Posts Tagged ‘Voltaire’
July 15, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in deeply disturbing ontological questions: in the not-too-distant future, we can reasonably expect to upload simulations of ourselves to computers to enjoy eternal digital afterlives. So, uh … as Michael Graziano asks: “Did you cheat death, or merely replace yourself with a creepy copy? I can’t pretend to have a definitive answer … My own perspective borrows from a basic concept in topology. Imagine a branching Y. You’re born at the bottom of the Y and your lifeline progresses up the stalk. The branch point is the moment your brain is scanned and the simulation has begun. Now there are two of you, a digital one (let’s say the left branch) and a biological one (the right branch). They both inherit the memories, personality, and identity of the stalk. They both think they’re you. Psychologically, they’re equally real, equally valid. Once the simulation is fired up, the branches begin to diverge … Is it all one person, or two people, or a real person and a fake one? All of those and none of those. It’s a Y.”
- For those of us still among the biologically alive, there are more pressing matters, like, what happens when you and your paramour build yourselves the perfect new home for your perfect new love, and then you break up? It happens, you know. Even to famous architects, whose work survives the love affairs as a tribute to a broken heart. Leanne Shapton writes, “My friend Niklas Maak, a writer and architecture critic, took me to a house on Sardinia where the actress Monica Vitti once lived. The house, called La Cupola, was designed and built by the Italian architect Dante Bini for Vitti and her then boyfriend, the director Michelangelo Antonioni, in the late ’60s … It was beautiful. It was a wreck. It blistered on the rocky hillside: a perfect dome, gray weathered concrete and granite connected by a bridge to an eroded staircase … Looking around the main room, it was easy to imagine Vitti stepping carefully, cinematically, barefoot down the banister-free staircase that Antonioni built to watch her descend. But by 1972, Vitti and Antonioni were at the end of their affair.”
- While we’re in an existential frame of mind, here’s Robert Moor on how it feels to take a hike only to find that you’re literally walking in circles: “When you read about circular trails, they are nearly always described in a tone of existential despair. A trail, the naturalist Ernest Ingersoll wrote, is a ‘happy promise to the anxious heart that you are going somewhere, and are not aimlessly wandering in a circle.’ A circular trail, then, is a cruel trick, a breach of trust … It has been thought for centuries that human beings have a natural tendency to walk in circles. In 1928, a biologist named Asa Schaeffer claimed to have shown experimentally that blindfolded people walk, run, swim, row, and drive automobiles in spiraling patterns, a phenomenon he attributed to a ‘spiral mechanism’ in the brain. The navigator William Gatty believed that people circled because of simple biological asymmetry: one leg tends to be longer or stronger than the other.”
- Fact: Voltaire didn’t merely play the lottery. He gamed it. “At a dinner party he discussed the matter with a young mathematician and scientist, Charles-Marie de La Condamine. Together they began to wonder: What if one could buy all the tickets in a given draw as soon as they were issued? No one individual could hope to, but a syndicate might. How this all worked is not clear from the remaining records, but work it did … One surviving piece of documentary evidence records that Voltaire ‘acquired all the ticket books on payment of a deposit without filling them in.’ Clearly he had an understanding of sorts with the notaries appointed to sell the tickets, and it seems that he did not have to pay the full price of the tickets, so certain were he and his associates—and perhaps the notaries selling the tickets, presumably cut in on the action—of winning.”
- A new exhibition shows Dr. Seuss’s insomnia-induced art, which “he called his ‘Midnight Paintings’. Although famous for his rhyming picture books, Geisel created topical and surrealist art, much of which was kept private until his death. This 1955 oil painting, depicting a child’s small place in the universe, was printed in Collier’s magazine alongside a poem that read: “From here on earth, from my small place, I ask of You way out in space: Please tell all men in every land / what You and I both understand. Please tell all men that peace is good. That’s all that need be understood / in every world in Your great sky. We understand. Both You and I.”
March 13, 2015 | by Ken Armstrong
A gruesome legal case turned Voltaire into a crusader for the innocent.
This article was reported and written by Ken Armstrong for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal-justice system.
On the night of October 13, 1761, cries rang from the shop of Jean Calas, a cloth merchant who lived and worked in the commercial heart of Toulouse, in the South of France. The eldest of Calas’s six children, Marc-Antoine, a moody, handsome man who was fond of billiards and gambling, had just been found dead. The family said he had been murdered—perhaps stuck with a sword by someone who slipped into the darkened boutique from the cobblestone street.
A crowd gathered outside the front door as investigators were summoned. A doctor and two surgeons, called to examine the body, found only a “livid mark on the neck.” They signed a report refuting the family’s account of some intruder with a blade, concluding that Marc-Antoine, twenty-nine, had been “hanged whilst alive, by himself or by others.”
Those last five words, “by himself or by others,” began an enduring mystery and a true cause célèbre, one that might have been the “crime of the century” for the 1700s had the cliché been in use back then. Voltaire, the philosopher, dramatist and propagandist—“the greatest amuser of his age” and the greatest polemicist—became obsessed with the case, and for years worked to eradicate what he considered to be a stain on his country, church, and courts.
Finally, a panel of forty judges sat in Paris to hear the case against Calas once again. The verdict they issued, 250 years ago this week, “echoed and re-echoed” in Europe and beyond. Voltaire, by appealing directly to the people, helped established the power of public opinion as a tool to fight injustice. To some legal scholars, the infamous case also marked the first stirrings of the global movement to end capital punishment. Read More »
February 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In Taiwan, a commemorative Valentine’s Day train ticket sold out in less than an hour: it takes you from “Dalin (大林, pronounced similarly to ‘darling’ in English) station in Chiayi County to Gueilai (歸來, literally: ‘come back’).” A journey any of us should be willing to make after we’ve behaved badly. It’s love on a real train.
- Voltaire in love: “She understands Newton, she despises superstition and in short she makes me happy.”
- But we can count on literature to remind us that things are not always so sweet. Here are the ten unhappiest marriages in fiction.
- Can atrocity be the subject matter of poetry? Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on Carolyn Forché’s new anthology.
- “I also like to catch dangling modifiers, because we all miss those … I have had authors who say that dangling modifiers are part of their style and don’t want to change them.” An interview with a crackerjack copyeditor.
June 26, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
- Flavorwire has outdone itself with this slideshow of authors’ wedding pictures. (Yup: that’s Hemingway and Hadley.)
- R.I.P. Nook—we hardly knew ya. (Which is, I suppose, the problem.)
- Reports of Leonard Cohen’s death, on the other hand, are greatly exaggerated.
- Beginning tomorrow, the Royal Shakespeare Company will begin tweeting out playwright Mark Ravenhill’s version of Candide. If this is the best of possible worlds, what, then, are the others?
- At Bookish, an exclusive peek into a day in the life of editor Amy Einhorn.
- Jane Austen may (or may not) replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note. She is, says Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King, “quietly waiting in the wings,” presumably for a spectacular, 42nd Street–style star turn that delights creationists the world over!
June 19, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
December 31, 2012 | by Rex Weiner
On a brisk December day in 1972, the SS Statendam left New York Harbor with an extraordinary passenger list. Theoretical physicists, science fiction writers, a handful of paying passengers, a reporter from the New York Times, media personalities, and a couple of distinguished literary figures, including Norman Mailer. All were aboard for the ship’s destination, Cape Canaveral, to observe Apollo 17, the last manned rocket launch to the moon.
As the skyline receded in the distance, two individuals in black leather jackets and boots tried discreetly to mingle with the other passengers on deck. Eschewing the one thousand dollar passage and without the freebies extended to celebrity guests and credited media, they had simply strolled on board at the last minute. Once the ship cast off they became—in the legal parlance of the sea—stowaways. Stowaways with a mission to rescue Norman Mailer from the clutches of a diabolical cabal of elite space imperialists.
Advance media hype surrounding the Voyage Beyond Apollo, as it was billed, promised stellar seminars, expert panel discussions, and learned presentations by marquee names, including former astronaut Capt. Edgar Mitchell, top NASA rocketeer Wernher von Braun, sci-fi hero Arthur C. Clarke, and Mailer, whose 1970 book, Of a Fire on the Moon, qualified him as an expert on space travel. Read More »