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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“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

“Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking”*…

 

Justine Kurland, Rebuilt Engine, 2013

The second floor of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery currently greets patrons with an empty conveyor belt moving through, and back around, a giant mirror.

“Contemporary capitalism trades in nonexistence,” Agnieszka Kurant, the artist behind the piece, told ArtForum in 2013. “Seventy percent of money in this world is phantom—it exists virtually, on computers—but still produces physical consequences.” Much the same tone is at play in Kurant’s contribution to Overtime: The Art of Work, a new collection of artwork that examines the struggles of laborers across nations and eras.

From paintings of child workers in 18th century England to 3-D printed limbs of contract workers in 21st century America, the show is relentlessly engaging…

Learn more about– and see more of– the exhibit at “Art That Understands What It’s Like to Work.”

* John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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As we whistle, we might send radically provocative birthday greetings to Kathy Acker; she was born on this date in 1947.  An experimental novelist, punk poet, playwright, performance artist, essayist, postmodernist, and feminist writer, she was a prolific creator who was formative influence on dozens of younger writers, and on Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Kim Gordon, co-founder of Sonic Youth.

In 1996, Acker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy.  The surgery was unsuccessful, and following year, she undertook a series of alternative therapies.  She died, in November of 1997, in an alternative cancer clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. She died in Room 101, to which her friend Alan Moore quipped, “There’s nothing that woman can’t turn into a literary reference.”

Reason is always in the service of the political and economic masters. It is here that literature strikes, at this base, where the concepts and actings of order impose themselves. Literature is that which denounces and slashes apart the repressing machine at the level of the signified.

Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless (1988)

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Written by LW

April 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

“TWO AND TWO MAKES FIVE”*…

 

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley

In October of 1949, a few months after the release of George Orwell‘s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, he received a letter from fellow author (and Orwell’s French tutor at Eton) Aldous Huxley — who had, 17 years earlier, published his own grim vision of society’s future, Brave New World.  What begins as a letter of praise becomes a comparison of the two novels– and an explanation of why Huxley believes his own, earlier work to be the more realistic prediction…

Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

Source: Letters of Aldous Huxley, (via Letters of Note); image: George Orwell (via) & Aldous Huxley (via).

* George Orwell, 1984

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As we reach for the Soma, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that Benito Mussolini reformed the Milan fascio (literally, “bundle” or Sheaf”; here, a small political party) as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Party).  Its 200 members, answering Mussolini’s call for men “ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep,” were the seed from which the Italian Fascist Movement grew.

The platform of Fasci italiani di combattimento, as published in Il Popolo d’Italia in 1919

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Mussolini a few years later, in his self-proclaimed role as Il Duce (The Leader).

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Written by LW

March 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”*…

 

From Boing Boing.

* Aristotle

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As we revisit vocation, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Michel Eyquem de Montaigne; he was born on this date in 1533.  Best known during his lifetime as a statesman, Montaigne is remembered for popularizing the essay as a literary form.  His effortless merger of serious intellectual exercises with casual anecdotes and autobiography– and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as “Attempts” or “Trials”)– contain what are, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written.  Montaigne had a powerful influence on writers ever after, from Descartes, Pascal, and Rousseau, through Hazlitt, Emerson, and Nietzsche, to Zweig, Hoffer, and Asimov. Indeed, he’s believed to have been an influence on the later works of Shakespeare.

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Written by LW

February 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

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