Here's former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on J.R.R. Tolkien, often seen as a reactionary but also the creator of a myth of Englishness completely opposed to fascism and other rotten boughs of capitalism.
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So, how do we now respond to Tolkien’s imagined world, a world that is hierarchical, notoriously short on female agents, and which was accused by the poet Edwin Muir of being populated exclusively by different-sized schoolboys? As with Lewis, the complaint about implied misogyny is regularly coupled with worries about racial stereotyping, the romanticising of violence and the reduction of moral issues to cosmic battles between absolutes.
It is worth noting that Peter Jackson’s superbly visualised film versions of Tolkien’s novels if anything intensify some of these problems. But things are not quite that simple. ...
...he ends up writing, despite himself, a story that is more of a novel than a myth. Myths have no authors, it has been said. Even with the apparatus of invented language and ethnography, Tolkien’s history and “legendary” are haunted by the self-awareness of a particular type of 20th-century author: English, Catholic, academic, intensely aware of the devastation of a very specific England by industrialisation and urbanisation, more stoical than optimistic, yearning for a shared social narrative that would reaffirm certain solidarities of faith and mutual respect; deeply conservative but just as deeply opposed to unexamined power and the tyranny of profit.
NYPL's Berg Collection ranks among the greatest collections of literary ephemera and artifacts, but it's been very hard to see these items until recently. Read the rest
Context, contemplation, careful study: things all but lost in the modern rush to shovel information into our eyeballs. Here's The Indy on slow reading, the antithesis of speed reading.
By default, most people read as quickly as they’re comfortable with – this happens without any conscious effort. To start slow reading, you read as slowly as you’re comfortable with – it should feel comfortable, not labored. The goal is to achieve an enjoyable experience – slow reading should never be stressful.
There's nothing new here, not even the term, found in Nietzsche ("perhaps one is a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading") more than a hundred years ago. But the Slow movement is recent, dating to Roman irritation at the opening of a McDonalds there in the 1980s. Read the rest
Joey from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination writes, "Frankenbook is a collective reading experience of the original 1818 text of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. The project is hosted by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, The MIT Press, and MIT Media Lab. It features annotations from over 80 experts in disciplines ranging from philosophy and literature to astrobiology and neuroscience; essays by science fiction authors, scientists, and ethicists; audio journalism; and original animations and interactives. Readers can contribute their own text and rich-media annotations to the book and customize their reading experience by turning on and off a variety of themes that filter annotations by topic; themes range from literary history and political theory to health, technology, and equity and inclusion. Frankenbook is free to use, open to everyone, and built using the open-source PubPub platform for collaborative community publishing."
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Lily Cole is a famous actress, model, and recipient of a double-first class degree in Art History from Cambridge University. How dare they appoint her a partner of the Brontë Society, formed to honor the creative heritage of the Brontë sisters, rants Nick Holland.
If you don’t know Lily Cole, and you’d be in the majority, she is described as ‘a model and social entrepreneur’ (whatever that is). I am unfortunate enough to have encountered Lily before as a few years ago I had a front row seat of a new play about Helen of Troy at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Lily had the title role, and the play was so bad that it is the only one I have ever walked out of at the interval. If the acting was bad, and believe me it was, the dialogue was even worse – one line in particular was of such clunking ineptitude that it has remained with me forever: ‘women smell my power, men smell like sex’. It was when Lily delivered this line with all the passion of the announcer at Piccadilly station that I began longing for the train home. This was, quite simply, the worst play I have ever seen, and the writer of it? Simon Armitage, the incumbent creative partner at the Brontë Parsonage Museum
Holland, declaring his intention to leave the society, was slammed as a snob.
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“I’m sorry that some people have felt angry about it or against it,” Brontë scholar Samantha Ellis told the Guardian.
Walks in Rome is an interactive map project that updates and modernizies a famous 1870 guidebook of Rome by August Hare. Read the rest
I haven't read a novel in ages and the internet, in its succession of increasingly short content forms, reduced my attention span to the first sentence of a tweet. But what more do I need to read in order to know what I have felt? From beyond the semiotic grave claws Umberto Eco, offering (via a review of Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read ) barbed comfort to those of us who suffer reference anxiety. On Unread Books.
... critical context is Bayard’s crucial point. He declares without shame that he has never read James Joyce’s Ulysses, but that he can talk about it by alluding to the fact that it’s a retelling of the Odyssey, which he also admits never having read in its entirety, that it is based on an internal monologue, that the action unfolds in Dublin during a single day, et cetera. “As a result,” he writes, “I often find myself alluding to Joyce without the slightest anxiety.” Knowing a book’s relationship to other books often means you know more about it than you do on actually reading it. ... An intriguing aspect of this book, which is less paradoxical than it might seem, is that we also forget a very large percentage of the books we have actually read, and indeed we build a sort of virtual picture of them that consists not so much of what they say but what they have conjured up in our mind.
And now we do this with the news, too. Read the rest
Japan-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go and A Pale View of Hills, is 2017's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The novelist was praised by the Swedish Academy as a writer "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".
On living on cultural peripheries:
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Ishiguro left Japan in 1960 at the age of 5 and did not return to visit until 1989, nearly 30 years later, as a participant in the Japan Foundation Short-Term Visitors Program. In an interview with Kenzaburō Ōe, Ishiguro acknowledged that the Japanese settings of his first two novels were imaginary: "I grew up with a very strong image in my head of this other country, a very important other country to which I had a strong emotional tie ... In England I was all the time building up this picture in my head, an imaginary Japan."
When discussing his Japanese heritage and its influence on his upbringing, the author has stated, "I'm not entirely like English people because I've been brought up by Japanese parents in a Japanese-speaking home. My parents didn't realize that we were going to stay in this country for so long, they felt responsible for keeping me in touch with Japanese values. I do have a distinct background. I think differently, my perspectives are slightly different." When asked to what extent he identifies as either Japanese or English the author insists, "People are not two-thirds one thing and the remainder something else.
Psych scholars from San Diego State and U Georgia used Google Books to systematically explore the growth of swear-words in published American literature: they conclude that books are getting swearier and that this is a bellwether for a growth in the value of individualism: "Due to the greater valuation of the rights of the individual self, individualistic cultures favor more self-expression in general (Kim & Sherman, 2007) and allow more expression of personal anger in particular (Safdar et al., 2009). Thus, a more individualistic culture should be one with a higher frequency of swear word use." Read the rest
Novelist Jane Austen will soon become the latest historical figure to be honored on a British banknote, and the Bank of England has revealed an early run of the printed bills. Tuesday is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death.
The author of classics like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma will take the place of biologist Charles Darwin on the £10 note. The Jane Austen tenner is expected to come out in September, 2017.
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The central bank has printed an initial run of a billion of the new notes, which are known in Britain as "tenners", after last year's launch of a five pound note made from a polymer film that the BoE said is more durable and harder to forge.
(...) The writer was buried in Winchester Cathedral in 1817 and completed many of her best-known works such as "Pride and Prejudice" and "Emma" in the nearby village of Chawton.
"Ten pounds would have meant a lot to Jane Austen, about the same as 1,000 pounds ($1,300) would mean to us today," BoE Governor Mark Carney said at the launch of the new note in Winchester.
Austen received a 10 pound publisher's advance for her first novel and the new banknote bears a quotation "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!" from her later work, "Pride and Prejudice".
The quotation came from a character who in fact had no interest in books and was merely trying to impress a potential suitor.
Last October, Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." Part of the requirement for receiving the award (and the prize money) is a lecture within six months of the Nobel ceremony. Dylan delivered his yesterday, just a few days before the deadline, and it's magnificent. Listen below.
(photo above by Charles Gatewood. Miss you!) Read the rest
Whitney Phillips is about to publish her second book on internet trolls: The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online, co-written with Ryan M. Milner during the 2016 election cycle, when trolling became an indomitable force for political goals. Read the rest
Paul Di Filippo has written a masterful, lively history of the many ways in which science fiction has explored the collapse of the American project, from JA Mitchell's 1889 The Last American to contemporary novels like Too Like the Lightning, Liberation, DMZ and Counting Heads. Read the rest
Paul writes, "Now you too can create miniature tales in the style of "The Gentleman of Providence" with LOVECRAFTIAN LETTERS - magnetic words featuring H.P. Lovecraft's unique vocabulary. This cyclopean set contains over 500 pieces with which to share your dark wisdom and Lovecraftian tales with friends, family & unnamable things from beyond..." Read the rest
Drew Mackie's video above, remixing the homoerotic glory of 80's anime Saint Seiya, is your shot. Meg Elison's short story at McSweeney's, "If women wrote men the way men write women", is your chaser. (Previously) Read the rest
Jorge Luis Borges's short story The Library of Babel describes an infinite library containing all possible books ("its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps"). Read the rest
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 went to Bob Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition". From the New York Times:
Sara Danius, a literary scholar and the permanent secretary of the 18-member Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, called Mr. Dylan “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition” and compared him to Homer and Sappho, whose work was delivered orally. Asked if the decision to award the prize to a musician signaled a broadening in the definition of literature, Ms. Danius jokingly responded, “The times they are a changing, perhaps,” referencing one of Mr. Dylan’s songs.
"Bob Dylan Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature" (NYT)
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