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SOT Waterwheel

V.M. Straka’s 18th’ book, published just prior to Ship of Theseus, is Coriolis. Coriolis is mentioned many times throughout SOT, both in FXC’s footnotes and in the marginalia (see this great exhaustive walkthrough of Coriolis mentions).

The name Coriolis comes from Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis, a French mathematician and scientist. Filomela Caldera mentions him by name in Fn6, p84…


As Eric points out in the margins, she deliberately substitutes Serge for the middle name Gustave (a clue of some sort) regarding his work in the mathematical principles of kinetic energy. He is also famous for observing the Coriolis EffectCoriolis discovered this effect and expanded his studies in kinetic and potential energy while studying waterwheels.

And, it seems no coincidence, that our friend Maelstrom has a name that means, literally, millstream. A millstream is a body of water whose sole purpose is to turn a waterwheel at a mill. The millstream turns the water wheel. Maelstrom turns the ship’s wheel.

It seems we may be meant to look deeper at Coriolis and his studies of the waterwheel, or at the very least what he discovered while studying it.

Let’s start with FXC’s footnote: kinetic energyKinetic and potential energy have their roots in Aristotle’s concept of actuality and potentiality: a study in what can be, and what is. Our book “S” is filled with such references, both to potential/kinetic energy and actuality/potentiality and mills, grinding, etc.

The Principality of Rumor

The original, working title for Ship of Theseus was The Principality of Rumor (p316). A principality is “small area or country ruled by a prince.” Where else would a prince named Rumor rule but the Rumor Mill. The Principality of Rumor is just a fancy way of saying Rumor Mill.

The Organ Grinder

The organ grinder turns a wheel to grind the potential music on the cylinder into its actual sounds. To mill is to grind. (p7-10)


There are numerous references to teeth in Ship of Theseus…

What’s with all the creepy dental details? Jen (p401)

Here are just a few: S’s dream of the false teeth contraptions  (276-277), Pfeifer’s brilliant pearly whites as Nemec (p364), Maelstrom’s ugly teeth (p33), and the monkey’s teeth or lack thereof (p9, p401).

Another word for teeth is grinders. Ecclesiastes 12:3 talks about how as we get older, our grinders cease because they are few.

Wallace Stevens

On p84, we learn that Jen has to do a paper on the poem 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens. On p111, Jen comments that she is having real trouble finishing this work. Eric replies to Jen…

Doesn’t matter if you’re not inspired.
Just gotta grind it out.

Obsidian Pieces

Obsidian is often ground to get it to shine.

The Daily Pronghorn (insert p32-33)

A Pronghorn is a ruminant. So are pollards. The word ruminant comes from the Latin ruminate which means to “chew over again.” So here we have a reference to teeth grinding food.

The picture of the Lake Cormorant boathouse looks suspiciously like an old water mill. The waterwheel would have been on the side hidden from view, where the newer, bluer addition now sits.

The article about the need to “Reevaluate Beef” pictures ground beef.

The article about Eric’s mischievous flooding of Standefer Hall explains that most of the damage was done to the ground floor.

The article entitled Philosophy Welcomes Wenke, Professor Wenke explains “My work is both groundbreaking and foundational.”


There are numerous references to Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. One etymological possibility for the origin of the name and the story of Hamlet is the old Irish name Admlithi, which means “great-grinding” and is associated with the mythological mill grotti. There is a book called Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and Its Transmission Through Myth. The book posits that ancient stories were told by “connecting the dots” of the stars in the sky (think S in the chapter The Drifting Twins watching the stars “disconnect” from each other). It is a fascinating read and resonates deeply with J.J. Abrams’ and Doug Dorst’s insistence that S is a love letter to the written word. One version of the ancient story of Hamlet’s Mill explains how the sea became salty – with a salt grinder.


Motion. His mind does not sense it, but his body does. It is yanked and tugged, a piece of unwieldy freight. It bounces along with the cadence of someone else’s footsteps. It is hoisted, swung, dropped, dragged, and dropped again. Rest. (p25-26)

In the climax of the story, as is about to cause the deaths of a thousand people by adding poison to the black wine, he pauses. Reconsiders. Realizes that this is not what he wants to do. And then he makes a different decision. (p431)


The crowd parts for her. The respect is obvious, as is the shared desire to have her take control of the situation, to keep the potential energy of the conflict from turning kinetic(p84)

The Ship

Some of the changes are felicitous; many more are not, each one seeming to widen the gap between what was intended and what turned out to be. (p291)

V.M. Straka

On p361 (19*19), there is a card presumably given away at Desjardins’ funeral. On one side is a falconer with his bird resting on his arm as he stands among roses. On the back is a quote from Coriolis

A person is no more and no less than the story of his passion and deeds.

Passion is the potentiality. Deeds are the actuality.

The Tradition

For the first time, he understands the tradition,or at least recognizes the most essential of its constituent parts. The stories that move outside time—that divert, oppose, resist. His life of words, of pictures and sounds that contemplate what the world is or could be. (p404-405)

The Book’s Ending

The book ends with S looking through a spyglass from his ship – the xebec – as it looks to him in the present.

It has become the mad assemblage of misfit masts and decks and hatches and portholes and scuppers and bulwarks and bowsprit and wheel and rudder and sails that compose the ship as he knows it. A horrible thing. (p291)

But as he looks through the spyglass, he sees something else…

another ship. Not a ghost ship, no; she is a ship with flags flying and sailors working on deck, sails trimmed and humming in the wind, a glorious wake churning out behind her, and what looks like two people standing on the quarterdeck and sharing the wheel.

The book sends with S seeing the potentiality through the spyglass while still standing amidst the actuality of the present. His newfound choices give him the potentiality for a new actuality.

What determines the difference between potentiality and actuality – at least in living beings? Choice. As The Lady on Obsidian Island said to S

You have choices to make….And they are about how, and even whether, you will live.

So what does all of this have to do with a waterwheel? As the water from the millstream turns the waterwheel, the driveshaft powers the mill and grinds something from its current potential state into its desired actual state.

If Maelstrom is the millstream, and the wheel he turns on the ship is the waterwheel, what does this make the ship? A mill? If so, what is the ship grinding?

You might say that S. has only himself to blame, that it is entirely his choice to fight this fight, to live a life of vigilant somnolence or somnolent vigilantism, to allow himself to be satisfied with Sola in the margins of his manuscripts instead of in his arms, and you might be right. But you ought to understand, too, that there’s an attrition that takes place inside, one in which options and choices and even desires are ground ever smaller until finally their existence can no longer be confirmed by observation or weight or displacement but only by faith. (p319)

I’m just telling you what the ground is telling me. — John Locke (LOST)