“And what a character is Iago! undaunted John Eglinton exclaimed. When all is said Dumas fils (or is it Dumas pere?) is right. After God Shakespeare has created most.” Ulysses, by James Joyce, Episode 9, Scylla and Charybdis.
On 26 April 1564, John Bretchgirdle, the parish vicar of Statford, a small town in Warwickshire, noted the baptism of “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare.” This year, Rainy Day (and the world) will celebrate the 450th birthday of that extraordinarily creative person. We’re kicking off with Shakespeare Exchange, a New York based theatre company, which is publishing video clips of each of his 154 sonnets, performed by 154 different actors. For beginners, here’s Sonnet 101.Tweet
The transcendence of love over the limits imposed by season and time is a constant motif in the poetry of Robert Burns. His other great theme is Scotland. The country in which he lived was in flux and the great debates of the day revolved around identity. Should Scotland adopt English manners, or should it […]
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd —
The little dogs under their feet.
An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin (1922 — 1985)
Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel (died 1376), and his wife, Eleanor of Lancaster (died 1372) are buried, with their dogs, in a carved tomb in Chichester Cathedral. He is fully dressed in armour but the mailed glove is off his right hand, and her right hand rests upon his. Joined in marriage during their lives, they are now joined forever in death. Omnia vincit amor wrote Virgil, but the skeptical Larkin is not so sure. Still, the hand-in-hand scene moved him to end his poem with one of the great lines of modern verse: What will survive of us is love.
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
The web was filled with wonder last year when an upstart site called Upworthy garnered 7.8 million pageviews for a story titled “Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced.” This was then topped with “The Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular,” which racked up 17 million pageviews. The clear and unmistakable message is that manipulative clickbait is a road paved with digital gold. Business plan: Write irresistible headlines + spam the Facebook News Feed.
But then Zuckerberg and Sandberg turned off the big tap and that has been bad bad news for Upworthy, which has experienced a 46 percent traffic decline in just two months. The moral of the story, as Megan McCardle puts it so nicely in her latest Bloomberg column, is: “When you build your business around Facebook, ultimately, it’s Facebook’s business you’re building, not your own.”
Long before the fall, however, lots of people had tired of the Upworthy scam, er, strategy, with its incessant drumbeat of banality, which it pawned off in such a way that critics were left feeling like curmudgeons who hated everything positive about our planet. What’s there not to like about good clickbait news? A lot, actually, says Alain de Botton in his new book, The News: A User’s Manual. The philosopher is backing up his thesis with The Philosophers’ Mail, a site that aims to make us think more about the news we consume. Rather delightfully, it borrows from the Daily Mail factory of headline-writing and design.
“Why isn’t the news more cheerful?” asks today’s top story, topically. Snippet:
“At the Philosopher’s Mail, we’re not into good news or bad news. We start from a different place. Our primary move in selecting stories is to ask, ‘Would it be helpful to know this?’ This determines whether a story goes in or out. In order to live your life well, you need to deal with negative and positive information. News can very well be helpful when it is talking about appalling events. And it can be extremely unhelpful when the stories it tells us are cheery.”
Instead, de Botton & Co. are serving up useful tragedy and helpful victory. Their stories won’t get as many clicks as Upworthy’s “See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds” (11.8 million pageviews), but they’re not building their house on Facebook’s land, either.
This just in: “Alain de Botton — why I’ve started my own Mail Online: Media moguls aren’t philosophers. So it’s time for philosophers to become media moguls.”Tweet
The Times They Are a-Changin’, the third studio album by Bob Dylan and his first collection to feature only original compositions, was released in 1964. Speaking about the title track, Dylan told the film director Cameron Crowe, “This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads… Come All Ye Bold Highway Men, Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.”
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
The pivotal line of the final verse, “And the first one now will later be last”, has a Biblical ring to it and critics have connected it with the Gospel of Mark, 10:31, “But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”Tweet
Revolution: Yesterday, the French business daily, Les Echos, launched a news aggregator called Les Echos 360. To be precise, it’s not an aggregator, it’s an “aggrefilter” says Frederic Filloux, the head of digital at Les Echos, who explains that the word means an aggregation and filtering system that collects technology news and ranks it based on its importance to the news cycle. As Filloux points out in his Monday Note blog post, this move required courage and a lot of clever thinking:
“For Les Echos‘ digital division, this aggrefilter is a proof of concept, a way to learn a set of technologies we consider essential for the company’s future. The digital news business will be increasingly driven by semantic processes; these will allow publishers to extract much more value from news items, whether they are produced in-house or aggregated/filtered. That is especially true for a business news provider: the more specialized the corpus, the higher the need for advanced processing.”
Revolt: Journalists at France’s third-biggest national newspaper, Libération, have responded with rage at a plan by the owners to try to save the declining daily by transforming it into a “social network”. The owners also want to convert the central Paris building rented by the newsroom into a cultural centre with a café, TV studio and business area for start-ups. Liberation staff voiced their opposition on the cover of the weekend edition: “We are a newspaper, not a restaurant, not a social network, not a cultural space, not a TV studio, not a bar, not a start-up incubator.”
Started by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973, Libération is a leftist fixture on Parisian newsstands, but it has long trailed Le Monde and Le Figaro, and, with a circulation of just 100,000, it has proved to be a bottomless pit for its shareholders. Last year, it lost more than €500,000 as sales sank 15 percent. Marx would be delighted with such energetic destruction of capital.
Prediction: Les Echos will survive. Libération will not.Tweet
The comedy Fack ju Göthe premiered on 29 October in Munich and by the end of 2013 it had become the first film in six years to sell more than five million tickets in German cinemas. It’s about an ex-con forced to take a job teaching at a school located over the spot where money from a robbery is stashed so that he can dig up the cash. What’s made the film such a hit is the language. Ostensibly, it is the language of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but it’s actually American Hip-Hop that’s been remixed with German by immigrants from Turkey, the Maghreb, Russia and the Balkans. The result is a pidgin that allows its speakers communicate by dropping articles, mashing up prepositions and disregarding the genitive, the dative and the conjunctive. And central to it all is the word “fuck”, or “fack” as it’s enunciated by those who find \'fək\ difficult to pronounce.
The word was in the mouths of Germans again at the weekend, but this time the establishment was voicing it, thanks to Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State whose F-bomb was secretly recorded and dropped on YouTube (apparently by the Russians). The impact was felt from Berlin to Brussels.
Although Ms Nuland could have been more subtle, her analysis is fundamentally correct. This was proved in another Russian-recorded conversation, this time between Helga Schmid, a representative of EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, and Jan Tombinski, the EU Ambassador in Ukraine. Snippet:
Helga Schmid: “I just wanted to tell you one more thing in confidence. The Americans are going around and saying we’re too soft, while they’re moving more firmly toward sanctions. […] Well, we’re not soft! We’re about to issue a very strongly worded statement about Bulatov!”
When was the last time that Putin lost sleep because of “a very strongly worded statement”? No wonder Nuland is so contemptuous of these people. Putin has no intention of going down in history as the Russian tyrant who lost the Ukraine and he’s not going to let statement typists stop him, either. He knows that the US and the EU have more power than the Russian Federation does, but he also knows that they don’t have a joint approach to Ukraine. Brussels and Berlin prefer to busy themselves drafting “strongly worded statements” and, as with Syria, the Obama administration keeps sending out signals that confirm Putin in his belief that he can bully the Ukraine without paying a price.
Fack ju EU, indeed. But it’s not just Victoria Nuland who’s saying it.
This just in: Switzerland goes there. It’s said Fack ju EU, too.Tweet
The Olympic Games have a long and ignominious history as a glossy brochure for evil regimes, from the Nazi Games in Berlin in 1936 to the Communist Games in Moscow in 1980. Now, we have the Putin Winter Games in Sochi, an enormously expensive show that’s an ideal metaphor for the current Russian regime: corrupt, […]
How did Johann Sebastian Bach manage to express the inexpressible, especially with regard to death? What guided his compositional decisions? The search for the answers to these questions lies at the heart of a new book, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by the British conductor John Eliot Gardiner. Praising Gardiner’s work in the New York Review of Books, George B. Stauffer gives us an overview of a composer’s music that is hallmarked by an exuberance and a grace “that gives it extraordinary emotional depth and drama.” In the words of Gardiner, Bach “celebrates the fundamental sanctity of life, an awareness of the divine and a transcendent dimension as a fact of human existence.”
Here, from the St Matthew Passion, which was written by Bach in 1727, is the magnificent bass aria Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, sung by Stephan MacLeod and conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.Tweet
On 10 May 1953, the old German city of Chemnitz was renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt (Karl Marx City) by its Communist rulers. On 21 June 1990, Marx was deposited in the dustbin of European history and Chemnitz was Chemnitz once more. The city is home to many attractions, including the Lessing & Kompanie bookshop. According to the German book trade magazine, Börsenblatt, the owner of Lessing & Kompanie, Klaus Kowalke, invested €3,500 in an all-day session with a professional photographer taking 1,700 snaps of 127 of his customers in the shop, with their favourite books. The result is a charming Tumblr.Tweet