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Posts Tagged ‘Bodleian Library’

Staff Picks: Rage, Reggae, Reading Rooms

March 27, 2015 | by


A still from Wild Tales.

Before he coined the term Dark Ages, before he became the father of humanism, and before he wrote the world’s first travel guide—to a place he’d never actually visited, at that—Petrarch climbed a mountain. In “Epistolae familiares,” a letter to Dionisio da Borgo San Sepolcro, Petrarch described the journey he took with his brother on April 26, 1336, now commonly known as “The Ascent of Mont Ventoux.” The letter is often quoted in mountaineering literature that altogether misses the point; Petrarch’s ascent is a vehicle for the ascent of the mind, and it’s compelling to watch him weigh out his thoughts as he climbs. “I am still preoccupied with a lot that is troublesome,” he writes. “What I used to love, I no longer love. But on second thought, that isn’t true. I think I still love those things, I just love them a little less. No, I lie again! Of course I still love those things, and love them just as much. It’s just now I love with guilt.” Scholars regard the letter as a kind of beginning to the Renaissance, when man turned his thoughts inward; they also question whether Petrarch truly ascended Mont Ventoux, but that doesn’t matter. As John D’Agata wrote of the letter in his anthology The Lost Origins of the Essay, “It’s a great mimetic demonstration of a mind ascending something as the body does the same. But what if it is only Petrarch’s mind that is doing the ascending? The real title of Petrarch’s essay contains an extra word that seldom finds its way into English translations: allegorico. How much less significant is a journey of just the mind?” —Jeffery Gleaves

k10439I’ve only just started Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, but already it’s taught me a lot about unreason, in all its guises. I hadn’t known, for instance, that the Hebrew for “to behave like a prophet” can also mean “to rave”; or that Ancient Greek physicians construed hysteria as a uniquely feminine affliction because they believed the womb could wander about the abdomen; or that the earliest English madhouses were, almost too perfectly, renovated from “decaying mansions in once-fashionable areas,” because their proprietors thought building from scratch would cut into profits too much. The in in Scull’s title is a nice reproach to Foucault; we like to think of insanity as existing apart from, or before, the constructs of society—and certainly we try to put it there—but Scull’s history unpacks centuries of our cultural baggage about madness, arguing that it’s “indelibly part of civilization, not located outside it.” There’s even a lesson spelled out on his ingenious, and literally dizzying, cover: that nervous illnesses have been widely seen, since the eighteenth century, “as part of the price one paid for civilization, indeed as afflictions to which the most refined and civilized were particularly prone.” —Dan Piepenbring
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Bookstores Take a Beating, and Other News

November 1, 2012 | by

Brooklyn's Powerhouse Books, post-Sandy

  • How did bookstores fare in the wake of Hurricane Sandy?
  • A sad reality for many right now: how to care for water-damaged books.
  • The (thankfully unscathed) New York Public Library has waived fines ... until November 8.
  • Many independent bookstores are refusing to stock books from the Amazon imprint.
  • The Proper Art of Writing: a compilation of all sorts of capital or initial letters of German, Latin and Italian fonts from different masters of the noble art of writing.

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    Arthurian Legend, Literary Restaurants

    October 10, 2012 | by

  • Oxford’s Bodleian Library has put more than three hundred thousand rare books online.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s previously unseen two-hundred-page Arthurian epic poem, The Fall of Arthur, will be released next May. His son has acted as editor.
  • As I Chipotle Dying: the #literaryrestaurants hash tag sweeps Twitter.
  • Lena Dunham’s purported $3.5 million sale prompts a list of outrageous book deals.
  • Lolita, then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” The New York Times’s pan: just one of the bad reviews received by classics.