Monday, May 30, 2011

Modern fiction: The Outsider/The Stranger (1942)

Widely considered to be an Absurdist rather than an Existentialist novel, Albert Camus' brilliant The Outsider (or The Stranger) is, in essence, an attempt to describe his belief in man's alienation from his fellow man except as part of an uncaring, amoral, godless universe.

Meursault, a pied-noir (like Camus, a French inhabitant of Algeria), fails to cry at his mother's funeral. He is alienated from the proceedings, able only to experience relative truths by his physical senses. 

"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I had a telegram from the home: 'Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have happened yesterday."
He befriends Raymond and helps him to dispose of a mistress, whose brother confronts the pair, and Raymond is injured in a knife fight. Meursault returns to the beach and shoots the brother dead, in an act not of revenge, but induced by the sun's glare. He is tried for murder where his dedication to truth leads to his conviction. He is convicted for his inability to express emotion, especially remorse. As an atheist he is outraged by the chaplain's attempt to convert him and thus subvert the earthly justice in which he believes so passionately.
Psychological self-examinations are common in French first-person narratives, but Camus’s The Outsider gave the technique of psychological depth a new twist at the time it was published. Instead of allowing the protagonist to detail a static psychology for the reader, the action and behavior were given to the reader to decipher. Camus did this because he felt that “psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.”

Louis Braille sign system

Reading the Braille book

In 1824 Louis Braille, a French student and later teacher who was blind himself, invented the system that enables blind persons to read. It was based on the night writing principle of Charles Barbier, a captain in the French cavalry, who used a combination of 12 dots that were embossed, or pressed, into paper to allow military communications to be read at night. Braille's system used six raised dots arranged in cells of three rows of two. Dots were arranged in different combinations that blind people feel with their fingertips. The patterns formed a code that spelled out letters and numbers and symbolized concepts.

Books that became songs

1984 - David Bowie
Journey to the Center of the earth - Rick Wakeman
Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Iron Maiden
And Then There Were None - Exodus
Wuthering Heights - Kate Bush
Romeo and Juliet - Dire Straits
Brave New World - Donovan
Lord of the Flies - Iron Maiden
Blake's Jerusalem - Billy Bragg
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Metallica
Tom Sawyer - Rush
Bell Jar - The Bangles
War of the Worlds - Jeff Wayne
All Quiet on the Western Front - Elton John
On the Road - John Denver
Catcher in the Rye - Clandestine

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Poetry: Robert Frost

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Mending Wall (reading by Robert Frost)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Agatha Christie's 11-days Mystery

When police found the car of 36-year-old Agatha Christie hidden in the clump of bushes a dozen or so miles away from her Berkshire home, on the morning of  the 4th December 1926, they suspected first suicide and then murder. But while it seemed that prime suspect Archibald Christie, Agatha's husband, might stand to gain from the death of his wife, he had a pretty solid alibi for the night of her disapperance. Where was he? At a week-end party in Surrey with his mistress, Nancy Neele.
Just 11 days after Agatha disappeared, a waiter revealed her whereabouts - she had been hiding out in Swan Hydropathic Hotel (as the Old Swan was then called) in Harrogate, where she was registered as 'Mrs Teresa Neele' from Cape Town. Archibald originally claimed that his wife had lost her memory (no one believed his story, least of all the Surrey police who presented him with a bill for the cost of the search) and it wasn't until after the detective writer's death that the truth finally emerged.

Science Fiction: I, Robot

I, Robot (1950) is a collection of a short stories by Isaac Asimov, linked by an interview between a reporter an robopsychologist Susan Calvin about her work with dysfunctional robots and problems with human-robot interactions. 

It is in these stories that Asimov took the fundamental step of treating robots as aware entities with their own set of programmed ethics - the Three Laws of Robotics - rather than Frankenstein's monster creations of mad scientist. The laws are: 1)A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law of Robotics.
Asimov deliberately left loopholes in the laws, and each of the stories is a detective story in which Calvin or her colleagues at U.S. Robotics and Mechanical Men Inc., Martin and Donovan, discover which ambiguity or conflict between the laws is causing the robot to behave in an unexpected way. 

The stories are arranged chronologically with the development of positronic robots. The first robot to appear is Robbie, the perfect playmate for young girl, who because of him becomes isolated from other children. Other robots include Nestor 10, whose programming conflict can only be solved by adjusting the First Law for him so that he can allow his employers to put themselves at risk in order to do their work. Asimov's Three Laws have spread throughout science fiction and almost every robot in books or on screen is created with the assumption that these laws govern its behaviour.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The typewriter's story

How many beautiful verses, wise thoughts, thoughtful sentences, long novels and short stories was typewritten on the good old typewriters? The literature accompanied with the sound of typing, endless sheets of paper with a curvy margins and handwritten corrections and comments....

Illustration by Marie Campbell

The idea behind the typewriter was to apply the concept of movable type developed by Johann Gutenberg in the invention of the printing press century to a machine for individual use. Descriptions of such mechanical writing machines date to the early eighteenth century. In 1714, a patent something like a typewriter was granted to a man named Henry Mill in England, but no example of Mills’ invention survives.

In 1829, William Burt from Detroit, Michigan patented his typographer which had characters arranged on a rotating frame. However, Burt’s machine, and many of those that followed it, were cumbersome, hard to use, unreliable and often took longer to produce a letter than writing it by hand.

Poetry: Pablo Neruda

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You

I do not love you except because I love you; 
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.

I love you only because it's you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

Modern fiction: The Master and Margarita

The original publication of the culmination of Bulgakov's life's work, in the journal Moskva in 1966/7, was a rare, fresh breeze of freedom blowing through Soviet spiritual and artistic values. The courage of its themes (Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate, Satan and The Great Terror of the 1930s), and it's style (a combination of satire, clowning and intense honesty), combine in this devastating satire of Soviet life in general, and Soviet literary life in particular, to stun its readers.

The multi-layered plot pivots on a dialogue between the people's poet and critic on the best way to portray Christ as an exploiter of the proletariat. Interrupted by a stranger (Satan in the guise of Woland), they unknowingly allow him and his chaos-bringing retinue of vampires, witches and even a giant cat, into their world.

For the modern reader, even without the historical and political context that saw Bulgakov's work banned by Stalin, this is hugely enjoyable work of genius, terrifyingly brilliant, but at the same time darkly disturbing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The magic of book covers

The books are for reading..... we all know that. Still, there's something more about books.

The books suppose to produce a magic. They attract us by covers, illustrations, velvety paper touch and smell. Book covers are hard to design and nice to look at. An effective book cover manages to catch human’s eye and convey the idea behind the book on one single page. However, it’s getting even harder: to make a book really hard to forget, designers need to design the cover in a unique, creative and striking way. That’s not that different from Web where it’s important to build a sound information architecture upon a rather restricted design layout.


Cash-machine books

When celebrated British novelist Fay Weldon brokered a deal in 2001 with Italian jewellery maker Bulgari to plug their products in her novel approprietely entitled The Bulgari Connection, the literary world was up in arms. But Weldon was not the last novelist to accept cash for product placement in fiction. In 2004, Ford paid British novelist Carole Matthews an undisclosed (but allegedly five-digit) sum in return for featuring the Ford Fiesta in her next two novels. But Matthews dismissed claims it was a sell out: "Wherever my heroine is driving a car, it will now be a Ford Fiesta," she told the BBC's World Business Report. "That's the only thing they've asked me to do, they've placed no other contraints on my writing at all."

How to read

"Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end; then stop"

These simple instructions are given by  the King of Hearts to the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Aleice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) when the rabbit is called up to testify against the Knave of Hearts (who has been accused of stealing tarts). The King's advice is less nonsenical than it first seems; the rabbit is reading from a piece of paper containing verses with no beginning, no end - and no meaning.

Book cover, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Charles Robinson, 1907
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