Archive for Literature

Nanostories and the Hyper-massification of Culture

Posted in Literature, Reviews, Useful with tags , , , , on August 22, 2009 by xugro

There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred. There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognize the necessity of justifying the work of art. When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism.    –Ortega y Gasset

For a while now, I’ve been wondering about the consequences of our the Internet’s sheer multiplication of narratives and the radical democratization of cultural production that the web, along with powerful and ever-cheaper technology,  has engendered. What are the consequences for culture if everyone, potentially, can produce it? I can record high-quality music on my computer at home, just like millions of other would-be musicians, then distribute it around the globe through MySpace or a host of other sites–or distribute it on my own website, like the amazing band Deep Sea Summit. I can produce videos and send them to YouTube and, with a great deal of self-promotion and luck, reach an audience of millions. I can blog forever, alongside the legions of fellow bloggers. Yet the curmudgeon in me wonders whether the millions of bloggers in the world working on millions of laptops will ever produce a Hamlet. Or if a Citizen Kane could appear from the ashes of so many YouTube shorts. Or if a Goldberg Variations could be assembled from the collective effort of MySpace bands. Or if Wikipedia could ever be as all-encompassing as St. Isidore’s Etymologies or Pliny the Elder’s Natural History–it’s certainly as flawed.

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Dissertation

Posted in Literature, poetry, Useful with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2009 by xugro

So my dissertation’s all done and turned in, despite the false start I had the day I submitted it. I’ve decided to publish the abstract online (full text available upon request) just in case there’s the off chance someone would actually read it. There’s more of a chance that someone would read it by stumbling upon it on the internet than when it’s actually published on microfilm or in book form. Whether the latter ever happens is another story.

I mean, I did spend almost three years working on it. Not that that makes it good. Anyway, hit the “read more” button for the abstract then a link to email me for the PDF of the whole thing.

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An Introduction to Ramon Llull

Posted in Literature, poetry, Useful with tags , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by xugro

An Introduction to Ramon Llull (1232-1316)

Ramon Llull, known as Raimundo Lulio, Raymond Lully or Lull, was one of the most complex and original thinkers of the Middle Ages, yet he is also one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated.  Llull’s production covers nearly every genre of the time in three languages: Latin, Catalan and Arabic.  His output includes mystical works such as the Book of the Ascent and Descent of the Intellect in Latin and the Book of Contemplation in Arabic. Llull likewise published philosophical texts such as the Tree of Knowledge, scientific treatises like the New Geometry, and tractates on liberal arts such as logic and rhetoric. Finally, his output includes literary texts: novels like Blanquerna, an autobiography, and poetry. Exhaustive catalogues of his works list approximately 300 authentic ones, as well as dozens of apocrypha related to Cabbalism and Alchemy.  Due to such a monstrous output—incredible for someone who started writing around forty years of age—it is often difficult to approach Llull or to categorize his thought into a coherent system, earning him appellations such as “perplexing” and “confusing.” Adding to such confusion, Llull often feuded with his better-known Scholastic contemporaries in French universities because of methodological differences.  In spite of his idiosyncrasies, however, Llull is still unique to the point of being one of the most important thinkers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Born in Palma de Mallorca, Llull lived in a time when the Catalan Mediterranean Empire was at its apex. At the time, it included the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia as well as the outlying zones of Naples, Sicily, Athens, and Sardinia.  The island of Mallorca itself, conquered in 1229 by the Aragonese king James I, represented a crucible of cultures.  On Mallorca, the three monotheistic religions interacted on a daily basis, a fact that undoubtedly influenced Llull’s formation and wish for dialogue between religions, a desire not shared by many of his contemporaries in Paris.  Mallorca, and the Balearic islands in general, served as an economic crossroads between Europe and Africa as well as a jumping-off point for pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Rome.  Unlike the later Habsburg Empire in Spain, which absorbed the Catalan empire upon the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1479, the Catalan “emporium,” to use one scholar’s term, focused more on commerce and economic control than on territorial or imperial conquest.  It is no coincidence that this empire produces a key figure such as Llull at its very peak, in a manner similar to Cervantes or Virgil in the cases of Spain and Rome.  After his conversion, Llull traveled incessantly within Spanish and Catalan lands (Santiago, Barcelona, Naples, Mallorca); made several visits to Italy, taught in Paris and Montpelier, and made three missionary trips to North Africa. Llull’s travels form a crucial context for understanding his life and project.

Nine years after his first conversion experience, Llull (now aged 42) experienced another theophany on Mount Randa on Mallorca in which the “form and method” of his great Art (the Ars magna) was revealed to him.  Due to this divine inspiration, Llull would champion the Art throughout his life despite significant setbacks to its teaching in Paris and elsewhere due to its highly complex, technical and idiosyncratic nature; the divine nature of the Art would also allow Llull to claim authority. One of the problems with the first versions of the Art, states one scholar, “was that Llull was trying to translate the theological language of his Muslim and Jewish contemporaries into Latin and Catalan.” Llull, moreover, had little formal education. Yet in part because of these setbacks and in part due to its natural development throughout Llull’s life, the Art became a lifelong project in a manner similar to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
The universal quality of Llull’s Art enabled him to overcome several obstacles: scholastic logic, interreligious dialogue, and dependence upon ancient authors.  As one scholar notes, the science of the Art, for Llull, was “the perfect vehicle for breaking through the intellectual boundaries between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The Art’s function was to provide members of the three faiths with tools for true dialogue based on a terminology acceptable to all.” This approach avoided the pitfalls of the interpretation of sacred texts such as the Qur’an, since debaters could argue about these specific texts and thus retreat into a specific tradition or approach. Such a step, in fact, is more radical than it seems: Llull puts aside not only established authorities like St. Augustine, but also sacred texts themselves.  Instead, he relies on rational argumentation rather than discipline-specific jargon. Llull’s system, then, must be wholly original in order to stymie text or tradition-specific approaches to theology, texts and interpretation. The upshot of the system detailed in the Art is a ladder that uses specific attributes and sets of questions to aid the mystic in her process of ascent and descent.
Llull’s attempt to create a universal language, while ultimately ineffective as a tool for religious conversion, was an impressive achievement and incredibly forward-looking for a 14th-century religious scholar. His invention of computational logic in the Art would entrance philosophers like Leibniz centuries after his death. His pioneering approaches to computational logic earned Llull the somewhat dubious title as the founder of computer science. The Catalan language is greatly indebted to his literary accomplishments as well: according to one account, Catalan is a “language created by a philosopher—to which it owes its precision—who, in addition to a philosopher, was also a poet—to which it owes its beauty.” Despite his importance during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, little of Llull’s work is available in English translation. One hopes that work on Llull will continue, for he stands out as one of the most modern medieval writers.

Juvenalia I

Posted in Literature, poetry with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2009 by xugro

Occasional verse on dish washing

Ballad of the Dish Bitch, Caput II

From whence doth come that awful sound,
that screeches in my ear?
an angst-rid’n cry for miles around
is what one deaf could hear.

I travell’d up into a house
that had a bar of Oake;
a young chap cringed upon the porch:
his spirit burnt and broke.

“Lo!” I cried, as old men do,
“what causes this dismay?”
“I woke up from the night before,
and I’m ‘DISH BITCH’ today!”

“How now, you dog,” I then cried forth,
can such a thing be you?”
“I’ve not been ‘dish bitch’ for a week,
and now the worst is true.

“We draw our lots and time draws near
we lose us in her folds;
but when the hour for dishes comes
our incense turns to mold.”

“My God, young man, is it so bad,
that you appear as such?”
“Kind sir, the truth is I’ve seen worse,
and this is not so much.

Our weeks slashed by that fateful day
we’re fain to ‘void its pangs;
for whene’er it comes our way
we’re übercharged with angst.

The ‘bitch’ then wept a bitter tear,
and spoke a fiendish speech.
I know not whether to print it here
or keep it far from reach.

The danger of his words is such
that young ones should not hear;
such agèd wisdom in their minds
would turn their bliss to fear.

The “Bitch’s” Sonnet: “Of the Deceitful Brevity of Life”
(his translation of something by a certain Góngora) Continue reading

Full Atheneo is here!

Posted in Literature, Useful with tags , , , on March 16, 2009 by xugro

So I finally figured out how to compress PDFs and made a downloadable version of the Atheneo. Click here to get it.

Craig’s Page

Posted in Emails, Useful with tags , , on March 11, 2009 by xugro

Check out my friend Craig’s page, where he has some of his work and his entire dissertation! Heavy stuff! Useful for anyone thinking about the “ends of literature” or the future of print and literary publication.

http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~epplin/

His blog is also on the blogroll at right.

The Athenaeum of Greatness

Posted in Literature with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by xugro

I named this blog after one of my favorite literary works by Josep Romaguera (1642-1723), one of the authors I wrote about it my dissertation. It’s an emblem book written in Catalan, a Romance Language with 10 million speakers similar to Spanish and French spoken in Eastern Spain, France, Andorra, Italy and elsewhere.

The Athenaeum of GreatnessAtheneo de grandesa in the original Catalan–attempts to make literary Catalan a tool capable of negotiating a space for Catalonia and Catalan writing within the wider context of the Habsburg empire based in Castile, in the center of Spain. During the Baroque in Spain, most literary works were written in Spanish, like Don Quixote. Romaguera wanted to reverse this trend by creating a literary Catalan that imitated the Baroque stylings of Spanish writers like Luis de Góngora and Baltasar Gracián. By extension, he wanted to reclaim autonomy for Catalonia as a member of the states that composed the Spanish empire.

Romaguera was an important politician, clergyman, and intellectual in the years between the Catalan revolt of 1640-52 and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) in which Catalonia tried to preserve its autonomy, though he is still a virtually unknown figure even in Catalan literature.

The Athenaeum, one of a few texts by Romaguera that survive, is an interesting mix of poetry, prose and illustrations. It’s the only emblem book written in Catalan. Here are a few images that I’ve scanned myself. The book is out of copyright (it was published in 1681 by the press of Joan Jolis in Barcelona). The book is about improving yourself by developing certain virtues by applying maxims like “aspire to be the greatest”–in a sense, a Baroque motivational or self-help book.

The Atheneo de grandesa is a fascinating work of Baroque artifice. In its dynamic performance of Baroque esthetics found in texts written in Spanish, its appropriation of language and images, and its construction of the ideal Catalan poet-hero, the text dramatizes the dilemma of a Baroque author writing from the margins of empire.

I have scanned in the entire book–it’s out of copyright–and it’s now on the wikimedia commons. You can download it via the link below:

Atheneo de grandesa (Josep Romaguera, 1681)