Friday, February 23, 2007

In praise of error

This document has been inserted in the copies of brief #34 I've been mailing out this week:


1) ‘I would like to create a work that comes complete with missing parts’ - Samuel Beckett
2) ‘The fairest order in the world is a heap of random sweepings’ - Heraclitus
3) ‘I didn’t study the proof copy because I wanted to go to the pub and watch Ross Taylor bat’ - Scott Hamilton

* ‘Bill’s Telescope’ (pgs 173-177) is a review of Bill Direen’s New Sea Land, which was published by Titus Books in 2006.
* ‘From First to Fourth Gear: Bill Direen’s Song of the Brakeman’ (pgs 178-181) was a talk given at the launch organised for said novel by Titus Books in the winter of 2006. Olwyn Stewart is mentioned in the talk because she was about to read a passage from the novel.
* The interruptions of ‘Rescuing the Typewriter’ (pgs 182-185) by variations of the phrase ‘_ather patronizingly’ must be considered the spontaneous interventions of a disaffected keyboard in the discourse of brief #34.

Ross Taylor is to blame for the perpetuation of all of these errors in your copy of brief #33, and for the failure to italicise book titles in all three above-mentioned texts. Please address all complaints to Black Caps management at
Alas, one can find errors in the errata sheet. A hiccup with the photocopiers meant that poor old Bill Direen's books still lack italicised titles, and I didn't really mean to blame Ross Taylor for the errors in brief #33 , which was at the printers this time last year.

Error seems to be inevitable, even in errata sheets. When Jack Ross was using the brief books imprint to publish a fine collection of Kendrick Smithyman's translations of Italian poems a couple of years ago, he too resorted to an errata sheet, only to commit new errors there.

Perhaps a little humility is called for in these matters? Alan Loney, the founding editor of brief back in the mid-90s, wrote a sequence of poems about the death of his father which ended with these lines:

he sd, he's sad, all sorts of
things about the house were
yet undone, he was too sick
to do them, that he had un-
finished business here. I told
him of a story a friend related
to me, of Navajo rug-makers
who include one false stitch in
an otherwise perfect pattern to
remind them it's not they who
are the gods. He sank back into
the bed a little, & sd, Is that so,
yeah, that's what I needed

Sometimes error seems not so much inevitable but advisable. brief #34 includes a one-page memoir of the World War Two years which Brett Cross rescued from the effects of his grandfather. 'Where did all those years go?' is the product of an old, confused man unused to putting pen to paper, and not surprisingly is filled with spelling mistakes and uncertain grammar. I chose to retain the errors, not because Ross Taylor was batting, but because I thought they said something about the story that contained them. 'Where did all those years go?' has a strange, dreamlike quality, as the walls between different registers of speech and different types of experience are brought down by that mixture of nostalgia and amnesia which seems to come with old age:

Florence was close just one hurdle to cross, then a sprint through ditches , and loosing the track. We where stranded until daylight, in a handy cellar. Bunkered down for the night. we heard the screaming of mortar bombs, and suddenly shrapnel was every where! I broke my arm, as well as sustaining serious cuts in the attack, and one of my companions was fatally wounded.

There followed a long stay in hospital in Bali. I was there for five months - along wait to return to combat.

A game of football- a half back short, so on I go. A quick pass, two passes on a sidestep, some away. The centre, Johnny Smith was a lithe panther, a joy to watch and a name to appear in the future!

There is one error in 'Where did all those years go?' which I find particularly moving:

the war had finished. How lucky we considered ourself to be!

Footnote: I find I've made yet another error by putting a picture of a Hopi rather than a Navajo rug at the top of this post.


Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Error is unavoidable in any process. There are various mathematical and physical proofs showing that error in measurement or in any quantifiable process is impossible to avoid.

The Heisenberg Uncertainy Principle is one.

But a simple example is an attempt to measure the area of circle.

That is Area = pi x diameter.

But pi is a transcendental number (that is it cannot be expressed as fraction or as an integer it is 3.14 with hundreds of - in fact probably an infinite number of numbers of decimal places. (I think John von Nuemann proved this.)

So no exact measurement of a circle is possible. Also in engineering engineers ultimately refer to probablity density functions - (as do physcicts) - this means that in all cases they are talking probablities - not certainties.

This means for example that in quality control they take samples of various sizes - and then apply a statistical calculation -

For most things of course there is (or can be) such a high degree of accuracy that error is greatly reduced but it cannot be eliminated. This is a reality of the nature of the physical world.

It is error in fact that is the basic factor that propells evolution (and human technological progress). Not only is error unavoidable - no progress (or significant change) of any kind could be made without error - it is a paradox but true. We would still be unicellular organisms without error - and we would all be virtually identical.

2:18 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

I immediately thought of Alan Loney's poem when I saw the loom in this post connected to 'error'. I knew I had read it - very astute to make this connection Maps!

He has written some fascinating poetry.

Some interesting stuff in the latest Brief -just finished the stuff by Silliman and Watten.

2:25 am  

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