Just learn how to capture your luck, for your luck is always there


As Goethe observed in 1797, “the publisher always knows the profit to himself and his family whereas the author is totally in the dark.” This problem of lopsided information was aggravated by the near-absence of copyright protection in the 18th and 19th century. A bestseller could be expected to spawn an abundance of pirated versions. Charles Dickens, on his first trip to the United States in 1842, complained endlessly about the pirating of his works for the U.S. market. This lack of intellectual property protection led to further conflicts of interest and opinion between authors and publishers: it was standard practice among publishers — even respectable ones — to have multiple print runs without an author’s permission, and writers sometimes tried to sell near-identical editions of the same title to multiple publishers. Because authors couldn’t trust the sales numbers if and when their publishers provided them, 19th-century book contracts were for a fixed fee rather than per-copy royalty payments. […]

Goethe engineered the following mechanism […]

I am inclined to offer Mr. Vieweg from Berlin an epic poem, Hermann and Dorothea, which will have approximately 2000 hexameters. …Concerning the royalty we will proceed as follows: I will hand over to Mr. Counsel Böttiger [Goethe’s lawyer] a sealed note which contains my demand, and I wait for what Mr. Vieweg will suggest to offer for my work. If his offer is lower than my demand, then I take my note back, unopened, and the negotiation is broken. If, however, his offer is higher, then I will not ask for more than what is written in the note to be opened by Mr. Böttiger.

Scholars had treated Goethe’s proposition as one of the enigmas left behind by one of history’s greatest literary figures. But the economists argue that there’s no mystery to Goethe’s choice of mechanism. The author wanted to know how much he was worth to Vieweg, and he devised this peculiar “auction” to get Vieweg to tell him.

{ The Millions | Continue reading }

Once more, on pain of death, all men depart


The Sorrows of Young Werther was published in 1774, when Goethe (1749–1832) was just twenty-five years old. A product of true literary genius, it not only represents one of the greatest works of literature ever written, but it also offers keenly intuitive insight into one of the most terrible and mystifying emotional disorders that plague humankind.

Well before Sigmund Freud, and most probably destined to become an important source of Freud’s understanding of melancholic depression, Goethe was able to peer into the soul of those afflicted with what is now termed Major Depressive Disorder (and some forms of Bipolar Disorder) and see what is taking place within those who are suffering from it. It is impressive how clearly Goethe grasped the twin roles played in mel-ancholia of narcissistic object choice and extreme ambivalence toward a love object.

{ The Psychoanalytic Quarterly | PDF }

My name’s Elvira but you can call me tonight


State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.

Residue from clay tobacco pipes more than 400 years old from the playwright’s garden were analysed. […] Results of this study (including 24 pipe fragments) indicated cannabis in eight samples, nicotine in at least one sample, and in two samples definite evidence for Peruvian cocaine from coca leaves.

{ The Independent | Continue reading }

photos { 1 | John K. }

Into the blue again, after the money’s gone


Around 1930, the director of an evening newspaper had hired Georges Simenon as an advertising attraction. He’d had a cage constructed in the hall of his newspaper where Simenon, under eyes of the public, was to write a serial, non-stop. But on the eve of the big day, the newspaper went bankrupt. Simenon wrote the book in his room.

{ Paris Match | Continue reading }

In 1927 the publisher of Paris-Soir proposed to place Simenon in a glass cage, where he would spend three days and three nights writing a novel in public.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

photo { Mark Heithoff }

Management wants you gone by the end of the day


Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. Though extremely uncommon in modern times, the technique dates back to at least the 17th century. The practice is inextricably connected with the practice of tanning human skin, often done in certain circumstances after a corpse has been dissected.

Surviving historical examples of this technique include anatomy texts bound with the skin of dissected cadavers, volumes created as a bequest and bound with the skin of the testator, and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings, such as in the case of John Horwood in 1821 and the Red Barn Murder in 1828.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

‘If you write something and put a date after it, it suddenly becomes an art project, 2015’ —Evander Batson


Doctor Tsun arrives at the house of Doctor Albert, who is deeply excited to have met a descendant of Ts’ui Pên. Doctor Albert reveals that he has himself been engaged in a longtime study of Ts’ui Pên’s novel. Albert explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved both mysteries—the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts’ui Pên’s unfinished book and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert’s solution is that they are one and the same: the book is the labyrinth.

{ Plot summary of The Garden of Forking Paths/Wikipedia | Continue reading }

Miss Kennedy with manners transposed the teatray down to an upturned lithia crate, safe from eyes, low.


‘Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.’ —H. L. Mencken


More than 400 years after Shakespeare wrote it, we can now say that “Romeo and Juliet” has the wrong name. Perhaps the play should be called “Juliet and Her Nurse,” which isn’t nearly as sexy, or “Romeo and Benvolio,” which has a whole different connotation.

I discovered this by writing a computer program to count how many lines each pair of characters in “Romeo and Juliet” spoke to each other, with the expectation that the lovers in the greatest love story of all time would speak more than any other pair.

{ FiveThirtyEight | Continue reading }



{ More art than literature, the new book “And Every Single One Was Someone” consists of the single word “Jew,” in tiny type, printed six million times to signify the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. | NY Times | Continue reading | via gettingsome }

Too dead to die


Psychoactive Plants in the Bible


The holy anointing oil is essentially an anxiolytic-hallucinogen. The transdermal application of it led to its absorption and psychoactive effects, even in extremely low doses. […]

Myrrh is a resin that is used widely in the bible. Myrrh contains the terpenes furanoeudesma-1,3-diene and curzarene which are Mu-opioid agonists. This opioid receptor is the same one that morphine activates. This means that inhaling or absorbing myrrh incense can cause a drug reaction.

{ NeuroBrainstorm | Continue reading }

art { Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966 }

‘The rest is silence.’ –Shakespeare


This chapter might have been called “Introduction,” but nobody reads the introduction, and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either.

{ via Other Sociologist }

♪ let me downgrade u ♪ so you’re on my level ♪


Three computer scientists at Stony Brook University in New York think they found some rules through a computer program that might predict which books will be successful. The algorithm had as much as 84 percent accuracy when applied to already published manuscripts.

If so, it comes much too late for the more than 20 book editors who turned down J.K. Rowling’s first manuscript about a boy wizard named Harry Potter.

They said it is the first study to correlate between a book’s stylistic elements and its popularity and critical acclaim.

{ Inside Science | Continue reading }