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“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

— Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Sat down and read Cormac McCarthy‘s play (or “novel in dramatic form”) The Sunset Limited. An African American man saves a white college professor from suicide, and they share a compelling dialogue about life, suffering, religion, and humanism. Sometimes McCarthy’s stage directions lack racial sensitivity and tact (e.g. “the black” vs. “the professor”), but the characters have an intelligent and entertaining critical dialogue. Dianne C. Luce offers an interesting reading of the text’s conclusion over at the official Cormac McCarthy website (contains spoilers):

“The novel’s denouement rests on the intellectual triumph of White, which ironically leads to his suicide, and the temporary rhetorical defeat of Black, who courageously recommits to his belief in the possibility of goodness. Thus the dialogue remains elegantly balanced, poised between forceful articulations of opposing views of life and human nature, giving ascendancy to neither. McCarthy seems to have no ideological agenda here, but rather he aims at capturing the internal debate of the thoughtful individual seeking to navigate the subway of earthly existence, who hears within him- or herself the competing voices of, on the one hand, empirical reasoning and world-wearying experience and, on the other, hope and the transcendent spirit.”

Overall, a genuinely engaging work struck through with darkly comic elements. Recommended.

Finished reading Stephen King‘s Under the Dome. It’s one of the author’s longest works, and has been compared by publishers and critics to his earlier post apocalyptic novel, The Stand. While the story of an hermetically sealed American community has the feel of a modern parable, Under the Dome is ultimately a straightforward (if fantastical) crime thriller about small town political corruption.

Analog. I grew up during a transitional phase when heavy analog technologies were being replaced by lighter, digital devices. A tactile nostalgia has since grown up around those cumbersome objects of the 1980s and 1990s. They have the charm of relics from a bygone age.

Sad to hear that there’s been more cultural fallout from the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. You can read more at the visual culture website, It’s Nice That (an unfortunate name for this particular occasion).

Why omitting ‘vulgar’ and ‘offensive’ words defeats the purpose

480a2-6a00d8341c4ec253ef00e54f05ad878833-800wiOxford Dictionaries recently embarked on a project to discover the world’s least favourite words, but publicly abandoned the project following “severe misuse” of its online survey. The decision to discontinue its #OneWordMap is understandable, due to the high volume of highly incendiary contributions intended to incite racial and religious hatred (eg. ‘Islam’, ‘Israel’).

But it seems that the survey was abandoned before it even began. The project had already banned the use of a select number of words from contributors. Dan Stewart, the head of international marketing at Oxford Dictionaries, states in The Guardian: “[we] filtered out words marked as vulgar and offensive in our dictionaries, but this wasn’t enough to prevent the misuse”. Does filtering out words not defeat the purpose of the exercise? (more…)

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John le Carré

I am always fascinating to hear about the daily rituals of writers and creative people. Readers of this site might be familiar with previous posts on walking and improvisation, thinking, or Kierkegaard’s fondness for daily walks. And so, whenever I hear about writers who are also keen walkers, I’m always curious to know more.

This morning I read that the British spy novelist John le Carré, author of The Night Manager (1993) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974) is one such writer. He talks of the pleasure he takes in perambulations around London, of finding inspiration in trains and cafés, and his preference for ‘drawing the words’ over using typewriters and word processors: (more…)

A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017
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Samuel Beckett’s passport photographs.

Neil Doshi and James McNaughton are putting together a panel entitled ‘International Beckett’ for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands. The seminar will comprise 8-12 participants, meeting for 2 hours on each of the conference’s 3 days. You will present a 20 minute paper, and then have an opportunity to discuss your work with likeminded scholars and enthusiasts. (more…)

A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017


This sounds interesting. Tom Chadwick has been in touch about something he is organizing for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands. He and co-organizer Pieter Vermeulen are putting together a panel exploring the relationship between contemporary literature and the archive, and they want to hear from you! (more…)

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“It had also been my belief since I started writing fiction that science fiction is never really about the future. When science fiction is old, you can only read it as being pretty much about the moment in which it was written. But it seemed to me that the toolkit that science fiction had given me when I started working had become the toolkit of a kind of literary naturalism that could be applied to an inherently incredible present. So those three books were experimental for me in that sense.”

More at Business Insider.

Running 16 September to 2 October 2016
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Philip Seymour Hoffman

From Time Out: It’s hard to believe that Philip Seymour Hoffman is two years gone—he’s still at work in my mind. When I run across Boogie Nights or Synecdoche, New York, there’s no way I can think of him as anything but alive. Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image will be celebrating Hoffman’s sizable legacy with a selective series, “The Master,” running September 16 through October 2. Per the museum’s website, screenings will be accompanied by “guest appearances, to be announced, and clips from his other films, to showcase his astonishing versatility.” A complete list of titles has yet to be announced, but so far the picks are strong: Jack Goes Boating, The Master, The Savages, Boogie Nights, Almost Famous, Capote, Doubt, Happiness, Synecdoche, New York, Owning Mahowny, Magnolia, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, 25th Hour, The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Most Wanted Man. Those are pretty much the ones we’d choose—don’t miss Owning Mahowny, a terrific portrayal of gambling addiction and, unwittingly, the most heartbreaking performance of Hoffman’s career. [Read More]

From an interview with Men’s Journal
Is there one book that’s affected you tremendously or changed your life?

Let me suggest a book called Here Is Where We Meet. It’s by a writer called John Berger. It was pretty life-changing for me. It’s a collection of short stories; it has eight and a half short stories. They’re all based on life, but they’re all fiction. It’s the way that he handles that fictionality that really affected my writing.John Berger is quite an old man; he’s in his eighties. What he does in these stories is, he’ll write a story about someone he once knew who is now dead. He tells true stories about how he knows them or what they mean to him, but the stories are about encounters he has with them after they’ve died. Things like meeting his long-dead mother in Lisbon and going for a walk with her. It feels very diaristic and very real. The porousness of that border between what we can prove, what’s easily accessible, and what takes more face and openness — it was really interesting to me, how he handled that. He doesn’t take it from a religious point of view at all. [Read More]

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Seamus Heaney

Christopher Carroll (The Wall Street Journal) traces Seamus Heaney’s connection to Book VI of the “Aeneid”, in light of his father’s death:

“[…] Heaney’s own translation of Book VI of the “Aeneid,” which he completed in July 2013, one month before he died. It is his last published poem, a poignant rendition of Aeneas’ arrival in Italy and journey into the underworld to see his dead father. And though it is beautiful in its own right, this portion of the “Aeneid” had a special significance for Heaney—one that began in his school days in the 1950s and lasted his entire life.”

More at The Poetry Foundation.

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“Bobby Hutcherson, a vibraphonist whose improvising and composition helped to define modernity for jazz as a whole, has died. He had long struggled with emphysema. He was 75.”

More at NPR.

Beginning on 14 August 2016

blog_images_1336518756-arvopartIn August 2016, the Arvo Pärt Centre will host its sixth series of Film Nights, showing films that feature Arvo Pärt’s music. For the first time, the makers of as many as two of the films to be shown, David Trueba and Piero Messina, will be in Tallinn to talk about the background to their films and their reasons for their choice of film music.

The film evenings will open with the Soldiers of Salamina, a film from 2003 by the versatile Spanish filmmaker David Trueba, which takes the audience to the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War as seen through the eyes of a contemporary writer. The film repeatedly uses and intertwines three often-used compositions: Fratres, Spiegel im Spiegel and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. [Read More]