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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”*…

 

Since we last visited Tom Gauld, he’s turned his attention increasing to the blessed realm of every year’s perfect Holiday present: the world of books.  From New Yorker covers to cartoons for The Guardian‘s Review section, he celebrates the world of letters (and the arts) with insightful whimsy…

Turn the pages at “You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack” and at Gauld’s site.

* Joesph Brodsky

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As we prepare to bury our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1679 that ruffians in the employ of the Earl of Rochester set upon and pummeled England’s poet Laureate, John Dryden, on the mistaken impression that he had written “An Essay on Satire.”  The essay– which was circulating in manuscript form in London, and contained damning accounts of the King and many notables, including Rochester– was in fact written by John Sheffield (1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, a poet and Tory politician of the late Stuart period, who served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council).

The wrongly-accused Dryden

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Sheffield

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Written by LW

December 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”*…

 

Benedikt Groß (designer of a cool typeface made up of satellite imagery, among many other nifty things) has created Population.io, a new site (still in Beta) that visualizes a user’s place in the world’s population in a series of elegant tables and charts… including one that estimates the time of the users death (at least loosely– that is, based on average life expectancy where he/she lives).

Locate yourself.

* Mark Twain

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As we settle into the global village, we might send speculative birthday greetings to Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928.  A novelist, short story writer, essayist and philosopher, Dick published 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the Science Fiction genre.  While he was recognized only within his field in his lifetime, and lived near poverty for much of his adult life, eleven popular films have been based on his work since his death in 1982 (including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, and Impostor).  In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923; and in 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

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Written by LW

December 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired”*…

 

More weird wisdom at Werner Herzog Inspirationals

* Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

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As we study Stuart Smalley, we might recall that it was on this date in 1616 that Cervantes’ Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (The Works of Persiles and Sigismunda) was accepted for publication.  A departure from the celebration of the commonplace in his Don Quixote, the Persiles is a romance– a Byzantine novel– full of fantasy.  Cervantes, who had died three days after finishing the manuscript, believed it to be his crowning achievement.

The cover of the first edition, which appeared the following year (1617)

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Written by LW

December 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In memory everything seems to happen to music”*…

 

 

What do you hear when you mix the easy sounds of ambient music with the insistence of a police scanner?  Listen to San Francisco, or to any number of other cities

… at YouAreListeningTo.

* Tennessee Williams

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As we tune in, we might send forcefully-metered birthday greetings to Kenneth Patchen; he was born on this date in 1911.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

- from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

December 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

“‘I DON’T CARE!’ Harry yelled at them… ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH'”*…

 

 click here for zoomable version

As of July 2013, the Harry Potter books had sold between 400 and 450 million copies, in 73 languages, making them one of the best-selling book series in history.  The last four books consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, with the final installment moving approximately 11 million copies in the United States within the first twenty-four hours of its release.  (R)D readers who aren’t yet readers of the Hogwarts chronicle may be feeling the need to catch up– a particularly uncomfortable pressure given the temporal constraints of the Holiday season getting underway…

Fear not:  comic artist Lucy Knisley has created this intricate illustration, which sums up the entire saga. The full-size image measures 2700 x 4458 pixels, and covers all of the major plot points of Harry’s epic journey.

[via Mighty Mega]

* “Harry Potter” in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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As we celebrate classics, illustrated, we might send trenchant birthday wishes to two of history’s most acute observers of the human condition:  Jonathan Swift, the satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who’s probably best remembered for Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, was born on this date in 1667.

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And Samuel Langhorne Clemens– Mark Twain– the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and its sequel, “The Great American Novel” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was born on this date in 1835.

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Swift ultimately rose to high church office, serving as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.  Clemens did not.

Written by LW

November 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

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

 

 click here for larger version

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.)

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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?

Left: A spirit photograph of Yeats taken, according to Stanford University, during a seance in Paris around 1914 – Source. Right: Pessoa in 1929 taking a drink at Abel Pereira da Fonseca, Lisbon –Source.
Astrological chart for Ricardo Reis, one of Pessoa’s heteronyms – Source.

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.

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