Working from recently declassified documents disclosed in The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, the BBC World Service tells the extraordinary story of how the CIA conspired with a Dutch spy to publish a Russian edition of Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago and smuggle it into Russia by sneaking it into the hands of Soviet attendees at the Brussels Universal and International Exposition in 1958. Zhivago was banned by the Soviets, who also forced Pasternak to renounce the Nobel Prize in literature, which he was awarded that year. Read the rest
Patent-generator is a Github-hosted python script that turns literary texts into patent applications, with descriptions of the accompanying diagrams (here's Kapital, AKA "A method and device for comprehending, theoretically, the historical movement"; and here's Heidegger's The Question Concerning Technology, AKA "A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth"). Read the rest
UPDATE: I was had! This piece by writer AS Hamrah and illustrator R. Sikoryak was a brilliant hoax that first appeared in 1999 in the excellent Hermenaut magazine. Forgive me while I continue to believe that it's all true.
Unlikely pen pals: Nobel Prize-winning novelist/playwright/poet Samuel Beckett and artist Ernie Bushmiller, creator of one of my favorite comics of all time, Nancy. In 1952, Beckett struck up a correspondence with the cartoonist that was recently uncovered while Bushmiller's estate was prepped for auction. The American Reader published some excerpts and analysis. The conversation starts with Bushmiller's panel, seen above, riffing on some gag ideas for Nancy that Beckett sent him in a letter that is unfortunately lost: Read the rest
At The New Yorker, Jon Michaud looks at why Frank Herbert's space opera, Dune, endures despite failing to ender the public consciousness the way Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have.
There are no “Dune” conventions. Catchphrases from the book have not entered the language. Nevertheless ... With daily reminders of the intensifying effects of global warming, the spectre of a worldwide water shortage, and continued political upheaval in the oil-rich Middle East, it is possible that “Dune” is even more relevant now than when it was first published. If you haven’t read it lately, it’s worth a return visit. If you’ve never read it, you should find time to.
A good article, which points out how the first novel's brilliance has been obscured by a distinctly second-rate franchise. A more salient reason Dune didn't penetrate massivedom, though, is simply that the movie wasn't good enough and it bombed. To seal the pop culture deal—and popular culture isn't quite the same thing as mere success or awareness—the screen is all-important. It's the moment of translation, the emergence of a story from the cocoon of literature to the glare of popular culture in all its splendor and squalor. A brilliantly-imagined but confused movie by David Lynch made Dune too weird, and a SyFy TV series made it too cheap. This puts it where Lord of the Rings was before Peter Jackson: pregnant with cinematic possibility, but misshapen by prior efforts.
But hey, it could be worse! You could be into Earthsea, which has had two movies made of it, each terrible in entirely different ways except one: both replaced the protagonist of color with a white dude. Read the rest
There is something perverse and voyeuristic about visiting the private homes of famous people. Yet, as time goes by, I find the grand fame of public figures less interesting than their personal doings. I once visited the house where Kafka died, near Vienna. The barrenness of that sanatorium was so like the bareness and modesty of his existence, as opposed to Kafka's phantasmagoric, paranoiacally complex writing.
Next to Kafka's humble bed was a small door where one would have to bend one's head to enter: on a white sheet of paper, attached with clear tape, was written: "Kafka WC." Not being British, I had no idea what those mysterious letters meant.
He started down the rough wooden steps. He ducked his head and then flicked the lighter and swung the flame out over the darkness like an offering. Coldness and damp. An ungodly stench. He could see part of a stone wall. Clay floor. An old mattress darkly stained. He crouched and stepped down again and held out the light. Huddled against the back wall were naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands. On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt. The smell was hideous.
Jesus, he whispered.
Then one by one they turned and blinked in the pitiful light. Help us, they whispered. Please help us.
The key, he adds: "What is revealed is even more terrifying that what I could have imagined." Read the rest
Anybody who has spent much time with children's literature knows that scarlet fever blinded Mary Ingalls.
But scarlet fever doesn't cause blindness.
Mary really did become blind, though, in real life as well as in the books, so what was the real culprit? A paper published this week in the journal Pediatrics speculates that it could have been viral meningoencephalitis — inflammation in the brain and in the membranes that surround the central nervous system.
There are several possible causes. In Europe and Asia, ticks can spread a virus that causes meningoencephalitis. West Nile virus can cause it, as well. So can the mumps. And so can herpes simplex type 1 — the oral herpes virus that is present in the vast majority of people.
Which means that this story not only has ties to the other Little House history pieces we've run here at Boing Boing — the meteorology of the Long Winter, and the crazy connection between the Ingalls' and a family of serial killers — it's also, possibly, another example of a heroine from children's fiction who had herpes.
The full paper, sadly, is behind a paywall. But The New York Times' Motherlode blog has a nice summary of it.Read the rest
Children's literature is about the wonder of discovering new worlds, the power of imagination, and the all the little triumphs and defeats that make up a life.
It's also an excellent place to find hypothetical questions that test the laws of physics.
For instance, presupposing that one could grow a peach to the size of a house, could one also really sail that peach across an ocean? And then, presupposing that one could harness the power of 501 seagulls, would that number of seagulls be sufficient to carry said peach through the air?
These are the questions posed in "James' Giant Peach Transport Across the Atlantic", a paper published last fall in the Journal of Physics Special Topics. Read the rest