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Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

A Vitreous Vault

March 24, 2014 | by

In 1918, when Josep Pla was in Barcelona studying law, the Spanish flu broke out, the university shut down, and Pla went home to his parents in coastal Palafrugell, Spain. Aspiring to be a writer, not a lawyer, he resolved to hone his style by keeping a journal. In it he wrote about his family, local characters, visits to cafés; the quips, quarrels, ambitions, and amours of his friends; writers he liked and writers he didn’t; and the long contemplative walks he would take in the countryside under magnificent skies. Nearly fifty years later, Pla published his youthful journal as The Gray Notebook, the first volume and capstone of the great Catalan writer’s collected works.

"Aigua Xelida (Palafrugell, Girona)" by Asier Sarasua Aranberri

Aigua Xelida (Palafrugell, Girona). Photo: Asier Sarasua Aranberri, via Flickr.

3 November 1918, Sunday. Spent with friends. Piera the tailor, Bonany, et cetera. I walk up to Sant Sebastià. A beautiful afternoon. The sinuous ribbon of road draws the loveliest afternoon light. I hear someone chopping wood in the distance. A donkey brays in a remote spot. A black-and-white magpie jumps over the green alfalfa. When I walk past Ros, I think, as I always do: I wish I owned Ros, the vineyard and the pinewood. By the hermitage, total solitude. Opposite Calella, boats—bobbing like walnuts—fish for squid. Two brigs appear on the Italian horizon, driven by a northeasterly wind. The sea is purple-edged beneath the hermitage terrace. Far out at sea, opposite Tamariu, another sailing ship is returning. A crabbing boat sails slowly by Cape Begur. An empty steamer passes arrogantly by, very close to land, spitting large mouthfuls of water overboard in fits and starts—like a dog barking. The water on the horizon turns deep violet; the water by the strip of land darkens. We circle the hermitage, marveling, awestruck. The afternoon seems in limbo, abstracted from time—a creation of the mind. If I could imagine or create another world, it would be a world like this.

We return at dusk. The road is thronged by the shadows of hunters and mushroom pickers; we hear the hum of invisible people conversing. As I stand on En Casaca bridge, I remember the frog that sang there in summer. The evening dissolves into a delicate gauze, a misty haze floating and shimmering above the land. The sky is very clear and the starlight cold and metallic. Read More »

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The Actual Return Upon Taxable and Tax-Exempt Securities

March 7, 2014 | by

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific prose available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: “The Actual Return Upon Taxable and Tax-Exempt Securities,” first published in the War Taxation: Some Comments and Letters, in 1917.

1838_Schumann_Die_eingeschlafene_Strickerin_anagoria

Wilhelm Schumann, The Sleeping Embroiderer, 1838.

Dear Sir:

Your letter indicates that you do not sufficiently realize the enormous advantage in interest yield which under the income tax schedule as fixed in the House Bill is possessed by tax-exempt securities as compared to taxable securities, especially, of course, in respect of large incomes.

Permit me to call your attention to the following eloquent facts:

The yield of tax-exempt securities at prevailing prices ranges from 3-1/2% to nearly 4-1/2%. Under the rates fixed in the War Revenue Bill as it passed the House of Representatives, a taxable 6% investment would yield:

 

 

per annum

2.28%

 on incomes over

 $2,000,000

2.34%

“““

1,500,000

2.40%

“““

1,000,000

2.69%

“““

500,000

2.97%

“““

300,000

3.26%

“““

250,000

3.54%

“““

200,000

3.90%

“““

150,000

4.20%

“““

100,000

Read More »

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Larger Than Life: An Interview with Will Self

August 9, 2012 | by

Last August, I interviewed Will Self—whose latest novel Umbrella has just been long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize—in his London home. I had been given two weeks to prepare and I was quite terrified. My terror was warranted; I had spent the last ten days immersed in his hallucinatory fictional worlds, composed of seven novels, three novellas, and countless short stories. Through these parallel and often overlapping fictions, Self has constructed a relentless critique of our institutional failings, hypocritical cultural mores, and political inadequacies. My fears, notwithstanding being intellectually dwarfed, were largely to do with the sheer madness of many of his writings. Here was the writer who, over the years, had invented:

1. A man who wakes up with a vagina behind his left knee and has an affair with his (male) GP (Bull: A Farce);

2. A parallel Earth populated by nymphomaniacal and exhibitionist apes seen through the eyes of its most prominent experimental psychiatrists (Great Apes);

3. The afterlife taking place in the purgatorial London district of “Dulston,” a suburb populated uniquely by senseless, chain-smoking dead people, haunted by their aborted fetuses and old neuroses, and living out the rest of infinity in dire office jobs (How the Dead Live);

4. A postapocalyptic London governed by a religion based on a cab driver named Dave’s insane writings to his estranged son in the 2000s (The Book of Dave).

And then there was the public figure—an acerbic satirist of towering intellect, a giant man of letters with a rhetorical bite strong enough to tear a lesser being apart. By the time I rang on the doorbell, Will Self had, to my mind, transmogrified into The Fat Controller—the Mephistophelian antihero in his My Idea of Fun—ready to shred me from limb to limb for my idiotic questions and inadequate readings.

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Hiding in Plain Sight

June 5, 2012 | by

Hanna Shell in camo.

Why do so many American soldiers look, as one Brooklynite at the office of Cabinet magazine put it on a recent Friday, like they are trying to blend in to computer screens? The question was directed at Hanna Rose Shell, a historian, filmmaker, and professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, who had come to New York to talk about Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance. Cabinet had arranged to host a reading and sound performance, which promised “camouflage paraphernalia galore.”

We soon found out the answer. It seems the pixelated, “digitized” designs have been standard issue across the branches for a decade, while the iconic, splotchy pattern of green, brown, olive, and black seen in episodes of G.I. Joe and the military-themed action movies of the 1980s is no longer predominant. Officially known as the Woodland pattern of the Army’s M81 battle dress uniform, the older, iconic camo was initially designed, Shell found, to mimic the environment of a region in the Soviet Union where military researchers thought the Cold War would turn hot. Though no longer used to hide soldiers, close approximations of this earlier version can be found today on cargo shorts and Louis Vuitton luggage. It’s been replaced with a series of tiny squares and “micropatterns” that mimic a digital photograph with poor resolution, with the idea that the new uniforms would be more difficult to detect in images produced by contemporary digital surveillance. Also, as a military camouflage expert admitted, “the boys think it looks cool.” Read More »

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