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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“Don’t just do something, sit there”*…

 

cows

You’ve heard of slow food and slow fashion. Now the BBC is spreading the gospel of slow radio.

The British public broadcaster’s Radio 3 programming this autumn will invite listeners to relax to the sounds of Irish cows being herded up a mountain and leaves crunching on walks through the country. Radio 3 controller Alan Davey tells The Guardian this “meditative, slightly old fashioned” radio will provide audiences with “a chance for quiet mindfulness.”

That sounds a lot like autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), or the pleasant calming sensation many people feel when listening to a range of gentle everyday noises, from softly spoken words to someone raking a zen garden…

More on soothing sound at: “The BBC is getting into ASMR.”  And for those who can’t receive Radio Three…

* Buddhist saying

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As we’re muse on mindfulness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1597 that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, then a tax collector in the province of Grenada, was imprisoned in the Carcel Real, the royal prison in Seville, Spain.  Apparently a subordinate had deposited tax receipts with an untrustworthy banker.

Forced to slow down, Cervantes took good advantage of his free time: he started plotting (but probably not actually writing) “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha” (“The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha“)– or as we have come to know it, Don Quixote.  As Somerset Maugham said,”casting my mind’s eye over the whole of fiction, the only absolutely original creation that I can think of is Don Quixote.”

cervantes source

 

Written by LW

September 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all”*…

 

wired_coder_museum

Humankind is facing unprecedented revolutions, all our old stories are crumbling and no new story has so far emerged to replace them. How can we prepare ourselves and our children for a world of such unprecedented transformations and radical uncertainties? A baby born today will be thirty-something in 2050. If all goes well, that baby will still be around in 2100, and might even be an active citizen of the 22nd century. What should we teach that baby that will help him or her survive and flourish in the world of 2050 or of the 22nd century? What kind of skills will he or she need in order to get a job, understand what is happening around them and navigate the maze of life?…

“As the pace of change increases, the very meaning of being human is likely to mutate and physical and cognitive structures will melt”: “Yuval Noah Harari on what the year 2050 has in store for humankind.”

* Henri Poincare, The Foundations of Science

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As we agree with the Marquis of Halifax that “the best qualification of a prophet is to have a good memory,” we might send insightful birthday greetings to Leo Tolstoy; he was born on this date in 1828 (O.S.; September 9, N.S.).  Widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, he first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, ChildhoodBoyhood, and Youth, and Sevastopol Sketches, based on his experiences in the Crimean War.  But he is surely best remembered for two of his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction.

220px-L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-Gorsky source

 

Written by LW

August 28, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Travel makes one modest”*…

 

… or not.

grand canyon

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Went to the Grand Canyon this past week, and let me tell you, it’s a big ole waste of time! There was dirt EVERYWHERE, and the hiking trail was too long! Also where are the vending machines?? And nowhere to charge my phone! It’s way too deep to even see the bottom! The only thing that saved this trip were the crab enchiladas we ate down the road at Plaza Bonita. BEST MEXICO FOOD EVER! Grand Canyon—more like Grand Blandyon.

Gina M.,  Los Angeles

Just one of the instructive one-star reviews of National Parks on Trip Advisor.  For more: “Too Hot, Too Crowded, Needs More Vending Machines.”

* Gustave Flaubert

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As we look gift horses in their mouths, 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.”

 

Written by LW

August 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Not every business cycle has a financial crisis. Frequently they do.”*…

 

Your correspondent is headed away on his annual pilgrimage to the land of banked dunes and deep-fried delights.  Regular service will resume on or around August 27.  Vacations can be a time for retrospection.  In that spirit, an invitation to think about the last ten years…

 

2008

 

2008 was a big year: Senator Barack Obama was elected president of the United States,  “Satoshi Nakamoto” published “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” SpaceX became the first private, commercial company to put an object into earth orbit, China wowed the world with its host ceremonies for the Summer Olympic Games…  But of course, 2008 was also the start of the Great Recession…  which was bad.  Really bad:

Total U.S. household net worth dropped by $11.1 trillion in 2008.

The median income for 25-to-34-year-olds in America, $34,000, hasn’t budged since 1977, adjusted for inflation.

Median household wealth collapsed.
2007: $126k
2016: $97k

The number of Americans worried about the economy multiplied nearly sixfold.
2007: 16 percent
2008: 86 percent

In 2016, the median wealth of a family headed by someone born in the 1980s was 34 percent below the level of earlier generations at the same 2007: age.

Mutual funds lost a third of their value: -38 percent.

The market value of all publicly traded companies was cut in half.
October 2007: $63 trillion
March 2009: $28.6 trillion

From 2005 to 2009, the median value of stocks and mutual funds owned by whites dropped by 9 percent.

The median value of holdings for African-Americans dropped by 71 percent (probably because of pressure to sell when prices were low).

Between 2007 and 2013, wages declined for the bottom 70 percent of all workers.

The retirement savings of black families fell by 35 percent from 2007 to 2010.

In a 2016 survey by the Fed, 28 percentof working-age adults said they had no retirement savings whatsoever.

The racial wealth gap, already large, ballooned.
Whites: $171k
Hispanics:  $20.7k
African-Americans: $17.6k

In terms of household wealth, every group suffered — but some more than others.
Hispanics: -66 percent
Asian-Americans: -54 percent
African-Americans: -53 percent
Whites: -16 percent

Consumer credit-card debt at the end of 2017 was over $1 trillion (about 30% higher than in 2008).

Millennials have taken on at least 300 percent more student-loan debt than their parents’ generation.

The unemployed took many more weeks to find work.
May 2008: 7.9
June 2010: 25.2

In a December 2017 poll by YouGov, 38 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know when they’d be debt-free. 30 percent of respondents thought they’d never be out of debt.

63 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $500 health-care expense.

In 2017, women had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, although there were 7 percent more women of prime childbearing age.

The suicide rate rose 4 percent from 1999 to 2010: 4,750 additional deaths.

24 million adult millennials, or 32 percent, still live at home.

79 million Americans live in a “shared household” with at least one extra, nonfamily resident.

More college grads moved in with their parents.
2005: 19 percent
2016: 28 percent

As of 2017, only 34.2 percent of homes have recovered their value from before the recession. (Still below 2008 value.)

From 2000 to 2015, homeownership declined in 90% of all U.S. metropolitan areas.

[source]

Frank Rich explores the lasting impact of that crash:

…the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it)…

Read the full essay: “In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream.”

Then consider Steve Bannon’s take on the same event:

The legacy of the financial crisis: Donald Trump. The legacy of the financial crisis is Donald J. Trump. And I can give you the specific moment: When they put Lehman in bankruptcy, and the geniuses didn’t understand that it was inextricably linked to the commercial paper market. Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, they went to see Bush three days later. They told him, ‘We need a trillion dollars in cash, and we need it by five o’clock.’”

And in a profile of courage, President Bush says, “Not my problem. You gotta go to Capitol Hill.” They go up to Capitol Hill, they put everybody in a room. They make them all put their BlackBerrys outside, and they walk in, and Bernanke, who’s not an alarmist, says, “If we don’t have a trillion dollars by today, the American financial system will melt down in 72 hours. The world financial system will melt down in two weeks, and there will be global anarchy.”

And by the way, this was completely brought on by the elites of the country and Wall Street. When I got to Harvard Business School in 1983, a bunch of professors were coming up with a radical idea that’s had a horrible negative consequence on this country and to the fabric of our society: the maximization of shareholder value; this was preached as High Church theology. The whole thing of the financialization of Wall Street, of looking at people as pure commodities and of outsourcing and globalization, came from the business schools and the financial community that had these radical ideas, and nobody kept them in check…

I think you’re starting to see the deindustrialization of the country. We stopped investing in the country. Domestic investment’s all going over to China. We deindustrialized Western Europe. Brexit and 2016 are inextricably linked, okay?

Workers know this. It’s the labor vote in the midland counties that drove Brexit. This is what’s so obvious the Democratic Party misses. Donald Trump’s president because of working-class Democrats. The Trump movement is made up of people like my father, the Marty Bannons. My whole household was working-class Democrats. These are adamant Trump supporters because they understand Trump supports working-class people…

While the prescribed remedies may be wildly different as between the progressive writer and the Nativist provocateur, the diagnosis is eerily similar.  Read Bannon’s interview in full at “Steve Bannon on How 2008 Planted the Seed for the Trump Presidency.”

More perspectives on 2008 at “Ten Years After the Crash, We Are Still Living in the World It Brutally Remade.”

And lest we think too parochially, consider this argument that the Georgian War (Russia’s engagement in Georgia) in 2008 was (another) product of the same currents that yielded the financial crisis: “The Turning Point of 2008“… which, in turn, helped spur the growth of Russia’s use of criminal hackers: “It’s our time to serve the Motherland.”

Kenneth Arrow

###

As we make our way down memory lane, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that George Orwell’s allegory, Animal Farm– A Fairy Story, was published.  (The U.S. edition, published in 1946, dropped the sub-title.)   While it has never disappeared from conversation about politics and governance, Animal Farm is enjoying a renaissance in these increasingly Nativist times.  But while Orwell rings only too relevant these days, we might do well to keep in mind his friendly competitor (and one-time school master), Aldous Huxley, and Huxley’s Brave New World:

In his classic 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote of the difference between George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s visions of fascism.

“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information,” wrote Postman. “Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

More at “Amusing Ourselves to Trump.”

For a nifty cartoon version of the Orwell-Huxley distinction, see here.

And for a further exploration of this modern day Scylla and Charybdis, see “Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

220px-Animal_Farm_-_1st_edition

First edition cover

source

 

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”*…

 

bookstore-slide-2MCD-jumbo source

It was in Athens in the 4th Century BC that a man named Zeno walked into a bookshop. He had been a successful merchant, but suffered a terrible shipwreck on a journey out of Phoenicia, losing a priceless cargo of the world’s finest dye. He was 30 years old and facing financial ruin, but this catastrophe stirred his soul to find something new, though he didn’t quite know what.

One day, immersed in browsing a bookstore collection, many volumes of which have been lost to history forever, Zeno heard the bookseller reading out loud a passage from a book by Xenophon about Socrates. It was like nothing he had ever heard before. With some trepidation, he approached the owner and asked, “Where can I find a man like that?” and in so doing, began a philosophical journey that would literally change the history of the world. That book recommendation led to the founding of Stoicism and then, to the brilliant works of SenecaEpictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — which, not lost to history, are beginning to find a new life on bookshelves today. From those heirs to Zeno’s bookshop conversion, there is a straight line to many of the world’s greatest thinkers, and even to the Founding Fathers of America.

All from a chance encounter in a bookshop.

It would be an understatement to say that great things begin in bookstores, and that countless lives have been changed inside them…

 

Why spend time amongst the shelves? “Good Things Happen in Book Stores.”

* Neil Gaiman, American Gods

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As we browse in bliss, we might spare a thought for Benjamin Jonson; he died on this date in 1637.  A poet, actor, literary critic, and playwright (he popularized the comedy of humours), he is best remembered for his satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Fox (c. 1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and for his lyric and epigrammatic poetry.

Eclipsing Christopher Marlowe, Jonson is generally regarded as the second most important English playwright during the reigns of Elizabeth I of James VI and I (after Shakespeare, with whom Jonson had a professional rivalry, but on whose death Jonson wrote “He was not of an age, but for all time”).  Indeed, while Shakespeare’s impact continues apace to this day, Jonson’s impact was arguably even bigger in the relatively-more immediate timeframe: he had broad and deep influence on the playwrights and the poets of the Jacobean era (1603–1625) and of the Caroline era (1625–1642).

220px-Benjamin_Jonson_by_Abraham_van_Blyenberch source

 

Written by LW

August 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Toast cannot be explained by any rational means”*…

 

toast

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” rendered on toast by @ClaireLarsson

 

Twitter is largely an echo chamber of gamers and white supremacists and white supremacist gamers, howling with the ceaselessness of a puppy chasing its tail. It wasn’t always like this. People used to have fun on the internet, according to the old tales.

For a few minutes today, you can return to a state of innocence. This week, a charming hashtag has sprung out of Germany: #KunstGeschichteAlsBrotbelag, which according to my expertise (Google Translate) comes out as “Art History as a sandwich.” The premise is pretty simple: classic works of art reinterpreted as pieces of toast. That’s it! And the people doing it are really very good…

Samples at “Enjoy these classic works of art reinterpreted as toast“; the thread is here.

* Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

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As we take a bite, we might spare a thought for Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov; he died on this date in 1841.  A writer, poet and painter, sometimes called “the poet of the Caucasus,” he was the most important Russian poet after Alexander Pushkin’s death in 1837 and the greatest figure in Russian Romanticism.  His influence on later Russian literature is still felt in modern times, not only through his poetry, but also through his prose, which founded the tradition of the Russian psychological novel (and was, this hugely influential on Dostoevsky, among others).

Mikhail_lermontov source

 

Written by LW

July 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“In Nature’s infinite book of secrecy I can read a little”*…

 

shakespeare science

 

Shakespeare explores the philosophical, psychological, and cultural impact of many more scientific fields besides human anatomy, reflecting poetically on theories about germs, atoms, matter, falling bodies, planetary motion, heliocentrism, alchemy, the humors, algebra, Arabic numerals, Pythagorean geometry, the number zero, and the infinite. The inquiries that drove Renaissance science, and the universe it disclosed, are deeply integrated into Shakespeare’s poetic worlds.

Until relatively recently, Shakespeare’s contact with the scientific world has gone largely unnoticed both among scholars and general audiences. Perhaps Shakespeare scholars and audiences don’t notice the way he takes up science because they are unfamiliar with much of the science he was exposed to, while most scientists don’t see Shakespeare as valuable for reflecting on science because they assume he was unfamiliar with it. Usually, even when readers are made aware of Shakespeare’s references to this or that scientific subject — perhaps Hamlet’s reference to infinity or Lear’s allusions to atomism — these are treated as little more than interesting artifacts, window-dressing to Shakespeare’s broader human concerns.

A small but growing number of scholars are now taking up the connection between Shakespeare and science. And, spurred perhaps by science fiction, by the ways that science factors in the works of key late-modern writers such as Nabokov, Pynchon, and Wallace, and by the rise of scientific themes in contemporary literary fiction, a growing number of readers are aware that writers can and do take up science, and many are interested in what they do with it.

When we familiarize ourselves with the history of science, we see the imaginative worlds Shakespeare creates to demonstrate science’s power to shape our self-understanding, and the power of the literary arts to shape our response to science. We also see that Shakespeare was remarkably prescient about the questions that science would raise for our lives. He explores, for example, how we are personally affected by the uncertainties that cosmological science can introduce, or what it means when scientists claim that our first-hand experience is illusory, or how we respond when science probes into matters of the heart…

He was a poet of Copernican astronomy before the telescope, of microbiology before the modern microscope.  What can we learn from the Bard’s vision of cosmic upheaval?  Explore at:  “Shakespeare’s Worlds of Science.”

* Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

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As we put it all into perspective, we might spare a thought for Andreas Libavius; he died on this date in 1616.  A rough contemporary of Shakespeare’s, Libavius was a celebrated physician and chemist, the author of over 40 works in the fields of logic, theology, physics, medicine, chemistry, pharmacy, and poetry.  At the same time– and in a way that reflected the fuzzy boundary between the emerging empirical sciences and the occult– he was one of the leading alchemical thinkers of his time: his 1597 Alchymia was the first systematic chemistry textbook, in which he showed, for example, that cuprous salt lotions are detectable with ammonia (which causes them to change color to dark blue)… and in which he also described the possibility of transmutation (the conversion of base metals into gold).

220px-Andreas_Libavius source

 

Written by LW

July 25, 2018 at 1:01 am

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