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126 posts tagged with Literature by Kattullus.
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"The Culture represents the place we might hope to get to"

The long-term optimism comes from the the fact that no matter how bad things seem and how idiotically and cruelly we behave. . . well, we've got this far, despite it all, and there are more people on the planet than ever before, and more people living good, productive, relatively happy lives than ever before, and—providing we aren't terminally stupid, or unlucky enough to get clobbered by something we have no control over, like a big meteorite or a gamma ray buster or whatever—we'll solve a lot of problems just by sticking around and doing what we do; developing, progressing, improving, adapting. And possibly by inventing AIs that are smarter and more decent than we are, which will help us get some sort of perspective on ourselves, at the very least. We might just stumble our way blindly, unthinkingly into utopia, in other words, muddling through despite ourselves.
In 2010 Jude Roberts interviewed Iain M. Banks for her PhD. Banks discusses his utopia, The Culture, which he created in a series of science fiction novels.
posted by Kattullus on Nov 19, 2014 - 71 comments

"By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight"

The poetry and brief life of a Foxconn worker: Xu Lizhi (1990-2014) is an article about a 24-year old Chinese assembly line worker and poet who committed suicide last month. He worked for the electronics manufacturer which makes products for a range of companies, including Sony, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo. The post includes Chinese originals and English translations of Xu Lizhi's poems. His death and poetry have garnered much attention, such as these blogposts from The Wall Street Journal and The London Review of Books.
posted by Kattullus on Nov 12, 2014 - 19 comments

"I write as a reader, not knowing what the author will say next."

Russell Edson was a prose poet whose poetry had the "the sustained wackiness of old Warner Brothers cartoons." When he passed away this year Charles Simic wrote in appreciation of his work, as did J. Robert Lennon, whose article included two audio clips of Edson reading. In interviews, Edson spoke with the same mix of seriousness and humor as he did in his poetry. Here are two interviews, one with Peter Johnson [pdf] and another with Mark Tursi. But, of course, the important thing is his poetry, so here are a few examples: 1, 2, 3. And finally, here's a video of him reading (starts after the 9th minute). [Edson previously. I especially recommend reading the linked appreciation by Sarah Manguso.]
posted by Kattullus on Oct 23, 2014 - 12 comments

2014 Nobel Prize in Literature Goes to Patrick Modiano

2014 Nobel Prize in Literature Goes to Patrick Modiano who is a French novelist and memoir writer. This article from 2011 is a good overview over his career and life. He was born in Italy to a Jewish father and a Belgian mother. Much of his writing deals with recent Jewish history such as in the book Dora Bruder. His detective novel Missing Person, which won the Prix Goncourt in 1978, has been called a postmodern mystery novel.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 9, 2014 - 27 comments

"Montaigne was Montaigne, a mountain in more than name."

It's said that even a century and a half after Montaigne's death, when the marquis d'Argenson subtitled a book with that word, Essays, he was shouted down for impertinence. Not a context in which many people would find themselves tempted to self-identify as "essayists." When the French do finally start using the word, in the early nineteenth century, it's solely in reference to English writers who've taken up the banner, and more specifically to those who write for magazines and newspapers. "The authors of periodical essays," wrote a French critic in 1834, "or as they're commonly known, essayists, represent in English letters a class every bit as distinct as the Novellieri in Italy." A curiosity, then: the essay is French, but essayists are English. What can it mean?
The Ill-defined Plot is an essay about the history of essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 7, 2014 - 8 comments

The Zhivago Affair

The story of Dr Zhivago’s publication is, like the novel itself, a cat’s cradle, an eternal zigzag of plotlines, coincidences, inconsistencies and maddening disappearances. The book was always destined to become a ‘succès de scandale’, in Berlin’s words, but the machinations and competing energies that went into seeing it into print, on the one hand, and trying to stop it going to print, on the other, make it the perfect synecdoche for that feint, counterfeint round of pugilism we call the Cold War.
The Writer and the Valet by Frances Stonor Saunders tells the story of Isaiah Berlin's part in publishing Boris Pasternak's novel Dr. Zhivago while Michael Scammell details the CIA's role.
posted by Kattullus on Sep 21, 2014 - 10 comments

There was no BBC in Shakespeare's time.

Shakespeare's Restless World is a BBC radio series (podcast link) where the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, explores England during the lifetime of William Shakespeare as represented by twenty objects, much in the way of his earlier A History of the World in a 100 Objects (previously). The focus is on Shakespeare's plays and how they were understood by his contemporaries. The series was also published as a book.
posted by Kattullus on Aug 19, 2014 - 12 comments

"He's been in the black earth now for a thousand years"

Deaths in the Iliad is an infographic by Laura Jenkinson presenting every death in Homer's Iliad. In her book of poetry Memorial Alice Oswald did something similar, writing about all 213 named men who die in the epic poem. You can read excerpts of the poem and listen to her read these excerpts at the Poetry Archive (1, 2). Or you can listen to her discuss Memorial on the Poetry Trust podcast (iTunes, mp3).
posted by Kattullus on Jul 30, 2014 - 19 comments

Emily Dickinson's handwritten manuscripts

The Emily Dickinson Archive is a collection of high resolution digital images of Emily Dickinson's handwritten manuscripts. Here are, for instance, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Tell the Truth but Tell It Slant, I Dwell in Possibility, They Shut Me Up in Prose and I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died. The whole collection is fully searchable and the images include the text of the poems as they were written down by Dickinson. The archive is a project of Harvard's Houghton Library but many other institutions provided manuscripts. Perhaps the best place to start is to simply browse the poems by title.
posted by Kattullus on May 15, 2014 - 10 comments

"therfore the holi fader, the pope, hath ratefied and confermed my book"

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville is a remarkable 14th Century book which tells the autobiographical story of Sir John Mandeville's travels from England to Jerusalem and beyond to Asia. The only problem is that the book "had been a household word in eleven languages and for five centuries before it was ascertained that Sir John never lived, that his travels never took place, and that his personal experiences, long the test of others' veracity, were compiled out of every possible authority, going back to Pliny, if not further." The book was very popular for many centuries and was illustrated many times. For more about the book there is the introduction to a recent scholarly Middle English version and an illuminating podcast interview [iTunes link] with Professor Anthony Bale, the translator of a new version of the "defective" version of the book, which was the best known version for centuries. The interview goes into the many errors and fantasias of Mandeville but also puts the work in the context of its time and place.
posted by Kattullus on Apr 5, 2014 - 18 comments

"One travels far to discover what was at home all along."

World Lite is a polemic against 'world literature' published last year in the magazine N+1. It is the latest salvo in a long-running debate about the term. M. Lynx Qualey of Arabic Literature (in English) gave a response to N+1, and so did Poorva Rajaram and Michael Griffith in Tehelka, N+1 responded to both, and the article was discussed at the Hay Festival in Dhaka. The N+1 article references Franco Moretti, who framed the contemporary version of the debate when he published Conjectures on World Literature and More Conjectures in 2000 and 2003 respectively. [more inside]
posted by Kattullus on Mar 11, 2014 - 9 comments

The True Story of America's First Black Female Slave Novelist

In 2002 Henry Louis Gates jr. published The Bondwoman's Narrative. It was the first publication of a novel written in the 1850s by a former slave who wrote under the name Hannah Crafts. The original manuscript has been digitized by Yale's Beinecke Library. The book caused a splash at the time, sold well and was reviewed widely, including an essay by Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books. The identity of Hannah Crafts was uncertain, which cast a slight shadow on its provenance, but Prof. Gregg Hecimovich discovered the writer's true identity. Her name was Hannah Bond and after escaping slavery she became a teacher in New Jersey. Journalist Paul Berman further fills in the story of Colonel Wheeler, the slaveowner whose family was depicted in The Bondwoman's Narrative. Wheeler was the US ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1850s and played a major part in the administration of General Walker, the American who became a short-lived dictator of Nicaragua and tried to set it up as a slave state.
posted by Kattullus on Feb 11, 2014 - 2 comments

Disk Around a Star

An Alderson Disk is a science fiction megastructure imagined first by scientist Dan Alderson. It's a solid disk that is thousands of kilometers thick, with a circumference equal to the orbit of Mars or Jupiter. The habitable zone would be on both sides of the disk and would be millions of times the surface area of the Earth. Not much theoretical work has been done on its feasibility, but some have tried. Missile Gap, by MeFi's own Charles Stross, which won the Locus readers' award for best novella of 2006, features a 1960s Earth transposed to an Alderson disk and is available for free on the publisher's website.
posted by Kattullus on Feb 1, 2014 - 70 comments

"Something can be true and still be fiction."

[Norman Mailer] wanted to talk a lot about age and he told me I should look after myself. 'You know,' he said, 'when you get to my age you have to pee a lot. And there is no distance at all between knowing you want to pee and then just peeing. I was at Plimpton’s funeral in St John the Divine not long ago, and they sat me near the front, you know. Suddenly, I had to go. I knew I wasn’t gonna make it all the way down the aisle so I spotted a little side door and I got the canes and nipped in there. Halfway down the corridor, I was looking for a john and who do I see but Philip Roth. "Hey, Philip, what you doin' here?" "Oh, I had to pee," Roth said.'
Mailer's Last Punch is Andrew O'Hagan's tender, short memoir of his interactions with Norman Mailer. Among other things he talks about are the long interview of Mailer he did for The Paris Review and an event at the New York Public Library with Mailer and Günter Grass.
posted by Kattullus on Nov 22, 2013 - 5 comments

Contemporary poetry from around the world in English translation

Poetry International Rotterdam has contemporary poetry in English translation from all over the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, including countries as different as Argentina, China, Finland, Iran and Romania, in languages as unrelated as French, Malayalam and Zulu, as well as many poems originally in the English language. The poets range in age and stature from those barely over thirty to Nobel prize winners. There are also videos and audio recordings of poets reading, as well as articles about poetry.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 13, 2013 - 5 comments

Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature

Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Munro is praised by the Swedish Academy as a "master of the contemporary short story." You can read a long interview with her at the Paris Review website and read some of her short fiction at The New Yorker's website: Amundsen, Gravel, Face, Deep-Holes, Free Radicals, Dimension, Wenlock Edge, The View from Castle Rock, Passion, Runaway and The Bear Came Over the Mountain.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 10, 2013 - 81 comments

Achilles sat on the shore and looked out to the wine-dark sea

That Homer used the epithet "wine-dark" to describe the sea in the Iliad and Odyssey so puzzled 19th Century English Prime Minister William Gladstone that he thought the Ancient Greeks must have been colorblind. Since then many other solutions have been proposed. Scientists have argued that Ancient Greek wine was blue and some scholars have put forward the case that Homer was describing the sea at sunset. Radiolab devoted a segment to the exploration of this issue, saying that Gladstone was partly right. Another interpretation is that the Ancient Greeks focused on different aspects of color from us. Classicist William Harris' short essay about purple in Homer and Iliad translator Caroline Alexander's longer essay The Wine-like Sea make the case for this interpretation.
posted by Kattullus on Aug 12, 2013 - 108 comments

The Organist is a podcast from KCRW and The Believer Magazine

The Organist is an arts and culture podcast [iTunes link] from The Believer Magazine and the Californian public radio station KCRW. Each episode is generally a mix of interviews, essays and music. Among the contributors so far have been Nick Offerman, Rachel Kushner, Jonathan Coulton and Matmos. Each podcast begins with a short dramatic monologue, for example episode three starts with Sarah Silverman talking about her pet owl, in a piece written by Alena Smith (Conan O'Brien has another dramatic monologue in the same episode). There have been six episodes so far and they are all worth a listen.
posted by Kattullus on Aug 7, 2013 - 8 comments

Underlined and triple-starred

By Heart is a series on The Atlantic's website where writers speak about their favorite passages, each illustrated by Doug McLean. Here are a few of the entries so far: Stephen King on two opening lines, Hanan Al-Shaykh on One Thousand and One Nights, Susan Choi on The Great Gatsby, Jessica Francis Kane on Marcus Aurelius, Fay Weldon on The Myth of Sisyphus, Adam Mansbach on Montaigne, Ayana Mathis on Osip Mandelstam, Anthony Marra on Jesus' Son, and Mohsin Hamid on Haruki Murakami.
posted by Kattullus on Jul 29, 2013 - 7 comments

Who Edited Shakespeare?

New technology has changed scholarship. Whereas previous generations of experts have sought to reconcile the differences between quarto and Folio, current thinking highlights the difficult relationship between the various incarnations of Shakespeare's texts, something made easier by the availability of rare Shakespeare quartos in digital databases such as Early English Books Online. The scholar Eleanor Prosser thus detects "considerable evidence" for the elimination of metrical and stylistic "irregularities" in the Folio: short lines are lengthened to 10 syllables, verbs agreed with subjects, double negatives resolved. In addition, a range of unusual words are added to the text, words not used elsewhere by Shakespeare. Prosser concludes: "somewhere behind the Folio … lies a conscientious and exacting editor with literary pretensions", albeit one "more experienced in the transcription of literary than of theatrical works". But who was it?
Who edited Shakespeare? by Saul Frampton. [more inside]
posted by Kattullus on Jul 13, 2013 - 36 comments

Five Essays on Literature by Novelist Adam Thirlwell

Adam Thirlwell has written five essays in as many years for The New Republic. They all concern themselves with literature, especially French, though the first one was about Charles Dickens and how he was the most avant-garde writer of the 19th Century. The second was about Roland Barthes' plans to write a novel which came to nothing when he died. In Visionary Materialism, Thirlwell explores Rimbaud's Illuminations from several angles. Genocide and the Fine Arts is about Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah, and his complicated relationship with his famous work. The latest one, Baudelaire's Humiliation as a Way of Life, is about Baudelaire's place at the crux of the 19th Century revolution in letters.
posted by Kattullus on Jul 8, 2013 - 8 comments

"Should the poet be with the czar, or against him?"

Poets appeared in Russia in the eighteenth century. They wore officers’ uniforms and mostly wrote odes for the accession of German empresses onto the Russian throne. In a country where life was lived according to the wartime principle of unity of command, everyone including poets served the government, which was personified by the autocracy. But everything changed with Pushkin. Born in a country where serfdom was only the formal expression of a deep internal psychological slavery, he achieved the most important Russian coup, the greatest Russian revolution: in opposition to the pyramid of power, at the head of which the Czar administers the fates of individuals and nations, he created an alternative pyramid, at the head of which stood the poet. The juxtaposition of the czar and the holy fool—the old divided paradigm of authority—was exchanged for the juxtaposition of the czar and the poet.
Poets and Czars — From Pushkin to Putin: the sad tale of democracy in Russia by Russian novelist Mikhail Shishkin, who caused a stir earlier this year when he withdrew from participation in literary events sponsored by the Russian state with a strongly-worded letter. His action was equally strongly criticized by the state and several Russian writers. Shishkin spoke to The American Reader about recent events. He currently lives in Switzerland and recently wrote an essay about being separated from his native language community.
posted by Kattullus on Jul 3, 2013 - 3 comments

Lydia Davis wins Man Booker International Prize

The 2013 Man Booker International Prize went to Lydia Davis, best known as a short story writer—some just a single sentence long—but also a novelist and translator. There is a wealth of material by and about her online, and here are few favorites: Video of Davis reading some very short stories, PennSound MP3 collection of readings, talks and interviews, writer James Salter reads and discusses Davis' story Break It Down, interview by Francine Prose, Frieze Talks reading and interview, video of reading followed by Q&A, "A Position at the University" and a a discussion about the story, and finally, a number of links to her short stories: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. [Lydia Davis previously on MeFi]
posted by Kattullus on May 29, 2013 - 16 comments

"an inadequate title for this ragbag of lectures and classes"

Literature and Form is a series of four lectures by Oxford literature academic Dr. Catherine Brown. The lectures are on the themes of unreliable narrators, chapters, multiple plotting and what comparative literature is. You can listen to it as a podcast or through iTunes U. In this lecture series Brown primarily looks at some central structures of the novel as well as examining what the study of literature entails. Brown weaves in examples from world literature, especially English and Russian literature of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
posted by Kattullus on May 15, 2013 - 6 comments

"the arts are just a part of the weapons of life"

The poet Jayne Cortez passed away this past December 28th in New York City (New York Times obituary). She started publishing her poems in the late 1960s and in the 70s began performing her poetry backed by music, first in collaboration with bassist Richard Davis, and then backed by her own band The Firespitters. Some of their tracks have found their way to YouTube: I See Chano Pozo, If the Drum Is a Woman, There It Is, Maintain Control & Economic Love Song I, Everybody Wants to Be Somebody, Takin' the Blues Back Home, Talk to Me (for Don Cherry), I've Been Searching, You Can Be and Endangered Species List Blues. Just two years ago she performed solo with her son by Ornette Coleman, drummer Denardo Coleman: Find Your Own Voice, I'm Gonna Shake and She Got He Got. In 1997 she was featured on University of California television network in the series Artists on the Cutting Edge where she read poems and discussed her work. Finally, here's a brief clip from the 1982 documentary Poetry in Motion, where she was interviewed.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 5, 2013 - 4 comments

"and even when there's nowhere left, no refuge for their pain, they turn to the illusion of travelling" - Kajal Ahmad, translated by Mimi Khalvati

The Poetry Translation Centre pairs living poets from Asia, Africa and Latin America with English-language translators and then puts the resulting translations online. You can browse the poetry by country, language, translator or poet. Besides the hundreds of individual poems, all presented in the original and both literal and poetic translations, many have been recorded in dual readings by translator and poet, and put online as videos or mp3s (look for the microphone or camera icon). There are also podcasts to download, articles to read, and chapbooks to purchase. It is absurd to single out a few poems as favorites, but nonetheless, here are a few that struck me hard, Birds by Kajal Ahmad, translated by Mimi Khalvati, Cataclysm and Songs by Conceição Lima, translated in a workshop, and Survivors by Choe Young-mi, translated by Kyoo Lee and Sarah Maguire (who is the founder and director of the Poetry Translation Centre). If these poems do not hit you, no need to worry as there are literally hundreds more to read. [via The Guardian]
posted by Kattullus on Jan 2, 2013 - 5 comments

Twelve Missives from the Roi des Belges

Perched high up above the Thames in downtown London every month this past year a different writer has spent four days living in a replica of the Roi des Belges, the boat Marlow travels up the Congo in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Each author would write a short text during their stay "which explores London, rivers, the work of Joseph Conrad, or even all three." They would be visited on the last day by a journalist from The Guardian who recorded them reading their essay, poem or short story. Among the poets, historians and novelists were Adonis, Jeanette Winterson, Teju Cole, Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie. These recordings, each prefaced by a short interview, are all available on the Guardian website, to stream or download. Below the cut there is a link to each recording, with a short description. [more inside]
posted by Kattullus on Dec 31, 2012 - 7 comments

"I watched the entire street turn hot and black with smoke and then, after a few minutes, stared up at the hole in the roof and saw thousands of small gray ashes—pieces of paper, books, newspapers—floating down from the sky."

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a project initiated by San Francisco bookseller and poet Beau Beausoleil that began as a response to the 2007 bombing [previously on MeFi] of the Baghdad bookselling center Al-Mutanabbi Street. After the attack the authorities made an effort to revive the area but recently the government has begun to make life difficult for the booksellers and intends to turn the street into an animal market. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project consists of book art created by 260 artists and authors from all over the world, but also includes essays, exhibitions and readings, some of which have been put online as videos. You can see a lot of artists' books online at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and the Centre for Fine Print Research (1, 2, 3). The history of the project was told in a recent essay in World Literature Today by Persis M. Karim.
posted by Kattullus on Dec 29, 2012 - 5 comments

"One can tell if one is happy by listening to the wind. This latter reminds the unhappy of the fragility of their house and pursues them in fitful sleep and violent dreams. To the happy, it sings the song of their safety and security: its raging whistle registers the fact that it no longer has any power over them."

Minima Moralia: Reflections from the Damaged Life is a book written by German sociologist and philosopher Theodor W. Adorno during his exile in California in the 1940s. Translator Dennis Redmond has released his translation under creative commons (here is the same translation set up in a more book-like way). In his essay Promiscuous Reading, Mark O'Connell talks about his habit of never finishing books, but an exception being "this captivatingly strange and mordant text" Minima Moralia, "a thematically wayward aggregation of a hundred and fifty-three short essays and aphorisms that darts restlessly from one subject matter to the next, its fleeting yet intense engagements rarely spanning more than a page and a half." Among the subject matters Adorno addresses is the ethics of writing, which has reverberated down through the years, and is often set up in opposition to George Orwell's thought, as recounted by James Miller in the essay Lingua Franca. [more inside]
posted by Kattullus on Dec 28, 2012 - 31 comments

"so Manu got into his head a utopia"

The band Mano Negra are here introduced by MTV Europe in 1990. They are today best known for having been the original band of singer Manu Chao, but they were a pretty damn good band in their day. The band went from strength to strength but broke apart in 1993 after building a train and bringing ice to Macondo (or its inspiration, the city of Aracataca, Colombia). Manu Chao talks briefly about the trip here. His father, respected novelist and journalist Ramón Chao, accompanied his son's band and wrote a book describing the journey, which has been translated into English as The Train of Ice and Fire. The publisher of the translation, Route Online, made a YouTube playlist of related videos. The most interesting and substantial one has Ramón sharing a number of stories from the voyage (subtitled in English).
posted by Kattullus on Dec 8, 2012 - 4 comments

"Some remarkable Books, Antiquities, Pictures and Rarities of several kinds, scarce or never seen by any man now living."

Musæum Clausum is a catalog of invented books, pictures and antiquities written by 17th Century Englishman Sir Thomas Browne. It is a fantastical and witty meditation on the ravages of time on literature and other works of man. The Musæum Clausum is perhaps the finest example of the invented, or invisible, library, a genre which seems to have originated with Rabelais. The genre has been of special interest to Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog (older posts), where he has written about the invisible libraries of writers such as Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, H. P. Lovecraft and invisible libraries in video games. The natural medium for invisible libraries might be pictures, and Musæum Clausum inspired a suite of etchings by Erik Desmazieres.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 31, 2012 - 30 comments

"It has been your lot to achieve that the obedience to manifold rules should not hamper poetry."

During the reign of Constantine the Great, the Roman senator and poet Publilius Optatianus Porphyrius was sent into exile for crimes unknown. He succeeded in regaining favor and his good name by composing a series of poems in praise of the emperor which looked like nothing else. His poetry was an evolution of the Greek tradition of pattern poetry, but he took it a much more complex level, as Arrigo Lora Totino explains. In an illustrated article, John Stephan Edwards goes through the poetry of Porphyrius, showing the evolution of his craft.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 25, 2012 - 14 comments

The 2012 Nobel Laureate in Literature Is Chinese Novelist Mo Yan

Mo Yan has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. A Chinese novelist, born as Guan Moye, his pen name means "don't speak." His most famous novel, Red Sorghum: A Novel of China, was turned into an acclaimed film in 1987. Here are some interviews with Mo Yan: Granta, National Endowment for the Humanities and Paper Republic. Speculation was rife in China before the announcement whether Mo Yan would receive it, and the matter was controversial. For people who haven't read any books by Mo Yan, the Swedish Academy recommends Garlic Ballads [NYT]. For more news over the day, keep an eye on The Literary Saloon and The Guardian's liveblog.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 11, 2012 - 24 comments

"Bringing up the women’s question — I mean the women’s fiction question — is not unlike mentioning the national debt at a dinner party."

If “The Marriage Plot,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention? Or would this novel (which I loved) have been relegated to “Women’s Fiction,” that close-quartered lower shelf where books emphasizing relationships and the interior lives of women are often relegated? Certainly “The Marriage Plot,” Eugenides’s first novel since his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex,” was poised to receive tremendous literary interest regardless of subject matter, but the presence of a female protagonist, the gracefulness, the sometimes nostalgic tone and the relationship-heavy nature of the book only highlight the fact that many first-rate books by women and about women’s lives never find a way to escape “Women’s Fiction” and make the leap onto the upper shelf where certain books, most of them written by men (and, yes, some women — more about them later), are prominently displayed and admired.
So begins The Second Shelf: On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women, an essay in the New York Times by novelist Meg Wolitzer. She was interviewed about her essay in the NYT Book Review podcast (mp3 link, interview starts at about 18:30). Wolitzer references the classic 1998 essay by Francine Prose, Scent of a woman's ink: Are women writers really inferior?, and further back in time you find Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, which, as literary critic Ruth Franklin notes, still sounds fresh today.
posted by Kattullus on Apr 4, 2012 - 105 comments

"Two years before Hannah Arendt declared evil banal, Vonnegut was staking it out for stand-up treatment."

In the spring of 1945, three weeks after VE Day, Private First Class Kurt Vonnegut, Jr wrote a letter home to inform his family that he was alive. His infantry unit had been smashed by Panzer divisions in the Ardennes; his unmarked POW train attacked by the RAF; miraculously, he and a handful of fellow prisoners escaped incineration by American and British bombers. "Their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden – possibly the world’s most beautiful city", Vonnegut wrote. "But not me."
- Survivor: How Kurt Vonnegut created a novel, a cult following and one of the most loyal readerships in American Fiction by Thomas Meaney in The Times Literary Supplement.
posted by Kattullus on Mar 11, 2012 - 85 comments

World Book Night USA

Hey! Do you like books? (Yeah...) Do you like free books? (Yeah!) Do you like giving books to friends and strangers and whomever? (Hell yeah!) Are you American? (I just said "hell yeah" didn't I?) Then sign up here! (Then what happens?) You can select from one of thirty books. (And?) They'll send you a box with twenty copies of one book which you can give to friends, strangers or enemies. (What's the catch?) There's no catch, it's World Book Night. [British edition previously on MeFi]
posted by Kattullus on Feb 4, 2012 - 39 comments

"these little songs, and many like them, were made for the comfort of my friends, in their sorrow, doubt and suffering"

An internet search, even in these days of abundant information, yields only that the pamphlets can be found in various library collections, and that they continued to be produced into the '70s. And that Edmund Wilson once sent one, "Mr. P. Squiggle's Reward," to Nabokov, calling it "one of the oddest of many odd things that are sent me by unknown people." He also got the title wrong, dubbing it "Mr. P. Squiggle's Revenge," which is probably significant. But that’s it: nothing about Volk or McCalib.
Epitomes was a series of pamphlets published by Elwin Volk and Dennis McCalib. Few traces of Volk's life are to be found, but he seems to have been a lawyer, and wrote at least a couple of pamphlets about law, which he self-published in Pasadena. McCalib is equally elusive. A man by that name contributed to an issue of One: The Homosexual Viewpoint in 1964. A Dennis McCalib also used the pseudonym Lord Fuzzy. The aforementioned "Mr. P. Squiggle's Reward" got a curt, two half-sentence dismissal in Poetry Magazine, otherwise these pamphlets seem not to have troubled the literary world. Someone donated their manuscripts to UCLA where they rest undigitized in fourteen boxes. But Library of Congress has scanned a total of twenty-six pages in high resolution.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 27, 2012 - 9 comments

#27 Help win war — beat fascism

Lists of Note is a new site from Shaun Usher, proprietor of Letters of Note. It posts interesting lists, running the gamut from funny to poignant, mostly by famous people, though other sources crop up. Here's a sampling of lists: Johnny Cash, Walt Whitman, Eero Saarinen, Don Carman, Marilyn Monroe and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 21, 2012 - 9 comments

Day at Night, half-hour New York public television interviews from the 70s

Day at Night was an interview series on the public television station of the City University of New York that aired from 1973-4. CUNY TV is in the process of digitizing and uploading the 130 episodes that were produced, with 46 done so far. The episodes are just under half an hour in length. Among the people interviewed by host James Day are author Ray Bradbury, actress Myrna Loy, medical researcher Jonas Salk, singer Cab Calloway, writer Christopher Isherwood, nuclear scientist Edward Teller, comedian Victor Borge, tennis player Billie Jean King, linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, composer Aaron Copland, actor Vincent Price and boxer Muhammad Ali.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 16, 2012 - 6 comments

"Once upon a time there was an elephant who did nothing all day." - E. E. Cummings

Did you know James Joyce wrote a children's book (sort of)? Patricia Highsmith wrote one too. So did James Baldwin (not to be confused with James Baldwin the children's book author). Eugène Ionesco wrote four stories for young kids. Graham Greene also wrote at the very least four children's books (and possibly more). Other unlikely children's book authors are Aldous Huxley, E. E. Cummings, Chinua Achebe (2, 3, 4), Eleanor Roosevelt and Gertrude Stein. Author Ariel S. Winter has written about all these books on his excellent blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie. On his Flickr page you can look at scans from these books, sometimes even the whole book.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 13, 2012 - 30 comments

"We fall into genre wars, of literature versus science fiction, and I don't think it's a real war." - Lauren Beukes

The Guardian interviewed four science fiction authors on the theme of the current state of SF. These authors are, in order, Lauren Beukes, Michael Moorcock, Alistair Reynolds and Jeff Noon, the latter two being interviewed together. Opinion ranges from bullish to crotchety, with plenty of shades and nuances.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 8, 2012 - 41 comments

The Paris Review interviews William Gibson and Samuel R. Delany

This summer, The Paris Review interviewed two science fiction writers at length, Samuel R. Delany and William Gibson. Below the cut there are two passages, one from each interview. They aren't representative, they are just two of the many, many passages which have been going around in my head for the last few days. [more inside]
posted by Kattullus on Dec 25, 2011 - 37 comments

"Look at Miss Darcy, swanning around owning property, riding into town at will, choosing whether or not to ask someone to dance – the bitch!"

Miss Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of her burial was signed by the clergywoman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Miss Scrooge signed it: and Miss Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything she chose to put her hand to. Old Miss Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Genderswitching the Classics is a project by Kate Harrad where she takes classic works of literature and changes everyone's gender. So far she's done A Christmas Carol, two Sherlock Holmes stories, a Father Brown tale and, most ambitiously, Pride and Prejudice (first seven chapters are here). Harrad is now at work on James Eyre. She wrote about her project for The Guardian.
posted by Kattullus on Dec 23, 2011 - 131 comments

‘Où est le sang de Roland Barthes?’

But like many an inarticulate young lover, I thought for a time that seduction was a matter of giving the right book to the right woman. In my case it was Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: a meditation on Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther that catalogues the melancholic lover’s prized ‘image repertoire’ – the scene of waiting, the feeling of being dissolved in the presence of the loved being, the attraction of suicide – and thinly veils the author’s own life as a middle-aged gay man in Paris in the 1970s. This gift was always a prelude to disaster.
RB and Me: An Education is an essay by Brian G. Dillon about his relationship with the books of French philosopher Roland Barthes. It's also a lovely autobiography of an awkward boy finding his place in life. Dillon's website collects his essays, and is trove of interesting insight. Besides writing essays and fiction, Dillon is also the UK editor of Cabinet Magazine, and you can read a fair number of his articles online, including ones on Beau Brummel and the cravat, hypochondria and hydrotherapy.
posted by Kattullus on Dec 1, 2011 - 4 comments

The Nuremberg Chronicle

The Nuremberg Chronicle is one of the earliest printed books. The author, Hartmann Schedel, sets out a history of the world as understood at the time, relying heavily on the Bible. It is perhaps best known today for its wealth of images (some favorites: Creation of Birds, Map of the World, Half Horse, Stoning of St. Stephen and Apocalypse). The Beloit College website has a lot more information about the book and its context. They even have an English translation which is fully searchable.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 10, 2011 - 11 comments

"Once there was a shock that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail."

Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. His poetry has been translated into more than five dozen languages and is the living poet who has been translated most into English. He received the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2007, and the award page is a pretty extensive source of information. Below the cut I'll include a few of his poems that I've found online, but the best place to start is the poetry section of his website, where you'll also find an interview, video, audio and a list of English translations. Tom Slegh wrote an appreciation of Tranströmer and Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss him briefly on Poetry Fix, and read two of his poems. [more inside]
posted by Kattullus on Oct 6, 2011 - 52 comments

The personal website of a retired classics professor

Humanities and the Liberal Arts is the personal website of former Middlebury classics professor William Harris who passed away in 2009. In his retirement he crafted a wonderful site full of essays, music, sculpture, poetry and his thoughts on anything from education to technology. But the heart of the website for me is, unsurprisingly, his essays on ancient Latin and Greek literature some of whom are book-length works. Here are a few examples: Purple color in Homer, complete fragments of Heraclitus, how to read Homer and Vergil, a discussion of a recently unearthed poem by Sappho, Plato and mathematics, Propertius' war poems, and finally, especially close to my heart, his commentaries on the poetry of Catullus, for example on Ipsithilla, Odi et amo, Attis poem as dramatic dance performance and a couple of very dirty poems (even by Catullus' standard). That's just a taste of the riches found on Harris' site, which has been around nearly as long as the world wide web has existed.
posted by Kattullus on Sep 30, 2011 - 18 comments

"A censor pronouncing a ban, whether on an obscene spectacle or a derisive imitation, is like a man trying to stop his penis from standing up." - J. M. Coetzee

If we have, at the back of our minds, a stereotype of the censor or the censor type, it is probably of some nondescript male bureaucrat who comes to work punctually at 8:30 in the morning, locks his office door behind him, and spends the day going through piles of books, underlining dirty passages in red ink and stamping pass or fail on the cover, or else pouring over strips of film with scissors at the ready, ready to snip out images of breasts and bums, who, when the clock at last strikes 5:00, emerges into the daylight, catches the bus home to some anonymous suburb and spends the evening watching reruns of sitcoms on television before donning his pajamas and falling into a dreamless sleep. Or if we're thinking not of full time censors, people who dedicate their professional lives to the business of censoring, but of part time censors, people who like to do a bit of censoring on the side, then we might imagine that retired teachers, clergymen and moral busybodies in general would be attracted to the craft. But the records of the South African system don't quite fit the stereotype.
- J. M. Coetzee, Nobel laureate author, speaks at his alma mater University of Texas Austin about his experiences with censorship in his native South Africa during apartheid. Coetzee mentions this essay he wrote about his time at UT Austin and a book he wrote on censorship, here's the preface to it.
posted by Kattullus on Jul 11, 2011 - 12 comments

Art and Europe's Last Dictatorship

Fascinating and inspiring interview with playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard by Riz Khan on the subject of Belarus, a country ruled by the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, and whether artists can have an impact on the world of politics. Recently, the troupe Belarus Free Theatre has been touring the West with Being Harold Pinter, to rave reviews. Stoppard himself was a child refugee, escaping with his family from Czechoslovakia in 1939.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 27, 2011 - 15 comments

"Don't you know the house, the Love God's marketplace of passions, the dusk where the dark clears and yet is not clear?" - Annamayya

Devadasi are women in southeastern India who were dedicated in their youth to the goddess Yellamma. When they reach puberty they are forced into sex work. Once they were women of high status, but now they've been relegated to the outskirts of society. The devadasi practice goes back a long way in history, and was once celebrated in poetry. When God Is a Customer, a collection of translated classical Telugu poems about the devadasi, is free to read online. Their modern life is described by William Dalrymple in The New Yorker and in a video interview with filmmaker Beeban Kidron which includes clips from her documentary Sex, Death and the Gods. The devadasi have been targeted by exploitative Western media for a long time, but have recently started to hit back, using the internet to disseminate their views.
posted by Kattullus on Jan 22, 2011 - 14 comments

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