cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Digitisation and its discontents

Antony Grafton in The New Yorker , 5 November 2007:

Future Reading: Digitization and its discontents

Who could resist stealing the sub-title, albeit with an Anglicised “digitization” ?

It’s a long read. What did I take away which impressed me most? Tucked away in the middle of a paragraph on page 4:

And yet we will still need our libraries and archives. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid have written of the so-called “social life of information”—the form in which you encounter a text can have a huge impact on how you use it. Original documents reward us for taking the trouble to find them by telling us things that no image can. Duguid describes watching a fellow-historian systematically sniff two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old letters in an archive. By detecting the smell of vinegar—which had been sprinkled, in the eighteenth century, on letters from towns struck by cholera, in the hope of disinfecting them—he could trace the history of disease outbreaks. Historians of the book—a new and growing tribe—read books as scouts read trails. Bindings, usually custom-made in the early centuries of printing, can tell you who owned them and what level of society they belonged to. Marginal annotations, which abounded in the centuries when readers usually went through books with pen in hand, identify the often surprising messages that individuals have found as they read. Many original writers and thinkers—Martin Luther, John Adams, Samuel Taylor Coleridge—have filled their books with notes that are indispensable to understanding their thought. Thousands of forgotten men and women have covered Bibles and prayer books, recipe collections, and political pamphlets with pointing hands, underlining, and notes that give insights into which books mattered, and why. If you want to capture how a book was packaged and what it has meant to the readers who have unwrapped it, you have to look at all the copies you can find, from original manuscripts to cheap reprints. The databases include multiple copies of some titles. But they will never provide all the copies of, say, “The Wealth of Nations” and the early responses it provoked.

November 20, 2007 Posted by | books, digitisation | Leave a comment

Sacks: Musicophilia

A peregrinatio through Oliver sack’s new book Musicophilia, by Johan Lehrer in Seed Magazine which also has an article The Evolution of Language: What songbirds, dancing, and knot-tying can tell us about why we speak.

The Sacks looks to be interesting in its dealing with empathy, which is a pet topic of mine.

The reviewer writes that Sacks was not always as empathetic as he was now, citing his friend Thom Gunn’s response to journals Sacks kept and sent to him while hacking around America as a young man. I was of the belief that empathy was born not made. Though this is obviously a simplistic notion based on a too superficial observation of people I have know over time, who seemed, over time, to stay pretty firmly in the positions in the 1 to 10 scale of empathy I assign them to (with their full knowledge of course!).

The last chapter apparently deals with Clive Wearing – the man with the 7 second memory as he has become called – the English musician and musicologist who was struck by a severe brain infection that meant he could only exist in the present. There have been many online pieces on him.

November 20, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment


Own up, how many of you could use the word properly in a sentence? I’ve heard and seen it used many times, but it didn’t seem to be a word I needed to investigate for everyday use. When I first looked it up, about three months ago, what stood out for me was the Biblical origin:

Wikipedia says:

It derives from an account in the Hebrew Bible, in which pronunciation of this word was used to distinguish members of a group (the Ephraimites) whose dialect lacked a /ʃ/ sound (as in shoe) from members of a group (the Gileadites) whose dialect did include such a sound.

For anyone with an imagination, permutations on this theme abound.

It was not etymology which came to mind when I saw a wonderful photograph of a school girl sitting between two cracks in Wood’s Lot, drawing the crack. Because my eyes weren’t really focusing well, I thought for a moment she was sitting between two jagged sculptures, drawing, engaged, transported. When I realised it was Tate Modern, the pleasure of seeing her so engrossed did not change. Instead, I thought along the lines of this post which I discovered immediately afterwards from Inversion Layer:

Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth: a presence not an absence

This at one stage critically mocked work, has really captured people’s imagination. The photograph in Flickr titled Along the Crack, demonstrates the engagement people have with it. I also like the blurred image, Focal point of the crack. (Are any of them wondering how it was put there and what happened to the original floor? A year ago I walked on the smooth floor below the ‘helter-skelters’). The way I respond to this at one level is: here is a creation which demonstrates more graphically than looking at a painting, how people respond to art: every combination from children getting feet stuck to adults skirting around, slightly embarrassed. But who knows what the skirters did a few minutes later? Perhaps even they were getting down to it too – as only children know how to properly from their hearts. Maybe the children, by doing what they do in response to the crack, are setting the example to the adults, who might have forgotten how to respond instinctively, for fear of seeming unknowledgeable, or some such other hang-up about art. Why not a mourner lying one one side of the crack?

It is also interesting to think that some may see Shibboleth as abstract while others that it is representational, allegorical; it is in any case metaphorical. Maybe as they wander around, they swap and change from one form to the other. Others might see, as I am beginning to, despite not having visited it, that a work of art can be both abstract and not, while at the same time demonstrating the difference between the two; even showing, in the reactions and thoughts of people – more than what is there on the ground, the activity of individuals being essential to the work itself – a series of gradations from one art form to the other. Sure, it’s a play thing too.

Is there such a thing as epistemological of art? By that I mean art which by its nature forces the mind to think of so many things that the brain goes on a journey into what it knows.


My art epistemological education begins with:

Art and Epistemology from The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Psycho-epistemology of Art – A discussion of an Ayn Rand essay of that name


“That is All I Know of Him . . . ” Epistemology and Art in Melville’s “Bartleby” By Nancy Roundy


There is a danger with so many ideas flowing from Shibboleth that the artist may end up being accused of having her cake and eating it: with so many interpretations why should she bother to explain what it is that stimulated her to build it in the first place? What it meant to her might be swallowed up in what those who have seen it or photos of it, churn out about its significant or meaning to them.


When hill walking with a friend in Andalucia a few years ago, we came down from a summit with an incredible view


but lost the track. The way we took down nearly ended in disaster when we were forced to walk over a steeply down-slopping section of exposed limestone, often over razor edges, not dissimilar to this in the States:


source: {1}

Once, half way across this sheet of rock, with little prospect of clambering back up it, I did slip a boot down a crevice and panicked for a moment thinking it was stuck, or perhaps that one boot would have to be left behind, with all the complication that might bring.

November 20, 2007 Posted by | art, epistemology | Leave a comment

Lost in translation

Love the movie, Lost in Translation.


Roger Shattuck


“In its truest role translation does not consist solely in reducing all foreign works to the limitations of, say, English, but equally in reshaping and enlarging English to reach meanings which it has not yet had to grapple with”



Vladimir Nabokov, “The Art of Translation


Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal transmigration…The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors due to ignorance or misguided knowledge. This is mere human frailty and thus excusable.


The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms; or subject scholarship to primness: he is as ready to know less than the author as he is to think he knows better.


“The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public. This is a crime to be punished by the stocks as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.”




Nabokov’s did a ‘literal’ translation into English of Pushkin’s, Eugene Onegin. (1964).


The current debate on translation is gathered around the new War and Peace by

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (October 16, 2007)



Tolstoy’s Real Hero Olando Figes New York Review of Books


The Art of Translation

Sam Tanenhaus Sunday Book Review, New York Times, 17 November 2007




A searchable War and Peace from The Literature Network

{trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude }

November 17, 2007 Posted by | film [its techniques], Novel, translation | 1 Comment

Literature is ironic


Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does.

Groucho Marx

Lots of interesting blog discussion about literature at the moment so better throw this in the pot from Contemporary Aesthetics:

Words and Worlds: Irony Makes Literary Creations

by Alistair Goff

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Irony, Literature, Novel | Leave a comment

John Fowles, book and film.

Litlove (Tales from the Reading Room) has written an exemplary post on The French Lieutenant’s Woman. However, if you are curious, if you haven’t read the book, it has the spoiler built in, so beware.

One thing she hasn’t tackled is book vs. film, which I have always been obsessed by, partly because I believed it told me so much about film writing.

Karl Reisz directed. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay {1}. Having later heard in the BBC radio version what he did with Proust in The Pinter Proust Play, {2} which itself is an object lesson in screenwriting, though never used, I can now turn back again, being reminded of the FLW , to the way he ended up doing Fowles:

wiki: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Screenplay of The French Lieutenant’s Woman

(Not sure if these are Pinter’s ‘stage directions’ – just a few- or if they have been created afresh in lieu of the real thing, but the dialogue seems true to the film)

There is a long essay by Mary Lynn Dodson, which was originally published in Literature Film Quarterly, in 1998, which takes the book vs. film discussion in its full context, including Fowles’s other books, his own attempt to adapt the book, and his attitude to filming The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Pinter and Reisz’s adaptation of John Fowles’s adaptation

{ SEE Moleskine Modality post Petit pan de mur jaune for a soupçon of Pinter’s Proust.}

November 15, 2007 Posted by | fiction, film directors, film [its techniques], John Fowles, Karel Reisz, Literature, Moleskine Modality, movies, Novel, Novelist, Proust, screenplay, screenwriting, Writing | 1 Comment

Little Rock, Pasternak

It suddenly occurred to me, as I listened to the first episode of Dr. Zhivago on BBC Radio 4, 1957 was the year Pasternak’s book was first published in the west. When I searched for the radio programme, I came across The Years of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire”

which which quotes the lyrics:

Little Rock, Pasternak

Mickey Mantel, Kerouac,

Sputnik, Chou En-Lai,

Bridge on the River Kwai

explaining each reference.

1957, it reminds us, is the year in question, Pasternak-wise ( though strictly-speaking 1958 in English), but the Joel song deals with all the years between 1949 – 89, which this page lists with each of its reference points from the song. Another page does the same thing Billy Joel : We Didn’t Start the Fire at The Octopus’s Garden.

What can one make of this? Anything you like. I feel inclined to ask questions about other songs and what they refer to (in the world outside), but in particular to what books they refer to, if at all. And if not why not. Or, if songs refer to book less than other things like people and places, why?

A history or sociology teacher might find this useful for a lesson or two!

Though I don’t want to chase this rabbit right down it’s hole right now, but post immediately so that it is side by side with the other post, Blogging added value , it will give someone enough to write something more substantial, perhaps in a newspaper – for which they will receive a fee. Why – knowing someone else might end up with money in the bank having got an idea from my post – should I post it in the first place? Because I got pleasure from recollection, finding some facts, writing them down and throwing a quick idea in for good measure. And doing it quickly. But why publish it? Why not keep it to myself for a later date? Maybe I could use it to write a musical based on Billy Joel songs?

One answer to posting for free instead of writing for money is too obvious but needs repeating: because humans have been shown often to prefer short-term to long term gain. If someone thinks up something (or is passed a tidbit), the pressure to pass it on is great. Chatting and gossip (which includes blog posts including intellectual ones) can’t wait. You just gotta tell someone the news! If you don’t someone else will.

November 15, 2007 Posted by | 1957, blogging, blogosphere, Chou En-Lai, human nature, kerouc, Novel, Pasternak, Sputnik, Writing | Leave a comment

Blogging added value

From Tales from the Reading Room in a post called Something worrying

the arts encompass all the spectrum of values that have nothing to do with making money. The arts have tremendous value, only because it’s non-monetary our culture is blind to it.

Litlove discusses, amongst other things, the thing about keeping-on-posting and what to post on.

My immediate, half-formed, reaction to culture is that not a single ionic column would exist if someone hadn’t made money out of it: the beauty of the Greek vase, say, was only possible because slave labour knew no knocking-off time.

For me these – we can now say, perennial – blog questions about why blog and what to put in them, and whether they are of high enough standard, always drops back to a more basic one of private and public writing. Leave aside for the moment whether something in a post is deemed generally of quality or not. It is not usually expressed like this, but anything made public (here, it is content on the web) has a potential for adding value.

The writer of a post in a blog may do it (and keep on posting) because writing and communicating facts and ideas is a pleasure. But once in the public domain it is exploitable by someone in a way the writer may not have been aware of. In some cases, a new way of exploiting what is accumulating in blogs (all web content) may only become apparent later.

In practice what goes into blogs gets concentrated, quoted, boiled down in other blogs, while at the same time dissipated as well by the very same process – not unlike Chinese whispers; the ‘value’ being degraded by misquote or misunderstanding. Comment streams within a blog often illustrate this, let alone posts by others based on the reading someone else’s post.

Links within posts ‘add value’, as they do in any type of website. The constant circulation of the same ideas (often in different form) creates meta-data and meta-knowledge (the re-explanation, refinement of the explanation of ideas). Mining everything in blogs alone could provide someone with valuable information which could be used for profit. Governments and businesses, for example, could (almost certainly do) trawl them for personal information and for trends in thinking.

One of the things bloggers do is read other things on the web and then comment on them. The constant re-circulation of information and ideas, can concentrate a core of what it generally considered to be interesting or worthy within those blogs written by reasonably intelligent, articulate and knowledge people. Here is the centre of value-added. The social network sociologists write Ph.D.s on the Venn diagrammatic associations between bloggers

The man who designs and implements blogging software does it for money. The user, the blogger, does not pay (in the case of free blogging) for the privilege of posting content, which ends up for ever on servers scattered around the world. What the blogger (and other social) software does (apart from allow people to communicate with each other) is increase the number of people actively involved in adding to the bit-stream on the web. And the more people use the web the more someone can find a way of making money out of what is deposited on it.

An example is worth a thousand pictures:

In the literary blogosphere – which ought surely to be the blitosphere, to rid us of that hard g – a ecological niche as it were, there is a willingly deposited set of facts and ideas, which have either come from the mind of the blogger or from elsewhere, such as an old-fashioned book, and which in their turn might be of value to someone, either to re-use in other literary posts, perhaps to help someone deal with or think about something they want to put in a post. At some point someone somewhere is going to dip into the circulation, find something considered useful and reuse it for profit, either back on the web or elsewhere.


I can write a post Little Rock, Pasternak…….

November 15, 2007 Posted by | added value, blitosphere, blogging, blogosphere, Pasternak | 1 Comment

Showcase: DailyLit

Stephanie at So many Books has been using DailyLit, which I only heard of through her. Several of her readers say they prefer a book in the hand, mostly because the instalment was too short: they just couldn’t wait!

I decided to go for Anna Karenina. But when the confirmatory email came through, I got the option to order the first episode straight away, which I felt compelled to do. Though the intro to AK is so often quoted

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

I forgot how funny the first few paragraphs were.

Experiencing such a small dose of Tolstoy it is obviously not going to suit many ardent readers. But there is something to be said for having to wait. Let the small, enjoyable dollop stew for 24 hours. Build up the anticipation for the next part. Spend some time reading around the book and author while waiting. In any case you read so much about so many things, the next episode will be there before you know it. (Actually, in advanced settings you can chose from three size settings to get more per email or even get the next episode straight away…). Let’s face it, this is for people who are meant to be working, trawling through the emails first thing in the morning.


For an inexperienced writer puzzling over which narrative voice to use, the first part of Anna Karenina could be as a reminder to how an intimate tone can created from the limited omniscient point of view. No need to be Tolstoy to see setting off in the first person can end up with too much of the author in the narrator.

I mentioned alter ego in the last post. There has been a study of avatars and their authors in gaming, called Alter Ego, which may have something to offer to the perennial questions about the author insinuating himself/herself in his/her own fiction.

Here are two over-views of Philip Roth’s oeuvre from on alter ego {1} {2}.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | alter ego, fiction, First lines, literary persona, Literature, narrative style, Novel, Novelist, Openings, Writing | , , | 3 Comments

The persona in literature

This short NPR interview with Dr. Wayne Flynt, retired professor of history, on whether Truman Capote wrote Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, presents as evidence a letter by Capote about the book (he was his friend of Lee’s) but also asserts ‘writers simply do not assume other literary personas’. Which is another way of saying it is possible to identify someone as the author of a set of books. To avoid muddle, this is not about a character being identified as an alter ego of the author, but what features of the text on the page makes someone say this is by a certain writer.

It’s not that they can’t, but don’t in the main, write in a way that might make you think the books were written by different people. This begs the question whether the voice of the author is just there, like a finger print, or whether it is a conscious effort to maintain consistency. Academic analyses abound. Winifred Gérin’s biography of Charlotte Bronte, illustrates how a writer develops to a mature style. This doesn’t mean to say some don’t write from the beginning as if how they write was built in.

W hat I am interested in is the authorial voice set against the narratorial voice.
A nub is in the wiki: The persona in Literature, where it writes of the mens auctoris.

There is the question of upfront parody. Most book saturated readers with above average writing skill can throw together a reasonable Jane Austin. What are they doing to make it seem pretty close if recognisably an imitation?

If it were possible to epoché the detailed knowledge of the author’s works – all the passages they know by heart which identify it – how easy would it be for the professional literary analyst to say they were the work of one author? If Jane Austin wrote a novel about the immigrant community in East London in 21 century London, would it be immediately recognisable as a Jane Austin novel?

The answer to all this might be not in any fingerprint of the author detectable in the works but that superior writers are consistently superior in their writing (when they get to it, so to speak).

When unknown score by a long dead composer appears some bright spark always pops up to say it can’t be by {insert a famous composer}.

This all reminds me of the Andre Previn Morecambe and Wise Show. This is the straight one on YouTube {1}. But in another version with commentary {2}. A certain jjo2 comments in the shorter version:

One beautifully subtle joke in the sketch – Eric is in fact playing the right notes, in the right order, but in the wrong rhythm.

Which might be the point in the business of the authorial voice in a novel.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | fiction, literary persona, Novel, Novelist, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

WordPress vs. Blogger (free versions)

The first thing you notice about free WordPress if you have been using free Blogger, is the the way the content is much more accessible. Of course WP has a good set of more trendy templates, which is the big let down with the free version of Blogger. Many people using Blogger seem to have more than the standard templates, so it must be allowed to alter the code to suite your own requirements or else they have purchased. WordPress have decided not to allow you this freedom.

You are a long time Blogger user. You may not be an expert at HTML, but you have a few tricks up your sleeve to alter the layout, fiddle with the blogroll or add advertising widgets such as GoogleAds. When you come to try it in the free version of WordPress, you are surprised and annoyed not to be able to do the same. Though WordPress provides a small set of HTML in the code tab to use in posting, you can’ load up the template itself to tinker with the blogroll. WordPress will only allow you to use the widgets they provide. So, if you fancy putting BlogRush or somesuch on your WordPress blog, hard luck.

When you are writing a post in WordPress, and click the code tab to rearrange the text, you might be tempted to, say, try adding textarea rather than blockquote, it won’t work.

So you take your pick a nice ‘ database’, where you and your readers can find things pretty easily, or have a system where you can add any HTML.

November 2, 2007 Posted by | Blog templates, blogging, HTML | , , | Leave a comment

screenplay resources

A selection (which happen to be excellent films too):

For these two (also a great film) the thing is to compare transcript and script proper:

Here from Moleskine Modality, gathered together all the film related post (some are not on film per se but have ‘film’ in the text). Again, by using

EDIT > FIND in this page > HIGHLIGHT all

it’s easy to scamper down the page quickly looking for all occurrences of the word film to find something you might be interested in, rather than trawling through the lot.

It would be better to get everything across in bulk to make the text and links a better database to access, but it’s not possible, so various bits are being selected as they re-interest me. Today its film.

There is a movie category in the Moleskine Modality blogroll with a mixture of fiction and non-fiction films which came into view. They are not all serious. One link is to Great Directors from the great film site Senses of Cinema

November 1, 2007 Posted by | film directors, film [its techniques], movies, screenplay | , , , | 1 Comment