The Art of the Diddle: “Hans Phaall”

Harold Beaver got it: “Invert ‘Phaal’, that other variant of his name! What sound do you hear but ‘laugh’?”1

“Hans Phaall” plays with the transition from physical manuscript to typeset (printed) page. Will Dexter catch the extra “r” in parrallel? Will White be incensed when he sees obvious typos in his finals? Are the publisher and his printers the victims of Poe’s office prank, as the three exploded “creditors”?

I do believe that Poe, not Hans, may be the drunken villain at the tippling house. [Baudelaire was right!] Think of an Alfred Hitchcock walk-on.

Begin with Aristotle’s Metaphysics 4.1005b [italics mine]:

... "It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation"; and we must add any further qualifications that may be necessary to meet logical objections. This is the most certain of all principles, since it possesses the required definition; for it is impossible for anyone to suppose that the same thing is and is not, as some imagine that Heraclitus says — for what a man says does not necessarily represent what he believes. And if it is impossible for contrary attributes to belong at the same time to the same subject (the usual qualifications must be added to this premiss also), and an opinion which contradicts another is contrary to it, then clearly it is impossible for the same man to suppose at the same time that the same thing is and is not; for the man who made this error would entertain two contrary opinions at the same time. Hence all men who are demonstrating anything refer back to this as an ultimate belief; for it is by nature the starting-point of all the other axioms as well.

Cognitive overlap: Hans and the moon-man traverse a singular narrative track simultaneously.

The Möbius strip represented below is smooth, whole, and complete unto itself. So is a Poe hoax, but although the structural internals are very tightly self-integrating, it is also dimensionally intertwined, leaping from the fictive realm to reality, from page to editor’s office. And all inside your head.

Where is the entry point?

What happens if a Möbius strip is transformed (mathematically speaking, of course) from three dimensions to two? What sorts of distortions and gaps appear?

A perfectly formed irreal “3D” Möbius strip casting a grotesque “2D” shadow in “real life.”

These things become apparent to us only because we are dimensionally fixated in “real life.” But not in fiction. What if a work of fiction could be built that transformed a structure built upon a Möbius strip from 3+ dimensions to 2 and/or vice versa simultaneously? Would that smoothly integrated whole not look odd, disjointed, even grotesque in our restricted world? An error, a mistake.

Of course, as we initially experience the tale (i.e., before pulling back to attempt the necessary decoding process to “get it”), Hans and the moon-man smush together something like this:

Unique to be sure, and a point of pride — in a way. And this is the point at which most ProfCrit inquiry stops.