Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Baumeister vs. Bazille

Willi Baumeister
1889 - 1955


Frederic Bazille
1841 - 1870


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Reading List: "Motoring with Mohammed"

Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
Eric Hansen, 1992.

Despite more than a passing interest in geography, in places, and in the varieties of human experience, I’ve never been a big fan of travel writing. Part of the problem may just be that I am not crazy about travel itself. Travel broadens, as we all know, but it also narrows: a traveler generally travels to places that appeal to his or her interests and beliefs, and then concludes from this experience that the world is more or less in line with what was expected.

Then too, the reports of a traveler suffer hugely from a sort of uncertainty principle: travel writing can not really capture what a place is really like, because the place itself is distorted by the presence of the traveler. Does this sound flip? I’m not being flip. The next time you read a piece of travel writing, pay attention to how much of the text is spent describing the plans, motives, adventures, and discomforts of the person traveling, how much is spent describing an outsider’s reaction to novelty, and how very, very much is spent describing amusing or amused conversations between the traveler and the local people. What is left over, generally, is more than just setting but much, much less than a real understanding of a place.

Eric Hansen’s Motoring With Mohammed is an interesting book about Eric Hansen, set in Yemen. Hansen is a smart, resourceful man who spent an amazing youth wandering about the antipodes. Just as he was beginning to think about settling down, he had a truly remarkable adventure involving a shipwreck in the Red Sea, rescue by Eritrean goat smugglers, and a brief period stranded in what was then North Yemen. Later, in the hopes of recovering personal journals lost in the shipwreck, he would return to that country, have a variety of very colorful adventures, and interview a lot of expatriates about their own very colorful adventures.

They really are awfully colorful adventures, and Hansen’s workmanlike prose renders them effectively enough. I chuckled occasionally. I thought about how remarkable Hansen’s life seems to have been, and found myself occasionally weighing his life choices against my own. But I also found myself wondering from time to time why I was reading these stories. Eric Hansen has been in some amazing situations, for sure, but Eric Hansen is not my favorite uncle. These are the amazing stories of someone else’s favorite uncle.

Let’s be fair. To be sure, I found the glimpses of Yemen and Yemeni life very interesting. I found myself digging out various maps of Yemen. In fact, my threshold of interest has been raised to the point where, if I were to encounter a book about Yemen, or better yet a book FROM Yemen, I might toss it onto the pile.

There are two technical flaws to Motoring With Mohamed that are grievous enough to be worth mentioning. The first is that, in a book about a man wandering around North Yemen having adventures, there is a map of North Yemen… following the final page. I salute the decision to include the map, but it would have been nice to know it was there while I was still reading the book.

Secondly, the title is unfortunate. If it is intended to be read literally, it refers to a single trip made in the company of a man named Mohammed that occupies considerably less than one-tenth of the book. If, on the other hand, it is supposed to suggest that this book captures some sort of essence of what it is like to travel within the Islamic world, than it is patently delusional. If it is Hansen’s own title, I’d love to know what he was thinking, but I kind of suspect that it’s just a set of words that a meeting at the publishing house thought would be jaunty enough to sell a book of real-life adventure stories set in the southern mountains of the Arabian Peninsula.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Element of the Year 2011: The Voting

Wow, wasn't it an exciting year in Chemistry?  Yes it was!  And now it is time once again to select the Element of the Year!

It's never easy.  We investigated twelve more extremely excellent elements this year, and I know we'll all have a hard time deciding which is our favorite.

January: Mo -- Molybdenum
February: Tl -- Thallium
March: B -- Boron
April: Cr -- Chromium
May: N -- Nitrogen
June: Es -- Einsteinium
July: Nb -- Niobium
August: Lr -- Lawrencium
September: Np -- Neptunium  
October: Yb -- Ytterbium
November: Tb -- Terbium
December: K -- Potassium
Or to see 'em all at once, click here.

How will we decide?  Same as last year!  YOU, that's right YOU, gentle reader, may pick your first, second, and third favorites, and make your votes in the comments (or send 'em in by boring postcard, or by whatever means you prefer communicating with the IAT (formerly L&TM5K)).


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is about the concept of man as a heroic being


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. What's that word that means "hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture?"

2. Who's the 1684-1721 French painter dude whose most famous work might be this one, The Embarkation for Cythera?

3. Here's a radar image; an actual photograph wouldn't show you much because of the dense clouds of sulfuric acid in its upper atmosphere. What is this hard-to-get-to place?

4. It's first Article is: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

5. Who is this fictional young man?

6. Who claimed that the Angel Moroni lent him scriptures written on golden plates?

7. Born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum in Russia, she moved the United States when she was about 20. She spent a lot of energy promoting her ideas about "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."  What was her pen name?

8. It's what you get when you divide the dividend by the divisor.

9. If you've got an all-powerful and benevolent god, why would human suffering exist? This little conundrum is known as the "_________   ___   _____."

10. She was the star of "Thimble Theatre" for ten years before Popeye even existed.


Send your answers to Michael5000 inscribed on golden plates.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 2: Archipenko v. Arcimboldo

Alexander Archipenko
Ukranian; worked in France and the United States.
Defeated Karel Appel in Round 1


Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Italian (Milanese)
Defeated Jean Arp in Round 1.


[It's also Archipenko v. Arcimboldo in the M5K personal tourney.]


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Bassano v. Batoni

Jacopo Bassano
1510 - 1592


Pompeo Batoni
1708 - 1787


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Michael5000's Nine Best Lists of Christmas Carols

Four Christmas Carols That Sound Different in the United States and England

"Angels from the Realms of Glory"
"Away in a Manger"
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night"

Three Christmas Carols That Have Swoopy Arpeggios

"Angels We Have Heard on High"
"Carol of the Bells"
"Ding Dong Merrily on High"

Eight Christmas Songs That Arguably Suffer from a Surfeit of Repetition

"Deck the Halls"
"Do You Hear What I Hear?"
"The First Noël"
"Here We Come A-Wassailing"
"The Little Drummer Boy"
“(Simply Having) a Wonderful Christmastime”
"The Twelve Days of Christmas"
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

Six Popular Christmas Songs That Lose a Little Something By the Time You Have Your Permanent Teeth

"Frosty the Snowman"
"It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas"
"Jingle Bells"
"Let It Snow"
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"

Six Remarkably Well-Written Popular Christmas Songs

“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
"Blue Christmas"
"The Christmas Song"
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
"I'll Be Home for Christmas"
“The Happiest Christmas”

Five Popular Christmas Songs That Work Best if Belted Out by a Performer Who Is All Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree*

“(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays”
“The Secret of Christmas”
"Silver Bells"
"White Christmas"
"Winter Wonderland"

*This is also true of several songs on other lists.

Thirteen Awesome Carols That Get Medieval* On Your Christmas

“Adeste Fidelius” (“O Come All Ye Faithful”)
"The Coventry Carol"
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
"The Holly and the Ivy"
"I Saw Three Ships"
"In Dulci Jubilo" (“Good Christian Men Rejoice”)
"Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
"O Come O Come Emanuel”
“O Sanctissima”
“The Sussex Carol" ("On Christmas Night All Christians Sing")
“Ther is No Rose of Swych Vertu”
“Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle”
"The Wexford Carol" ("Good People All, This Christmastide")

*or come from so deep in the folk tradition that nobody really knows their origins 

Seven Pretty Sweet Christmas Carols From the Nineteenth Century

"Good King Wenceslas"
"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"
"O Holy Night"
"Once in Royal David's City"
"Past Three O'Clock"
"Silent Night"
"We Three Kings of Orient Are"

Five Christmas Carols That Were Composed by, Like, Composers

“Ave Maria” (Schubert)
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (Mendelssohn)
"In the Bleak Midwinter" (Holst)
“O Jesu So Meek” (Bach)
“Panis Angelicus” (Franck)


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is drifting towards an incapacitating insanity


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. While addicted to opium and drifting towards an incapacitating insanity, this once-talented scholar crafted theories of a vaguely defined future entity that would transcend humanity, promulgated the idea that all living things value power over survival, and insisted that certain exceptional people should not be constrained by morality -- and yet, oddly, he is still taken seriously in many quarters. Who is this very famous nineteenth century German guy?

2. It's the largest city in northern Mexico and the capital of Nuevo León.

3. Speaking of the will to power, here's a frame from the movie _______________.

4. This is, for better or worse, among the best-known works of the Swiss painter _____________.

5. A highly intellectual plantation farmer, he founded the University of Virginia; his private library became the core collection of the Library of Congress. He also had an active diplomatic and political career. What's his name?

6. What's the term for this?

7. It's sometimes said that there are 330 million of them, but then it's often said that they are all avatars of Brahman.  What are they?

8. What was the name of the ambitious economic development program in the late 1950s and early 1960s that, in addition to stifling its country's economy, ended up killing about 25 million people? (Oddly, its architect is still taken seriously in some quarters.)

9. This is the Wednesday Quiz of Nonidi, 29 Frimaire CCXX in the ____________________.

10. What the technical term for a chemical reaction that releases heat?


Put 330 million answers in the comments.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Cymbeline (Arden, 1955)

The Play: Cymbeline
Edition: Arden, edited by J.M. Nosworthy, 1955.

Genre & Setting: Cymbeline is one of the “Romances,” which I have generally taken to mean “one of the ones that are hard to classify as either Tragedy, Comedy, or History.” J.M. Nosworthy saw me coming, though, and in the introduction cites literature to the effect that
the term ‘romance,’ as applied to Shakespeare’s final plays, is not merely a vague substitute for something more specific, but is exact in the restricted and historical sense of the word. These plays belong in matter and tone to a [particular] literature of love and love-making….
He lists the characteristics of “a full-fledged Elizabethan romance”:

  • “Love is treated as a sublime and momentous experience which imposes courtesy and hazardous quests.”
  • “Faithful love is subjected to abnormal strain….”
  • Complex scenarios grow out of scheming and intrigue.
  • There is much coincidence and mistaken identity.
  • Characters make elaborate quests for unlikely reasons.
  • There are journeys through the forest.
  • “Ultimately the whole contorted pattern yields to poetic justice which effects the conventional happy ending.”
As it turns out, this is almost a perfect recipe for the action of Cymbeline. OMG it’s the perfect romance! Except, since this was a definition chosen from among many competitors by an editor who wanted to establish Cymbeline as a romance, and since Cymbeline is one of the high profile (and therefore literally definitive) examples of the genre, we should probably recognize that there is some circularity happening here. But whatever. No blood, no foul.

The play is set in quasi-historical Britain, Cymbeline being a quasi-legendary (I think) early British chieftain who pays tribute to, but is not part of, the Roman Empire. Bits happen in Cymbeline’s capital, and other bits happen in, of all places, Milford Haven, Wales. In practical terms, though, everything really happens in a generalized fairytale kingdom of long ago.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: So there’s this king, Cymbeline, but like Henry IV and Julius Caesar, he is a minor character in his own Shakespeare play. So let’s not worry too much about him.

The action of Cymbeline is something of a Rube Goldberg machine in which a number of very common plot elements are all superimposed on top of each other, creating a perfect storm of many, many unlikely misunderstandings and wacky complications until all is put right in a deluge of last-act revelations.  Here’s how it’s put together.

We begin with
(1) The Princess who Wants to Marry Below Her Station. Imogen, who is of course lovely and pure, wants to marry Leonatus Posthumous. Posthumous, as he is called, got his ridiculous name because he was the son of a guy named Leonatus who died shortly after his birth, leaving him an orphan. He was brought up in Cymbeline’s court, which gave me the queasy sensation early on that Imogen the lovely and pure was wanting to get it going on with her adoptive brother, but it becomes fairly clear, I think, that we aren’t supposed to regard the relationship in that light. Nevertheless, Dad is pissed.

(2) The Wicked Stepmother. “Queen” – she is not given a name – pretends to be all sugar and spice, but is secretly contemptuous of Cymbeline. She wants to secure the throne for her doltish son Clotten by marrying him off to Imogen. Obviously she is not thrilled by the Posthumous business.

(3) The Dumb-Ass Bet About the Girlfriend’s Fidelity. The stupidest device in all of literature, but you know how it is with playwrights and librettists: cosi fan tutti. Posthumous, banished from Britain for his insolent nuptial aspirations, makes a bet with Iachimo, a dastardly Italian, that he (Iachimo) won’t be able to talk Imogen into putting out for him. Iachimo – rather cleverly, really – asks Imogen to store a crate for him in her room, then sneaks out of the crate while she’s asleep to take a thorough inventory of her décor and physique. Back in Italy, he uses this fairly dubious evidence, along with some uncharitable fibs, to convince Posthumous that Imogen was not as constant as might have been expected. Posthumous – perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed – takes it hook, line, and sinker, and writes home commanding his faithful servant to have Imogen killed.

(4) The Long Lost Brothers/The Nice Young Rustics Who Don’t Realize They Are Heirs to the Throne. Tipped off by the faithful servant, Imogen takes off to Milford Haven, where she expects to find Posthumous and be able to clear things up. Near there, she meets some very nice guys who live in a cave. They are of course her brothers, the princes who we happened to hear about early on, the ones who mysteriously disappeared in their infancy. Cool.

(5) Amazingly Successful Cross-Dressing. I should mention that, having fled the Queen, Imogen spends most of the second half of the play disguised as a boy.

(6) Poison! Unfortunately, the Queen has passed some poison on to Imogen. She drinks it and dies.

(7) OMG She’s Dead! Fortunately, a wise doctor back home had realized that the Queen is bad business, and when she asked him for poison he just gave her some Ambien. So Imogen isn’t really dead.

(8) OMG He’s Dead! Clotten, however, is quite dead, having picked a fight with the wrong Rustic Who Is Actually, Unbeknownst To Himself, A Long-Lost Prince. Clotten rode out to Milton Haven intending to rape Imogen and drag her home for a good old-fashioned marriage of convenience, but this did not work out. So, Imogen wakes up next to Clotten’s body. She doesn’t recognize him, though, because (a) he has been decapitated and (b) he had dressed up in Posthumous’ clothes in order to taunt Imogen during the whole rape business. Therefore the Princess, who apparently has not made it much past first base with her fiance’, assumes that this body must be her beloved Posthumous. She is naturally distraught.

Do you feel like there are enough balls in the air at this point? Shakespeare apparently did, because now events are pushed along by a Roman invasion. King Cymbeline is briefly captured but is saved by his long-lost sons, although neither of them recognize each other yet. Posthumous has come back and engages in some swordplay with the dastardly Iachimo. Posthumous is remorseful for having made the dumb bet and for having had Imogen killed. Iachimo is remorseful for having made the dumb bet and for having been so, you know, dastardly.

And at this point, having erected radical misunderstandings and/or mistaken identities between pretty much any two major characters, Shakespeare manages to gather everybody in one place: Milford Haven! So the last act is preposterous, or great fun, or both, with its long parade of Amazing Revelations. Information trickles in from minor characters, and major characters decide to finally reveal their secrets, and lo, we in the audience are treated to the spectacle of the characters finally figuring out all of the things that we have known about all along. It’s called “dramatic irony,” and in Cymbeline it is turned up to 11.

The Edition: Y’all probably know that most Shakespeare plays have more than one source text, that they don’t generally line up especially well, and that there’s ample grounds for speculation about whether specific scenes in a given play might have been written by one of Shakespeare’s pals, or maybe just slapped together by somebody who had acted in or seen the play, working from memory. So a Shakespeare “Edition,” in addition to offering lots of contextual information and (Shakespeare scholarship being Shakespeare scholarship) great edifices of educated guesswork, has heaps of notes on the texts.

This is the first time I’ve ever read an edition thinking about its quality as an edition. What I noticed is that Nosworthy generally tells you what various literary giants of the past thought about a portion of the text, and then tells you what HE thinks. He tacitly makes fun of critics who shallowly argue that a scene or passage should be omitted as “not Shakespearean,” for instance, but then he doesn’t really give a lot of insight into his own thought processes either. The bulk of the notes recap somewhat esoteric disputes about the meaning of difficult or garbled passages that you can otherwise blow past without too much trouble. The notes are generally pretty interesting in their own light, though, and there is occasionally one that you are really grateful to for clearing up an otherwise opaque passage. The most entertaining are the ones that summarize centuries of argument over the meaning of a passage that, as far as ~I~ can tell, are completely unproblematic.  I have read that this kind of thing is just an occasional hazard of serious literary study.

Adaptation: It seems to me that you could go two directions with Cymbeline. You could play it straight, as the adventures of Imogen the Princess, and end up with such melodrama that it would be tough to keep the audience from laughing. The wiser choice, I think, would be to revel in the overblown plot mechanics and stage it as a very early absurdist comedy.

Prognosis: In the introductory material, Nosworthy – who, since he is editing an edition of Cymbeline, has a powerful vested interest in saying that it is awesome – suggests that the strength of the play is that it is a pioneering work in the new genre of Romance, and that its inconsistencies and rough patches just show how experimental it was. The flaws of the play are spun so as to flatter Shakespeare: “look how close to the cutting edge he was!”

Personally, I can’t help wondering if Cymbeline was something more along the lines of a “spoof.” Why not? Self-referential parody was certainly around in the English tradition before Shakespeare – check out Chaucer’s own tale in the Cantebury tales – so why couldn’t a talented and popular dude like Shakespeare throw together a light-hearted lampoon of the goofy plot devices that undergirded most of his work? It would have been fun for him, and his fans probably would have loved it. “The OMG He’s Dead gambit! Ha! Ha! Just like that one about the Italian kids!”


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Infinite Art Update

Don't let the Advent Calendar distract you from voting in this weekend's first-round IAT action: Living German Guy Georg Baselitz versus Late 20th-Century American Jean-Michel Basquiat!!!

Other active first-round action!!

Balthus v. Fra Bartolommeo

Baldung v. Balla

Avercamp v. Bacon

Audubon v. Auerbach

Archimboldo v. Arp -- Polls closing soon!

Appel v. Archipenko -- Polls closing soon!

And available for voting in the Second Round!!

Fra Angelico v. Anguissola

Altdorfer v. Andre

Agasse v. Algardi

Remember: Your vote counts as we continue the long long journey to decide the greatest artist of all time!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Baselitz v. Basquiat

Georg Baselitz
1938 -


Jean-Michel Basquiat
1960 - 1986


Vote for the artist of your choice!  Votes go in the comments.  Commentary and links to additional work are welcome.  Polls open for one month past posting.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Not the Reading List: King, Queen, Knave

King, Queen, Knave
Vladimir Nabokov (as V. Sirin), 1928.
Translated and Revised 1968.

King, Queen, Knave is not on the Reading List. I bought it because it is by Nabokov, and because it has an awesomely lurid cover. It’s interesting to think that, almost within my lifetime, Nabokov was not just an important literary figure, not just a bestselling author, but a bestselling author who had enough commercial power that they would try to sell his books in tawdry paperback form. There must have been a fair number of disappointed buyers, I’ll tell you what.

It’s a book with an interesting background.  During his twenties, waiting for the Russian Revolution to run its course so he could head home, Nabokov tutored in various languages, taught tennis and boxing, worked on his butterfly collection, composed chess puzzles, and published a couple of novels in the Russian émigré press; this was his second book. It didn't make much of a splash, until the runaway success of Lolita made the Nabokov brand name capable of pushing serious book sales. At this point, he had his son make a literal translation of King, Queen, Knave into English, and from that raw material made substantial revisions to his forty-year old text and tale. What I read, then, is kind of an interesting mashup of younger Nabokov and older Nabokov, with some level of input from Nabokov Junior. Cool.

The story, and of course I am about to issue spoilers, is a very simple contrivance about a country boy who comes to Berlin to seek a job in his uncle’s commercial empire, but whoops, falls under the spell of his sexy sexy aunt. This premise is very simple – there are really only three characters in the book – and the complications that ensue are fairly simple complications, if you follow me. Ultimately, though, Nabokov has a few surprises and ironies up his sleeve to reward the part of your brain that follows the plot.

The Usual Triangle?  In a Nabokov Novel?  Hardly.

But this is not a book that’s “about” the plot. It’s really a book about narrative technique (although if that makes it sound deadly tedious you could just say that it’s the kind of story where it’s not so much what he said, it’s the way that he said it). Specifically, Nabokov’s gambit here is to radically destabilize the point-of-view. None of the three characters is a POV character – or rather, they all are. This is not especially unusual in and of itself – lots of books switch POV from chapter to chapter – but in King, Queen, Knave, the POV slithers around from paragraph to paragraph. Nor is there always much in the way of signposting, and occasionally we realize with a start that the perspective has shifted without us noticing, and we have moved from, say, the uncle’s to the nephew’s conception of the situation.

Nabokov has fun using this unstable perspective to enrich the simple complexities of his story. Since each of the characters has secrets from the others, and since none of the three are particularly self-aware personalities, his subtle sliding around from mind to mind lets him exploit their disparities of information for dramatic and comic (albeit dry-as-dust comic) effect. We readers, meanwhile, have the satisfaction that always comes when we have access to lots of information and get to watch the poor benighted characters stumble about in their relative blindness. As I will say about a very different piece of fiction next week: it’s called “dramatic irony,” and in King, Queen, Knave it is turned up to 11.

Now, what (older) Nabokov himself found most interesting about KQK when he exhumed it for revision is that (younger) Nabokov used the technique of interior monologue at a time when he had not read, and didn’t yet know much about, Ulysses. Nabokov – (older) Nabokov – had a bit of an axe to grind on the subject of interior monologue, feeling that Joyce had been given more credit for pioneering the technique than he deserved. Specifically, he felt that interior monologue was plainly on display in Tolstoy, particularly in Anna Karenina. Therefore, finding his younger self crafting interior monologues at a time when he was presumably under the influence of the Russian masters, but not so much the English-language modernists, is a nice homegrown piece of evidence to support his theory.

Me, I’m more hung up on this shifting-perspectives thing, and I think it’s interesting too that KQK was written only a few years after the heyday of Cubism. Because, see, it’s not just that point of view shifts among the characters.  A given paragraph might also find us in a mode of neutral observation, or in the care of a conventionally omniscient narrator, or addressed by an unconventionally omniscient narrator who is able to make reference to the characters’ futures, or the provenance or destiny of ordinary items encountered by the characters. Some second-person narration is occasionally thrown in for good measure.

Cubist painters tried to show us things in a new way by breaking down the visual field – rendering objects or people from multiple angles (or through a sequence of time) simultaneously. Essentially, their idea was to fracture the concept of point of view. Nabokov’s fractured point of view is metaphorical rather than literal, but there’s something of the same effect: we have the sensation of looking at the characters from multiple angles all at the same time, and although our usual conventions of representation are being tampered with, there are new ways of looking at things to be discovered as well.

You may be wondering if I enjoyed the book. Yeah, it was pretty good. I gave it 4/5 stars on Goodreads. It’s not a book that many would read compulsively – I could put it down! – but it entertained me, especially in the final third. But more to the point, it also made me think in new ways about words and stories, and I liked that. Since so much of conscious life is built out of words and stories, it seems to me that thinking about how they work is always a good sort of experience to be chasing after.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz is basically an elaborate alegory about Freemasonry


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. Aristotle's best-known student conquered some of the greatest empires of his times to put together, briefly, a vast kingdom stretching from the Adriatic and the Nile to the Indus River. Then he died, age 32. What was his name?

2. Because it's basically an elaborate alegory about Freemasonry, its plot is incomprehensible. But since the music is pretty, this opera about Tamino, Papageno the bird-catcher, and their adventures with the Queen of the Night was one of Mozart's big hits. What's is it called?

3. Element number 70 is a silvery-white metal! What's its name? You may have two guesses in this case. Or you can say what it's named after.

4. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen got the 1901 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with this phenomenon.

5. This is Pierre Charles L'Enfant's most famous design!

What is it?

6. Why, it's a population density map of _____________!

7. Why, it's an infrared image of ____________!

8. A tropical fruit native to the Sudan, it is fairly common in the foods of India, Africa, and Latin America. In the United States, you are only likely to encounter it in drinks sold in Mexican restaurants or markets... or in Worchestershire sauce. What is it?

9. Element number 11 is a silvery-white metal! It's essential to your biological function, but if you live in North America you probably have way too much of it in your diet, since it's so deliciously savory when combined with Element number 17! What's it called?

10. If you've read a book that is a thinly-veiled treatment of actual people and events, and you want to impress the people in the English department, you refer to it as a ___________________.


Put your thinly-veiled treatment of actual people and events in the comments.