In Praise of Karel Capek

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From the New York Times August 17, 2018

Two things keep Karel Capek’s “War With the Newts” from getting the recognition it deserves: its cover and its title. The best translation’s cover design, black text on teal, has all the panache of a dishwasher manual. And the title evokes spacesuit-clad heroes racing around cheap sets, firing laser guns at unscary animatronic lizards.

Forget all that.

 

Here’s a brief guide to the newt-free portions of Capek’s oeuvre.

‘The Gardener’s Year’

When he wasn’t dreaming up sci-fi dystopias, Capek was in the garden. This cheerful, exasperated journal is fun even for readers who don’t know a daisy from a dahlia.

‘R.U.R.’

Capek’s most popular work while he was alive (it’s where the word “robot” first appears), today it reads mostly like a rough draft of “War With the Newts.”

A trilogy of philosophical novels in which Capek dabbles in detective fiction and unreliable narration. Warning: It makes “War With the Newts” read like a conventional potboiler.

‘The Absolute at Large’

Capek, in 1922, foresees a device that can produce unlimited cheap energy, with the small catch that it might just lead to a world-destroying global war.

‘The Cheat’

When he died in 1938, Capek was working on this bleak polyphonic novel about a half-crazed, compulsively plagiaristic composer.

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Re-hearing Graham Parker

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You’ve either heard of Graham Parker, or you haven’t. Now is a good time to watch Don’t Ask Me Questions:The Unsung life of Graham Parker and the Rumour. It shows a musician known, but only famous to fanatics, who kept on writing songs, performing and being himself year in and year out.  As he reunites with the Rumour, the joy, the pleasure of his songs and and the way he and the band take over the room.  I saw them years ago, and live they filled your life for that time. It’s amazing to see video of them then.  Now it’s softer and more gentle, like Parker himself.  Music made to make music that changes as the world changes, but because it isn’t trying to take over the world, it can absorb what it comes across.

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The Hacking of America – Jill Lepore –

Given all the empty positive talk that we are fed on a daily basis, and given all the lies and generalizations, it seems like the right time for a balanced history of the ups and downs of US history. Click on the image to read Lepore’s  article in the New York Times Sunday Review and here for the book review

From the article: “From the start machines have driven American democracy and just as often crippled it…the rules that prevail on the internet were devised by people who fundamentally don’t believe in government.”

From the book: “Between 1500 and 1800 roughly two and a half million europeans moved to the Americas; they carried 12 million Africans there by force; and as result 50 million Native Americans died , chiefly of disease.”

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Scott Adams – Predicting Trump

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Alex Beam in the Boston Globe today, highlighted Scott Adams’ (the creator of Dilbert) prediction in in his blog August 2015 that the “Clown Genius,” as he calls him, would win a close election up against Hilary.

“On the surface . . . Trump appears to be a narcissistic blow-hard with inadequate credentials to lead a country.”

He added to the message in the Wall Street Journal this week:

“Humor is an extraordinary tool of persuasion,”

Adams compares Trump to Ronald Reagan, “a Master Persuader — someone who sees reality as malleable because to a large degree it really is.”

“Why does he say these things? He does it because he’s creating the future. The fact checkers are missing the entire show. The show is the president is describing the future by pretending it’s the present. It’s right out of the Norman Vincent Peale playbook.”’

Alex Beam writes, comparing Adams to Milton, but mistaking God for Satan: “His mission might be called ‘to justify the ways of Trump to men,’ and he’s good at it.”

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All the Films of Studio Ghibli, Ranked

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From the New York Times. Some of my favourite movies from an incredible studio.

“When the New York Times’s chief film critics ranked the best movies of the century so far, many readers were surprised by the work at No. 2: Hayao Miyazaki’s animated “Spirited Away.” The rest of us wondered why it wasn’t No. 1.” I am one of the rest of us.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/movies/ranking-studio-ghibli-movies.html

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Sarah Manguso

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MangusoCheck out, Sarah Manguso.  Her website lists her books, and connects to lots of her articles.  Is what she does “prose poetry”? Probably.  But it doesn’t matter. It’s phenomenal. Tightly written short pieces.  Often autobiographical.  She has re-awoken my interest in prose poems.

Prose
300 Arguments (Graywolf, 2017)
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Graywolf, 2015)
The Guardians: An Elegy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)
The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape (McSweeney’s Books, 2007)

Poetry
Siste Viator (Four Way Books, 2006)
The Captain Lands in Paradise (Alice James Books, 2002)

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Kaizen Aplied to Writing

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Sarah Manguso:

“The Japanese term kaizen translates literally to improvement, but it’s a term that has come to mean gradual, continuous improvement of a piece of collaborative work. It’s most commonly associated with manufacturing operations, but I think it has general application to almost everything, including writing. In companies that implement kaizen, workers look continuously for small improvements that can be implemented immediately. The philosophy was developed to adjust the work process from its traditional practices, back when making a new iteration of something was laborious and had to be done all at once.”

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