The focus on the pursuit of happiness, endorsed by the Declaration of Independence, fits well with the idea of life as a journey–a bright thread that runs through the literary canon of the collective human culture. With the world at your feet, the turns that you should take along the way depend on what you are at the outset and on what you become as the journey lengthens. Accordingly, the present book is an attempt to understand, in a deeper sense than merely metaphorical, what it means to be human and how humans are shaped by the journey through this world, which the poet John Keats called “the vale of soul-making”–in particular, how it puts within the soul’s reach “a bliss peculiar to each one’s individual existence.”
The focus on the pursuit of happiness, endorsed by the Declaration of Independence, fits well with the idea of life as a journey–a bright thread that runs through the literary canon of the collective human culture.3 With the world at your feet, the turns that you should take along the way depend on what you are at the outset and on what you become as the journey lengthens. Accordingly, the present book is an attempt to understand, in a deeper sense than merely metaphorical, what it means to be human and how humans are shaped by the journey through this world, which the poet John Keats called “the vale of soul-making”–in particular, how it puts within the soul’s reach “a bliss peculiar to each one’s individual existence.”
“…Regardless of how pervasive technology becomes in our literary lives, people will forever long for the tactile experience of reading a tangible book — bought from a tangible store”… .hmmmm, I wonder about this, maybe future generations not far down the line will find themselves turned-off to the fuss, not to mention the sheer weight, myriad environmental concerns, the smell of glue and musty paper–I give it a generation at best, actually…wanna bet?…–EDITOR.
Letters to NYTimes …click>
I love knowing that in the 16th century, there was a guy doing just as I often am, scribbling and sketching in a notebook…–EDITOR
Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript—named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912—are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.
Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: 1) botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species; 2) astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures; 3) a biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules; 4) an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms; 5) pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, and 6) continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.
VAN GOGH The Life By Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith Illustrated. 953 pp. Random House. $40
“…The van Gogh biography, while free of any attempt to link the advent of Post-Impressionism to the workings of the urethra, (a reference to the authors’ biography of Jackson Pollock) does float at least one sensational theory. It strongly suggests he was murdered.-–quote from review in NY Times.
I was ambivalent about producing The Bad Girls of Granada as an audiobook, but this article tilted the scale…–EDITOR http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/the-minds-ear.html
No Beast So Fierce is a crime tale that reads authentic from beginning to end, just maybe because Bunker was a career criminal before becoming a writer. After you read No Beast, get your hands on Straight Time, the 1978 movie starring Dustin Hoffman, it’s the screen adaptation. and a very good flick with a great cast–Harry Dean Stanton, Emmett Walsh, Theresa Russell, Gary Bussey, Sandy Baron–Sandy Baron!!–the last of the really great Borscht Belt comedians, and another story… I had to Include No Beast in my blogs ’cause the book cover is just so fine, and one I’m certain to borrow from, graphically speaking…–EDITOR
I’ll have to download this book when it comes out in electronic edition. More and more I find I’m interested in the sort of people who tend toward the obsessive–like birders–or mycophiles, their fascination with the minutiae of their interests becomes mine, if only momentarily…–EDITOR
http://www.aggregat456.com/2011/11/capsule-review-heights.html Deep into the index of Kate Ascher’s likable and engaging The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper (The Penguin Press, 2011), we learn that “skyscraper” was not only the name of a racing horse, but that it also referred to the “triangular sky-sail” of a ship. The fact that such data appears in such a manner is poignant—here, in a book teeming with information, in the very part dedicated to the categorization and organization of names, nouns, verbs, et cetera, we find what is perhaps one of the most important concepts of the book. The word “skyscraper” is both performative and descriptive: not only does theOxford English Dictionary tell us that “Skyscraper” was sired by “Highflyer” (these must have been very tall horses), but that along with “moonrakers,” “skyscrapers” were cast out during light wind conditions, presumably to catch an errant breeze that may guide a foundering vessel back to port.6.com/2011/11/capsule-review-heights.html
If you were like me and several of my twisted teenage suburban amigos around 1960, you were hip to Paul Krassner and his monthly satirical magazine the Realist. The Realist–and Krasser–went where no one else dared, said things out loud in print that were the tabooist of no-nos; he said FUCK in black & white, showed Minnie giving Mickey a blowjob in Fantasyland, Tinkerbelle shooting up in Adventureland, portrayed a Disneyland of politically and socially incorrect behavior so outre that the establishment could only turn a blind eye for fear of giving him too much publicity. Only Lenny Bruce and Ralph Ginsburg of EROS did so much to liberate thought in America in the 1960’s. Fortunately, Every single issue of the Realist can now be read online, and it still makes great reading. Good satire is harder and harder to come by; these days; life has gone so far in the imitation of art it seems, everything becomes self-parody instantly; the well-poised satirist is no longer needed. See the Onion. Click on the image below to read the Realist. Toread a conversation between Krassner and Andrew Breitbart in the latest edition of Playboy, the well-known satirist journal, click this link: http://www.ep.tc/realist/ –EDITOR
What should libraries look like in the digital age?…what is their unique role in a web-driven world…?
http://observatory.designobserver.com/feature/all-maps-lie/30828/ Yeah..we all love maps, or at least I think we do...
The new issue of Granta has a rather fine cover by the British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman. The literary magazine’s theme is horror and the Chapmans’ delicate pencil drawing on fragile 18th-century parchment, which twists around the spine on to the back cover, shows something nameless, formless and unspeakable…
.A rare admission, and a welcome retraction…
BACK IN JUNE 2010 I published a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that the American left was unenlightened, by and large, as to economic matters. Responding to a set of survey questions that tested people’s real-world understanding of basic economic principles, self-identified progressives and liberals did much worse than conservatives and libertarians, I reported. To sharpen the ax, The Journal titled the piece “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”—the implication being that people on the left were not.
“We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years,” his wife, Laurene Powell, tells Walter Isaacson, in “Steve Jobs,” Isaacson’s enthralling new biography of the Apple founder. “We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?…’
” …I see slang as the counter-language. At its heart it’s down, it’s dirty, it’s grubby, it’s tart, it’s essentially subversive. It questions and deals with themes like sex, drugs, violence, rudeness, abuse, racism and so on and so forth. Slang is primarily concrete, but the one abstract that underpins it is that of doubt. It seems to me that slang is always doubting. It’s always questioning, it’s always cynical, it’s always undermining and it’s always been negative. It’s very thematic, which means it’s basically a lexicon of synonyms. There are 1,500 synonyms for having sex, 1,000 penises, 1,000 vaginas and 2,000 drunkards and drink-related words… and so on…”
Designer Andrew Capener is ready to break your Scrabble board free from typeface tyranny. His gorgeous A-1 Scrabble Design Edition Board (conceived as a school art project while studying at BYU last year) gives Scrabble a modern design shake-up with a new board and customizable, mix-and-match fonts for the tiles. Choose any typeface you’d like or jumble them all together. This playful font anarchy lets each board take on a creative life of its own, beyond a good Triple Word Score play: When you’ve got Courier New and Books Antiqua syllables carousing freely with consonants from Helvetica and Times New Roman, the game board become an interactive art piece that grows as each word is put down.
Book industry art director Peter Mendelsund was a judge in a book jacket contest. One of the entries, a proposed cover for Nabokov’s Lolita inspired Mendelsund to write an essay about the historical approaches to jacketing this particularly “complicated” book.
Book cover design has been a kind of passion for a long long time–since before we could read the contents, certainly. We’re convinced that cover art/design is the motivation for 30% of all book sales. This holds true in the digital age–maybe more so. When we look at a book cover, we’re searching for clues–image, typeface, color–all are messages which we try to de-crypt before we’re willing to part with our dough…EDITOR
…Robert Crumb first began drawing record covers in 1968 when Janis Joplin, a fellow Haight Ashbury denizen, asked him to provide a cover for her album Cheap Thrills…
During the month of November, you can acquaint yourself better with media and scientific history by browsing through online archives of Scientific American issues from 1849 to 1909. They’re free to access, for this month only.
…The world that produced Lang was East Vancouver in the 1940s and 1950s, a place capable of spawning a teenager who would cross the old Second Narrows Bridge with a friend in search of Malcolm Lowry. It was a time when not only might an East Van boy care who Lowry was, but actually find Lowry and get drunk and argue with him as an act of homage. Vancouver then was capable of producing many young people who aspired to become poets because they believed the world badly needed and wanted poets. How strange to read this. Was there really a moment when commercial culture was not so all encompassing, leaving room to imagine poets as brawling dynamos? So there was, Claudia Cornwall tells us, by introducing us to Curt Lang.11/02/Curt-Langs-Vancouver
More than a biography, At the World’s Edge is a detective story in which Cornwall investigates a man, and a kind of life, she deems elemental. The author knew Lang in his later years and, she being a gifted reporter, decided to go back and gather his story in order to retrieve glimpses of a Vancouver that now is all but polished from view.
EXPERTS at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum remain unconvinced by a new book that claims the 19th century Dutch artist was accidentally shot by two teenagers and did not die from self-inflicted wounds.
The biography published this week of Vincent van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith says the artist, who suffered chronic depression, claimed to have shot himself to protect the boys, and that “he was covering up his own murder.” He died two days later.
Leo Jansen, the museum curator and editor of Van Gogh’s letters, said the biography, “Van Gogh, A Life,” is a “great book.” But experts “cannot yet agree” with the authors’ conclusions about the painter’s death.
It looks like the reviews are starting to come in on The Bad Girls of Granada, and so far it’s looking good. Bad Girls is still only available as a Kindle Book but we’re working hard to add other formats that we can provide right here through Big Bad Press. Your comments are appreciated on this. Keep in mind that the book can be downloaded and read on any computer and can of course be printed out. There is also available a Kindle Previewer that you can download for free from Amazon. It’s a little tricky to find, so if you’re interested, I’ll put the directions to find it in a forthcoming post. Read BadGirls–you’ll enjoy it.
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/oct/27/land-of-news/…A bit further south, in the red clay of Kansas, the farmers have their own billboards: usually opposing abortion, with a lonely exception promoting wind and solar power. The suburbs of the cities clustered around I-70 make themselves known with God-in-a-box churches, the temples of the non-denominational Protestantism that dominates the spiritual life of the country and, in considerable measure, defines the Republican Party. The billboards near the big cities alternate between hospitals offering speedy procedures and restaurants offering the fast food that sends you to them…
Opening November 1st at NYC’s Cooper Union is Pharma, a new exhibition about graphic design and the pharmaceutical industry.
The Herb Lubalin Study Center at The Cooper Union examines the influence and impact of graphic design on the pharmaceutical industry in PHARMA, a new exhibit featuring original and rarely seen works by luminaries including Andy Warhol, Lester Beall, Will Burtin and Herb Lubalin.
Lionel Shriver: “…Like most writers, I’ve received my share of rejection letters. The most common criticism lobbed at my earlier manuscripts was that my main characters were “unattractive”. Ironically, though the accusation was meant to consign my novels to the bin, in latter career I am now perhaps most celebrated for crafting characters who are, to a degree, unattractive. But what does this mean?…”
“Yeah, I really want you to ask her that.”
Sammy shrugs his shoulders in resignation to Egbert’s request and turns his attention from Egbert toward Marisol, seated diagonally opposite the two of them; he knows where this conversation is leading. In his passable Spanish, Sammy asks the Granada girl why she didn’t return to Egbert’s room the previous afternoon as she had promised.
“I went to visit my sister in the hospital.”
Sammy rolls his eyes, where have I heard this before? Of the ten or ten thousand patently mendacious answers you expect from a Nica, this ranks one or two on the list of the most obvious. There have to be at least twenty seven thousand beds in Hospital Japon because every family has a grandfather, mother, sister, cousin convalescing at any given time.
Egbert, who is seething, has, with Marisol in tow, joined Wilbur and Sammy at their table on the sidewalk in front of The Hangout. The two have not made eye contact since they sat down. Egbert is fidgeting, hands shaking as he goes from cigarette to rum bottle to lighter, to ashtray, in perpetual motion display of nervous tension.
“Ask her this for me, Egbert’s voice is cracking with anger, “why didn’t she call me–I bought her a god-damned phone just for that reason!”
“I’m not gonna ask her that Eggy, says Sammy, who despite his general amusement over this lover’s spat, is finding his role as interlocutor tiring. “You know the answer, or you at least know it’s gonna be another lie, so what’s the point?” Marisol, speaking little English is blithely ignorant of the specifics of the conversation, but she can guess the topic, more or less.
Egbert lets the matter drop. In spite of his sixty five years he remains incredibly naive about most things. He’s a tiresome questioner about the all too obvious in life. You can hear little Eggy with that endless string of questions to daddy: “Why is the sky blue daddy?” “Because it just fucking is Eggy!”
After uncomfortable moments of silence, the atmosphere lightens a bit as Egbert begins to fathom the futility of his position (on the floor, fetal). He doesn’t stand a chance. Marisol has the best set of tits on the street, and Eggman is a devout mammaphile or mammaphiliac, whichever. Marisol knows this of course, and dresses to attract attention to her most valuable assets; this evening a puce-colored Spandex/cotton blend blouse with plunging neckline that is guaranteed to invite the lascivious interest of not only Eggy, but all of the expats on Gringo Street. This always leaves Egbert in a confusion of emotions, posessiveness, jealousy, pride, anxiety, as he sees other men staring at her, sensing that for just a fistful of dollars, she will gladly share the delights of her company–tits included–with them as well.
Marisol knows she has won this round, of course, and knows that Egbert will barely blink as he gladly coughs up the dough for that fine fine pair of silver strapped stilettos she’s had her eyes on at the zapateria on Calle Commercial. She’s certain to be on parade tomorrow in her finest gear, maybe on Eggy’s arm, maybe not…
The other night, I drove like an absolute bastard to get to an assistance shout up at the twelve.
Response Officer Mickey “The Head” Thompson and his new crew-mate had gone to an immediate call from a district nurse who was having the shit kicked out of her by three hoodies trying to steal the medication they think she carries. She doesn’t carry any drugs. She had grabbed one by the arm and was hanging on for dear life while the others repeatedly kicked and punched her.
Even on the Swamp this was regarded as ‘bang out of order, like’. A resident from Winnie Mandela block called crime stoppers who patched it through to the 999 system. ‘Not being funny, but is there a reward, like?’
Cue the involvement of Response Team Foxtrot, commanded by me, Sergeant Dan and whoever can scrape together a half decent argument when one of us is off, which is hardly ever. PC Thompson never uses his emergency button so all over the Division, when he did, a grand total of six officers (all that was left of a shift of 12) started to make progress towards the twelve…”
Heather Brooke is the American-trained “data journalist” who upended British politics when she moved to the UK and began to use the UK’s Freedom of Information law to prise apart the dirty secrets of power and privilege, most notably by exposing the expense cheating by Members of Parliament. Brooke’s latest book is The Revolution will be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War, a history of her involvement in the Wikileaks cable-dumps and a meditation on the meaning and role of data-driven journalism in the coming years, as governments ramp up their attempts to lock down the Internet, and journalists, hackers, and activists attempt to open things further.
By Bill Barol at 1:26 pm Monday, Oct 17
Editor Note: This is one of the few interesting perspectives I’ve read on the subject of self-publishing–and believe me, I’ve read a lot lately. My own ideas on the subject are taking form and I’ll be sharing them on this site.
When John F. Kennedy was asked how he became a war hero, he’s supposed to have replied: “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” That’s how I became a self-published novelist: A large number of New York publishers rejected Thanks for Killing Me, my spiky little crime novel about the aftermath of a con gone wrong. They did so for an exquisitely heterogeneous variety of reasons. One liked the plot but not the characters; another liked the characters but not the plot. A couple thought it moved too fast, and a couple found it too leisurely. About the only consensus was that none of them felt optimistic about their chances of selling a caper novel, and a first novel at that, in a declining publishing market. Being the self-starter that I am, I took these rejections in stride and leapt into action, throwing the manuscript into a drawer and sulking for eighteen months.
Sometime around the start of this period I had lunch with an old friend who’d done some time as a publishing executive. I told him that I was beginning to kick around the idea of self-publishing. His advice was short and sweet. “Don’t,” he said. “It’s all the stuff you hate: Marketing, self-promotion, asking people for favors.” This was enough to discourage me for a while. A couple of months back we had lunch again and I told him, again, that I was giving the idea some thought. He asked me what I hoped to accomplish. My thinking had clarified some since our last lunch, and I was honest with him: I told him that I still wanted to attract the attention of a traditional publisher (the Grail of self-published novelists) and/or the movie business. This time, maybe sensing that he could no longer talk me out of it, his advice was a little more expansive. “Okay,” he said. “First, forget everything you know about traditional media; all your experience is worthless. Take all that time you spend screwing around on Twitter and put it into marketing your book. And, at least in the beginning, sell it as cheap as you can. In fact, you know what? Give it away.”
“What?” I said.
“Give it away,” he said. “For free.”
His reasoning was hard to argue with, and not just because I suddenly had a loud buzzing in my ears and the room was all swimmy. The logic went like this: Given two facts — the odds of any self-published novel ever making any real dough were astronomically low, and the job of my novel was now to be its own loss leader — why not set its retail valuation at zero and get it into as many hands as possible? It sounded screwy, it sounded counter-intuitive — hell, it was counter-intuitive, as my intuition was to make money by my work, and as much of it as possible. But the more I thought about it the less nuts it sounded. If I was really serious about exposing my work to a broad audience and generating the kind of critical mass that would make publishers reconsider, I had to make the book almost impossible for anyone with even a passing interest not to acquire. The Get It/Don’t Get It decision had to be friction-free, and cost was the point of friction I could most easily lubricate.
In retrospect, deciding to take a whole year’s work and assign it a valuation of $0.00 was the easy part. Actually doing it wasn’t so simple. What I discovered was that however much of a crazy-ass hippie I had become, CreateSpace, the print-on-demand arm of Amazon, apparently exists to make money, or at least recoup its costs. In practical terms, this means that Amazon sets a floor below which authors are forbidden to sell. So here was my first lesson in self-publishing: While the capitalists with whom I’d gotten into business might abstractly admire my entrepreneurial imagination, they drew the line at letting me give my work away. Like Paulie Cicero’s crew in Goodfellas, they’d get theirs first, off the top. The floor for the paperback edition of my book was $7.49; I set an introductory selling price of $7.99, yielding a profit to me of $0.30 per book. Then I priced the the Kindle edition and the iBooks edition at a cheap-as-possible $0.99 each, which yielded per-unit profits to me of $0.30 and $0.35 respectively. From now until some time in the near future when I decide to raise the prices to something more sensible, the sellers will keep the rest. Which is to say, almost everything.
That doesn’t seem unfair to me. It’s payment rendered for production and/or distribution services provided. In this, they’ve executed one part of the job that traditional publishers have always done. Which leaves every other part for me. This is one thing readers may not immediately grasp about the new world of self-publishing: Printing books and getting them into readers’ hands is only one aspect of the process. To the degree that these most mechanical parts of the publishing business have been peeled off and put within reach of authors, that’s a good thing. It’s disruptive, it’s liberating, it’s downright democratic. But it’s only half the story. Self-published authors also assume responsibility for everything else traditional publishers have always done, chief among these marketing and promotion. And these are another bucket of type.
Marketing and promotion matter. They are the whole show. And they cost, one way or another. You can spend dollars to hire a specialist — there are people who do nothing but arrange “blog tours,” where authors make virtual guest appearances at sympathetic blogs — or you can spend time and energy to do it yourself. I have, at least initially, chosen the latter, rolling out the social-media equivalent of a full-court press: Website, Twitter feed, Facebook fan page, a presence at Goodreads. Shamelessness also helps; I’ve spent a good part of the last week mooching favors from influential Twitterers I have, in some cases, never even met offline. (These people have, I should add, been unfailingly generous in their responses.) Why go the blogging/social-media route? Because I have experience blogging, having written for years at my own sites, here at Boing Boing, at Huffington Post and at Forbes.com, and also because, as my friend put it, I’ve spent a lot of time screwing around on Twitter. You use what you’ve got, and these are assets I can bring to bear. What are they worth in the overall calculus? You could say they’re worthless. I prefer to say their worth is incalculable. Tomato, to-mah-to.
But this is exactly what I’m talking about, and it’s the great thing about the situation in which I find myself: As the screenwriter William Goldman said years ago about Hollywood, Nobody knows anything. You try something, you try something else, you try everything, even things that sound insane, because in an industry where the longstanding business model has been upended, everything else has been upended too, even the gravitational tug of logic. If you want to get rich, value your work at zero. Yes, okay, it reads like the last line of a Zen koan. But self-publishing’s best practices are still unwritten, so really: Why not? That tactical freedom might be the most disruptive, the most liberating part of the whole self-publishing business. I can’t wait to figure out what I get to try next.
“I’m a guy who loves books. For years that’s meant teaching literature both here and abroad. I like getting into the heavy stuff. I work with teenagers who understand Hobbes, and when we read the Odyssey together, we read the whole thing, not just the fantasy bits. But I also like working with my hands and that’s why being a bookbinder just seems to fit. It seems like such a rarity nowadays-the possibility to work with one’s hands. Especially to create something from start to finish. And then when that something happens to be the text of a really good book, it just works…”
Joaquin Miller was regarded most reverentially by Japanese as a sennin,
or “hermit who lived on dews.”
…it was with more than curiosity that I climbed up the hills behind Oakland
to see him at the “Heights”…
It was the ideal spot on earth with…such a wonder of view…
I fell in love with the place at once…
It is not too much to say that one lived partly in the clouds at this place; …
look[ing] down over the San Francisco Bay…[a] floor of dustless silver!
…at evening…my eyesight reached far away [to] the gate of the Bay,
and lo! there the golden sun was sinking heavily down through that gate…
When I was told afterward by Miller that this was the very place
where John C. Freemont [sic], the path-finder, once pitched his tent
and was inspired to give the name of Chrysopylae or Golden Gate,
the place became thrice more romantic.(from The Story of Yone Noguchi)
IN THE LATE1800S, above the town of Fruitvale lay lush grassy rolling hills—once part of the Spanish land grant belonging to the Peralta family. The well-known poet, Joaquin Miller, had purchased these hills in the 1870s as a spot to host a writers’ retreat. His friends—poets and authors of note, such as John Muir, Ina Coolbrith, Edwin Markham, and Jack London (all founding members of the California Writers Club) came often to picnic on Miller’s land.
Into the middle of this literary scene strode Yone Noguchi, a college student from Tokyo, who had come to San Francisco hoping to improve his English language skills. After first finding work on a political newspaper for Japanese ex-pats, in 1896 Noguchi hiked up the hill to Miller’s writers’ retreat, where he apprenticed under the poet for the next four years.
Miller lived like a hermit, tended his rose garden, and dined each night with his elderly mother. Serving as Miller’s personal assistant, Noguchi soaked up information, listening to the poet opine on nature, politics, and the arts. In between his housekeeping and gardening chores, the young man read voraciously: “…the Hokku poems by Bashō, Matsuo, and a book of the Zen philosophy of Kochi Zenji, besides my beloved Poe’s poems….” (from The Story of Yone Noguchi)
In time, Noguchi found the courage to take up his pen, and attempt to write poetry in English. For subject matter, he chose the moments of joy and loneliness that colored his experience of the idyllic, country retreat.
I dwell alone.
Like one-eyed star.
In frightened, darksome willow threads.
In world of moan.
My soul is stagnant dawn—
(from “Mystic Vapour”)
In January of 1954, just a year before his death, Albert Einstein wrote the following letter to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, ‘Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt‘. Apparently Einstein had only read the book due to repeated recommendation by their mutual friend Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer. The letter was bought at auction in May 2008, for £170,000. Unsurprisingly, one of the unsuccessful bidders was Richard Dawkins.
Princeton, 3. 1. 1954
Dear Mr Gutkind,
Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I read a great deal in your book, and thank you very much for lending it to me … With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common. Your personal ideal with its striving for freedom from ego-oriented desires, for making life beautiful and noble, with an emphasis on the purely human element … unites us as having an “American Attitude.”
Still, without Brouwer’s suggestion I would never have gotten myself to engage intensively with your book because it is written in a language inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. … For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong … have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them.
In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision…
Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e. in our evaluation of human behavior … I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.
With friendly thanks and best wishes,