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On the Shelf

The Pour of Melted Chocolate, and Other News

January 15, 2016 | by

Hebden Bridge, 1970.

  • Ben Lerner remembers C. D. Wright: “She was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization. I think of the messy genius of James Agee and Mary Austin as two possible antecedents for her genre-bending, lyrically charged, often outraged and outrageous American English … She had no illusions about what poetry could do in the face of ‘the factory model, the corporate model, the penitentiary model, which by my lights are one and the same.’ But she had no patience for disillusion, for those who would surrender their wonder before the world.”
  • Bernard Williams attempted a rare thing for a philosopher: clarity. Exasperated by the discipline’s obscurantism and by Continental philosophy’s aversion to plain speaking, he wrote his books, emphatically, to be read. As Nakul Krishna writes, “The hardest thing in philosophy, Williams wrote in the preface to Morality … was finding the right style, ‘in the deepest sense of style in which to discover the right style is to discover what you are really trying to do’ … Could a piece of philosophical writing combine abstract argument with concrete detail? Could its inevitably schematic descriptions of complex situations ever represent enough of their reality? Could philosophy, in other words, have room in it for a real human voice?”
  • Ted Hughes once wrote of sitting with Sylvia Plath at a pub in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, where he was born: “A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels, / The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution / That had flown.” What’s in Hebden Bridge today? The remains of an awful flood, as Tom Overton writes. “Up on the moors on Boxing Day last year, the level of rainfall gave normally modest streams a resonant fullness. In ‘Four March Watercolours’, from River, Hughes calls it ‘baroque superabundance’; ‘the pour / Of melted chocolate.’ Turning into something more like the apocalyptic flood at the beginning of Tales from Ovid, it poured into the boutiques and cafes on Hebden’s Market Street, and washed a small bus along with it. The independent bookshop lost its entire stock. The canal and river burst their banks and met in the pub between them, the Stubbing Wharf.”
  • At last, the days of digitized pop-up books are upon us. You can now peruse a translation of Johann Remmelin’s 1613 work Captoptrum Microcosmicum, a medical text with 120 flaps—proof that that pop-up was once the province of adult pedagogy, not children’s entertainment. “Astronomy, geometry, theology and technology have all been the subject of early pop-up books … They were once called mechanical books, for the moving flaps and revolving parts they featured … Mechanical books were almost exclusively used in scholarly works until the 18th century, though that delay may be because few of these early tomes were aimed at children. The first examples of moveable books for children were Paper Doll Books produced beginning in 1810 and William Grimaldi’s lift-the-flap The Toilet.”
  • “How is it that this novel could be sexy, entertaining, experimental, politically radical, and wildly popular all at once? Its success was no sure thing,” Paul Elie writes of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Its creation, to say nothing of its arrival on the international stage, was a complicated affair. Mario Vargas Llosa said, “This was the book that enlarged the Spanish-language reading public to include intellectuals and also ordinary readers because of its clear and transparent style. At the same time, it was a very representative book: Latin America’s civil wars, Latin America’s inequalities, Latin America’s imagination, Latin America’s love of music, its color—all this was in a novel in which realism and fantasy were mixed in a perfect way.’”


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