The ostensible intention of these notes is to create a transparent continuity between the notes I gather from day to day and “finished” texts. There is also something comforting about the idea that all my notes, which I gather readily as I go about my day, will almost automatically—like drops of mercury on a flat surface—gather themselves into finished texts. Obviously, the...
We always knew that the lipstick, the food, the made-up uniforms were there to distract you from the obvious fact that you are hurtling through the air at several hundred miles per hour. Even the laws of aerodynamics seem to have cooperated in the sham. Bernoulli’s very elegant principle was supposed to account for the miracle of mechanised flight. The truth, it turns out, is much messier. The...
Einmal Ist Keinmal
Boasting about sales figures and large print-runs on book jackets is a vulgar practice reserved to airport blockbusters; but it is perfectly respectable for even the most “literary” of books to boast about the number of languages into which it has been translated. As if to say, “It’s so good, it addresses such universal concerns, that it works in nineteen languages!” The literary...
Packing My Library
I am packing my library. Tomorrow morning, these books will be packed inside ten cardboard boxes, loaded onto a van, and shipped to another country. Were it not for these several hundred books, the question of moving would be trivial: a couple of suitcases would carry all my clothes, and everything else I possess would happily fit into a large box. The rest—all the other things that are...
Cory Doctorow is fond of quoting Gardner Dozois about predicting the social consequences of technology. It is one thing to predict the automobile, but quite another to predict drive-in movies and their explosive effect on teenage sexuality. And another thing still to predict that the licensing and identification requirements of the automobile would give birth to the database nation. The...
In 1962, Donald Knuth accepted a commission to write a book about compiler design. When he began to tackle his subject he realised that before he could write his book, a deeper analysis of the basic concepts of computer programming was required. He started writing what soon became a twelve volume book. Each volume was initially conceived as a chapter until he realised that he had miscalculated...
“Marguerite Yourcenar” was the pseudonym of Marguerite de Crayencour. “Yourcenar” is, of course, a near-anagram of “Crayencour”.
Nothing says, “We know what we’re doing” like an automated retrieval system such as the one at the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library in the University of Chicago. When a student wants to read a book, she orders the book online, then waits while a robotised crane swoops to the appropriate shelf and fetches a box containing several volumes, including the one the student requires. The box is delivered...
It is strange to be reminded now just how noisy was the writing process for most of the 20th Century. There was no question what impact your text had on the world—you could hear it. Each letter was hammered into the paper with a thud, each line celebrated by a little bell and a prolonged crunch as the carriage spring was reloaded. The decades rolled by and the reception of typed letters grew...
Considering how large the Wall looms over the Berlin of the imagination, especially for visitors, it is surprising to remember that the city has been without it for longer than it had it. The Berlin Wall as it lives in the imagination, with its vast concrete acreage, triple fencing, fakir beds, anti-vehicle trenches, dogs and guard posts was not completed until 1975. East and West are also more...