The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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The Anatomy of a Circle

March 3rd, 2008 · 1 Comment

The circle is a rich and potent symbol: of knowledge (Charles Fort’s “One measures a circle, beginning anywhere”), of divinity (the proverbial “God is a circle whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere”), and of futility (those “vicious circles”), to name a few.  I know of only one passage, however, that literally dissects the circle, and lays bare its anatomy.

It comes from an 1844 treatise on the squaring of the circle, by Jean-Pierre-Aimé Lucas, one of the “literary madmen” unearthed by Raymond Queneau.  (Queneau compiled an anthology of outsider literature in the 1930s, realized it was unpublishable, and salvaged some of it in his novel Les Enfants du Limon — Children of Clay — which is about, among other things, a writer compiling an unpublishable anthology of outsider literature.)

Here, then is Lucas; the translation is mine:

“Then, I repeat, I had to imitate a surgeon, and look into the interior of the circle for its organizing principles, which I was fortunate enough to discover.  Its skeletal framework can be found in the presence of four perfectly equal squares; the marrow, the most delicate part of the bone, is represented by the sections of the quadrature; the nervous and muscular parts are indicated by the tissue of the square of the quadrature; the flesh is represented by the area of the circle; the center of this curve joins its heart to its head; finally, the right angles that determine the angular sections of the quadrature are the arteries, which vivify the flesh and, consequently, refine the skin: which, as I have already noted, is represented by the perimeter.”

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Literature · Symbols

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 mamie // Apr 10, 2008 at 7:51 am

    That doesn’t make any sense! That’s crazy business!

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