Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’
February 20, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In Selkirk, Scotland, a man has found a previously unseen Sherlock Holmes story in his attic. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle apparently wrote it around 1904 to help raise funds for a new bridge. “It is believed the story—about Holmes deducing Watson is going on a trip to Selkirk—is the first unseen Holmes story by Doyle since the last was published over eighty years ago.”
- Why is To Kill a Mockingbird so beloved? Probably just because everyone was forced to read it growing up—in reality, it’s a “white-trash gothic” that infantilizes blacks and demonizes poor whites: “The central struggle in To Kill a Mockingbird involves class, not race. The book’s theme is the class war within the white South between the noble gentry and the depraved poor. In a clever twist, thanks to the community’s racism the white underclass villain wins in court, but the gentry hero enjoys revenge at the end, thanks to a killing that is covered up by the local sheriff.”
- While we’re at it, we’ve made a mess of Huck Finn, too: “We persistently misread Twain’s messages on race and children for a simple reason: Americans still subscribe to many of the same myths and prejudices as their nineteenth-century ancestors. Twain’s novel is not a hymn to the carefree pleasures of a rustic childhood; it’s a barbed critique of precisely the sort of standardized education that has now led to the book’s adoption in countless classrooms … Common readings of the book are now trapped in the same sanctimonious clichés that Twain both punctured and perpetuated.”
- How quickly is our spoken language changing, and how many of those changes should be reflected in print? “There is a natural problem, found the world over: how quickly to allow writing to adapt to changes in the spoken language? If spelling were adapted to pronunciation, the result would be a radical and destabilizing break with centuries of tradition … English-speakers are stuck with an archaic and anarchic system. Liberties with grammar—making the written language look like the spoken one—should be few and cautious. Giving the written language a little room to change, but not too much, is the only way to enjoy the best of both stability and vitality.”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates remembers David Carr, who was his boss at the Washington City Paper: “David—recovering crack addict, recovering alcoholic, ex-cocaine dealer, lymphoma survivor, beautiful writer, gorgeous human—knew something about how a life of fucking up burrows itself into the bones of knuckleheads, and it changes there, transmutes into an abiding shame, a gnawing fear which likely dogs the reformed knucklehead right into the grave. Perhaps that fear could be turned into something beautiful. Perhaps a young journalist could pull power from that fear, could write from it … ”
December 5, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Today, the Oxford English Dictionary brings us a splendid word of the day: the little-used draffsack. Because we can always use alternatives to glutton.
Not that there’s anything wrong with glutton! Glutton is one of the finest of all words. It is evocative, it feels delicious in the mouth, and it’s also an alternate name for a wolverine. (Personally, I’d much sooner see a movie called Glutton. Although, I guess Hugh Jackman would have to put on a few pounds.)
But draffsack refines the concept. A draffsack is not merely a glutton, but a lazy glutton—as opposed to all the industrious, Diamond Jim Brady–style gluttons one encounters. It can also mean “paunch.” From the old Norse word draff (“brewing derivative”) and sack (“sack”), it is, apparently, Scottish.
Which brings us to Samuel Rutherford Crockett. The OED cites the usage of the term in Crockett’s 1894 novel The Lilac Sunbonnet. S. R. Crockett’s career was a result of his era’s mania for Lowland Scots fiction; his many, many sentimental romances include Flower o’ the Corn, The Surprising Adventures of Sir Toady Lion, Mad Sir Uchtred, and, of course, his 1894 breakout, The Sticket Minister. Crockett was an ordained minister, and many of his forty titles had Christian themes, as well as muckle lowland color and Victorian-style syrup. Read More »
September 18, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- John Jeremiah Sullivan on Donald Antrim and his new collection of short stories, The Emerald Light in the Air: “That last story [‘The Emerald Light’] does something special, something very quiet that demands extremely close brushwork, something that exceedingly few writers can do … The technique is one of illusion and happens at the level of the text itself. It’s a way of rendering permeable the surface lens that divides the underworld of fantasy from the ‘painful realism’ hovering above it, so that writer and reader at moments seem joined in not being totally certain whether what’s happening on the page should be taken literally and naturalistically or as mythical, otherworldly.”
- “It is almost unheard-of for the same writer to have a byline on the lead item in rival newspapers. But it has happened in Britain today—to a man who last picked up his pen in 1796.” (Hint: think New Year’s Eve.)
- Apple’s iOS 8 includes QuickType, a predictive typing feature that suggests words you might want to type next. Followed to its extremes, it takes one’s sentences to strange and arguably poetic lands: “I have a great way of saying the government has ordered a pizza./ Yes, you do that for the rest of the day before I go to sleep.”
- Ben Lerner and Ariana Reines in conversation: “For me, the cow is a real modernist figure. I feel like after God died, the cow became the onlooker in great works of modernism. It’s the witness in Joyce, it shows up again and again—for me, it’s like the residue of the divine in the twentieth century.”
- In the eighties, Michael Chabon had a punk band in Pittsburgh. They were called the Bats. One of his bandmates said, “I just remembered being very impressed with his stage presence, like he’d been waiting all his life to do this.”
July 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On Thursday, just as the Dow Jones closed at an all-time high, a first edition of Marx’s Das Kapital sold for $40,000.
- Searching for Orwell in Scotland: “I had come to Jura, a remote island on Scotland’s west coast, to find the solitude George Orwell had sought sixty-five years earlier to finish his classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four … [I] wanted to understand why a man so accustomed to city life had come to an inaccessible island of only 190 souls to find inspiration for a novel about totalitarianism in an urbanized state—why a writer at the peak of his celebrity ensconced himself in an austere farmhouse hidden in an inhospitable Scottish landscape.”
- Paola Antonelli is “one of MoMA’s most prominent, and provocative, curators”: “Petite and energetic, she is prone to fanciful descriptions of the world and its things—a verbal extension, perhaps, of a kind of object-oriented synesthesia. Design, to her, is everywhere … She has said that she believes ‘the age of design is upon us, almost like a rapture.’”
- In commissioned books of portraits like Matthäus Schwarz’s, from the sixteenth century, we can trace the origins of “self-fashioning”: “Schwarz’s Trachtenbuch (Book of Clothes) was clearly designed for display, and on the whole it paints him in a good light … it announces Schwarz as a person of taste, a supporter of his city and family, a courtly lover, and a well-rounded Renaissance man. It is also, arguably, one of the first fashion books, a distant progenitor of a Vogue lookbook, as it were.”
- John Wray profiles Nick Cave: “Cave’s public persona has been called ‘theatrical,’ but a more precise term might be cinematic. Like many self-mythologizers, charismatics and plain old eccentrics, he has always appeared to be performing in a movie only he himself could see.”
March 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Michael Bruce has a purchase on the springtime. He was born on March 27, 1746, just as spring was coming to Scotland, and his most enduring poem is “Elegy—Written in Spring.” The guy knows greenery.
Bruce—a Scotsman, as you may have guessed—was the son of a weaver; growing up, “his attendance at school was often interrupted because he had to herd cattle on the Lomond Hills in summer, and this early companionship with nature greatly influenced his poetry.”
And so it did: “Elegy” is a plain-and-simple celebration of companionship with nature; it’s unadorned and all the more beautiful for it. Bruce wrote the poem toward the end of his life, and its last stanza, which turns to gaze at death, is quietly devastating, especially since it comes after so many words devoted to the bliss and beauty of pastoral Scotland. The images here are classically, achingly bucolic: flowers, plains, furze. Verdant ground, ample leaves, and dewy lawns. On a day like today, when, in New York, the new season struggles to shuck off the dreariness of the last, “Elegy” is an ideal balm. If only it could bring the balmy weather with it. Read More »
March 25, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you woke up this morning and wondered, Will today finally be the day that the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) puts together an interactive map of all known shipwrecks that have occurred off the treacherous Scottish coastline?, congratulations: the answer is yes.
- Shut up the surly teenager in your life—remind him of how viciously teens were treated in medieval Europe. “A lord’s huntsman is advised to choose a boy servant as young as seven or eight: one who is physically active and keen sighted. This boy should be beaten until he had a proper dread of failing to carry out his master’s orders.”
- Vis-à-vis cruelty: in Britain, it’s now illegal to send books to prisoners. Authors are protesting.
- Back in the day, Orson Welles performed ten Shakespeare plays on the radio. You can listen to them.
- “Not since the heyday of Dickens, Dumas, and Henry James has serialized fiction been this big.” Behind Wattpad, a new storytelling app.
- What if classic writers wrote erotica? (Hats off to Camus’ Sutra, which is especially inspired.)