Author Robert Pirsig and his son Chris in 1968
Author Robert Pirsig and his son Chris in 1968

Sad to hear that Robert M. Pirsig, the American writer and philosopher best known for his “novelistic autobiography” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has died at the age of 88. Laurel Wamsley reports for NPR:

“Zen was published in 1974, after being rejected by 121 publishing houses. ‘The book is brilliant beyond belief,” wrote Morrow editor James Landis before publication. “It is probably a work of genius and will, I’ll wager, attain classic status.’

Indeed, the book quickly became a best-seller, and has proved enduring as a work of popular philosophy. A 1968 motorcycle trip across the West with his son Christopher was his inspiration.”

Pirsig was also the author of Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, published in 1991.

John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson…?) has written and directed a film celebrating the life and work of legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Entitled Chasing Trane, the documentary has been made with the full support of the Coltrane family, and has been granted access to the composer’s extensive back catalogue. Featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in jazz (Sonny Rollins, Wynton Marsalis), the documentary includes family movies that promise to reveal a new side to one of the towering artists of twentieth-century music. [Read More]

As spring arrives in Cardiff, I divide my time between teaching responsibilities and reading. This week marks the final week of semester before Easter break. In my spare time, I am reading Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead. And in light of Teju Cole‘s essay collection, Known and Strange Things, I have have also been keen to return to his breakthrough novel, Open City.

Over the weekend, I watched an interesting documentary on the life and work of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The film was produced for BBC’s Horizon series back in 1989, and in just under 49 minutes manages to mount an engaging profile of the twentieth-century thinker. The film includes interviews, anecdotes, and rare photographs of the people and places connected to the philosopher’s life. All in all, it’s a good general primer. For those interested in finding out more about Wittgenstein’s life, Ray Monk‘s excellent biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, is the place to go.

A glimpse into the singer’s lifelong pastime, and the texts that shaped his identity
d243e-bowie_burroughs
Bowie pictured with American writer William S. Burroughs, whose ‘cut-up method’ was adopted during the writing of Diamond Dogs

When David Bowie was 15 he read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a Beat Generation novel that inspired him to leave the cloister of London suburban life. For Bowie, the paperback novel offered more than just escapist fantasy, it could affect and change the way someone lived.

Alongside the influence of music and contemporary art on Bowie’s creative development, the songwriter drew on literature as a fertile resource of possibility and transformation. For example, the lyrics of Bowie’s 1974 album  Diamond Dogs adopted the ‘cut-up technique‘ of the experimental American writer William S. Burroughs, whereby existing passages are broken up and reassembled to create something new and original.

(more…)

Helen Hollyman (Munchies) talks to the American filmmaker and artist about his love of the espresso, the latte, and the cappuccino
b8c1d-davidlynch5
David Lynch

Do you remember the first time you drank a cup of coffee?
I don’t remember the first time exactly, but I’d like to think that I was loving coffee from an early age.

How early are we talking here?
I’m not sure, but I might have been quite little. Maybe three.

Three?
I’m not sure about that, but as a kid I always loved the smell of coffee roasting and brewing.

OK, so what do you consider a ‘good’ cup?
For me, it’s the flavor. It should have no bitterness, and it should be smooth and rich in flavor. I like to drink espresso with milk, like a latte or a cappuccino, but the espresso should have a golden foam. It can be so beautiful, Helen. (more…)

An exclusive glimpse inside a new online archive, cataloguing the Nobel laureate’s personal reading habits and artistic influences
samuel-becketts-library-dirk-van-hulle-mark-nixon
Dirk Van Hulle and Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s Library

The Beckett Digital Library (BDL) is a digital reconstruction of Samuel Beckett’s personal library, based on the volumes preserved at his apartment in Paris, in archives (Beckett International Foundation) and private collections (James and Elizabeth Knowlson Collection, Anne Atik, Noga Arikha, Terrence Killeen,…). It currently houses 757 extant volumes, as well as 248 virtual entries for which no physical copy has been retrieved.

The BDL module is a part of the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project and contains scans of book covers, title pages, all pages with reading traces, flyleaves, colophons, tables of contents, indexes and inserts of various kinds. In addition to facsimiles, the BDL also offers transcriptions of readings traces and links to Beckett’s manuscripts.

The BDL is accompanied by a monograph (Dirk Van Hulle and Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s Library, Cambridge UP, 2013)

What follows is an exclusive preview of the Beckett Digital Library (BDL), with quotations excerpted from Van Hulle’s and Nixon’s companion book. Each image presents an actual edition owned by the writer himself. (more…)

Joseph Schreiber (Rough Ghosts) reviews a new book from Kafka’s definitive German biographer
reiner-stach-is-that-kafka.jpg
Reiner Stach, Is That Kafka? 99 Finds

Is That Kafka?, a collection of 99 fragments, letters, reminisces and insights offers an image of a man who was warm, friendly and well liked by those who knew him. He comes alive here as anything but a soul tortured and crushed by life.

Newly released from New Directions, this entertaining, illustrated compendium of facts and photographs, texts and testimonies represents a selection of fascinating finds uncovered by Rainer Stach in the course of researching his acclaimed three volume biography of Kafka. These are exactly the sort of glimpses into Kafka, the man, that rightfully inform a sensitive biographical study but can easily get lost in the retelling. An affectionately curated collection such as this volume offers a chance to slip back in time and glimpse the human, humorous man behind a body of work that has acquired mythic dimensions that would likely have embarrassed, if not horrified, its creator. Translated by Kurt Beals, this richly illustrated volume is ideal for anyone who has found themselves drawn to Kafka’s work, a book best enjoyed at leisure, a few entries at a time. [Read More]

Tim Crane (TLS) reflects on the life and work of the enigmatic Austrian philosopher
ludwig-wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Among all twentieth-century thinkers, Ludwig Wittgenstein stands out as the one whose life fascinates almost as much as his work does. Even the life of Martin Heidegger, with his controversial Nazi connections and his later attempt to live the authentic life of a peasant, looks dull and suburban by comparison. Wittgenstein was born in 1889 into one of Austria’s richest families. His father was a self-made industrialist who built his fortune in iron and steel; his mother came from a Prague Jewish family. Ludwig was the youngest of eight siblings – he had three sisters and four brothers. Tragedy hit the family again and again. Three of Ludwig’s brothers committed suicide. The fourth, Paul, was a concert pianist who lost his right arm in the First World War and later commissioned works for the left hand from Ravel, Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith and Erich Korngold. (Music figured significantly in the family’s life: Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss were among the composers who heard their works performed at the Wittgenstein house in Vienna.) Ludwig originally studied engineering, first in Berlin and then in Manchester, where he became interested in the design of aeroplane propellors. At this time he developed a deep interest in mathematics and its foundations. Having studied the ground-breaking works of philosophy of mathematics by Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege, he visited Frege in Jena who advised him to study with Russell in Cambridge. Wittgenstein turned up, unannounced, at Russell’s rooms in Trinity College in October 1911, and discussed philosophy with Russell regularly over the next few months. Russell wrote to Ottoline Morrell that his “Austrian engineer” was “rather good” but “very argumentative and tiresome”. But Russell was sufficiently impressed to accept Wittgenstein as a student at Cambridge in 1912. Wittgenstein had a huge impact on the intellectual scene there, but throughout his life he claimed to dislike Cambridge and preferred to spend time writing and thinking in remote, isolated places (Norway and Ireland were favourites).

(more…)

Known as a chronicler of 20th Century life in America and beyond, the photographer reflects on how he approaches his art
ernst-haas
Photograph: Ernst Haas

“We can write the new chapters in a visual language whose prose and poetry will need no translation.”

— Ernst Haas

(more…)

david-lynch-home-beverly-johnson-house-studio-los-angeles-hollywood-hills.jpg

Some mornings, in a perfect world, you might wake up, have a coffee, finish meditation, and say, “Okay, today I’m going into the shop to work on a lamp.” This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a “setup.” For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen.

When you don’t have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn’t fulfill it—and that’s just a heartache.

— David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish

The New York Times posts an online gallery

From Arthur Lubow (The New York Times):

Her own residence, though, is the chief attraction. More than five years after her death, the house still feels inhabited by the woman who called it home. Dresses and coats hang in the closet. Magazines and diaries fill the bookshelves, which display the breadth of Bourgeois’s interests, including the “Joy of Cooking,” the Bhagavad Gita and J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories.” (more…)

I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.

— David Bowie

Just finished Oliver Sacks’ final collection of essays, Gratitude. Written in the last five years of his life, these short pieces form a fitting epilogue to his recent memoir, On the Move. Gratitude documents Sacks’ shifting attitudes towards his diagnosis of terminal cancer, alongside broader reflections on life, work, and relationships.

Stephen Moss (The Guardian) traces Beckett’s lifelong fascination with the game
1753d-beckett
Samuel Beckett
Beckett had a lifelong interest in chess and was a keen player, following many of the big matches, says his nephew, Edward, who oversees the Beckett estate. Samuel was taught to play by his elder brother, Frank, and by his uncle, Howard, who achieved the remarkable feat of beating the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca, later world champion, at an exhibition in Dublin. There are a score of chess books in the library of Beckett’s old flat in Paris, which is now occupied by Edward and his wife. Beckett played regularly with friends during the second world war, when he was holed up in France working for the Resistance; he liked to annotate master games – the chess books in his library are full of comments – and corresponded with Spanish playwright and fellow chess aficionado Fernando Arrabal. In the early 1940s, he also played – and lost to – Marcel Duchamp, an expert on the game who wrote a chess column for the Paris newspaper Ce Soir.

(more…)