Posts Tagged ‘language’
August 25, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Early in the fourteenth century, an Egyptian bureaucrat embarked on the kind of project that many of us attempt on nights off: an enormous encyclopedia designed to contain all knowledge in the Muslim world. The book, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, ran to nine thousand pages, and a part of it will see English translation, after so many centuries, this fall. It illustrates “the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam, so different from the crude puritanical myths purveyed by modern-day jihadis,” Robert F. Worth writes. “Reading it is like stumbling into a cavernous attic full of unimaginably strange artifacts, some of them unforgettable, some merely dross. From the alleged self-fellation of monkeys to the many lovely Bedouin words for the night sky (‘the Encrusted, because of its abundance of stars, and the Forehead, because of its smoothness’) to the court rituals of Egypt’s then-overlords, the Mamluks, nothing seems to escape Nuwayri’s taxonomic ambitions.” (We’ll have excerpts on the Daily after Labor Day.)
August 22, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Say what you will about Ernest Hemingway, the guy knew how to market himself. He’s remained in print for many decades after his death, which is no mean feat—but more impressively still, he’s found a second life in the comics, where his boastful machismo thrives. Robert Elder writes, “I found him battling fascists alongside Wolverine, playing cards with Harlan Ellison, and guiding souls through purgatory … He’s appeared alongside Captain Marvel, Cerebus, Donald Duck, Lobo—even a Jazz Age Creeper. Hemingway casts a long shadow in literature, which extends into comic books. It’s really only in comics, however, where the Nobel Prize winner gets treated with equal parts reverence, curiosity and parody … In the forty-plus appearances I found across five languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), Hemingway is often the hypermasculine legend of Papa: bearded, boozed-up and ready to throw a punch. Just as often, comic book creators see past the bravado, to the sensitive artist looking for validation.”
- Today in defensibly colorful language: “We’ve had yet another month of record-breaking temperatures—and a corresponding spike in Google searches for hot as balls, a phrase that’s gotten popular as balls (mostly in the U.S.) in the past ten years or so … The difference between X as balls and Y as fuck, Y as shit and Y as hell is that although they all look like similes, only X as balls functions as one … Similes, unlike emphatic particles, are truly evocative. If you hear hot as balls, you might picture someone having to unstick a sweaty scrotum from their inner thigh. And it’s easy to imagine sagging wrinkliness when someone says old as balls … If we let as balls go the way of as hell, it’ll eventually be used mainly as an emphatic particle rather than a pure simile, and we’ll inevitably lose some of that evocative imagery.”
- In the past five years, the Internet has gotten really good at this whole “angry mob” thing—just ask Gawker’s former editor in chief, Max Read, who watched as the digital media slowly recalibrated its approach to privacy: “Not so long ago, it was actually sort of okay to publish a short excerpt from a celebrity’s sex tape to your otherwise mainstream gossip blog. ‘Okay’ is relative here, of course … Still, the extent of mainstream condemnation was cheeky expressions of disgust … What was okay (if naughty) in 2012 is, in 2016, regarded as indefensible. The reaction to the enormous judgment against Gawker makes it clear where public opinion now lies: in sharp if muddled defense of privacy rights, even for public figures. But what has changed isn’t just the outer boundary of what’s appropriate to publish, but where it can be published. Gawker’s biggest mistake in a way was that it had failed to realize that it was no longer the bottom-feeder of the media ecosystem. Twitter and Reddit and a dozen other social networks and hosting platforms have out-Gawkered Gawker in their low thresholds for publishing and disregard for traditional standards, and, even more important, they distribute liability: there are no bylines, no editors, no institution taking moral responsibility for their content.”
- Deep in Siberia, the photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio took pictures of midcentury Russian laboratories—frozen in time, in a sense, but still functioning, and still very easy to get lost in. José Manuel Prieto writes, “What is most astonishing about this genuine relic of Soviet science that Monasterio has brought to light, apart from the very seventies-ish psychedelic palette, is the precarious nature of the installations, the austere conditions in which the scientists worked and lived. None of those immaculate laboratories illuminated by fluorescent lighting that Hollywood has made us come to expect. Unplugged science, I might be tempted to call it, if it were not for the tangles of cables that appear in so many of the images.”
- Despite his formidable title and his penchant for mass bloodshed, William the Conqueror was actually a nice guy, historians tell us: he was jolly, solicitous, probably fun to drink mead with. Their support for these claims rests on an eleventh-century Latin text written after the king’s funeral—which it turns out they’ve been misreading for 950 years. The historian Marc Morris “decided to go back to the original text, which was written by a Burgundian monk called Hugh of Flavigny after William’s burial in Saint Stephen’s Church at Caen in Normandy … He asked a Latin expert, Professor David D’Avray of University College London, to translate it. The new version revealed that the adjectives do indeed appear in the text, but in relation to a little-known abbot. The praise was not about William but ‘this admirable man,’ Abbot Richard of Verdun.”
August 4, 2016 | by Anna Akhmatova
August 2, 2016 | by Anthony Madrid
You really can’t tell what a song is going to look like until you type it, and that fact itself is interesting to me. When you listen to a song, for instance, you don’t know whether its “stanzas” are in quatrains or tercets or what. The stanzas and line breaks you install when you type the lyrics simply were not there before you typed them. They were not in your head, and they were not really in the song either.
You discover all kinds of things. For example, I recently typed up the words to Cream’s “White Room” (1968). Before doing that, I didn’t know that the song does not rhyme. If someone had asked me if it rhymed, I would’ve had to sing it to find out. It somehow seems like it rhymes? But how is that possible.
I go around telling people that 99 percent of songs rhyme. Is that true? It might not be. Maybe songs all seem like they rhyme, but when you actually check … ? Read More »
July 18, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re a best-selling author, here is a great way to piss off the FBI: announce that you’re writing a book about the FBI. In 1964, writing in an issue of Playbill, James Baldwin mentioned some future projects he had in mind, including one on “the FBI and the South.” Cue federal anxiety: “When [J. Edgar] Hoover himself was informed of the project, his response was characteristically curt—‘Isn’t Baldwin a well-known pervert?’ This being Hoover’s FBI, that was not a rhetorical question, and it launched an additional inquiry in the nature of Baldwin’s ‘perversion.’ Whatever the FBI planned on doing with this information, it all ultimately proved rather moot—Baldwin never wrote the book, and there’s strong evidence he never planned to.”
- The artist Bruce Conner once provided a list of adjectives to describe his work: the first four were “beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius.” He was, somehow, right on the money. J. Hoberman remembers the first time he saw a Conner piece: “As a fifteen-year-old Pop Art aficionado wandering through the Whitney Museum’s 1964 Sculpture Annual, I discovered Conner’s work in the form of the assemblage Couch. There was no warning. It was like rounding a corner and bumping into Death … a derelict remnant of a nightmare haunted house. Conner took a moldering, paint-spattered, wax-encrusted Victorian divan and managed to imbed it with a child-sized mummy. The simulated, decomposed corpse was nestled into a corner. On closer inspection, it looked as though it might have been strangled.”
- It’s widely accepted that one of the few attractions of a career in medicine is regular exposure to nude people. In the eighteenth century, aspiring doctors had such a hankering for nudity that they took it upon themselves to construct very, very, very detailed wax women: “Known today as Anatomical Venuses, these wax figures of women were life-sized and fully dissectible, with their removable organs completely exposed to all, while their faces were kept intact with beautiful, oddly serene features … I was especially struck by a number owned by the French doctor Pierre Spitzner (whose collection is now at the University of Montpellier), which date to the second half of the nineteenth century: one was a wax automaton, featuring a Venus who ‘breathed,’ with a rising and falling chest; another is of a girl in an impeccably white nightgown undergoing a caesarean section, with four distinctly male hands prodding her revealed organs, bizarrely attached to no bodies—phantom hands, complete with white cuffs and the sleeves of black jackets to add an extra layer of eeriness.”
- In the age of the seven-figure advance, as Nathan Scott McNamara writes, “major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment where American indie presses can thrive by doing the very thing they’re best at: being small and, by extension, focusing on creativity and originality over sales … In reorganizing the priorities of book publishing—by inventing new models rather than trying to repeat past success, by valuing ingenuity over magnitude, by thinking of sales as a way to make great books possible rather than the point—indie presses aren’t just becoming the places where the best books are published; they’re already there.”
- Let’s finish things off in the gutter, where a group of dirty-minded linguists have started to name all the words that sound sexual but aren’t. For starters: cordwangle, invigilation, formicate, uvula, quincunx. Mark Liberman writes, “A colleague (who has request anonymity) and I have developed a fondness for perfectly innocuous words which, to the linguistically unwashed masses, sound sexual. My colleague’s example sentence is ‘Because her husband was intestate, she sought to dilate her fungible assets; despite cunctation for titivating, she managed to masticate and lucubrate far into the night.’ ”
July 13, 2016 | by Will Heyward
The current issue of The Paris Review features an excerpt from Gerald Murnane’s novel Border Districts. It opens with a remarkable sentence:
Two months ago, when I first arrived in this township just short of the border, I resolved to guard my eyes and I could not think of going on with this piece of writing unless I were to explain how I came by that odd expression.
What makes this sentence remarkable may not be immediately apparent. It touches on many of Murnane’s main preoccupations: seeing, the peculiar specificities of language, the outer reaches of a landscape. But the phrase “to guard my eyes” also reminded me of a peculiar moment I’d shared with the author when I interviewed him in 2012. Read More »