Tag Archives: Recently on This Recording

In Which It Was Only After She Was Gone That We Remembered The Lighthouse


Owner of the Paris bookstore Shakespeare in Company, Sylvia Beach served, at different times, as James Joyce’s agent, publisher and friend. He was very brusque with her, showing no special kindness, but this was hardly unique for Joyce. Although we imagine the lives of certain well-known authors to be financially solvent, Joyce struggled for many years up until the publication of Ulysses. These abridged letters from Joyce to Beach in the 1920s prove this to be true.

October 30 1922

You already know the news about my eyes. For the past nine or ten days we have had filthy weather. I can do nothing. To face a long railway journey then the usual two hours a day wait in Dr Borsch’s waiting room would finish me off.


In Which We Look Down On The Earth Below With A Fair Amount of Skepticism

The Scripture


by Neal Stephenson
880 pp

Neal Stephenson’s new novel begins when the moon breaks up into a number of pieces for no reason anyone can discern at the time. It is suggested that God is the instrument of the moon’s destruction at one point late in the novel. “But without the theology, the scripture or the certainty,” Stephenson has one of his finest characters, a man named Ty, say. This is typical Stephenson hemming and hawing, for in his heavily-researched novel writing, he is always seeking a slightly different approach than the first that comes to mind, without resting firmly on any one choice.

One of Stephenson’s protagonists in Seveneves is heavily based on Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is he, the somewhat racistly named Doc Dubois, who theorizes that the explosion of the moon will also mean devastation on the Earth’s surface in a planet-decimating event he terms the Hard Rain. Other scientists confirm the Doc’s diagnosis, and Earth’s population begins to cope psychologically with its death sentence. “Why were the doomed people of Earth’s surface not going completely berserk?” Doc finds himself thinking.

The answer is in renaming death to something better. Naming things is Stephenson’s obsession, a literary cliché that he explodes by overwhelming his readers with an encyclopedia of terminology culled from social media and hard science. When properly assembled, the resulting ménage forms what amounts to a new language of acronyms, abbreviations and catchy nicknames. It would be completely ridiculous if you did not sense Stephenson had invested a vast amount of his personal ingenuity in creating these handles.


In Which The Last Days Of John Keats Met Our Expectations

Piazza di Spagna


I am ashamed of writing you such stuff.

The last days of John Keats involved a great deal of wishing for death. Indigestion plagued his stomach, and the severity of his symptoms from tuberculosis drove him to leave England for Naples, where it was thought that a better climate would enhance his prospects. Because of his illness and general low prospects, none of Keats’ friends wanted to accompany him to Naples. Instead an acquaintance would go.

John Keats by Joseph Severn

The young painter Joseph Severn had little in the way of money, so he took on the job of caring for Keats. Storms prevented them from going any farther than Northampton at first, and Keats was deeply bothered by a female passenger suffering from consumption. He had observed years earlier that “Milton meant a smooth river.”


In Which We Find His Theory Of Color Implausible

Shades of Turner


Joseph Mallord William Turner never stopped thinking about color. When he woke, it was color, it was color before he went to bed. Not just the range, not just the spectrum: the emotional resonances, clashes and collusions, its general mien.

In the final analysis he rejected any determinative theory on the subject, although he read and agreed with some of what George Field had argued in Chromatics, or an Essay on the Analogy and Harmony of Colors, published in 1817. For Field, color was merely an extension of a central philosophy, the latter having admittedly been deduced from the former. For Turner, a subscriber to Field’s Outline of Analogical Philosophy, his interest in these intersections was as a skeptic, which is not to say he did not read Field’s various silly musings with some avidity.


In Which These Are The 100 Greatest Painters In History

The Greatest Painters in Western History

By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished. (Proust)