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Posts Tagged ‘research’

Socially Displaced

September 6, 2016 | by

Photo: Gene93k.

I had been out of college for a couple years when a friend got me a gig studying the “socially displaced.” This wasn’t as lofty as it sounds; what I really did was spend a couple months going around asking bums about their problems. The arrangement was fairly straightforward: they’d give me their stories and I’d give them a dollar. So I spent a few days roaming Castries—the capital of Saint Lucia—with a cheap recorder and a heavy bag of coins, tracking the street people and hoping a few would talk to me.

I’ve never been great at interviews, mainly because I don’t like bothering people, including vagrants. I felt like I was invading their private space, which I sort of was. But surprisingly some of them were willing to tell me their life stories even without the promise of money. They had nothing better to do—and clearly neither did I. Read More »

Truly Trending: An Interview on Intensifiers

August 31, 2016 | by

William Blake, Geoffrey Chaucer.

William Blake, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Sali Tagliamonte is a linguist at the University of Toronto, where she studies language variation and change. Her latest book, Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents, was published in June.

I called Tagliamonte because I’d noticed more and more people using the word truly. All of a sudden it seemed to be everywhere: in work e-mails and movie reviews, in headlines, on Twitter, on Twitter, and on Twitter. “It truly is up to us,” Hilary Clinton said this summer in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. A week prior, in Cleveland, Trump had remembered his “truly great mother.”

Is truly trending? I couldn’t tell—Liane Moriarty’s book, Truly Madly Guilty, had just published. There had been that Savage Garden song in the nineties, and the Lionel Richie one in the eighties. I wanted to find out more, so I did what anyone with a linguistics question would do: I e-mailed Noam Chomsky. To my surprise, he wrote back within half an hour, suggesting I ask “an outstanding sociolinguist like William Labov.” So I did. Labov told me, “The person who has done the most work on intensifiers like truly is Prof. Sali Tagliamonte.” Read More »

A Chunk of Van Gogh’s Ear, and Other News

July 14, 2016 | by

A 1930 letter from Dr. Félix Rey shows Van Gogh’s mutilated ear. Photo: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, via the New York Times.

  • Today in longstanding debates about deceased painters’ body parts: Van Gogh scholars continue to argue about the fate of his left ear. Nina Siegal speaks to those on both sides: “Did he simply slice off a little chunk of his ear, or did he lop off the entire ear? … A note written by Félix Rey, a doctor who treated Van Gogh at the Arles hospital, contains a drawing of the mangled ear showing that the artist indeed cut off the whole thing … [Biographers Stephen] Naifeh and [Gregory] White argue that witnesses who saw Van Gogh after Dr. Rey, including his brother Theo’s wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the artist Paul Signac and Van Gogh’s doctor in Auvers-sur-Oise, Dr. Paul Gachet, said that the entire ear was not missing. They all ‘saw a portion of the mutilated ear remaining—so much, in fact, that, when Vincent was seen from face-on, the damage could go unnoticed,’ they wrote.”
  • Why did Google delete Dennis Cooper’s blog? Tobias Carroll investigates—but this is Google we’re talking about, so there is no such thing as “knowledge”: “Over the years, Dennis Cooper’s blog has become a go-to spot for those who appreciate challenging, bold, experimental literature. Cooper has frequently championed books on indie presses and literary work in small journals, using his own influence to point readers in the direction of other work that they might enjoy. (Many writers I know have been thrilled to have been included in lists of highlights from Cooper’s recent reading.) Over time, the site has gradually become a place where devotees of avant-garde fiction can learn more about what’s new in that particular corner of literature … There remains no indication of whether Cooper’s account has been entirely deleted or whether some form of recovery is possible—or, for that matter, of why Google felt the need to delete Cooper’s e-mail account and blog to begin with.”
  • Now that Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai is back in print, it gets another shot at a much-deserved wider readership. Christian Lorentzen talked to DeWitt about it, and about her grievances with the publishing industry:At the core of The Last Samurai is the notion that most people don’t meet their potential because the culture teaches them to assume there are things they just can’t do. The central example is Ludo reading Homer in the original Greek. ‘The Greek alphabet looks more daunting than it really is,’ DeWitt said. ‘I could get anybody reading the Greek script in an hour. I thought that this could be something that I could reveal in the book. People might read the novel and think, Gosh, if somebody had introduced this to me I could have done it. And so now I can have a grievance against our education system, just like the author of this book.’ ”

The Trouble of Rational Thought

June 10, 2016 | by

How Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai cultivates ambition in its readers.

The first edition of The Last Samurai.

Watch Helen DeWitt discuss The Last Samurai in our My First Time video series.

In the late nineties, Helen DeWitt, a then-unpublished writer with a Ph.D. in classics from Oxford, got an offer on her first novel, The Seventh Samurai. It had been seventeen months since her agent had indicated she would be able to get an advance based on the first six chapters of the manuscript—which, in the absence of a contract, DeWitt had diligently been attempting to finish. After she received the offer, she wrote to her agent; she felt she was likely to commit suicide if she had to continue working with her. Looking over her editor's comments, she scarcely felt more hopeful. When a contract arrived, she decided not to sign it.

Some time later, a friend showed the manuscript to Jonathan Burnham, then at Talk Miramax Books; he immediately offered her $70,000. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, the novel caused what can fairly be called a sensation; but the enthusiasm of foreign houses did not make English-language publication any easier. DeWitt spent months battling her copy editor, who had ignored DeWitt’s edits and imposed hundreds of standardizing changes of her own. It was, DeWitt told the Observer in 2011, as if they were trying to “kill the mind that wrote the book.”

In 2000, DeWitt’s novel was released as The Last Samurai. (DeWitt was forced to change the title, only to see its Google results buried, three years later, beneath the Tom Cruise movie of the same name). In The New Yorker, A. S. Byatt hailed it as “a triumph—a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form.” Read More »

Still in the Grip of Kitsch, and Other News

December 17, 2014 | by

Lourdes_boulevard_de_la_grotte_8

Photo: Jean-Noël Lafargue

  • The origins of Times New Roman, the trustiest typeface of the PC era: “Times New Roman began as a challenge, when esteemed type designer Stanley Morison criticized London’s newspaper The Times for being out-of-touch with modern typographical trends. So The Times asked him to create something better. Morison enlisted the help of draftsman Victor Lardent and began conceptualizing a new typeface with two goals in mind: efficiency—maximizing the amount of type that would fit on a line and thus on a page—and readability.”
  • A history of kitsch and its enduring power: “Kitsch is not about the thing observed but about the observer. It does not invite you to feel moved by the doll you are dressing so tenderly, but by yourself dressing the doll. All sentimentality is like this—it redirects emotion from the object to the subject, so as to create a fantasy of emotion without the real cost of feeling it. The kitsch object encourages you to think, ‘Look at me feeling this—how nice I am and how lovable.’ ”
  • Great moments in swearing: an utterance in John Carpenter’s The Thing helped define our sense of a treasured obscenity. “The fuckin’ in ‘You gotta be fuckin’ kidding’ is surplus to compositional meaning but crucial to the moment and the encounter. Its trochee supplies essential force to the line’s measured disbelief, extending Palmer’s (and by extension the group’s) appalled bewilderment at the boggling form of their alien enemy.”
  • A new book purports to bust the stereotypes behind archaeology: “the work is often poorly paid, physically demanding, and prone to controversy … the unemployment rate in the field [is] at about fifty per cent.” (This piece, to its great credit, mentions Indiana Jones zero times.)
  • The best defense for research: “It’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.”

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The Kids Are All Right, and Other News

September 11, 2014 | by

John_is_not_really_dull_-_he_may_only_need_his_eyes_examined_LCCN98513999

New research suggests that this American youth and those like him have not entirely gone to seed.

  • Young Americans at the library: do they even, like, get it, what with all their young-person gizmos and e-gadgets? They do, kind of. Among the findings of a new Pew survey: “Despite their embrace of technology, 62% of Americans under age thirty agree there is ‘a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the Internet,’ compared with 53% of older Americans who believe that … 88% of Americans under thirty read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those ages thirty and older.” But: “36% of Millennials say they know little or nothing about the local library’s services, compared with 29% of those thirty and older.”
  • Not unrelatedly: “In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, America’s book publishers took an audacious gamble … over the next four years, publishers gave away 122,951,031 copies of their most valuable titles … By giving away the best it had to offer, the publishing industry created a vastly larger market for its wares. More importantly, it also democratized the pleasures of reading, making literature, poetry, and history available to all.”
  • Fact: Tolstoy was, in 1910, captured on film. (Alas, by the time the talkie was invented, he was no longer among the living.)
  • The history of “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”, the once-thriving advice column from Ladies’ Home Journal: “For a modern reader of the column’s 1950s and sixties archives, it’s hard not to be horrified by the complete and utter awfulness of many of the husbands … more shocking still are the counselor’s responses. No matter how bad it got, the counselor always managed to find a way to blame the woman for the couple’s problems.”
  • Before the Man Booker Prize shortlist, with only two of its six authors hailing from the U.S., was announced, defeatist British novelists feared the list would be overrun with Americans. “Why did they assume their American counterparts were better? Or if they thought Americans were just different, why did they assume judges would prefer the game the Americans were playing? Saul Bellow is dead. John Updike is dead. David Foster Wallace is dead, and Philip Roth has made announcing his retirement a full-time job.”

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