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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“Another Roadside Attraction”*…

 

supper club

Big Fish Supper Club, Route 2, Bena, Minnesota; 1980

 

The culture of the American road has been much celebrated — and much criticized. Lawrence Ferlinghetti saw the rise of the automobile and the construction of the interstate system (which began in the 1950s) as a new form of punishment inflicted on the populace. Driving in their cars, “strung-out citizens” were now

plagued by legionnaires
                                false windmills and demented roosters…

      on freeways fifty lanes wide
                                                        on a concrete continent
                                                                spaced with bland billboards
                                            illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness

The architectural critic and photographer John Margolies (1940–2016), on the other hand, saw there could also be home-made beauty in the buildings and signs locals built on the American roadside. For almost forty years, he documented the most remarkable examples he found, publishing some of his discoveries in books and consigning the rest to an archive, which has now been purchased by the Library of Congress who, in a wonderfully gracious move, have lifted all copyright restrictions on the photographs (though art works shown in some photographs may still be under copyright)…

south of the border

Billboard, near Dillon, South Carolina; 1986

More at “John Margolies’ Photographs of Roadside America.”  Browse the entire collection at the Library of Congress.

* a marvelous novel by Tom Robbins

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As we peer through the car window, we might spare a thought for Thomas Clayton Wolfe; he died (at age 38 of miliary tuberculosis) on this date in 1938.  But in his short career he wrote four lengthy novels (including Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again) as well as many short stories, dramatic works, and novellas– and earned  William Faulkner’s praise as the greatest talent of their generation.

Wolfe’s influence extends to the writings of Beat writer Jack Kerouac, and of authors Ray Bradbury, Betty Smith, Philip Roth, Pat Conroy and many, many others.

250px-Thomas_Wolfe_1937_1_(cropped).jpg source

 

Written by LW

September 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Artifacts of our oldest cultures give evidence that the human race has always made things in miniature”*…

 

CBGB

1/12th scale model of CBGB, 315 Bowery

 

Drawn to the often-overlooked beauty of aging structures, [artist Randy] Hage began photographing the cast iron facades in the SoHo area of New York.  He has photographed over 450 storefronts over the past 14 years, 60% of which have since closed or been torn down. Hage’s models are not only acts of preservation but a way of calling attention to what has been lost as urban renewal and gentrification displace the storeowners and residents of these communities…

Hage then works from his photos to create exquisitely-detailed miniatures…

Hage15

scale model

See more of Hage’s marvelous work at “NYC Storefronts in Miniature,” and visit his website.

* Dorothy B. Thompson, Miniature Sculpture from the Athenian Agora

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As we get small, we might spare a thought for miniaturist of a different sort, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne; he died on this date in 1592.  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 impact 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.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule”*…

 

nationalism

 

Over the course of a decade, the male chimps in one group systematically killed every neighboring male, kidnapped the surviving females, and expanded their territory. Similar attacks occur in chimp populations elsewhere; a 2014 study found that chimps are about 30 times as likely to kill a chimp from a neighboring group as to kill one of their own. On average, eight males gang up on the victim.

If such is the violent reality of life as an ape, is it at all surprising that humans, who share more than 98 percent of their DNA with chimps, also divide the world into “us” and “them” and go to war over these categories? Reductive comparisons are, of course, dangerous; humans share just as much of their DNA with bonobos, among whom such brutal behavior is unheard of. And although humans kill not just over access to a valley but also over abstractions such as ideology, religion, and economic power, they are unrivaled in their ability to change their behavior. (The Swedes spent the seventeenth century rampaging through Europe; today they are, well, the Swedes.) Still, humankind’s best and worst moments arise from a system that incorporates everything from the previous second’s neuronal activity to the last million years of evolution (along with a complex set of social factors). To understand the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism—that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias—requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them…

Robert Sapolsky on the biology of “us and them”: “This is your brain on nationalism.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

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As we muse on membership, we might send elegantly-composed birthday greetings to Ludovico Ariosto; he was born on this date in 1474.  An Italian poet, he is best remembered for his epic Orlando Furioso; a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo‘s Orlando Innamorato, it describes the adventures of Charlemagne, Orlando (the Christian knight subsequently known as Roland), and the Franks as they battle against the Saracens.

Ariosto’s epic was hugely influential on later European literature (including English poets Spencer, Shakespeare, and Byron).  And while the work had a “patriotic” (and, at least overtly, Christian) cast, Ariosto coined the term “humanism” (in Italian, umanesimo), helping pave the way for Renaissance Humanism.

180px-Vincenzo_Catena_016_detail

Ariosto, detail of votive painting Madonna with saints Joseph, John, Catherine, Louis of Toulouse and Lodovico Ariosto by Vincenzo Catena,

source

 

Written by LW

September 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist”*…

 

Marx

 

Photographic portraits of Marx don’t suggest a guy who wrote poetry, loved his wife with a passion, doted on his kids, and was once a hellraiser of a student—getting drunk, causing mayhem, and being chased by the police after one too many for the road. He was also scarred in a duel and exiled from Germany, Belgium, and France over his barbed and satiric attacks on these countries often despotic rulers. Marx was a man of action always willing to lead the fight who eventually settled for a life of sedentary toil to produce works that changed the world.

He was also a voracious reader who loved the works of Shakespeare and could quote entire plays by the Bard—just as his children could—and generally took an interest in everything. “Art,” he said, “is always and everywhere the secret confession, and at the same time the immortal movement of its time.” No idea or philosophy or culture was foreign to him, and there was nothing that didn’t keen his interest.

Yet, he could also be bad tempered and foul to those who went against him. And on occasion was anti-semitic and racist—he described one poor frenemy (Ferdinand Lassalle) as a Jewish n-word. No saint, but all human.

Karl also enjoyed playing parlor games like Confessions, which is now probably better known as the set of questions devised by Marcel Proust. In April 1865, Marx was staying with relatives when he as asked by his daughters to answer a set of confessions. Marx’s responses give an interesting (and at times humorous) insight into the great political and economic philosopher, journalist and writer.

Your favourite virtue: Simplicity

Your favourite virtue in man: Strength

Your favourite virtue in woman: Weakness

Your chief characteristic: Singleness of purpose

Your idea of happiness: To fight

Your idea of misery: To submit

The vice you excuse most: Gullibility

The vice you detest most: Servility

Your aversion: Martin Tupper [popular Victorian author]

Your favourite occupation: Glancing at Netchen [“Netchen, or Nannette, was Antoinette Philips, aged 28 at the time, Marx’s cousin and a member of the Dutch section of the International”]

Your favourite poet: Aeschylus, Shakespeare

Your favourite prose-writer: Diderot

Your hero: Spartacus, Kepler

Your heroine: Gretchen

Your favourite flower: Daphne

Your favourite dish: Fish

Your favourite colour: Red

Your maxim: Nihil humani a me alienum puto [Nothing human is alien to me]

Your favourite motto: De omnibus dubitandum [Doubt everything]

A few of his favorite things: “The ‘Confessions’ of Karl Marx.”

* Karl Marx

###

As we hum a few bars of “The Internationale,” we might spare a thought for John Bunyan; he died on this date in 1688.  A Puritan preacher and writer, he is best remembered for the Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, though he wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons.

John_Bunyan_by_Thomas_Sadler_1684 source

 

Written by LW

August 31, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation”*…

 

library

 

The librarian greeted me, asked for my name, and scanned a shelf of books along the wall. She pulled one from the collection, and placed it on the counter—but left her hand on the book. She smiled. “Don’t remove this white band,” she said. “Don’t rip it. Don’t touch it. It will cause problems.” I nervously smiled in return. There is nothing more frightening than a confident librarian.

The white band on the book, as fellow devotees of the glorious InterLibrary Loan system know, contains all of the information to facilitate return of the item to the lending library. Removed bands slow down the system. And the last thing that I would ever want to do is hurt, in any way, a system that has been so good to me…

A brief history (and celebration) of the apex of human civilization: “InterLibrary Loan Will Change Your Life.

* Henry Miller, The Books in My Life

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As we disobey Polonius, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that a jealous Robert Frost heckled Archibald MacLeish at a reading of the latter’s poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vt.  Bill Peschel recounts:

The gathering was held at Treman Cottage, and Frost was among the attendees, sitting in the back. It was a time when Hitler was on the ascendant, and the United States was divided between warning against the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy, and those who didn’t want to intervene in another European war. MacLeish was anti-Fascist, and Frost despised MacLeish’s support of Roosevelt.

That night, as MacLeish read from his poetry, Frost began heckling him. “Archie’s poems all have the sametune,” he said in a whisper that could be heard. When MacLeish read the single-sentence poem, “You, Andrew Marvell,” smoke could be smelled. Frost had accidentally, on purpose, set fire to some papers and was beating them out and waving away the smoke.

Most people accepted the story of the accident, and the reading eventually concluded. MacLeish was still the center of attention, and he was asked to read from one of his plays. But Frost was not done with him. As [Wallace] Stegner wrote:

“His comments from the floor, at first friendly and wisecracking, became steadily harsher and more barbed. He interrupted, he commented, he took exception. What began as the ordinary give and take of literary conversation turned into a clear intention of frustrating and humiliating Archie MacLeish, and the situation became increasingly painful to those who comprehended it”. Even Bernard DeVoto, a scholar and friend of Frost, had enough, calling out, “For God’s sake, Robert, let him read!” Frost ignored him, but shortly thereafter, on some pretext, “said something savage,” and left.

Afterwards, Frost’s defenders tried to kick sand over the events. One friend wrote only of “unfounded allusions” and “behavior not proven by fact.” There were people there who didn’t even notice what Stegner saw that night. But baiting MacLeish had caused a permanent rift between DeVoto and Frost. At the end of the conference, when they met and shook hands, DeVoto told him, “You’re a good poet, Robert, but you’re a bad man.”

 

“Why should things be easy to understand?”*…

 

Lee-Smolin_2K_02

 

The universe is kind of an impossible object. It has an inside but no outside; it’s a one-sided coin. This Möbius architecture presents a unique challenge for cosmologists, who find themselves in the awkward position of being stuck inside the very system they’re trying to comprehend.

It’s a situation that Lee Smolin has been thinking about for most of his career. A physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, Smolin works at the knotty intersection of quantum mechanics, relativity and cosmology. Don’t let his soft voice and quiet demeanor fool you — he’s known as a rebellious thinker and has always followed his own path. In the 1960s Smolin dropped out of high school, played in a rock band called Ideoplastos, and published an underground newspaper. Wanting to build geodesic domes like R. Buckminster Fuller, Smolin taught himself advanced mathematics — the same kind of math, it turned out, that you need to play with Einstein’s equations of general relativity. The moment he realized this was the moment he became a physicist. He studied at Harvard University and took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, eventually becoming a founding faculty member at the Perimeter Institute.

“Perimeter,” in fact, is the perfect word to describe Smolin’s place near the boundary of mainstream physics. When most physicists dived headfirst into string theory, Smolin played a key role in working out the competing theory of loop quantum gravity. When most physicists said that the laws of physics are immutable, he said they evolve according to a kind of cosmic Darwinism. When most physicists said that time is an illusion, Smolin insisted that it’s real.

Smolin often finds himself inspired by conversations with biologists, economists, sculptors, playwrights, musicians and political theorists. But he finds his biggest inspiration, perhaps, in philosophy — particularly in the work of the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, active in the 17th and 18th centuries, who along with Isaac Newton invented calculus. Leibniz argued (against Newton) that there’s no fixed backdrop to the universe, no “stuff” of space; space is just a handy way of describing relationships. This relational framework captured Smolin’s imagination, as did Leibniz’s enigmatic text The Monadology, in which Leibniz suggests that the world’s fundamental ingredient is the “monad,” a kind of atom of reality, with each monad representing a unique view of the whole universe. It’s a concept that informs Smolin’s latest work as he attempts to build reality out of viewpoints, each one a partial perspective on a dynamically evolving universe. A universe as seen from the inside…

Lee Smolin explains his radical idea for how to understand an object with no exterior–imagine it built bit-by-bit from relationships between events: “How to Understand the Universe When You’re Stuck Inside of It.”

* Thomas Pynchon

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As we muse on monads, we might send delightful birthday greetings to Fernando Arrabal Terán; he was born on this date in 1932.  A playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet, Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor (inspired by the god Pan).

Early in his career, he spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group and was a friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara.  Later (in 1990), he was elected Transcendent Satrap of the Collège de  ‘pataphysique (following such predecessors as Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco, and Jean Baudrillard).

And throughout, he was very productive: Arrabal has directed seven full-length feature films and has published over 100 plays; 14 novels; 800 poetry collections, chapbooks, and artists’ books; several essays; and his notorious “Letter to General Franco” during the dictator’s lifetime.  His complete plays have been published, in multiple languages, in a two-volume edition totaling over two thousand pages. The New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow has called Arrabal the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”

200px-Fernando_Arrabal,_2012 source

 

 

Written by LW

August 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I subscribe to the Fiona Apple school of titles: I wanted people to know exactly what they were getting into”*…

 

sub-titles

 

How many words can you fit in a subtitle? For a slew of modern books, the answer seems to be as many as possible. Just look at Julie Holland’s “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy,” Erin McHugh’s “Political Suicide: Missteps, Peccadilloes, Bad Calls, Backroom Hijinx, Sordid Pasts, Rotten Breaks, and Just Plain Dumb Mistakes in the Annals of American Politics” and Ryan Grim’s “We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.”

Blame a one-word culprit: search. Todd Stocke, senior vice president and editorial director at Sourcebooks, said that subtitle length and content have a lot to do with finding readers through online searches. “It used to be that you could solve merchandising communication on the cover by adding a tagline, blurb or bulleted list,” he said. But now, publishers “pack the keywords and search terms into the subtitle field because in theory that’ll help the book surface more easily.”…

The whole story at “Book subtitles are getting ridiculously long. What is going on?

* W. Kamau Bell

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As we search for optimization, we might spare a thought for Lois Duncan Steinmetz– better known by her pen name, Lois Duncan– she died on this date in 2016.  A journalist, poet, and novelist, she is probably best remembered as a pioneering author of young adult novels, dubbed the “queen of teen thrillers.” (Indeed, in 2014 she was awarded the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America, alongside James Ellroy.)

220px-Lois_Duncan_Steinmetz_in_a_field_of_daisies_in_Taos,_New_Mexico_(crop) source

We might also send puffing birthday greetings to Wilbert Vere Awdry; he was born on this date in 1911.  Better known as “Reverend W. Awdry,” he was a train enthusiast and children’s author, who married his passions to create Thomas the Tank Engine (the central figure in Awdry’s Railway Series, and the star of a long-running animated children’s show).

220px-The_Rev._W._Awdry source

 

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