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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption”*…

 

John Adams didn’t literally call the Philadelphia Aurora (also known as the Aurora General Adviser) “fake news,” but he was not pleased by the way he was often depicted in it

In the margins of his copy of Condorcet’s treatise Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind, President John Adams scribbled a cutting note.

Writing in the section where the French philosopher predicted that a free press would advance knowledge and create a more informed public, Adams scoffed. “There has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in an hundred years before 1798,” he wrote at the time.

The charge feels shockingly modern. Were he to have written the sentiment in 2018, and not at the turn of the 19th century, it’s easy to imagine that at just 112 characters, he might have tweeted it, instead.

While Chinese monks were block printing the Diamond Sutra as early as 868 A.D. and German printer Johannes Gutenberg developed a method of movable metal type in the mid-1400s, it took until the Enlightenment for the free press as we know it today to be born.

Condorcet’s 1795 text expanded upon the belief that a press free from censorship would circulate an open debate of ideas, with rationality and truth winning out. Adams’ marginal response reminds us that when something like truth is up for debate, the door is open for bad-faith actors (the partisan press in his view) to promulgate falsehoods—something that a reader today might call “fake news.”…

Harrowing history at: “The Age-Old Problem of ‘Fake News’.”

* “Totalitarian propaganda perfects the techniques of mass propaganda, but it neither invents them nor originates their themes. These were prepared for them by fifty years of imperialism and disintegration of the nation-state, when the mob entered the scene of European politics. Like the earlier mob leaders, the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care or dare to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered up with corruption.”
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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As we ferret out the facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that Christopher Marlowe, the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day (and a powerful influence on Shakespeare), was indicted by the Privy Council for heresy on the basis of testimony (probably elicited by torture) from Marlowe’s roommate, fellow dramatist Thomas Kyd.  Marlowe (who was in fact an atheist and seems likely to have supplemented his income as a spy) was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out he became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“An author…may wish to include an epigraph — a quotation that is pertinent but not integral to the text”*…

 

Epigraph: To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

 

Epigraph: Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Examples from  Phoebe Pan‘s “ongoing collection of epigraphs.”

* Chicago Manual of Style

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As we appreciate appositeness, we might send silly birthday greetings to Edward Lear; he was born on this date in 1812.  An artist, illustrator, musician, author, and poet, he is known now mostly for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose– including his limericks, a form he he did much to popularize.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon,
The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

-“The Owl and the Pussycat” (probably Lear’s best-known poem)

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Written by LW

May 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Bad artists always admire each others’ work”*…

 

Woody Allen, Picasso… now Kanye West: Can one separate the artist from the art?

[The] disappointment with West’s flirtation with right-wing politics, whether genuine or just a publicity stunt for his new album, raises an age-old debate about the separation (or lack thereof) between art and the artist—specifically, in this case, between the politics of art and the politics of the artist. As Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall tweeted last week:

This comparison might seem outrageous. Pound, the legendary American poet, stained his reputation by advocating for Benito Mussolini and broadcasting fascist messages on Italian radio during World War II. Trump, despite his authoritarian tendencies, is hardly Mussolini, nor are West’s tweets in the same category as Pound’s rants, which were laced with anti-Semitism.

But it’s a useful comparison precisely because Pound’s actions were so extreme: The stillrunning debate surrounding him—about whether an artist’s political views should shape how an audience views their work—can help clarify the new debate surrounding West…

Consider more completely at “Is Kanye West ‘the Ezra Pound of Rap’?“; then see “The Picasso Problem: Why We Shouldn’t Separate the Art From the Artist’s Misogyny” and “Can you separate the artist from the art?

Meantime, see a series of Kanye’s infamous recent tweets, reproduced as New Yorker cartoon captions, e.g.:

Then, for a very different point-of-view, see “The Overground Hell Road: The Similarities Between Kanye and Gandhi Are Scary.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we govern our glance, we might send (notional) birthday greetings to Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC, KCB, KCIE; he was (notionally) born on this date in 1822.  Originally created as a minor character by Thomas Hughes  in his semi-autobiographical Tom Brown’s School Days— Flashman is a bully who torments Tom Brown– Flasman got a second– and much more expansive life when George MacDonald Fraser decided to write his “memoir.”  The result runs to 12 hilarious historical novels– collectively known as “The Flashman Papers“– in which Hughes’ bully becomes an illustrious Victorian soldier while remaining “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward—and, oh yes, a toady.”

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Written by LW

May 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The conquest of learning is achieved through the knowledge of languages”*…

 

“When humanity loses a language, we also lose the potential for greater diversity in art, music, literature, and oral traditions,” says Bogre Udell. “Would Cervantes have written the same stories had he been forced to write in a language other than Spanish? Would the music of Beyoncé be the same in a language other than English?”

Between 1950 and 2010, 230 languages went extinct, according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Today, a third of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers left. Every two weeks a language dies with its last speaker, 50 to 90 percent of them are predicted to disappear by the next century…

Every two weeks a language dies: Wikitongues wants to save them: “The Race to Save the World’s Disappearing Languages.”

And for a more in depth– and fascinating– discussion of the subject, listen to Mary Kay Magistad‘s conversation with Laura Welcher, the director of the Rosetta Project at The Long Now Foundation: “Why half the world’s languages may disappear in this century.”

* Roger Bacon

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As we contemplate conserving the capacity to converse, we might spare a thought for Archibald MacLeish; he died on this date in 1982.  A poet, dramatist, writer, and lawyer, he is probably best remembered for his poem  “Ars Poetica” and his play JB.  But MacLeish also served, from 1939 to 1944 as Librarian of Congress, where he oversaw the modernization of the institution and helped promote The Library– and libraries, the arts, and culture more generally– in public opinion.  Over his career, he won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen Prize, a National Book Award, a Tony Award (for JB), was named a Commandeur de la Legion d’honneur, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion”*…

 

The ascent of the Prophet over the Ka’bah guided by Jibrā’īl and escorted by angels. (via the British Library)

The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan is a book lover’s fantasy: a bespoke manuscript, hand-painted and hand-written by the greatest artists and calligraphers of its day. The patchwork book is pieced together from a wide range of texts, from epic poetry to learned disquisitions on astrology, medicine, and the interpretation of dreams. It is a fifteenth-century library distilled into a single volume and a relic of another world. In a time before copyright, texts could be borrowed, copied, and recycled into something new. In a time before mass-scale printing, a book could be a deeply personal affair, curated exactly to its patron’s unique set of interests. In a time before the internet, a pocket-sized library was the best way to carry a world of knowledge everywhere you went.

The Miscellany’s patron was Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar Sultan ibn ‘Umar Shaykh, ruler of Shiraz and Isfahan and grandson of the world-famous conqueror Timur…

The remarkable story in full at “The ultimate bespoke manuscript“; browse the manuscript on the British Library’s Digital Viewer.

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we contemplate comprehensiveness, we might recall that not too long after this exercise in collecting everything relevant to a single reader, there was a seminal move to make a single thing available to many, many readers: on this date in 1484, William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England and was its first book publisher (see here and here), published his English translation of Aesop’s Fables.

The fable of the farmer and his sons from Caxton’s edition, 1484

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“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”*…

 

In 1565, twelve years after the death of François Rabelais (1494-1553) — the French Renaissance author best known for his satirical masterpiece The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, the bawdy tale of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel [see here] — the Parisian bookseller and publisher Richard Breton brought out Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel (The drolatic dreams of Pantagruel). The slim volume, save a short preface from Breton, is made up entirely of images [like the one above] — 120 woodcuts depicting a series of fantastically bizarre and grotesque figures, reminiscent of some of the more inventive and twisted creations of Brueghel or Bosch…

More of the backstory and more of the illustrations at “The Drolatic Dreams of Pantagruel.”  See the original, in full, at The Internet Archive.

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we explore the extraordinary, we might send mysterious birthday greetings to a master of grotesque characters: Mary Flannery O’Connor; she was born on this date in 1925.   The author of two novels and thirty-two short stories (as well as a number of reviews and commentaries), she was an exemplar of the Southern Gothic movement in American literature.  Her posthumously compiled Complete Stories, which won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, has been the subject of enduring praise.

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Written by LW

March 25, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right”*…

 

People disagree about morality. They disagree about what morality prohibits, permits and requires. And they disagree about why morality prohibits, permits and requires these things. Moreover, at least some of the disagreement on these matters is reasonable. It is not readily attributable to woolly thinking or ignorance or inattention to relevant considerations. Sensible and sincere people armed with similar life experiences and acquainted with roughly the same facts come to strikingly different conclusions about the content and justification of morality.

For examples of disagreement about content, think of the standards ‘vote in democratic elections’, ‘do not smack your children’, and ‘do not eat meat’. Some reasonable people recognise a moral duty to vote, or a moral prohibition on smacking or meat-eating; others do not. To see the depth of disagreement about justification, consider the variety of reasons advanced for the widely accepted moral standard ‘do not lie’. Should we refrain from lying because God commands it, because it promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number, because in deceiving others we treat them as mere means to our ends, or because the virtue of honesty is a necessary condition of our own flourishing? Each of these reasons is persuasive to some and quite unpersuasive to others.

Reasonable disagreement about morality presents educators with a problem. It is hard to see how we can bring it about that children subscribe to moral standards, and believe them to be justified, except by giving them some form of moral education. But it is also hard to see how moral educators can legitimately cultivate these attitudes in the face of reasonable disagreement about the content and justification of morality. It looks as though any attempt to persuade children of the authority of a particular moral code will be tantamount to indoctrination…

Michael Hand asks– and suggests an answer to– a desperately-important question: “If we disagree about morality, how can we teach it?

* Isaac Asimov

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As we struggle to teach our children well, we might send fabulous birthday greetings to Publius Ovidius Naso; he was born on this date in 43 BCE.  Known in the English-speaking world as Ovid, he was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus.  He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature.  Ovid is today best known for the Metamorphoses, a 15-book continuous mythological narrative written in the meter of epic, and for works in elegiac couplets such as Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love”) and Fasti.  His poetry was much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced Western art and literature; he was, for instance a favorite– and favorite source– of Shakespeare.  And the Metamorphoses remains one of the most important sources of classical mythology.

Ovid enjoyed enormous popularity in his time; but, in one of the great mysteries of literary history, was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death.  Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, “a poem and a mistake”; but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

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