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Lapedrera.com

Monday, 16 October, 2017 0 Comments

Professor Robert Langdon is at the wheel of a Tesla Model X P9OD that Elon Musk “allegedly hand-delivered” to the Elon-Musk-like genius in Dan Brown’s latest novel, Origin. Sitting beside him is the very beautiful Ambra Vidal, who happens to be engaged to the future King of Spain. Well, it is a Dan Brown novel.

Anyway, they’re doing 120 kph on the outskirts of Barcelona when Winston, a superior version of Siri, points out that the Musk-like character had helped create a video about the architecture of Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Milà. “It’s worth seeing,” says Winston.

“The video is actually quite impressive,” Ambra agreed, leaning forward and touching the browser screen. A keyboard appeared, and she typed: Lapedrera.com. “You should watch this.”

“I’m kind of driving,” Langdon replied.

At which point Ambra puts the car on autopilot and they watch the video together, as people do in a Dan Brown novel when a Telsa Model X P9OD is on autopilot.


Javier Marías for the Nobel Prize in Literature

Thursday, 5 October, 2017 0 Comments

“He’ll be a minister in Spain some day, or, at the very least, ambassador to Washington, he’s exactly the kind of pretentious fool with just a thin veneer of cordiality that the Right produces by the dozen and which the Left reproduces and imitates whenever they’re in power, as if they were the victims of some form of contagion.” — Javier Marías, Tu Rostro Mañana: 1 Fiebre Y Lanza

They’re awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature today up in Scandinavia. The betting is that it’ll go to a writer, but that’s not a sure thing anymore. “For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan. Very few saw that coming.

Today, we’ll see a return to the norm, such as it is in the world of letters. Haruki Murakami? Margaret Atwood? Ngugi wa Thiong’o? Amos Oz? Worthy candidates all, but our money is on Javier Marías, the Spanish novelist, short story writer and translator. He’s a superb writer and because the Spanish establishment could do with some good news at the moment, the Nobel committee might be inclined to lend a hand.


Memorials outlast memories

Monday, 28 August, 2017 0 Comments

In Robert Goddard’s mathematical thriller, Out of the Sun, the hero, Harry Barnett, visits Kensal Green Cemetery and muses upon the erasure that death accomplishes: “The broken pillars still stood, the hollow helmets still echoed. But the thousands of names — and thousands of people they had once been — vanished sooner or later, beneath the lichen of utter forgetfulness. The memorials outlasted the memories. They alone remained, in this petrified forest of ceremonied mortality.”

Graveyard


Gems of brilliance

Saturday, 26 August, 2017 0 Comments

Although it’s a decade old now, Cultural Amnesia by Clive James remains a magisterial work. Each of its 856 pages is studded with germs. Here’s one about Gatsby:

“Fitzgerald’s prose style can be called ravishing because it brings anguish with its enchantment. He always wrote that way, even when, by his own standards, he could as yet hardly write at all. He could still write that way when death was at his shoulder. He wrote that way because he was that way: the style was the man.” (page 219)

And with that, we end this year’s re-reading of The Great Gatsby, a novel that shines more brilliantly with each passing year. Here’s to August 2018 and the next re-reading.

It would be a pity to leave Cultural Amnesia without adding a few more of those Jamesian gems. Here, then, are three for the road to East Egg:

Russian Marxism: “Bukharin counted as a thinker among the old Bolsheviks because he could make a general statement about the connection of music to economics: nobody would be able to play the piano, he pointed out, if there were no pianos.” (page 355)

Chinese Marxism: “Mao had so organized his colossal abattoir of a state that information rarely travelled further than a scream could be heard. But that was inside China. Outside China, the story went everywhere, and there was never any excuse for not hearing it. The idea that there was is part of the lie — the part fated, it seems, to last longest.” (page 459)

Finally, the great man himself: “It has to be remembered that the typical Polish writer was Bruno Schulz. But for that to be remembered, Bruno Schulz has to be remembered, and the main reason he was so easily forgotten is that a Gestapo officer blew his brains out.” — Clive James


“We got Gatsby, that old son of a bitch.”

Friday, 25 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is happening side-by-side with a reading of Camino Island by John Grisham, which centres on the theft of the Gatsby manuscript from the Firestone Library at Princeton University and the hunt for those behind the heist. It also delves into the criminal business of the literary black market. Snippet:

Inside the vault, the work was indeed slow, but determined. The first four opened drawers revealed more old manuscripts, some handwritten, some typed, all by important writers who didn’t matter at the moment. They finally struck gold in the fifth drawer when Denny removed an archival storage box identical to the others. He carefully opened it. A reference page inserted by the library read, “Original Handwritten Manuscript of The Beautiful and Damned — F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

Camino Island “Bingo,” Denny said calmly. He removed two identical boxes from the fifth drawer, delicately placed them on the narrow table, and opened them. Inside were original manuscripts of Tender Is the Night and The Last Tycoon.

Ahmed, still glued to his laptop and now drinking a highly caffeinated energy drink, heard the beautiful words: “Okay, boys, we have three out of five. Gatsby’s here somewhere, along with Paradise.”

As Jerry and Mark flipped up their goggles and moved their lights closer to the table, Denny gently opened the archival storage box. Its reference sheet read, “Original Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

“Bingo,” he said calmly. “We got Gatsby, that old son of a bitch.”

“Whoopee,” Mark said, though their excitement was thoroughly contained. Jerry lifted out the only other box in the drawer. It was the manuscript for This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first novel, published in 1920.

“We have all five,” Denny said calmly. “Let’s get outta here.”


The hare and the limousine and the verb

Thursday, 24 August, 2017 0 Comments

“All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences… A line like ‘The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,’ is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement — the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your eyes.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Scottie in 1938 and you can find the exchange in F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing.

The image of a hare limping through frozen grass is found in the writing of one of the major influence on Fitzgerald’s work, the Romantic poet John Keats. It’s in the first verse of his great, 42-stanza poem, “Eve of Saint Agnes“, and Fitzgerald was so taken by it that he began a magazine story titled “Love in the Night”, that was published on 14 March 1925 in The Saturday Evening Post, thus: “The limousine crawled crackling down the pebbled drive.”

St. Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

By the way, the evening before the feast of Saint Agnes (St. Agnes’ Eve) falls on 20 January.


Grisham and Gatsby

Wednesday, 23 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is being accompanied by a reading of Camino Island by John Grisham, which features the stolen manuscript of Gatsby and the criminal ways of the literary black market. Snippet:

Camino Island F. Scott Fitzgerald enrolled in Princeton in the fall of 1913 at the age of sixteen, he was dreaming of writing the great American novel, and had indeed begun working on an early version of This Side of Paradise. He dropped out four years later to join the Army and go to war, but it ended before he was deployed. His classic, The Great Gatsby, was published in 1925 but did not become popular until after his death. He struggled financially throughout his career, and by 1940 was working in Hollywood, cranking out bad screenplays, failing physically and creatively. On December 21, he died of a heart attack, brought on by years of severe alcoholism.

In 1950, Scottie, his daughter and only child, gave his original manuscripts, notes, and letters — “papers” —to the Firestone Library at Princeton. His five novels were handwritten on inexpensive paper that did not age well. The library quickly realized that it would be unwise to allow researchers to physically handle them. High-quality copies were made, and the originals were locked away in a secured basement vault where the air, light, and temperature were carefully controlled. Over the years, they had been removed only a handful of times.


At the enchanted metropolitan twilight

Tuesday, 22 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is underway and the glow from the beautiful metaphysics of Fitzgerald’s prose lights up the drawing-in evenings. A paragraph:

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others — poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner — young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

To his great credit, Jay McInerney has spent his life trying to emulate this and it’s not his fault that he has never matched it. But who has? With Gatsby, published 92 years ago, Fitzgerald achieved the miracle of sounding contemporary while appealing to an audience that had grown up reading Henry James. His genius is that the book continues to sound contemporary.

Fitzgerald wrote in the shadow of evil and no one who reads The Great Gatsby can put it down without feeling a sense of dread. Not just for those who would lose their fortunes in 1929, but for those who would be dragged into war in 1939. And as we get ready to mark the annual anniversary of the slaughter of 3,000 men and women in New York City by the 9/11 jihadists, his observation about “the most poignant moments of night and life” rings true across the decades.


The Camino of Gatsby

Monday, 21 August, 2017 0 Comments

The annual re-reading of The Great Gatsby is undertaken not just for the pleasure of rediscovering a classic. This tradition is also an occasion for learning about the persisting role of the masterpiece in modern culture. Take Camino Island, John Grisham’s latest thriller about stolen F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, including Gatsby, and the workings of the literary black market.

The story begins with the theft of five of Fitzgerald’s manuscripts from the Firestone Library at Princeton University and it then moves to resort town on a Florida Island for clues about the heist. Although the FBI and agents working for Princeton’s insurance company are hunting the robbers, Grisham focuses on a novelist pursuing an independent investigation. Snippet:

The imposter borrowed the name of Neville Manchin, an actual professor of American literature at Portland State and soon-to-be doctoral student at Stanford. In his letter, on perfectly forged college stationery, “Professor Manchin” claimed to be a budding scholar of F. Scott Fitzgerald and was keen to see the great writer’s “manuscripts and papers” during a forthcoming trip to the East Coast. Camino Island The letter was addressed to Dr. Jeffrey Brown, Director of Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University. It arrived with a few others, was duly sorted and passed along, and eventually landed on the desk of Ed Folk, a career junior librarian whose task, among several other monotonous ones, was to verify the credentials of the person who wrote the letter.

Ed received several of these letters each week, all in many ways the same, all from self-proclaimed Fitzgerald buffs and experts, and even from the occasional true scholar. In the previous calendar year, Ed had cleared and logged in 190 of these people through the library. They came from all over the world and arrived wide-eyed and humbled, like pilgrims before a shrine. In his thirty-four years at the same desk, Ed had processed all of them. And, they were not going away. F. Scott Fitzgerald continued to fascinate. The traffic was as heavy now as it had been three decades earlier. These days, though, Ed was wondering what could possibly be left of the great writer’s life that had not been pored over, studied at great length, and written about. Not long ago, a true scholar told Ed that there were now at least a hundred books and over ten thousand published academic articles on Fitzgerald the man, the writer, his works, and his crazy wife.

And he drank himself to death at forty-four! What if he’d lived into old age and kept writing? Ed would need an assistant, maybe two, perhaps even an entire staff. But then Ed knew that an early death was often the key to later acclaim (not to mention greater royalties).


Gatsby and the greatest of all dreams

Sunday, 20 August, 2017 0 Comments

Our annual mid-August tradition of re-reading The Great Gatsby starts today. The custom began some 30 years ago during a magical mid-August holiday on what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York”. In nine short chapters, he captured an era and Long Island’s appeal for the hedonistic and the nostalgic. This paragraph is immortal:

“The old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

In the novel’s barely 50,000 words, Fitzgerald gave Americans an enduring meditation on their country’s most central ideas, visions and obsessions: the quest for a new life, the hunger for wealth and those “last and greatest of all human dreams.”


Bad news for Lisboans: Your city is the next Berlin

Sunday, 30 July, 2017 0 Comments

“The city centre is now a busy, upmarket hub, and distinctive local shops are making way for international brands such as Cartier, Prada and Bulgari, interspersed by an H&M, a Zara, a McDonald’s or a Burger King. The magisterial Rua Augusto, that leads to the triumphal arch, sees barely a Lisboan or the iconic tram no. 28 that winds its way up the hill through the steep city hills is full of tourists and locals cannot get on.”

So wrote Charles Landry on 8 February in a blog entry titled Lisbon is the next Berlin… Landry is the author of The Civic City in a Nomadic World which will be published by the Rotterdam-based nai010 in October. Blurb:

“We are in the midst of redesigning the world and all its systems as we witness the biggest mass movement of people, goods, factories, frenzied finance and ideas in history. Vast flows make the new norm nomadic. Yet there is a yearning for belonging, distinctiveness and identity as the ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’ phenomenon enabled by digitization is changing how we interact with space, place and time.”

Out of this, Charles Landry, says will emerge a different kind of city: the civic city, which will be based on an urban commons, connection and shared lives.

The Civic City