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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word”*…

 

The 9-15-year-olds who compete in the annual Scripps Spelling Bee tend to delight in words like “flibbertigibbet,” “onomatopoeia,” “schadenfreude,” “syzygy,” “tchotchke” and “triskaidekaphobia.”  We normal humans are forced to seek help with much simpler words like “grey,” “cancelled” and “Hanukkah.”  Vocativ used Google Trends data to learn which words were most frequently spellchecked in each state; along the way, they detected some interesting patterns, for instance:

Out of all the states, Idaho turned to Google for spelling assistance most often, and when it did, the state’s most Googled spelling was “antelope.” Idahoans struggled with “cevilian” [sic] and stumbled over “tongue”. On the bottom of the list of spellchecking states, the confident writers and readers of Oregon resorted to Google least often, only using it for spellchecks 28% as frequently as Idaho residents, according to Google data.

Here’s their summary chart:

Read more (and see a larger version) at “These Words Would Knock Your State Out Of the National Spelling Bee.”

* Andrew Jackson

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As we spell “spell,” we might send acerbic birthday greetings to journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, and critic Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken; he was born on this date in 1880.  Mencken is the author of the philological work The American Language, and is remembered for his journalism (e.g., his coverage of the Scopes Trial) and for his cultural criticism (and editorship of American Mercury— published by Alfred Knopf, also born on this date, but 12 years after Mencken ) in which he championed such writers as D.H. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, and Sherwood Anderson.  But “H.L.” is probably most famous for the profusion of pointed one-liners and adages that leavened his work…

The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can happen only if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to limit or deny that freedom. . . [and] the superior man can be sure of freedom only if it is given to all men.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

And on spelling:

“Correct” spelling, indeed, is one of the arts that are far more esteemed by schoolma’ams than by practical men, neck-deep in the heat and agony of the world.

H.L. Mencken, photograph by Carl Van Vechten

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Written by LW

July 29, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative. It is the last ditch stand of the artist”*…

 

Filmmaker Samantha Horley recently posted an image of this set of “Guidelines,” which she found among her father’s effects, on her Facebook page. Horley told me that her aunt worked at the BBC as a secretary in the 1960s and 1970s; she thinks the page originally came from her aunt’s papers.

The BBC’s press office told me, over email, that the page looks like it came from The BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide For Writers and Producers, published in 1948. Although the BBC spokesperson couldn’t confirm this theory, I think this sheet was probably printed up for the amusement of employees in the more free-and-easy 1970s.The BBC reprinted the entire document as a book in the late 1990s; it’s now out of print, but here is a version in PDF. The longer document includes provisions that are less overtly amusing than this section but are interesting nonetheless, offering guidelines on libel and slander, religious and political references, and jokes about physical and mental disability.

Under the heading “American Material and ‘Americanisms,'” the anonymous authors of the handbook observed that “American idiom and slang” were often found in scripts and that “dance band singers for the most part elect to adopt pseudo American accents.” This “spurious Americanisation” should be avoided, the handbook urged, since it was “unwelcome to the great majority of listeners and … seldom complimentary to the Americans.”

Via the invaluable Rebecca Onion and her blog, The Vault.

* Marshall McLuhan

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As we mind our P’s and Q’s, we might recall that it was on this date in 1782 that Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, escaped from prison… only to be quickly apprehended.   The French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, author, and libertine spent much of his adult life behind bars.  In 1778, de Sade had been imprisoned by order of the king: ostensibly his offense was licentious behavior; but historians note that his mother-in-law, at whose urging the king acted, believed that the young Marquis was spending her daughter’s money too quickly.  (There were also accusations of an affair with his wife’s sister… and it may have further motivated the mother-in-law that her daughter was rumored to be complicit in de Sade’s sexual escapades.)  In any case, it was in the Bastille that he battled boredom by writing– among other things, The 120 Days of Sodom.

He was freed from prison in 1790, and ingratiated himself with the new Republic (calling himself “Citizen Sade”).  de Sade began writing again, anonymously publishing works including Justine and Juliette… until, in 1801, Napoleon ordered his arrest (again for indecency and blasphemy).  de Sade spent two years in prison, until his family had him declared insane, and moved him to the asylum at Charenton (the scene of Peter Weiss’s remarkable play Marat/Sade), where he died in 1814.

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Written by LW

July 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign”*…

 

This infographic from printerinks (via Electric Literature) takes a look at literary pen names through history:

 click here for larger version

* Théophile Gautier, La croix de Berny (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1855)

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As we speak freely, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that Warner Bros. released Tom Graeff’s epic film Teenagers From Outer Space.  The movie failed to perform at the box office, placing further stress on an already-financially-burdened Graeff; and in the fall of 1959, he suffered a breakdown, proclaiming himself to be the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by an arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood.  His film however lives on:  featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and Off Beat Cinema, Teenagers From Outer Space is the final prize in the action-adventure game Destroy All Humans, unlocked when a player wins.

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Written by LW

June 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts”*…

 

“… Refuted thus”

 

Just because you CAN design your own book cover doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

 

“Actually, without reading the book, I don’t know if this is a bad cover; it might be a perfect representation of what to expect.”

 

More at Lousy Book Covers (and/or at their Tumblr).

* Charles Dickens

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As remind ourselves of Groucho Marx’s insight: “outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s too dark to read,” we might recall that this is a big date in the annals of English letters…  It was on this date in 1842, that Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published Poems.  While the future Poet Laureate had been writing for a decade, it was this two-volume release (which included “Ulysses” and Morte d’Arthur”) that made his name.

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And on this date in 1925, Virginia Woolf published the story of a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway– one of Time‘s “100 Best Novels since 1923″ (2005).

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Written by LW

May 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam”*…

 

Ward Shelley‘s map of “The History of Science Fiction”– click here for a zoomable version.

This map plots the science fiction literary genre from its nascent roots in mythology and fantastic stories to the somewhat calcified post-Star Wars space opera epics of today. Rather than a narrative emerging out of the data, here the narrative structure precedes and organizes the data: the movement of years is from left to right across the grid that represents time, distorted and reconfigured into the form of a bug-eyed monster whose tentacles are like trace roots to pre-historical sources and whose body is the corpus of sci-fi literature. Science fiction is seen as the offspring of the collision of the Enlightenment (providing science) and Romanticism, which birthed gothic fiction, source not only of sci-fi, but also of crime novels, horror, westerns, and fantasy (all of which can be seen exiting through wormholes to their own diagrams, elsewhere). Science fiction progressed through a number of distinct periods, which are charted, citing hundreds of the most important works and authors, and which includes film and television as well…

More at Places and Spaces‘ “History of Science Fiction.”

* Frederik Pohl

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As we reach for our ray guns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that the first U.S. Transcontinental Railway was ceremonially completed with the driving of the “Golden Spike.”  Known as the “Pacific Railroad” when it opened, it served as a vital channel for trade, commerce, and travel– for the first time, shipping and commerce could thrive away from navigable waterways– and it opened vast regions of the North American heartland for settlement.

(In fact, while not “transcontinental” in the same sense, the first railroad to connect two oceans directly, the Panama Rail Road, opened in 1855, when a locomotive made the first trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific.)

At the ceremony for the driving of the “Golden Spike” at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869

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“We are all fools in love”*…

 

The most common assumption about romance novels, buoyed by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, is that they are anti-feminist. And though the so-called bodice rippers of the 1970s (in which men who look like Fabio ravish passive sweethearts) are still quite popular, the genre has also expanded rapidly in recent years to include fiction of the paranormal, gay, evangelical, steampunk, time travel and Gothic variety (and many more). Its female leads, in many contexts, have evolved with the times, rendering the notion that romance novels are full of oppressed, unthinking women, profoundly ignorant. Not only is the industry itself rife with female entrepreneurs; its heroines always get what they want. In fact, the only formula that rings true across all romance novels is the HEA: the Happily Ever After. It is unanimously believed to be the defining principle of the genre. “The women always win,” says [filmmaker Laurie] Kahn. “And that doesn’t happen in most places.”…

Find out “Why romance novelists are the rock stars of the literary world.”

* Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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As we still our pounding hearts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that the Illuminati was founded.  While the name has been given to a number of organizations– real and imagined– over the years, this first incarnation was real enough.  It was started by Adam Weishaupt, the only non-clerical professor at the Jesuit University of Ingolstadt– an experience that turned him into a rabid anti-cleric.  He first tried to become a Freemason, but couldn’t afford the initiation fees and dues; so he created his own organization– the Iluminatenorden, or Order of Illuminati.  In some ways a typical Enlightenment secret society, the Illuminati’s goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power.  And like other secret societies with similar goals, it was pretty promptly outlawed by the State at the urging of the Church.  Still, rumors persisted– and persist still– that the Illuminati built a world-wide conspiracy of powerful folks who pull the world’s strings from behind the curtain.

The cover of an Illuminati pamphlet, featuring their “logo”: the owl of Minerva – symbolising wisdom – on top of an opened book

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Written by LW

May 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”*…

 

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

 

Jonathan Basile, a Brooklyn author and Borgesian Man of the Book, taught himself programming so that he could recreate Borges’ Universal Library [the Library of Babel, which “contained all books”] as a website. The results are confounding. A true site-as-labyrinth, Basile’s creation is an attempt to write and publish every story conceivable (and inconceivable) to man. In the process, Basile encountered new philosophical conundrums, French rappers, and unheard-of porno search strings. The possibilities, after all, are endless…

Browse the Universal Library here; read more of Basile’s prodigious project here.

* Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” [“La Biblioteca de Babel”]

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As we renew our Library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1667 that John Milton sold the rights to Paradise Lost to printer/publisher Samuel Simmons for £10.  Milton, who’s worked for Cromwell, was on the outs in those early days of the Restoration.  (Indeed, Simmons kept his name off the title page [below], naming only his sellers.)

That original edition was structured into 10 sections (“books”).  Milton revised his work and reordered it into 12 books, the form we know today; it was published in the year of his death, 1674.  While his motive may well have been, as some critics have suggested, to emulate the structure of Virgil’s Aeneid, a second payday probably also figured in.

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Written by LW

April 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

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