"The Identity of a Guitar"


Page 0. The comics in this volume are dedicated to Eddie Van Halen. I always thought that if I ever met him, I might screw up the courage to tell him this. Since that's no longer possible, I'll say it here. You were the one who made me want to learn music. You started me on a journey that would alter the course of my life forever. I wouldn't be the same person if not for you. I know you probably get this a lot, but it's true. You changed my life. Thanks.

Page 1. Panels 1 and 2. The World On A String. Volume 4 number 1. CC BY-SA Ken Alleman 2020. K has a guitar laid out on a work table. Maryam looks on as he works on it. Maryam says, "New guitar?" K says, "Just put some new strings on." Maryam says, "So it's an old guitar." K says, "Is it? I wonder." Panels 3 and 4. Diagram of a pack of strings rotating on and off of a guitar neck. K says, "New strings are a common form of guitar maintenance. But they might also be considered a parts replacement. One might argue that changing the parts means it's no longer the same guitar." Panels 5 and 6. Mr. Long comes riding in on a flying cloud and jumps off. K and Maryam duck for cover. Mr. Long says, "A ha! What you mean is an accidental property. An element of the guitar's identity that can be taken away without making it a different guitar."

Page 2. Panel 1. Mr. Long strolls casually around the lab, his hands in the pockets of his blazer. Maryam and K both make a face that says, "Oh no, not again." Mr. Long says, "This differs from an essential property, which, if taken away, would mean it is no longer the same guitar." Panel 2. We see a Venn diagram of two guitars, labeled A and B, with a question mark where it overlaps in the middle. Mr. Long says, "If a guitar can be changed up to a point and still be the same guitar, at what point does it become a new guitar? The more the guitar changes, and the faster it changes, the harder it will be to identify as the original guitar." Panels 3 and 4. Mr. Long has a manic grin on his face. The more he talks, the more he sweats. He says, "Also, the guitar is changing constantly in ways both big and small, whether by the human hand or by natural processes. Is it ever really the same guitar? If its properties are constantly in flux, then are any of its properties essential? Or maybe it's always the same guitar." Panel 5. We see a long line of guitars, with one guitar in the middle highlighted. Mr. Long says, "Every change links to the change before and after it, a chain that goes back to the original guitar!" Panel 6. Illustrations of tuning heads, strings, and a pickup. Mr. Long says, "Also, strings and other guitar parts are, to some extent, fungible. They can be exchanged with other parts that perform the same function without altering the overall functionality of the guitar."

Page 3. Panel 1. Cartoon montage of Mr. Long rocking out on a guitar, surrounded by tools. He says, "Let's imagine I change out various parts of the guitar without your knowledge, then I break them in to the same degree as the originals." Panel 2. K plays his guitar, oblivious to Mr. Long peering in from behind. Mr. Long says, "The next time you play the guitar, if you don't notice a difference, has the guitar changed?" Panel 3. Mr. Long has been going on for so long that he pours sweat and his hair is flying away in all directions. He says, "Maybe there's one specific part where the guitar's identity resides." Panel 4. Closeup of the body of K's guitar. Mr. Long says, "K bought this guitar relatively new in 1963. But the neck had already been swapped from a 1962 model. And the pickups are donors from an older guitar yet, from 1959." Panels 5 and 6. Mr. Long gesticulates wildly, saying, "So is it a '63 or a '62? Or a '59! Imagine the guitar goes into a futuristic replicator machine." Maryam facepalms, saying, "Why did I come in today?" K walks away, looking grumpy. K says, "I'll put the kettle on" as Mr. Long continues his rant in the background.

Page 4. Panel 1. MacCormac is brushing her teeth. She does a spit take as Ed surprises her from behind. Ed says, "MacCormac! It is I, Ed." MacCormac yells, "Bah! For the love of..." Panel 2. Ed waves their hand and says, "Behold, the string syllabus!" Panel 3. A sprawling web diagram with topics like "how to play" and "novel approaches." Every installment of The World On A String up to this point is linked to at least two topics each. It is implied that this visual index is being magically transmitted from Ed to MacCormac. Panels 4 and 5. Ed says, "And that is all the knowledge in The World On A String to date. We have taken back the comic. Now, I must go." Panel 6. MacCormac, incredulous, says, "That's it?" An editorial caption idenitfies "We have taken back the comic" as a reference to Volume 2 Number 2.

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