decaying fruit

I mentioned that the watercolour paintings of John White, early colonizer to America, are unclear, in that there’s a profusion and confusion of versions, copies, attempts. You can see here three version of a plantain, from three different surviving sources. The first is dated by the British Museum to between 1585 and 1593, and they credit it to John White:

British Museum

The second image has the same rough dates, c.1585, but is given as ‘after John White’:

British Museum; ” in fact the artist has not understood the foreshortening of the cut fruit and has drawn a full circle to show the inside rather than White’s ellipse.”

The third plantain is from an early 18th century album in the British Library called “Drawings of Plants, Flowers & Fruits in various Hands”, for which Hans Sloane commissioned someone to copy the image from a book of John White’s paintings:

British Library, at folio 81 recto

( Velvet Underground fans who can see where I’m going with this one can skip over to Richard Forrest for details of the genesis of the album cover.)

I’m interested in this idea of images degrading, misshaping, developing, reforming. There’s a modern (1980s) take on this at Don Hodges’ discussion of the problems inbuilt in the video arcade game Pac-man. What’s the glitch? It follows from when Pac-man has completed each level, by eating all the dots in the maze, and a fruit appears along the bottom, as a prize. But when the player reaches level 256, the correct fruit fails to appear. Instead, the right hand side of the screen mashes up into a smörgåsbord of numbers and coloured pixels.

pic from

“Then the game returns, and Pac Man is doomed because this level is un-finishable.” Don Hedges explains exactly why and how this happens (to do with faulty counting, with fruit-drawing routines running on parts of the grid that aren’t visible to the player, and with quarters of images that should be together, getting separated and distributed over the page.) And he offers an “elegant” fix of the code, to stop the decay appearing. He concludes, though, that “It is probably a good thing that Pac Man has this bug in its program”, so that the game has an end. Without it, “Experts would have been able to play the game for weeks, months, even years, or more.”

Everything, even Pac-man, should have an end horizon.