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Posts Tagged ‘Romanticism

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”*…

 

During the eighties, a nameless Cold Warrior grew frustrated in his job for the Department of Defense and poured out his feelings in an unusual way. He was a midlevel (GS-11/GS-12) analyst working at the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center, at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Every GS-11/GS-12 in that era would have been given a government-issue desk calendar, and this Kansas scribe made the most of his. Like a monk, he labored over his document every day, adding carefully crafted letters and elaborate drawings to what became, over nine years, a remarkably full chronicle of the decade.

There were outbursts of anger, often directed at senior officials of the U.S. government, and joyful moments of exultation, generally following victories for the University of Kansas basketball team. Events of worldly and even otherworldly significance were described in passing: the end of the Iranian hostage standoff, the Challenger disaster, small upticks and downticks in the tension of the Cold War. There were tender moments as well: memories of a friend, or an anniversary of a magical night long ago. He noted the riots in Poland and demonstrations in China and other places where the people were beginning to make themselves heard after decades of government suppression. The anonymous employee’s irrepressible spirit seems to follow a parallel course, delighting in the creation of a secret treasure trove of writings in no way approved by his superiors…

More pages ripped from history at “A Disgruntled Federal Employee’s 1980s Desk Calendar.”

* Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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As we contemplate the chronicle, as we might spare a thought for Jean-Jacques Rousseau; he died on this date in 1778.  A central figure in te European Enlightenment, he was a novelist ( Emile, or On Education illustrated the importance of the education of the whole person for citizenship; Julie, or the New Heloise was seminal in the development of romanticism in fiction), a composer (perhaps most notably of several operas), and an autobiographer (his Confessions initiated the modern autobiography; his Reveries of a Solitary Walker exemplified the late 18th-century movement known as the Age of Sensibility, and featured an heightened subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing).

But it is as a philosopher that Rousseau was best known in his time and is best remembered.  His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones of modern political and social thought.  He was deeply controversial in his time: he was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned and warrants were issued for his arrest.  But during the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophes among members of the Jacobin Club. He was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.

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Written by LW

July 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train”*…

 

As part of its ongoing overhaul, the New York Public Library has installed a very clever conveyer train that moves research materials from the expanded Milstein Stacks underneath Bryant Park to the main Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Each adorably bright red car is able to travel either horizontally or vertically using conveyor rails embedded throughout the library, efficiently delivering its contents directly to library staff…

More on the system, which begins operating this week, at Laughing Squid’s “An Adorable Red Train That Delivers Books From Storage to the Main Branch of the NY Public Library” (and at Boing Boing, which is the source of the photo above).

* Charles Barkley

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As we check it out, we might send finely-drawn birthday greetings to Giovanni Battista (also Giambattista) Piranesi; he was born on this date in 1720.  An Italian artist, he is best known for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons” (Le Carceri d’Invenzione).  The latter, with their Kafkaesque, Escher-like distortions, influenced Romanticism & Surrealism.

Carceri Plate VII – “The Drawbridge”

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

October 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony”*…

 

Before electronic amplification, instrument makers and musicians had to find newer and better ways to make themselves heard among ensembles and orchestras and above the din of crowds. Many of the acoustic instruments we’re familiar with today—guitars, cellos, violas, etc.—are the result of hundreds of years of experimentation into solving just that problem. These hollow wooden resonance chambers amplify the sound of the strings, but that sound must escape, hence the circular sound hole under the strings of an acoustic guitar and the f-holes on either side of a violin…

While it’s true f-holes date from the Renaissance, they are much more than ornamental; their design—whether arrived at by accident or by conscious intent—has had remarkable staying power for very good reason.

As acoustician Nicholas Makris and his colleagues at MIT recently announced in a study published by the Royal Society, a violin’s f-holes serve as the perfect means of delivering its powerful acoustic sound. F-holes have “twice the sonic power,” The Economist reports, “of the circular holes of the fithele” (the violin’s 10th century ancestor and origin of the word “fiddle”). The evolutionary path of this elegant innovation—Clive Thompson at Boing Boing demonstrates with a color-coded chart—takes us from those original round holes, to a half-moon, then to variously-elaborated c-shapes, and finally to the f-hole…

More musical history at “Why Violins Have F-Holes: The Science & History of a Remarkable Renaissance Design.”

* Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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As we draw our bows boldly, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Ernst Theodor Amadeus (“E.T.A.”) Hoffmann; he was born on this date in 1776.  A key figure in the German Romantic period, Hoffmann was an author of fantasy and horror, a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist. While some of his compositions survive in the canon, he is probably better remembered for his stories: they form the basis of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the famous ballet The Nutcracker is based.  The ballet Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, while Schumann’s Kreisleriana is based on Hoffmann’s character Johannes Kreisler.

Hoffmann also influenced 19th century musical opinion through his music criticism. His reviews of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808) and other important works set new literary standards for writing about music, and encouraged later writers to consider music as “the most Romantic of all the arts.”

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Written by LW

January 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Makes Ben Hur look like an epic”*…

 

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Book blurbs– the promotional copy and quotes that adorn the jackets of novels and the one-sheets for films– date back to the early 20th century… since which time they’ve become, well, a little over-ripe…

…blurbs have gotten so over-the-top. With fewer eyes to see them, an endorsement must be big to gain any traction.

—Jennifer Weiner, “All Blurbed Out,” The New York Times, May 17

Tom Rachman (author of the best-selling The Imperfectionists and the recent The Rise and Fall of Great Powers) imagines how the blurbs for works of classic literature might have read:

THE DIVINE COMEDY, by Dante Aligheri

“Nowadays, who’s got time for poetry, what with everyone gearing up for the Renaissance? But this laugh-out-loud comedy is a must-read. Perfect for the beach, or when taking a break from your fresco.”

–Petrarch, father of humanism and runner-up for National Book Award

THE PRINCE, by Niccolò Machiavelli

“Unputdownable. If this rip-roaring, gob-smacking, take-me-with-you-to-the-Palazzo-Vecchio gem doesn’t start the field of political science, I seriously don’t know what will.”

–Lorenzo de Medici (during TED talk)

DON QUIXOTE, by Miguel de Cervantes

“Like a cross between Orlando Furioso and Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, this is the picaresque road-trip novel to end begin all picaresque road-trip novels. What’s that noise? Oh, just the 17th century getting off to a bang. Bravo, señor.”

–William Shakespeare, author of Tony Award-winning sensation Hamlet

More preposterous promotion at The Rumpus in “Great Blurbs in History: a Selection.”

* the blurb for Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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As we search for our grains of salt, we might it was on this date in 1792 that William Wordsworth, on a walking tour of the Lake District with his sister Dorothy, visited the ruins of Tintern Abbey.  The visit inspired one of Wordsworth’s earliest poems (“Tintern Abbey”), in which he articulated some of the fundamental themes of Romantic poetry– main among them, the restorative power of nature. The poem appeared in Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798, on which Wordsworth collaborated with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose Rime of the Ancient Mariner was also included).  The book sold out quickly, occasioning a second edition that included a preface by Wordsworth widely considered to be a central work of Romantic literary theory.

William Shuter’s portrait of Wordsworth (at age 28), 1798- the year of the publication of Lyrical Ballads

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Written by LW

July 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere”*…

click here (and again) to enlarge

Via Goodreads.

* Diane Setterfield

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As we dogear the page, we might send avant-garde birthday greetings to Hermann Bahr; he was born on this date in 1863.  A journalist, playwright, director, and critic, Bahr helped found Die Zeit (one of Germany’s leading newspapers) and edited  Oesterreichische Volkszeitungwas (one of Austria’s). He worked as a director with Max Reinhardt at the Berlin Deutsches Theater and as Dramaturg with the Vienna Burgtheater.   And he was the first critic to apply the label “Modernism” to literary works– part of a critical career in which he championed (successively) Naturalism, Romanticism, Expressionism, and Symbolism.

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Written by LW

July 19, 2013 at 1:01 am

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