Monday, April 25, 2011
Friday, April 2, 2010
New York Times best selling author David Shields' latest novel attempts to deliver a message to authors and readers alike: In order for literature to progress into the 21st century, it is necessary to rethink traditional forms, genres and styles by essentially blurring the line between fiction and nonfiction.
"In the highly simulated society that we live in, we have an insatiable hunger for reality, and that's not being met in these old and desiccated forms of literature," Shields said. "As creative artists trying to stay alive in this century, the answer isn't to retreat into a 19th century form of writing, but rather to strive to adapt and progress."
In order for that progression to occur, Shields suggests re-examining current ideas of plagiarism, citation and appropriation.
"If art is going to stay alive in the 21st century, artists have to have the freedoms they've had for centuries," he said. "The history of art has to do with artists endlessly remaking others' works to achieve greater levels of discovery and meaning," he said.
Artists of all forms — from composers to authors — have been reworking the ideas and works of those that have come before them, Shields said.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Many students attending schools in America will enroll in their freshman year of high school without ever having heard of Chekhov, Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.
It is likely they will not be able to meaningfully enter into any conversation about "Oliver Twist," "Animal Farm," or "Around The World In Eighty Days."
The names of Cervantes and Octavio Paz will probably elicit nothing more than a cursory shrug of non-recognition.
This is a tragedy of significant proportion, for which our education system bears the full onus of blame.
Instead of introducing children to great works of literature in their original or competently abridged form, and thus inculcating in them a love and passion for books, many teachers, under the gun of an out-of-control accountability system, are engaged in the quotidian task of training their students to pass state-mandated reading tests.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
From The Odyssey to the Harry Potter books, the shades of people who used to live on the earth have haunted our stories. Sometimes these opaque creatures are quite real in stories, other times they are figments of the imagination, and other times it's never quite clear. But in this list of novels enlivened, so to speak, by visitations from the dead, I won't say which is which.
...3: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
This may be Dickens' best loved work. A deceased business associate and three more ghosts appear to the sour and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge to show him Christmas past, present and future, sights that change him forever.
...5: Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
The dead father of Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, appears to his son and accuses Hamlet's uncle Claudius (now on the throne) of having murdered him. Hamlet declines into a state of paralysis as he decides whether or not to avenge his father.
Monday, March 8, 2010
What is believed to be the first ever example of English in a British church has been discovered.
But now it seems no one can quite decipher exactly what the inscription on the wall of Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire actually says.
It was hidden for 350 years behind a monument to a local aristocrat who was 'martyred' in the English Civil War for his support of King Charles I but rediscovered in January by astonished conservators.
And baffled experts have resorted to asking members of the public with a keen eye for deciphering puzzles to have a look at the text, and a computer-enhanced version, to see if they can help out.
Tim Tatton Brown, the cathedral's consultant archaeologist, explained: "The Cathedral's conservators quite unexpectedly found some beautifully written English text behind the Henry Hyde Monument on the cathedral's south aisle wall when the monument was temporarily removed as part of the on-going schedule of work.
Emotional Bunny Says: "Alrighty, let me just pull out my Handy Dandy Notebook®...."
Friday, February 19, 2010
- 10. The Catcher in The Rye (J D Salinger)
Salinger’s controversial 1951 novel sneaks in at number ten quite simply because it’s my favourite book of all time and I make it my life mission to force it upon as many people as possible. I’ve read it at least 10 times, and each time I have done so (ALERT: CLICHE TO FOLLOW) I have found something new within its pages. An absolutely enthralling read which I thoroughly recommend to anyone.
- 9. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
Since the release of the 2001 Hollywood blockbuster Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship if the Ring, Tolkien’s novels featuring the fantasy world of Middle Earth and main protagonists Frodo and Bilbo Baggins have become perhaps the most phenomenal success story in movie-adaptation history. And the reason why this epic piece of literature only makes number nine on the list is simple: A lot of people have read it. The original novel was released to great critical acclaim in 1937 by Oxford professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, becoming an overnight sensation. It has been in print ever since with the exception of World War Two’s paper shortage and has been translated into hundreds of languages.
- 8. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
I studied this delightful piece of literature at GCSE. I found it boring. Very boring. Painfully boring in fact. The only thing that tempted me away from gouging my eyes out were the pretty illustrations of the setting which were included in the edition we shared between two at school....
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
In a scathing article, Jerome Stolnitz (1991) argued that art has only short term effects. Greek drama is regarded as powerful but, says Stolnitz: “There is no evidence that Aristophanes shortened the Peloponnesian War by so much as a day” (p. 200). Stolnitz asserts that effects of art simply do not appear in history.
Except that—as Frank Hakemulder has pointed out to me—they do. They appear in the history of human rights. As historian Lynn Hunt (2007) has shown, the establishment of human rights has been strongly affected by literary art.
We now think of human rights as universal, but Hunt shows that 300 years ago even the idea of human rights was not present in European society. It had to be invented. By the end of the eighteenth century a change was accomplished.
(Article credit: onfiction.ca; Image credit: wiki.provisionslibrary.org)
Thursday, January 14, 2010
It is tempting to classify literary, cinematic, and historical characters into groups. The trouble of course, is that such labels can be misleading at best, and severely subjective and variable. When using terms such as hero, villain, anti-hero, anti-villain, or adventurer, it is important to remember how vague and movable the borders really are, and to ask why a certain label is or should be placed on a specific character. It is never enough to simply classify a character or a person. One must take into consideration what the creator of this character had in mind, what circumstances affected this person’s actions, what culture or society this person came from, what his or her own beliefs or intentions may be, and finally, how our own principles, prejudices, and associations may influence our perceptions.
What makes a person a hero or a villain? How much comes from inner predisposition, from personal destiny, from mere interpretation? Is someone obliged to become a hero or villain by virtue of their existence, or are heroes and villains molded over time with an outcome that could potentially have gone either way? How much of it is voluntary, and how many of these people truly anticipate (and care) how they will be interpreted by others?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The opening of the film "The Young Victoria" this week comes as a reminder that books in which the queen plays a leading role are few and far between.
This is all the more surprising when you consider that virtually every other British queen or princess has been celebrated in multiple historical novels and narrative histories. My neighborhood Barnes & Noble has an entire display table permanently devoted to such titles. The Tudors are, hands down, the great favorites of the genre; Phillipa Gregory has produced a string of bestselling novels about the wives, daughters and other assorted noblewomen surrounding Henry VIII, most notably the twice-filmed "The Other Boleyn Girl." Historians like Alison Weir have moved successfully between fiction and nonfiction in writing about female royals ranging from the ever-popular Ann Boleyn to the relatively obscure Isabella of France, who was married to the 13th-century King Edward II. And let's not even get started on Princess Di.
But Victoria? She can't get arrested in this section of the bookstore. Lady Jane Grey -- who wore the English crown for a mere nine days before her enemies ordered the head underneath it chopped off -- has had more novels based on her life than the woman who gave the Victorian era its name.
Speed-reading might be useful for commercial documents, but when it comes to serious writing, it blurs out all the really interesting parts.
The celebrated academic Harold Bloom is a lightning fast reader; blink and he's probably turned the page – twice. In his prime he could churn through 1,000 pages an hour, which means he could have digested Jane Eyre during his lunch break and still had time to chew through half of Ulysses before returning to classes. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel like a slow, slack-jawed simian struggling in the frontal-lobe department.The average reader snails through prose at a rate of about 250-300 words per minute, which roughly equates to about one page per minute. Bloom is surely cut from a rare cloth of reading comprehension because he whips through more than 16 pages per minute and still remembers almost everything he reads. For the rest of us, it's not so easy. In the World Championship Speed Reading Competition the top contestants typically read around 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute, but only manage about 50% comprehension.
That's just not good enough for literature.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
A Genre Of Its Own?
American exceptionalism is the idea that American literature has a voice separate from that of other Anglophone and European literature, literature professor Ezra Tawil explained. Tawil, with help from his colleagues Andrew Delbanco, the director of Columbia’s American studies department, and Ross Posnock, a fellow English professor, delivered an engaging and intriguing discussion and explanation of the topic at hand. American literature is, as Tawil said, “not merely different, but unique.” It has a different tone, a different set of rules to follow, and a different goal.
(Image credit: english-e-corner.com)
The author of the "Harry Potter" franchise says that she's writing "a political fairy tale" for "slightly younger children," reports the Kansas City Star, based on extras in the newly released DVD of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." She added that she's in no hurry to finish up quickly, and is learning to enjoy life without the crunch of deadlines.Meanwhile, work is underway for a $200 million Harry Potter theme park. "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" will include two roller coasters, a Hogwarts Castle, and even shops that are straight from Diagon Alley, like Olivander's wand shop, Honeydukes sweet shop and Zonko's Joke Shop.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
London, England (CNN) -- It is a truth universally acknowledged -- or nearly so -- that Jane Austen, the author of "Pride and Prejudice," died of a rare illness called Addison's disease, which robs the body of the ability to make critical hormones.
Katherine White doesn't believe it.
White, herself a sufferer of Addison's disease, has studied Austen's own letters and those of her family and friends, and concluded that key symptoms just don't match what's known about the illness.
...Patients also tend to have difficulty remembering words, and suffer from slurred speech, sleepiness and confusion.
Austen, by contrast, dictated a 24-line comic poem to her sister less than 48 hours before she died.
White is not the first to dispute the theory that Addison's disease killed Austen. British biographer Claire Tomalin suggested in a 1997 book that lymphoma was the culprit.
White finds that, too, unlikely.
She suspects the answer is much simpler: tuberculosis.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The melodies of the cries newborn babies produce differ depending on their native language, a new study says. Apparently humans start to practice language skills right in the first days of their lives.
Babies learn about speech even earlier. Some three months before birth a fetus’ ear is developed enough to hear sounds, including mother’s voice, which probably explains why infants as young as one month seem to prefer being talked to in their native language.
However, developing speaking skills of their own takes some time outside of the womb. Some 4 months after birth, babies start babbling in their parents’ language or languages.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Last week, the UK government barred state schools from offering a new IGCSE qualification because it would allow students to opt out of studying Shakespeare.
I think that the very idea that an entire generation of students could leave school without being exposed to Shakespeare at all is terrifying. The study of Shakespeare forges a link with our culture, our history, our heritage and our language - factors that will give the adults of tomorrow a solid grounding in life.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Children and books have a long history together, from summer days spent with a stack of page-turners in a backyard hammock, to reading on school nights with a flashlight under the covers. However, in today's world, books face competition for children's attention with video games, the Internet, television and other pastimes.
Because of these distractions, children's book authors, parents, librarians and teachers are having to incorporate different methods to encourage children to read.
One of the steps authors are taking is changing the subject matter of children's literature.
Many adults recall growing up reading tales of princesses, knights in shining armor and evil witches. However, current children's books have taken a step away from fairy tales and are gravitating toward solving the trials of real life.
Related Contrasting Article:
Sunday, November 8, 2009
DENVER — When does a library cease to be a library?
What started as a debate over whether brick-and-mortar libraries would survive much further into the 21st century turned into an existential discussion on the definition of libraries, as a gathering of technologists here at the 2009 Educause Conference pondered the evolution of one of higher education’s oldest institutions.
“Let’s face it: the library, as a place, is dead,” said Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University. “Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.”
her argument tapped into theories about the obsolescence of libraries — traditionally defined — that have grown along with the emergence of Web-based reference tools, e-books, digitized and born-digital content, and other technologies that some see as changing essential library functions.
Certain major research universities, she noted, have even begun moving their books to off-campus storage facilities due to space issues and a diminishing need for on-site hard copies. Libraries everywhere are eliminating pricey subscriptions to printed academic journals, often opting for less expensive digital versions.
Emotional Bunny Says: "Last night's Google search was, unfortunately, "free online books", and even more unfortunately, I found some."
(Image credit: ncad.ie)
Monday, October 26, 2009
Two US students have condensed the plot lines of some of the world's greatest books in to 140-character Twitter messages.
Sophocles' Oedipus the King is shortened to: "PARTY IN THEBES!!! Nobody cares I killed that old dude, plus this woman is all over me."
The compendium of tweets will be published next month by Penguin. Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books Retold Through Twitter, is written by Emmett Rensin, an English and philosophy student at the University of Chicago, and his university friend Alexander Aciman, who is studying comparative literature.
The books also covers Homer's The Odyssey, and the work of Milton, Kafka and Shakespeare.
"It's funny if you've read the books," said Rensin.
"There were some lines in the book where we're sitting on a couch and we're writing it, and we'd both laugh and say 'there's no way they're going to let us write that,'" Aciman said.
"I'm not going to say it's high art. There is some value to it, I feel, aside from the fact we're making available the idea behind great works of art."
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Plagiarism-detection software was created with lazy, sneaky college students in mind — not the likes of William Shakespeare. Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III. Literature scholars have long debated whether the play was written by Shakespeare — some bits are incredibly Bard-like, but others don't resemble his style at all. The verdict, according to one expert: the play is likely a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, another popular playwright of his time.
Sir Brian Vickers, a literature professor at the University of London, came to his conclusion after using plagiarism-detection software — as well as his own expertise — to compare writing patterns between Edward III and Shakespeare's body of work.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The Telegraph & Argus - He may be prone to moodiness and lacking in good looks but Mr Rochester, the Byronic hero of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Jane Eyre, has been named the most romantic literary character in history.
Rochester, the novel’s lead male character, who employs the orphaned Jane as a governess for his young ward, came top in the Mills & Boon poll, followed by Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Rochester, whose appearance is described as being “more remarkable for character than beauty”, proposes to Jane despite her lower social rank but their relationship ends when she discovers he is already married at their wedding ceremony.