Recent quotes:

Dostoyevsky and Russia's soul

Dostoevsky, who traveled widely in Europe but was suspicious of it, despised passionately the revolutionaries and their desired revolution. He spent the 1860s and 1870s obsessing over Russia’s looming confrontation with itself. His four most important works (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Devils, and The Brothers Karamazov) are not simply novels, but rather dystopian warnings about what would happen if Russia did not return to its pre-Petrine origins.

Text analysis of Trump's tweets confirms he writes only the (angrier) Android half – Variance Explained

My analysis, shown below, concludes that the Android and iPhone tweets are clearly from different people, posting during different times of day and using hashtags, links, and retweets in distinct ways. What’s more, we can see that the Android tweets are angrier and more negative, while the iPhone tweets tend to be benign announcements and pictures. Overall I’d agree with @tvaziri’s analysis: this lets us tell the difference between the campaign’s tweets (iPhone) and Trump’s own (Android).

Do you pretend to enjoy Pinter? Shakespeare? Stoppard? You’re not alone | Lauren Mooney | Opinion | The Guardian

In one of the most wily marketing tactics I’ve ever seen, Stoppard has talked about his audiences growing stupider until he’s convinced people that anyone who doesn’t like him doesn’t Get It. So now people are reduced to trying to like him louder than each other, to prove to Tom Stoppard that they’re clever. Even though I once watched him fail to use an automatic door. I quite like Tom Stoppard plays, but I do think it’s worth remembering that, much like the girl I was at school with who had a bruised chin for six weeks because a boy she fancied told her to twist it round and round in her hand (true), not everyone who wants you to prove yourself to them deserves it.

Studying Dante

In the late nineteen-eighties, I spent a semester in Florence, where I sat in on a Dante course at the university. The entire term was devoted to the analysis of a single canto. As it happened, the canto was Inferno 19, which is devoted to simony. Dante reserves a special hole in the third sub-circle of the eighth circle of Hell for corrupt Popes; they are stuffed into it, one after another, headfirst. Their feet are then lit on fire. Among the issues the class discussed at length was how, exactly, new Popes could be accommodated. Had space been left open for all those that would come along? Or did each new arrival compress his predecessor into some kind of pontifical pesto?

Chaucer's day job

Chaucer’s London job was always a precarious one. The king’s own advisers and allies in the City of London colluded to put him there, as their fall guy in a major profiteering scheme. His job as controller of customs was to certify honesty of the powerful and influential customs collectors – including the wealthy and imperious Nicholas Brembre, long-term mayor of London – and to ensure the proper collection of duties on all outgoing wool shipments. This sounds routine enough, until we realise how much was at stake: in the 14th century, wool duties contributed one-third of the total revenues of the realm. What’s more, the collectors of customs whose activities Chaucer was expected to regulate were themselves wool shippers and wool profiteers on a grand scale, taking advantage of their positions to accumulate immense fortunes at public expense. Their wealth enabled them to become donors and lenders to the king, and to multiply their privileges and profits. As lone watchdog of customs revenues, Chaucer was hardly likely to bring them to heel. His job was, essentially, to look the other way.

The Russian soul

Joseph Brodsky wrote that Russia combined “the complexes of a superior nation” with “the great inferiority complex of a small country.” In a nation so tardily arrived at the banquet of European civilization, its mentality makes the world’s biggest country strangely provincial. But its smallness and its bigness offer an obvious metaphor for the extremes of the human psyche. “I can be led only by contrast,” Tsvetayeva wrote. In the eight time zones sprawling between the galleries of the Hermitage and the frozen pits of Magadan, there is contrast enough. Awareness of this unbridgeable distance makes Russian books, at their greatest, reflections of all human life — and suggests that the old cliché, the “Russian soul,” could lose the adjective.

Events are the future of the litbiz

Recall again all the schmoozing, learning, practice, hustling, reading upon reading upon reading that goes into the various editorial components of publishing; the pattern recognition; the storytelling that editors do, that sales reps do, that publicists do, that the bookstore staff does. Recall the average feted poet who makes more money at a weekend visiting-writer gig than her royalties are likely to earn her in an entire year. You begin to realize that the business of literature is the business of making culture, not just the business of manufacturing bound books. This, in turn, means that the increased difficulty of selling bound books in a traditional manner (and the lower price point in selling digital books) is not going to be a significant challenge over the long run, except to free the business of literature from the limitations imposed when one is producing things rather than ideas and stories.

You Should Seriously Read ‘Stoner’ Right Now -

Our most profound acts of virtue and vice, of heroism and villainy, will be known by only those closest to us and forgotten soon enough. Even our deepest feelings will, for the most part, lay concealed within the vault of our hearts. Much of the reason we construct garish fantasies of fame is to distract ourselves from these painful truths. We confess so much to so many, as if by these disclosures we might escape the terror of confronting our hidden selves. What makes “Stoner” such a radical work of art is that it portrays this confrontation not as a tragedy, but the essential source of our redemption.And this redemption, by the way, does not come in the form of religious revelation. “Stoner” contains almost no reference to God at all. Instead, revelation is triggered by literature. The novel is notable as art because it places such profound faith in art. (This is also what makes it so irresistible to writers.)

People read books, in part, to converse

What I’m asking is, what’s in it for society as a whole, or at least for that part of society that reads novels? Conversation. A shared subject of discussion. Something complex for minds to meet around. This is particularly the case when we’re talking to people we don’t know well, people we meet, as it were, socially. Of course there are plenty of other topics available. The weather. Sports. Politics. […]Novels—or films or television dramas for that matter—offer a feast of debate and create points of contact: are the characters believable, do people really do or think these things, does the story end as it should, is it well written?
In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is an object, place or person; other, more abstract types include money, victory, glory, survival, power, love, or some unexplained driving force.
What Kenna and Mac Carron found was that the epics fell between the real networks and the fictional ones. The network in The Iliad is relatively realistic, and Beowulf's also has realistic aspects, with the exception of the connections to Beowulf himself. That chimed with the idea from the humanities that he, unlike some others in the story, may not have existed. The Táin's network was more artificial. Interestingly, however, they found that a lot of the Táin's unreality was concentrated in just a few, grotesquely over-connected characters. When they theorized that some of those characters might actually be amalgams — for instance, that some of the times the queen of Connacht is said to speak to someone, it might be a messenger speaking for her instead — the network began to look more realistic. At least from a social network perspective, perhaps the Táin is not as fantastical as its reputation would suggest, the researchers proposed. That doesn't mean the events really happened, or that the people are real. But it raises the question of why the network looks the way it does.
Visible Prices is the tool that I wished for to help students grasp the economic content of literature, and to provide researchers with a means of studying how authors used prices in their texts. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane’s salary as governess to Mr. Rochester’s ward is £30 per annum. This database makes price back into a visible part of the reading experience by allowing students to discover what £30 meant in purchasing power, or to see how the salary that Bronte chose compared with those being offered at the time of composition and publication. Economic historians have, in the past, gathered price listings for staple goods and raw materials, such as wool and wheat. These records of the changing prices of a specific commodity have been formatted as excel spreadsheets, or as .txt files. They are readable, but not manipulatable, and are able only to track specifically focused inquiries, i.e. “What was the price of wheat recorded in France from 1825-1913?”. As printed documents have migrated onto the web, researchers have gained greater access to economic data, though the challenges of making it easy to combine and manipulate remain.
I remember the heavy gentle lift at my thighs and the ball curving back closer and my passing the ball and beating the ball in flight over the horizontal net, my feet not once touching the ground over fifty-odd feet, a cartoon, and then there was chaff and crud in the air all over and both Antitoi and I either flew or were blown pinwheeling for I swear it must have been fifty feet to the fence one court over, the easternmost fence, we hit the fence so hard we knocked it halfway down, and it stuck at degreesntitoi detached a retina and had to wear those funky Jabbar retina goggles for the rest of the summer, and the fence had two body-shaped indentations like in cartoons where the guy's face makes a cast in the skillet that hit him, two catcher's masks of fence, we both got deep quadrangular lines impressed on our faces, torsos, legs' fronts, from the fence, my sister said we looked like waffles, but neither of us got badly hurt, and no homes got whacked--either the thing just ascended again for no reason right after, they do that, obey no rule, follow no line, hop up and down at something that might as well be will, or else it wasn't a real one. Antitoi's tennis continued to improve after that, but mine didn't.
Thus a more rounded Holmes or Watson (or Falstaff) is found in a later work depicting a younger person. We don't see how that can justify extending the expired copyright on the flatter character. A contemporary example is the six Star Wars movies: Episodes IV, V, and VI were produced before I, II, and III. The Doyle estate would presumably argue that the copyrights on the characters as portrayed in IV, V, and VI will not expire until the copyrights on I, II, and III expire.
Stephen King, despite his wild commercial success, has nursed a lifelong gripe that he’s been overlooked by the literary-critical establishment. In 2003, King was given a medal by the National Book Foundation for his “distinguished contribution to American letters.” In his acceptance speech, he took the opportunity to chide all the fancy pants in the room—“What do you think? You get social academic Brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?”—and to ask why they made it “a point of pride” never to have read anything by such best-selling authors as John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and Mary Higgins Clark. Harold Bloom, the most finicky of finicky literary critics, went into a tizzy, calling the foundation’s decision to give the award to King “another low in the process of dumbing down our cultural life” and the recipient “an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.”
Henry James called Dickens the greatest of superficial novelists … “We are aware that this definition confines him to an inferior rank in the department of letters which he adorns; but we accept this consequence of our proposition. It were, in our opinion, an offence against humanity to place Mr. Dickens among the greatest novelists. . . . He has added nothing to our understanding of human character.” Many future offenses against humanity would follow: “It isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention,” The New York Times pronounced concerning Nabokov’s Lolita. “Kind of monotonous,” the same paper said about Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. “He should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all at that crumby school.” “An absurd story,” announced The Saturday Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, while the New York Herald Tribune declared it “a book of the season only.”
Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. Sure, there might be pictures mixed in with the text, but there didn’t tend to be many distractions. Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout, researchers said. We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.
In the short span of five years, table talk has shifted, at least among the people I socialize with, from books and movies to television. The idiot box gained heft and intellectual credibility to the point where you seem dumb if you are not watching it.
I spent some time this week trawling through customer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, in order to look for trends — paying particular attention to the scathing one-star reviews that inevitably warn all other readers against buying or reading the disliked book. Starred reviews affix to all works of literature a kind of efficiency rating, which over time average out to a meaningless valuation somewhere between the middle threes and the low fours. King Lear is valued at 3.87; Paradise Lost at 3.74; The Divine Comedy at 4.0. Although there is a great deal of variation in the five-star reviews, the one-star reviews are overwhelmingly alike, even across genres and styles of literature. I noticed the recurrence of three principal objections: (1) this book was confusing; (2) this book was boring; and (3) this book was badly written.