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Posts Tagged ‘Library of Congress’

Architectural Blasphemy, and Other News

April 20, 2015 | by

Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino House, 1914.

  • Readings from Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, and Czesław Miłosz are among the new recordings released by the Library of Congress, which has finally digitized some seventy-five years of magnetic-tape reels.
  • Poetry is, to some extent, the art of “anti-aphorism,” “seemingly wise but ultimately ungraspable”: “I believe that to read poetry, one must have a mind of poetry. You must enter a state where you come to understand meaning-resistant arrangements of language as having their own kind of meaning. It’s quite similar to those Magic Eye posters from the nineties: If you haven’t figured out how to look at them, you can’t believe that anyone really sees the dolphin.”
  • In late eighteenth-century London, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies served as a kind of vade mecum for the seasoned brothel-goer, endeavoring to list “the most celebrated ladies now on the town.” It was so salacious that its creators eventually wound up in jail. A sample listing for one Mrs. Banner speaks of her “irresistible eye”; her “favourite spot below” apparently “calls for the Priapian weapon,” eager “to receive it in her sheath at its most powerful thrust up to the hilt.”
  • In the early twentieth century, Le Corbusier concocted Maison Dom-Ino, a blueprint for standardized housing with all the hallmarks of modernism: he envisioned a skeletal structure of concrete slabs. His idea was never realized, but decades later, Italian architects borrowed liberally from his designs, and now Maison Dom-Ino rip-offs freckle the countryside: “It’s a design innovation that’s been turned into something, especially in Italy, that is regarded as something completely the opposite. It’s a form of architectural blasphemy. It became synonymous with an eyesore, and a dilapidated landscape.”
  • On Frank Stanford’s new collected poems, What About This: “More than anything, like Basho, like Li Po, like Emily Dickinson and Yeats, Stanford was a poet of the moon. The moon cycles through nearly every of his poems. And it’s never the same moon sliver. The moon gravitates as a  ‘beautiful white spider,’ ‘a dead man floating down the river,’ ‘a woman in a red dress / standing on the beach.’ It’s ‘a plate with no supper,’ ‘a clock with twelve numbers,’ it’s ‘swollen up / like a mosquito’s belly’ … ”

Darwin’s Basket Cases, and Other News

May 29, 2014 | by


James Davis Cooper after a James Crichton-Browne photograph, Illustration from Chapter XIII of The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals; Insane Woman Showing the Condition of Her Hair, c. 1871-1872; image via the Public Domain Review

  • “It’s a curious thing to think of Charles Darwin sitting alone, closely studying photographic portraits of the afflicted and insane. But in the late 1860s, that’s exactly what he began doing: he sifted through portraits of kleptomaniacs, nymphomaniacs, sufferers of severe self-importance, hysteria, and general mania.”
  • Our very own Nicole Rudick on Bough Down, a new book of prose fragments and collage by Karen Green, who “faces a special difficulty: her husband was David Foster Wallace. This fact is both central to Bough Down and incidental to it. On the one hand, he was a famous, much admired writer, and Green’s new identity as ‘the designated survivor’ is one she can’t escape. ‘You are like the moon,’ she writes to Wallace, ‘you shed light on my insignificance from a great, wordless distance.’”
  • Charles Simic remembers the poet Russell Edson: “He thought of poetry as a cast-iron airplane that sporadically flies, chiefly because its pilot doesn’t seem to care if it does or does not.”
  • At the Library of Congress, two hundred and fifty of Thomas Jefferson’s books are missing.
  • The Mesmerists of the eighteenth century believed that music played a vital role in the practice of animal magnetism. The proper tune could cure what ailed you, especially if it were played on one instrument in particular: the glass harmonica. “In fact, the association of the instrument with Mesmerism was one reason why it quickly went out of fashion.”



Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress

May 7, 2014 | by


Archibald MacLeish in 1944. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Today brought welcome news that the New York Public Library has abandoned its plan to “renovate” (i.e., reduce and/or ruin) its research flagship at Bryant Park, on Forty-Second Street. The renovation would have meant removing the stacks beneath the main reading room, thus displacing an untold number of books and research materials; the plan met with derision among scholars and authors, and a piece in the Times last year by Michael Kimmelman made an elegant case against it.

And wouldn’t you know it—today is also Archibald MacLeish’s birthday. His 1974 Art of Poetry interview is great reading, but given the news of the day, and given his role as the Librarian of Congress—a position he held from 1939 to 1944—it seems fitting to peruse his 1940 essay, “The Librarian and the Democratic Process,” which addresses … well, not many of the same issues at stake in the NYPL’s renovation controversy. It was 1940; the world was on the brink of war, and digitization was not a going concern for librarians. But the piece does find MacLeish asking, in a sweeping, stentorian tone: What is a librarian supposed to do, anyway? Read More »


Dickensian Peg Legs, and Other News

October 2, 2013 | by


  • There are so many wooden legs in the works of Dickens.
  • David Bowie’s one hundred favorite books include The Trial of Henry Kissinger, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
  • “You’ve published a novel, and half a dozen short stories, and you’ve found clever ways to fluff up your bio. You think of your writing resume as one of the most creative pieces of fiction you’ve written.” Justin Kramon on being a fiction-writing professor.
  • “Fleming was essentially a bureaucrat during the war. But, being an imaginative man, he could not help thinking about a more active role as a secret agent.” The real story behind the birth of James Bond.
  • Yup: the Library of Congress is closed, too.



Hemingway Moves North, and Other News

May 6, 2013 | by