Category Archives: Links

Bind a book

I’ve spent the last couple weeks learning to make my own blank journals. Here are some tutorials I’ve used to learn how to assemble the folded pages into signatures (4 sheets, 16 pages) and then to stitch these signatures into a text block.

Here’s a tutorial about completing the book by adding covers:

Next, I want to practice making my own book cloth and coptic-stitch notebooks:

Here are some photos of the books I’ve already made. In the photos below, the paper is heavyweight (70 lb. in top photo, 50 lb. in lower two photos) drawing paper, and the thread is cotton embroidery thread, and the covers are both recycled from books discarded from a library. I kept the original endsheets with the cover but took out all the other original pages, and then glued in the new text blocks to the endsheets.

Putting a new text block into an old cover.

Putting a newly stitched text block into an old cover. 

The text block here is 2-3 inches thick.

The text block here is 2-3 inches thick. It’s about to go into the recycled cover in foreground.

The press, which holds the book while and after I glue it, is made from a couple pieces of 1" thick scrap.

After the pages are stitched, they are compressed and glued. My press holds the book while and after I glue it, and it’s is made from a couple pieces of 1″ thick scrap and 4 carriage bolts of length 5-6 inches.

Close-up view of the text block after gluing.

Close-up view of the text block after gluing. The glue seems to keep the text block compressed.

Links: Gaps between words, etc.

1. From a discussion at The New Yorker about the poetry of Rosmarie Waldrop:

The phrase [book title “Gap Gardening”] makes us think hard about the way language works, and about how words catalyze reality, rather than transcribe it. In nature, nothing can come from nothing, but in language it happens all the time.

and

What I love about Waldrop are the enigmas and paradoxes on every page, the belief that language is most beautiful when it slips or falters, and the sense that these linguistic short circuits most often happen in urgent verbal exchange.

2. Some context to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

3. NY Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s final blog post: “Five Things I Won’t Miss at The Times — and Seven I Will”

4. An article about a weird mid-20th Century cultural phenomenon: spanking.

5. NY Times article about how messages written on vase shards inform Bible scholarship.

6. Plato’s Academy versus Diogenes the Cynic: 2 ways of doing philosophy.

7. Brains aren’t computers because brains are analog: How brain capacity isn’t understood yet.

8. The Tree of Life is still being remodeled.

9. Some subjects “underrepresented in contemporary fiction” include joy —

“In our insistence on despair as the most authentic iteration of experience, we risk writing fiction that is hamstrung in its ability to represent our humanity with the necessary breadth and nuance. The despairing self, characterized by alienation and misery, is limited and incomplete, and not a particularly accurate representation of the lushness of life as it is lived, mingled thing that it is”

— and characters beyond the “bourgeois” —

“a writer might free herself from the tired pursuit of fiction as a matter of professional advancement and set out in quest of the stories that don’t get told”

10. A review of “At the Existentialist Cafe” points out that the author, Sarah Bakewell, “shapes her answers in the form of biographical narratives, because her central theme is that the large impersonal ideas pursued by much modern philosophy are less profound and illuminating than the varied and conflicting truths found in stories of individual lives.”

Links: Autobio fiction, economical art, writerly authority

1. “At the Writing Academy,” a fiction by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’d heard of Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” books (here and here) as autobiographical fiction, which interested me because I was inspired years ago by the autobio aspects of Kerouac’s On the Road  and because I’ve long pondered how to publish certain aspects of my journal writings. This selection above is the only part of Knausgaard’s books I’ve read, but I was a little underwhelmed by how much the story felt more like fiction than like nonfiction. It seems as if his story is shaped in a traditional story arc, rather than dealing with the messiness and day-to-day unclarity of live as lived — as my lived-life seems to be, anyway.

2. This essay makes a great point about how one’s economic situation can limit — in a good way, a creative way — the art one can make. Richard Brody writes of filmmaker Joe Swanberg:

Rather than imagining specific stories for films that required some more distant and complex organization, that required travel, specific actors, settings, effects, or crowds, Swanberg has made movies that relate clearly to the specific circumstances of his own life—but his discovery of drama within those circumstances has been nothing less than prodigious.

Everyone has lots of stories; lives proliferate stories, as is proven by most of our conversations. Whatever we tell our friends and relatives and colleagues, whatever we think about our relationships and our work, is a virtual screenplay that, in a thoughtful telling, would fill out a feature film with ease. Swanberg is a prolific filmmaker because he recognizes and extracts the drama from what’s nearest at hand.

3. An intriguing essay I found worth reading, even if I’m not sure I agree with its conclusions. Some points:

In 1980, Michel Foucault gave an anonymous interview for Le Monde because he was, in his words, “nostalgic for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.” Calling himself the “Masked Philosopher,” he suggested that the unknown author has an “unrippled” “surface of contact” with the reader, and that the book without an author might “land in unexpected places and form shapes that I had never thought of.” He temporarily shed the authority of his name, because “a name makes reading too easy.” …

In The Irresponsible Magician, Rebekah Rutkoff gets to the point. Her prose can be perplexing, but only because we are so used to our books coming with elaborate instructions that tell us how to read them. …

IN a sense, The Irresponsible Magician is a book about authority. It flashes brightest when it throws into conflict different ways of knowing … Authority produces blind spots and excesses. As such, it’s a form of eccentricity. We all hold some tattered scrap of authority, and there is no version of it that is not somehow distorted or compromised. …

And yet something crucial distinguishes the famous from the unknown: the fact that the celebrity is both person and image. His image sustains his personal power and authority, but also undermines it. He cannot always control where he appears, what with so many unannounced cameos in books and dreams and unauthorized TV biopics. His image goes wild but leaves him trapped. Like the professional critic, or the anthropologist, or psychoanalyst, the celebrity’s authority is limiting; it leaves him a slightly automated servant to his own identity. …

The most striking thing about The Irresponsible Magician is the fact that dreams function within it as real, legitimate evidence—not just about the author’s inner life, but about the world writ large. This is the lesson we ought to draw from it. We’re used to treating dreams as belonging to the individual; analysts treat them as signposts on the hero’s journey out of neurosis and into an uncertain truce with the-world-as-it-is. But dream-data is not just individual. It’s also social and historical. Each dream reveals a foundational lie—that, for example, the world is a mall—while at the same time revealing there is a truth in the lie—that the structure of the mall commands the world and that the world is falling apart. Our job is to hold tight to these contradictions, to refuse to resolve them but instead to harness their dialectical heat. The result will not be dream-interpretation, but dream-criticism.

‘The Brain with David Eagleman’

I’ve really been enjoying the PBS series “The Brain with David Eagleman” (here at Eagleman’s website, and here at PBS) over the last three episodes, and apparently there are a total of 6 episodes. What I’ve been seeing has prompted me to do more of my own thinking about reality, consciousness, etc.

I’m not sure how long the whole episodes will be available online, but here’s the link for the first one:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365580655/

The second episode:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365587672/

The third episode:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365564819/

More episodes here.

Literary links: ‘The Red Wheelbarrow,’ and a definition of postmodern novel

1. William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” —

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.

— may be a scene the poet witnessed, as described in this Times article:

On July 18, in a moment of belated poetic justice, a stone will be laid on the otherwise unmarked grave of Thaddeus Marshall, an African-American street vendor from Rutherford, N.J., noting his unsung contribution to American literature.

“When we read this poem in an anthology, we tend not to think of the chickens as real chickens, but as platonic chickens, some ideal thing,” William Logan, the scholar who recently discovered Mr. Marshall’s identity, said in an interview.

The discovery doesn’t change the meaning, he said, but “knowing there was a man with a particular wheelbarrow and some chickens does help us understand the world the poem was embedded in.”

Williams’s 16-word poem, first published in 1923, was hailed as a manifesto of plain-spoken American modernism. Williams himself declared it “quite perfect.” A staple of classrooms and anthologies, it has inspired endless debates about its deeper meaning — how much of what, exactly, depends on the red wheelbarrow? — not to mention provided the name of an English-language bookstore in Paris, a craft beer from Maine and an episode of “Homeland.”

But Mr. Logan, a professor at the University of Florida who has contributed to The New York Times Book Review, may have taken the poem’s fullest measure yet. His roughly 10,000-word essay on the poem, published in the most recent issue of the literary journal Parnassus and titled simply “The Red Wheelbarrow,” considers the poem from seemingly every conceivable angle.

There are discussions of Williams’s aesthetic influences and composition habits. (Williams, a medical doctor by profession, sometimes wrote poems on prescription forms.) Mr. Logan also considers the history of hyphenation in the word “rainwater,” previous literary references to painted wheelbarrows, New Jersey ordinances concerning handcarts, and early-20th-century poultry trends.

“Who knew there was a fad for white chickens?” he said.

2. In a New Yorker article discussing “Fran Ross’s hilarious, badass novel, ‘Oreo,'” Danzy Senna writes this definition of the postmodern novel:

Aesthetically, “Oreo” has all the hallmarks of a postmodern novel in its avoidance of profundity and its utterly playful spirit. It draws no conclusions, and the quest leads to no giant, revelatory payoffs. [my emphasis] The father and his secret about her birth constitute, in the end—and without giving anything away—as absurdist a feminist send-up of the patriarchal myth as one could hope to find. At every turn, the novel embraces ambiguity. Its quest-driven plot is diverted by wordplay and meta-references to itself. In many ways, it feels more in line stylistically and aesthetically with Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut than with Sonia Sanchez and Ntozake Shange, to name two other black female writers of Ross’s time.

Oreo never becomes a fully believable character, and this feels appropriate to the work’s spirit. The novel does not strive for realism; Ross is not trying to construct a seamless, plot-driven narrative or a sympathetic, three-dimensional main character. We are always aware of Oreo as a construct, and of her story as a construct. Puns, wordplay, standup-comedy riffs, menus, charts, tangents: the journey to find the father is just a chance for Ross to meander through her wicked and free imagination, and to push us toward a hyper-awareness of language itself. “Christine,” Ross writes, and she could be writing of herself, “was no ordinary child … she had her mother’s love of words, their nuance and cadence, their juice and pith, their variety and precision, their rock and wry.”

3. A definition of literary interpretation, and a warning about finding patterns, from a New Yorker piece about love-song lyrics by Adam Gopnik:

One should always be wary of a book by a scholar insisting that there is a pattern where before none has been seen, since scholars have an overwhelmingly strong confirmation bias in favor of patterns—finding patterns is what scholars do. The great art historian Leo Steinberg found the “line of fate” in the Sistine Chapel, which skewered figures from separate scenes into occult sentences, with the same excitement with which Percival Lowell had once found canals on the surface of Mars. These were illusory—but, more important, irrelevant. Interpretation is the teasing out into articulate words of a complicated sensation or experience. It’s not often the discovery of some other, completely different experience that the surface of the work was hiding. [my emphasis]

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’

Reading this excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book “Between the World and Me” recently, I felt my mind changed by a text in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. I highly recommend reading this; this author’s ideas and voice are far better experienced directly than they would be summarized inadequately here by me. Some of my favorite parts, in which Coates is writing to his son, are copied below:

When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he was not merely being aspirational. At the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. As for now, it must be said that the elevation of the belief in being white was not achieved through wine tastings and ice-cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land.

… The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. This legacy aspires to the shackling of black bodies. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. And should one live in such a body? What should be our aim beyond meager survival of constant, generational, ongoing battery and assault? I have asked this question all my life. I have sought the answer through my reading and writings, through the music of my youth, through arguments with your grandfather, with your mother. I have searched for answers in nationalist myth, in classrooms, out on the streets, and on other continents. The question is unanswerable, which is not to say futile. The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, of confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from ghosts and myths.

Here are some others’ responses to this book. Here’s another.

‘I’m an asshole,’ sings Denis Leary

“Assholeness has had a resurgence,” said my wife after listening to Leary’s song from 1993. The song does seem to still be culturally applicable 22 years on.