the [HEXed] atomization of [s]pace & lan[d]guage & ever-declining death: Lucretius lives on nel calore di un'estate romana [c. MMX A.D.]

i don't know about you but for whatever reason i managed to skinny though life having never read Lucretius | even when i was being schooled in the philosophy of physics & the philosophy of space/time etc. i hardly remember Lucretius being mentioned | in the context of atomism i remember learning about Zeno & Democritus & Aristotle & Pythagoras & Descartes & Minkowski & Weyl & Milič Čapek & Whitehead & Bergson & Kant [who for eXample said: «the preference for atomistic explanation is an inherent feature of human reason» but until now the atoms of Lucretius hadn't REcycled through me head ||


i thINK it was reading Christine Wertheim's +|'me'S-pace earlier this year that spURNed me to read Lucretius [specifically The Nature of Things  or De Rerum Natura] | or maybe it's because Lucretius is Roman [or Florentine by way of Rome] | as the title suggests The Nature of Things is about more than just atomism—it is a rather ambitious undertaking about most everything under the sun | it is a musing on the physical world as Lucretius experienced [or expired] it through his senses | yet throughout the book the philosophy of atomism pervades his way of thinking ||

Lucretius did not come up with the ideas of atomism [that is attributed to [Leucippus & Democritus] & for that matter he did not really come up with most of the ideas in The Nature of Things—his musings are rooted in Epicurean philosophy—with the exception that Lucretius [vehemently] refutes the existence of god & Lucretius believed [unlike Epicurus] that the soul [like the body] dissolves into its constituent atoms after death & he considered the needless fear of death to be the source of most human ills & Lucretius puts far more emphasis on the physical world as opposed to Epicurus who was more concerned with ethics etc. ||

but what makes The Nature of Things most interesting [to me anyway] is that it is first & foremost poetry [written in dactylic hexameter] | not that his thinking isn't scientific [in a time before the scientific method hadn't been firmly established]—behind his quill Lucretius was a closet physicist whose laboratory was the worLd [the Roman empire circa Caesar's time] & he had unbridled freedom to speak his tongue without worrying about meeting any demands or protocols of scientific rigor | the language in De Rerum Natura is as free-forming as the topics he touches on:

«you'd sooner deem many images of things / floating all around, devoid of force and feelings. / But don't think, now, that floating images / of things are only those that come from things: / there are also those spontaneously formed, / self-constituted in this sphere, the air. / In many shapes and forms they ride the sky, / fluid, free-moving, with ever-changing face, / taking the outlines of all kinds of shapes.»

not that i can appreciate the nuances of the language as i'm not brave enough to tackle the latin [or even italian] | but here for example is what the first page looks like in it's original tongue:


i imagine reading it in latin there must be a sense of rhythm & pacing that coincides with the content & it's probably no coincidence that it's written in hexameter [though that was the prevalent trend back in the day per Homer & Virgil etc.] | the hexagon is the most natural unit for 2-D «sphere-packing» [as demonstrated in far more contemporary times by Gauss]—which is to say that the most efficient & elegant way to tile a 2-D sPace such that the atomic nuclei [at the center of each hexagon] are equidistant is with 6-sided hexagons [sorry Hermann Weyl—you were off-base with your Weyl Tile argument—or at least in your attempts to refute the existence of a DISCRETE 2-D grid of triangles & squares because it contradicted the Pythagoras theorem [& don't ask me to prove why—i don't need to—i take poetic liberties in saying it just MAKES SENSE that it'd be a hexagonal space [& correspondingly in 3-D sPace some sort of volume of packed dodecahedrons]] |

there is no right or wrong in such matters | it is POINTless to study the gridwork we are constrained to LIVE withIN [akin to lifting yourself by your own bootstraps] | we can only speCULate as our senses our bound by the constraints of this HEXagonal [in 2-D] GRID such that we can't possibly «SEE» it | we can only obServe [EXTernally] that which lives withIN this heXed grid but not the grid itself nor ourselves withIN it [& anything we do obServe is a DEAD copy of the oRIGinal] | not to further digress on spiraling tangents [of which a hexagon has none or 6 depending on your perspective] but the bees got it right in constructing their honeycombed hives [without needing to know] | that's why they are included in the cover i did for John Olson's Backscatter [which delves into atomic theory as well the behavior of such social insects in that signature Olson stream-of-consciousness way]:

John Olson Backscatter

not the only time i've worked in HEX plugs—you'll also find an underlying hexagonal grid in almost every rubBEing from this series & [at the risk of revealing trade secrets] for ∀/RK Côd∃X i've been tinkering with an alphabet that functions within such a hexed space [a l[H]EXicon if you will] rather than the boring old linear ruled pages we are so used to [no coincidence that «read» & «law» are the same word [legge] in italian [& likely latin] | as i confessed alREADy these are the waters i'm floating my ARK on:

& whether Lucretius knew it or not perhaps this hexagonal space is an underlying motive why he chose hexameter verse to write his ode to atomism [& come to think of it perhaps why 666 is the mark of the beast] | besides just the [s]Pacing in the lan[d]Guage Lucretius seems to be ever COGnizant of the language itself [at an atomic level down to it's constituent letters] for example:

«The same ones make up earth, sky, sea, and stream; / the same sun, the animals, grain, and trees, / but mingling and moving in ever different ways. / Why, yes! In the very verse I write, you see / dozens of letters shared by dozens of words, / and yet you must admit that words and verses / differ from one another in sound and meaning. / Such power have letters when order alone is changed. / But atoms, our basic stuff, can claim more patterns / of change whence countless thing may be created.»

this he says before the internet & computers & Shakespeare & Gutenberg & the advent of chemistry & spectral signatures & the periodic table | the first periodic table appeared almost 2000 years later in 1869 thanks to Mendeleyev:

periodic table

had Lucretius lived in later years with such shoulders to stand on his head might've impLoded | eveN living in a veritable vacuum didn't stop Lucretius' head from brimming with the possibility of it ∀ll:

«Know then, it matters much how given atoms / combine: in what arrangements, with what others, / what impulse they receive, and what impart. / Don't think the superficial characteristics / we sometimes see, that come and go in things, / can be firm-fixed to the eternal atoms. / You see, in the very verse I write, it matters / how letters are arranged and how combined: the same with the sun, the animals, grain, and trees; / they match—not all the way, but in large part: / by their positions, they tell us different things. / Likewise in things themselves, if change is made / in joinings, motion, position, patterns, shape / of substance, then the things, too, must be changed.»

more specifically elsewhere he says later:

«and the selfsame atoms, slightly interchanged, / may build both fire and wood. Just like the terms / themselves: we slightly interchange the letters / to spell the separate words ignis [fire] and ligna [wood].»

if only Lucretius had known that coal & diamond are both made of Carbon & differ only in their arrangement he might've spontaneously combusted like Spinal Tap's drummer | even [THIS]—my writing on his writing is an atomic recycling of letters trying to convey the same memes | & within my writing i am ever thinking dis[e]cretely [atomically] within the constraints of our language invented sans a priori knowledge of discoveries & inventions to come | having a sentence end with the semblance of a spectral line [the discrete unit of an atomic signature] makes more sense to me than a point | & the difference between MajUSCULE & mINuscule conjures the excited states of atoms more so than atTributed historical customs or conventions ||

in reading Lucretius—the TRANSlation from latin to english—the arRANGEment of letters & words & sentences still holds meaning—still induces the ATOMs in the void of my head to be reconFIGured ||

the ATOM BOMB gets a bad rap because of real-world events—but as a comBINation of letters & words it strikes a chord | someone needs to take it back the same way that guy immortalized the context of the words SOY BOMB:

soy bomb

this as i eat mueslix with soy milk whilst writing [THIS] |

i read The Nature of Things in the heat of our first Roman summer | heat can be abstracted as simply the increased MOLEcular motI/ON of atoms | but we've aScribed to it far more than that | within the constRAINts of our living bodies it leads to discomfort & this discomFORT leads to disTRACTion | it's hard to do anything in this heat | & with the heat living near the river TIber come zanzare | just like paparazzi comes with the territory | i can't wait until fall when the STARlings come | then AUGUR will be mi parola |

ci sono cose in The Nature of Things that even the tranSlator admits to not knowing what Lucretius is talking about | for example:

«The spots called "Birdless": they're so called / from the fact that they are hostile to all birds; / because, when birds fly out across those places / they lose their skill at wing-stroke, furl their sails, / and fall headlong, fluttering, necks gone limp, / down to the ground, if it happens to be dry land, / or into the water, if "Birdless Lake" lies there.»

these are the best parts—sheer poetry | maybe birdlessness was a phenomena that eXisted or made sense at the time but doesn't happen anymore except for in Lucretius writing of it & us reading into it | Lucretius muses on many natural phenomena in great detail—for example he speculates on the root of lightning for pages & pages | what could now be chalked up in clinical terms such as «dielectric breakdown» | sometimes not being totally [or technically] right is more interesting | without knowing what dielectric breakdown or plasma is Lucretius describes it in metaphor & he's usually in the ballpark which is amazing consideRING he was operating in a veritable vacuum | he even speCULates at the conditions of the beginning of life from which we sprung [which i suppose could be intuitive]:

«...no single thing that looked like things we know, / but rather a weird, chaotic, swirling mass / sprung of all sorts of atoms, whose rude conflict, / spacing, direction, texture, weight, and impact, / force, and speed, linked them in wild war-dance, / [...] / Then pieces began to fly away, and likes / to join with likes, sequestering a world / with members and gross parts discrete and ordered; / high heaven, that is, was set apart from earth, / the sea from both, with its wide waters sundered, / and sundered from all, the pure ethereal fires.»

& Lucretius was anti-religion before the time of Christ eveN | he saw him coming before he came & knew the belief in such organized religions [which in his time were mere pagan cults] disempowered people & their thinking | not that he didn't believe in «gods» [whatever meaning that word held in his day] but he thought gods didn't care about humans—there was no logical reason why they should [what was in it for them?] | & gods couldn't have possibly created the world as it was too flawed | it was a hard thing to stomach then & a hard thing to stomach [for some] now but we come from nothing but atoms & return to nothing but atoms when we die | according to Lucretius the atoms we are composed of are merely recycled | all that eXists in this worLd are atoms & void where voID is not nothingness—but a sPace for atoms [or metaphorical Adams] to do their magic ||

«If things were made from nothing, then all kinds / could spring from any source: they'd need no seed. / Man could have burst from ocean, from dry land /  the bearers of scales, and from thin air the birds; / cows, horses, sheep, and the rest, and all wild beasts / would breed untrue, infesting farm and forest. [...] But if the stuff of which this sum of things / is built has lasted down through empty ages, / surely it is endowed with deathless nature; / no thing, therefore, can be reduced to nothing.»

& at the heart of it all—always in the back of his mind—Lucretius works within the parameters of sense perception knowing & accepting the limitations as the only truth we can speak of | not that he didn't recognize the infinite potential of the sensual interface & the wonder of it all but he's always questioning—looking deeper into the glossy abyss of the eyes ||

«We see many other like things that make us wonder, / all trying to shake our faith in sense perception; /  wrongly, since most of the errors they have caused / spring from our minds, that add their own conclusions, / and make what sense has not perceived seem true. / For nothing is harder than separating truth / from the hasty, hazy additives of the mind.»

it was especially interesting reading The Nature of Things in the wake of reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire | even living in the glory days Lucretius knew it all couldn't last:

«And now earth is so weakened and worn out / she scarce creates small creatures, she who once / made every kind and bore enormous beasts. / For, as I think, it was no golden chain / dropped mortal kinds to earth from heaven above, / nor sea nor moaning floods created rocks, / but earth who feeds them now begot them then. / Further, for mortal men she first created, / of her own will, lush vineyards and sleek grain, / herself produced lush pastures and sweet produce. / Yet now these scarcely grow for all our toil; / we weary our oxen, sap the farmer's strength / wear plows away in fields that scarce support us, / so niggard the crops, our labors so increased. / The aged plowman sighs and shakes his head again and again—all that work gone for naught!— / compares the present the present times with times gone by, / and often remarks how lucky his father was. / discouraged, the vintner tends his tattered vines, / curses the weather, and prays till heaven is tired; / he growls of an age long gone, when men were good, / and found life easy though their world was small, / and the land that each man held was then far less. / He does not see that all thins slowly weaken / and fall to ruin, worn out by ages past.»

perhaps it's just human nature to think everything is going to hell in a handbasket—to hark for the better days of our forefathers | but if Lucretius & the farmers then in B.C. times were harking for the good ol' days where does all this harking end? | now it's over 2000 years later & farmer's are still farming & everyone here in Rome is eating well | even then in the good ol' days of the Roman empire Lucretius romanticized the simpler days before his time & recognized the pitfalls of decadence:

«For what's on hand, if we've learned nothing sweeter / so far, we like the best and deem superb; then, often, some later and better discovery /  destroys the old and alters our feeling toward it. / Thus, me lost taste for acorns; thus, they left / those beds piled deep with grasses and with leaves. / [...] / Yes, all for nothing we wretched men toil on / forever, and waste our lives on foolishness; / clearly, because we never learned the limits / of having, and where true pleasure's growth must end.»

Σum things never change | perhaps it is human nature to be grim & lament at what trivial fools we are | the looming prospect of death was no different then as it is now:

«The death that awaits will be no less eternal; / nor will that man, who made an end of life / today, not-be a shorter time than he / who died a thousand years and months before.»

but fear not—death is not as grim as it sounds for remEMBER: death is a mere recycling—«the world's in endless flux» according to Lucretius ||

«But there can be no end to anything / without something beyond to mark that end / and sow where nature and sense can go no further.»

& within the foreshadowing of the decline of his own empire he knew that we should listen to reason just as much as we listen to fact:

«Let reason rather than actual fact be proof / that everything may collapse in screaming ruin!»

though i'm not sure this makes sense in these times [of say global warming] with more accumulated data but we should always question «DATA» & at times override with common sense | regardless—Lucretius saw it coming though The Decline came & it passed & i'm happy to say «it's the end of the world as we [the Romans] know it & i feel fine» | & here now ... to think 2000+ years ago Lucretius may have traversed the same bridge i walked across last night or that he might've strolled down Appia Antica which we took our bikes for a ride on the other day & yes while i was looking at those cobblestones i was not only thinking of him but i was thinking of hexagonal space & packed spheres:



appia antica

Appia Antica

most of the other streets here have since been reSURfaced with square cobbles |

squared street scene

wall in Trastevere

that's all i have to say about Lucretius | the rest of these images are just some random things we've witnessed the last couple of weeks ||





inside MACRO Future [another new art museum built in the ruins of the old slaughterhouse in Testaccio]


stockyard testaccio

looking out from the converted slaughterhouse


tesaccio tank grid

view of same skeletal cylinder from above as seen from banks of Tiber



Paleoslave script in San Clemente [which some might recognize in this rubBEing:


[DU|LI]MBO #18


latin inscription

yet another latin inscription in another church i forget which [the 1 up by Vittorio Emanuele]



plaque at entrance to Catacombe di San Callisto [where unfortunately you can't take pictures inside]



shadows along Lungotevere



plywood outside of some furniture store


super string language

another shot from the banks of the Tiber




clocktower somewhere near Campo d'Fiori

oh this thinking of the atomization of space & time got me to looking for a paper i wrote on the subject back in college & while i didn't find it i did find a piece of this project i started working on that i forgot about wherein i «treated» the pages of said paper to be something else | maybe i'll see about finishing it or working it into the ∀/RK Côd∃X ||

becoming of continuity

excerpt from the Becoming of Continuity



film set piazza navonna

film set for an unknown movie somewhere near Piazza Navonna


discrete graffiti

Trastevere meme


this is my city

questa è mia città




(copyright is a dinosaur) 2010 Derek White