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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Bacon’

The Immortality Chronicles, Part 4

September 9, 2013 | by


What have we not done to live forever? Adam Leith Gollner’s research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is out now as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever. Every Monday for the next three weeks, this chronological crash course will examine how humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history.

During the Middle Ages, every alchemist worth his saltpeter tried to find the philosopher’s stone, the water stone of the wise, the miraculous stone that is no stone. It was the means to transmute base metals into gold and—more importantly—concoct elixirs of immortality.

The word is Arabic in origin: al-kimia, al-khymia, or al-kīmyā. It’s how chemistry begins. Science as we now conceive it did not exist in the medieval period. (The word scientist only became commonplace in the nineteenth century, after Cambridge University historian William Whewell coined the term in 1833.) Instead, there was natural magic and philosophy—and alchemy, the experimental attempt to combine different elements and uncover the factual mysteries of nature. Read More »


Larger Than Life: An Interview with Will Self

August 9, 2012 | by

Last August, I interviewed Will Self—whose latest novel Umbrella has just been long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize—in his London home. I had been given two weeks to prepare and I was quite terrified. My terror was warranted; I had spent the last ten days immersed in his hallucinatory fictional worlds, composed of seven novels, three novellas, and countless short stories. Through these parallel and often overlapping fictions, Self has constructed a relentless critique of our institutional failings, hypocritical cultural mores, and political inadequacies. My fears, notwithstanding being intellectually dwarfed, were largely to do with the sheer madness of many of his writings. Here was the writer who, over the years, had invented:

1. A man who wakes up with a vagina behind his left knee and has an affair with his (male) GP (Bull: A Farce);

2. A parallel Earth populated by nymphomaniacal and exhibitionist apes seen through the eyes of its most prominent experimental psychiatrists (Great Apes);

3. The afterlife taking place in the purgatorial London district of “Dulston,” a suburb populated uniquely by senseless, chain-smoking dead people, haunted by their aborted fetuses and old neuroses, and living out the rest of infinity in dire office jobs (How the Dead Live);

4. A postapocalyptic London governed by a religion based on a cab driver named Dave’s insane writings to his estranged son in the 2000s (The Book of Dave).

And then there was the public figure—an acerbic satirist of towering intellect, a giant man of letters with a rhetorical bite strong enough to tear a lesser being apart. By the time I rang on the doorbell, Will Self had, to my mind, transmogrified into The Fat Controller—the Mephistophelian antihero in his My Idea of Fun—ready to shred me from limb to limb for my idiotic questions and inadequate readings.

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The Dinnerstein Variations

January 25, 2011 | by

The startling success story of pianist Simone Dinnerstein.

Photograph by Lisa Marie Mazzucco.

Earlier this month, pianist Simone Dinnerstein celebrated her latest album, Bach, A Strange Beauty, with a six-hour-long release party in her parents’ Park Slope brownstone. She set her iPod to shuffle, and at the end of the evening, as the final few guests made their way out the door, her own recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations came on. “I hadn’t listened to it in years,” she said, “I hadn’t even realized how much I had changed.”

The Goldberg Variations marked a turning point in Dinnerstein’s life story, the classical-music world’s rags-to-riches tale that’s by now familiar to many fans. Less than a decade ago, with her chances at a high-octane concert career looking dim, she had started to settle into a life in Brooklyn, a career of smaller-scale concerts, teaching, and performances in nursing homes and prisons. The discovery that she was pregnant with her son inspired Dinnerstein to work privately on the Variations as a way to mark his arrival. She went on to raise money from friends and family and recorded the piece herself, a decision that took some guts, given the many canonical recordings of Bach’s epic work out there (joined now by a pretty hilarious rendition of the aria by Stephen Dorff in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere).

Improbably, Dinnerstein’s performance became the top-selling classical album of 2007, at one point even reaching number four on Amazon’s record sales for all genres. Her success is particularly startling when you consider the number of household-name classical pianists who either won a major competition or grew up in the spotlight as child prodigies. But Dinnerstein’s playing is one of a kind. The intense conviction she communicates is so arresting that, for me, hearing her rendition of a piece makes it impossible to imagine it performed any other way. (Classical musicians often refer to the importance of playing “with conviction”; or as my pianist friend’s formidable Russian teacher would often say, “My dear, you must be convicted of every note.”)

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