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Posts Tagged ‘The Spectator

“Thinking within strict limits is stifling”*…

 

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Affectionately nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium,” Deinococcus radiodurans, a so-called polyextremophile, has an uncanny ability to rapidly repair damage to its genome. As a result, it can resist the most hostile conditions, from drought to radiation to acid baths to a Martian atmosphere. And if Canadian conceptual poet Christian Bök has his way, it will compose verse that will outlive our Sun.

Bök has earned a reputation for conducting extremely difficult poetic experiments and executing them with technical wizardry. In his award-winning 2001 bestseller Eunoia , for example, he uses only a single vowel in each chapter, a constraint that produces a form known as a univocalic . The first section is composed of words that include no vowels other than a , the second includes no vowels other than e , and so on. To build an appropriate lexicon for this demanding work, Bök read through Webster’s Third International Unabridged Dictionary five times and spent six years writing. His latest poetic challenge takes him into trickier and more technically specialized territory. Taking on the very perishability of text, Bök has devised a novel solution: In composing his verse, he is employing the medium of life itself.

The Xenotext: Book 1 represents the first phase of Bök’s wildly ambitious project—nearly 15 years in the making and still ongoing—of encoding poetry into the genome of the bacterium D. radiodurans . Using a substitution cipher, Bök “translates” his poetry into what he calls a “chemical alphabet” representing a genetic sequence. After simulating the resulting protein’s folding pattern, which is essential for its functioning, Bök sends his specifications to a biotechnical lab that engineers the gene accordingly. Finally, Bök’s team of biologists transplants a plasmid carrying the gene into the bacterium.

But why introduce such complexity into the process of poetic composition? The Xenotext provocatively wagers that—in the face of global catastrophe, whether in the form of ecological collapse, drug-resistant pandemic, or nuclear war—D. radiodurans can preserve at least a bit of humanity’s poetic heritage after the apocalypse. DNA, with its remarkable storage capacity and stability, is perhaps the “natural element,” the worthy vessel for the mind’s substance that Wordsworth expresses longing for in the epigraph above…

Writing an eternal poem, one that will survive in the DNA of extremophile bacteria when all other life on the planet is extinguished: “Poetry of the Apocalypse.”

For more on exactly how Bök “writes,” see: “The Making of a Xenotext.”

* Christian Bök

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As we ponder posterity, we might send straight-forward birthday greetings to Joseph Addison; he was born on this date in 1672.  A poet, playwright, and politician, Addison is probably best remembered for The Spectator, a daily publication– a “paper” as it was then called, and as it successors have been known ever since– which he founded in London with his partner Richard Steele.

The Spectator was widely read in London; indeed Jürgen Habermas suggests that the paper was instrumental in the emergence of the public sphere in 18th century England.  It also had North American readers (including Benjamin Franklin and James Madison).

220px-Joseph_Addison_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums…

 

“The column itself was an extraordinary affair. . . . You would quote something from the morning paper and then you’d make some little comment on it.” (Wodehouse, quoted in David Jasen’s A Portrait of a Master, 1974.)

The column was “By The Way,” a front-page lineup of pert and pithy paragraphs and verse revolving around Edwardian politics and quirky news items from the police courts, London, the British Isles, America, and the world over. It had been a feature (with a distinguished pedigree) of the Globe and Traveller evening newspaper since 1881. British humorist E. V. Lucas wrote that the column “consisted of a dozen or so paragraphs, each with a joke or sting in it, bearing on the morning news.” Richard Usborne wrote it was “a column—a dozen or so short snippets and a set of verses.” The column was pieced together by a couple of fellows every morning in “The By The Way Room” according to a balanced formula of politics, funny news commentary, and verse.

Wodehouse contributed to “By The Way” intermittently from August 16, 1901 up to August 1903, when he joined the paper as full-time assistant, working six days a week; a year later he was put in charge of the column, a position he held until he left the paper, as best can be determined around 1910. His meticulously-kept cash journal Money Received for Literary Work records his payments for columns from 1901 up to the last entry in February 1908. By his own accounting, he worked on over 1,300 “By The Way” columns…

The P. G. Wodehouse Globe Reclamation Project is a not-for-profit volunteer group, formed earlier this year, devoted to unearthing these thousands of humorous paragraphs…

We promised the Wodehouse Estate, which quickly approved the Project, that we would compile and preserve all of the recovered columns for the future benefit of researchers, biographers, and fans. We were hopeful and expectant that that we would find, out of those 1,300 days Wodehouse either verifiably contributed to or worked on the column, a treasure trove of noteworthy, funny, pure Wodehousean material and verse.

Check it out on the Globe’s page, and then browse their host, Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums, a trove of early Wodehouse…

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As we careful to forgo liquids as we read, we might recall that it was on this date in 1712 that the 555th and final issue of The Spectator was published.  The work of Richard Steele, a politician and writer, and Joseph Addison, a poet and playwright, friends from their schooldays at Charterhouse, The Spectator followed their earlier periodical, The Tatler.  With a central character “Mr. Spectator” embodying its point of view, The Spectator ran to about 2,500 words daily (except Sunday), offering a mix of news and essays intended “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.” Steele and Addison contributed heavily to their periodical, but also ran essays from the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift.

The Spectator was ostensibly politically neutral; but it was a subtle force for Whig values.  Its second most valent continuing character,  Sir Roger de Coverley, an English squire of Queen Anne’s reign and the (supposed) descendant of the inventor of the English country dance, was a lovable– but laughable– exponent of Tory maxims.  No less august an authority than Jürgen Habermas has called The Spectator instrumental in the “structural transformation of the public sphere” which England saw in the 18th century– a transformation that came about because of, and in the interests of, the emergent middle class.

(The contemporary versions of both The Spectator and The Tatler are unrelated to the originals.)

The first issue of The Spectator, March 1st, 1711

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 6, 2013 at 1:01 am

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