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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Swift

“The heart and soul of the company is creativity”*…

Creativity doesn’t have a deep history. The Oxford English Dictionary records just a single usage of the word in the 17th century, and it’s religious: ‘In Creation, we have God and his Creativity.’ Then, scarcely anything until the 1920s – quasi-religious invocations by the philosopher A N Whitehead. So creativity, considered as a power belonging to an individual – divine or mortal – doesn’t go back forever. Neither does the adjective ‘creative’ – being inventive, imaginative, having original ideas – though this word appears much more frequently than the noun in the early modern period. God is the Creator and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the creative power, like the rarely used ‘creativity’, was understood as divine. The notion of a secular creative ability in the imaginative arts scarcely appears until the Romantic Era, as when the poet William Wordsworth addressed the painter and critic Benjamin Haydon: ‘Creative Art … Demands the service of a mind and heart.’

This all changes in the mid-20th century, and especially after the end of the Second World War, when a secularised notion of creativity explodes into prominence. The Google Ngram chart bends sharply upwards from the 1950s and continues its ascent to the present day. But as late as 1970, practically oriented writers, accepting that creativity was valuable and in need of encouragement, nevertheless reflected on the newness of the concept, noting its absence from some standard dictionaries even a few decades before.

Before the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, the history of creativity might seem to lack its object – the word was not much in circulation. The point needn’t be pedantic. You might say that what we came to mean by the capacity of creativity was then robustly picked out by other notions, say genius, or originality, or productivity, or even intelligence or whatever capacity it was believed enabled people to think thoughts considered new and valuable. And in the postwar period, a number of commentators did wonder about the supposed difference between emergent creativity and such other long-recognised mental capacities. The creativity of the mid-20th century was entangled in these pre-existing notions, but the circumstances of its definition and application were new…

Once seen as the work of genius, how did creativity become an engine of economic growth and a corporate imperative? (Hint: the Manhattan Project and the Cold War played important roles.): “The rise and rise of creativity.”

(Image above: source)

* Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company

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As we lionize the latest, we might recall that it was on this date in 1726 that Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships— much better known as Gulliver’s Travels— was first published.  A satire both of human nature and of the “travelers’ tales” literary subgenre popular at the time, it was an immediate hit (John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”).  It has, of course, become a classic.

From the first edition

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I quote others only in order the better to express myself”*…

 

A recent query to the always-illuminating Language Log:

I’m reading my new copy of Soonish and came across a reference to air quotes and I got to wondering about the meme. I remember using them at least 30 years or more ago, entirely un-ironically. How does one go about looking up the history of such a thing? How would you reconcile the discoverable print references to its presumably earlier emergence as a metalinguistic thing in itself? At what point do the words, “air quotes” show up to stand for actual physically-performed “Air Quotes”?

Find the answers at: “Air Quotes.”

* Michel de Montaigne

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As we admit that there’s probably no pithier way to be ironic, mocking, or disingenuous, we might recall that it was on this date in 1726 that Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships— much better known as Gulliver’s Travels— was first published.  A satire both of human nature and of the “travelers’ tales” literary subgenre popular at the time, it was an immediate hit (John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”).  It has, of course, become a classic.

From the first edition

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones”*…

 

There are over five million articles in the English Wikipedia. These are the ones that Wikipedians have identified as being a bit unusual. These articles are verifiable, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia, but are a bit odd, whimsical, or something you would not expect to find in Encyclopædia Britannica. We should take special care to meet the highest standards of an encyclopedia with these articles lest they make Wikipedia appear idiosyncratic

Odd and amusing photos and text: Wikipedia’s article on “Unusual Articles.”  Hours of fun!

* The Scarecrow (L. Frank Baum)

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As we wallow in the weird, we might recall that it was on this date in 1712 that the Bandbox Plot unfolded. An attempt on the life of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, the British Lord Treasurer, it was foiled by the perspicacity of Jonathan Swift (author of “Gulliver’s Travels”), who happened to be visiting the Earl.

A bandbox was a lightweight hat-box; this particular one– an ancestor of the parcel bomb–  had been rigged to fire a number of loaded and cocked pistols on opening. Swift, spotting the thread to which the triggers were attached, seized the package, and cut the thread, thus disarming the device.  The attack was laid at the door of the Lord Treasurer’s political rivals, the Whig party, and threw enormous popular sympathy behind Harley.

The Right Honorable Robert Harley, The Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer KG

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The soul takes nothing with her to the next world but her education and her culture”*…

 

What does it mean to be “cultured”?  Are you?  The questionnaire above is from Ashley Montagu’s 1958 book, The Cultured Man

Montagu—a well-respected anthropologist and former student of Franz Boas, who was influential in his profession’s midcentury rejection of the idea of innate racial hierarchywrote many popular books, of which The Cultured Man is one.

The book contains quizzes for 50 categories of knowledge in the arts and sciences, with 30 questions each; 25 of the questions test knowledge and five test what Montagu called “attitudes.” The test-taker could refer to the answers at the back of the book and tap the list of references Montagu offered as correctives to those who found themselves deficient in a particular area.

Distinguishing his project from that of the quiz shows that were popular staples of radio and TV in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Montagu wrote that a person considered “cultured” would not just be able to readily summon facts, but also to access humane feelings, which would necessarily come about after contact with culture. “The principal mark of the cultured man is not so much knowledge as his attitude of mind in relating his knowledge to the world of experience,” Montagu wrote. A “cultured man” would be curious, unprejudiced, rational, and ethical.

“The function of these questions is not a static one,” Montagu wrote, encouraging readers to see the experience of being tested as an educational opportunity. “Their function is both dynamic and constructive: to tell you more or less exactly where you stand as a cultured person, and precisely in which directions you need to move from that position. No one grows who stands still.”

More, from the redoubtable Rebecca Onion, at “How Cultured Are You, by 1950s Standards?”  It’s interesting to note, as Ms. Onion does, that while Montagu was a powerful mid-century voice for antiracism and multiculturalism, his idea of “culture” is essentially Western, and almost totally lacking in representation of non-male, non-white voices…

* Plato, The Republic

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As we hit the books, we might spare a thought for a cultural observer extraordinaire: Jonathan Swift, the satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who’s probably best remembered for Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal; he died on this date in 1745.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 19, 2015 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 (Roughly) Daily

November 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

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