Monday, June 17, 2013


PRISM. I wish the geeks of NSA hadn't called their spying program by that name, however appropriate it might appear to be. Prism is a lovely word, or was before we had to add to it the dark spectre of being spied upon.

In centuries past prisms were used on old sailing vessels to let sunlight into gloomy areas: deck prisms. (See photograph HERE). I suppose those at NSA, who hit upon this name for their spy-baby, thought they'd be letting light into areas formerly thought to be, while not dark, certainly out of bounds to the wandering eye.

As poet e.e. cummings wrote:
“The Symbol of all Art is the Prism. The goal is destructive. To break up the white light of objective realism into the secret glories it contains.” Destructive- yes, in this case destructive of privacy.

Artist Jonathan Saiz, while spending time on the island of Mykonos in 2011/12, painted a series of gorgeous large oil paintings he titled Alkahest; he defines that word as "the hypothetical universal solvent sought by the alchemist".
"In this crystalline form everything is made of the multitude - the splendors of Versailles, the rearing stallion and other distractions or ambitions. A curious history restlessly shifting, its charged particles and reflections dissolving into a universal something. Its mystical alignment ordered by instinct or impulse where themes emerge through incoherent leaps and th vague impressions of something more about to appear or having just faded."
See the whole set of Alkahest in large format at the painter's website here

- I've borrowed a couple as samples:

What else.....

Well, Charles Dickens, in his novel Little Dorrit, has a character, Mrs General, who is prim in the extreme and a snob. She tells the Dorrit girls, after they and their family have been released from debtors' prison, and she attempts to give the girls some "polish" that:
“Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips.”

As well as being (I guess) a kind of exercise to keep the lips of a young woman plump, and desirable, the inclusion of "prism" could be seen as indicating that, in polite society of the 19th century, to be "proper" a woman was not the source of her own light, but merely ornamental, reflecting the opinions of others rather than advancing her own.

Dickens' use of prunes and prisms was later picked up by other, female, writers: Louisa May Alcott refers to "prunes and prisms" in Little Women and other novels. Lucy Maud Montgomery uses "prunes and prisms" in the Anne of Green Gables books. The term became emblamatic of snootiness.

Finally, considering prisms, mustn't forget this: the illustration on the cover of Pink Floyd's famous album of the 1970s.


mike said...

The word reminds me of Oscar Wilde's character, the scholarly Miss Prism, in his book, "The Importance of Being Earnest".
Miss Prism: "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

From the list of acronyms ( comes this:
"PRISM: Pride Raising Awareness Involvement Support Mentoring"
Have you been PRISMed lately?! I don't think that I want any.

This morning I read that China is starting to ask questions about the USA's PRISM program:

Twilight said...

mike ~~~ Me neither (re wanting to be PRISMed).

It could also be seen as yet another -ism too: PR-ism - Public Relations-ism. Public Relations - but not in a good way!

Yes, there's still plenty of life in this story. It'll run and run - as you said when commenting on the astrological aspect of it and Ed Snowden.

R J Adams said...

Ah, 'Dark Side of the Moon'! I doubt I'd have survived puberty without it. Damn those NSA blockheads. To associate their pathetic, useless, spying program with a Pink Floyd masterpiece is to denigrate the divine.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ :-D I'd feel the same if they'd called their program SINATRA!