Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Rupert Bear and the Spatially Extended Nature of Regret

Whilst little of the work of John Marshall Stamp (1901-1973) drew much attention outside of academic circles, his work as Professor of Ontography at the University of Oxford and as General Secretary of the Royal Brotherhood of Ontographers ensured his name was familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the technical difficulties peculiar to this obscure sub-branch of paralogical enquiry.  Ontography has been described as the study of the interface between meta-aesthetics, number theory and necronautical plane geography, but this description does little to illuminate it in the mind of the layman. Stamp took it as his life’s work to make ontography explicable and appreciable to the layman, and felt that his reputation should stand or fall on his success in that endeavour. Stamp was his own harshest critic (aside from Perigrine Shoosmith, of whom more later), and while many of his peers considered his successes in furthering the understanding of ontography to be significant, they would also doubtless consider this work alone to afford too narrow a picture of this complex man. As executor of the will of John Marshall Stamp it is my duty to publish here an exhaustive bibliography of Stamp’s written output, both published and unpublished, academic and popular, as well as work that was likely intended only for private consumption, along with detailed descriptions of each item as necessary. This was his wish. I also provide some personal reflections on the list and its significance. This was a liberty taken, but I am confident it was an appropriate one.

1922a. The Golden Mean and Its Continuing Relevance. Oxford (PhD dissertation, unpub.)
The Golden Mean
. Oxford: University of Oxford Press
*The metaphysics scholar Ferdinand Shankfoot described this as a ‘Rush to publication in a naive attempt to capitalise on the popularity of Wittgenstein’s
Tractatus Logico Philosophicus’, a puzzling pronouncement given that the Tractatus... would not become popular - if it could ever be said to be popular at all - for at least several more decades. Stamp’s PhD adviser at Oxford cannot be faulted for his enthusiasm however, and the book at least ensured his protege’s name was known to paralogicians globally. Post-doctoral research followed at Oxford and University College London, after which Stamp spent the next five decades at Oxford.

The Pike: Some Reflections On Its Temperament Mid-Season. Punch Spring Edition
*Stamp’s enthusiasm for angling led to a short-lived radio show for the
BBC Light Programme entitled Now I Really Must Tell You Why I Absolutely Adore Angling. Described as “Baffling… has nothing to do with fishing, or fish, at all, as far as I can make out” by Angler’s Weekly, the show was shelved after two broadcasts.

Ontography In Focus.  London: Usborne Books For Boys
*The first of several attempts at promoting a wider appreciation of his calling with the average reader, this naive volume initially attempted to introduce meta-aesthetical number theory to an age group that barely has a grasp of multiplication let alone the intricate coupling of plane geography and Aristotelian virtues. At the behest of the publisher Stamp hastily re-drafted the volume aiming it at “the enthusiastic adolescent” but this simply had the effect of making it even more laborious to read and impossible to understand. A review in The London Observer simply read “Ontography out of focus” while the Manchester Guardian described it as “obscure”. No records exist of the numbers printed or sold.

1926 The Shape Of Evil.
Proceedings of The Royal Brotherhood of Ontographers Vol 42
*In this, his first significant post-doctoral work of scholarship, Stamp immediately ruffled feathers in the hide-bound paralogical community by suggesting “If we can know the name of evil, we can know its face; if we can know the face of evil, we can know its shape; if we can know the shape of evil, we can work out where it is standing, and do something about it”. The notion that evil as a property extends into four-to-five dimensional phase-space and has a distinct smell (a radical form of meta-ethical modal realism) was entirely new. To this day controversy persists over whether Stamp actually believed this or was playing devil’s advocate; a more cynical view is offered by Peregrine Shoosmith (of whom more later) who wrote “I don’t think Stamp knew what he believed”. Certainly at this time Stamp began to exhibit many of the eccentricities that would become defining hallmarks of his character, leading to the epithet “Stampian” being used to describe the worst excesses of academic obscurantism. The number theorist Gertrude Sivers described a meeting around this time in which Stamp explained that he was (for reasons he never made clear) three years into rewriting the entire collected works of Pythagoras, word-for-word but upside-down. When Sivers suggested he could simply turn an existing copy upside-down he replied “Are you
mad?! And read it from the back?!”

1926 Response to ‘The Shape Of Evil: A Response’.
Proceedings of The Royal Brotherhood of Ontographers Vol 43
*Stamp’s article resulted in a flurry of responses with the most acidic coming from the pen of William Bogghosian of Yale, kicking off a life-long rivalry and mutual loathing.

1927 The Shape Of Evil: Another Perspective.
Proceedings of The Royal Brotherhood of Ontographers Vol 44
*Stamp muddied the waters by writing a critique of his own work under the pseudonym Fabian Descant. According to Gertrude Sivers, Stamp later seemed to have genuinely forgotten that the article was written by him and referenced “That bastard Descant” for stealing his ideas.

Ontographie In Aktion. Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Press
*Another stab at popularising, this time for the German market, which following the success of Heidegger’s
Sein und Zeit was perceived as more intellectual and technically-minded than the British. No sales figures exist.

The Monoverse: A Proposition (unpublished draft)
*Stamp’s earliest formulation of a theoretical universe in which everything is the same size. The rejection of his submission to the
Proceedings journal on this subject led to the first of Stamp’s recurring periods of depression and disillusionment with academia. Stamp took an extended sabbatical from Oxford during which he spent most of his time fishing and painting until he finally began work on the first of his books for children. Appropriating the Daily Express character Rupert Bear without permission, the character’s creator Mary Tourtel initially disapproved of the venture but later gave it her blessing.

Rupert Bear and the Island Of Lost Numbers London: Northcliffe Press
*Starting off as a typical story of adventure, Stamp quickly attempted to introduce paralogical concepts into the whimsical stories of Rupert and his friends. After the discovery of a mysterious map, Rupert and Bill Badger set off for an island where they hope to find the lost treasure of Blackbeard the pirate. On arrival they find the island under the spell of the mysterious Lord Hawksmoor who commands a slave-like devotion from his followers. Hawksmoor initially appears friendly and offers to aid the friends in their quest, but things turn awry when Algy Pug becomes indoctrinated by Hawksmoor’s mystical views, believing that only years of scholarly study of the Kabbalah will reveal the location of the treasure, via a decoding of the ‘true tetragrammaton’, or hidden name of God. Rupert Bear counters this with a bewilderingly complex argument based in modal realism, while Bill Badger favours a middle-way ‘pragmatic realism’. The plot inevitably breaks down into a series of increasingly obscure ontographic dialogues, and by the middle of the book the characters of Rupert, Bill, Algy and Hawksmoor are all but abandoned and the plot forgotten, with the narrative assuming the quality of a technical treatise. To the surprise of no-one save Stamp, the book was poorly received but this didn’t discourage him from writing another four titles in the series.

Rupert Bear and the River of Particulars London: Northcliffe Press
Rupert Bear and the Spatially Extended Nature of Regret London: Northcliffe Press
Rupert Bear Considers Arguments For Ontographic Realism (self-published)
*By the second book it was clear that the illustrator Alfred Bestall was uncomfortable with the appropriation of the character for the purposes of ‘paralogical propaganda’, finally throwing the towel in after the third. At this point the patience of Lester Eaves, editor at Northcliffe Press was also worn out: “(Stamp) kept saying ‘Don’t worry - the next one will be entirely charming and mainstream’ but Stamp’s idea of mainstream was peculiar… He couldn’t remember what it was like to be a child, but then he didn’t believe childhood existed, because he didn’t believe in time, did he? ‘
All events happen to me now, forever’, and all that..” remarked Eaves in his memoirs.) The fourth volume was a brave attempt, with Stamp taking on the illustration duties himself. Quickly realising his limitations in this area, he substituted one dimensional polygons for the hitherto careful renderings of Rupert and his friends, and other artistically challenging elements were replaced by pie charts and graphs. Stamp sold copies of the book from a trestle table in front of his house on saturday mornings.

Rupert Bear Fights The Nazis!  (self-published)
*Stamp created this marvellous work of ‘boys own’-style adventure-propaganda apparently in an attempt at clawing back the favour of his former publisher. Hugely surprised by the entertaining volume, Eaves offered Stamp another deal, but was to be let down once more. When the finished manuscript arrived at the printers for duplication, a watchful assistant noticed that the contents were not what was expected, and stopped the press. Once again, and this time duplicitously, Stamp had attempted to smuggle an impenetrable ontographical treatise into the covers of a popular children’s series. Rupert and his friends are not mentioned once; indeed the volume contained no illustrations save the front cover, a swashbuckling image of the bear and his friends raiding Colditz and freeing Allied prisoners of war. The illustrated draft manuscript that had renewed Eaves’s interest turned out to be the work of Mary Tourtel, whom Stamp had paid privately to create the book with the expressed purpose of tricking Eaves into publishing another work of technical scholarship. Tourtel bought the work back from Stamp but personal disagreements prevented its publication; the sole copy sold recently at an auction of Rupert Bear memorabilia for a six figure sum.

1948 The Monoverse Explained Proceedings of The Royal Brotherhood of Ontographers Vol 54
*Significantly reworked, Stamp’s theoretical universe was finally given the seal of approval by the journal and marked his return to academia. Rival ontographer William Bogghosian expressed the not uncommon conviction that it was a change in personnel rather than any change in the substance of Stamp’s arguments that resulted in the theory’s acceptance. The necronautical paleographer Occard Wills, criticising Stamp’s theory in the controversial journal
Radical Ontography many years later remarked that the publication of the piece marked the beginning of a period of decline in academic ontography: “Intellectually scelerotic, stuffy and incestuous work was published on the basis of who you went to school with; safe, sterile, an intellectual parlour game, providing ammunition for the enemies of ontography.” Rising to prominence in the 1960’s, Wills’s daring fusion of dialectical modalities and aesthetic terrorism was hugely influential, bringing a dose of revolutionary Marxist panache to the stodgy respectability of the paralogical sciences

Ontographical Investigations. Oxford: University of Oxford Press
*Perhaps hoping to cash-in on the popularity of Wittgenstein’s
Philosophical Investigations, Stamp wrote this in a voguish, oblique and fragmentary style. Eschewing technical arguments and syllogistic deductions in favour of short, numbered paragraphs posing vague postulations and rhetorical questions, Investigations would go on to be his most popular work. A book which many people bought but few actually read, surely even fewer understood it. Boasting statements such as “Time is a game that plays itself, cheats, wins and then demands a rematch”, and “When the waiter returns, the chef is already burying himself alive”, it is most famous for its apparent furtherance of the theory that Germany’s embrace of Nazism was an inevitable result of the country’s location at the centre of a tectonically fixated land-mass, thus popularising the notion that fascism is impossible in countries that suffer from earthquakes. Many years later it was revealed that the word ‘tectonic’ was a misprint of the word ‘teutonic’, but this did little to make Stamp’s theory any more coherent. Nonetheless it was fashionable among Parisian students in the 1960s.  “It seemed that Stamp’s work was more appreciable when it didn’t try to be understood” remarked Peregrine Shoosmith (see below).

Aesthetic Terrorism Edinburgh: Heresy Press
*The relative success of
Ontographical Investigations led to Stamp being asked to write this introduction to the nascent theory of Aesthetic Terrorism. Somewhat outside of his comfort zone, the book suffers from shriekingly awkward attempts at utilising the casual inflections of ‘beat lingo’. An admirer of ...Investigations, the forward-thinking head of Heresy Press, Solomon P. Solomon genuinely believed Stamp to be a ‘British William Burroughs’. Quite how a shy and naturally conservative academic paralogician came into the orbit of clubbable hipster intellectuals such as Solomon and the Scottish writer and pornographer Alexander Trocchi, is still unclear, but the experience had a lasting effect on Stamp. Aesthetic Terrorism attempts, via a somewhat tortured and self-consciously knowing prose style, to explicate the neo-Marxian theory of ‘reflexive dialecticals’. Underwritten by a loose strain of aesthetic number theory, it posits that social control is achieved by the suppression of ‘hidden numbers’, and emancipation can only result from their discovery via a ‘Godless mysticism’ expressed in spontaneous bursts of violent artistic activity. A kind of secular take on the doctrine of the ‘hidden name of God’, it borrows heavily from the Hermetic Kabbalah, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the sigil theorist Austin Osman Spare, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and the work of sixteenth-century occultist Dr. John Dee, all sewn together with plenty of hoary Marxist dogma. Illustrated with reams of enochian tables, sigils and magickal diagrams, its most enduring creation is a cut-out-and-keep ‘urban tarot’ deck, replacing the familiar members of the Major Arcana with such oddities as “Canal Of Crushed Dreams” “The Gloating Number 9” “The Cloven Hoof” and “Rats In An Alleyway”. Its effect on the ontographical community was one of mute confusion. “Either he’s taking the piss or he’s cracking up” remarked Peregrine Shoosmith (see below.) 

1959 The Gloating Number 9: A Warning Radical Ontography Volume 1
*Though it would later become a source of much criticism of his work, Stamp was involved in the launch of this flagship journal of applied ontography. Coming at a time of social radicalism and renewed interest in Marxist theory, a group of young ontographers with necronautical paleographer Occard Wills at its centre sought to transform ontography into a practical discipline with a potentially transformative effect on society. That said, Stamp’s submission to its debut volume was traditional and oblique. While nominally following a modal sceptical line, Stamp argues that the number nine is a ‘special case’; unlike other numbers, or indeed any other universal abstract properties, which have no separate existence aside from their instantiation
qua particulars, the number 9 is ‘all too real’ and ‘probably looking at you right now’. Stamp goes on to suggest its location, in a sub-dimension that has yet to be identified. In addition, while Stamp usually argued that there could be no uninstantiated universals, he made a special case for ‘number 9’s secret friend’. 

1960 The Monoverse Reconsidered unpublished draft
*A modification of his earlier theories, Stamp here abandons his explication of a world in which everything is the same size, in favour of a world in which everything is only roughly the same size. Occard Wills later stated that Stamp eventually abandoned this view in favour of a world in which everything is the same shape.

1961 The Golden Era London: Routledge
*Stamp’s first and only attempt at adult fiction is a turgid fantasy taking place in the realm between sleep and waking “where dreams fade but reality has yet to take hold”. The plot struggles to develop as Stamp waxes lyrical on familiar territory, with unknown events taking place in undiscovered dimensions perpetrated by entities no-one can conceive of. The number nine figures prominently.

Das Goldene Zeitalter Berlin: Taschen
*To everyone’s great surprise the German translation was a runaway hit, popularly interpreted as a dark pastiche of German bureaucracy. Critics who gushed over Stamp’s “menacing curlicues of serpentine invective and bitter irony” were disappointed to discover his true intentions. 

1969 The Moon: Rise Of The Interloper Radical Ontography Volume 13
*Stamp’s final paper for the Radical Ontography Workshop posits that the Moon is an intruder from an undiscovered dimension, and that all forms of psychiatric illness are caused by anxieties about things that haven’t happened and would be instantly removed if a list could be compiled of all the possible counterfactual events from the Big Bang onwards. “Contrary to popular belief, all the things that have not happened are more causally relevant than those that have” suggests Stamp with typically breezy authority.

1970 The Sonic Mystery Cults London: Sourcebooks
*Stamp’s last published work is a historical survey of little-known tribes of ancient Britons who worshipped “loud or moderately loud noises”. The authenticity of Stamp’s scholarship was called into question by the historian Ronald Hutton, an expert in British folklore: “No-one other than Stamp has heard of these people. Fascinating.”

1 comment:

dan&tes_recipes said...

Enjoyed your article on Stamp. I'd quite forgotten all about him, although at one time
was quite familiar with his work being one of the considerable few who bought and read 'Ontographical Investigations'.

I hope your excellent profile on Stamp may be illuminated by the following vignette...

Regarding his unpublished manuscript 'The Monoverse': As one of the peer reviewers who read this work for the journal
I clearly remember that as well as proposing all objects within this universe be the same size, his theory also demanded
that they be distributed in space according to a set of arcane rules he referred to as the Cosmological Rubrik. Stamp didn't explain
the specific content of these rules in his manuscript, and declined to illustrate them when challenged to do so as part of the
revisions deemed necessary for publication. Consequently his paper was rejected and the Monoverse theory disappeared from
academia for 18 years.


P Shoosmith