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Posts Tagged ‘mystery

“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers”*…

 

philosophy

In the July/August 2001 issue of the late, great magazine Lingua Franca, James Ryerson [now a New York Times writer/editor] published an enthralling article about an anonymous benefactor who was paying professors huge sums of money to review a strange 60-page philosophical manuscript…

Read Ryerson’s fascinating intellectual detective story at “The Mystery of the Millionaire Metaphysician.” And after you’ve done that (lest you spoil the ending), read what became of that anonymous benefactor.

[Image above: source]

* William James

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As we search for the moral in moral philosophy, we might spare a thought for William Penn; he died on this date in 1718.  An English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early Quaker, and founder of the English North American colony the Province of Pennsylvania, he was an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom, notable for his good relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans.  he directed the planning and development of the city of Philadelphia.

220px-William_Penn source

 

Written by LW

July 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered”*…

 

Perhaps understandably, most people tend to ignore scraps of paper they see lying on the ground. But Sydney-based artist Laura Sullivan has always found herself intrigued by the promise of scrawled handwriting, and has been picking up stray to-do lists, IOUs, poems, and angry letters for the past twelve years.Now, a selection of the 400 notes she has collected in public spaces around the world will be exhibited in a gallery show that puts the intimate concerns of anonymous strangers on display for all to see…

The serendipitous story in full at “Turns out, Other People’s Shopping Lists Are Oddly Poignant.”

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we celebrate chance, we might send thrilling birthday greetings to Ross Thomas; he was born on this date in 1926.  The author of 20 novels under his own name, and another six as “Oliver Bleeck,” Thomas specialized in building yarns around the machinations of professional politics and the intrigues of global corporations– so successfully that he is considered by many to be the Len Deighton or John Le Carre of the U.S.– only funnier. As the Village Voice put it, “what Elmore Leonard does for crime in the streets, Ross Thomas does for crime in the suites.”  His debut novel, The Cold War Swap, won the 1967 Edgar Award for Best First Novel; Briarpatch earned the 1985 Edgar for Best Novel; and in 2002, he was honored with the inaugural Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award, one of only two authors to earn the award posthumously (the other was 87th Precinct author Ed McBain in 2006).

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Written by LW

February 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Curiosity has its own reason for existence”*…

 

The Voynich Manuscript is a special kind of original. We know, thanks to carbon dating, that it was put together in the early fifteenth century. But no living person has ever, as far as we know, understood it. Nobody can decode the language the book is written in…  In “Cryptographic Attempts,” another essay that accompanies the Yale facsimile, William Sherman notes that “some of the greatest code breakers in history” attempted to unlock the manuscript’s mysteries; the impenetrability of Voynichese became a professional problem for those in the code game…

Humans are fond of weaving narratives like doilies around gaping holes, so that the holes won’t scare them. And objects from premodern history—like medieval manuscripts—are the perfect canvas on which to project our worries about the difficult and the frightening and the arcane, because these objects come from a time outside culture as we conceive of it. This single, original manuscript encourages us to sit with the concept of truth and to remember that there are ineluctable mysteries at the bottom of things whose meanings we will never know.

The story in its impenetrable– but fascinating– whole at “The Unsolveable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript.”

* Albert Einstein

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As we muse on mysteries, we might send bucolic birthday wishes to Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz (née Cary), the naturalist and educator who was the co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College; she was born on this date in 1822.  After the death of her husband, Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, with whom she traveled on scientific expeditions, she settled on the idea of college for women in the “Harvard Annex” in Cambridge; in 1894 the Annex became Radcliffe College. She served as its president until 1899, then honorary president until 1903.  Her books include A First Lesson in Natural History (1859), and A Journey in Brazil (1867).

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Written by LW

December 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Life swarms with innocent monsters”*…

 

Julia Pastrana, a woman from Mexico born with hypertrichosis, became one of the most famous human curiosities of the 19th century, exhibited the world over as a “bearded lady” while both alive and dead. Bess Lovejoy explores her story and how it was only in 2013, 153 years after her passing, that she was finally laid to rest…

Read through to the too-long-delayed happy ending at “Julia Pastrana: A ‘Monster to the Whole World’.”

* Charles Baudelaire

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As we celebrate humanity in its rich totality, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that Wilkie Collin’s The Woman In White began its serial run in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round (in the UK; it began an American run three days earlier in Harper’s Weekly).  Among the first mystery novels (and the first–and arguably the finest– in the genre of “sensation novels“), it was published in book form in 1860.

Cover of first US edition

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Written by LW

November 29, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The life so short, the craft so long to learn…”*

 

David Rees put aside a successful career as a political cartoonist to devote himself to artisanal pencil sharpening.  Rees began after a stint with the 2010 Census, where he spent all day recording his findings with a No. 2 pencil.

“I thought there’s got to be a way to get paid to sharpen pencils for people,” he said.

1,804 flawlessly-sharpened (mostly) No. 2 pencils later, Rees has authored a book on his craft, collected an arsenal of different sharpeners, and taught classes on the finer points of fine points.

Rees’ website “Artisanal Pencil Sharpening” sells his book and sharpened pencils.  (“Traditionally people mail in their pencils to be sharpened; however David now offers a new service: He will provide the pencil.”)  The books ship quickly, the pencils ($35) take approximately six weeks to ship, and cost more than the book ($20).

Read more at Tyler Cown’s Marginal Revolution.

*Hippocrates

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As we ponder the point, we might send mysterious birthday greetings to John Innes Mackintosh Stewart; he was born on this date in 1906.  A prolific and distinguished Oxford literary scholar and an accomplished literary novelist. Stewart is more widely known by his pen name, Michael Innes, under which he wrote almost fifty crime novels and short story collections, most featuring the urbane detective John Appleby (for example, your correspondent’s favorite, Hamlet, Revenge!)

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Written by LW

September 30, 2013 at 1:01 am

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