A Contribution to the On-going Conversation on Serendip
About "Different Kinds of Understanding"

This page has two sources. One is Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Self Reliance, which a group of students at Bryn Mawr College read as the finale for a course on the The Emotional Landscape of Classical Nineteenth-Century Texts in Spring 2006. The second is a The New York Times article (4/14/06) about a new fad of Fibonacci Poems. Based on the Fibonacci number sequence (0-1-1-2-3-5-8...), such poems--sort of sophisticated haikus--were said to satisfy poets' "hunger for constraint": "This form gives you something to dance with so it's not just you alone on the page."


Fibonacci Shell Spiral

Emerson Fibs:
An Experiment in
Playing with Constraints


Ralph Waldo Emerson

Inspired by Emerson's belief that "words are the signs of natural facts," we experimented in class with using the "natural fact" of the Fibonacci sequence to highlight the best passages from his prose, and re-position them as "fibs." In doing so, we noticed several things
  • that games involve constraints (challenges which make them worth the doing)

  • that "fibbing" (or lying--"he told the truth mainly," as Huck says of Mark Twain) is, like comedy more generally, a genre of possibility, a way of re-imagining and upending the world

  • that mathematics is (like literature) a way of interpreting the world, of putting it into the language of patterns, and not (this was the deepest place we went to), as Emerson thought, "a description of a natural/spiritual fact."

Listen, now, to Emerson "fibbing," as we place more constraints on him, do some serious editing/playing. And feel free to imagine (and send us, if you'd like; we're happy to add to the collection) what other forms Emersonian poems might take: a spiral, as below, or beat ("emmmmmmerson..."), or rap?

Each new square has a
side which is as long as
the sum of the latest two
square's sides.
Let's
give
Emer
son something
to dance with: find a
sentence. Turn it into a poem.

0-1-1-2-3-5-8

Anne's initial experiments

Do
not
be too
timid and
squeamish about your
actions. All life's experiment.


Students' fibs

Eyes
are
not to
be used
for following.
Eyes are the horse we ride away.

These
are
the voi-
ces we hear
in solitude that
grow faint as we enter the world.


May Day Addendum

McBride Addendum

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