Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cold War Rogue Swimmer by Kafka ...

Friendship is not born in conditions of need or trouble. Literary fairy tales tell of ‘difficult’ conditions which are an essential element in forming any friendship, but such conditions are simply not difficult enough. If tragedy and need brought people together and gave birth to their friendship, then the need was not extreme and the tragedy not great. Tragedy is not deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends. Only real need can determine one’s spiritual and physical strength and set the limits of one’s physical endurance and moral courage. We all understood that we could survive only through luck.  (Loc 788)

 The Centenary of the Russian Revolution should be mourned, not celebrated

Kafka liked swimming, hiking, zooming around on a motorbike, illustrating erotic fiction, and frequenting brothels. Did any of that inform his writing? 

Kolyma Tales isn’t a very cheery choice for the festive season, but it’s surprisingly uplifting.  The narrator tells his stories of everyday life in the Gulags, not as Solzhenitsyn did, piling on the harrowing misery as a political act which helped to raise awareness of the Soviet use of the Gulags as a system of repression, but with wry humour and a Chekhovian awareness of the vagaries of human nature.  The foreword makes these differences explicit:

Where Solzhenitsyn constructs a single vast panorama, loose and sprawling, Shalamov chooses the most concise of literary forms, the short story, and shapes it consciously and carefully, so that his overall structure is like a mosaic made of tiny pieces. Where Solzhenitsyn writes with anger, sarcasm and bitterness, Shalamov adopts a studiedly dry and neutral tone. Where Solzhenitsyn plunges into his characters’ fates, telling their story from a variety of subjective viewpoints, Shalamov takes strict control of his discourse, usually conducting his narrative from an undivided viewpoint and aiming at complete objectivity. Where Solzhenitsyn is fiercely moralistic and preaches redemption through suffering, Shalamov contents himself with cool aphorisms and asserts that real suffering, such as Kolyma imposed on its inmates, can only demoralize and break the spirit.
Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov

How George Orwell’s “1984” Became An Iconic Work

Television lives by viewing figures. Those for Nineteen Eighty-Four were, for a live drama, unprecedented. The tally (seven million) was exceeded only by that for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the previous year. “Big Brother is watching you.”’ “doublethink,” “thought- crime” and the “two-minute hate” became catchphrases. They still are. The 1954 televization jump-started Orwell’s upward progress to his present status as the Cassandra of his time.

You are not necessarily a more intelligent reader at 65 than 25, but you are more subtle. Rereading -- a pleasure and necessity of age -- sometimes means changing your mind... Revolutionary Rogues 

Best-selling books, it’s said, provide “a snapshot of an age.” Yet in every age, while characters and settings may have changed, the narratives are familiar 

The work of the dead falls on the living, especially undertakers. We can live with broken hearts and shaken faith. But we can't live with a corpse on the  floor 

Definition of 'fascist'  

There are amazing things hidden in the stacks of the University of Virginia library. In fact, there are amazing things hidden in the stacks of most libraries—which is more or less the point. At UVA, a project called Book Traces is underway to look inside every book in the stacks that was published before 1923—which, as you might imagine, is a fair number—for “interventions” that may shed light on how the books were read, studied, and used as physical objects. The interventions might be handwritten marginalia, original poetry, pasted-in newspaper clippings or illustrations, physical modifications to the book, or any one of a variety of small objects—letters, photographs, leaves, locks of hair—tucked between the pages years ago and forgotten.
Strange things in old books  

Milton, sci-fi inventor  

Wilson-Nabokov cage match  

The University of Maryland has confirmed the death of Thomas Schelling, perhaps the most important economist and social scientist of his generation. Most social scientists hope that their ideas will be read, and perhaps, if they are lucky, change people’s minds a little. Schelling’s ideas made the Cold War what it was and changed the world.
Thomas Schellin

They Have, Right Now, Another You NYRB

Despite the comparisons, India’s Aadhaar project is nothing like America’s Social Security Number