Posts Tagged ‘twentieth century’
December 22, 2015 | by Spencer Robins
We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!
What the philosopher learned from his time in elementary-school classrooms.
Every philosophy major has at some point had to answer the standard challenge: “What are you going to do, teach?” It’s especially frustrating after you realize that, for someone with a humanist bent and a disinterest in worldlier things, teaching is a pretty good career choice. Unemployables in the humanities might take comfort from the fact that one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, made the same choice. He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”)
By the time he decided to teach, Wittgenstein was well on his way to being considered the greatest philosopher alive. First at Cambridge, then as an engineer and soldier, Wittgenstein had finished his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, at once an austere work of analytic philosophy and—for some readers, Wittgenstein apparently included—an almost mystical experience. In it, he claimed charmingly and not without reason to have solved all the problems of philosophy. This was because of the book’s famous “picture theory of meaning,” which held that language is meaningful because, and only because, of its ability to depict possible arrangements of objects in the world. Any meaningful statement can be analyzed as such a depiction. This leads to the book’s most famous conclusion: that if a statement does not depict a possible arrangement of objects, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Ethics, religion, the nature of the world beyond objects … most statements of traditional philosophy, Wittgenstein contended, are therefore nonsense. And so, having destroyed a thousand-year tradition, Wittgenstein did the reasonable thing—he dropped the mic and found a real job teaching kids to spell. Read More >>
August 24, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Compared to other aspects of the book arts—typography, binding, tooling—the dust jacket is a pretty recent innovation. Depending on whom you ask, it was born either in 1833, to adorn an English novel called Heath’s Keepsake, or it was an earlier, French invention, a maturation of the yellow paper jackets their softcover books often came wrapped in.
In any case, the dust jacket didn’t come to Germany until around 1900—but by the birth of the Weimar Republic, nineteen years later, German artists were doing incredible things with the medium. The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic is a catalogue of the Jürgen and Waltraud Holstein collection, comprising the covers of a thousand books published between 1919 and 1933 by some 250 houses in Berlin. Between the two world wars, the city enjoyed an astonishing expansion in its book production and its libraries: from 1920 to 1927, about three hundred new publishing houses emerged, many of them intent on printing books that experimented with the latest advances in art and design. As Steven Heller explains at Design Observer, there was a practical reason for the design boom, too: Read More »
July 16, 2015 | by Jeffery Gleaves
A glossary of Boontling.
Between 1880 and 1920, the residents of a relatively isolated Northern California town called Boonville spoke a secret language. Boontling, as the locals called it, was an elaborate jargon developed either by the men working the hop fields who wished to keep their conversations private, or by women who wanted to gossip unobtrusively about a young lady who had found herself kaishbook (pregnant). Whatever its origins, the language soon spread through the small community, who used it to confuse outsiders. The lexicon included phonologically changed words borrowed from regional Appalachian dialect, Spanish, and the local Pomo Indian language; it later expanded to include invented figures of speech, nouns turned into verbs, onomatopoeia, and other neologisms.
In 1971, Charles C. Adams, who was widely recognized as an authority on the dialect, published Boontling: An American Lingo, a linguistic and historical study on the slang, which came complete with a dictionary. Here are a few of our favorites: Read More »
May 19, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Walter Russell (May 19, 1871–May 19, 1963) was the progenitor of a “new world-thought” centered on light; in books such as The Electrifying Power of Man-Woman Balance, The Book of Early Whisperings, and The Dawn of a New Day in Human Relations, he foresaw “a marriage between religion and science” in which the laws of physics would be rewritten. He believed that weight “should be measured dually as temperature is,” with “an above and below zero,” and that “the sunlight we feel upon our bodies is not actual light from the sun.” (Russell’s Wikipedia entry notes gingerly that his ideology “has not been accepted by mainstream scientists.”)
In what’s ostensibly his seminal text, The Secret of Light, he outlines a philosophy rife with capitalized Nouns and portentous pseudo erudition:
Man lives in a bewildering complex world of EFFECT of which he knows not the CAUSE. Because of its seemingly infinite multiplicity and complexity, he fails to vision the simple underlying principle of Balance in all things. He, therefore, complexes Truth until its many angles, sides and facets have lost balance with each other and with him.
Truth is simple. Balance is simple. Rhythmic balanced interchange between all pairs of opposite expressions in Natural phenomena, and in human relations, is the consummate art of God's universe of Light. It is also the Law. In this one fundamental Universal Law lies the balanced continuity of all creative expression in God’s electric wave universe of two conditioned lights in THE ETERNAL QUESTION seeming motion which record God’s One Whole Idea of Creation into countless seemingly separate parts of that Whole Idea.
He mastered the casual authority of the simple declarative sentence. A personal favorite: “Two-way sex-conditioned spirals are the consummate individuals of all Creation.”
To illustrate these hypotheses, Russell relied on diagrams that are as visually compelling as they are inscrutable. “All matter is created by dividing gravity into pairs,” he wrote in one. Another charts the location of every element along a “nine-octave cycle.”
May 6, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Even doll partisans—those of us who defend doll life from slander and prejudice and unfair film portrayals—have to admit that they’re sometimes terrifying. Indeed, I think it would be fair to say that the Edison Talking Doll is one of the scariest things ever made by man or demon. You have been warned.
The Edison Talking Doll is just what it sounds like: a doll, with a small phonograph in its body, mass-produced by Thomas Edison’s lab in the 1890s. Although it was a progenitor of Chatty Cathy and a hundred other loquacious toys, the Edison Doll didn’t catch on, for the simple reason that it opened a howling portal to hell. (Well, they claimed the relatively high price was a factor.) While we may assume that the poor sound quality is a result of wear and tear on the original wax cylinders, apparently that’s not the case; as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park’s site explains, “Even with a brand-new, unplayed record, the sound emitted by the talking doll was always distorted and unnatural.”
That’s putting it kindly. The doll … shrieks. It’s like an unearthly Carol Kane screaming in a wind tunnel, trapped in the body of a lifeless totem. Listen at your own risk.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
March 9, 2015 | by Andrei Codrescu
Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality, newly reissued, is not a memoir, a novel, or a poem, though it has been called all those names, and compared rightly with the works of Proust and Kafka. Blecher belongs in that company for the density and lyrical force of his writing, but he is also a recording diagnostician of a type the twentieth century had not yet fully birthed, but the twenty-first is honoring in the highest degree.
This is a book that soothes without sentimentality. Blecher chronicled his dying from both the interior of his body and the outside of nonexistence. He made that veil permeable: his words are vehicles traveling through the opaque membrane that surrounds the seemingly solid world. These are the “adventures” of the inside and the outside exchanging places, while being somehow exactly the same in the light of Blecher’s extraordinary sensibility. Nobody knows how to die. Max Blecher, because he was young and a genius, suggests a way that investigates, rediscovers life, and radiates beauty from suffering.
“Ordinary words lose their validity at certain depths of the soul.” Read More »