Reviews and News:
What do Russian diplomats do on long flights to other countries and return trips home? They write poetry: "For example, there's clearly too much dirt / Bottles, cans and other litter / They could use our snow to cover it like cotton / And the whiteness would soothe the eyes," Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Adamishin wrote about Italy on a three-hour flight to Rome in 1981. The rhythmic couplets, written in Russian, are among the first in a 541-page anthology of Russian and Soviet poetry by employees of the Foreign Ministry published in 2012."
Duke students color and sing songs in occupied administrative building as protest continues: "Jazmynne Williams, a Duke University sophomore, has spent the past week researching the history of workers' rights and political organization. She's also been coloring, singing songs, and writing poetry with eight other students. They've become fast friends. Ms. Williams is one of the students staging a sit-in on the Durham, N.C., campus that has attracted nationwide attention. It began last Friday, when the nine students, members of a group called Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity, occupied the Allen Building."
The young J. M. W. Turner was born in rowdy Maiden Lane, London, to a barber and wig maker and a mother who would shortly go mad. By his early thirties, he was painting "like an old master."
Yuval Noah Harari's unconventional account of the rise of civilization: "Calling the Agricultural Revolution 'history's biggest fraud,' Harari indicts the farming lifestyle for inflicting immeasurable pain and suffering on individual humans, even if it did benefit the species as a whole by 'enabl[ing] Homo sapiens to multiply exponentially.' He chronicles how, around 9000 b.c., foragers gradually and almost by accident developed techniques for cultivating the wild seeds and plants they had hitherto taken for granted. By the time they were done, a few centuries later, 'a series of trivial decisions aimed mostly at filling a few stomachs and gaining a little security had the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun.' The advent of farming laid a firm foundation for history as we know it, as the overwhelming majority of peasants labored to produce surpluses for an elite few. As Harari memorably puts it, 'food surpluses fuelled politics, wars, art and philosophy. They built palaces, forts, monuments and temples. . . . History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.'"
Remembering Stephen Spender: "The cameos alone in this beautifully written memoir are worth the price of purchase: A.J.P. Taylor throwing a fit in his garden in Oxford over the news that Hitler had invaded Russia; Mary McCarthy feuding in New York with a sinister, Stalinist Lillian Hellman; Guy Burgess making one of his last telephone calls before defecting to Moscow to the Spender home, hoping to catch Wystan (H. Auden), who was visiting, but who happened to be out; Patrick Leigh Fermor tipsily demonstrating 'survival techniques' in preparation for a trip Matthew was making to Marseilles with Conrad Asquith; Matthew's future wife Maro Gorky, incapable of keeping quiet as a teenager, interrupting A.J. Ayer at a dinner party, only to be told by an exasperated Stephen to 'SHUT UP.' Those familiar with the broad strokes of Stephen Spender's life will recognize such a moment as unusually forceful: even wandering around Spain on absurd missions for the Communists (who at one point had the young poet, born into independent means, nosing around for a missing Soviet freighter) he was famously mild-mannered, all aggression thoroughly passive"
Gay Talese was asked at a lecture which female writers inspired him. He said "none" and was subsequently eviscerated on Twitter. Dean Baquet responds to the story.
Another Shakespeare First Folio has been discovered.
The impossibility of changing The New York Times: "When I worked at the New York Times, from 2013 to 2015, my job was to lead a team in the creation, launch, and development of a new, revenue-driving product that would help restore growth to the company's bottom line — which, like the bottom lines of all newspapers around the world, has been endangered by wave after wave of new technology. During those two years, I got to see and be part of a great, mission-driven company's effort to grapple with moving into the 21st century, trying — for the first time in its existence, really — to be innovative and find new paths to growth. As someone who had spent most of his career working in and cofounding startups, it was big, heady stuff. It was also a resounding failure."
Essay of the Day:
In Standpoint, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz argues that while there are many languages in the world, "at base there are only two main forms of speech, each diametrically opposed to the other: the scientific and the poetic":
"One way to define the difference between them would be to say that science takes a myriad of phenomena and gives them one name, while poetry takes one phenomenon and gives it many names.
"The language of science is precise and well-defined, while the language of poetry is open and boundless. One can discuss the same topic in both languages, but these will be two very different discussions. For instance, a man who wants to praise his beloved's beautiful eyes will not say that they are about an inch in size and their colour is 1523 Angstrom; he might use instead an expression like "your eyes are like doves". This is surely a much less precise description, but one that gives great pleasure to the listener. On the other hand, woe to whoever uses poetic language when intending to mend shoes or build a bridge: the shoes will not be mended, and the bridge will not be a bridge.
"In everyday life, both languages intermingle; a poet who wants to buy bread will not ask for that which "sustains man's heart" (Psalms 104:15), while a scientist who wants to express his ideas may use images. In our time, scientific language plays an ever more central role. The world is now using, both directly and indirectly, the language of precise facts, while poetry (which, incidentally, is not always very high poetry, in both contents and language) is being pushed aside and confined to the sphere of poetry alone.
"But while scientific language is so much more widely used, even its users often feel its limitations. For indeed, how wonderful it is that the world is so full of dreams and beauty and other such magnificent things, and how sad it is when poetic ideas are pushed to the limits and limitations of the world and buried there.
"Our overdose on scientific language has caused a general sense of fatigue, which has created a yearning, manifest or hidden, to return to the other language, to that realm of grand, enticing and gripping sayings. Our world is turning to more emotional statements, to stronger and more daring expression. This poetic language is no longer confined to certain places, such as anthologies of poetry or outpourings of the soul. Instead, it infiltrates into the precise language, exists alongside it, and often is not even differentiated and defined as such. Indeed, poetic language clings to other ideas and ways of expression, and influences them."
Read the rest. (HT: Mosaic)
Image of the Day: Panda
Poem: Brendan Beary, "Write If You Get Work"
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