Posts Tagged ‘literature’
“I have had UFO experiences, and yet, at the same time, I can easily be convinced that none of it is true”*…
In 1995, as part of the Walt Disney Company Presents series (that was hosted by Michael Eisner, doing his not-very-successful best to channel Walt), Disney aired “Alien Encounters.” A documentary that opens with footage of “an actual spacecraft from another world, piloted by alien intelligence,” and the pronouncement that “intelligent life from distant galaxies is now attempting to make open contact with the human race,” it only aired once.
* Frank Black (AKA Black Francis, of the Pixies)
As we look to the skies, we might spare a thought for Gertrude Stein; she died on this date in 1946. An American ex-pat, Stein was an author, poet, and memoirist (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas). But she was probably most impactful and is best remembered as a hostess and mentor to a generation of writers (e.g., Hemingway,described her salon in A Moveable Feast) and artists (e.g., Picasso) in Paris, where– “the mother of us all”**– she held court for forty years.
** The Mother of Us All was the title of a Virgil Thomson opera for which Stein wrote the libretto. And while the subject of the opera, Susan B. Anthony, certainly deserves the epithet, so, many have observed, did its author.
Long before the lights from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park began illuminating the North Shore every summer, a local corporation gave the city an art show every night on the same grounds.
The Westinghouse Electric Supply Company (a subsidiary of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, or Wesco), based in Pittsburgh, moved into a warehouse facing the Allegheny River in 1948. On its roof, a giant orange and blue sign spelled out the the company’s tag line, “You can be sure … if it’s Westinghouse.”
As modernist design trickled down from the Bauhaus to Madison Avenue, most noticeably in the 1960s, corporate giants like Westinghouse began leaning towards minimalist visual identities. In 1960, Paul Rand gave the company a logo that looked like an electrical socket that also spelled out the letter W.
Six years later, Richard Huppertz, head of Westinghouse’s Corporate Design Center, wanted to emphasize the company’s sleek new identity with text-free signage on top of their North Shore warehouse. Huppertz ran the idea by Rand, who then came up with the country’s first computer-controlled sign…
Read the rest of this illuminating story at “Remembering Pittsburgh’s Most Mesmerizing Sign.”
* Walt Whitman
As we celebrate bright ideas, we might turn to the noir side and send hard-boiled birthday greetings to Raymond Chandler, novelist (The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, et al.) and screenwriter (Double Indemnity, with Billy Wilder, e.g.), whose Philip Marlowe was (with Hammett’s Sam Spade) synonymous with “private detective,” whose style (with Hammett’s) defined a genre, and who was (unlike Hammett) born on this date in 1888.
Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective’s struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.
- Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel” (essay, 1949)
Book blurbs– the promotional copy and quotes that adorn the jackets of novels and the one-sheets for films– date back to the early 20th century… since which time they’ve become, well, a little over-ripe…
…blurbs have gotten so over-the-top. With fewer eyes to see them, an endorsement must be big to gain any traction.
—Jennifer Weiner, “All Blurbed Out,” The New York Times, May 17
Tom Rachman (author of the best-selling The Imperfectionists and the recent The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) imagines how the blurbs for works of classic literature might have read:
THE DIVINE COMEDY, by Dante Aligheri
“Nowadays, who’s got time for poetry, what with everyone gearing up for the Renaissance? But this laugh-out-loud comedy is a must-read. Perfect for the beach, or when taking a break from your fresco.”
–Petrarch, father of humanism and runner-up for National Book Award
THE PRINCE, by Niccolò Machiavelli
“Unputdownable. If this rip-roaring, gob-smacking, take-me-with-you-to-the-Palazzo-Vecchio gem doesn’t start the field of political science, I seriously don’t know what will.”
–Lorenzo de Medici (during TED talk)
DON QUIXOTE, by Miguel de Cervantes
“Like a cross between Orlando Furioso and Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, this is the picaresque road-trip novel to end begin all picaresque road-trip novels. What’s that noise? Oh, just the 17th century getting off to a bang. Bravo, señor.”
–William Shakespeare, author of Tony Award-winning sensation Hamlet
More preposterous promotion at The Rumpus in “Great Blurbs in History: a Selection.”
* the blurb for Monty Python and the Holy Grail
As we search for our grains of salt, we might it was on this date in 1792 that William Wordsworth, on a walking tour of the Lake District with his sister Dorothy, visited the ruins of Tintern Abbey. The visit inspired one of Wordsworth’s earliest poems (“Tintern Abbey”), in which he articulated some of the fundamental themes of Romantic poetry– main among them, the restorative power of nature. The poem appeared in Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798, on which Wordsworth collaborated with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose Rime of the Ancient Mariner was also included). The book sold out quickly, occasioning a second edition that included a preface by Wordsworth widely considered to be a central work of Romantic literary theory.
Police Squad! hit the air in the fall of 1982, thirty-minute comedy on ABC created by Zucker Abrahams and Zucker, who’d had enormous success two years earlier with Airplane!. A broad parody of television crime shows (perhaps especially, of Lee Marvin and M Squad), Police Squad! ran for only four episodes before it was jerked by the network– for reasons explained in the quote that titles this post. The two further episodes that had been produced were aired off the following summer.
In retrospect, it seems clear that Police Squad!‘s only crime was timing. As Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, said in 2010:
If Police Squad! had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.
Indeed, six years later Zucker Abrahams and Zucker took Police Squad! star Leslie Nielsen– along with the concept and the approach– back to the big screen with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, which was both both a critical and a box office success. It was followed by The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear and Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.
Readers can see for themselves– all six episodes of Police Squad! are now available on You Tube. Happy 4th of July Weekend!
Special Holiday Weekend bonus: Stream 14 films that Roger Ebert loved and hated.
* Tony Thomopoulos, President of ABC Entertainment
As we do our best to restrain ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1855 that Walt Whitman anonymously self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass (it carried his picture but not his name). Whitman employed a new verse form, one with which he had been experimenting, revolutionary at the time– one free of a regular rhythm or rhyme scheme, that has come to be known as “free verse.” The content of Leaves of Grass was every bit as revolutionary, celebrating the human body and the common man. Whitman spent the rest of his life revising and enlarging Leaves of Grass; the ninth edition appeared in 1892, the year of his death.
A fore-edge painting is an image on the edges of the pages of a book. The work can only be seen when the pages are fanned (as illustrated in the GIF above and the videos below). When the book is closed, the image is obscured by the gilding– the gold leaf applied to the edges of the page.
Fore-edge paintings first arose during the European Middle Ages but came to prominence during the mid-17th century to the late 19th century. Anne C. Bromer for the Boston Public Library [which holds one of the finest collections of fore-edge paintings in the U.S.] writes, “Most fore-edge painters working for binding firms did not sign their work, which explains why it is difficult to pinpoint and date the hidden paintings.”
As we hunt for Easter eggs, we might spare an ecumenical thought for Ramon Llull; he died on this date in 1315 [source]. A philosopher, logician, poet, and theologian who was heavily influenced by Islam, he is credited with the first major work of Catalan literature (the romantic novel Blanquerna), with having anticipated by several centuries prominent work on elections theory, and with pioneering work on computation theory (largely given his influence on Leibniz).
One of the earliest Encyclopedists, he gave up the life of a courtier (to King James of Aragon) first to become a hermit, then a Franciscan. After a 1297 meeting with Duns Scotus, he was given the nickname Doctor Illuminatus.