in modum ludus

Kafka is fiction, sort of. Continue reading

Ex regina


He was reluctant to continue towards the dim wall that surrounded the city. Seeing this, the Queen said “think of this as a performance for a very small audience. You have a persona for your performances elsewhere, of course?”
The Doctor nodded.
“You must adopt a persona here as well, if you intend to travel further.”
“I am not much of an actor”, he said.
“Nonsense. Be still, be quiet, and your audience will do the acting for you, seeing what they expect to see, not what you think they see.”
They stood and continued down the uneven steps towards the gates.

[From The King and the Queen City, an unpublished and unwritten book in the Oxford Noir series]

in proprio persona


It took some careful persuasion, and half a bottle of college port, before the Bursar eventually explained why there was no portrait of the late Master in the great hall. The Master refused to sit for said portrait in life but he granted permission to his executors to arrange a sitting post mortem. The result, admittedly regal and compelling, was rightfully considered too visceral for the undergraduates that would sit beneath its hollow gaze. Fittingly, the portrait was removed to the stairway outside the graduate tutor’s office where passers-by were more comforted than unsettled.

[from the unpublished and unwritten Oxford Noir]

Memento mori



When they were seated, and after a long pause, the man spoke to the King. ‘My cat is mortal.’
The King, being a sensitive observer of his subjects, knew this was more complaint than statement of fact. The man continued almost inaudibly ‘this is unacceptable.’
The King answered ‘indeed.’
‘And what then’, the man asked expectantly, ‘are the limits of your power?’
‘In this regard,’ said the King, ‘my powers are of no value at all… at all.’
‘Indeed’, said the man.
‘indeed’, said the Queen.
‘indeed’, said the city of the dead.

[From the 4th book in the unpublished and unwritten Oxford Noir series: The King and the Queen City.]

pendant / pedant


Respect des fonds had no temporal limit at the archives. Everyone knew that there were divine punishments for researchers who made their own ‘inclusions’ in the files. The young doctoral student who thought to deploy paperclips to keep his place in a particularly dense bundle of recorda learned that there were more immediate punishments for the most wicked. The archivist was pragmatic and impatient and perhaps agnostic.

[more from the unpublished and unloved Oxford Noir]

A detail of minor value

John Fyneux was Chief Justice of the court of King’s Bench from 1495 until his death in 1525. J. R. Baker, in his thorough manner, tells us that his name was likely pronounced as ‘phoenix’ “with the x sounded” and as support he mentions “in the plea rolls the first membrane sometimes has a phoenix drawn against his name”.

in hic modo

[TNA KB 27/1016 rot. 1f (Trinity term, 1515)]


* J. R. Baker, ed. The Reports of Sir John Spelman Vol. II, Selden Society, 94 (London: Selden Society, 1978), 358, n, 3.




Tucked away at the bottom of his supervisor’s Hillary term review was a short description of his teaching that term. His supervisor had described him as ‘relaxed.’ Considering the sort of tension he experienced when teaching was so intense that only metaphors involving foot-pounds of torque would capture the sense of it, reading that someone saw that performance as ‘relaxed’ was a genuine shock.

Teaching was always a performance, exhausting and painful, but necessary. He did not think that he was that good an actor. Or maybe he was just that good a lair.

[Probably from Oxford Nior, but maybe from something else I read recently. Not sure, my memory isn’t what it once was.}


“Il est avoyer quex chose ydyot poit faire.”


As he listened to the Warden address the fellows, the words of Sir John Port drifted to mind:
“Every idiot is a fool, not having discretion. But not every fool is an idiot.”*


* This, and the title, come to Oxford Noir, by way of Sir J. H. Baker, ed. The Notebook of Sir John Port, Selden Society vol. 102 (London: Selden Society, 1986), 131.