(Roughly) Daily

“Everything is relative except relatives, and they are absolute”*…

Thanksgiving is upon us, so many American readers will be gathering as clans.  Thankfully, our friends at Flowing Data have come up with a handy graphic reference to help us place and navigate those confusing familial ties.  As they note (quoting Wikipedia), there is an underlying mathematical logic to it all…

There is a mathematical way to identify the degree of cousinship shared by two individuals. In the description of each individual’s relationship to the most recent common ancestor, each “great” or “grand” has a numerical value of 1. The following examples demonstrate how this is applied.

Example: If person one’s great-great-great-grandfather is person two’s grandfather, then person one’s “number” is 4 (great + great + great + grand = 4) and person two’s “number” is 1 (grand = 1). The smaller of the two numbers is the degree of cousinship. The two people in this example are first cousins. The difference between the two people’s “numbers” is the degree of removal. In this case, the two people are thrice (4 — 1 = 3) removed, making them first cousins three times removed.

More at “Chart of Cousins.”

* Alfred Stieglitz

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As we pass the gravy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1912 that successful businessman Sherwood Anderson, then 36, left wife, family, and job in Elyria, Ohio, to become a writer.  A novelist and short story writer, he’s best-known for the short story sequence Winesburg, Ohio, which launched his career, and for the novel Dark Laughter, his only bestseller.  But his biggest impact was probably his formative influence on the next generation of American writers– William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Thomas Wolfe, among others– who cited Anderson as an important inspiration and model.  (Indeed, Anderson was instrumental in gaining publication for Faulkner and Hemingway.)

Written by LW

November 27, 2014 at 1:01 am

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“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what”*…

Pearl Curran

In early 20th-century, in  St. Louis, Pearl Curran claimed to have conjured a long-dead New England puritan named Patience Worth through a Ouija board.  Although mostly unknown today, the resulting books, poems, and plays that Worth “dictated” to Curran earned great praise in their day.  Ed Simon tells the story of the curious and nearly forgotten literary fruits of a “ghost” and her ghostwriter, and ponders their significance.

… there is much literary merit in Curran’s work – so why then this neglect? The bizarre origin of the writings shouldn’t be an impediment to a reasoned study of their structural qualities. After all, William Butler Yeats attributed several of his lyrics to a spirit named Leo Africanus whom he encountered through the use of a Ouija board while a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Without suggesting that the writings of Curran and Yeats are of similar artistic value, it would seem that dismissing them entirely on the grounds that there is a connection to the occult is unfair if a similar standard isn’t applied to Yeats. In both of these cases it might be helpful to think of the mediated personalities as being complex heteronyms of a type exemplified by the Portuguese modernist poet Fernando Pessoa (a contemporary of Curran and one also fascinated by automatic writing and the occult). A heteronym is a particularly complicated pen-name; in addition to a false name there is an entirely false identity, a fictional writer where literariness is extratextual to the poem or book itself. These concepts, of the heteronym and the muse, inspiration and authorship raise interesting questions about the epistemology and ontology of literature. Where does literature ultimately come from? What is legitimate as an object of reading and study? Can a literary hoax still be read as literature?

The Patience Worth case complicates questions of authorship. While it seems clear that Curran is the literal author, the fictionality surrounding the very productions of authorship helps to complicate our conceptions of creation and interpretation. Since the French philosopher Roland Barthe’s 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” both formalists and historicists have become increasingly comfortable with the idea that authorship itself is a sort of fiction. Patience Worth/Pearl Curran makes this fictionality all the more obvious. As such, it seems that she is more than overdue for a critical rediscovery.

In the long view of cultural history, her place becomes even more interesting. Biography and history become compressed and the relationship between who is a real person and who is a fictional person becomes more ontologically uncertain. I’m going to break any sort of pose of objectivity and say emphatically that I do not believe that Patience Worth was anything more than a full-bodied creation of Pearl Curran. It’s worth pointing out that there are no records of any actual Patience Worth having lived either in New England, or Dorsetshire where Curran claimed the poet was born. Yet, imagine someone reading Curran a millennium from now. Would such distinctions as whether Worth is “real” or not matter to this imagined reader? For classicists there are arguments about the “reality” of an author named Homer, ones that scholars working on much later periods don’t have to consider in the same way. Philosophically, if a heteronym’s words seem as full and real as an actual person, why can’t they be treated as such? The fullness of the fictionality of Patience Worth is that it is a fictionality which imposes itself on the real world, and that in itself is a fascinating act of literary creation.

Read the whole story at “Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth.”

* Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

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As we agonize over authenticity, we might recall that this was the date, in 1864, that Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson– aka Lewis Carroll– delivered a handwritten and illustrated manuscript called “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” to 10-year-old Alice Liddell.

Written by LW

November 26, 2014 at 1:01 am

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“‘Paradise!’ he screamed. ‘The one and only indispensable Paradise'”*…

Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Phillip Whalen; Naropa, 1975.

The Naropa University Archive Project is preserving and providing access to over 5000 hours of recordings made at Naropa University since it’s founding in 1974 in Boulder, Colorado.  The archive was developed under the auspices of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (the university’s Department of Writing and Poetics) started by poets Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg, and contains an extraordinary collection of material from members of the literary avant-garde, especially the Beats and their umbra.

From William S. Burroughs’ “Creative Reading” class, through Ginsberg performing William Blake, to presentations from visitors like Gregory Corso, Gregory Bateson, and Peter Warshall, it’s a treasure trove.

* Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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As we feel the Beat, we might warm the birthday tapas for Félix Lope de Vega Carpio (best known by his shortened pen name: Lope de Vega); the Spanish poet and dramatist was born on this date in 1562.  A rough contemporary of Shakespeare, Lope de Vega was much more prolific; indeed, he is reckoned to have written between 1,500 and 2,500 fully-fledged plays, of which 425 have survived.  One estimate puts his work at twenty million dramatic verses, earning him a position in the firmament of Spanish letters second only to that of Cervantes.

Written by LW

November 25, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts”*…

This crew list for the whaler Acushnet, filed with the collector of customs in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in December 1840, incudes the name and physical description of the 21-year-old Herman Melville. The list marks the beginning of the epic trip that was to provide the author with material he used to write his maritime novels Typee (1846); Omoo (1847); Mardi (1849); Redburn (1849); White-Jacket (1850); and Moby-Dick (1851).

Although he had signed up with the Acushnet’s captain Valentine Pease for a journey of four years, Melville deserted on the Marquesas Islands (now French Polynesia) 18 months into the voyage. Eleven of 26 of the Acushnet‘s crew and officers were to do the same before the trip was over. Desertions like these were not uncommon in the 18th- and 19th-century maritime world. Historian Marcus Rediker writes that desertion was one way for sailors, whose labor was often coerced or abused, to protest poor conditions on ship: extreme punishments, poor rations, voyages that were extended involuntarily.

Before he returned to Massachusetts, Melville was to live with the indigenous Taipi people; ship aboard an Australian whaler (the Lucy-Ann) where tough conditions also prevailed; be jailed for mutiny; sign onto another whaler (the Charles & Henry); spend some time in Hawaii; and return to the mainland via a stint as an enlisted seaman on the USS United States.“

Besides providing content for his future writing,” Carl E. Rollyson, Lisa Olson Paddock, and April Gentry write, “Melville’s Pacific travels also shaped the intellectual and philosophical perspectives that would mark his later work.” His complicated relationship with discipline and hierarchy, his sensitivity to the trials of the working man, and the cosmopolitan perspective that led Melville to make Queequeg one of the most sympathetic and interesting characters in Moby-Dick were all gained on this voyage.

* Herman Melville

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As we go down to the sea in ships, we might note that this is Chaos Never Dies Day- a day of recognition of the turmoil that surrounds us.  Chaos Never Dies Day is an annual occasion to admit that the perfect, quiet moment for which so many of us strive doesn’t – and likely never will – exist… and to celebrate unruly reality.

Written by LW

November 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”*…

The World (or World Islands) is an artificial archipelago of various small islands constructed of dredged sand in the rough shape of a world map, in the Persian Gulf, 2.5 miles off the coast of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Intended as a retreat for the uber-rich, it was begun in 2003, and was reported at one point to be 70% sold.  But the financial crisis of 2008 threw the project off track.  Frank Jacobs (Strange Maps) checks in…

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams dreams up the planet Magrathea, thriving on the ‘custom-made luxury planet building’ industry. The Magratheans design and manufacture entire planets for the wealthiest people in the universe. One of those planets was Earth, and one of its designers won an award for his work on the fjords of Norway.

There are no fjords (yet) on The World. That would make the resemblance to the HHGttG story even more eerie. For the collection of islands, 2.5 miles off the coast, also is a vanity project aimed at the astronomically rich. Only, it doesn’t look like they’re flocking to The World just yet. One obvious reason: much of it is still under construction…

By 2010 [after the 2008 crash], with local property prices recovering from the worst of the recession – and Dubai pockets being fairly deep – it seemed that work was about to resume. Dubai-based Kleindienst Group announced it would start work on The Heart of Europe, a collection of six islands (including Monaco, Germany, St. Petersburg and Sweden islands; Netherlands island seems to have been renamed Europe island). But financial disputes between Kleindienst and Nakheel kept the development on hold until an out of court settlement was reached. Work resumed in earnest in January 2014.

Despite announcements over the years of island sales and grandiose development schemes throughout the archipelago, by the end of 2013 only two islands had effectively been developed. One being Lebanon island, with a Royal Beach Club rented out for corporate events, private parties  and public functions. The other one is Upernavik island in the Greenland area, which has a show home on it.

So what’s the future going to bring for The World? Amazing, luxurious, captivating things, if you believe the corporate blurb on The Heart of Europe website [here]:

“Each island within The Heart of Europe will be modelled by different European countries, reflecting the very sights, sounds, aromas and tapestry that make these destinations so timeless and unique. The main Island Europe is designed with flavours from Vienna, Rome, Andalusia and Côte d’Azur, while the other islands bring the inspiration from Monaco, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and St. Petersburg”.

And also a few genuinely bizarre things:

* “The first rain and snow-lined streets [in the Gulf Region], made possible through German engineering and technology”.

* [A] number of unique floating villas with underwater rooms offering magnificent views of the spectacular sea world”. Why not add a few U-boats – made possible through German engineering and technology.

* “Some of Europe’s most talented street performers, from playful acrobats and dancers to eclectic artists and musicians”. That explains the disappearance of the guy down my street who will play La Marseillaise on his armpit for a can of beer.

* “Outdoor climate-controlled streets […] A concept that truly will bring European weather to Dubai!” This might actually scare off most European tourists.

The website promises the imminent launch of Phase 2 of The Heart of Europe, on Sweden Island. But exact dates, also of the project’s overall completion, are impossible to find. We’re left wondering when The World will be finished. And whether they’ll find the time and the money to put in some prize-winning fjords.

More at “The World (Under Construction).”

* Leo Tolstoy

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As we wonder at how the other half means to live, we might send natural birthday greetings to Richard Jefferies; he was born on this date in 1848.  A writer noted for his depiction of English rural life in essays, books of natural history, and novels, he is probably best known for Bevis (1882), a classic children’s book (with an Animal Farm-like message that, of course, predates Orwell by decades), The Story of My Heart (an 1883 essay that located Jefferies as the leading nature writer of his time), and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction… to the extent that he is remembered at all.

Written by LW

November 6, 2014 at 1:01 am

“We must believe in free will; we have no choice”*…

As the debate between determinists and defenders of free will rages on (as e.g., here), Jessica Hagy weighs in with an entry in her “Indexed” series:

Busy = Beholden

* Isaac Bashevis Singer

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As we concede that context is critical, we might send shocking birthday greetings to a man who exercised free will whether he had it or not: the enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud; he was born on this date in 1854.  With his buddy, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud was a leader of the Decadent Movement; fueled by absinthe and hashish, he succeeded in shocking a literary establishment that was nonetheless awed by his visionary verse, which influenced modern literature and arts, inspired various musicians, and prefigured Surrealism.

All known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud’s

- Paul Valéry

Written by LW

October 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”*…

H.G. Well’s The Time Machine is widely credited with having popularized the prospect of time travel (though Edward Page Mitchell”s short story, “The Clock That Ran Backwards” surely deserves a nod).  In fact, the notion of travel into the future dates back to the Mahabharata; and travel into the past, while more modern, to the 18th century (e.g., Samuel Madden’s 1733 novel Memoirs of the Twentieth Century).  The concept flowered in the 19th century– e.g., Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”.  And of course, it has flourished in our time, bot in countless novels and in the newer media of radio, film. and television.

At our post-relativity times, scientists have increasingly taken the concept seriously, looking for theories that might suggest that traversing time might be possible (both backwards and forwards) and investigating claims that time travel has already happened.

So it should come as no surprise that scientists are exploring a new frontier, the internet for evidence, of visitors from another era…

Two researchers from the Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University decided to search the Internet for such evidence and have completed the study, “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers,” submitted on December 26 on ArXiv. Authors Robert Nemiroff, professor of physics, and Teresa Wilson, a PhD candidate, said, “The modern ubiquity” of the Internet lends itself to far-reaching methods to search for time travelers. They said a benefit from their effort, given the great reach of the Internet, is that their search is “the most comprehensive to date”…

Read more at PhysOrg’s “Michigan researchers hunt for Internet remnants from time travelers.”  It’s a fascinating read, though– spoiler alert– none were found.

Still, as Randall Monroe reminds us, we’re all time travelers…

* Albert Einstein

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As we check our watches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1582 that Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland introduced the Gregorian calendar.  While this was “October 5″ in the rest of the world, those four countries, adopting Pope Gregory XIII’s innovation, skipped ten days– so that there, the date shifted from October 4 the day before to October 15.  With the shift, the calendar was aligned with the equinoxes, and the lunar cycles used to establish the celebration of Easter.  Britain and its colonies resisted this Popish change, and used the Julian calendar for another century and a half, until September 2, 1752.

From a work published in 1582, the year of the calendar reform; days 5 to 14 October are omitted.

source

Written by LW

October 5, 2014 at 1:01 am