Thursday, February 20, 2014

Commonplace book: "Love and Freindship"

Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.

Love and Freindship
—Jane Austen, title of a juvenile draft of what would become Pride and Prejudice

Is not there a something wanted, Miss Price, in our language—a something between compliments and—and love—to suit the sort of friendly acquaintance we have had together?
—the conniving Mary Crawford, in Mansfield Park 2.11 (Norton edition, page 197)

... they talked there, Maisie noted, as if they were only rather superficial friends; a special effect that she had often wondered at before in the midst of what she supposed to be intimacies.
—Henry James, What Maisie Knew, chapter 20

Monday, February 17, 2014

A humble pontification on some old Tibetan books

I normally try to avoid merely reposting recent news items on this blog—mostly keeping in line with my stated wish to be something other than a news aggregator.

But when I saw this weekend's story in the New York Times on the construction of a library in southwest China for thousands of Tibetan texts, I had to share it. The E. Gene Smith Library at the Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu houses the collection of the eponymous E. Gene Smith, a private collector and non-academic scholar who over the course of five decades, oversaw the collection, preservation, and republication of a wealth of Tibetan texts, many of which only existed in one known copy.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pretension and Politics; or, The Way We Pretend Now

The most beautiful words in the English language.

On one glorious day in late May at the end of my junior year of college, I remember stepping out onto a grassy lawn with a friend and quoting with relish a remark I had once hear attributed to Henry James: "Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." This friend gave me an "Are you serious?" look and said, with a note of affably ludic derision, "Spencer, that is the most pretentious thing I think I've ever heard."

This provokes some questions about exactly what we mean when we use the word "pretentious." In one sense, we use the word to describe anything that seems pompous or otherwise highfalutin, in which case (I admit with reluctance) it's possible that taking a sunny afternoon as an occasion to quote Henry James counts.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cool thing #2: Emily Dickinson's hair

This is the image of Emily Dickinson that we're used to seeing—the only extant verified photograph (a daguerrotype, really) taken while she lived:

But this picture was taken when she was sixteen. (How many of you would want to be remembered by your junior-year school photo?) And as we know from a silhouette taken when she was fourteen, her hair was not always so tied back:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A year of words

"After you finish all the posts,  Spencer, you can have some cake..."
It's February 2014, and that means it's Loose Signatures's one-year birthday! Yes, the blog has been around for a full year, launching last spring with posts on Egyptian crocodile god Sobek and the friendship between Igor Sikorsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff. What started off as no more than a project to give some odds and ends written for various websites and publications a single home has really taken on a life of its own—and while there have been breaks from time to time, and the posts might grow slightly less thoughtful while I'm in class, I'm very grateful to everyone who has been reading along over the past year.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I don't remember that part...

All I can imagine is Cary Grant debonairly saying in that Mid-Atlantic accent, "Mrs. Rahbinson, you're trying to seduce me..." And maybe also Simon and Garfunkel singing "An Affair to Remember." 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Blood, Sweat, Tears, and HP

Most men and not a few women from my generation probably inadvertently dedicated to memory these words at some point in their youth:

I want to be the very best,
Like no one ever was. 
To catch them is my real test, 
To train them is my cause. 

These lines—obviously alluding metrically to the influence of one Emily Dickinson—are from the original Pokémon theme song, and I am worried that someday I will be old and demented and remember nothing but this, which I will repeat endlessly in my corner of the nursing home. (Oliver Sacks and Daniel Levitin tell us that song-memory is the last thing to go.)