Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Beautiful Description of Food in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS

The 28th night in Haddawy's translation of The Arabian Nights contains the most beautiful description of food shopping that I've ever read. Enjoy...






Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Beard: The Orthodox, Hipsters, The Most Interesting Man in the World & Famous Writers

Famous Bearded Writers
Clockwise: Chekhov, Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence and Tolstoy

Excerpt from The Allure of Nymphets: From Emperor Augustus to Woody Allen, A Study of Man's Fascination with Very Young Women:


"On a related side note, psychologists at Northumbria University found that women prefer men with beards as oppose to clean shaven men, because women find men with beards to be tough, mature, aggressive, dominant and masculine, which are all attraction switches for women. Faces with full beards were judged to be the most masculine, aggressive and socially mature, while men with light beards were considered the most dominant. Those with light stubble were rated the most attractive. Clean-shaven men finished last for masculinity, dominance, aggression, and social maturity, and they were the least favored choice as a long-term partner.

Reginal Reynolds wrote in Beards that “the clean shave was a common practice in the West, which appears to have been adopted by the Christians in the time of the Roman Empire…Then, as Christianity slowly spread northward once more, it appears to have brought with it the habits of the Lain peoples and - in an insidious, indefinable way – shaving became characteristically Christian and the beard or moustache something like the Mark of the Beast. They were found on the Moslem and the Jew…The beard was sacred to the Jew and the Moslem, and to shave it off a proof that a religion which sanctified the beard had been renounced.”

Of course, not every Jew or Muslim wore or wears a beard but Reynolds explains this by relating that “… it is manifest that those Jews who removed their beards in the Middle Ages must have done so for reasons very similar to those which today prompt a Negro to de-kink his hair – for one was liable to insult and injury if one wore this offending ornament. But while a Negro may seek immunity by attempting to pass for a White, the medieval Jew not merely found it safer to resemble a Gentile in appearance, as far as he could – he was in positive danger of being forced to abandon his beard and his faith if he did not dissimulate the latter by scrapping the former.”

Thamos S. Gowing related in The Philosophy of Beards that “Under Charles the 2nd, the Beard dwindled into the mere moustache, and then vanished. And when we consider the French apery of that un-English court, it is no wonder the Beard appeared too bold and manly an ensign to be tolerated. It went out first among the upper classes in London, and by slow degrees the sturdy country squires and yeomon also yielded their free honors to the slavish effeminate fashion, which, by the force of example, descended even to the working classes…”"

Although beards are still popular among orthodox Jews and Muslims, hipsters in Williamsburg, The [current and former] Most Interesting Man in the World, and some famous writers, despite the beard's attractiveness and rich history, bearded men remain in the minority. However, the Mirror reported "Beard it like Beckham - new trend as British men fork out thousands to have facial hair transplants to look like star"

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Conscious, Unconscious and Writer's Block



Leonard Mlodinow wrote in Subliminal that in 2005, Caltech's Christof Koch came up with a way to study unconscious vision by manipulating a subject's binocular rivalry to create an artificial blind spot. 

Koch discovered that if a changing image is presented to one eye and a static image to the other eye, a subject will see the dynamic image but not the static image. 

Using Koch's discovery, a group of scientists exposed each subjects right eye "to a colorful and rapidly changing mosaic-like image and the subject's left eye to a static photograph that pictured an object." (i.e., the image on the right changed, and the image on the left didn't change.)

The object was placed near the right or left edge of the photograph. Because they couldn't consciously see the (static) image, the subjects had to guess where the object was located. 

When an unprovocative static image was used, the subject's answers were expectedly correct about 50% of the time, but when a provocative static image of a nude woman was used, the men did "significantly" better at guessing which side the (nude) image was on - despite the fact that the men were "clueless" and couldn't consciously see the pornography. 

Mlodinow wrote "We don't consciously perceive everything that registers in our brain, so our unconscious mind may notice things that our conscious mind doesn't"

And that "[d]eep concentration causes the energy consumption in your brain to go up about 1 percent. No matter what you are doing with your conscious mind, it is your unconscious that dominates your mental activity - and therefore uses up most of the energy consumed by the brain"

And I would assert, using this as evidence, that writer's block is a (Hollywood) myth. If one thinks long enough, material will move from the unconscious to the conscious.




Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Theory of Competing Emotions



I have a theory that I call the Theory of Competing Emotions. The theory states that when two emotions are competing, the stronger of the two determines one's behavior. 

For example, de Botton's pits the fear of doing nothing against the fear of doing it badly (i.e., the fear of being embarrassed). For writers, the fear of doing nothing outweighs the fear of being embarrassed about writing badly. 

Thus, if you're apprehensive about doing something, conjure a stronger competing emotion that will have a positive impact on your behavior.

Religious people use this technique all time. For example, an orthodox Muslim's fear of being stoned to death or lashed, with Allah's help, will overcome his desire to commit adultury or fornicate with a nubile maiden. 

And Gallagher shared in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life that it's easier for the positive emotion to win if you plan ahead. She wrote that "...some pragmatic research suggests that it's easier to shift your focus from that rich dessert to your goal of losing five pounds if you practice ahead of time." Thus, if your desire for a piece of cake (on a non cheat day) is competing with you're desire to lose five pounds, you're more likely to avoid the cake if you plan ahead. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Google on Yahoo!


I just heard this from a member of Generation Z, which is extremely interesting when I'm reminded that less than twenty years ago Yahoo! was the search engine of choice for the young and hip.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Nymphets Reading LOLITA




The first time I met a nymphet* who was reading Lolita was about ten years ago. She was a high school junior who boldly cradled her copy around Manhattan. But she is no anomaly. For example, Amy Rose Spiegel and Rose Lichter-Marckread read Lolita as nymphets.

Spiegel, who wrote “Older Men: Everything you always wanted to know about them, and weren’t at all afraid to ask”, shared that when she was fifteen she, “[...] idealized the thought of someone being single-mindedly obsessed with me the way the novel’s narrator is with Lolita.”**

And Lichter-Marck, who wrote “Two Kinds of Memory: Catching moments like butterflies”,** shared that when she was sixteen she fell in love with Lolita and that “From the first sentence I was hooked.”

I’ve written about fictional nymphets like Molly Maxwell who independently read Lolita in class, but it would be fascinating to hear from other nymphets who have read Nabokov’s magnum opus and get their take on the novel.

* Based on Merriam Webster’s definition of nymphet, my studies, and experiences, I’ve extended Humbert’s age limit by five years to nineteen-years-old.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

LOL: Laughing Out Loud While Reading




To assist with an ongoing project, I recently re-read Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark and I'm almost done re-reading Look at the Harlequins! and I don't recall the novels being as funny the first time that I read them. There were a lot moments in the books that made me smile, which I marked in the margins with a lonely LOL, but there are other moments where the acronym gets an accompanying exclamation point that indicates that I literally laughed out loud - on the subway.


Here's an example of a LOL where Albinus and Margot are frolicking at the beach:

He splashed in after her. She turned toward him, laughing, spitting, wiping the wet hair from her eyes. He attempted to duck her, then caught her by the ankle and she kicked and screamed. An Englishwoman who was lolling in a deck-chair beneath a mauve sunshade reading Punch turned to her husband, a red-faced, white-hatted man squatting on the sand, and said:


“Look at that German romping about with his daughter. Now, don’t be so lazy, William. Take the children out for a good swim.” p114

But here are two examples of LOL! moments:

In this scene, Albinus suspects that Paul knows about the affair.


She was cuddled in a corner of the sofa, relating slowly and minutely the plot of a play which she had seen. Her pale eyes with the faint freckles under them were as candid as her mother’s had been, and her unpowdered nose shone pathetically. Paul nodded his head and smiled. She might have been speaking Russian for all he knew. Then suddenly, and for one second only, he caught sight of Albinus’ eyes looking at him over the book he was holding. p 73



Here's a bit of advice that Rex shared with the couple:

“One can’t build up one’s life on the quick-sands of misfortune,” Rex had said to him. “That is a sin against life. I once had a friend who was a sculptor and whose unerring appreciation of form was almost uncanny. Then, all of a sudden, out of pity he married an ugly, elderly hunchback. I don’t know exactly what happened, but one day, soon after their marriage, they packed two little suitcases, one for each, and went on foot to the nearest lunatic asylum. In my opinion, an artist must let himself be guided solely by his sense of beauty: that will never deceive him.” p 181


And this was a LOL! moment for me in Look at the Harlequins!:

I might have been displeased by the tolerance she showed Basilevski (knowing none of his works and only vaguely aware of his preposterous reputation) had it not occurred to me that the theme of her sympathy was repeating, as it were, the friendly phase of my own initial relations with that faux bonhomme. From behind a more or less Doric column I overheard him asking my naive gentle Annette had she any idea why I hated so fiercely Gorki (for whom he cultivated total veneration). Was it because I resented the world fame of a proletarian? Had I really read any of that wonderful writer's books? Annette had looked puzzled but all at once a charming childish smile illumined her whole face and she recalled The Mother, a corny Soviet film that I had criticized, she said, "because the tears rolling down the faces were too big and too slow." 

"Aha! That explains a lot," proclaimed Basilevski with gloomy satisfaction. p 117

By the way, there's a copy of the 1969 film adaption of Laughter in the Dark on Archives.org. 







Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Over 50,000 Fiction Books Published Per Year in the US!

Figure 1. Number of new fiction titles published annually in the United States between 1940 and 2010. Sources: Greco et al. (1940-1991); R. R. Bowker (1993-2010). Title output for 1991 and earlier adjusted (upward, by a factor of three) to account for Bowker’s subsequent changes in methodology.

Here's an excerpt from what Matthew Wilkens posted on Post45 in a post titled “Contemporary Fiction by the Numbers”:

“There are a lot of books published in the U.S. every year. Hundreds of thousands; millions, if you count print-on-demand and other “non-traditional” titles. Restricting our interest to fiction, the number is still around 50,000 and growing rapidly (see figure 1). And that’s just in the United States.

Fifty thousand new novels in the U.S. every year. We read a couple dozen, see reviews of maybe that many again, and so could claim to know something about roughly 0.1% of the total. Even that might be (barely) useful if it were randomly distributed, but of course it’s not; it’s by and large the thousandth that the major publishing houses have decided to support with ad buys, review placement, book tours, and publicity packages. We have no reason to believe that it’s a representative slice of the industry’s output.”

Most serious among these is the mounting disparity between the number of books we read (or, more inclusively, the objects we study) and the number produced. This gap is now large enough (and has been for decades) that it’s exceedingly difficult to say with any certainty what contemporary cultural production as a whole looks like.

[T]he fact that we have read, seen, and heard so little of that production is a serious problem.

As a reader and researcher, one has to agree with Wilkens and be deeply concerned with the number of books that you’re not privy to benefiting from their contents. However, I’ve always been content with the number of books that I’ve sold, but now I’m elated to know that I’ve sold any books with the amount of competition that’s produced every year. And that’s with little to know marketing support from a publisher.

Lastly, I would disagree with The Paris Review’s solution to this problem, which is to give up reading. Dan Piepenbring inconceivably posted:

When you’re considering which book to read next, remember this: you don’t have to read anything. You might, in fact, find it considerably more pleasurable to read nothing.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

LIFE WITH PICASSO: Writing Tips and Pablo's Work Ethic



While I was living in a hotel in Brooklyn over the summer I ordered Life with Picasso - three times. The book was "unaccepted" the first time. Upon the second delivery, it was placed in a mailbox that the concierge said didn't exist. I finally had it shipped to my apartment and passed to me at a cafe in Chinatown. 

Due to all of the difficulties that I had in receiving the book, I anticipated that it would have a some inspiring gems. I was correct. Here are some excerpts that (indirectly) deal with writing and some that describes Picasso's work ethic:

But I knew that an artist draws from his direct experience of life whatever quality of vision he brings to his work [...]. 

What interests me is to set up what you might call the rapports de grand écart - the most unexpected relationship possible between the things I want to speak about, because there is a certain difficulty in establishing the relationships in just that way, and in that difficulty there is an interest, and in that interest there's a certain tension and for me that tension is a lot more important than the stable equilibrium of harmony, which doesn't exist for me at all. 


"Precisely because every writer and every artist is an anti-social being. He's not that way because he wants to be; he can't be any other way."



*****

"You're very gifted for drawing [but] I think you should keep working -hard- every day."


When Matissee, due to an operation, was bedridden for twenty-two to twenty-three hours per day "He told us that often he worked by having paper attached to the ceiling and drawing on it, as he lay in bed, with charcoal tied to the end of a bamboo stick." 


He stood before the canvas for three or four hours at a stretch. He made almost no superfluous gestures. I asked him if it didn't tire him to stand so long in one spot. He shook his head [...] After taking a seat he would[...]stay there studying the painting without speaking for as long as an hour[...]He worked like that from two in the afternoon until eleven in the evening before stopping to eat [...] 
And then, with a brief stop for dinner, nothing but painting until two in the morning. At two in the morning he was as fresh as a rose. But the next morning it would begin all over again.'

It occurred to me one day that it might be a good idea to polish the pottery with milk. Pablo dipped a rag in milk and rubbed some of his unglazed plates for hours until he finally got the effect he was after. 186


Picasso went to the Louvre approximately once per month to study Eugène Delacroix's The Women of Algiers. 




Monday, August 15, 2016

Publishing Can Break Your Heart, But Don't Commit Suicide



Christian Lorentzen wrote in her New York profile,"Publishing Can Break Your Heart",
that Helen DeWitt's stances that "Many, many writers are chronically broke. Many have a long list of grievances with the publishing industry" are "counterfactuals"; however, I would agree with DeWitt that there are many writers who are resentful towards the publishing industry and there are a number of writers who are penniless. For instance, DeWitt "donated $130 to the Bernie Sanders campaign. As he gained momentum, she tried to make another donation, but her credit card was refused."

Lorentzen's wrote that DeWitt's "The Last Samurai was a sensation even before it appeared. The toast of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1999, with rights sold to more than a dozen countries, the novel came out in 2000 to wide acclaim, sold in excess of 100,000 copies in English, and was nominated for several prizes. But for DeWitt, this was the beginning of a long phase of turmoil that still hasn’t abated. The book’s success was marred by an epic battle with a copy editor involving large amounts of Wite-Out; typesetting nightmares having to do with the book’s use of foreign scripts; what she describes as “an accounting error” that resulted in her owing the publisher $75,000 when she thought the publisher owed her $80,000; the agonies of obtaining permissions for the many outside works quoted in the novel, including Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai — which was the title of The Last Samurai until it was deemed legally impossible. Her second novel, Lightning Rods, finished in July 1999, was then stuck in limbo after her publisher, Talk Miramax, folded. When it did finally appear, from New Directions in 2011, it garnered a legion of devoted readers too young to have read The Last Samurai before it went out of print."

DeWitt compared the publishing industry to the pharmaceutical trade. "The way drug companies suppress negative trial results in her view is similar to the way agents’ and editors’ failed deals are never reported, nor the way they stifle literary talent in the cradle. “There could be all these people out there having these ideas and being told, ‘No, no, no, no.’”

But DeWitt has taken her troubles with the publishing industry too far by having suicidal ideations. For example, "Once, after a book deal that she negotiated herself fell apart, she took a sedative and put a plastic bag over her head, but she couldn’t fall asleep. She sent an email to a lawyer asking that she ignore the previous email about disposing of her corpse. She went to Niagara Falls, but by the time she got there Reuters had reported her disappearance and a policeman picked her up on the street and took her to a hospital. Six years later, after the agent Bill Clegg failed to sell Lightning Rods to about a dozen publishers and resigned as her agent, she sent him a suicide email and set out to throw herself off a cliff near Brighton. She halted the plan after her ex-husband wrote saying he was expecting his first child with his second wife."

And DeWitt opined that editors may not be necessary. “Plato did not have an editor,” she said. “Plenty of writers that we admire struggled along somehow without the help of Michael Pietsch [the editor of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest].

DeWitt is correct that most full-time writers will never reach the net worth of J. K. Rowling and will have literary agents and publishers attempt to crush their dreams, but that's no reason to consider suicide. And having an editor look at your piece may not be a bad idea either.