cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Evolution of literary Darwinism

Literary Darwinism popped up again in 3 Quarks, so thought a few markers might be useful here. It mentions a new short article in a The New York Times blog, Papercuts, How Would Darwin Read? by Jennifer Schuessler which links to D.T. Max’s 2005, review (‘The Literary Darwinists’) of Literary Animal, The Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, Edited by Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson

David contributed a talk to The Science Network forum in 2007.

Here will be a links as I find them on (for and against) literary Darwinism:

(1) Literary Animals? a post in Valve mentioning an essay:

(2) Signposts for a Naturalistic Criticism by William Benzon

(3) The Pleasures of Fiction Denis Dutton, Philosophy and Literature 28 (2004)

(4) Reading Homo Sapiens David Michelson (Skeptic Magazine 2005)

(5) The Nature of Literature Michelle Scalise Sugiyama ( a review of Madame Bovery’s Ovaries)

February 23, 2008 Posted by | reading, Writing | | Leave a comment

You won’t believe my eyes


Strange to enjoy reading about a colour {colors/mauve : Shelley Jackson, Cabinet Magazine} without being able to see it, or to be able to distinguish it from others, to even name it ! I’m red-green colour blind and find any pale colours or diluted colours impossible to name.

I felt sure somewhere there was a patch of labelled mauve on the web that might help me appreciate the essay more. Wiki:mauve. It only helps because it is named. “Oh, that’s mauve!”: though take it and its label away and re-present it without a name….

But then the first mauve I saw on the wiki was a pale mauve, not the deeper reddish colour (as it seems to me).

A side-track into other colours which seem like the paler mauve to me. Lavender looks pretty much the same. You could give me any number of colours of a similar saturation {colourfulness }, or is it {luminance}, and I could be persuaded this was the colour which went with the mauve words in the essay.

If I hadn’t read the enchanting essay I’d never have realised it was possible to enjoy colours by having them laid out in profusion and labelled for me. It may become addictive: but I may need to stay close to the colours with the names, light mauve, mauve, opera mauve, mauve taupe. Taupe ? Taupe Grey, pale taupe, sandy taupe, rose taupe, mauve taupe….mauve taupe? Take the names away: no point looking at them.

For the first time in my life because I carefully considered one colour through words describing it and associated with it {List of colours. } I realise from looking at colour charts I can really name only two colours with certainty: {blue}. There is a yellow streak midway between green and red, but I am not confident enough to name it. I can name blue only only as dark blue bright blue and yellow the yellowest of yellows. Pale blues – periwinkle blue, powder blue, are out of my range. They could be other colours for all I know. I might guess a flower was pale blue when it was pink.

Now, too, I realise for the first time where there is a neat example where empathy might break down: colour! There’s madness and autism, but colour has all the controls in place. You can read my mind and predict my behaviour but when it comes to colour we are from different species. We are both fooled by visual illusions.

Maybe the mirror cells which activate when we are reading minds don’t fire in my brain when you report a colour!

Did you know the black birds looks black to us but is multi-coloured (blue spectrum) to other blackbirds?

This colour graph is a way of illustrating what I can see: I recognise red and blue corners but infer the green. I can’t name any colour in the middle as you probably can.

Mostafa is red-green colour-blind. But he can’t see the coloured boxes, 1-10, whereas I can, but couldn’t tell you what colour they were except bright yellow, which I think is 5.

Wiki: colour-blind has three colour tests which shows I’m deuteranopic.

In this one I see no numbers.

Same colour illusion

Works for me too…

Colours of the Mind

A cornucopia of colour delights.

February 19, 2008 Posted by | colour, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Nearly finished? {3} – Raymond Chandler

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.

Groucho Marx, on S.J. Perlman’s first book

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

Elmore Leonard

Having paraphrased the Raymond Chandler quote about almost writers, which does exist somewhere, and later ogling for it without success, came across this page by Mark Coggins – himself a private dick novelist – about a visit he made to the Bodleian Library to look at Chandler’s papers. Good stuff.

I can’t understand why a person will take a year to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars.

Fred Allen

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

Red Smith

In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself.

Alfred Kazin

Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.

Marianne Moore

A book is a mirror; if an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to peer out.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

If I read a book that impresses me, I have to take myself firmly in hand before I mix with other people; otherwise they would think my mind rather queer.

Anne Frank

The reason one writes isn’t the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

{1} {2}

February 18, 2008 Posted by | Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Nearly finished? {2} Timothy Hallinan’s writer’s resources

“Advice is like manure. You need to use it sparingly and consider the source.”

— Dolores Feldon

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

— Pablo Picasso

At first I thought I was going to be irritated by lists of how to do it. Now I see there are lots of quotes and references to other writers, I’m much happier. And, yes, just a moment ago I saw the name Raymond Chandler on one page. So, hopefully, there’s going to be that quote (paraphrased here by me as): “There’s nothing quite so sad as an almost writer.” Something like that. Well, no, probably not: Tim’s trying to encourage writing not put us off for good.


Part 2: Getting started / 2. Work Habits:

The writer with the most impressive work ethic was probably Anthony Trollope, a contemporary of Dickens’ who is one of my favorite novelists in the world. Trollope wrote by the clock day in and day out, wherever in the world he was. He set up that clock and wrote at home, in hotels, at his club, on the road, in his cabin on ships, and for all I know, while he was visiting America, on a stage coach. When the time was up, he quit. Here’s the part that got my attention. If he had, say, eleven minutes left on the clock, and he had just finished a novel, he didn’t sit back and enjoy a celebratory cup of tea – he started a new novel. Eleven minutes later, he quit for the day. (By the way, Trollope wrote some 45 novels.)

I was wondering whether to leave the parenthesis at the end out.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | Writing | , , | 3 Comments

Nearly finished?

J G Ballard’s memoir {review by Nicholas Shakespeare. }, Miracle of Life, was serialised on Radio 4 this week.

In one episode, relating a meeting the future Mrs. Ballard, in which on learning he was writing a novel she asked him, “Have you nearly finished? “, he replied “No, (but) I’ve nearly begun.”


“Do not reduce your story to outlines and sketches, notes and 3×5 cards. You will make your story finite this way and it will suffer because it cannot grow beyond your outline.”

Too late, unfortunately. I did once explain to another blogger who appeared to be trying to write – complaining in a post she couldn’t get on – that I thought I had discovered a half-way house. On any particular day, if you find you can’t write what you thought you were going to, then write notes (and even notes on the notes, if you feel you have to). With luck the mood flips out of notes into something which feels like writing – – a snatch of dialogue suddenly comes to mind, perhaps, or a description. Change the colour of the font and get it down. Or ordinary to bold, why not.

The problem with this is remembering you’ve done actual writing amongst the notes. If you were very efficient there would be the immediate copying and pasting of the ‘writing’ into a file of their own a the end of the session. But they would probably make no sense at all when re-read a week later without the surround of explanatory notes, which themselves in places might look suspiciously like narratorial voices being practiced in some sort of complex metalepsis.

In my case there is often a dialogue going on in there amongst the ideas. What if this? Could do that. Nah. Would the reader….? Dunno.

Then the other writing displacement activity: reading about writing and maybe even taking notes. Not even reading more good writing itself, which might be more useful: but reading how to write, or even some fancy narratology. If this happens, you will almost certainly feel the need to add to your notes the links which lead to the accumulation of articles on writing you come across. Notes. Notes on notes. Links to other people’s notes. And so on.

This sort of thing can be thoroughly absorbing: you might be excused for forgetting you were meant to be writing at all. One day I came across the word diagesis. By the time I was into the homodiagesis and heterodiagesis, I had completely forgotten what I woke with for my own story. It didn’t seem to matter when so much progress was being made on how to tell stories and their possible structure.

Just now I came across the original place where I picked up the diagetic lingo: Narrators and Narrative Situation from Basics of English Studies, which looks like a desperation measure by some determined lecturer in the face of the general ignorance of his or her undergraduate students. Quite useful though.

This section of a website dealing with The Narrator and Storytelling, has even resorted to “PowerPoint”- style slide presentations of the essential features. For example a slide sequence subtitled: What kind of story telling?

Oh and look here’s another one with all the terms nicely boxed-up: Chapter 7: The Narrator from Narrative theory.

Never ending. You can learn too that diagesis is a term used a lot in film (though it seems not a lot by film-makers but a lot by film students and their teachers). You might have come to the idea that this never going to be a novel. What about a film script?

By the time you are through with:

An Attempt at Universal Subjectivity: The importance of mirrors for self-consciousness, the importance of self-consciousness for cinema, and the importance of it all to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror. David Wishard


Scene shift, metalepsis, and the metaleptic mode by by Monika Fludernik

the day is gone. Pretty sure in your mind that tomorrow when you start afresh aiming to write your own words, the narrative voice will be sorted. Or will it?

February 16, 2008 Posted by | narratology, Writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Si hoc adfixum in obice legere potes, et liberaliter educatus et nimis propinquus ades

The title of this post according to Fun Latin means:

If you can read this bumper sticker, you are both very well educated and much too close.

* Orationem pulchram non habens, scribo ista linea in lingua Latina.

Howard Jacobson in today’s Independent picks up on Children’s Secretary Ed Balls’, “All young people should have the chance to experience top quality culture.”, to wax about his sturdy grammar school education. His complaint being that culture is not an add-on:

Culture in the grammar school was not an appendage to what else was on offer. Culture was continuous with the curriculum. Culture – at least when we weren’t freezing in our shorts on furrowed fields of ice or clambering up wallbars like chimpanzees – was what the school exuded.

The mention of culture brought to mind a definition in the introduction to Technology and Culture: An Anthology, by Melvin Kranzberg and William H. Davenport. Attributed to Edward B. Taylor, and used “in the broad anthropological sense”, it goes:

Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

Since it is a book on technology as part of culture, the authors add:

Technology itself is one of the most distinctive and significant of man’s capabilities, and it is essential that we learn how it developed in order to analyze its relations with the other elements of culture.

Writing an earnest (Grammar School?) sixth form essay or examination question, What is Culture? (the questions tended to be very short in those days… ) would inevitably bring in The Two Cultures – exemplified by Jacobson only mentioning the arts in his encomium to the superior education he got. Closely behind this would be whether elitism was a Good Thing.

The Grammar schools were designed to put the brightest 5-10 percent in touch with the best teachers. Under those circumstances it was possible to give a version of the sort of education provided at the best private schools. One can only guess what went through the minds of the theorists and bureaucrats when landed with a comprehensive system of secondary education. It probably went along the lines of broadening the definition of culture (not unlike the one above) to try to get away from the problem of high-culture being necessarily elitist.

It is strange that though a typical religious education course in a British secondary school will essentially be a sociology of religions, you would be hard pressed to find an AS course in the the history of ideas or the history of science.

* Lacking anything witty to say, instead I offer this tagline in Latin

February 16, 2008 Posted by | culture | , , , | Leave a comment

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

My core fear is that we, as a culture, as a species, are becoming shallower; that we have turned from depth–from the Judeo-Christian premise of unfathomable mystery–and are adapting ourselves to the ersatz security of a vast lateral connectedness. That we are giving up on wisdom, the struggle for which has for millenia been central to the very idea of culture, and that we are pledging instead to a faith in the web. What is our idea, our ideal, of wisdom these days? Who represents it? Who even invokes it? Our postmodern culture is a vast fabric of competing isms; we are leaderless and subject to the terrors, masked as freedoms, of an absolute relativism. It would be wrong to lay all the blame at the feet of technology, but more wrong to ignore the great transformative impact of new technological systems–to act as if it’s all just business as usual. (p. 111-12)

This is the blurb from the Google Books page:

In The Gutenberg Elegies, nationally renowned critic Sven Birkerts powerfully argues that we are living in a state of intellectual emergency – an emergency caused by our willingness to embrace new technologies at the expense of the printed word. As we rush to get “on line, ” as we make the transition from book to screen, says Birkerts, we are turning against some of the core premises of humanism – indeed, we are putting the idea of individualism itself under threat. The printed page and the circuit driven information technologies are not kindred – for Birkerts they represent fundamentally opposed forces. In their inevitable confrontation our deepest values will be tested. Birkerts begins his exploration from the reader’s perspective, first in several highly personal accounts of his own passion for the book, then in a suite of essays that examines what he calls “the ulterior life of reading.” Against this, Birkerts sets out the contours of the transformed landscape. In his highly provocative essay “Into the Electronic Millenium” and in meditations on CD-ROM, hypertext, and audio books, he plumbs the impact of emerging technologies on the once stable reader-writer exchange. He follows these with a look at the changing climate of criticism and literary practice. He concludes with a blistering indictment of what he sees as our willingness to strike a Faustian pact with a seductive devil.

A catchy title gets you every time. A variation on Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

Selected pieces from The Gutenberg Elegies.

A vast range of reviews to chose from.

David Gelernter reviews Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest, by Peter Huber and The Gutenberg Elegies in National Review, 1995, reposted in BNET.

One page reviews by John Ottenhoff and Susan Lewis-Wallace and Dean Blobaum

I have added Emily Dickinson’s poems to the blogroll, so that There is no Frigate like a Book is accessible to go with this post.

February 8, 2008 Posted by | books, digitisation, hypertext, Internet, World Wide Web | | Leave a comment

Epistemology matters {1}

Reason and Common Ground: A Response to The Creationists’ “Neutrality” Argument

By Timothy Sandefur

He summaries the article in an abstract at Social Science Research Network:

Although it is a well-established scientific fact, evolution remains a controversial subject in the United States, and especially the issue of teaching evolution or creationism in public schools. An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority. Several creationist writers have argued that science’s exclusive reliance on natural causes (so called “methodological naturalism”) is an a priori assumption, or an arbitrary preference, and therefore that both it and religion are equally valid epistemologies. In addition, they argue that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment prohibit government from endorsing or granting “preferences” to science over supernaturalism.

This article is a response to these theories. In Part I, I argue that science is an objectively superior means of knowing, and that methodological naturalism is not an a priori assumption, but both an a posteriori preference and one that is necessary for any valid epistemology. I also reject the argument that naturalism or “humanism” are “religions” or that science requires a “leap of faith.” In Part II, I address whether the First Amendment requires the government to remain “neutral” between supernatural and naturalistic worldviews. I conclude with some general observations on the conflict between science and supernaturalism.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | Bronowski, Darwin, Enlightenment, epistemology, evolution, science | , , , | Leave a comment

The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn {2)

The next episode of The Great War in colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, Europe After the Fire, was on BBC last night. The iPlayer is available for 6 days from today, so hurry! hurry! folks while stocks last! {Just learnt iPlayer only works inside the UK, sorry.}

The BBC info page on Albert Kahn has four links including:

(1) Article in NYT A Philosophy in Bloom, by Jacqueline McGrath, March 30, 1997, describes a visit to the Albert Kahn Museum {Musée Départemental Albert Kahn } in Paris and gives info on the man himself.

(2) An essay, Les Archives de la Planète: A cinematographic atlas by Teresa Castro

Another site:

World War I Color Photos
Not clear if these are part of the Kahn Archive.


An expert in the BBC documentary: if all the war dead marched four-abreast past the Cenotaph in London it would take three and a half days.

The thousands of war memorials built after the war which, together with the vast cemeteries, will have been driven past – backwards and forwards as the Second World War progressed – two decades later later by the allied and German forces.

February 5, 2008 Posted by | Albert Kahn, autochrome, film [its techniques], photography | , , , | Leave a comment

The Great War in Colour: Albert Kahn Archive

The Great War in Colour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn

is a great programme, which part is part a series. {2}

For those outside the UK, this can only be watched BBC iPlayer for a while, though if you download with the BBC download software (which you first have to download), you have a month.

February 2, 2008 Posted by | photography, World War I | , , , | Leave a comment

Turkey bans WordPress to placate Islamic creationist

Turkey blocks WordPress access at request of creationist cult leader

Our man is Adnan Oktar – he’s soon going to be a member of the EU !

His creation is the Atlas of Creation under the pen name Harun Yahya.

An April 2006 article in The Economist, In the beginning :The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global.

Maybe I suggest as an immediate counterpoint:

Some Non-Scientific Observations on the Importance of Darwin


Someone enterprising could make a few quid with a range of models/statues of important characters from the Age of Reason, the main feature of which would be be an extended arm and fore-finger pointing into the middle distance, not unlike the statues Saddam put on the waterfront in Basra, pointing over to the Shat al Arab and Iran beyond. You could buy one of these reasonably priced statues (made in PRC no doubt) and point it in the direction of wherever it was reliably known the most backward thinking person in the world was then situated.

February 2, 2008 Posted by | Adnan Oktar, anti-evolutionism, Turkey | , , , | Leave a comment

It’s true: Its truth

Apparently Chaucer didn’t use the word its in The Canterbury Tales or perhaps any of his writing. He uses his for its in the opening line of The Prologue:

Whan that April with his shoures soote {1}

There are any number of wonderful websites on Chaucer, including the Harvard University Geoffrey Chaucer, but so far I have not found a mention of why no its. It’s a mystery! However, pages such as this English Language in the Fourteenth Century: The Status of English are fascinating.

We can learn where and how and why Chaucer used fart {2}, but not its. It’s a bit frustrating to find its not mentioned. One expects to be able to find an instant answer to anything nowadays but there just isn’t one on its. Perhaps if a Chaucer expert comes across this post while idly checking for mentions of his or her own work in Google, or other reputable search engines, he or she will pass on the story of itslessness.

Presumably it’s not just Chaucer but everyone who had no its, so it will be a general story about the development of English with particular reference to its.

The Historical variability of English

Introduction to “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales

This a lecture given by Ian Johnston which covers an awful ot of ground and is also interesting

The Making of Chaucer’s English: A Study of Words [1998] By Christopher Cannon

A Google Book, and therefore not completely transcribed, but there is enough there to get the idea. Don’t forget the text is searchable through the Google ‘Search in this book’ feature on the bottom right. The page may need to be scrolled down a bit.


Ian Johnson’s home page is full of lecture and essays on all sorts which also look….very interesting.

This one written in 1998, The Illogic of a Creationist Argument, I noted, noting particularly how he has come to the nub so clearly that even Richard Dawkins might learn something from it. It might give a clue as to how well he does on other themes, including many literary and philosophical one’s he covers.

Equally readable, a lecture to biology students, Some Non-Scientific Observations on the Importance of Darwin [1998] Ian Johnston, Liberal Studies Department, Malaspina-University College, Nanaimo, BC.


All for the want of a horse shoe nail…..

February 2, 2008 Posted by | Biology, Chaucer, English language, evolutionary biology, science | , , , | Leave a comment