Weekly Round-Up, 3-16-17

Welcome back, scholars! Sometimes we like to think of the weekly links as the Core gossip page. We’ve got celebrities, gross diseases, controversy… Well, you’ll see. Read on!

  • Palpatine–er, Ian McDiarmid–plays the titular character in Faust x2, a musical and condensed version of Goethe’s poem, adapted by the actor himself and directed by Lisa Blair. Runs from March 2 to March 25 at the Watermill Theatre in Bagnor, Newbury, UK.

“You sounds of heaven, powerful and gentle, / why do you seek me in the dust?” Credit: Philip Tull.


  • According to medical historian Dr. Howard Markel, tuberculosis is disgusting, and by extension, John Keats, which we already knew. Just kidding, we love Keats and think he was beautiful, but we also agree that TB is not a poetic or romantic disease in the least.
  • Speaking of Keats: here on the Core blog, we love anniversaries, and we certainly have celebrated a lot in the past year. 2017 is the 200-year anniversary of Keats’ first book of poems, which alarmingly received “terrible reviews.” Undeterred, actress Ruth Rosen of Hampstead, UK, held a tribute to the poet earlier this month on March 2, at the National Theatre in London.
  • Guess who else is celebrating an anniversary soon? If you guessed Karl Marx, go get a Snickers from the Core candy basket (provided the basket hasn’t been raided by ravenous Corelings). That’s right, the Father of Communism is celebrating his 200th birthday next year, and a giant statute–statue, rather (read the article, you’ll understand)–gifted by China to the thinker’s birthplace of Trier is stirring great controversy.

An image from December detailing Chinese artist Wu Weishan's planned work. (Via EPA)

An image from December detailing Chinese artist Wu Weishan’s planned work. (Via EPA)

Hope that satiates your thirst for literary gossip. We’ll see you next week with a new batch!

Did Jane Austen Die from Arsenic Poisoning? Probably Not

Things that may or may not have belonged to Jane Austen: a portable writing desk and three pairs of glasses. (Via British Library Board)

Things that may or may not have belonged to Jane Austen: a portable writing desk and three pairs of glasses. (Via British Library Board)

What killed Jane Austen? Over at Pictorial (via Jezebel), Kelly Faircloth investigates the untimely death of Jane Austen at the age of 41. There are a number of theories to choose from–among them Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Addison’s disease, and death by cow (er, that is, tuberculosis caught from cows)–but a new assertion from the New York Times suggests that arsenic poisoning may have played a role, and the proof lies in Jane Austen’s eyeglasses.

According to the British Library, the last three pairs of glasses reportedly belonging to the author “show evidence that her vision severely deteriorated in her final years,” pointing to a case of cataracts. Arsenic poisoning is a potential cause, says Dr. Sandra Tuppen, a curator at the British Library. Nonetheless, co-director of cataract and primary eye care at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Dr. Mark Blecher, shoots down Dr. Tuppen’s theory as “pure speculation,” citing genetics, eye trauma, and other causes as more likely in an interview with Live Science.

Moreover, the majority of cataracts dont cause prescription changes. When they do, they usually increase the need for minus prescription glasses (to see far away), Blecher said, but its unclear whether Austen went from a low prescription to a high prescription, or vice versa, he said.

In the New York Times article, British independent critic Deirdre Le Faye also expresses some skepticism.

The trouble is, Jane Austen lived such a quiet, placid life that there isn’t a great deal of drama in it. You just cant find it. So the trouble is, people start to invent drama.

Read more about the debate on Pictorial here.

Walt Whitman and the Many Revisions of Leaves of Grass

Special thanks to Prof. Kyna Hamill for bringing this to our attention!

Turns out Leaves of Grass has more editions than your textbook, and the only thing that stopped Walt Whitman from releasing more than nine was his death (probably).

Leaves of Grass (fifth edition). Frontispiece: W.J. Hennessey engraving. Washington: 1872

“The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” (Preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855 edition) Frontispiece: W.J. Hennessey engraving for the fifth edition. Washington: 1872

Unlike your textbook, however, each edition of Leaves of Grass introduced a variety of new content, including but not limited to: progressively older portraits of the author decorating the frontispiece, further works (the “deathbed” edition featured 400 poems compared to the initial 12) and the revisions of the old, and even altered typography and punctuation. (Interestingly, hearkening back to classical portraiture, Whitman opts for a younger version of himself in the final iteration of his magnum opus. Nonetheless, the Walt Whitman that we know and love today takes the form of an older, bearded gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed hat, thus proving that, despite our efforts, our legacy may not always go according to plan.)

As we know from past Core lectures, Whitman was his own greatest promoter. With the release of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 came a number of anonymous newspaper reviews lauding the work–reviews that had been, in fact, written by the poet himself. Nonetheless, actual readers, among them popular newspaper columnist Fanny Fern, applauded the publication. But the praise was not undeserved. Whitman spent a great amount of time not only revising his poems over the years but also constructing the book itself. His deliberation in choosing typography and decorative motifs is most visible in the 1860 edition, published by Thayer and Eldridge here in Boston, in which he held more creative control than he had in past editions.

Read about more about the production and perfecting of Leaves of Grass over on the Library of Congress website here.

From The New York Times: ‘How Propaganda Works’ Is a Timely Reminder

Michiko Kakutani reviews a book that is timely because it comes likes an alarm clock, How Propaganda Works, by Professor Jason Stanley. It is not boring, so promise you will not be needing to hit the snooze button; but, in fact, the book will keep you engaged while serving as a prophylaxis against the opposing problem, zealously rallying behind the slogans of a demagogue. Donald Trump’s propaganda campaign evidently began (with a name like that) from the day he was born.

James Nieves/The New York Times.

James Nieves/The New York Times.

Mr. Stanley begins by offering a definition of propaganda that extends beyond dictionary descriptions of biased or misleading information used to promote a particular political cause or point of view. Propaganda is characteristically part of the mechanism, he writes, by which people become deceived about how best to realize their goals, and hence deceived from seeing what is in their own best interests. This is achieved by various time-tested means by appealing to the emotions in such a way that rational debate is sidelined or short-circuited; by promoting an insider/outsider dynamic that pollutes the broader conversation with negative stereotypes of out-of-favor groups; and by eroding community standards of reasonableness that depend on norms of mutual respect and mutual accountability.

This might illumine both the successes and failures of the Sanders campaign, puzzling because it appealed to many of the same grievances that propelled Trump to the Oval Office, while providing solutions that would have actually helped to alleviate them.’Feel the Bern’ might have been clever, but what herd of sheep might that help to mobilize (which aren’t already) other than stoners? ‘Make America Great Again’, as propaganda, is more effective, which goes to show that propaganda doesn’t have to be clever. In fact, it should never be too clever since then the sheep might get suspicious. It should sound not like a baby’s first word, but first complaint. And it should say succinctly what people already feel an inkling of. If there was a God it would be a nice sort of surprise to think he looked like me.

Read his full post at The New York Times

From The TLS: Women Swooned

“Anxiousness reminds us of existence; happiness momentarily forgets it existed.” The power of ‘it’ in that wonderful bit of existentialism comes in the ambiguity of its reference, and so reminding us of the closeness between ‘anxiety’ and ‘existence’, almost anagrams. One of the appeals of the existentialists, then, comes in their trying to work out the tension between these two; a tension which, unsolved, pulses with an anxiety of its own. Professor Shahidha Bari, writing for the TLS, recites some of the questions raised during a panel at the London School of Economics to open discussion about the ways in which these thinkers are not only relevant but needed. Serious problems sometimes ask for solutions that give us not only gravity but levity:


Its true that existentialism isn’t always easy, but it helps that many of the existentialists themselves were irresistible. As a young man, Sartre hurled water bombs from classroom windows, yelling Thus pissed Zarathustra! Simone de Beauvoir improvised elegant solutions to the straitened circumstances of life in Nazi-occupied Paris, wearing turbans when she could not secure a haircut, and sleeping in ski-wear to save on heating. Albert Camus, who was investigated by the FBI at the request of J. Edgar Hoover (the file was mislabelled Canus), could sit in the street in the snow, lamenting his love life, until two in the morning. He adored his cat, a creature blessed with the perfect moniker: Cigarette. Tell me whats not to love about these existentialists.

Professor Bari goes on to list many of the virtues of the philosophy and its thinkers. Besides charming anecdotes about Sartre’s scatological therapy for eschatological problems, Bari writes about the contentious friendship he shared with Camus, which persisted even when the latter ceased to exist.

Read her full post at The TLS

Weekly Round-Up, 3-10-17

Greetings, scholars! We hope spring break is treating you well. Here on the blog, we couldn’t rest until we had compiled the choicest links for your perusal. Or something like that.

Wolfert at work on his one-man show. Via Sara Krulwich for the New York Times.

  • The MFA is hosting a lecture at the end of this month called “The Benaki Museum and the Greek Narrative: The Role of Culture in Crisis.” Lecturer Pavlos Geroulanos, former Minister of Culture and Tourism in Greece, will be focusing on the extensive collection of Greek art and artifacts located at the Benaki Museum and its connections to Greece’s economic crisis.
  • Seventeen years late, the movie The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is finally in the works, with Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame at the helm.
  • In other Don Quixote news, the 1910 opera Don Quichotte is being performed by the Island City Opera of Alameda, California through March 12. The opera is loosely adapted from the Cervantes text (as in, we’ve spotted DQ, Sancho Panza, and the windmill incident, but composer Jules Massenet has added something about a quest for a stolen necklace and now we’re confused and flipping through multiple translations of Don Quixote for an explanation).

For the first Paris production in 1910.  (Public Domain)

For the first Paris production in 1910. (Public Domain)

That’s all for this week. We’ll see you next week for more exciting adventures in the world of Core.

From The Nation: After the Inferno

It is one of the most valuable purposes of reading imaginative literature that it allows the reader to sympathize with the values of a culture different from his or her own. Having done so, memory, strengthened by the force of narrative, will also preserve those values. Peter E. Gordon therefore aptly begins his review of When Memory Comes, amemoir of historian of Nazism and the Second World War, Saul Friedlnder, by relating Canto 16 from Dante’sInferno,in which the pilgrim is beseeched by shades of the Florentine nobility to remember them once or if he makes it back up (as we know, he way overshoots the mark, landing in Paradise). For Professor Friedlnder (good name), though having managed with his family to escape Nazi persecution, nevertheless held powerfully in his conscience the tragedy which we are fortunate to learn about from the safe distance provided by the history books. Of the relationship between history and memory

Saul Friedlnder in Paris, 1978. (Ulf Andersen / Getty Images). Photograph for The Nation

Saul Friedlnder in Paris, 1978. (Ulf Andersen / Getty Images). Photograph for The Nation

Friedlnders two-volume Nazi Germany and the Jews suggests an answer to this question. Theorists of trauma have noted that first-person experience is often fractured, resistant to summary. Allowing such memories to punctuate a historical synthesis undoes the illusion of completeness; it reminds the reader that historical understanding is not just an obligation but a privilege. Historical scholarship occurs later, at a safe remove from the horrors it describes. In this crucial respect, the it was of history often differs from the I was of memory: The first integrates and promises comprehension; the second disintegrates and conveys incomprehension. The work of the historianand this is Friedlnders singular achievementis to unite these tasks so that the reader can understand, however imperfectly, experiences of trauma that would otherwise seem to surpass understanding.

The memoir closes the distance between reader and experience like the distant retelling of history cannot. Friedlander lost his parents in the camps; they succeeded in getting him to safety, and he succeeded in Proustian fashion to preserve their memory; but as his own memory fails, the least we can do is make it a part of our own by reading his memoir.

Read more at The Nation


Weekly Round-Up, 3-3-17

Good afternoon, scholars! Before you shove off for spring break, we hope you’ll take the time to read this week’s links.

  • The earliest-known image of Confucius was found in the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun, who briefly (and we mean brief–we’re talking less than a month) reigned as emperor of China in 74 B.C. Discovered on the wooden cover of a bronze mirror, the philosopher’s likeness is included alongside two of his students and 2,000 Chinese characters detailing stories not found in other Western Han Dynasty documents.
  • Prof. Philippe Desan of the University of Chicago spills the goods on a certain French Renaissance philosopher and politician in his new biography Montaigne: A Life.

“Que sais-je?” Montaigne: A Life, by Philippe Desan. Translated by Steven Rendall and Lisa Neal. 2017.

  • Harlem School of the Arts Theatre Alliance reshapes Euripedes’ The Trojan Women to give it a contemporary flair. Set in a modern city, the play is directed by HSA Artistic Director Alfred Preisser, and it will take place from February 24 through March 19 at HSA Theatre in New York City.
  • The Martha Graham Dance Company recently wrapped up their season at the Joyce Theater last Sunday, February 26, with performances working with the theme of Sacred/Profane. One program in particular, by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, is inspired by Sufi mysticism and incorporates Middle Eastern music.
  • The Boston Philharmonic’s performance of Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano, receives a favorable review over at the Boston Globe. The Boston Trio (featuring Irina Muresanu on violin, Joan Ellsworth on Cello, and Heng-Jin Park on piano) played Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 last week at Sanders Theatre and Nec’s Jordan Hall.

The trio.  Via Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

The trio. (Via Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.)

Well, that’ll do it! We hope your break leaves you well-rested and ready for the remaining weeks of the semester.

March Books, Free to Good Homes


Spring Break is upon us, and we are thinking about spring cleaning.

That includes paring down the inventory of hundreds and hundreds of used books which the Core office has acquired over the past little while, donations from members of the Core community. We invite you — students, alumni, and friends of the Core — to peruse the list below. If any of the books spark your interest, they are yours for the asking!

All you have to do is email the Core office, letting us know what book you want, and to what mailing address we should send it. (Or if you’re in the Boston area or plan to be soon, you can let us know that, and we’ll set the book aside for you to pick up in person.

Read More »

From Literary Review: Righteous Reformations

Eric Ormsby at Literary Reviewengages in his latest review with Christopher de Bellaigue’sThe Islamic Enlightenment. The relationship between the two has not been easy, but that it has been unrequited for either is a misimpression that has gained popularity in some circles, namely populist ones. That is too bad, because de Bellaigue argues that the Sunny side of the Islam has been getting brighter for the last two centuries (Shi’a right… Ormsby thinks):

De Bellaigues title turns on a paradox. We seldom, if ever, think of Islam, at least in its current form, as exemplifying, let alone promoting, enlightenment. Yet his intention is to demonstrate that non-Muslims and even some Muslims who urge an Enlightenment on Islam are opening the door on a horse that bolted long ago. He goes even further when he states that for the past two centuries Islam has been going through a pained yet exhilarating transformation a Reformation, an Enlightenment and an Industrial Revolution all at once. This seems to me somewhat overstated.

Through the course of this absorbing review Mr. Ormsbymanages to insert his opinions while also interesting the reader about what the book has to say. A question that proved especially difficult for the Muslim intellectual of the nineteenth century was that of the seeming inequity of divine dispensation: why do the spiritually awry get more of the share than Muslims? A question that provoked the Christians too centuries before, and still does today even if in a different from. If after this stage of puberty Islam will settle into the moderate mildness like Christianity before it, then there is certainly a Sunny side at least in the future.

Read his full post at Literary Review