Boccaccio’s personal account of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, quoted in Paget Jackson Toynbee’s Dante Alighieri: His life and works

Our poet […] was of middle height, and after he had reached mature years he walked with somewhat of a stoop; his gait was grave and sedate; and he was ever clothed in most seemly garments, his dress being suited to the ripeness of his years. His face was long, his nose aquiline, his eyes rather large than small, his jaws heavy, with the under lip projecting beyond the upper. His complexion was dark, and his hair and beard thick, black, and crisp; and his countenance always sad and thoughtful. Whence it happened one day in Verona (the fame of his writings having by that time been spread abroad everywhere, and especially of that part of his Commedia to which he gave the title of Hell, and he himself being known by sight to many men and women), that as he passed before a doorway where several women were sitting, one of them said to the others in a low voice, but not so low but that she was plainly heard by him and by those with him, ‘Do you see the man who goes down to Hell, and returns at his pleasure, and brings back news of those who are below?’ To which one of the others answered in all simplicity: ‘Indeed, what you say must be true; don’t you see how his beard is crisped and his colour darkened by the heat and smoke down below?’ Dante, hearing these words behind him, and perceiving that they were spoken by the women in perfect good faith, was not ill pleased that they should have such an opinion of him, and smiling a little passed on his way. (more…)

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On the writer’s love of his Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter

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Will Self talks to ShortList Magazine: ‘People are deceived into believing that writing on a computer is faster, but it’s not. Using a typewriter is more disciplined; you don’t have the distraction of thinking, ‘I’ll go online and look up what oven gloves made of fur look like.’ Also, the technology is more durable. But what really drove me to the typewriter was the aesthetics. I don’t like what computers look like now. I’m obviously just old and crusty.’ [Read More]

Let us say that the freedom exists, but it is limited to the one unique act of choosing the profession. Afterward all freedom is over. When he begins his studies at the university, the doctor, lawyer, or engineer is forced into an extremely rigid curriculum which ends with a series of examinations. If he passes them, he receives his license and can thereafter pursue his profession in seeming freedom. But in doing so he becomes the slave of base powers; he is dependent on success, on money, on his ambition, his hunger for fame, on whether or not people like him. He must submit to elections, must earn money, must take part in the ruthless competition of castes, families, political parties, newspapers. In return he has the freedom to become successful and well-to-do, and to be hated by the unsuccessful, or vice versa.

— Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

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Nick Papadimitriou
Tim Dee (The Guardian) reviews ‘deep topographer’ Nick Papadimitriou’s debut work, Scarp

A mostly crap scrap of the neither-here-nor-there London exurbia is the subject of Nick Papadimitriou’s wonder Scarp. Through decades of walks from his council flat just inside the hellish ring of the north circular, he has fallen deeply for the low bumps of the 17-mile north Middlesex/south Hertfordshire escarpment. Here he is almost on common ground and up against the capital’s modern saints of dystopic psychogeography: the master of the meaningful roundabout JG Ballard (Concrete Island), and the leggy pair of Will Self (Walking to Hollywood) and Iain Sinclair (whose M25 – in London Orbital – is the unspoken tarmac hedge to Papadimitriou’s ambition and stride to the north of his scarp). There are a host of others too – a proper ministry of silly walks – but Papadimitriou is his own man.

His methodology might be bonkers but it is very engaging. Years of study and dreaming in the spare bedroom of his flat have given birth to a series of fantastic journeys – trips, more like – through the ages of the scarp and into and out of its living and its dead, its creatures and plants, its buildings and routeways, its residents and its passers-by. The whole shebang is channelled into what Papadimitriou calls “deep topography”. But the loopy incredibility of all this is redeemed by his indomitable playfulness. That he is relaxed about taking his own character along with him on his walks also helps a lot. He is good fun. [Read More]

Granta publishes an extract from Sebald’s Vertigo, translated from the German by Michael Hulse
W. G. Sebald's passport.
W. G. Sebald’s passport.

In October 1980 I travelled from England, where I had then been living for nearly twenty-five years in a county which was almost always under grey skies, to Vienna, hoping that a change of place would help me get over a particularly difficult period in my life. In Vienna, however, I found that the days proved inordinately long, now they were not taken up by my customary routine of writing and gardening tasks, and I literally did not know where to turn. Early every morning I would set out and walk without aim or purpose through the streets of the inner city, through the Leopoldstadt and the Josefstadt. Later, when I looked at the map, I saw to my astonishment that none of my journeys had taken me beyond a precisely defined sickle- or crescent-shaped area, the outermost points of which were the Venediger Au by the Praterstern and the great hospital precincts of the Alsergrund. If the paths I had followed had been inked in, it would have seemed as though a man had kept trying out new tracks and connections over and over, only to be thwarted each time by the limitations of his reason, imagination or will power, and obliged to turn back again. (more…)