books

Like the chocolate of Vavey, in the sun they’ll melt away

In building your book I wanted to pursue my own process of decomposition.  I began to think about the ways in which paper degrades.  Rotting in the ground, exposure to rain, chemicals (I used Xylene, a paint thinner, for the image transfers on the cover), and fire.  Although rain or burying paper in the ground would have created unique and unpredictable patterns of ruin in the paper, these seemed like passive processes, whereas burning paper could achieve some level of stochastic design but in a more involved, active, and risk-exposed situation.   I followed the traditional recipe for Chinese blackpowder: 75% potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, 15% carbon, 10% sulphur. […]

On a hot plate, outside, the potassium nitrate is usually dissolved in a pot of water, however instead of water I poured into the potassium nitrate a jar of my stale, sunbaked urine since it accelerates the burn process.  

{ Big Other | Continue reading }

Les coïncidences montrent que vous êtes sur le bon chemin

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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) is the only complete novel written by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. […] The story starts out as a fairly conventional adventure at sea, but it becomes increasingly strange and hard to classify. […]

Peters, Pym, and Augustus hatch a plan to seize control of the ship […] soon the three men are masters of the Grampus: all the mutineers are killed or thrown overboard except one, Richard Parker, whom they spare to help them run the vessel. […] As time passes, with no sign of land or other ships, Parker suggests that one of them should be killed as food for the others. They draw straws, following the custom of the sea, and Parker is sacrificed.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

On 19 May 1884 four men set sail from Southampton in a small yacht. They were professional sailors tasked with taking their vessel, the Mignonette, to its new owner in Australia. […] The Mignonette’s captain, Tom Dudley, was 31 years old and a proven yachtsman. Of his crew, Ned Brooks and mate Edwin Stephens were likewise seasoned sailors. The final crew-member, cabin boy Richard Parker, was just 17 years old and making his first voyage on the open sea. […]

On 5 July, sailing from Madeira to Cape Town, the Mignonette was sunk by a giant wave. […] Adrift in an open boat in the South Atlantic, hundreds of miles from land, they had little in the way of provisions. They had no water, and for food, only two 1lb tins of turnips grabbed during the Mignonette’s final moments.

Over the next 12 days, these turnips were scrupulously rationed out […] For water […] they resorted to drinking their own urine, although this too was a diminishing resource as their bodies became increasingly dehydrated.

By 17 July all supplies on board the little dinghy had been exhausted. After a further three days, the inexperienced Richard Parker could not resist gulping down sea water in an attempt to allay his thirst. It is now known that small quantities of sea water can help to sustain life in survival situations, but in that period it was widely believed to be fatal. Parker also drank far in excess of modern recommendations and he was soon violently unwell, collapsing in the bottom of the boat with diarrhea.

Even before Parker fell ill, Tom Dudley had broached the fearful topic of the “custom of the sea,” the practice of drawing lots to select a sacrificial victim who could be consumed by his crew-mates. […] According to their subsequent depositions, however, no lots were drawn. Instead, Dudley told Stephens to hold Parker’s legs should he struggle, before kneeling and thrusting his penknife into the boy’s jugular. […] Parker’s body was then stripped and butchered. The heart and liver were eaten immediately; strips of flesh were cut from his limbs and set aside as future rations. What remained of the young man was heaved overboard.

{ History Extra | Continue reading }

‘No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, can do it.’ –Vladimir Nabokov

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Here’s a puzzle […] It’s called “Cain’s Jawbone,” in which people are challenged to put the shuffled pages of a murder mystery novel in their proper order. Since its creation in 1934, it has only been solved by two people — until now.

British comedian John Finnemore made it his quarantine project to crack “Cain’s Jawbone” — and he succeeded, making him just the third person to solve it in its nearly 90-year history. […]

The puzzle takes the form of 100 cards, each containing the page of a murder mystery novel. In order to solve the puzzle, participants must put all the cards in the proper order and determine who murders who in the story. There are 32 million possible combinations, which makes finding the correct result quite a feat. 

{ The World | Continue reading }

And the cloud that took the form (when the rest of Heaven was blue) of a demon in my view

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Cooping was an alleged form of electoral fraud in the United States cited in relation to the death of Edgar Allan Poe in October 1849, by which unwilling participants were forced to vote, often several times over, for a particular candidate in an election. According to several of Poe’s biographers, these innocent bystanders would be grabbed off the street by so-called ‘cooping gangs’ or ‘election gangs’ working on the payroll of a political candidate, and they would be kept in a room, called the “coop”, and given alcoholic beverages in order for them to comply. If they refused to cooperate, they would be beaten or even killed. Often their clothing would be changed to allow them to vote multiple times. Sometimes the victims would be forced to wear disguises such as wigs, fake beards or mustaches to prevent them from being recognized by voting officials at polling stations.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

On October 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to Joseph W. Walker who found him. He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. He was not coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own.

He is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring.

All medical records and documents, including Poe’s death certificate, have been lost, if they ever existed.

Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, common euphemisms for death from disreputable causes such as alcoholism.

The actual cause of death remains a mystery. […] One theory dating from 1872 suggests that cooping was the cause of Poe’s death, a form of electoral fraud in which citizens were forced to vote for a particular candidate, sometimes leading to violence and even murder. […] Cooping had become the standard explanation for Poe’s death in most of his biographies for several decades, though his status in Baltimore may have made him too recognizable for this scam to have worked. […]

Immediately after Poe’s death, his literary rival Rufus Wilmot Griswold wrote a slanted high-profile obituary under a pseudonym, filled with falsehoods that cast him as a lunatic and a madman, and which described him as a person who “walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers, (never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned)”.

The long obituary appeared in the New York Tribune signed “Ludwig” on the day that Poe was buried. It was soon further published throughout the country. The piece began, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” “Ludwig” was soon identified as Griswold, an editor, critic, and anthologist who had borne a grudge against Poe since 1842. Griswold somehow became Poe’s literary executor and attempted to destroy his enemy’s reputation after his death.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

‘A man, being just as hungry as thirsty, and placed in between food and drink, must necessarily remain where he is and starve to death.’ –Aristotle

Picture some serious non-fiction tomes. The Selfish Gene; Thinking, Fast and Slow; Guns, Germs, and Steel; etc. Have you ever had a book like this—one you’d read—come up in conversation, only to discover that you’d absorbed what amounts to a few sentences? I’ll be honest: it happens to me regularly. Often things go well at first. I’ll feel I can sketch the basic claims, paint the surface; but when someone asks a basic probing question, the edifice instantly collapses. Sometimes it’s a memory issue: I simply can’t recall the relevant details. But just as often, as I grasp about, I’ll realize I had never really understood the idea in question, though I’d certainly thought I understood when I read the book. Indeed, I’ll realize that I had barely noticed how little I’d absorbed until that very moment.

{ Andy Matuschak | Continue reading }

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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 }

השואה

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{ 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

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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

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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 ♪

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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 }

This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps

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A high-ranking FBI agent filed a sensitive internal manual detailing the bureau’s secret interrogation procedures with the Library of Congress, where anyone with a library card can read it. […]

“A document that has not been released does not even need a copyright,” says Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “Who is going to plagiarize from it? Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t violate the copyright because you don’t have the document. It isn’t available.”

{ Mother Jones | Continue reading }

Googling Google… isn’t that like dividing by zero?

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Features of fictional folk are more extreme than in reality; real folks are boring by comparison. Fictional folks are more expressive, and give off clearer signs about their feelings and intentions. Their motives are simpler and clearer, and their actions are better explained by their motives and local visible context. Who they are now is better predicted by their history. […]

In real life, coincidence happens all the time. But in fiction […] Your readers will refuse to believe it.

{ via overcoming bias | Continue reading }

photo { Mick Haggerty, Mickey Mondrian, 1976 }

‘In any situation, the villain is the person who knows the most but cares the least.’ –Chuck Klosterman

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As you mature you find that because your personality is already created, you’re kind of using other characters to understand yourself. The process of maturation makes you naturally more inclined to relate to problematic people. […]

“Hate” and “Love” aren’t opposites. The opposite of “Love” is “Indifferent.” So if you actually hate something, it actually means you have a pretty deep emotional investment with what that expression means.

{ Interview with Chuck Klosterman | Continue reading }

“The drug lords on ‘The Wire’ were criminals, but they had a stricter ethical code than the corrupt police trying to stop them,” Mr. Klosterman wrote in his analysis of the HBO show and its complex characters.

“The most admirable adult in the series was Omar Little, a hyperviolent stickup artist who lived by a street code so austere he wouldn’t even cuss (in 2012, Barack Obama cited Omar as his favorite ‘Wire’ character, thus making Obama the first sitting president to express admiration for a fictional homosexual who killed dozens of people with a shotgun).”

{ Pittsburgh News | Continue reading }

photo { Olivia Locher }