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Archive for March, 2009

Wall built from gravestone fragments, Remu Shul (Synagogue) cemetary, Kraków, Poland.

The Remu [also: Rema, Remuh] synagogue (acronym for Rabbi Moses Isserles) is located in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow, and was founded in 1553 by Israel Isserles.  The Remu was considered to be the ‘Maimonides of Polish Jewry’ and was known for his universal outlook, his extensive Talmudic and secular knowledge, his manner of study, and his humility. . . .

“The adjacent Remu cemetery was used until 1799, and contains the graves of the Remu and his family. . . . After [World War II], the cemetery was restored and pieces of broken headstones which could not be matched were used to make a memorial cemetery wall.” (more @ New Cracow Friendship Society; Full photo; May, 2008)

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I’ll not be posting to the NSRG this weekend when I’ll be visiting Washington, D.C. in order to view, in advance of my May trip to Naples, the exhibition, “Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples,” at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition, which includes recent discoveries on view in the United States for the first time, as well as finds from excavations dating to the mid-18th century, closes this Sunday. 

The New York Times review of the exhibition can be found here.

A slideshow, “The Treasures of Pompeii,” can be found here.

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“On the eve of national strikes, the French have found a new way to show their dislike of [President] Nicolas Sarkozy: by reading a 17th century tale of thwarted love that the president has said he hates.

“Mr Sarkozy, a man often ridiculed in France for preferring fitness to literature, has frequently expressed his disdain for ‘La Princesse de Cleves (The Princess of Cleves), a novel by Madame de La Fayette which was published in 1678 and is taught in most French classrooms.

“Now, French readers have adopted the book as a symbol of dissent: as Mr Sarkozy’s popularity falls, sales of the book are rising.

“At the Paris book fair this week, publishers reported selling all available copies of the novel, while badges emblazoned with the slogan ‘I am reading La Princesse de Cleves’ were a must-have item that sold out within hours. . . .

“Public readings of the work have proliferated at universities like the Sorbonne in Paris, hit by protests over government reform plans, and at theatres.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

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Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker magazine, on New York’s two new baseball stadiums, “the first time that two major-league stadiums have opened in the same city at the same time”:

“A stadium is a stage set as sure as anything on Broadway, and it determines the tone of the dramas within. Citi Field suggests a team that wants to be liked, even to the point of claiming some history that isn’t its own. Yankee Stadium, however, reflects an organization that is in the business of being admired, and is built to serve as a backdrop for the image of the Yankees, at once connected to the city and rising grandly above it.” (more @ The New Yorker)

RelatedTwo New Baseball Palaces, One Stoic, One Scrappy

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“There’s now a rumored-price tag on George W. Bush‘s forthcoming memoirs, ‘Decision Points:’ a $7 million advance from publisher Crown. How does that stack up to other Deciders?

“It’s $5 million less than Bill Clinton‘s advance for My Life$1 million less than Hillary Clinton got for Living History, and $2 million less than the advance for the memoirs of Tony Friggin’ Blair, the British prime minister who answered to some queen, and to George W. Bush. BURN.” (via Gawker)

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bookerprize“The Man Booker International Prize was announced in June 2004 and recognises one writer for his or her achievement in fiction. Worth £60,000 to the winner, the prize is awarded once every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. In addition, there is a separate prize for translation and, if applicable, the winner can choose a translator of his or her work into English to receive a prize of £15,000. . . .

“The Man Booker International Prize differs from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights one writer’s continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.  Both prizes strive to recognise and reward the finest fiction.”

The 14 authors on the 2009 contenders list are:

Previous winners of the prize are Ismail Kadare of Albania and Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. (more @ Man Booker Prizes)

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wizardofozWas Dorothy in Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a Populist “Everyman” who — with William Jennings Bryan (Lion), a farmer (Scarecrow) and an industrial worker (Tin Woodman) — went off to see the Wizard (President) to voice support for the use of silver as currency? Or, more critically, as economists today “fear an onset of deflation, and economic certainties melt away like a drenched wicked witch,” are there lessons to be learned from Oz?

“In 1964, high school teacher Henry Littlefield wrote an article outlining the notion of an underlying allegory in Frank Baum’s book. He said it offered a ‘gentle and friendly’ critique of Populist thinking, and the story could be used to illuminate the late 19th Century to students. . . .

“[Littlefield] believed the characters could represent the personalities and themes of the late 1800s, with Dorothy embodying the everyman American spirit.

“US political historian Quentin Taylor, who supports this interpretation, says: ‘There are too many instances of parallels with the political events of the time.’ . . .

“But not everyone believes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz includes any hidden meanings.

“‘Nobody ever suggested it until 1964,’ says Bradley Hansen, who is a professor of economics at the University of Mary Washington. ‘There’s no solid evidence that Baum had written it as a monetary allegory,’ he adds.”

As for the value of Baum’s book to present-day economists, Taylor agrees that despite the references to late 19th-century economic issues, “little can be learnt from Baum about the modern economic crisis.” (more @ BBC News)

RelatedSarah Palin As Dorothy? We’re Not In Kansas …

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richard-fordIn the current issue of Bookforum, novelist Richard Ford considers whether Frank Bascombe, the narrator of his award-winning trilogy of novels, is “a stand-in for the rest of us”:

“Over the last twenty years, goodwilled readers have occasionally asked me if Frank Bascombe, the yearning, sometimes vexatious, narrator of my three novels The SportswriterIndependence Day, and Lay of the Land—if Frank Bascombe was intended to be an American ‘everyman.’ By this I think these readers mean: Is Frank at least partly an emblem? Poised there in the final clattering quadrant of the last century, beset with dilemmas and joys, equipped with his suburban New Jersey skill set and ethical outlook—do Frank’s fears, dedications, devilings, and amusements stand somewhat for our own?

“Naturally, I’m flattered to hear such a question, since it might mean the questioner has read at least one of these books and tried to make use of it. And I can certainly imagine that a millennial standard-bearer might be worth having; a sort of generalizable, meditative, desktop embodiment of our otherwise unapplauded selves—one who’s not so accurately drawn as to cause discomfort, but still recognizable enough to make us feel a bit more visible to ourselves, possibly recertify us as persuasive characters in our own daily dramas.

“But the truth is that Frank Bascombe as ‘everyman’ was never my intention. Not only would I have no idea how to go about writing such a full-service literary incarnation, but I’m also sure I’d find the whole business to be not much fun in the doing. And I still want to enjoy what I’m doing.” (more @ Bookforum)

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“More than 9,000 books are missing from the British Library, including Renaissance treatises on theology and alchemy, a medieval text on astronomy, first editions of 19th- and 20th-century novels, and a luxury edition of Mein Kampf produced in 1939 to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday.

“The library believes almost all have not been stolen but rather mislaid among its 650km of shelves and 150m items – although some have not been seen in well over half a century. . . .

“The library records all of these items as ‘mislaid’ rather than gone for ever, still less stolen. Despite well-publicised recent cases – such as that of Edward Forbes Smiley III, convicted in the US three years ago of stealing more than 100 maps from institutions including the British Library, and Farhad Hakimzadeh, an Iranian collector jailed in January for cutting maps, illustrations and pages from priceless volumes in the British Library and other collections – the library is convinced that almost all the missing texts are still somewhere within its walls.” (more @ The Guardian)

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bozo“Alan W. Livingston, an entertainment executive who had significant roles in bringing Bozo, the Beatles and ‘Bonanza‘ to American audiences, died Friday at home in Beverly Hills. He was 91. . . .

“In 1963, Mr. Livingston was president of Capitol Records, which had declined three different times to release singles by a British band, then little known in the United States, called the Beatles. After another Capitol executive turned down a fourth opportunity, this one to release the song ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ a telephone call placed to Mr. Livingston probably changed rock ‘n roll history. . . .

“Capitol released the single and the next year brought the Beatles to the United States, unleashing the tsunami of adoration that came to be known as Beatlemania.” (more @ NY Times)

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bolanoawardThe awards keep rolling in for the late Roberto Bolaño and 2666:

“On Thursday, March 12, 2009, at a crowded ceremony at the New School in New York, the National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of its book awards, covering books published in 2008. . . .

“Roberto Bolaño’s monumental 2666 (Farrar, Straus), a tale of love and violence set within the framework of the fictional town of Santa Teresa, Mexico, that’s widely regarded as the late author’s masterpiece, won the fiction award. Fiction committee chair Marcela Valdes called the work ‘a virtuoso accomplishment that ranks with Moby-Dick and Blood Meridian as one of the trenchant and kaleidoscopic examinations of evil in fiction.'”

Other winners included:

  • Poetry (co-winners): August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid CityJuan Felipe Herrera, Half the World in Light
  • CriticismSeth LererChildren’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter
  • BiographyPatrick French, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul
  • AutobiographyAriel Sabar, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq
  • NonfictionDexter Filkins, The Forever War.

(more @ National Book Critics Circle)

RelatedMas Bolano: Part VI of “2666” Discovered in Author’s Papers

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superman“A rare copy of the first comic book featuring Superman has sold for $317,200 in an Internet auction. . . .

The winning bid for the 1938 edition of Action Comics No. 1, whose cover features Superman lifting a car, was submitted Friday evening by John Dolmayan, drummer for the rock band System of a Down . . .

“Only about 100 copies of Action Comics No. 1 are known to exist.” (more @ LA Times)

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viewmaster_red_with_reelFirst introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, “the iconic [View-Master] reels of tourist attractions, often packaged with a clunky plastic viewer and first sold to promote 3-D photography, are ending their 70-year run after years of diminishing sales. . . .

“Scenic discs are no longer a good fit for the Fisher-Price division of toy maker Mattel Inc., a spokeswoman said, and the company stopped making them in December. Fisher-Price, based in East Aurora, N.Y., will keep making better-selling reels of Shrek, Dora the Explorer and other animated characters, spokeswoman Juliette Reashor said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.” (more @ MSN)

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vampire“Matteo Borrini, an anthropologist from the University of Florence, said the discovery [of a woman’s skull with its mouth agape and a large slab of rock forced into its mouth] on the small island of Lazzaretto Nuovo in the Venice lagoon supported the medieval belief that vampires were behind the spread of plagues like the Black Death.

“‘This is the first time that archaeology has succeeded in reconstructing the ritual of exorcism of a vampire,’ Mr Borrini said. ‘This helps … authenticate how the myth of vampires was born.’

“The skeleton was unearthed in a mass grave from the Venetian plague of 1576 – in which the artist Titian died – on Lazzaretto Nuovo, which lies around 2 miles northeast of Venice and was used as a sanatorium for plague sufferers.

“The succession of plagues which ravaged Europe between 1300 and 1700 fostered the belief in vampires, mainly because the decomposition of corpses was not well understood, Mr Borrini said.” (more @ Daily Telegraph UK)

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babeltalesscreamingdreamers

Photo: Peter Funch (more @ V1 Gallery; via The Daily Dish)

[“The City that Never Sleeps,” indeed!]

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purdy2James Purdy, whose dark, often savagely comic fiction evoked a psychic American landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation, died Friday in Englewood, N.J. He was 94 and lived in Brooklyn Heights. . . .

“Wayward and unclassifiable, Mr. Purdy, the author of the novels ‘Malcolm’ and ‘The Nephew,’ labored at the margins of the literary mainstream, inspiring veneration or disdain. His nearly 20 novels and numerous short stories and plays either enchanted or baffled critics with their gothic treatment of small-town innocents adrift in a corrupt and meaningless world, his distinctive blend of plain speech with ornate, florid locutions, and the hallucinatory quality of his often degraded scenes. . . .

“If Mr. Purdy made limited headway against what he called, in an autobiographical sketch, ‘the anesthetic, hypocritical, preppy and stagnant New York literary establishment,’ he was proclaimed ‘an authentic American genius’ by Gore Vidal and admired extravagantly by writers like Angus Wilson, John Cowper Powys and Edith Sitwell, who, reviewing the stories and short plays collected in ‘Children Is All’ (1962), wrote that Mr. Purdy would ‘come to be recognized as one of the greatest living writers of fiction in our language.’ (more @ NY Times)

RelatedWho is James Purdy? Edward Albee Tells

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The full episode of last night’s The Daily Show featuring Jon Stewart‘s “interview” of CNBC’s Jim Cramer can be viewed here.

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UpdateRoubini: CNBC’s Jim Cramer A “Buffoon”

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howlquartet“Artists from different disciplines have long been inspired by one another’s works, often with remarkable results. But both words and music suffer in Lee Hyla’s ‘Howl,’ a string quartet written in 1993 to accompany Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem of that name.

“A performance on Friday at Zankel Hall by the stellar Brentano String Quartet made me want to scream. The ensemble — Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violinists; Misha Amory, violist; and Nina Lee, cellist — played Mr. Hyla’s work against a recording of Ginsberg reading his colorful rant at the status quo, a major work of the Beat Generation.

“A poem as long and as dense as ‘Howl’ — whose myriad vivid images are crammed into long run-on sentences — is ill suited for simultaneous musical accompaniment. Music and words seem engaged here in a cacophonous battle with no clear victor.” (more @ NY Times)

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DubaiPoetry“The words of the late Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish echoed in a packed hall yesterday at the launch of the first annual Dubai International Poetry Festival.

“The festival was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in the presence of more than 100 regional and international poets and writers from 45 countries.

“Jamal Khalfan bin Huwaireb, head of the festival’s organising committee, said in his keynote address that the aim of the festival was to create an opportunity for poets from around the globe to meet. . . .

“‘Poetry is among the most evolved of the arts and the strongest bridge between cultures. We believe that poetry can correct what politics has damaged,’ said Mr bin Huwaireb.” (more @ The National)

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