26 August 2014

Literary License

For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers—at first, occasional ones.

It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor.” And today there is hardly a gainfully employed [individual] who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case.

At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship. In [many instances] work itself is given a voice. To present it verbally is part of a man’s ability to perform the work. Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.

All this can easily be applied to the film, where transitions that in literature took centuries have come about in a decade. . . .


— Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

Painting: Mir Sayyid Ali, Mughal, A Young Scribe, c. 1550, watercolor and gold on paper

30 April 2014

The Spell of the Spoken Word

Nothing is more unaccountable than the spell that often lurks in a spoken word. A thought may be present to the mind so distinctly that no utterance could make it more so; and two minds may be conscious of the same thought, in which one or both take the most profound interest; but as long as it remains unspoken, their familiar talk flows quietly over the hidden idea, as a rivulet may sparkle and dimple over something sunken in its bed.

But speak the word, and it is like bringing up a drowned body out of the deepest pool of the rivulet, which has been aware of the horrible secret all along, in spite of its smiling surface.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Painting: Caspar David Friedrich, ca. 1832




19 March 2014

I knew I had a fever

Phases of the Disease: a brick in a giddy place; a steel beam in a whirling engine; my own person

That I had a fever and was avoided, that I suffered greatly, that I often lost my reason, that the time seemed interminable, that I confounded impossible existences with my own identity; that I was a brick in the house-wall, and yet entreating to be released from the giddy place where the builders had set me; that I was a steel beam of a vast engine, clashing and whirling over a gulf, and yet that I implored in my own person to have the engine stopped, and my part in it hammered off; that I passed through these phases of disease, I know of my own remembrance, and did in some sort know at the time.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Painting: Amedeo Modigliani, Little Girl in Blue (1918)