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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

“The future ain’t what it used to be”*…

 

People in the early 20th century were hopeful about the future innovation might bring. The technology that came out of World War I, and the growing potential brought by electricity (half of all U.S. homes had electric power by 1925) had many looking ahead to the coming century. Futurists of the early 1900s predicted an incredible boom in technology that would transform human lives for the better.

In fact, many of those predictions for the future in which we live weren’t far off, from the proliferation of automobiles and airplanes to the widespread transmission of information. Of course, the specifics of how those devices would work sometimes fell broad of the mark. Yet these predictions show us just how much our technology has progressed in just a century — and just how much further more innovation could take us…

Further to yesterday’s collection of charts that might serve as a dashboard for us as we look to 2018, a consideration of how 2018 looked to scientists, inventors/technologists, and forecasters in (and around) 1918: Does Life In 2018 Live up to What We Predicted a Century Ago?

* Yogi Berra, The Yogi Book, 1998 (though the phrase “the future isn’t what it used to be” was used in 1937 by Laura Riding and Robert Graves in English, and by Paul Valéry in French)

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As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Kenneth Patchen; he died on this date in 1972.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

– from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It is deeply satisfying to win a prize in front of a lot of people”*…

 

I first learned about the Sartre Prize from “NB,” the reliably enjoyable last page of London’s Times Literary Supplement, signed by J.C. The fame of the award, named for the writer who refused the Nobel in 1964, is or anyhow should be growing fast. As J.C. wrote in the November 23, 2012, issue, “So great is the status of the Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal that writers all over Europe and America are turning down awards in the hope of being nominated for a Sartre.” He adds with modest pride, “The Sartre Prize itself has never been refused.”

Newly shortlisted for the Sartre Prize is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who turned down a fifty-thousand-euro poetry award offered by the Hungarian division of PEN. The award is funded in part by the repressive Hungarian government. Ferlinghetti politely suggested that they use the prize money to set up a fund for “the publication of Hungarian authors whose writings support total freedom of speech.”…

The unsurpassed Ursula Le Guin explores the rewards of refusal: “The Literary Prize for the Refusal of Literary Prizes.”

* E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

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As we just say no, we might send lyrical birthday greetings to Christian Johann Heinrich Heine; he was born on this date in 1797.   A poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic, he is best known outside of Germany for his early lyric poetry, which was set to music in the form of Lieder (art songs) by composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert.

In his 1823 Almansor: A Tragedy he wrote, “Wherever books are burned, men in the end will also burn”… an observation that proved prescient in a personal way: his own books were burned by the Nazis during the 1930s.

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Written by LW

December 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“For the nobles will be dissatisfied because they think themselves worthy of more than an equal share of honors”*…

 

Gaius Gracchus attempted to enact social reform in Ancient Rome but died at the hands of the Roman Senate in 121 B.C.

Long before Julius Caesar declared himself dictator for life in 44 B.C., essentially spelling the beginning of the end to the Roman Republic, trouble was brewing in the halls of power.

The warning signs were there. Politicians such as Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus (together known as the Gracchi brothers) were thwarted from instituting a series of populist reforms in the 100s B.C., then murdered by their fellow senators. Old and unwritten codes of conduct, known as the mos maiorum, gave way as senators struggled for power. A general known as Sulla marched his army on Rome in 87 B.C., starting a civil war to prevent his political opponent from remaining in power. Yet none of these events have become as indelibly seared into Western memory as Caesar’s rise to power or sudden downfall, his murder in 44 B.C…

Mike Duncan explores the forces that ate away at the Roman Republic, and cleared the way for the imperial Julius Caesar: “Before the Fall of the Roman Republic, Income Inequality and Xenophobia Threatened Its Foundations.”

[TotH to @averylyford]

* Aristotle, Politics, Book 2, 2.7

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As we recall George Santayana’s warning that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” we might send birthday greetings in hexameter to Aulus Persius Flaccus, better known simply as Persius; he was born on this date in 34 A.D.  A Roman poet, his work satirized both the society of his time and his contemporary poets.  His tendency to stoicism helped him achieve wide popularity in the Middle Ages.

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Written by LW

December 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know”*…

 

A small section of the interactive Philosopher’s Web

When data scientist Grant Louis Oliveira decided he wanted to undertake a self-guided course of study to “more rigorously explore my ideas,” he began with the honest admission, “I find the world of philosophy a bit impenetrable.”

Where some of us might make an outline, a spreadsheet, or a humble reading list, Oliveira created a complex “social network visualization” of “a history of philosophy” to act as his guide.

“What I imagined,” he writes, “is something like a tree arranged down a timeline. More influential philosophers would be bigger nodes, and the size of the lines between the nodes would perhaps be variable by strength of influence.”

The project, called “Philosopher’s Web,” shows us an impressively dense collection of names—hundreds of names—held together by what look like the bendy filaments in a fiber-optic cable. Each blue dot represents a philosopher, the thin gray lines between the dots represent lines of influence…

More on Oliveira’s opus at “‘The Philosopher’s Web,’ an Interactive Data Visualization Shows the Web of Influences Connecting Ancient & Modern Philosophers“; poke around in it here.

See also:

The Entire Discipline of Philosophy Visualized with Mapping Software: See All of the Complex Networks

The History of Philosophy, from 600 B.C.E. to 1935, Visualized in Two Massive, 44-Foot High Diagrams

The History of Philosophy Visualized

* Bertrand Russell

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As we realize that it’s all about the questions, we might send sensuously-written birthday greetings to Ambroise Paul Toussaint Jules Valéry; he was born on this date in 1871.  An educator, essayist, and philosopher, he is best remembered as a poet– the last of the great French Symbolists.  His best-known work is probably la Jeune Parque.

A member of the Académie Française, Valéry was stripped of his academic positions and distinctions because of his quiet refusal to collaborate with Vichy and the German occupation during World War II.  He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 12 different years.

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Written by LW

October 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Always be a poet, even in prose”*…

 

The Knight from the Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.

In the 13th century, English poetry changed dramatically. There were no battles, no pamphleteering, or Ezra Pound-style polemics, and no warring factions. Yet by the end of the century, a poetic revolution had taken place. Modern readers and writers have long since forgotten what happened back then, but poetry today would not be the same without the 13th century.

In the Middle Ages, three major languages were spoken and written in England: Latin, French, and English. English was the least prestigious but, like the others, it had a thriving literary tradition. Before c1200, there was only one way to write poetry in English, known today as alliterative verse. This is the form of poetry used in BeowulfPiers PlowmanSir Gawain and the Green Knight, and approximately 300 other poems…

The revolution of English poetry began toward the end of the 12th century, when poets writing in English invented new metres…

For centuries, alliterative metre was the only way to write poetry in English. Then, rather suddenly, it wasn’t. It’s worth remembering the 13th century as an illustration of the unpredictability of historical change and the evanescence of normal, in literature and in life.

The full story– with lots of lovely examples– at: “The 13th-century revolution that made modern poetry possible.”

* Charles Baudelaire

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As we get high behind change, we might spare a thought for Snorri Sturluson; he died on this date in 1241.  A poet, historian, and politician (he was elected twice as lawspeaker at the Icelandic parliament, the Althing), he authored (among other works) the Prose Edda or (Younger Edda).

Snorri is remarkable for proposing (in the Prose Edda) that mythological gods begin as human war leaders and kings whose funeral sites develop cults (a form of euhemerism).

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Written by LW

September 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“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

“Utopia is the process of making a better world, the name for one path history can take”*…

 

“Robinson Crusoe and his Pets,” Currier and Ives, 1874 — Source

How do you get to utopia? You don’t, of course. It’s unreachably distant. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) are set in what were then uncharted waters, far enough away to have escaped both the attention and interference of the rest of the world. That’s what makes these islands, for a moment, plausible: no one can deny their existence with positive knowledge. And that’s how they stay perfect: no one’s colonized them, traded with them, influenced them in any way. Distance and difference were understood as directly relational: the greater the distance, the greater the difference. And utopias are radically different. Granted, in some cases, the distance is temporal; we call these “euchronias”. The point is we’ll never get there, never live long enough, never see fiction turned to fact.

Today’s readers demur. Too far-fetched, they complain, rejecting the distance. Others see utopias as prescriptive, rigidly so, even fascistic. People think of head-in-the-clouds dreamers or dogmatic philosopher kings, though Fredric Jameson argues, persuasively, that utopias give us not blueprints but open-ended possibilities. At any rate, we now prefer dystopias: The Road, The Hunger Games, and countless others, many adapted as films. Such scenarios seem not distant but close, potentially imminent, and fans of the cult movie Idiocracy have already noted, with horror, the accuracy of its predictions: our vulgar entertainment; the corporatization of everything; the dumbing down — and worse — of the highest office in the land. Dystopias speak to us because they’re practically adjacent…

Of course, we still have to try. Do nothing, and we get dystopias. Extrapolated from the present, they project a future that might seem inevitable, pulling us forward as if by tractor beam. For Margaret Atwood, this is literature that deals with “things that really could happen”.

The great power of utopias is to disrupt our surrender to orthodoxy, freeing us to understand the status quo as contingent, not predetermined, as changeable, not inevitable. And by smuggling utopia home, Defoe unsettles our notion of the totality of state power, the power to which his utopias are opposed…

The full and fascinating essay at “Defoe and the Distance to Utopia.”

C.F. also: “Every Society Invents the Failed Utopia it Deserves.”

* Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge

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As we hope– and work– for the best, we might spare a thought for William Butler Yeats; he died on this date in 1939.  A poet, essayist, politician, and mystic, he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.  His gravestone in Ireland bears the epitaph he composed: “Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, Pass by.” Larry McMurtry took the title of his first novel from these lines (filmed as Hud.)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

– “The Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats

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Written by LW

January 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

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