Suffering and Literature

“In Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey into Russian History (Faber), which is history-cum-travelogue, Rachel Polonsky, a Cambridge academician, asks whether “there is a set of secret maps to be found among a person’s books, a way through the fortifications of the self” that would explain why a person’s deep love and apparent appreciation of literature (and culture in the larger sense) can be responsible for the execution of so many writers during the purges. Is this because, as the Russian scholar Dmitri Likhachev said, “the Russian people perish from an excess of space” that makes its literature “the most significant, the most tragic, the most philosophical”? These are the underlying questions, often asked about the relationship between suffering and literature, that Polonsky pursues in her book as she travels around the former Soviet empire to revisit the ghosts of great Russian writers of the past.”

From: business-standard.com/india/news/v-vjourney-into-russian-history/418671/

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When the Sword is Mightier than the Pen

“PEN’s survey allowed participants to ofer long-form comments on surveillance; PEN also invited members to share their thoughts and personal experiences via email. In reviewing the responses, themes emerged centering on writers’ self-censorship and fear that their communications would bring harm to themselves, their friends, or sources:

1. PEN writers now assume that their communications are monitored.
2. The assumption that they are under surveillance is harming freedom of expression by prompting writers to self-censor their work in multiple ways, including:
a) reluctance to write or speak about certain subjects;
b) reluctance to pursue research about certain subjects; and
c) reluctance to communicate with sources, or with friends abroad, for fear that they will endanger their counterparts by doing so.”

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Book censorship in America

“Under the First Amendment, the U.S. government cannot outright ban literature in the United States, but [...]  books can be hidden from public view or written off as conspiracy theory in order to prevent people from reading them.”

“While censorship is often conducted by corporations and governments to prevent words, images or ideas from entering the mainstream, censorship of literature has been around as early as 399 B.C. and has affected intellectuals and philosophers such as Socrates.” [...]

“The urge to censor is hardly the monopoly of any political group. But the greatest threat today comes from the fundamentalist right, with its ideological hostility to other religious or philosophical systems, to homosexuality, to sex education, and indeed to the basic idea of secular education.”

“Whether in print or digital format, books are a precious resource, providing us with information, entertainment, opinions, ideas, and a window on lives far different from our own,” wrote Molly Raphael, president of the American Library Association, in a piece to remind Americans that censorship still exists, even with the existence of the Internet.”

“Free access to books and ideas is the foundation of our government and our society, enabling every person to become an educated participant in our democratic republic.”

From: mintpressnews.com/banned-forgotten-book-censorship-u-s/193202/

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Creativity a Byproduct of Mental Disorder?

“intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart [...] But if high IQ does not indicate creative genius, then what does? [...]

What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? [...]

As research methodology improved over time, the idea that genius might be hereditary gained support. [...]

For many of my subjects from that first study—all writers associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—mental illness and creativity went hand in hand. This link is not surprising. The archetype of the mad genius dates back to at least classical times, when Aristotle noted, “Those who have been eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia. [...]

Among those who ended up losing their battles with mental illness through suicide are Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Mark Rothko, Diane Arbus, Anne Sexton, and Arshile Gorky. [...]

The creative [...] and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do. [...] 

Why does creativity run in families? What is it that gets transmitted? How much is due to nature and how much to nurture? Are writers especially prone to mood disorders because writing is an inherently lonely and introspective activity? What would I find if I studied a group of scientists instead?”

And the answer is: theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/06/secrets-of-the-creative-brain/372299/

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Literary Fame is a Fleeting Moment

“The team also investigated the changing nature of fame over the past two centuries. By looking at the frequency of famous people’s names in literature, they showed that celebrities born in the mid-20th century tended to be younger and more famous than those of the 19th century, but their fame lasted for a shorter period of time. By 1950, celebrities were achieving fame, on average, when they were 29, compared with 43 for celebrities around 1800. “People are getting more famous than ever before,” wrote the researchers, “but are being forgotten more rapidly than ever.”

“Mark Twain is among the most famous writers and among the most famous people,” said Michel. “Among the American presidents, it’s Theodore Roosevelt.”

“Aiden warned against straightforward comparisons of historical figures, however. “It’s comparing apples and oranges comparing presidents from the mid to late 20th century and those that precede them. The reason is that they haven’t really had the full opportunity to reach the height of their fame trajectory. By virtue of having been around longer, someone in the mid-19th century is going to have accrued a lot of fame.”

“By the mid 20th century, the most famous actors tended to achieve fame at around 30 years of age, while writers had to wait until they were 40. For politicians, fame didn’t tend to happen until they reached 50 or above.”

“Science is a poor route to fame. Physicists and biologists eventually reached a similar level of fame as actors but it took them far longer,” wrote the researchers. “Alas, even at their peak, mathematicians tend not to be appreciated by the public.”

From: theguardian.com/science/2010/dec/16/google-tool-english-cultural-trends

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Bestsellers Bad for Reading Culture?

“Michael Dirda wrote about book best-seller lists for BookForum, calling them “bad for readers, bad for publishing, and bad for culture. Above all, despite appearances, the best-seller list isn’t populist; it’s elitist. If there are a dozen slots, six are filled by the same old establishment names. For every James Patterson novel on the list, that’s one fewer novel by someone else.” He continued:

The best-seller list functions, in essence, as a restraint of trade, a visible hand that crushes the life out of the literary marketplace. If one were to magically eliminate every form of the list, in print and online, as well as all those best-seller tables in Barnes & Noble, what would happen? People would spend more time browsing a bookstore’s stock, they would skim a page or two of various interesting-looking titles, and eventually they would plunk down their twenty dollars. In short, they would actively engage with a greater portion of our literary culture. Customers might even discuss their tastes with the shop’s owner or staff, who would actually recommend a few appropriate titles. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues might also suggest beloved novels, biographies, and poetry collections.

Without a best-seller list, authors would compete on something like a level playing field, while readers would buy the books that spoke most meaningfully to their particular interests and tastes rather than settling for the one-size-fits-all titles found in the back pages of the New York Times Book Review.”

From” salon.com/2014/06/22/casey_kasem_ronald_reagan_and_musics_1_percent_artificial_popularity_is_not_democracy/

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Writers as Activists

“If [...] creative writers, researchers, playwrights, artists and film-makers care more for how the posterity is going to judge their work and their times, then they should not care for publishers of the Establishments, funding agencies, interviews to corporate media, acceptance by ‘refereed journals’ and the so-called international awards, but should consciously orientate their work for directing the struggle to face its due target and for giving confidence and optimism to the masses”…

From:  tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=37252

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Writers Must be Involved in Every Struggle

“The indispensability of every struggle revolves around the collective intellectual pool … an “intellectual” is a person who produces literature – that is, a novelist, poet, dramatist or any other branch of literary genre. I think it is generally true that in all cultures writers have a separate, perhaps even more honorific place.

What are the responsibilities of the intellectual?

Writers and journalists have often been called upon to act as defenders of free speech … and sometimes have had to pay for their words with exile or with their lives. But their role is vital, especially in rousing opposition to dictatorial or otherwise illegitimate regimes. It is the job of the intellectual to give a voice to those who are unable to speak. As I see it, intellectuals are those who have diverse wisdom and foresight, who apply their intellect and forward-looking visions for the purpose of awakening society. They help to divert the masses from what is unwise and wrong toward what is righteous and the good.

Immanuel Kant believed that intellectuals must get involved.”

From: kashmirlife.net/vol06-issue12-3-60030/

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Warning: Literature Will Stir Your Mind

In “some American universities, novels such as The Great Gatsby and Mrs Dalloway are being tagged with “trigger warnings” alerting students to potentially disturbing material.”

“Why would anyone take an English literature course if they were so fragile they could not cope with the emotions great literature deals with? That is not the main issue, however. The problem with such tagging is that it grossly insults the book itself and literature in general. All other arguments against such overprotective coddling are as nothing to the sheer ignorance such a process displays for the art of writing.”

“Almost all first-class fiction revolves around painful issues of some sort. Trying to protect readers from the corrosive aspects of life is akin to sending a child out into the world without their vaccinations.”

…”writers are mirrors of their times, and a saintly novelist does not and never will exist. We read not to encounter perfect, politically correct or sanitised characters, but to enter the author’s imagined worlds, warts and all. Strip out all conflict or fear, prejudice or unpleasantness, violence, death or heartbreak, and you’d have nothing but Janet and John storybooks.”

From: heraldscotland.com/mobile/books-poetry/comment-debate/good-literature-can-disturb-get-over-it.24094002

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Political Will can Build Cultural Prosperity

“It should be noted that while one’s willingness to read is important, forging a reading-friendly environment is also crucial. From this viewpoint, efforts should be strengthened to build more libraries across the country ― hopefully to put every resident within walking distance of the facilities ― and to organize various events and programs aimed at establishing a strong reading culture. It may also serve this purpose to offer tax deductions on book purchases or provide book vouchers for low-income families, who put aside much less to spend on books.”

The “President [...] has advocated cultural prosperity as one of her key policy goals. Encouraging people to read more books will be the foundation for achieving it and building a society in which all people feel happy and find meaning in their lives.”

From: m.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140501000391

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