Archive for the 'Books' Category

27
Feb
08

Nights on Planet Earth

Heaven was originally precisely that: the starry sky, dating back to the earliest Egyptian texts, which include magic spells that enable the soul to be sewn in the body of the great mother, Nut, literally “night,” like the seed of a plant, which is also a jewel and a star.

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The Greek Elysian fields derive from the same celestial topography: the Egyptian “Field of Rushes,” the eastern stars at dawn where the soul goes to be purified. That there is another, mirror world, a world of light, and that this world is simply the sky—and a step further, the breath of the sky, the weather, the very air—is a formative belief of great antiquity that has continued to the present day with the godhead becoming brightness itself: dios/theos (Greek); deus/divine/diana (Latin); devas (Sanskrit); daha (Arabic); day (English).

Susan Brind Morrow, Wolves and Honey

Susan Brind Morrow is a classicist, linguist, and translator of ancient Egyptian folklore and mythology as well as of contemporary Arabic poetry.

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24
Jan
08

The Earth Whirls Everywhere

The Earth Whirls Everywhere
by Dava Sobel

The spheres of science and poetry probably intersect in all eleven dimensions, for poems, like discoveries, spring from insights of unusual acumen, expressed in concise, often symbolic language. I sincerely believe that e=mc2 could be construed as haiku.

When I was writing Longitude, I searched poetry anthologies for epigraphs that would open each chapter with a link between science and art—as a way to invite the non-scientist into the technical world of astronomers, clock-makers, and cartographers. I was surprised but elated to find that Lord Byron had included reference to “the best time-piece made by Harrison” (the inventor of the marine chronometer) in Don Juan. Even more apt lines came from The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll (who, under his real name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, lectured and wrote about mathematics):

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“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!”

While studying the science of seventeenth-century Italy for Galileo’s Daughter, I discovered that Galileo, who laid the foundations of modern physics, prized the poetry of his countrymen Torquato Tasso and Ludovico Ariosto. Galileo committed a great deal of Latin and Tuscan poetry to memory, according to his son’s account, and could recite the better part of Orlando Furioso by heart. He also wrote poetry. At least six of his sonnets have survived, as well as two longer poems of about two hundred lines each, and one extremely long work of three hundred lines—a rhyming diatribe against what he called “the wearing of the gown.” This poem argues that faculty members should not be forced to wear their academic robes, as was the practice at the University of Pisa when Galileo began teaching there in 1589. In fact, he said forcefully at the close of the first stanza, the best thing in the world would be for everyone to go naked, so that men and women could honestly assess each other’s virtues. This sentiment is now quoted—and duly attributed to Galileo—in a featured position on the Web site of Associazione Naturista Italiana, the Italian nudist society.

In my latest book, The Planets, I used poetry throughout the chapter about Venus as a way to equate the planet with beauty. So many classic and modern poets have addressed “the evening star” or “the planet of love” that I felt certain I could introduce each scientific concept with part of a poem. The extraordinary brightness of Venus, for example, which is due to its proximity to Earth and also its dense covering of reflective clouds, is perfectly portrayed in Robert Frost’s “The Literate Farmer and the Planet Venus.”

Continue reading ‘The Earth Whirls Everywhere’

15
Dec
07

A hunger for books

Doris Lessing, aged 88, was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. In her acceptance speech she recalls her childhood in Africa and laments that children in Zimbabwe are starving for knowledge, while those in more privileged countries shun reading for the ‘inanities’ of the internet

It seems relatively lengthy to read on screen, however its worth a reward. Pl care to read

“The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise … but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories, the storyteller, that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, what we are at our best, when we are our most creative. “

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On not winning the Nobel Prize

I am standing in a doorway looking through clouds of blowing dust to where I am told there is still uncut forest. Yesterday I drove through miles of stumps, and charred remains of fires where in ‘56 was the most wonderful forest I have ever seen, all destroyed. People have to eat. They have to get fuel for fires.

This is north west Zimbabwe early in the eighties, and I am visiting a friend who was a teacher in a school in London. He is here “to help Africa” as we put it. He is a gently idealistic soul and what he found here in this school shocked him into a depression, from which it was hard to recover. This school is like all the schools built after Independence. It consists of four large brick rooms side by side, put straight into the dust, one two three four, with a half room at one end, which is the library. In these classrooms are blackboards, but my friend keeps the chalks in his pocket, as otherwise they would be stolen. There is no atlas, or globe in the school, no textbooks, no exercise books, or biros, in the library are no books of the kind the pupils would like to read: they are tomes from American universities, hard even to lift, rejects from white libraries, detective stories, or with titles like ‘Weekend in Paris’ or ‘Felicity Finds Love’.

There is a goat trying to find sustenance in some aged grass. The headmaster has embezzled the school funds and is suspended, arousing the question familiar to all of us but usually in more auguest contexts: How is it these people behave like this when they must know everyone is watching them?

My friend doesn’t have any money because everyone, pupils and teachers, borrow from him when he is paid and will probably never pay it back. The pupils range from six to twenty-six, because some who did not get schooling earlier are here to make it up. Some pupils walk every morning many miles, rain or shine and across rivers. They cannot do homework because there is no electricity in the villages, and you can’t study easily by the light of a burning log. The girls have to fetch water and cook when they get home from school and before they set off for school.

As I sit with my friend in his room, people drop shyly in, and all, everyone begs for books. “Please send us books when you get back to London”. One man said, “They taught us to read but we have no books”. Everybody I met, everyone, begged for books. I was there some days. The dust blew past, water was short because the pumps had broken and the women were getting water from the river again.

Another idealistic teacher from England was rather ill after seeing what this “school” was like.On the last day, it was end of term and they slaughtered the goat, and it was cut into mounds of bits and cooked in a great tin. This was the much looked forward to end of term feast, boiled goat and porridge. I drove away while it was going on, back through the charred remains and stumps of the forest.

I do not think many of the pupils of this school will get prizes.Next day I am at a school in North London, a very good school, whose name we all know. It is a school for boys. Good buildings, and gardens.

These pupils have a visit from some well known person every week, and it is in the nature of things that these may be fathers, relatives, even mothers of the pupils. A visit from a celebrity is no big deal for them.

The school in the blowing dust of northwest Zimbabwe is in my mind, and I look at those mildly expectant faces and try to tell them about what I have seen in the last week. Classrooms without books, without text books, or an atlas, or even a map pinned up on a wall. A school where the teachers beg to be sent books to tell them how to teach, they being only eighteen or nineteen themselves, they beg for books. I tell these boys that everybody, everyone begs for books: “Please send us books”. I am sure that everyone here, making a speech will know that moment when the faces you are looking at are blank. Your listeners cannot hear what you are saying: there are no images in their minds to match what you are telling them. In this case, of a school standing in dust clouds, where water is short, and where, at the end of term, a just killed goat cooked in a great pot is the end of term treat.

Continue reading ‘A hunger for books’

04
Dec
07

The moral agent

This is somewhat elongated portrayal & study of Conrad’s writing, publish on Guardian Unlimited . Nevertheless its so amazing that have copied the entire article rather then providing just the link.. Pl care to read on

What he wants us to see is: the lot. Not one side or another, but the whole shooting match A Polish immigrant, cabin boy and gunrunner, Joseph Conrad wrote action-packed adventure stories, which were also modernist classics. Giles Foden celebrates an enduring master on the 150th anniversary of his birth

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Giles Foden – December 1, 2007 -Guardian

“I have never learned to trust it. I can’t trust it to this day … A dreadful doubt hangs over the whole achievement of literature.” Thus wrote Joseph Conrad, in an essay published in the Manchester Guardian Weekly on December 4 1922. Long before Auden was telling us poetry makes nothing happen, or Adorno was saying there could be no poetry after Auschwitz, Conrad was questioning – fundamentally – the political and moral utility of writing. Yet this was a writer who drew the approbation of FR Leavis, the pre-eminent British supporter of the view that literature could play a role in the maintenance of civilisation. In 1941, Leavis described Conrad as being “among the very greatest novelists in the language – or any language”.

Maybe the dichotomy is not so marked as it first appears. Leavis prized “essential organisation” in a novel, and this was something that appealed to Conrad, too. It is evident in his Guardian piece. Under the headline “Notices to Mariners”, he asserted the futility of literary effort in contrast to the informational precision of reports of the comings and goings of ships, then commonly printed in newspapers. I would also contend that Conrad prized moral intensity and perspicacity as much as Leavis, even if he did not believe in abstract moral principles. That the marine register’s “ideal of perfect accuracy” cannot be achieved by literature does not mean literature must be empty of ideals. For Conrad, there was a middle way, one in which moral values emerged from relative positions, from the “essential organisation” of the literary work itself, rather than anything beyond it.

Literature was not the only thing about which Conrad was doubtful. A decade or so before “Notices to Mariners”, he was entertaining similar doubts about identity: “Both at sea and on land my point of view is English, from which the conclusions should not be drawn that I have become an Englishman. That is not the case. Homo duplex has in my case more than one meaning.” He wrote The Secret Agent, one of the great novels of modernism, a few years later. The depiction of Verloc, the agent provocateur and double man of the title, whose diplomatic employers insist he must rouse his anarchist friends to a terrorist outrage in London, would be one of the great feats of world literature were it not outshone by the portrayal of Verloc’s wife, Winnie, whose quietist attitude to her husband and life in general is overturned by the plot. She stabs him with a carving knife.

Part of the genius of The Secret Agent is the way it shows the unknowability of people. A cold eye is cast on character – the very idea of character – in all Conrad’s novels. In his doomy worldview, as in TS Eliot’s, subjectivity cannot be pinned down with accuracy. As Marlow says of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, it is a chimera. “He was just a word for me … it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence … its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone.

For Conrad, none of the big stories, from Christianity to communism to psychoanalysis (he met a disciple of Freud’s in 1921 and was extremely scornful of the books lent to him), provided adequate explanations of selfhood. He had seen the decline and fall of too many men who put their certitude in equality or justice or liberty tout court. His fundamental position is revealed in a letter to his friend, the socialist Robert Cunninghame Graham:

Continue reading ‘The moral agent’

17
Nov
07

Anna of Arithmetic

This eloquent piece form a Book – “The Advent of the Algorithm” by David Berlinski expressing a contemplation that has prevailed in me.
Why we should we care to read literature ? it also explores underlying relationship between Art & Science..

Anna of Arithmetic

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Reading a novel with an innocent eye, students very often lose themselves in its pages, making their decision about the novel on the basis of whether they felt comfortable or at home within its world and more often than not identifying the author with his or her protagonist, every novelist receiving from time to time letters addressed to his creation — Dear Anna, don’t do it. Such is the triumph of art. But such is the triumph of illusion, as well.

After some experience, the student learns to step back, recognizing that Anna, she’s got to do what she’s got to do, and this because what she’s got to do is artistically required. No one reading Anna Karenina is quiet prepared to see her departing the novel, therapist in hand, and briskly getting her life together. A sense of literary sophistication begins when aesthetic standards are substituted for moral judgments. This makes art profoundly amoral undertaking, but a profoundly interesting one as well.

Mathematics is, among other things a form of art. Before Hilbert, mathematicians and logicians had banged around within the confines of various mathematical systems, hoping against hope to arrange the system so that it seemed entirely secure, the effort as doomed as the correlative effort to persuade Anna Karenina to undertake therapy.

Hilbert persuaded everyone to step back. Stepping back, mathematicians saw mathematics for what it might be, a formal game, the perspective cold but liberating. Thus removed from what they habitually did, mathematicians, like students of literature, were forced to ask not whether the Anna of arithmetic seemed nice, friendly, kind of snooty, confused, or otherwise irritating, but whether she made artistic or mathematical sense. A question of judgment had come to replace a question of certainty.

And with judgments come standards. They must, those standards, be chosen so as to reflect the original impulse yielding the decision to distinguish mathematics from metamathematics. And they must, those standards, be standards that can be met by proof, even if it is proof delivered in the meta language itself, for without proof, there is simply no mathematics at all.

©-David Berlinski.

02
Nov
07

Eternity

The following is a parable from ‘Echoes of an Autobiography’ by the Nobel Laureate Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz.

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Sheikh Abd-Rabbih al-Ta’ih said:

I stood before the holy tomb as I asked God for health and long life. An old beggar with tattered clothes approached me. “Do you really want a long life?” he asked me.

“Who does not wish it ?” I said, with the terseness of someone not wanting to talk to him.

He presented me with a small, closed receptacle and said, “Here you have the flavor of eternity-whoever tastes of it will not endure death.” I smiled disdainfully, and he said, “I have dealt with it for thousands of years and I am still weighed down by the burdens of life, generations after generations.”

I mumbled in derision, “What a happy man you are!”

“Those,” he said despondently, “are the words of someone who has not suffered the passing of the ages, the succession of circumstances, the growing of knowledge, the demise of loved ones, and the burying of grandchildren.”

Adjusting to his strange appearance, I inquired, “Who could you be among the men of the age?”

he answered sadly, “i was the master of existence-have you not seen my great statue? With the setting of each sun I lament my wasted days, my declining countries, and my transitory gods.”

-Naguib Mahfouz.

Furthermore wish to append & connect with excerpt from his equally spiritual and profound: Nobel speech

In spite of all what goes on around us I am committed to optimism until the end. I do not say with Kant that Good will be victorious in the other world. Good is achieving victory every day. It may even be that Evil is weaker than we imagine. In front of us is an indelible proof: were it not for the fact that victory is always on the side of Good, hordes of wandering humans would not have been able in the face of beasts and insects, natural disasters, fear and egotism, to grow and multiply. They would not have been able to form nations, to excel in creativeness and invention, to conquer outer space, and to declare Human Rights. The truth of the matter is that Evil is a loud and boisterous debaucherer, and that Man remembers what hurts more than what pleases. Our great poet Abul-‘Alaa’ Al-Ma’ari was right when he said:

“A grief at the hour of death
Is more than a hundred-fold
Joy at the hour of birth.”

I finally reiterate my thanks and ask your forgiveness.

13
Oct
07

Mark Twain on Fountain Pen

None of us can have as many virtues as the fountain-pen, or half its cussedness; but we can try.Following the Equator

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1904 ad for Paul E. Wirt Fountain PensWith a single Wirt pen I have earned the family’s living for many years. With two, I could have grown rich.

– Letter to Wirt Fountain Pen Company, October 11, 1898




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