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Posts Tagged ‘letters

“A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”*…

 

meme

Is there any way to intervene usefully or meaningfully in public debate, in what the extremely online Twitter users are with gleeful irony calling the “discourse” of the present moment?

It has come to seem to me recently that this present moment must be to language something like what the Industrial Revolution was to textiles. A writer who works on the old system of production can spend days crafting a sentence, putting what feels like a worthy idea into language, only to find, once finished, that the internet has already produced countless sentences that are more or less just like it, even if these lack the same artisanal origin story that we imagine gives writing its soul. There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the nineteenth century, there has been for weavers.

This predicament is not confined to politics, and in fact engulfs all domains of human social existence…

Justin E. H. Smith rages against the machine.  Come for the righteous indictment of algorithmic culture; stay for the oddly redeeming conclusion: “It’s All Over.” [TotH @vgr]

But we might recall that Socrates (as reported in Plato’s Phaedrus) railed against the new technology of his time– writing– and its corrosive effect on memory.  Several readers of Smith’s essay have suggested that it is similarly “conservative.”  Smith engages those criticism here.

Pair with “The Age of Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture.”

[image above: source]

definition of a “meme” in Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene (1976)

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As we muse on meaning, we might send epistolary birthday greetings to Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné; she was born on this date in 1626.  A French aristocrat, she is the most celebrated letter writer in French literary history.  Those letters– over 1,100 survive– as celebrated for their vivid descriptiveness and their wit.  Mme de Sévigné’s letters play an important role in the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, where they figure as the favorite reading of the narrator’s grandmother, and, following her death, his mother.

Check them out at the Internet Archive.

200px-Marquise_de_Sévigné source

 

Written by LW

February 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters”*…

 

From our old friend Shaun Usher, the force behind Letters of Note (c.f. here, here, and here), Letterheady

…a blog which celebrates and showcases the personalised letterheads of some of the best-known and loved figures in pop culture. Using both found examples and pieces from the collections of others, Usher collects those from the likes of Anaïs Nin, Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, Michael Jackson and the Grateful Dead. There are fictional examples, too – members of the official Twin Peaks Fan Club were sent notes written on stationery from Dwayne Milford, the Mayor of Twin Peaks, while the author of Psycho, of which the film was later directed by Alfred Hitchcock, wrote for years under a letterhead bearing the name ‘Bates Motel: For that wistful country feeling,’ in a witty but sinister nod to the murderous venue in his famous horror story…

More of the backstory on AnOther; visit Letterheady here.

* Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)

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As we search for a stamp, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964, on the eve of a get-together, that T.S. Eliot wrote his pen pal Groucho Marx: “the picture of you in the newspapers saying that … you have come to London to see me has greatly enhanced my credit in the neighbourhood, and particularly with the greengrocer across the street. Obviously I am now someone of importance.”

More on their unlikely friendship here and here.  And for the remarkable (and heart-warming) story of the revival of a “lost” Marx Brothers musical, click here.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

June 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

Abecedarian orphans…

 

Thorn

 

 

 

 

Have you ever seen a place that calls itself “ye olde whatever”? As it happens, that’s not a “y”, or, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be. Originally, it was an entirely different letter called thorn, which derived from the Old English runic alphabet, Futhark.

Thorn, which was pronounced exactly like the “th” in its name, is actually still around today in Icelandic. We replaced it with “th” over time—thorn fell out of use because Gothic-style scripting made the letters y and thorn look practically identical. And, since French printing presses didn’t have thorn anyway, it just became common to replace it with a y. Hence naming things like, “Ye Olde Magazine of Interesting Facts” (just as an example, of course).

More castaway characters at “12 Letters That Didn’t Make the Alphabet.”

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As we ink our quills, we might send beautifully-written birthday greetings to Joseph Leo Mankiewicz; he was born on this date in 1909.  A producer (e.g., The Philadelphia Story), screenwriter (e.g., A Letter to Three Wives), and film director (e.g., Julius Caesar), Mankiewicz won 4 Oscars, 4 DGA honors, and 3 WGA Awards during a long Hollywood career.  He’s probably best known as the writer-director of All About Eve (1950), which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six.  (His elder brother, screenwriter and drama critic Herman Mankiewicz, won an Academy Award as co-author of the screenplay for Citizen Kane.)

I got a job at Metro and went in to see Louis Mayer, who told me he wanted me to be a producer. I said I wanted to write and direct. He said, “No, you have to produce first, you have to crawl before you can walk.” Which is as good a definition of producing as I ever heard.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 11, 2013 at 1:01 am

Kids say the darnedest things…

 click here, and again, for larger image

[TotH to Happy Place, via reader KL]

As we unfurl our umbrellas, we might send slap-happy birthday greetings to comedian, actor, singer, film producer, screenwriter, film director, recipient of the French Legion of Honor, and nominee for the Nobel Peace prize Jerry Lewis; he was born (Joseph Levitch) on this date in 1926.

From the time that his success allowed it, Lewis– something of a clothes horse– gave away suits rather than having them cleaned and refused to wear a pair of socks more than once.

 source

Written by LW

March 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

With hope that you will be in Heaven thirty minutes before the devil knows you’re dead…

 

From Liz Danzico and her bodacious blog Bobulate:

Forget what you’ve heard about first impressions; it’s the last impressions that count. Last impressions — whether they’re with customer service, an online shopping experience, or a blind date — are the ones we remember. They’re the ones that keep us coming back. But there’s one kind of final impression that people seem to forget.

The closing line of email — that line that you write before you type your name — has been all but forgotten.

Danzico proceeds to offer a kind of taxonomy of ta-ta’s:

If a closing line can be so meaningful, so important, why are emailers squandering the opportunity, putting no thought in the closing? Time, perhaps, iPhone-finger exhaustion, multi-tasking—they’re all possible excuses. And many times, acceptable ones. We can’t be expected to neatly tie up every email every time. But once in a while, it would be delightful if people applied the same sincerity to the last impressions that we do to first ones.

Enjoy Danzico’s analysis at “Second Chance for a Last Impression.”

Your humble and obedient servant,
(R)D

[TotH to GMSV]

 

As we concentrate on the complimentary close, we might recall that it was on this date in 490 BCE that– because there was no postal service, and thus no facility for sending messages with closings of any level of courtesy or creativity– Pheidippides of Athens set out on the run that inspired the Marathon.  Pheidippides was on a mission seeking military support from Sparta in defense against the invading Persian army.  Tradition (that’s to say, Herodotus) holds that he ran the ran 246 km (153 miles) between the two city-states in two days.  The Spartans, constrained by religious law, were unwilling to help until the next full moon.  So two days later, Phidippides ran the return leg alone.

Pheidippides then ran the 40 km (25+ miles) from the battlefield to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon; he uttered the word Nenikékamen (“We have won”), collapsed, and died on the spot from exhaustion.

Statue of Pheidippides on the Marathon road (source)

 

Keep those cards and letters coming…

for larger version, click image above (or here), and then click again

Readers will recall earlier visits to Letters of Note (“correspondence deserving of a wider audience”).  That wonderful site now has company– and official company at that.

The letter-of-request above*, and tens of thousands of other historically- and politically-interesting documents can now be found at the Online Public Access Prototype of the National Archives.

* One notes that, while the Vice President’s response to Disney was “schedule too tight,” later President Nixon used Disney World as the venue for his “I am not a crook” speech…

[TotH to GMSV]

As we sharpen our quills, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 (months before his Disney World performance) that President Nixon signed the bill authorizing $5.5 million to develop the Space Shuttle program– NASA’s main focus from that point until President Obama’s recent redirection.

Nixon with NASA Administrator James Fletcher and a model of spacecraft-to-come (Source: NASA)

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