I have always been fascinated by the daily rituals and routines that govern people’s everyday lives. Daily Routines has compiled a wide and varied selection of such rituals, taken from interviews and biographies of some of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers. It makes for fascinating reading – even if browsing the daily routines of others leaves little time for our own.

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A new title from Cork University Press:

Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies (Cork University Press)
Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies (Cork University Press)
Employing a wide range of critical perspectives and new comparative contexts, Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies breaks new ground in O’Brien scholarship by testing a number of popular commonplaces about this Irish (post-) Modernist author. Challenging the narrative that Flann O’Brien wrote two good novels and then retired to the inferior medium of journalism (as Myles na gCopaleen), the collection engages with overlooked shorter, theatrical, and non-fiction works and columns (‘John Duffy’s Brother’, ‘The Martyr’s Crown’, ‘Two in One’) alongside At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, and An Béal Bocht. The depth and consistency of O’Nolan’s comic inspiration that emerges from this scholarly engagement with his broader body of work underlines both the imperative and opportunity of reassessing O’Brien’s literary legacy. (more…)

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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“With a Spartan rigour which never ceased to amaze his landlord-grocer, Nietzsche would get up every morning when the faintly dawning sky was still grey, and, after washing himself with cold water from the pitcher and china basin in his bedroom and drinking some warm milk, he would, when not felled by headaches and vomiting, work uninterruptedly until eleven in the morning. He then went for a brisk, two-hour walk through the nearby forest or along the edge of Lake Silvaplana (to the north-east) or of Lake Sils (to the south-west), stopping every now and then to jot down his latest thoughts in the notebook he always carried with him. Returning for a late luncheon at the Hôtel Alpenrose, Nietzsche, who detested promiscuity, avoided the midday crush of the table d’hôte in the large dining-room and ate a more or less ‘private’ lunch, usually consisting of a beefsteak and an ‘unbelievable’ quantity of fruit, which was, the hotel manager was persuaded, the chief cause of his frequent stomach upsets. After luncheon, usually dressed in a long and somewhat threadbare brown jacket, and armed as usual with notebook, pencil, and a large grey-green parasol to shade his eyes, he would stride off again on an even longer walk, which sometimes took him up the Fextal as far as its majestic glacier. Returning ‘home’ between four and five o’clock, he would immediately get back to work, sustaining himself on biscuits, peasant bread, honey (sent from Naumburg), fruit and pots of tea he brewed for himself in the little upstairs ‘dining-room’ next to his bedroom, until, worn out, he snuffed out the candle and went to bed around 11 p.m.”

— Curtis Cate, Friedrich Nietzsche

Clare Carlisle (The Guardian) outlines the religious philosopher’s attitudes and opinions:
soren-kierkegaard-portrait
Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard experienced much suffering in his relatively short life. By the age of 25 he had lost both his parents, and five of his six siblings. In addition to this, his sensitive temperament, his tendencies to melancholy and anxiety, and his difficult relationships to his father and his one-time fiancée Regine gave him an intimate understanding of various kinds of psychological pain. Rather than avoiding or denying suffering, Kierkegaard was unusually willing to confront it and investigate it. His sensitivity to suffering extended to others: one of his friends remembered that “he gave consolation not by covering up sorrow, but by first making one genuinely aware of it, by bringing it to complete clarity”. (more…)

An excerpt from a 1994 interview with jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.

A broad freedom of expression was available in the jazz vocabulary. And Henderson says he misses it these days.

“I’ve done some free things because there’s a part of me that is a bit of an iconoclast and was especially so at that time. Part of the spirit then was just to reject all that stuff like bar lines and key signatures. We didn’t want to know about it.

“So part of the thing then was just to get up on the bandstand. I became a little self-conscious about people coming in with their own music and parts written out for everyone to play and totally displacing what others might want to bring. I just said, ‘Let’s play’ and didn’t want to interfere by even suggesting a title for a tune. (more…)

Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt
Geoff Smith interviews Arvo Pärt

At a time when publicists worldwide are clamouring to apply the media driven rules of popular culture to sell ‘high’ art, the music of Arvo Part seems particularly vulnerable. The ‘minimalist’, ‘mystical’, ‘contemplative’ tags and their tired associative meanings abound, as does the continuing image of Part the pious pontiff. (more…)

In his introduction to Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms, translator and scholar R. J. Hollingdale describes the philosopher’s daily routine

From the age of 45 until his death 27 years later Schopenhauer lived in Frankfurt-am-Main. He lived alone, in ‘rooms’, and every day for 27 years he followed an identical routine. He rose every morning a seven and had a bath but no breakfast: he drank a cup of strong coffee before sitting down at his desk and writing until noon. At noon he ceased work for the day and spent half-an-hour practicing the flute, on which he became quite a skilled performer. Then he went out for lunch at the Englischer Hof. After lunch he returned home and read until four, when he left for his daily walk: he walked for two hours no matter what the weather. At six o’clock he visited the reading room of the library and read The Times. In the evening he attended the theatre or a concert, after which he had dinner at a hotel or restaurant. He got back home between nine and ten and went early to bed. He was willing to deviate from this routine in order to receive visitors. (more…)

Mason Currey (Slate), author of the excellent Daily Rituals, shares details of artists’ lives

6d531-early-morning-window-sunlightA friend of Frank Lloyd Wright’s once observed that for as long as she had known him, the architect seemed to spend the day doing everything but actually working on his building designs. He held meetings, took phone calls, answered letters, supervised students—but was rarely seen at the drafting table. The friend wanted to know: When did Wright conceive the ideas and make the sketches for his buildings? “Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning,” Wright told her. “I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4 and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.” Wright was hardly unusual in this habit. In researching Daily Rituals, I came across story after story of creative artists who did their most important work—and sometimes their only work—just as the sun was rising. (Of the 161 figures in the book, about a third got up at 7 a.m. or earlier.) If I were going to extrapolate one lesson from the book, it would be this: Get up early and go straight to work, making a cup of coffee if you like but not doing much else before sitting down, and take advantage of that time before the myriad demands of daily life have a chance to take hold. (more…)

Friedrich Schiller's workspace. Photograph: Patrick Lakey.
Friedrich Schiller’s workspace. Photograph: Patrick Lakey.

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With quietism like yours one could fill a hundred years with happiness. Whether one showed you an execution or a little finger, you would extract an equally edifying thought from both of them, and would still be content. That’s the way to get on in life.

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

The New Yorker weighs in on the Norwegian author’s mass appeal

knausgaard-mystruggle-volume1-deathinthefamilyOnce you have begun reading the books in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical novel, “My Struggle,” it is difficult to stop talking about them. In the author’s native Norway, where around one in nine people have purchased copies, some employers have had to impose Knausgaard-free days in the workplace. In the U.S., where the third volume of the book was released last week, fiction writers like Rivka Galchen, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner have reviewed his books rapturously, and Zadie Smith has likened them to crack. On this week’s Out Loud, Sasha Weiss, the literary editor of newyorker.com, discusses Knausgaard’s work with the magazine’s deputy fiction editor, Cressida Leyshon, and archives editor, Joshua Rothman, who reviewed volume three for Page-Turner. (A short story adapted from the book was published in the magazine in February.) (more…)

Olivia Laing (The Guardian) offers a brief history
Jane Bowles
Jane Bowles

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as I did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer? [Read More]

Personally I’ve never met any intellectuals. I’ve met people who write novels, others who treat the sick; people who work in economics and others who compose electronic music. I’ve met people who teach, people who paint, and people of whom I have never really understood what they do. But intellectuals? Never.

— Michel Foucault, Ethics

A collection of essays edited by Julian Murphet, Rónán McDonald, and Sascha Morrell (from Bloomsbury):
Flann O'Brien & Modernism (Bloomsbury)
Flann O’Brien & Modernism (Bloomsbury)

Flann O’Brien & Modernism brings a much-needed refreshment to the state of scholarship on this increasingly recognised but still widely misunderstood ‘second generation’ modernist. Rather than construe him as a postmodernist, it correctly locates O’Brien’s work as the product of a late modernist sensibility and cultural context. Similarly, while there should be no doubt of his Irishness, and his profound debts to Irish language, history and culture, this collection seeks to understand O’Brien’s nationally sensitive achievement as the work of an internationalist whose preoccupations reflect global modernist trends.

The distinct themes and concerns tracked in Flann O’Brien & Modernism include characterization in branching narrative forms; the ethics and paradoxes of naming; parody and homage; lies and deception; theatricality; sexuality; technology and transport; and the inevitable matter of drink and intoxication.

Taken together, these specific topics construct a mosaic image of O’Brien as an exemplary modernist auteur, abreast of all the most salient philosophical and technical concerns affecting literary production in the period immediately before and after World War Two. [Read More]