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Posts Tagged ‘time travel’

Back to Chicago

June 15, 2015 | by

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From a travel-poster advertising Chicago ca. 1910.

Last night, I discovered a portal to another time and place—specifically, Hyde Park, Chicago, in June 2000. I hadn’t meant to, but when I opened a new tube of peppermint foot cream, there I was. The smell had transported me.

Like all sense memory, smell is evocative for many people—for some of us more so than music or even taste. The Stanislavski method often involves conjuring smell to infect the audience with theater’s noble ecstasy. But until last night, I had not known its true power. Read More »

Tarnishing the Golden Ratio, and Other News

June 5, 2015 | by

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Igor Kochmala distorts celebrity faces with the golden ratio. Photo via Wired

  • Two centuries ago, book critics were a reliably truculent bunch, their knives always sharpened, their authority indisputable—what happened to journals like Blackwood’s, which had what Karl Miller later called “squabash, bam, and balaam”? “Parody, personality, and headlong jollity summed up the Blackwood's manifesto, while imitation, masquerade, and double bluff lay at the heart of its personality. The contributors, who hid behind noms de plume, imitated both one another and themselves, and passed themselves off as sometimes real and sometimes fictitious characters.”
  • When you’re next inclined to wring your hands over the state of mass media, don’t—it’s always been full of down-market sensationalism, and it’s always appealed to our inner morons. Yes, even the New York Times: “Here’s a story from July 7, 1884 that has all the Facebook-ready hyperbole and anthropomorphism of ‘15 Llamas Who Just Do Not Give A Damn’: ‘THE PARROT’S LITTLE JOKE.; HE HIDES HIMSELF FROM HIS MISTRESS AND THROWS HER INTO A FIT OF ANGUISH.’ ”
  • The Bloomsbury Group has inspired new novels, a ballet, a TV series, exhibitions, and—lest we forget—an economics prize; it sometimes seems the group’s reputation has never been higher. “But it is not long since the most recent round of Bloomsbury-bashing, a century-old sport often said to have started when the painter Wyndham Lewis fell out spectacularly with Roger Fry, over (of all things) a commission to create a display for the Daily Mail’s Ideal Home show … By the 1950s, Bloomsbury’s unfashionableness was a fact. Writings by the survivors took on an aggrieved and defensive tone: literary critic and broadcaster Desmond MacCarthy dismissed the term Bloomsbury as a ‘regional adjective’; Clive Bell claimed they had never been more than a group of friends; Vanessa suggested Bloomsbury was finished before the first world war.”
  • Ah, sweet 1.618, the golden ratio, that ancient proportion of aesthetic bliss, that geometric path to pulchritude—there are those among us who hold it up as the sine qua non of artistic appeal. And yet if you rearrange celebrities’ faces according the ratio, you wind up in the realm of sheer disfigured horror.
  • Sam Lipsyte on time travel as a chance to right the world’s wrongs: “the do-gooder package tour, the warn-Pompeii-kill-Hitler itinerary. It’s a dicey proposition, messing with the past. But wouldn’t my intrusions cancel each other out if I brought a teen Hitler to Pompeii just before Vesuvius blew? ‘I’ll leave you here,’ I’d say. ‘The new arts academy is just over that ridge!’ ”

Urgent Questions for Librarians, and Other News

June 2, 2015 | by

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A question to an NYPL librarian from October 1976. Photo: NYPL, via the Guardian

  • “My idea of hell on earth,” Philip Larkin wrote once, “is a literary party.” He had in mind the Oxford parties of his era, which, much like the Oxford parties of this era, comprised “a lot of sherry drill with important people.” But what if those parties were in fact really entertaining, as at least one guest avows they were? “God, they were fun. Ever since Mrs. Dylan Thomas, at a literary party, stuck her elbow into the bowl of ice cream that T. S. Eliot was eating from, before presenting it to the great poet with the instruction to ‘Lick it off,’ these things have been democratic, argumentative and often memorable.”
  • “Please give me the name of a book that dramatizes bedbugs?” “What is the significance of the hip movement in the Hawaiian dance?” “Is it good poetry where every other line rhymes, instead of having each line rhyme with the one before it?” Questions for librarians at the New York Public Library before there was the Internet.
  • Saul Bellow’s portraitist remembers their encounter: “Bellow talked all the while, about life in New York when he was younger, his cohorts and various writers. What a duplistic moment for me: I had to ask him to be quiet so I could take some close-ups. He was fidgety even while cooperating. He picked up a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets and began reading, first quietly, and then aloud. I listened for a few minutes, and cringing apologetically, shushed him again.”
  • If Louise Erdrich could go back in time, she’d go to prison, as long as the company was good: “I am stranded for a few days in a comfortable jail cell with Walt Whitman and Henry James. I take one side of the room, share a bunk with Emily Dickinson. We listen in on their awkward conversations, exchange sharp glances of amusement.”
  • Max Mathews, who died in April, wasn’t the first person to make sounds with a computer—but his experiments with an IBM 704 mainframe in 1957 were the first to use “a replicable combination of hardware and software that allowed the user to specify what tones he wanted to hear.” He was the first computer musician: “He provided the initial research for virtually every aspect of computer music, from his early work with programming languages for synthesis and composition … to foundational research in real-time performance … Max also helped start the conversation about how humans were meant to interact with computers by developing everything from modified violins to idiosyncratic control systems such as the Radio Baton.”

Mocha Dick, and Other News

August 22, 2014 | by

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Image: Creative Editions/Randall Enos, via the Atlantic

  • At the Morgan Library and in England, Jane Austen miscellanea abounds: recent years have seen the discovery, exhibition, and/or sale of Austen’s turquoise ring, Austen’s nephew’s memoirs (with her handwriting somewhere among the pages), Austen’s teenage notebooks, fragments of her unfinished novel, a stone shield excavated from a house near her birthplace …
  • “Once a sci-fi plot conceit, time travel has become among the most popular structural devices in contemporary fiction. Today ‘time machine fiction’ reigns supreme.”
  • Before Moby-Dick there was Mocha Dick—not a coffee-chocolate phallus but “a real-life whale … who fought off whalers for decades before being killed by harpoon.” It was a magazine story about Mocha that inspired Melville to write his novel; now, in a new illustrated book, Mocha Dick: The Legend and the Fury, the original whale gets his due.
  • The history of nine terms of endearment, including such perennials as sweetheart (1290) and sugar (1930), but also some deep cuts: mopsy (1582), bawcock (1601), and prawn (1895), the last of which ought to come into vogue again any minute now.
  • A manual for the first computer game—“The Ferranti Nimrod Digital Computer,” dubbed “Faster than Thought”—has sold for $4,200. The computer was designed specifically to play “a match-stick game called Nim that was played in the French movie L’Année Dernière à Marienbad.”

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