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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness”*…

John French owns what is believed to be the world’s only moist towelette museum, located at the Michigan State University’s Abrams Planetarium

It started as a joke: a small collection of moist towelettes jammed into a box in an office drawer, at a Pittsburgh planetarium in the 1990s.

John French says he and a friend were amazed at the strange collections he found online in the early days of the internet. But he couldn’t find any moist towelette collections or websites — so he started one… He never imagined his collection would grow to more than 1,000 and travel from Pennsylvania to Texas and then Michigan with him, gathering momentum…

He now runs his mini-museum out of a corner of his office at the Abrams Planetarium in Lansing, Mich. There he displays hundreds of individually wrapped moist towelettes from every continent, except Antarctica…

Towelettes have been marketed to clean everything from fingers to, well, private parts. They were invented in 1958, when American Arthur Julius came up with the idea that became a trademark of the Kentucky Fried Chicken meal.

Over the years it was sold alongside everything from messy meals to popcorn at movie releases. People have donated to French’s museum — which consists of a corner shelving unit — from all over the world…

More at: “Meet the man who runs a moist towelette museum out of a planetarium,” @jsfrench. Visit the museum online here.

* John Wesley

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As we disinfect our digits, we might we might send dirk birthday greetings to poet, author, and critic Edgar Allan Poe, born on this date in 1809 in Boston.  In the late 1830’s, after the first chapters of a short but extraordinarily eventful life, Poe (by this time married to his cousin and living in Philadelphia) began to publish the horror tales (“The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”) and the mysteries (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”) that have earned him the title of “father” of both genres.  Poe died in Baltimore (in what were surely karmically-appropriately mysterious circumstances) in 1849.

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Edgar Allan Poe at 39, the year before his death

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“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

An Ernie Bushmiller “Cross Word Cal” cartoon, from Sunday New York World, 1925. Note how the animals are caged by letter length and genus — Source.

Roddy Howland Jackson (himself a setter of puzzles) considers the origins of, and reveals the pleasures and imaginative creatures lurking in Torquemada’s seminal puzzles, the original cryptic crosswords…

Just a few years after The Waste Land appeared — a poem whose difficulty critics compared to some “pompous cross-word puzzle” — Edward Powys Mathers (alias: Torquemada) pioneered the cryptic: a puzzle form that, like modernist poetry, unwove language and rewove it anew…

“The Swan” from Torquemada’s Cross-Words in Rhyme for Those of Riper Years (1925) — Source

T. S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, Torquemada, and the Modernist crossword: “Beastly Clues,” from @roddyhj in @PublicDomainRev.

See also “Topic: Surprise, Drowsy Cows RIP, as Corrected (2,5,7,10)

* Stephen Sondheim (who helped introduce Americans to British-style cryptic crosswords)

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As we contemplate circuitous clues, we might note that today is National Thesaurus Day, celebrated each year on this date in honor of physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer Peter Mark Roget, who was born on this date in 1779. In 1852 Roget published his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition (or, as we know it, Roget’s Thesaurus), a pioneering collection of related words.

Modern thesauri tend to be collections of synonyms and antonyms. Roget’s Thesaurus was…

… essentially a reverse dictionary. With a dictionary, the user looks up a word to find its meaning. With Roget’s, the user start with an idea and then keeps flipping through the book until he finds the word that best expresses it. The organization of the book reflects the unique intelligence of the polymath that created it…

Roget’s was a two-for-one: it put both a book of synonyms and a topic dictionary (a compendium of thematically arranged concepts) under one cover.

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Roget’s official portrait by Thomas Pettigrew

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“Lying is done with words, and also with silence”*…

The redoubtable John Bayley deconstructs deceit in his 1990 review of Philip Kerr‘s The Penguin Book of Lies

Kipling’s unspoken criterion, that if a thing is well done enough it must be the case, has caught on in a big way. It is all made up by the media, and by those faithful camp-followers of art who tell us on radio or TV what they were ‘trying to do’ when they wrote, painted or composed. The fashionably perceptive novel, like Julian Barnes’s memorable Flaubert’s Parrot, cannot find out what it is looking for, or what is going on inside itself. The fashionable thriller does not know the answers, or which side is which. These reactions against realism discard, often to great effect, the idea of truth as solution. So, fortuitously, did Henry James in The Turn of the Screw, and Stendhal’s Fabrice when he could not find the battle of Waterloo, or be sure that he had taken part in it. That truth is a lie shows that life is stupid: once art could fix that, but now this is not so certain, even of the best art.

As Philip Kerr has perceived, and embodied in his choice of extracts, a self-consciousness about truth goes with scepticism about it to produce the modern science of propaganda. Truth is the first casualty in war, whether hot or cold; when Churchill remarked that truth in wartime was ‘so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies’ he was not just being cynical, like Bacon’s jesting Pilate, but assuming that truth, like right, must be on one’s own side: enemy truth, attended by her SS bodyguard, must be a false creature. As Orwell saw, faith in the truth leads to lying. Since the Party is always right, the concoction of deliberate lies is a moral duty. The victims of the show-trials in Moscow and Prague found relief in the lies they were made to utter. In 1940 Orwell supposed – which is interesting in the light of what happened later in the Soviet Union, and indeed in 1984 – that ‘already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying a historical fact.’ Today science can appear just as much ‘the father of lies’ as Herodotus himself: not because of our appetite for wonders, but because the scientist has become much more aware of the possibilities of propaganda, whether personally or ideologically motivated…

More on the forms of fabrication: “Art’ll fix it,” in @LRB

(Image above: source)

* Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying

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As we ponder prevarication, we might rejoice in the naively and nobly inventive: it was on this date in 1605 that El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (or The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha— aka Don Quixote), the masterwork of Miguel de Cervantes (and of the Spanish Golden Age) and a founding work of Western literature was first published. Widely considered the first modern novel (published in the Western world), it is also considered by many (still) to be the best; it is in any case the second most translated work in the world (after the Bible).

Original title page

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“Once there was a fleeting wisp of glory / Called Camelot”*…

The pages were disposed of as scrap and pasted into an unrelated book

13th-century pages, found by chance at a British library, show a different side of Merlin, the magician who advised Camelot’s king…

Thirteenth-century manuscript fragments discovered by chance at a library in Bristol, England, have revealed an alternative version of the story of Merlin, the famed wizard of Arthurian legend. A team of scholars translated the writings, known as the Bristol Merlin, from Old French to English and traced the pages’ medieval origins, reports Alison Flood for the Guardian.

The manuscript is part of a group of texts called the Vulgate Cycle, or the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Using handwriting analysis, the researchers determined that someone in northern or northeastern France wrote the text between 1250 and 1275. That means it was committed to parchment shortly after the Vulgate Cycle was first composed, between 1220 and 1225.

“The medieval Arthurian legends were a bit like the Marvel Universe, in that they constituted a coherent fictional world that had certain rules and a set of well-known characters who appeared and interacted with each other in multiple different stories,” Laura Chuhan Campbell, a medieval language scholar at Durham University, tells Gizmodo’s Isaac Schultz. “This fragment comes from the second volume, which documents the rise of Merlin as Arthur’s advisor, and Arthur’s turbulent early years as king.”…

Rediscovered Medieval Manuscript Offers New Twist on Arthurian Legend,” from @SmithsonianMag.

* “Camelot,” lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; in Camelot, based on The Once and Future King by T.H. White

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As we meditate on the myth, we might recall that it was on this date in 1297 that François (or Francesco) Grimaldi, the leader of the Guelphs, disguised himself as a monk and led a group of his followers in the capture of the Rock of Monaco.

In the event, François (whose nickname was il Malizia, “the malicious“) was able to hold the territory for four years before being chased out by the Genoese. After his death, in 1309, he was succeeded by his cousin (and stepson), Rainier I of Monaco, Lord of Cagnes. His cousin’s descendants, the Grimaldi family, purchased Monaco from the crown of Aragon in 1419, and became the official and undisputed rulers of the principality, which they hold to this day.

François’ victory is commemorated on the Monegasque coat of arms (the emblem of the Grimaldi family), on which the supporters are two friars armed with swords.

Fresco with François Grimaldi, nickname “Malizia”, on a wall of the rue Comte Félix Castaldi in Monaco

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“Every picture tells a story”*…

The author’s own images…

“What is the use of a book”, asks Alice in the opening scene to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “without pictures or conversations?” This question from Alice is at once a critique of her sister’s pictureless tome, and a paving the way for the delight of words and images to follow. Indeed, John Tenniel’s famous illustrations — for both the first edition of Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass — have become integral to how we experience the story, in both books and film. Tenniel, however, was not the first to illustrate the tale. That honor belongs to Carroll himself, whose original manuscript of the story (then titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”) is littered with thirty-seven of his own sepia-ink drawings. It seems this entwining of word and image — so important to the published version — was there from the beginning…

More of the backstory- and all 37 drawings– at “Lewis Carroll’s Illustrations for Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” via @PublicDomainRev.

For more of Carroll, Alice, and her adventures, see here and here.

* Cheshire Cat

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As we believe impossible things, we might spare a thought for Robert Smirke; he died on this date in 1845. A painter and illustrator, he specialized in small pieces that depicted scenes in literature— for which he was elected to the Royal Academy.

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