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click opera - Proposal for a Wikipedia page about Humperson, father of "the laws of meta"
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Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 10:16 am
Proposal for a Wikipedia page about Humperson, father of "the laws of meta"

I've referred a few times here on Click Opera to Norman Humperson's Laws of Meta, and thought it might be time to dedicate a whole entry to this enigmatic and subtle thinker, who died in 1999 (or 2000, according to some reports). Shockingly enough, there isn't -- as far as I can see -- a Wikipedia page about him yet. This Click Opera entry, then, must serve as a kind of tag, hold or "stub", a proposal for a Wikipedia page about Norman Humperson. I hope it will at least establish that Humperson, as a thinker, is not non-notable.

Humperson was born on February 29th, 1933 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to immigrant Scottish parents. His childhood was marked by a strong Oedipal conflict with his father, a defrocked clergyman who had never even been ordained in the first place. He also liked to play with Russian dolls, of which he had an ever-diminishing collection, all stolen.

At the age of 15, Humperson ran away from home to become a lighthouse keeper on the rugged, storm-lashed Atlantic coast. During this time he worked on a new signaling system intended to warn sailors of the various complex dangers -- extending far beyond mere storms and rocks -- presented by the sea. Unfortunately, because of widespread unfamiliarity with the system amongst sailors, wrecks were caused and a great many lives lost. Humperson fled to Jerusalem, where he studied anthropology and sociology in Hebrew under Martin Buber.

It was here -- swatting flies in the fierce Palestine sun -- that he began to develop the ideas for which he's best remembered. Later, as a tenured professor at the University of San Marino, Humperson developed these preliminary insights into the five Laws of Meta as we know them today:

The Laws of Meta

1. Iteration is reiteration. If you remove the time element, all language acts are reiterations of each other, in a continuous circle Humperson called the "great totentanz of signification". Humperson did not discount the possibility of original communicative acts, but declared that the first time a new thought occurred it was, by virtue of its novelty, incomprehensible and incommunicable, and therefore not a communicative act at all. He therefore consigned original communicative acts to a parallel universe, the mysterious "world of origins" -- a place completely barred to mere mortals. "Originality exists," he said, "-- but not for us."

2. The great are devoured by the small. Since every statement is a summary of a pre-existing statement, knowledge is doomed to shrink and wither endlessly. Each summary loses some of the value of the one before it, while seeming to add to its value. Summaries are like banknotes, promises to pay the bearer on demand which, asserts Humperson, cannot be fulfilled, because a summary is a shorter, less valuable version of the thing it refers to, just as promissory paper is less valuable than gold. A demand for the full payment of implicit or promised meanings would cause a semantic "run on the banks" which, warned Humperson, would cause the whole system to collapse. Luckily, quipped Humperson, "one summary does not make a swallow".

3. No critical statement is exempt from its own strictures. Every statement which seeks to summarize and critique a pre-existing statement (in other words every statement except for those in the mysterious "world of origins") will tend to exemplify, in itself, the things it deplores in the original statement, thus opening itself up to the same critique, and so on, recursively. And incrementally, for a summary of a statement tends to exemplify its faults more succinctly and intensely.

4. Dependency is destiny. Since the "world of origins" is closed to us, we must accept the fact that we are dependent -- doomed, if you like, to being forever meta. There is no shame in this. We are all contingent, all referring to things which, themselves, refer to other things (parents descended from parents, phrases from phrases). Humperson did, however, see the possibility of originality via errors, mishearings and misunderstandings. He enjoyed playing Chinese Whispers, especially in later life, when he grew rather deaf.

5. The soul is soulless. In later years, perhaps because of the onset of deafness and other ailments, Humperson became something of a mystic, a dabbler in "meta-metaphysics". He changed his name to Noman R. Humperson, explaining that moving the "R" in this way drew attention to a secret message within his name: "No man are human person." By this, Humperson understood that no-one is any more human than anyone else -- or, in fact, human at all -- just as no statement is any more meaningful. Influenced by Adorno's idea that "in the end, soul itself is the longing of the soulless for redemption," Humperson declared he had "discovered" a fifth and final Law of Meta. To extract the soul from something, he said, was to extract the soul from something. Summaries and translations -- precisely because they try -- must inevitably fail to capture the essence of the things they start from. Since summaries, in attempting to capture essence or soul, inevitably discard it, and since all statements are summaries, there is no such thing as soul, except insofar as soul is the wish, precisely, that there should be soul -- the wish, in other words, that zero and one should come to be the same number. This wish became the basis for a sort of mathematically-based religion Humperson was working on at the time of his death.



Humperson, who had been fitted in 1970 with a mainframe pacemaker, was the only recorded fatality of the Millennium Bug. At five minutes to midnight on the 31st of December 1999 Humperson's last recorded conversation -- with his private nurse, also his wife -- ran as follows:

Private Nurse: "It's time for tea, Mr Humperson!"

Humperson: "What's that?"

Wife (repeating the nurse's words more loudly): "IT'S TIME FOR TEA, MR HUMPERSON!"

Humperson (laughing): "Oh, I thought you said "It's time to die, Mr Humperson!""

No sooner had he uttered this sentence than faulty code in Humperson's pacemaker diverted a routine kernel error into a fatal core dump, and the philosopher slumped forward in his wheelchair. He is survived by his laws.

39CommentReplyAdd to MemoriesShare

vertigoranger
vertigoranger
VERTIGORANGER.REKAY
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC)

Make people up all you want, Nick, but I'm having number two as a truism and reposting that sucker.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)

Is this a spoof?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has already been invented.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:34 am (UTC)

If I were married, I'd insist on my wife calling me Mr Humperson, too.


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:34 am (UTC)
Pah, Humperson's a fraud

I have it on good account that Humperson ripped off his five laws from an obscure tract written by the Russian metaphysicist Antonin Chyelovek in 1931.


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w_e_quimby
w_e_quimby
hobbes
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:45 am (UTC)

for some reason this entry seems very nabokovian. i've been reading lolita with great enthusiasm this summer.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:56 am (UTC)

"Reading Lolita with great enthusiasm" sounds like the world's best euphemism for masturbation.

Gotta love Nabokov!


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w_e_quimby
w_e_quimby
hobbes
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC)

gotta love old horny perverts


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)

Exactly!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 10:03 am (UTC)

A WIkipedia page might foil his ideas - suggesting that he was an origin or instigator of such thoughts. Maybe he'd prefer it this way.

The question could be posed the other way round - why do we need to apply the notion of originals and definitives to thought, people and things. Why are there lines in the sand, 'original men', Jesus, Elvis? Do we need splits where future branches are deemed to sprout - just to feel part of time's narrative, rather than suspended in a gelatinous frogspawn.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
(Series vs Sequence) vs God

..or why some people need sequence thought (narrative, "a beginning", "an end", progress, American Dream, originals, God) and some series thought (recycling, juxtaposition, alternatives, relativity, hereness, nowness).


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)

Foucault had some pertinent things to say about this (Death of the Author, and so on).


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internought
internought
denial o'niall
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)

You mean Barthes.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Jun. 30th, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)

My apologies. I actually meant Foucault's piece "What is an Author?" --which is somewhat different from Sire Roland's own thesis. But a inadvertent conflation that may still hold some water, after all.


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC)

"If you remove the time element..." - sorry, don't understand. The word "iPod" would clearly be meaningless to Chaucer or Shakespeare because, temporally, they lived before the thing. But we have the thing, therefore we have the word.

Humperson "declared that the first time a new thought occurred it was, by virtue of its novelty, incomprehensible and incommunicable, and therefore not a communicative act at all" - sorry, don't understand. When, say, Edwin Hubble said that the Milky Way was not the only galaxy, but one of many, how was that novel claim incomprehensible or incommunicable?


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xishimarux
xishimarux
ishimaru
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 10:07 am (UTC)

Could have at least used the right typeface on the books.. oh man this is what I got from this entry... haha :)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 11:29 am (UTC)

Hamperson and typefaces are a sad story of their own, yeah. Some googling showed he was actually quite a font connaisseur, at least on a hobbyist level. Apparently he even worked on his own typeface complete with own, special characters. After staying in a Swiss recreation home for a week after he smashed the metacarpus of his right hand he invented the "Hampersand", which looked like a small "m" with one more arc. The purpose of this Hampersand, however, could never be clearly communicated.

The recreation home staff are cited describing him as being a "liebenswerter, melancholischer Mann mit kreativen Trieben" cursed by the genius propositions he made at an earlier age.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)

momo you must be so bored.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)

i reached the opposite conclusion long ago. that he's never bored. and even were there an exception, he would find a way to make his boredom interesting.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)

Straight out of the Situationists' manifestos


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)
WC1 department of fact checking

Might wanna check the birth year; 1933 was not a leap year ;-p


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

I did check! I wanted to be absolutely sure it wasn't.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

(laughing my arse off here, clearly you were so busy on subtlety, an obvious prang ran by. now where is my snowdome?)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 12:59 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

In general terms the algorithm for calculating a leap year is as follows...

A year will be a leap year if it is divisible by 4 but not by 100. If a year is divisible by 4 and by 100, it is not a leap year unless it is also divisible by 400.

Thus years such as 1996, 1992, 1988 and so on are leap years because they are divisible by 4 but not by 100. For century years, the 400 rule is important. Thus, century years 1900, 1800 and 1700 while all still divisible by 4 are also exactly divisible by 100. As they are not further divisible by 400, they are not leap years.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

"I did check! I wanted to be absolutely sure it wasn't." I think Momus is saying that, actually, the date was put in on purpose to provide a clue to this being a pretend person.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

I knew, it was an ironic fact check helpfully emoticonned with a ;-p


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

And yet, if you google "February 29, 1933", you'll find that lots of things happened on that day. It was the day Bertolt Brecht left Berlin. Lydia Rivera was born that day. Olive L. Foley was married that day. The Decree for the Protection of the People and of the State was established in Germany on February 29, 1933.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
Re: WC1 department of fact checking

How caterempous of you!


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rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
true fiction

it works in an other context
->myspace.com/rinusvanalebeek


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)

Plus, he used to wear black plastic frames -- just as serious philosophers should do!

Filippo


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obliterati
obliterati
Night of the Living Dave
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)

Who is the gentleman in the photos?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)

Jerzy Grotowski.


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obliterati
obliterati
Night of the Living Dave
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)

You are a funny one Mr. God of Pranks.

And a theater personality is an interesting choice of photo model, I was actually just thinking that the playwrite character in Barton Fink was maybe one of the more famous movie characters with deep philosopher glasses.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 29th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)

Very Derridian entry, this.


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Tue, Jun. 30th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)

Is this from the Canadian edition of your book?

"The Book of New Scotlands"


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 1st, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)

My hat, is off...

-Jedediah


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kulicuu
kulicUU
Wed, Jul. 1st, 2009 07:21 am (UTC)
charAss

"It's in the scholia that he says what an ethics is, to make an ethics is to make a theory and a practice of powers of being affected, and an ethics is opposed to a satirics [satirique]. What he calls a satirics is tremendous enough: it's everything that takes pleasure one way or another in sad affects, everything which is depreciating and depressing. That's the satirics. It's obvious that all of morality goes under the name of satirics. What exactly does powers-that-be mean? And in what ways do the powers-that-be take hold in order to depress, to affect people with sad affects?"

http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=176&groupe=Anti%20Oedipe%20et%20Mille%20Plateaux&langue=2


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kulicuu
kulicUU
Wed, Jul. 1st, 2009 07:33 am (UTC)
same

"It's not simply a question of a peculiar vision of the world, it's again eminently a question of politics. Spinoza's basic idea is very simple, it's that there are two plagues of the human genus and it's in this that Spinoza is Nietzschean and Nietzsche is Spinozist. He says that there are two scourges: hatred and remorse. Nietzsche will say that there are two scourges: man as malady, ressentiment and bad conscience. Ressentiment and bad conscience are literally what Spinoza called hatred and remorse. Here one could find a kind of psychiatric tableau of the affections of hatred and the affections of remorse. But what's interesting in his way of seeing all that is not a psychiatry; what's interesting is obviously politics. Spinoza asks himself: what are those things called powers-that-be [pouvoirs] ? He posed the question of power in a ridiculous enough way: power [pouvoir] is opposed to power [puissance]; power [puissance] is our bit in ourselves, in each one of us, in animals, in things; but power [pouvoir] is something else. He asks how it functions: people take power over others. What does it mean to have power over someone? Having power over someone is being in a position to affect her/him in such and such a way. The powers-that-be are fundamentally institutions built to affect you with sadness, they work like that and can only work like that. Things like hope, reward and security are put on the side of sad affects."

Reward and security is like when the fink gets rewarded with cushy synecures and mad bitches whilst the target gets pushed over the cliff. Totalitarian and vapid, but plush, soft, and cute at the same time.


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faunflynn
faunflynn
Wed, Jul. 1st, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Mythocracies and phantasmagarchies

I had the honor of being taught by Humperson.( He was supervisor on my Phd. "The key to all mythologies.")
After his death his ideas on 'Meta' were somewhat misrepresented and his position endlessly traduced.
It's tragic what can happen to one's work after one dies.


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