(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘literature

“I didn’t lie! I just created fiction with my mouth!”*…

 

Anybody who writes, directs, or consumes any form of entertainment owes a debt of gratitude to Homer. Had the ancient poet not written two of the best—and earliest—epic dramas in Western history, the Iliad and the Odyssey, who knows where our culture would be or what works of art we would cherish.

Would Shakespeare have become the genius bard? Would Cervantes, Faulkner, and Joyce have created the diverse masterpieces that they did, all with Homeric ancestry? Would we have cinematic gems like O Brother, Where Art Thou?

It’s impossible to know because our boy Homer (or whoever he was—more on that later) pulled through and set the foundation for modern day drama and tragedy. But what would have happened if he had written the first ever comedy?

That question is a siren song for scholars, though the work of comedy often attributed to the Greek poet was lost millennia ago. But while the text of Margites may have disappeared, we’re not completely in the dark about the form Homer’s comedic style may have taken…

Before The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s very first work—if Homer actually existed—is named Margites, after its main character who was nothing short of a bumbling idiot: “Before The Iliad, Did Homer Write The World’s First Comedy?

* Homer

###

As we honor humor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1687, during the Great Turkish War (1683-1699), that Venetian bombardment ignited an Ottoman gunpowder magazine stored in the Parthenon and nearly destroyed the temple to Athena that is the crown jewel of the Acropolis.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Always be a poet, even in prose”*…

 

The Knight from the Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.

In the 13th century, English poetry changed dramatically. There were no battles, no pamphleteering, or Ezra Pound-style polemics, and no warring factions. Yet by the end of the century, a poetic revolution had taken place. Modern readers and writers have long since forgotten what happened back then, but poetry today would not be the same without the 13th century.

In the Middle Ages, three major languages were spoken and written in England: Latin, French, and English. English was the least prestigious but, like the others, it had a thriving literary tradition. Before c1200, there was only one way to write poetry in English, known today as alliterative verse. This is the form of poetry used in BeowulfPiers PlowmanSir Gawain and the Green Knight, and approximately 300 other poems…

The revolution of English poetry began toward the end of the 12th century, when poets writing in English invented new metres…

For centuries, alliterative metre was the only way to write poetry in English. Then, rather suddenly, it wasn’t. It’s worth remembering the 13th century as an illustration of the unpredictability of historical change and the evanescence of normal, in literature and in life.

The full story– with lots of lovely examples– at: “The 13th-century revolution that made modern poetry possible.”

* Charles Baudelaire

###

As we get high behind change, we might spare a thought for Snorri Sturluson; he died on this date in 1241.  A poet, historian, and politician (he was elected twice as lawspeaker at the Icelandic parliament, the Althing), he authored (among other works) the Prose Edda or (Younger Edda).

Snorri is remarkable for proposing (in the Prose Edda) that mythological gods begin as human war leaders and kings whose funeral sites develop cults (a form of euhemerism).

source

 

Written by LW

September 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A novelist may lose his readers for a few pages; a playwright never dares lose his audience for a minute”*…

 

Archaeologists working in southeastern China have identified the tomb of Tang Xianzu, a renowned late 16th-century playwright who is often dubbed the country’s Shakespeare.

Known for his defiance of nobles in the Ming dynasty, Tang specialized in exploring the triumph of humanity over hierarchy and authority through works like The Peony Pavilion, which depicted a poor scholar’s love for a noblewoman. In the 55-scene drama, Tang portrays the struggles of a relationship imbued with supernatural power—a young woman is brought back to life by the handsome scholar she had fallen in love with in a dream. The woman’s father, a nobleman, accuses the scholar of being a grave robber (link in Chinese) and has him imprisoned. Fortunately, in a theme that must still resonate today, the scholar is pardoned after securing excellent results in an imperial examination.

Tang died at the age of 66 in 1616, the same year that saw the death of English playwright William Shakespeare…

More at “Archaeologists have found the tomb of China’s Shakespeare.”

* Terence Rattigan

###

As we note that Shakespeare might be known as the Tang of England, we might spare a thought for Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev; he died on this date in 1883.  A novelist, short story writer, and playwright, he helped define Russian Realism with his first book, A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852); his 1862 novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required”*…

 

Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels…

The winner of the thirty-fifth Lyttoniad is Kat Russo from picturesque Loveland, Colorado. Kat describes herself as having twenty-six years of experience in covering social awkwardness with humor and stories about her cats. She spends her time working in outdoor retail and at a wildlife rehabilitation center while trying to figure out how to use her art degree.

Conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books, the contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Bulwer was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel “Paul Clifford” (1830) with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and the expressions “the almighty dollar” and “the great unwashed.” His best known work, one on the book shelves of many of our great-grandparents, is “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1834), an historical novel that has been adapted for film multiple times.

As has happened every year since the contest went public in 1983, thousands of entries poured in not just from the United States and Canada but from such far-flung locales as England, Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Botswana…

All of the 2017 category winners and runners-up– all of which are eminently worthy– at “The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.”

* P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl in Blue

###

As we read ’em and weep, we might send amusing birthday greetings to Ernest Lawrence Thayer; he was born on this date in 1863.  A Harvard classmate (and Hasty Pudding and Lampoon colleague) of William Randolph Hearst, Thayer was recruited by his friend to the humor columnist for The San Francisco Examiner, 1886–88.  Thayer’s last piece, dated June 3, 1888, and published under his pen name “Phin,” was a ballad entitled “Casey” (“Casey at the Bat”) which made him “a prize specimen of the one-poem poet” according to American Heritage.

The first public performance of the poem was by actor De Wolf Hopper on this date in 1888, Thayer’s 25th birthday. Thayer’s recitation of the poem at a Harvard class reunion in 1895 finally settled the question of its authorship.

source

 

“Isn’t Baldwin a well-known pervert?”*…

 

Your tax dollars at work: the FBI’s files on James Baldwin…

Baldwin was “Jimmy” to most of his friends and to himself as well when he meditated on the various aspects of his personality. The numerous “strangers called Jimmy Baldwin,” he observed of his own diversity, included an “older brother with all the egotism and rigidity that implies,” a “self-serving little boy,” and “a man” and “a woman, too. There are lots of people there.” This secret FBI summary made the mistake of treating variations on Baldwin’s name and identity as a set of potentially criminal pseudonyms. For the Bureau, “James Baldwin,” “James Arthur Baldwin,” “Jim Baldwin,” and “Jimmy Baldwin” were “aliases” needing correlation and correction.

More memos on “aliases,” sexuality, and The Blood Counters at: “A look inside James Baldwin’s 1,884-page FBI file.”

* J. Edgar Hoover

###

As we shake our heads, we might recall that it was on this date in 1868 that Christopher Latham Sholes, Samuel W. Soulé, James Densmore, and Carlos Glidden received the first patent for a commercially-made typewriter.  This early version looked like a piano with ivory keys for the alphabetical keyboard. The patent was sold to Remington & Sons who began production and later developed the Remington Typewriter with the now standard Qwerty layout.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough”*…

 

“You’re a wizard, Harry,” Hagrid said. “And you’re coming to Hogwarts.”

“What’s Hogwarts?” Harry asked.

“It’s wizard school.”

“It’s not a public school, is it?”

“No, it’s privately run.”

“Good. Then I accept. Children are not the property of the state; everyone who wishes to do so has the right to offer educational goods or services at a fair market rate. Let us leave at once.”

An excerpt from the gloriously spot-on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Objectivism; more at “Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

– John Rogers

* Christopher Hitchens

###

As we obviate Objectivism, we might spare a thought for José de Sousa Saramago; he died on this date in 2010.  A Portuguese author and Nobel Laureate, he was described (in 2003) by Harold Bloom as “the most gifted novelist alive in the world today.”

An atheist and proponent of libertarian communism, Saramago was criticized by institutions the likes of the Catholic Church, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, with whom he disagreed. In 1992, the Government of Portugal ordered the removal of his The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the Aristeion Prize‘s shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Disheartened by this political censorship of his work, Saramago went into exile on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, where he lived until his death.

 source

 

Written by LW

June 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses”*…

 

In the original edition of Heinrich Hoffman’s 1845 German children’s book, the most famous character—Struwwelpeter, or “Shockheaded Peter,” whose name later became the book’s title—appeared last. In six short, illustrated stories, Hoffman, a physician from Frankfurt, told grisly moral tales: of a boy who wasted away after refusing his soup, another who lay writhing in pain after a mistreated dog exacted revenge, and yet another who had his thumb cut off after he sucked on it one too many times. Struwwelpeter’s sin was that he never cut his nails, bathed, or combed his hair; his punishment was distinct and cruel—he was unloved…

More original illustrations from the book that inspired Edward Scissorhands at “The 19th-Century Book of Horrors That Scared German Kids Into Behaving.”

* Neil Gaiman

###

As we mind our p’s and q’s, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to James Weldon Johnson; he was born on this date in 1871.  An African-American author, college professor, lawyer, diplomat (US consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua), songwriter, and civil rights activist, he is probably best remembered for his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he started working in 1917 and of which he later became the first African-American head.

A part of the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson’s literary works included memoir, poems, novels, anthologies– and a children’s book.

 source

 

%d bloggers like this: