Saturday Morning Reads: Guilty PleasuresPosted: January 11, 2014
I’ve found some interesting reads for you this morning! I promise I’m not going to bore you with economics today!
There’s been some interesting discoveries in the literature world. A “cache” of Mary Shelley Letters were discovered in a rural English library that shed some light on her last days.
The letters date between 1831, nine years after the death of her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and 1849, when Mary Shelley was already unwell with the brain tumour that would kill her two years later, and show a woman who was skilled in charming favours from friends, bursting with pride in and concern for her teenage son – and not unconcerned with frivolities. A last-minute ticket to the coronation of William IV in 1831 necessitated a 3am visit from her hairdresser; she attended the event sporting a plumed headdress (“The whole thing was wondrously splendid – Diamonds & cloth of gold grew common to the eye.”)
The later letters, written in an increasingly scrawled hand, are short and distracted, full of apologies for her failing memory and powers. To a number of them is still attached a blob of scarlet wax stamped with the author’s own seal – one that was not previously known, according to Crook.
The “nondescript-looking” missives were written to Horace Smith and his daughter Eliza. Smith was a stockbroker and wit who had been close to the poet Shelley and whose family befriended his widow after his death, and the discovery of the letters is a particular surprise, said Crook, because he had a habit of destroying correspondence.
“The Smith connection has been known but this little bit of the jigsaw hasn’t been,” said Crook. “A few things that had been inferred by scholars can now be confirmed. But what is nice is that Mary Shelley’s personality emerges. We see her as very loyal to the Smith family, very grateful and very attentive to Eliza – I don’t think that friendship has ever been fully documented.” There is also, notes the professor, Shelley’s “charming wheedling side”, as she cajoles Smith into favours.
I thought of Shelley when I saw a BBC article on the cultural roots of Absinthe as a literary muse. I’ve tried the drink–imported from Portugal where the wormwood was left in–and I will say it gives one an odd buzz. Here’s some background on the green fairy.
Arthur Rimbaud called absinthe the “sagebrush of the glaciers” because a key ingredient, the bitter-tasting herb Artemisia absinthium or wormwood, is plentiful in the icy Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland. That is where the legendary aromatic drink that came to symbolise decadence was invented in the late 18th Century. It’s hard to overstate absinthe’s cultural impact – or imagine a contemporary equivalent.
The spirit was a muse extraordinaire from 1859, when Édouard Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker shocked the annual Salon de Paris, to 1914, when Pablo Picasso created his painted bronze sculpture, The Glass of Absinthe. During the Belle Époque, the Green Fairy – nicknamed after its distinctive colour – was the drink of choice for so many writers and artists in Paris that five o’clock was known as the Green Hour, a happy hour when cafes filled with drinkers sitting with glasses of the verdant liquor. Absinthe solidified or destroyed friendships, and created visions and dream-like states that filtered into artistic work. It shaped Symbolism, Surrealism, Modernism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism. Dozens of artists took as their subjects absinthe drinkers and the ritual paraphernalia: a glass, slotted spoon, sugar cubes – sugar softened the bitter bite of cheaper brands – and fountains dripping cold water to dilute the liquor.
Absinthe was, at its conception, not unlike other medicinal herbal preparations (vermouth, the German word for wormwood, among them). Its licorice flavor derived from fennel and anise. But this was an aperitif capable of creating blackouts, pass-outs, hallucinations and bizarre behaviour. Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day. Still, the mystique remains.
Bentley visits Robbe-Grillet, sadomasochistic author and widow of novelist (and accomplished sadist) Alain Robbe-Grillet, at the 17th-century château in Normandy where she resides with Beverly Charpentier, the 51-year-old South African woman who is her submissive companion. “Catherine is my secret garden,” Charpentier says. “I have given myself to her, body and soul. She does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, with either or both, according to her pleasure—and her pleasure is also my pleasure.”
“As a dominatrix you must dominate yourself,” Robbe-Grillet tells Bentley. “Otherwise you take the chance of killing someone or doing serious damage, so you have to know your limits.” For example, “blood is only drawn with initiates,” Beverly explains. “I stop at what is irreversible,” says Robbe-Grillet. Except when she doesn’t. Robbe-Grillet recalls an encounter she had with a man named Christian, whom she met in 1986. He wanted her to brand him with the initials of her nom de plume, “JDB.” She did. “I fell into my dream,” Christian tells Bentley of his relationship with Catherine, “and I have never left it.” Over the course of almost 20 years, the marks faded and a year ago Robbe-Grillet held another ceremony to burn them in anew.
Okay, one link that has something to do with economics but more closely related to the self-pleasure of reading. I got this link from Chelsea Clinton who posted it to her facebook page. Does the state of the economy have anything to do with what you’re reading or what author’s write?
The analysis, published in the journal PLOS One, found that when words commonly associated with misery show up in books, it meant that 10 years before, the economic situation was pretty grim.
To reach this discovery, researchers from Bristol and London sifted through a database of more than five million digital versions of books from Google. They created a literary misery index calculated by adding the amount of sadness-related words and subtracting the number of happiness-related words. They then compared this literary misery index to a well known measurement called the economic misery index, which is the sum of inflation and unemployment rates. The literary misery level in a given year was associated with the average of the previous 10 years’ economic misery index.
“When we looked at millions of books published in English every year and looked for a specific category of words denoting unhappiness, we found that those words in aggregate averaged the authors’ economic experiences over the past decade. In other words, global economics is part of the shared emotional experience of the 20th century,” said study author Alex Bentley, a professor at the University of Bristol in a statement.
They reported that market economic misery corresponds with WW1, the aftermath of the Great Depression, and the energy crisis of 1975. The literary misery comes about a decade later, which the researchers speculate could be due to the time gap between when a writer was young and live through these experiences and formed these memories, to when they actually began writing published work.
The researchers even repeated the study with books written in German, and found the same connection.
Have you ever spent much time reading about the monsters that can be found in the stories of other cultures. Here’s some of Japan’s most frightening and bizarre monsters! I got this one from Delphyne’s facebook feed. She’s always finds some of the most intriguing items! The Japanese believe that almost anything can become a terrifying ghost!
The Ittan-Momen doesn’t sound particularly scary; it’s basically a sentient roll of cotton that just flies around in the wind at night, wandering around. But the Ittan-Momen is also a sadistic asshole, because if it sees you, it will either wraps itself around your neck and choke you to death, or wrap itself around your head and suffocate you. Again, the idea that you can be walking back from the convenience store and suddenly get murdered by a large piece of cloths is deeply disconcerting to me.
That’s a drawing of a pretty odd looking ghost lantern over there on the left. I can only imagine what it’s story is all about.
Okay, so this isn’t my usual fascination with burial sites thing, but it is about thing going on underground in Europe. A series of interconnected underground tunnels all around Europe appear to be have made by Stone Age humans.
Stone Age man created a massive network of underground tunnels criss-crossing Europe from Scotland to Turkey, a new book on the ancient superhighways has claimed.
German archaeologist Dr Heinrich Kusch said evidence of the tunnels has been found under hundreds of Neolithic settlements all over the continent.
In his book – Secrets Of The Underground Door To An Ancient World – he claims the fact that so many have survived after 12,000 years shows that the original tunnel network must have been enormous.
‘Across Europe there were thousands of them – from the north in Scotland down to the Mediterranean.
‘Most are not much larger than big wormholes – just 70cm wide – just wide enough for a person to wriggle along but nothing else.
‘They are interspersed with nooks, at some places it’s larger and there is seating, or storage chambers and rooms.
‘They do not all link up but taken together it is a massive underground network.’
I did find one very cool tomb article about a tattooed Sorceress Queen. It appears that the Moche may have been a matriarchal society.
On the beautiful northern coastline of Peru overlooking the blue Pacific, the place known as Huaca El Brujo (Sacred place of the Wizard) gives us an incredible glimpse into the culture of the Moche and the ‘Wizard’ buried there. Its two main pyramids, Huaca del Sol and the Huaca de la Luna, were once the centre of social and religious functions in the area and the final resting place of the tattooed mummy, who has come to be known as the Lady of Cao. Not an elderly woman, she died in her mid-twenties about fifteen hundred years ago, probably as a complication of childbirth.
The Moche did not mummify their dead purposefully, but the conditions for desiccation just happened to preserve the Lady of Cao and by doing so also preserved her intricate tattoos. Although it is not believed that the more common members of Moche society were tattooed it could certainly be inferred from this burial that the highest status members were, and the tattoos probably represented and strengthened the individuals connection with the divine through sympathetic magic. If you want the strength of the tiger get a tattoo of a tiger…this thought process has not changed since the beginning of the art form and it continues today.
The Lady of Cao’s tattoos included serpents, crabs and spiders – all animals associated with the Moche pantheon of divine creatures – and their presence further linked her to the world of the supernatural and probably increased her perceived power among her people; the divine literally lived in her skin. Since most Moche burials are not preserved like the Lady of Cao we will never know for certain if all the elite were tattooed, but pottery portrait jugs suggest that they may have been.
The surprise discovery of the tattooed female in the Hill of the Wizard certainly caused archaeologists to have to reconsider their male-centric model of the Moche political structure and I am sure they would have eventually come to consider her an anomalous female ruler like Hatshepsut, Boudicca, Makeda, Cleopatra, or Penthesilea. But the subsequent discoveries of eight more Moche Queens have made it quite clear that this was not a male ruled society.
So, this should be enough to keep you intrigued today! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?