Tuesday, 22 September 2020

The Writer–Translator Equation (2020)

In the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks writes about a translation he is doing, and compares it in detail with how he is writing his latest novel. 

The translator is a writer. The writer is a translator. How many times have I run up against these assertions?—in a chat between translators protesting because they are not listed in a publisher’s index of authors; or in the work of literary theorists, even poets (“Each text is unique, yet at the same time it is the translation of another text,” observed Octavio Paz). Others claim that because language is referential, any written text is a translation of the world referred to.

In recent months, I have been dividing my working day between writing in the morning and translating in the afternoon. Maybe comparing the two activities would be a good way to test this writer–translator equation.



Monday, 21 September 2020

It All Connects (2016)

Adam Curtis is a fascinating British film maker. He works for the BBC. HERE is a brilliant interview of Curtis from 2016, by the novelist Jonathan Lethem. 

In the interview they dicuss the idea of a hyperobject.

Curtis and I briefly discussed a word coined by the critic Timothy Morton to describe a problem so vast in space and time that you are unable to apprehend it: a “hyperobject.” Global warming is a classic example of a hyperobject: it’s everywhere and nowhere, too encompassing to think about. Global markets, too. But naming a hyperobject alone is of limited use; human cognition knows all too well how to file such imminent imponderables away, on a “to-do” list that’s never consulted again. 

For an example of his work, see his three part documentary for the BBC, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. In the series, Curtis suggests that instead of liberating humanity in any way, computers have "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us."


Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Seeing with Fresh Eyes: Meaning, Space, Data, Truth. (2020)

Edward Tufte's latest book is in press, and will be shipped in October. One of the two-page spreads above (more HERE).

Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Writing Life (1989)

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard is a short (111 pages), but wonderful book,  about what she had learned about being a writer. It is beautifully written, and almost every page has something deep to say about living, thinking, loving, and writing. 
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Second Chance (2020)

HERE in the New York Review of Books is a wonderful story told by Janet Malcolm about how she learnt how to respond to cross-examination in a famous US libel case. 


I recently wrote about Gregory Batesons definition of information: ‘...what we mean by information—the elementary unit of information—is a difference which makes a difference...’.  I refered to this as not even a tautology (the saying of the same thing twice over using different words). I was right, it isn't a tautology. 

The phrase 'a difference which makes a difference' is a diacope. This is a literary device formed by the repetition of a word or phrase before and after an intervening word or phrase.

The canonical example of a diacope is in Hamlet: '...to be, or not to be!'

The OED describes it as ‘A figure by which two words that naturally stand together, especially two parts of a compound word, are separated by the intervention of another word’ (Webster 1864).  Another famous example is the first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way'.

Still, my favourite is Bateson's.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

A difference, which makes a difference.

At a deep level, translation deals with the rendering of ideas or information from one form of expression into another. Into different dialects, languages, scripts, or media. It is the concept of difference which also helps us to define an idea, or a unit of information. The celebrated scientist and philosopher Gregory Bateson (1904 - 1980) addressed this issue in the Nineteenth Annual Korzybski Memorial Lecture, which he delivered on January 9, 1970, for the Institute of General Semantics. His lecture, titled Form, Substance and Difference is a rich broth of ideas about cybernetics, information theory and mind. In the essay Bateson defines information: ‘...what we mean by information—the elementary unit of information—is a difference which makes a difference...’.  This wonderful phrase of Bateson’s, a difference which makes a difference, was later used by Robert Bringhurst to also define an idea. On face value it is meaningless, it is not even a tautology (the saying of the same thing twice over using different words). But Bateson’s phrase tells us something about both language, and about experiments in the physical sciences.

It is universally the case, that if we make repeated measurements of a physical quantity, such as the mass of a potato or othermacroscopic object, with a sufficiently sensitive balance or measurement device, we see small differences between the measurements. If the time period between the repeated measurements is small, and the difference in the measured quantities is small, we call this variation ‘measurement error’, or ‘noise’, and we often ignore it. Our belief is that the true quantity is unchanging and that the differences in our measurements are not meaningful. Numerically we take the average of the varying measurements to smooth out these differences. But not all small differences are noise. Some are meaningful differences - in other words they are differences which make a difference. A number of Nobel prizes in science have been won by investigators who chose to find the cause of small differences that others had either not noticed, or had noticed and ignored.

Bateson’s not- even tautology, also tells us something specific about the nature of the English language. The historically contingent development of English means that we should be completely unsurprised that a single word, such as difference, would be overloaded with a number of different meanings, which depend on the immediate context of its use. In Bateson’s example, he uses a single word to describe two types of difference. The first is a perceptible difference, the second a meaningful difference. In concordance with the example of experimental measurement, we can sometimes perceive a difference, but it has no meaning. It does not ‘make a difference’. In other languages, which have developed and evolved through a different sequence of steps, and from different roots, these subtly distinct meanings of the word ‘difference’, might well be more usefully rendered with completely distinct words.         

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Hundred Rabbits (2016 - )

Hundred Rabbits is a small design - software - research studio based onboard a sailboat called Pino. It is run by Rekka, who is a cartoonist and writer, and Devine who is a programmer and musician.  Since 2016, they have been sailing. From Canada, the US West coast, Mexico, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, The Marshall Islands, Japan and back to Canada.

Rekka and Devine are very productive. During the past few years they have created an ecosystem of low power, open-source, software tools for programming and design, interactive musical projects, computer games, and books. They focus on alternative ways to store power and minimum viable solutions for technological tooling. HERE.

Friday, 28 August 2020

You Will, You Will, You Will (2020)

This is excellent. The Irish postal service, An Post, has released a new set of stamps in celebration of 25 years of one of my all time favourite sit-coms Father Ted. Pure Craggy Island gold.    

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Dread, beat and blood (2006)

Vivien Goldman (b. 1952) is a British journalist, writer and musician. I first read her work in the weekly music paper Sounds in the late 1970s - she focused on punk, reggae, and post-punk bands. Goldman had for a time been Bob Marley's publicist, and in 1981 wrote his biography: Soul Rebel, Natural Mystic. 

HERE is a later piece that she wrote on the events of the night in 1976 when Marley, his band, and family, were attacked by a gang of heavily armed gunmen at his home in Jamaica.

A recent celebration of Goldman's disparate and interesting work as a writer and musician, celebrating her 64th birthday, is HERE on NPR. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Donald Hall’s Amanuensis (2020)

HERE in the Paris Review is a wonderful piece about the growth of a warm personal relationship between the poet Donald Hall and his assistant Kendel Currier. What started as a professional role blossomed over a long period into a rich and mutually valued working friendship. Currier became a vital part of Hall's working pattern: an amanuensis.


Sunday, 16 August 2020

Fire and grass-bedding construction 200 thousand years ago at Border Cave, South Africa

HERE is a paper in Science, reporting evidence of human bedding from 200,000 years ago. The Abstract reads:
We report the discovery of grass bedding used to create comfortable areas for sleeping and working by people who lived in Border Cave at least 200,000 years ago. Sheaves of grass belonging to the broad-leafed Panicoideae subfamily were placed near the back of the cave on ash layers that were often remnants of bedding burned for site maintenance. This strategy is one forerunner of more-complex behavior that is archaeologically discernible from ~100,000 years ago.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Color Palettes of The New Yorker (2018)

The New Yorker has been published since 1925. Every cover is a unique illustration - HERE is a wonderful interactive presentation of the colour palettes of these illustrations made by Nicholas Rougeux.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

John Graunt at 400 (2020)

An excellent piece on John Graunt, by Timandra Harkness in the Royal Statistical Society's magazine (HERE). Graunt was a London haberdasher born in 1620, who published in 1662 a book which laid the foundations for the statistical analysis of demographics (the study of human populations and their composition).

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Joy Unlimited (1975 / 2020)

A rare and long lost album by Harry Beckett - Joy Unlimited from 1975, has just been re-released. Beckett was born in Barbados and lived and worked for much of his life in Britain. The Observer jazz critic Dave Gelly thought that Beckett had "...one of the most beautiful trumpet tones I’ve ever heard".  

Late in his life he made an incredible album with Adrian Sherwood called The Modern Sound of Harry Beckett

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Love in a Time of Terror (2020)

A fantastic multi-layered, and very lyrical, essay by the writer Barry Lopez (HERE).  A sweeping view across Lopez's life experiences as a naturalist - in Australia and Alaska, and a revelation in a desolate terrain near to Willowra, in Australia’s Northern Territory, that "...most of the trouble that afflicts human beings in their lives can be traced to the failure to love".  

Lopez goes on to say: "It is more important now to be in love than to be in power... It is more important to live for the possibilities that lie ahead than to die in despair over what has been lost."

The Home Stayer (2020)

Luis Mendo is an illustrator, designer, and writer, who lives and works in Japan. His work is very widely seen on websites, in magazines, in art galleries, and also on clothing. Examples of his work, his bio, and details of a creative residence in Tokyo - called Almost Perfect - that he started with his wife Yuka are (HERE).

During the first period of COVID-19 lockdown, Luis began making wonderful cover art for a magazine that is inspired by The New Yorker, but doesn't exist (yet), called The Home Stayer (HERE).  Above is Issue 7: THE ZOOM.

Image copyright Luis Mendo: limited edition prints of the full set of Home Stayer covers available to buy (HERE).


Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

The Idea of the North

The Idea of North (1967), The Latecomers (1969), and The Quiet in the Land (1977) - collectively known as the Solitude Trilogy, are so-called documentaries by Canadian composer and pianist Glenn Gould (1932 - 1982).  They are complex multi-layered 'polyphonic' spoken pieces. They are built from hours of Gould's tape recorded material - spliced carefully together into three one hour long pieces. 

The Canadian poet and translator Robert Bringhurst rates these pieces as '...one of the most accomplished and important works of literature ever produced in North America, in any medium or language'. (Licking the Lips with a Forked Tongue 2005).

He goes on to explain how he first came across these works - much later than when they were first broadcast - 'I began, then,  to understand that Gould was the most colossally improbable of all Canadian poets - and that he was, more improbably still, one of the greatest'.  (Singing with the Frogs 1997).

The pieces are available on YouTube.

How the Pandemic Defeated America (2020)

HERE is an excellent long article, How the Pandemic Defeated America, by The Atlantic staff writer Ed Yong on the way that the US has tackled the COVID pandemic. 

Monday, 3 August 2020

... required reading for the entire human race (1967).

From the first paragraph of William Kenedy's review of One Hundred Years of Solitude when the book was first published in the United States. This novel, he wrote is “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race. It takes up not long after Genesis left off . . . reporting on everything that happened since then with more lucidity, wit, wisdom, and poetry than is expected from a hundred years of novelists, let alone one man.”

An article HERE by William Kennedy on how he got to know Marquez.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Rope making 40,000 years ago

A fascinating story HERE, in the Guardian about 40,000 year old antlers with specialised holes whcih were made by humans to aid in making twine and rope: a profound and game-changing human innovation. 

Form, Substance and Difference (1970)

...what we mean by information—the elementary unit of information—is a difference which makes a difference...

From Steps to an Ecology of Mind, by Gregory Bateson 1972, Chandler Publishing Co. This essay was the Nineteenth Annual Korzybski Memorial Lecture, delivered January 9, 1970. (HERE)

Inventing Posters

The Besieged Elephant, etching and engraving after Hieronymus Bosch, published by Hieronymus Cock, c. 1563. From the early history of the Poster: a print on paper.


That moment when you peel the tape off a box but it’s obstructed by another piece of tape...

By Ryosuke Otomo. HERE

Like sprites...dancing in the flames

Tokihiro Sato is a Japanese photographer who specialises in very long exposure photos - often using exposures of more than an hour. He records his own movements during these lengthy exposures and ends up with beautiful black and white images of natural scenes, overlaid with points and patches of light. These uncanny images pick out his movements through space, but do not record his physical form.

More examples HERE.

Friday, 31 July 2020

Voices of Art - Norman Ackroyd

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Ridgeline #81

Ridgeline is a free email newsletter on walking from Craig Mod. You can subscribe to it HERE. In the first newsletter Craig asked his readers to submit a short bio in answer to his question: What shell were you torn from? This is from Ridgeline #81.
I’ve moved house recently, from the coast to the country but I’ve rewalked every day for a decade. My old home was 400 hundred yards from an unloved and shingly, muddy, stretch of beach on a busy industrial sea-way and I used to tread the same steps, from south to north and back again; my footprints and my companion’s pawprints, washed away every time with every tide. Every beach is a borderland between solid ground and the fluid wilderness of the sea and no two days are the same, so no two walks are the same. Every walk a small but perfect communion between the edge of stability and something wildly unpredictable. Am I glamorizing the drab routine of walking the dog? Maybe. Now I live, surrounded by pasture and crop, up a farm track, half a mile from the nearest road. The old dog is too arthritic to come with me but each morning I’m up with the dawn, committed to a simple, meditative mile there and back. Every morning is different here too. The mew of buzzards and chuck-chuck of pheasants; the soft cropping of cows grazing; the mist inverted in the valley; an inky gibbous moon; beech nuts and leaves in the puddles. I miss the power of the whip of the sea and the tang of salt, but the communion is just as wonderful.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Russia’s Dr. Seuss (2020)

A great piece HERE in the Paris Review on the Russian childrens' author Kornei Chukovsky (1882 - 1969) by the always entertaining Anthony Madrid.

Included is Madrid's attempt to render the beginning of Chukovsky's Telephone:
У меня зазвонил телефон.
—Кто говорит?
—От верблюда.
—Что вам надо?
—Для кого?
—Для сына моего.
—А много ли прислать?
—Да пудов этак пять.
Или шесть:
Больше ему не съесть,
Он у меня ещё маленький!

"Sigh. I’m going to close with my own attempt at the first three lines—an attempt that, for all its faults, has at least this authority: it was created on horseback, as it were. I just mean it was created without recourse to writing implements. I had been trying to solve the problem of those opening lines for years; I wanted the first line to be an anapestic trimeter, like it is in Russian. Suddenly the following bit came to me, alone in the Mazda on the way to Austin, Northbound 183, November 2019:

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the phone.
That thing will not leave me alone.
Obnoxious, annoying, irrelevant…
Brrrrng!!!—I pick up. It’s the elephant."


Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The Cult of Innovation: Its Colorful Myths and Rituals (2017)

Langdon Winner (b. 1944) is an american academic, interested in science, technology, and society. His particular focus is on the political ramifications of technology - in the widest senses of both political and technology.  

HERE is a piece by Winner on the cult of innovation, which includes his definition of benign innovation:
To my way of thinking activities and projects that modify and renew traditions and instruments of practice, might be called graceful or benign innovation.  What characterizes them, in my view, is that they usually deeply respect what came before and yet chart new, challenging, fruitful possibilities.  The old traditions are not trashed, but modified, gracefully unfolding into something new.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

On the Wire (1977 - 2020)

Steve Barker has been playing fantastic music on BBC Radio Lancashire for forty years. He has set up an excellent Mixcloud page HERE. A write-up in the Guardian about his show and efforts to carry on HERE.

Monday, 13 July 2020

40 Years Later: Closer & The Last Days Of Joy Division (2020)

Joy Division, were one of the first (if not the first) bands that I saw live - on 2nd October 1979, at Mountford Hall in the University of Liverpool students Union. They supported the Buzzcocks on the opening night of their British tour. Joy Division were thrilling to watch, and Ian Curtis was the most mesmerising lead singer I have ever seen. 

HERE is an appreciation of their work at that time, and their second and final album Closer, released forty years ago. 

Kranzberg's laws of Technology (1986)

Melvin Kranzberg (1917 - 1995) was the Callaway professor of the history of technology at Georgia Tech from 1972 to 1988. He also founded the Society for the History of Technology in 1958.  In 1986, he summarised a lot of his activity in the following 'laws of technology' (HERE):

[1] Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
[2] Invention is the mother of necessity
[3] Technology comes in packages, big and small.
[4] Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
 [5] All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
 [6] Technology is a very human activity – and so is the history of technology.

Here is an appreciation by one of his colleagues.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The theory and practice of landscape painting in water-colours (1871)

The theory and practice of landscape painting in water-colours. Illustrated by a series of twenty-six drawings and diagrams in colours, and numerous woodcuts. By George Barnard (HERE).

Sunrise at Core Banks (1983)

A photo by Steve Murray, which appeared in the Jan 1983 edition of the erstwhile Coast Watch (North Carolina Sea Grant), the latest edition is HERE.