspot, where everyone relieved himself without shame, and as the windows were usually kept closed, the fumes of the urine, mixing with the fumes of the liquor and wine, made the atmosphere unbreathable for any but the English.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Children’s Card Games (210)

February 12th, 2015 · No Comments


This incomplete deck of 18 comes with no box or explanation. I don’t know if it was a game, or simply a collection of humorous pictures. At any rate, I like the vigorous, naive woodcuts.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Etiquette in 18th Century London

February 9th, 2015 · 2 Comments

Casanova gives us a glimpse into etiquette in 18th century London, as only he can. Here it is, in my translation, from Volume 9, Chapter 10 of his memoirs.

Going toward Buckingham House, I see in the bushes, some twelve or fifteen steps to my left, an indecency which surprises me. Four or five men at different distances doing their necessities, and showing their behinds to all who pass.

“This is indelicate,” I say to Martinelli. “It would be better if those swine turned toward us.”

“Not at all, for then they would be recognized, and probably watched, whereas when they show us their ass, they oblige us, unless we are unusually curious about that part, not to look.”

“That is well reasoned, my friend, but it is new to a foreigner, so please excuse me.”

“You may have noticed that when an Englishman is walking in the street, and needs to make water, he does not do as in our countries, and piss on someone’s door, or alley, or courtyard.”

“I have noticed that. They turn to the middle of the street, and piss there. But those who ride by in coaches see them, and that is not good, in my opinion.”

“Who says that those who ride by in coaches have to look?”

“That is also true.”

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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Bulletin (31)

February 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

A postcard taken from my book Horoscrapes can be found in the upcoming issue of Cabinet (#55). You can buy a copy, remove the postcard, and mail it, using our postal system.

My translation of Alphonse Allais’s 1893 collection, The Squadron’s Umbrella (Le parapluie de l’escouade), is due out this month from Black Scat Books. This is the master in his prime, with stories, playlets, parodies, poems, topical humor, and more, including some of his best. This is its first translation into English.

Slated for later this year is my translation of The Zombie of Great Peru (Le Zombi du Grand-Pérou) by Pierre-Corneille de Blessebois. This 1697 tale of sex, slapstick, betrayal, and occult shenanigans marks the first recorded use of the word “zombie.” It will come with an introduction by Guillaume Apollinaire, also translated for the first time.

I will be doing a series of musical talks at Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum in the spring. The general title is “Anomalous Music”; on March 25 is “Music from Ultraterrestrials” (music ascribed to fairies and aliens), on April 1 is “Music from Occultists, Secret Societies, and Fraternal Orders,” and on April 8 is “Musical Curiosities” (agricultural plainchant, Solrésol, music by Rameau’s nephew, and more). Details will follow.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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On the Pleasures of Reading

January 26th, 2015 · 2 Comments

This ad, taken from the back matter in a 1920 edition of The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, proclaims that reading is “the greatest pleasure in life.” The reason, we are told, is because reading lets us escape our awful lives without having to get any exercise. Sounds good.


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A Fortean Footnote

January 19th, 2015 · No Comments

The Fortean Society was founded by writer Tiffany Thayer in 1931, to promote the work of Charles Fort. By sheerest coincidence, two of its founding members, Ben Hecht and Alexander Woollcott, contributed to the same anthology, Nonsenseorship, back in 1922. They both wrote essays decrying censorship, and were duly caricatured by Ralph Barton. Here, then, are these two rare caricatures, from the troubled and talented Barton.



(Posted by Doug Skinner)

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