Tuesday, 15 May 2007

IRTNOG, by E.B. White (1938) Apropos of nothing but The Modern Condition (Long-Obtaining), an extremely short work of dystopian fiction: Along about 1920 it became apparent that more things were being written than people had time to read. That is to say, even if a man spent his entire time reading stories, articles, and news, as they appeared in books, magazines, and pamphlets, he fell behind. This was no fault of the reading public; on the contrary, readers made a real effort to keep pace with writers, and utilized every spare moment during their walking hours. They read while shaving in the morning and while waiting for trains and while riding on trains. They came to be a kind of tacit agreement among numbers of the reading public that when one person laid down the baton, someone else must pick it up; and so when a customer entered a barbershop, the barber would lay aside the Boston Evening Globe and the customer would pick up Judge; or when a customer appeared in a shoe-shining parlor, the bootblack would put away the racing form and the customer would open his briefcase and pull out The Sheik. So there was always somebody reading something. Motormen of trolley cars read while they waited on the switch. Errand boys read while walking from the corner of Thirty-ninth and Madison to the corner of Twenty-fifth and Broadway. Subway riders read constantly, even when they were in a crushed, upright position in which nobody could read his own paper but everyone could look over the next man s shoulder. People passing newsstands would pause for a second to read headlines. Men in the back seats of limousines, northbound on Lafayette Street in the evening, switched on tiny dome lights and read the Wall Street Journal. Women in semi-detached houses joined circulating libraries and read Vachel Lindsay while the baby was taking his nap. There was a tremendous volume of staff that had to be read. Writing began to give off all sorts of by-products. Readers not only had to read the original works of a writer, but they also had to scan what the critics said, and they had to read the advertisements reprinting the favorable criticisms, and they had to read the book chat giving some rather odd piece of information about the writer such as that he could write only when he had a gingersnap in his mouth. It all took time. Writers gained steadily, and readers lost. Then along came the Reader's Digest. That was a wonderful idea. It digested everything that was being written in leading magazine, and put new hope in the hearts of readers. Here, everybody thought, was the answer to the problem. Readers, badly discouraged by the rate they had been losing ground, took courage and set out once more to keep abreast of everything that was being written in the world. For a while they seemed to hold their own. But soon other digests and short cuts appeared, like Time, and The Best...
I'm the Man of Darwin's Dreams On 21 September 1838, Darwin transcribes the following into his "M" notebook: Was witty in a dream in a confused manner. Thought that a person was hung & came to life, & then made many jokes about not having run away & having faced death, like a hero, & then I had some confused idea of showing [the] scar behind (instead of front) (having changed hanging into his head cut off) as kind of wit showing he had honourable wounds. All this was kind of wit. I changed I believe from hanging to head cut off. There was the feeling of banter and joking because the whole train of Dr. Monro['s] experiment about hanging came before me showing [the] impossibility of person recovering from hanging on account of blood, but all these ideas came one after other, without ever comparing them. I neither doubted them or believed them. €”Believing consists in the comparison of ideas, connected with judgment. I like that I make an appearance in the "M" notebook, as it's the one in which Darwin tracks the moral and social consequences of the transmutation theory he's concurrently working out in the "D" notebook. In terms of world-historical import, I suppose the fact that he knew natural selection would have far-reaching implications is of paramount importance ... but what I most appreciate (outside my appearance as a heroic wit) is that Darwin believed the content of his dreams significant enough to record alongside his thoughts on Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population, Comte's Positive Philosophy, and Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. This proves that were he alive today, Darwin would have a LiveJournal ... in which he would write about me. I can sleep easy tonight.

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