Captions (To The Cartoons We Live)–In Defense of Captions & A Curriculum Vitae.

Mr Nemo
7 min readMay 30, 2019

By H. Alan Tansson


1. In Defense of Captions

Starting two weeks from today, on Wednesday, 12 June 2019, Against Professional Philosophy will republish the second installment–and then in subsequent weeks, the later installments–of a series (hereby) collectively entitled “Captions.” They are so-entitled because they have been taken from a self-published collection called “Captions To The Cartoons We Live,” which the author paid to have printed by iUniverse publishing, coincidentally located in the town he went to college in. The two volumes were published under the pseudonym H. Alan Tansson, which is because his father’s name was Tan (short for NaTanyu), and his real last name was shared by his brother, Ray, who would not want books of captions with sometimes racy cartoons attached being confused with his eminently scholarly treatises.

“Captions” are a literary form related to the sermon, a didactic shaggy-dog story in which the anecdotes are subjected to analysis and turned into parables. Captions may contain graphic anecdotes not suitable for a preacher, rabbi, priest, guru, or mullah, and most certainly not for their sermons.

Further differentiating a caption from a sermon, their subjects are often cultural cartoons. A literary “caption” is to a philosophy what a caption provides a snapshot or political cartoon.

Like sermons, however, captions share the characteristic wrap-up. Wrapping up is done as soon as you can get yourself back around to where you began. The return loop is essential, creating a metric cycle, or unique self-reference in time which conveys a feeling of universality that a sermon’s parables call for. This requirement exists as well for the philosophical points which a caption aims to score.

Without these return loops, however, both sermons and captions deteriorate into mere “shaggy dog stories,” with anecdotes strung together in a haphazard chain of digressions. Normal discourse tends to add an anecdote for each person or place we happen to mention in a story, and true shaggy dog stories can be very meaningful and utterly personal to the individual telling them and without end to anyone else.

After about an hour of one of Aunt Rose’s interminable monologues I will say, “if you could just give me the caption, I believe I have the rest….” Unfortunately, Aunt Rose does not know how to find her way out of a story. I believe I have developed the technique of casual didactic conversation and anecdotal analysis to a new level in these essays — exploring each random side-path but finding the trail in order to turn very deep thoughts into common discourse, with a poetic line or two in place of a moral at the end.

Any English teacher will say:

“After all that nonsense, you’ve just defined ‘essay’. Your word ‘caption’ means no more than ‘essaie’ did when Michel de Montaigne invented the form.”

If Montaigne changed his name to “Mountain Mike” and took on the attitude of a radio shock-jock, and THEN invented the “essay” form, I’d be happy to drop the term ‘caption’ and call these ‘essays.’ For then people would know that essays can help them confirm a posture of recreational alienation.

We are all philosophers, listening to our own radio stations and writing our own blogs. It is culturally correct to display an awareness that the world is no more than sham and posturing — i.e., the awareness of life as only a caricature. This is difficult to swallow unless we maintain a posture of partial alienation, where both cynicism and full engagement are to be considered recreation, and any intellectual effort (outside of one’s work) is only undertaken for fun or exercises at a local gym.

To ask for philosophical thought outside of sermons or science or self-help books today is to ask for a caricature or a cartoon. This is the approach I have taken, and why the term ‘essay’ will not do for what are simply ‘captions’.

However, what Montaigne and Bacon and Emerson did for common subjects of experience in their essays, I would hope captions can do for today’s wallboard reality. Where sitcoms and films are the standard metric by which all experience is judged, we need captions (with forced wit and canned laughter) to explain what is in front of our face. For those of us who still read, they are to be read like sitcoms are watched.

There are forty-some odd captions in the first volume that are grouped into four sections with the following titles: We Think We Think deals with the human senses and the nonsense they cause; The Creative Rut includes analyses of the ends of creativity and art, which takes us to Stories from a Bar-Stool, which is where the creative rut usually takes us. The Procreative Rut originally cut a much longer groove than the creative rut, for when I wrote these pieces I spent more of my creative juices thinking about rutting than art. Luckily I find such topics a bit boring today, and in wrenching myself back from such Bukovskian dead ends, I finally found time to finish a book.

The second volume was entitled Antidisestablishmentarianistically Speaking. Back in 4th grade I only knew how to spell this word, but with diligence and by asking many Episcopalians I eventually found out it that means “in defense of established religions.” That second volume has thirty odder essays grouped in sections entitled: Edgecational Edgeneering, Antidisestablishmentarianistically Speaking, Nietzsche’s Children, and Everything’s Connected. They were grouped in a very appropriate sequence, allowing you to choose a caption for whatever frame of mind you’re in when you pick up the book. But they shall be republished here at Against Professional Philosophy rather as experience comes, helter-skelter, and doesn’t choose topics of life in any special order. So if you don’t buy the books you can still take things as they come, here at APP — entirely out of your control.

2. A Curriculum Vitae

H. Alan Tansson (pseudonym of Harry “Sparky” Jackendoff, b. 1948), in his so-called retirement, is the founder of Trenton Cultural Castings Co., available online, here– <>, and the creator of artistic busts of cultural heroes of the 20th century.

Like many of his generation, he has a colorful past: oarsman, exterminator, pig-farmer, truck-driver, sewage treatment plant secretary, data collection consultant to UNDP (United Nations), NASA, the World Bank, FEMA, and the State Department, and consulting in training systems design to the US Dept of Education (teacher training) and the Pentagon.

One year he ran a run-down inner-city chrome-plating plant; many years later he installed a cutting-edge computer chip technology at NSA’s high security chip manufacturing facility.

Subsequent years were eaten up while preparing to “migrate” old mainframe systems to newer model computers that are by design, built quite differently — a high-stress over-night process in high-risk industries that are not allowed mistakes. His specialty was risk analysis.

His initial graduate research culminated in two invitations to Ulan Bator by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences to lecture on the early history of Chinggis Khan; while working on his thesis in 1976 he was employed as editor/typist/librarian at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Philosophy, where he mentored under Elizabeth Flower and Abraham Edel in philosophy and ethics.

Respect codes — the focus of his Mongolian ethnographic history — morphed into a focus on sensory parsing (the Risiology), leading to work in industrial training technology in the 1980s when he stopped making puppets and joined the corporate world.

While serving in the training department of a major world engineering firm in the 1980’s, he invented “the Video Debriefer” — preparing the way for future corporate/social memories collected in searchable/parsable Youtube-like format.

Taking a masters in Information Systems Technology, cognition, database structure and retrieval were focused on a revolutionary data transmission protocol for on-the-fly coding of events, which morphed into struggling with the idea of event grammars that fluted through harmonics (i.e., all that 1970s investment in the Risiology) back to the problem of emotional sensing.

This became the foundation for the Pacioli Principle of timefield calibration as he recalibrates life in his 70s.

He and his 2nd wife settled in Trenton, NJ, where he formed the Trenton Public Safety Coalition.

Supporting the call of Trenton High School’s principal for a parent safety force, aided by the New Black Panthers, a task he kept up daily for two years, he was named 2012 Citizen of the Year.

He has two children by his first marriage: daughter Hilary is a meditation instructor to the well-heeled denizens of Los Angeles, CA; son Ben is a film editor, who produced and authored Masters of the Sun — Marvel’s 2017 graphic novel and phone-ap featuring Will I-Am of the band “Black-Eyed Peas.”

Jackendoff has self-published four books: Bacon and Eggheads (2005), The Devil’s Laugh and Other Stories (2009), We Think We Think (2010), Antidisestablishmentarianistically Speaking (2011)).

He continues to post his ongoing academic work on, here: <>.

His articles include: “Conjectures on a Bifurcation,” “The Risiology,” “The Flux Logic,” “Corollaries to Common Sense,” and “The Current Crisis of Science.”

And his recent books include: Stupidity & the Sublime (partial draft, 2017); Thick: Navigating the Great Reality Sandwich with William James (2019);The Work of Emotion (chapter summary only); and Coincidensity: The Pacioli Principle. (chapter summary only).


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 30 May 2019

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.