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How do you organize your library?


A proper answer would imply writing an autobiography. It reminds me of a delightful work by a seventeenth-century French scholar, Gabriel Naudé, Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque. For me there are several criteria—practical, aesthetic, capricious. The essential thing is to obey what Aby Warburg called the “law of the good neighbor.” When looking for a book, you may discover that you were in fact looking for the book next to it. It’s the principle on which the marvelous Warburg Library in London is based. And of course the positions of books change in the course of time. They become like a geologic system of layers. In my case, alas, the books are in different places—around twenty thousand in the basement of the publishing house, and more yet in another apartment.

Paris Review — The Art of Fiction No. 217, Roberto Calasso


The fear of the cold, the terror of boredom, the mother treated like a lover, surreptitiousness and decency conjoined in the place of art; only Baudelaire could combine these elements almost without noticing, as if it were fully natural. It is an irresistible invitation, extended to anyone who reads it. And anyone can response to it, by roaming through Baudelaire as in one of the Salons he wrote about —or even in a Universal Exposition: finding all kinds of the things, the memorable and the ephemeral, the sublime and trash; and moving constantly form one room to another. But then the unifying liquid was the impure air of the time. Now it is an opiate cloud, in which to conceal and fortify oneself before going back into the open, in the vast, lethal, and teeming expanses of the twenty-first century.

Roberto Calasso, La Folie Baudelaire. Translated by Alastair McEwen.

Part of the first paragraph of the book and I want to see the Italian this was translated from. Anyone have an Italian version and willing to send me this in the original? 

A new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder. The new Age of Wonder might bring together wealthy entrepreneurs … and a worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders, working together to make the planet beautiful as well as fertile, hospitable to hummingbirds as well as to humans

Freeman Dyson, from Edge.org

Not sure how I feel about this. Feels both magical and Frankensteinian. After a breakfast discussion today around the legal underpinnings of a country that has trouble separating sex and gender and sexual preference, how fixed the US system wants to be to classify and create rules. What happens when there are fewer fixed categories for everything?

We do see this already with the coming questions of rights and ethics of robots, and questions of responsibility. Somehow these seem to come back to law, not morality.

These should be moral questions, I think. Getting caught in legality is an avoidance of existence, of thinking, of truly understanding. 

Books weekending 13 June 2013 (timewarp version)

Creation is always in the dark because you can only do the work of making by not quite knowing what you’re doing, by walking into darkness, not staying in the light.

Rebecca Solnit (via nicolefenton)


and right before that, Solnit writes this, which really helps me on this dark and wintry weekend. 

The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. In darkness dreams awaken and dreamers merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next.

(via kthread)

I find all of this particularly interesting, having spent a summer in perpetual light. The endless light, the lack of time for required sleeping, the lack of rules for how to structure a day, created a blissful state of continued creativity and desire. 

We mythologize darkness, from our creation stories, to the ways in which we work, love, create, and dream. Dreaming in the light is at least as good as dreaming in the dark. And I often wonder, why not have the origins of the world begin with pure light, and explode to include the darkness. This makes more sense to me. 

The paths dictated are not the ones you must take.

[The above three paragraphs are me, but it seems to want to credit it to kthread as well, and tumblr won’t let me fix that.] 

(via kthread)

The Harrison Report

In the movie Is The Man Who is Tall Happy there is a small section about The Harrison Report, something I had never heard of. It is a report in which Earl G. Harrison criticizes the US Army for its treatment of Jewish survivors, and is in the form of a letter to Truman. Gondry quotes a small piece of it, which I will include below. I recommend reading the entire report. 

(3) Although some Camp Commandants have managed, in spite of the many obvious difficulties, to find clothing of one kind or another for their charges, many of the Jewish displaced persons, late in July, had no clothing other than their concentration camp garb-a rather hideous striped pajama effect-while others, to their chagrin, were obliged to wear German S.S. uniforms. It is questionable which clothing they hate the more.

Noise and sound

A recent NYT article cites Schopenhauer, “…nothing disrupts thought the way noise does, Schopenhauer declared, adding that even people who are not philosophers lose whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts of sound.”

It is an interesting concept, but then, what is noise? The world is not ever silent, we simply declare some sounds, or perhaps the lack of certain sounds, to be silent. 

George Prochnik, in his book In Pursuit of Silence, takes this idea to an entirely different level. The most interesting thing to me, in all of his book, is that he speaks to city-dwelling teens who associate noise with negative events, such as the death of a parent. So they fear silence, rather than see it as a time of beauty and reflection. 

Living in a rural area, it is never quiet. The peepers are so loud at night they echo along my walls. We have, humans, I think, a tendancy to consider noise that which we do not like, and and quiet to be that which we do. Even when the quiet is so loud it reverberates in your mind. 

Late in the dark evenings, when it is silent, when the peepers have suddenly stop howling, or in the afternoons in the wood, when the birds stop calling out to each other, the silence indicates potential danger. 

But for city dwellers, in a world of sound, silence seems a utopia, even though it never is. White noise machines brush like sand paper across my ears. The single sound in a silent room is utterly disruptive. Constant steady state noise, however, allows me to hear nothing, and to focus my mind in the way that Schopenhauer describes. 

I can’t think in the strange enforced silence where each noise is a travesty.  Think of the click of fingernails on a keyboard in the quiet car of Amtrak. Or the man clipping his nails on an airplane. But in the utter chaos of petanque and chess and city cars in Bryant Park, I can hear nothing but the thoughts in my own mind. 

It is the sudden sound, the disruptive sound, the unexpected sound, that breaks the ability to think. Not the steady noises of life whirring along, be they natural or otherwise. And silence, itself, is so unnatural that when you find it, it edges creepily across you, a warning, something to be wary of, not time to wander free, considering the great philosophical questions of your time. That is a time to let instinct kick in, and let the philosophy consider itself. For a bit. 


On the way from mythology to logistics, thought has lost the element of self-reflection, and today machinery disables men even as it nurtures them.

The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Mak Horkheimer