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Posts Tagged ‘T. S. Eliot’

Far-Out Kandy-Kolored Machine Dreams, and Other News

June 22, 2015 | by

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A “dreamscape” made from random noise. Illustration: Google, via the Guardian

  • As an undergraduate at Harvard, T. S. Eliot risked flunking out—but fear not, for his febrile poetic mind was already hard at work: “He invented the characters of ‘Columbo’ and ‘Bolo,’ who for years to come starred in a series of scatological, violent, and racist poems. Circulated privately, these verses became known to a wider readership only after Eliot’s death, when they presented the immensely refined poet in a bizarrely crude light … such writing served a purpose for the shy, physically awkward, and sexually late-blooming Eliot. It was a way for him to bond with his peers … ”
  • Advertisements used to contain words—many words—even those aimed at such famously illiterate audiences as rock-music fans. A look at the Rolling Stone archive reveals a surprising amount of po-mo sophistication in record-label copywriting. A 1979 ad for the singer-songwriter Sirani Avedia, for example, begins, “After the chic anarchy of punk, the escapism of disco, and the cerebral celebrations of jazz fusion … something real.”
  • An old photograph by Giovanni Gargiolli inspires ruminations on fatherhood: “The photograph was taken outside a Franciscan church in Alatri, a village south of Rome, in 1902 or 1903 … I recognize myself in that father who is leaning out of the family portrait in the church doorway. I feel an apartness, and I wonder: Is it a movable obstacle to the fullness of fatherhood, a primordial paternal taint, or a simple truth about the way men who have children are around their children?”
  • Disturbing news from the tech sector: research suggests that our computers, the very beings on which our civilization depends, are no more than drug-addled dreamers, lost in psychedelic reveries every bit as inscrutable as those of your average dusthead. Google discovered what its image-recognition networks “imagine” by “feeding a picture into the network, asking it to recognize a feature of it, and modify the picture to emphasize the feature it recognizes. That modified picture is then fed back into the network, which is again tasked to recognise features and emphasize them, and so on. Eventually, the feedback loop modifies the picture beyond all recognition.”
  • Nick Sousanis received his doctorate in education for Unflattening, a dissertation in the form of “a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.” Its lowly ambition? “Insurrection against the fixed viewpoint … Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge.”

Write Tight

April 21, 2015 | by

What is poetry? Etymology provides more questions than answers.

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Contest of the Poets, a float design by Jennie Wilde for the 1910 “Comus” Mardi Gras

T. S. Eliot, who once famously called National Poetry Month the cruelest, was also one of many to point out the hopeless semantic tangles that ensue because “poetry” has two opposites. Poetry can be the lined stuff, often with rhymes, as opposed to sentences and paragraphs; poetry can also be the good stuff, as opposed to the plodding or simply informational. But if good prose can be poetic, a novel can be “pure poetry,” and poems can be prosaic, then it’s not clear what anyone is talking about, really. Or rather, it’s clear except to theorists trying to come up with definitions. Poetry is what’s thrilling, while a poem is that poor thing with eleven readers, eight of them members of the poet’s extended family.

Etymology doesn’t help—it only highlights that the apples and oranges here are how the thing is made and how it moves. Poetry is from the Greek poiein, “to make”: a poem is something made, or in English we would more naturally say crafted. Yet everyone agrees good prose is well crafted, too. Prose means, literally, “straightforward,” from the Latin prosa, proversus, “turned to face forward” (whereas verse is all wound up, twisty and snaky, “turned” in every direction except, apparently, forward). Yet we all know that poems can be clear and direct, too, especially when they’re songs. Read More »

Strandelion, and Other News

April 2, 2015 | by

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From a 1960 German postage stamp.

  • The politics of genre fiction: “the current preoccupations of the crime novel, the roman noir, the krimi lean to the left. It’s critical of the status quo, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly. It often gives a voice to characters who are not comfortably established in the world … The thriller, on the other hand, tends towards the conservative, probably because the threat implicit in the thriller is the world turned upside down.”
  • Mark Strand’s final interview takes a fittingly existentialist turn: “I don’t know why I was born ... here I am: a sentient being, talking about life. I had the luck to be born a human being who can speak. I might have been a dandelion or a goldfinch. I might have been a buffalo in the zoo. A fly! I don’t know why I’m here.”
  • Philip Pullman has a transcendently simple (and hyperrealist) way of working through writer’s block: “If you’re stuck, if you’re really desperate—dialogue: ‘Hello.’ ‘Oh hello.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Not too bad, thanks. How are you?’ ‘Not too bad.’ Half a page already.”
  • Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “was one of the only books that James Joyce, his eyesight fading, allowed himself to read while taking breaks from Finnegans Wake.” (Other admirers: Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, E. B. White, Sherwood Anderson, William Empson, and Rose Macaulay.)
  • Before he decamped for England and a lifetime of Anglophilia, T. S. Eliot “spent his formative childhood summers in a wood-shingled, seven-bedroom seaside house on Gloucester’s Eastern Point, built for his family in 1896.” The T. S. Eliot Foundation plans to turn the house into a writers’ retreat.

The Book Cover That Judges You Back, and Other News

February 3, 2015 | by

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Anyone who regards this cover with an iota of judgment on his face will be forbidden to access it. Photo via the Guardian

  • Two “virile” bronze figures—a pair of totally ripped guys riding ferocious panthers—may be the work of Michelangelo, experts say. If their research is accurate, these would be Michelangelo’s only surviving bronzes. “In addition to welcoming new input from outside researchers between now and summer, those currently involved in the project will undertake further research of their own. Mr. Abrahams, for example, plans to meet with a bodybuilder to compare his physiognomy to that of the sinuous statues.”
  • Today in power reclamation: a book that judges you by your cover, thus standing up for books everywhere. “Thijs Biersteker of digital entrepreneurs Moore has created a book jacket that will open only when a reader shows no judgment. An integrated camera and facial recognition system scans the reader’s face, only unlocking the book ... when their expression is neutral.”
  • This weekend in Moscow, one of the Russia’s largest libraries, the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, caught fire—but firefighters were able to save a quasi-miraculous 85 percent of the books. “The books did not suffer,” the director told the press.
  • A new biography on T. S. Eliot’s earlier years reassesses his marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood “as a union between two profoundly damaged people, each of whom believed they could be a healer for the other: a dire recipe for a happy marriage. Eliot wrote a good deal later that ‘all I really wanted of Vivienne [both of them sometimes used this spelling] was a flirtation or a mild affair.’ ”
  • Living in the Future is a magazine that “calls for rapprochement between the art world and the subculture of the science fiction magazine … The magazine embraces the strange and deranged aspects of science fiction which stand apart from the reasoned, cognitive tradition associated with the writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, with their engineer stories and defiantly flat characterization.”

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Now in Fabulous 4-D, and Other News

December 9, 2014 | by

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An audience watching a 3-D “stereoscopic film” in 1951. Photo: UK National Archive

  • On the letters of T. S. Eliot: “Despite having spent years wanting to know more about Eliot, I find the prospect of his complete correspondence—of which there are three-and-a-half decades still to go—boring beyond tears … the diplomatic mass of rejection slips and luncheon appointments … [the] deadening epic of polite notes.”
  • There’s no stopping the future, and the future is 4-D movies, which integrate wind, rain, scents, motion, and bubbles into the film-going experience, making it all the more immersive—arguably immersive to a fault. “If you take issue with your seat’s lilts, jolts, and prods (or having air blasted into your ear), you’re sadly out of luck. Aggressive warning labels caution you against placing lidless beverages in your cup holder lest your Sprite end up in your lap. Hot drinks are forbidden for obvious reasons.”
  • Are you tired of referring to December 16 as “Jane Austen’s birthday”? Doesn’t have a very nice ring to it, right? It would be so much easier simply to call it Jane Austen Day, which is what the Jane Austen Centre proposes you do. Go ahead.
  • Syntactically dubious headline of the day: BLINDFOLD SEX KNIFE ATTACK EX-WIFE JAILED FOR MURDER ATTEMPT.
  • “If the snow on the roof melts off, the next storm will be rain. If it blows off, you can calculate on snow. The day of the month on which the first snowstorm comes gives the number of storms you can expect in the following winter.” New Englanders have plenty of gloriously unfounded lore about snow.

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Balzac the Intern, and Other News

September 29, 2014 | by

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A drawing of Balzac attributed to Achille Devéria, ca. 1820.

  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, interviewed the Moroccan writer Abdelfattah Kilito: “A writer was a sort of creator, naturally, but I always liked to think of him as a reader as well—a great reader. By way of his writing, I tried to make out, or guess at, what he’d read. A sort of literary voyeurism. And the writer would often show his hand, as though by chance. I felt a wonderful sense of complicity when I was able to recognize a title, or a line of poetry, or an allusion.”
  • Once he’d graduated from the Sorbonne, Balzac took an internship at a Paris law firm. “An intern is to the Civil Service what a choirboy is to the Church, or what an army child is to his Regiment, or what rats and sidekicks are to Theatres: innocent, gullible, and blinded by illusions,” he wrote in 1841’s The Physiology of the Employee.
  • On Scorsese’s new NYRB doc, which debuted this weekend: “Most literary publications, running smoothly, are about as well suited to cinematic narrative as a long-term janitorial project. Scorsese has attempted to pep things up by casting the Review as a front-lines political journal with a rock-star stable of writers. The result is forced, befuddled, and frequently weird. Still, it’s a fine introduction to the long arc of the paper’s history.”
  • The art of recording: John Vanderslice quit his job as a waiter at Chez Panisse to open one of the most innovative recording studios in the country. His mantra: “sloppy hi-fi,” which means “capturing loose, spontaneous performances on the best microphones in the world. It means gritting a pretty song with white noise, pink noise, high-quality distortion (not an oxymoron: ‘It has to be high-quality distortion’), tube amps, and tube compressors, and also by physically distressing and damaging the tape. Basically, Vanderslice wants powers of violence over the loveliest sounds.”
  • Today in highly unforeseen merchandise: “Prufrock”-themed flats. “These flats feature a mix of lines from the poem and theme collage imagery (peaches, mermaids, coffee spoons, etc). The edges and flexible areas of the flats are black for an extra accent.” (Also available: Pride and Prejudice and Catcher in the Rye flats.)

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