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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though.”*…

 

The frontispiece of Public and Private Life of Animals, by P. J. Stahl, illustrated by J. J. Grandville, and translated rom the French by J. Thompson; 1877; London, S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.

This collection of acerbic animal fables, originally published in 1842 as Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux, boasts among its contributors some of the finest literary minds of mid 19th-century France, including Honoré de Balzac, George Sand, and the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel (under the pseudonym of P. J. Stahl). The book is also home to some of the finest work (some featured below) by the caricaturist J. J. Grandville, drawings in which we can see the satirical genius and inventiveness that would be unleashed in full glory just two years later with the publication of his wonderful Un autre monde.

See more at Public Domain Review; and visit the original at the Internet Archive.

* A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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As we anthropomorphize, we might send carefully-limned birthday greetings to Joesph Stella; he was born on this date in 1877.  An accomplished illustrator, he is better known as a Futurist painter, perhaps especially for his depictions of industrial America and  his images of the Brooklyn Bridge.

He was one of the many artists to break out as a result of the 1913 Armory Show (he was considered by critics as important and influential as Duchamp and Picabia).  He was later associated with the American Precisionist movement of the 1910s–1940s.

A photo by Man Ray of Stella (foreground) and Marcel Duchamp (background, sitting under a portrait of Man Ray)

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“The soul never thinks without a mental picture”*…

 

While popularised by Guillaume Apollinaire’s wonderful Calligrammes from 1918, the art of making images through the novel arrangement of words upon the page can be traced back many centuries. Some of the earliest examples of these “calligrams” are to be found in a marvellous 9th-century manuscript known as the Aratea.

Each page of the Aratea has a poem on the bottom half — written by the 3rd-century BC Greek poet Aratus and translated into Latin by a young Cicero — describing an astronomical constellation. This constellation is then beautifully drawn above the poetry; the drawings however are themselves made up of words taken from HyginusAstronomica. The passages used to form the images describe the constellation which they create on the page, and in this way they become tied to one another: neither the words or images would make full sense without the other there to complete the scene. Also, note the red dots on each picture: these show where the stars appear in the sky.

This remarkable object brings together nearly 2000 years of cultural history. Making use of two Roman texts on astronomy written in the 1st century BC, the manuscript was created in Northern France in about 820. It then found its way into the library of the Harley family in England, before being sold to the nation in 1752 under the same Act of Parliament which created the British Museum.

More– and larger– examples of this extraordinary art at “Aratea: Making Pictures with Words in the 9th Century.”

* Aristotle

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As we “just doodle it,” we might send speculative birthday greetings to Roger Joseph Zelazny; he was born on this date in 1937.  While (justly) remembered as an important science fiction author— he won the Hugo Award six times; the Nebula, three– he was also an accomplished poet.

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Written by LW

May 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I try to conjure, to raise my own spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look like.”*…

 

In Margaret Atwood’s The ­Handmaid’s Tale, a Christian sect call the Sons of Jacob creates a male-dominated theocratic state

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah.

And perhaps one of the starting points was here: on 29 August 1911, a 50-year-old man, a member of the Yahi group of the Native American Yana people, walked out of the forest near Oroville, California, and was captured by the local sheriff. He was known at the time and popularised in the press as “the last wild Indian”.

He called himself “Ishi” – a word in the Yahi language that means simply “man”. He was the very last of his people, and had been living in the wilderness alone, travelling to places he remembered from the time when his tribe had flourished, in the hope of finding some remnant of those he’d grown up with. When he realised they were truly all gone, when a series of forest fires meant he was close to starvation, he allowed himself to be found and taken in…

And the link with feminist science fiction? Theodora and Alfred Kroeber’s daughter was Ursula Le Guin, the science fiction author. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969, at the start of the revolutionary women’s movement, and was one of the earliest pieces of feminist SF. It is about a man from Earth who travels to the planet Gethen, where the people have no fixed gender. He is by turns fascinated, appalled and deeply, sickeningly lonely. Everyone’s “normality” is someone else’s wilderness…

From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, feminist science fiction writers have imagined other ways of living that prompt us to ask, could we do things differently?  More of their history at “Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future.”

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

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As we listen and learn, we might send hauntingly-beautiful birthday greetings to Eleanora Fagan; she was born on this date in 1915.  Better known by her stage name, Billie Holiday (and her nickname, Lady Day), she was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter– a legendary performer who enjoyed both huge popular success and great acclaim from her fellow artists.

 

Written by LW

April 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We have met the enemy, and he is us”*…

 

Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain started writing thrillers together for the motor-car racing magazines and rags about bicycle adventures and trucking for which Paris in the early 20th century had a limitless appetite. They knocked out a novel together in 1909 (monkey-men, tire ads, electric corselets and flying bat-suits) and two in 1910 (including a proto-fotonovela of adventure in the theatre), and then they found their lightning bolt, the main line: Fantômas. They wrote a four-hundred-page Fantômas novel every month for almost three years. The books were so cheaply printed that whole pages of the minuscule type were smeared or unreadable, but they were throwaway cheap (65 centimes, about the cost of a week of the daily paper) and sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies. The rules were simple: Juve, the cop, would pursue Fantômas, and Fantômas, l’insaisissable, the uncatchable and elusive, would always escape to wreak fresh havoc.

Fantômas was the ultimate industrial criminal: he was the crumbling gothic castle for an age of masses, cities, shopping, and machines. Always in disguise, the faceless genius of disaster could look like anyone and disappear into the metropolitan crowds he would occasionally massacre… He thrived by perverting modern spaces: releasing plague rats onto luxurious ocean liners, lining gloves with toxic chemicals and chic shoes with broken glass and filling department store perfume atomizers with poison, dumping sleepers off moving locomotives into the canyons outside, opening gas valves to asphyxiate victims. He did his evil on a mass production basis, sinking ships, crashing trains, and packing so many victims into a building that the walls started bleeding. Crowds gathered at the scene of some new outrage were showered in blood, jewels, and banknotes; chaos reigns.

The core of Fantômas’s criminal project is a kind of psychopathology in modern technology itself: in the trucs, the gadgets and elaborate machines he employed. A rigger of trick techniques and special effects, a cheater, a fixer of loaded dice and stacked decks, he turned the world into a movie set…

A kind of free-floating evil – a way of looking delectably askance at electricity and electric light, photography, telephones and telegraphs, industrial equipment and the glittering city – Fantômas was perfectly suited to new formats. There were five French silent films, then a twenty-part American serial; there were translations, knockoffs, and pirate editions of both the books and the character – Belphégor, Tenebras, Judex, Phantomas, Diabolik, Ultus, Za la Mort. The Surrealists created suites of fan fiction devoted to what Blaise Cendrars called “the modern Aeneid”; Alain Resnais made 8-mm test films towards a Fantômas movie in 1934. There was a sound movie, then another, and then remakes after the war and in the 1960s, three of which had a strange cultural afterlife playing over and over in Cuban movie theaters for more than a decade. There was a TV series in the 1970s. He had an enormous parallel career in comic books in Mexico…

Much more (including a pointer to an exquisite Julio Cortazar novella) in Finn Brunton‘s “L’Insaisissable, the latest installment in his always-illuminating newsletter series, Passing Current.

[Image above, one of Gino Starace‘s striking covers for the Fantômas series]

* Walt Kelly, Pogo

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As we find ourselves in a crowd, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow mortally wounded a constable in Miami, Oklahoma and abducted a police chief, whom they also wounded.  The FBI and local law enforcement redoubled their efforts to stop the pair, and succeeded, in a hail of bullets, the following month.

Bonnie and Clyde

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Written by LW

April 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

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