Fractals & Three MandelbrotsMonday, October 18, 2010
I first encountered fractals in William Gibson’s 1996 novel Idoru. In it a smart young woman decides to look her best and to furnish her house as best she can in order to look good for a video conference with a woman in the Far East. She purchases designer clothing and furnishes her house with the best. But should anybody have been present as she faced her computer with its 1996 soon to be as common as Osterizers, her webcam you might have noticed that she would have either been wearing nothing or nothing to write home about. Her living room would have been shabby or just plain. Gibson in 1996 was predicting that some day we will dress up with make-believe dress up clothing that is 100% virtual.
But had you been spying behind the woman in the Far East in the two-way video communication you would have admired the dress and makeup and the look of the living room she was viewing. You might have noticed little important details like the not-brand-new but lived in and comfortable (but expensive) sofa. The room, with a thin coat of dust, here and there, and the sofa with creases in the right places would have made the room look authentic. Something called fractals would have added the dust and the creases. The fractals in some way made digital perfection more perfect by making it less so. Sort of, like Ivory’s 99 44/100% pure soap – this side of perfection, perfection.
The man who invented and coined the word fractals, a new class of mathematical shapes whose uneven contours could mimic the irregularities found in nature, Benoît Mandelbrot died this past Thursday. He was 85.
When I read his most interesting career in the obituary of the New York Times I thought of another Mandelbrot I had met in my past, more precisely sometime in April of 1999.
The man whose real name was Stephen Osborne is the editor of Geist the Vancouver intellectual/art magazine. He was very pleased to be my photographic subject for a Georgia Straight article. Pleased enough that he sent me a signed copy of his very nice book of essays, Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the new World. Mr. Osborne also founded Pulp Press Book Publishers which became Arsenal Pulp Press one of the few publishing firms left in Vancouver. He confessed to me that he was an amateur photographer and that when he published or someone published his photographs he used the name Mandelbrot.
A few years after I sent queries about contributing to his magazine. I never did receive a reply. It would seem that the amateur Mandelbrot did not want an amateur writer Mandelbrot writing for Geist! Years later I sent queries to that other Vancouver arts magazine, The Vancouver Review. This time I received a satisfactory (in that my existence was at least acknowledged) rejection that my writing was not the type of writing pursued by the publication.
To this day I treasure a pleasant letter (it did have some praise) of rejection from Bill Bufford who was editor of Granta in the 80s. If only I could apply some fractals to what I write and modify its lack of perfection. I could achieve a potential Ivory.