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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“I believe in looseness”*…

 

Robert Greene as pictured in the frontispiece to John Dickenson’s Greene in Conceipt (1598)- the only known image of the dramatist, poet, pamphleteer

Known for his debauched lifestyle, his flirtations with criminality, and the sheer volume of his output, the Elizabethan writer Robert Greene was a fascinating figure.  Ed Simon explores the literary merits and bohemian traits of the man who penned the earliest known (and far from flattering) reference to Shakespeare as a playwright: “Robert Greene, the First Bohemian.”

* Willie Nelson

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As we frolic on the fringes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1750 that the first issue of the first college student magazine, Student, or the Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany, was published.

Cover of a 20th century collected reprint

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Written by LW

January 31, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony”*…

 

Before electronic amplification, instrument makers and musicians had to find newer and better ways to make themselves heard among ensembles and orchestras and above the din of crowds. Many of the acoustic instruments we’re familiar with today—guitars, cellos, violas, etc.—are the result of hundreds of years of experimentation into solving just that problem. These hollow wooden resonance chambers amplify the sound of the strings, but that sound must escape, hence the circular sound hole under the strings of an acoustic guitar and the f-holes on either side of a violin…

While it’s true f-holes date from the Renaissance, they are much more than ornamental; their design—whether arrived at by accident or by conscious intent—has had remarkable staying power for very good reason.

As acoustician Nicholas Makris and his colleagues at MIT recently announced in a study published by the Royal Society, a violin’s f-holes serve as the perfect means of delivering its powerful acoustic sound. F-holes have “twice the sonic power,” The Economist reports, “of the circular holes of the fithele” (the violin’s 10th century ancestor and origin of the word “fiddle”). The evolutionary path of this elegant innovation—Clive Thompson at Boing Boing demonstrates with a color-coded chart—takes us from those original round holes, to a half-moon, then to variously-elaborated c-shapes, and finally to the f-hole…

More musical history at “Why Violins Have F-Holes: The Science & History of a Remarkable Renaissance Design.”

* Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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As we draw our bows boldly, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Ernst Theodor Amadeus (“E.T.A.”) Hoffmann; he was born on this date in 1776.  A key figure in the German Romantic period, Hoffmann was an author of fantasy and horror, a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist. While some of his compositions survive in the canon, he is probably better remembered for his stories: they form the basis of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the famous ballet The Nutcracker is based.  The ballet Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, while Schumann’s Kreisleriana is based on Hoffmann’s character Johannes Kreisler.

Hoffmann also influenced 19th century musical opinion through his music criticism. His reviews of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808) and other important works set new literary standards for writing about music, and encouraged later writers to consider music as “the most Romantic of all the arts.”

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Written by LW

January 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life”*…

 

‘Tis the season: best-of lists, and some leisure time in which to put them to use…

Here’s NPR’s Best Books of 2015— 260 volumes that one can filter by type or interest.

* Mark Twain

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As we settle in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that U.S. Secretary of State William Seward issued a statement verifying the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The amendment abolished slavery with the declaration: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865

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Written by LW

December 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If it don’t cure them, it can’t more than kill them”*…

 

Your correspondent has been wrestling with a remarkably recalcitrant rhinovirus.  Searching for solutions, he found this…

While the Civil War was raging back East, Samuel Clemens (who had recently begun using the pseudonym Mark Twain) lived in Virginia City, Nevada, where he came down with a serious cold and bronchitis that plagued him for the much of the summer in 1863. His ailments didn’t keep him from traveling, first to the home of his friend Adair Wilson near Lake Bigler (now Lake Tahoe) and then to Steamboat Springs. In a series of letters and reports to newspaper editors in Virginia City and San Francisco, Clemens detailed his adventures and the spirited (if half-hearted) attempts to attack his illness with various remedies…

More backstory, and Twain’s piece in in its short-but-glorious entirety, at “How to Cure a Cold.”  (Your correspondent settled, as Twain did, on the remedy featured finally in the piece…)

* Mark Twain (from the story featured above)

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As we reach for the tissues, we might send bounteous birthday greetings to the incomparable Jane Austen; she was born on this date in 1775.  One of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony, and sensible social commentary– along with her persuasive plots– have earned her a place of pride among readers and scholars/critics alike.

Check out Five Books on Jane Austen.

Portrait of Jane Austen, drawn by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)

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Written by LW

December 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Human relationships are not rocket science—they are far, far more complicated”*…

 

In the English language, the word “he” is used to refer to males and “she” to refer to females. But some people identify as neither gender, or both – which is why an increasing number of US universities are making it easier for people to choose to be referred to by other pronouns…

More at “Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’: The rise of non-binary pronouns.”

* James W. Pennebaker, The Secret Life of Pronouns

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As we revel in reference, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Naguib Mahfouz; he was born on this date in 1911.  A prolific writer– he published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career– he was one of the first writers in Arabic to explore Existentialist themes (e.g., the Cairo Trilogy, Adrift on the Nile).  He was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Written by LW

December 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Punctuation is a deeply conservative club. It hardly ever admits a new member”*…

 

The earliest writing existed at a time when the spoken word was king; texts were created without spaces or punctuation marks.  It infuriated Greek playwright (and librarian) Aristophanes, who began what the Keith Houston calls the “punctuational big bang.”

Aristophanes created a system where people could add dots to lines of text to signify pauses. A dot in the middle (·) signified the shortest pause, called the comma. For an intermediate pause, known as the colon, the dot was at the bottom (.), and the period was the longest pause, represented with a dot at the top of the line.  Aristophanes’s system evolved over the years—the colon got an extra dot, the period dropped to the bottom of the line, and the comma got a curve and dropped to the bottom of the line—but it’s remarkable how much has stuck around…

And it’s remarkable why (spoiler alert, it has to do with the printing press, and the standardization that it brought… though new tech in general and emoticons in particular are shaking things up again).

From the ellipsis to the exclamation point, “The origins of punctuation marks.”

(Word usage continues to evolve as well…)

* Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

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As we come to a full stop, we might send dark, but elegantly-punctuated birthday greetings to Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, or as he’s better known to English readers, Joesph Conrad; he was born on this date in 1857. An early modernist who spoke and wrote in three languages (his native Polish, French, and English), he imported a non-English diction and tragic sense to his work, which included Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, 17 other novels, and dozens of short stories.  A success in his own time, Conrad’s influence grew; he’s been cited as a formative influence on writers including D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry, William Golding, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, Italo Calvino, Gabriel García Márquez, J. G. Ballard, John le Carré, V.S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Hunter S. Thompson, J.M. Coetzee, and Salman Rushdie… and of course, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

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Written by LW

December 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”*…

 

From Julian Peters, the 24-page comic version of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (with larger, zoomable images).

Because.

* T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

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As we hear mermaids singing, we might send elegant birthday greetings to Marianne Moore; she was born on this date in 1887.   An American Modernist poet, critic, translator, and editor, she is known for formal innovation, precise diction, irony, and wit in her literary work… and for being probably the only highly-regarded poet ever to to be involved in automotive marketing.

She argues, in her best known poem, “Poetry,” that it is not formal attributes like meter that define poetry, but delight in language and precise, heartfelt expression…

… nor is it valid
to discriminate against ‘business documents and
school-books’; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
‘literalists of
the imagination’–above
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’, shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

 source

 

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