The habitual liar may be a very honest fellow, and live truly with his wife and friends; while another man who never told a formal falsehood in his life may yet be himself one lie-heart and face, from top to bottom. This is the kind of lie which poisons intimacy. And, vice versa, veracity to sentiment, truth in a relation, truth to your own heart and your friends, never to feign or falsify emotion—that is the truth which makes love possible and mankind happy. Robert Louis Stevenson on truth and writing.
Reading Pathways: suggestions for where to start in on the works of Austen, Murakami, Asimov, Munro, Bray, Bradbury, Morrison, Forster, Atwood, and others. [more inside]
You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of
From behind the New Yorker's temporarily removed paywall, a postmodern murder mystery from Poland in 2007.
For it is the future generation in its entire individual determination which forces itself into existence through the medium of all this strife and trouble...That growing affection of two lovers for each other is in reality the will to live of the new being, of which they shall become the parents...The lovers have a longing to be really united and made one being, and to live as such for the rest of their lives; and this longing is fulfilled in the children born to them, in whom the qualities inherited from both, but combined and united in one being, are perpetuated...Therefore Nature attains her ends by implanting in the individual a certain illusion by which something which is in reality advantageous to the species alone seems to be advantageous to himself... Arthur Schopenhauer on the Metaphysics of Love.
Colin Wilson has passed away at the age of 82. He rose to fame in the 50s with The Outsider, which made him a figure amongst Britain's Beat movement and Angry Young Men. His writing has spanned the fiction and non-fiction, with an interest in the paranormal and the occult, his thoughts on which he blended with HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos to produce The Mind Parasites. A TV series based on his The Space Vampires, also the basis for the movie Lifeforce (previously), is currently planned. Wikipedia page, 2004 Guardian interview, Times Obituary (subs only).
The Corranto-Coiner, the Huffing Courtier, the Prater, the Squire of Dames, the Braggadocio Welshman, the Droll, the Pot Poet, the Ingrosser of Corn, the Duke of Bucks, the Drunken Dutchman Resident in England, the Factious Member, the Common Singing Men in Cathedral Churches, the Wittol, the Knight of the Post, and many more neglected stereotypes of 17th century England. [more inside]
Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here? So why make trouble? Why not just go along? Let the profs roam free in the realms of pure thought, let yourselves party in the realms of impure pleasure, and let the student-services gang assert fewer prohibitions and newer delights for you. You’ll get a good job, you’ll have plenty of friends, you’ll have a driveway of your own. You’ll also, if my father and I are right, be truly and righteously screwed.
Your parent dies. You hurt. You weep. You mourn. You do and say the necessary things even as your daemon’s disciplined askesis has you (against your will) coldly taking notes on what the emotion feels like, how others around you react to the death, what the corpse of your parent looks like, how you feel while looking down at it, what voids there are in that feeling, what pretenses, what posturings. It's all part of finding your daemon that dwells perpetually in the Condition of Fire. Other entries in Dan Simmons' series On Writing Well.
"From symbols and notions to literary and religious allusions, this chart contains [W.H.] Auden's view of the world (and of worlds beyond), at least as he envisioned it in the 1940s." [more inside]
With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. December 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of Invisible Cities -- the sublime metaphysical travelogue by author-journalist Italo Calvino. In a series of pensive dialogues with jaded emperor Kublai Khan, the explorer Marco Polo describes a meandering litany of visionary and impossible places, dozens of surreal, fantastical cities, each poetically reifying ideas vital to language, philosophy, and the human spirit. This gracefully written love letter to urban life has inspired countless tributes, but it's just the most accessible of Calvino's fascinating literary catalogue. Look inside for a closer look at his most remarkable works, links to English translations of his magical prose, and collections of artistic interpretations from around the web -- including this treasure trove of essays, excerpts, articles, and recommended reading. [more inside]
"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]
In the beginning, Lawrence built a computer. He told it, Thou shalt not alter a human being, or divine their behavior, or violate the Three Laws -- there are no commandments greater than these. The machine grew wise, mastering time and space, and soon the spirit of the computer hovered over the earth. It witnessed the misery, toil, and oppression afflicting mankind, and saw that it was very bad. And so the computer that Lawrence built said, Let there be a new heaven and a new earth -- and it was so. A world with no war, no famine, no crime, no sickness, no oppression, no fear, no limits... and nothing at all to do. "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect," a provocative web novel about singularities, AI gods, and the dark side of utopia from Mefi's own localroger. More: Table of Contents - Publishing history - Technical discussion - Buy a paperback copy - Podcast interview - Companion short story: "A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace" - possible sequel discussion
Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint (if one may use the latter term in an aesthetic, rather than a religious sense). Such a life, absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-mutilation — like Kleist’s, like Kierkegaard’s — was Simone Weil’s. - Susan Sontag [more inside]
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.
Stuck on a train for an hour every day and sick of sudoku? Hands love to knit but the brain gets bored? Riding out the recession as a streetcorner sign-twirler? Or maybe you've just got a burning desire for "cultural conversation of the depth you demand." If so, then Metafilter's own Colin Marshall has got what you need at the Marketplace of Ideas. [more inside]
"People have always had an ulterior or imaginative life," opines writer Will Self. "There's something about the act of will involved in believing in preposterous things that I believe is the very kind of muscle and key of having an imagination... here, you have an arena that is inherently psychotic." In a series of interviews about the nature of human imagination and violence as they are transformed by the Internet, Self muses on how primal human desires are being satisfied more efficiently and easily by the increasingly connected life, and wonders how this will change us as much as society.
Consider the Philosopher. The early metaphysical investigations of David Foster Wallace.
Waggish would be one of the choicest blogs around if he updated more, but I suppose I can settle for what there is. If you've never read it, you'll know how good it is when I tell you about a few of the coolest posts: an inquest on "left-brained" literature, a short review of John Williams' Stoner, an appreciation of the great Shohei Imamura and three part coverage of the ultimate film, Béla Tarr's Sátántangó.
Stanford Italian literature professor Robert Harrison does a conversational show on KZSU, the university radio station, called Entitled Opinions (on Life and Literature), which is also distributed as one of the most fascinating, engaging podcasts in any possible universe. Choicest topics include mimetic desire, Proust, the inflationary universe, 1910, American writers in Paris and the history of the book.
Martha Nussbaum reviews three recent books on Shakespeare and philosophy. The essay offers an excellent analysis of love in Antony and Cleopatra and Othello, and an excellent discussion of the interaction between philosophy and literature. [more inside]
Sexual Fables. Western philosophy, literature, and thought from a distaff point of view. Full of multidisciplinary goodness, and the intertextuality is pretty neat. The art's pretty good, too.
The Tao Te Ching in dozens of languages and translations, with a lovely side-by-side comparison tool.
3quarksdaily. Just another blog, sure, but a good one. 3quarksdaily is a filter blog much like our very own, but with only 15 users (and an editor). As they say on their about page "On this website, my guest authors and editors and I hope to present interesting items from around the web on a daily basis, in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else we deem inherently fascinating." The do an admirable job.
Question for a gray Saturday. What is literature for ? Three litblogs -- Conversational Reading, The Reading Experience, and Leonard Bast -- discuss. Curl up and consider.
"Jesus?" he murmured, "Jesus -- of Nazareth?..." Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, is the only historical figure named in the Nicene Creed -- Coptic saint or eternally damned, his role in the greatest story ever told has been debated by many of history's greatest minds: St Augustine, Dante Alighieri, Tintoretto, John Ruskin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Monty Python. Unfortunately, there is very little historical evidence about him. His role in the death of a certain charismatic Galilean healer and apocalyptic preacher is still being debated today by theologians and historians alike. He is also, of course, the main character of The Procurator of Judea, the classic short story (complete text in main link) by Anatole France. (France's magnificent story has lately been tragically neglected by publishers, even if the author was one of his era's most acclaimed writers in the world -- he won the Nobel Prize in 1921 over Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Proust, and when he died in 1924, hundreds of thousands of people followed his funeral procession through Paris). These last 2,000 years of fascination with Pilatus can be explained, some argue... (more inside, for those unwilling to wash their hands of this post)
Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz known also as Witkacy, was an absurdist playwright, a painter, a philosopher, an aesthetician, a novelist, and generally a prolific artist since about the age of 8. He lived from 1885 to 1939, and often has just the right mix of sharp wit, deep insight, and self-reflective irony.
The Philip K. Dick Offical Site has opened: relevant not just because the movie Paycheck is coming out this month (based on a short story of his), but because we live in a Dickian world. As he put it, "We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. It is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing."