Transliteracy and Chess-Playing Bears

In an odd and interesting FriendFeed thread today, I included this comment:

Derailing further, I find myself wanting to do a post about semi-related issues (the distinction between getting and liking)…and what I might call the Walter Carlos Williams problem (*not* Wendy Carlos Williams on later albums), or “is this a dancing bear?” Probably won’t; even that description is all over the place. [Oops: My bad. I’ve removed “Williams.” Sorry.]

OK, I wrote “Walter Carlos Williams” and “Wendy Carlos Williams,” somehow having conflated William Carlos Williams–whose poetry I read in college–with Wendy Carlos (orig. Walter Carlos), whose synthesized classical recordings I was, at one point, very fond of. If you go to the thread, you’ll just see the right names–I don’t know how to do overstrikes in FF.

Now, as to the post itself, which isn’t directly about transliteracy but may be about new forms and whether you should be able to enjoy or even understand all of them…

Well, I didn’t mean “dancing bear” but “chess-playing bear,” where the marvel isn’t that it’s done well but that it’s done at all (if it is).

As for fleshing out that post: Not gonna happen. My thoughts there are too confused, even by my standards, and I’ll just leave them that way. If you take the implication that, when I went back to it 10 years later, I no longer found Switched-On Bach either revelatory or very enjoyable–well, that’s true. If you do find it either one, good for you: Tastes do and should differ.

4 Responses to “Transliteracy and Chess-Playing Bears”

  1. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    Hmm? The expression for “the marvel isn’t that it’s done well but that it’s done at all” is indeed “dancing bear”. I’ve never heard “chess-playing bear”. Indeed, a Google search shows the latter to be a very uncommon expression, with approximately 80 hits for the quoted phrase. Many are for a toy, another refers to Russia.

    Amusingly, this post is now the first Google result for the phrase “chess-playing bear”.

  2. walt Says:

    Seth: Shows what an aging memory will do. After I wrote the original item, it struck me that there have been a number of examples of actual trained dancing bears, making that less of a marvel. A chess-playing bear, or even a checkers-playing one, would indeed be a marvel.

    As for this post now being a first Google result: Perhaps not too surprising. Google Page Rank 6 isn’t anything to make money from, but it presumably boosts Google ratings a fair amount. (109 of the 1,304 liblogs I’ve identified have GPR 6, so it’s not *that* exclusive a club–while the 23 with GPR 7, well, that’s a different matter. No liblog has GPR 8 or 9, not surprisingly.)

  3. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    I think part of the appeal of the phrase “dancing bear” is related to such things really existing – so it has the connotation of something which is possible and can be exhibited, but strange and difficult.

    There are allegedly chickens which have been trained to play tic-tac-toe, but this doesn’t seem to have inspired any turns of phrase.

  4. walt Says:

    You’re probably right, and I probably shouldn’t have made the correction to chess-playing bears. Still, what’s done is done. Hmm: A tic-tac-toe-playing chicken? Might be possible to defeat one.

    And I find Bing only has this post as #3 in its hit parade for the phrase “chess-playing bear.” Such is fame, or lack thereof.

    Oh, look at that: I’ve used “chess-playing bear” before, in an October 2006 post about Datapoint.


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