Ten Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

  1. A tree, tall and venerable, to be said by tradition to have been the staff of some famous man, who happened to thrust it into the ground, where it took root.
  2. A fellow without money, having a hundred and seventy miles to go, fastened a chain and padlock to his legs, and lay down to sleep in a field. He was apprehended, and carried gratis to a jail in the town whither he desired to go.
  3. An old volume in a large library,–every one to be afraid to unclasp and open it, because it was said to be a book of magic.
  4. A ghost seen by moonlight; when the moon was out, it would shine and melt through the airy substance of the ghost, as through a cloud.
  5. A scold and a blockhead,–brimstone and wood,–a good match.
  6. To make one’s own reflection in a mirror the subject of a story.
  7. In a dream to wander to some place where may be heard the complaints of all the miserable on earth.
  8. Some common quality or circumstance that should bring together people the most unlike in all other respects, and make a brotherhood and sisterhood of them,–the rich and the proud finding themselves in the same category with the mean and the despised.
  9. A person to consider himself as the prime mover of certain remarkable events, but to discover that his actions have not contributed in the least thereto. Another person to be the cause, without suspecting it.
  10. A person or family long desires some particular good. At last it comes in such profusion as to be the great pest of their lives.

—Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books. (See also: Twenty ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books)

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Memories of the Future (Book Acquired, 8.11.2012)

 

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I saw Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s at the bookstore last week, read the first few pages of the first story, and had to have it. (Although the NYRB logo is always enticement enough). From Liesl Schillinger’s review in the NYT:

Krzhizhanovsky’s stories are more like dream diaries than fiction. Quite intentionally, he blurs the line between sleep and waking, real and unreal, life and death. While his translators admirably convey the whirligigging quality of his narratives, Krzhizhanovsky’s peregrinations demand unstinting focus and frequent compass checks. His characters often seem half, or wholly, asleep. Sometimes, as in “The Thirteenth Category of Reason,” they are dead — which doesn’t stop them from boarding city trams and chatting with commuters. “Alive or dead, they didn’t care.” Their only concern is whether such conduct is “decrimiligaturitized” — that is, legal. “In “Quadraturin,” the man with the proliferspansion ointment never exits a state of benumbed grogginess. Lying on his bed, “unable to part eyelids stitched together with exhaustion,” he tries to sleep through the night, “mechanically, meekly, lifelessly.” When inspectors from the Remeasuring Commission drop by to make sure he hasn’t exceeded his allotted 86 square feet of space, he hovers, terror-stricken, at the door, hoping they won’t spot his infraction. It’s an archetypal nightmare, reminiscent of Kafka.

 

“Alexander Stole an Ear from a Morgue” (Tom McCarthy on the Haunted Telephone)

If technology in general is at once a form both of self-extension and of amputation, then the branch of it that concerns itself with information and its relay—communication technology—is a true field-hospital operating -theater floor of hacked-off limbs, of bereaved bodies. A quick glance at the history of almost any comm.tech device will illustrate this perfectly.

Take the telephone: Alexander Bell, its inventor, grew up in the shadow of his father who ran a school for deaf-mutes and was continually inventing machines to substitute their powers of hearing and speaking. As a student, Alexander stole an ear from a morgue so that he could try to reproduce its inner workings mechanically; a few years later he brought home another defunct ear and, attached to it, the woman he’d marry, deaf like his mother. After his first brother died when his lungs gave out on him, he made a pact with the remaining one that if a second of them should die, the survivor would invent a device capable of receiving messages from the afterlife, should such a thing turn out to exist. The second brother did die, and Bell invented the telephone. He would probably have invented it anyway, and in fact remained a sceptic vis-a-vis the question of existence after death—but only because his brother never called. The desire for the call was there, wired into the very apparatus, haunting it.

From Tom McCarthy’s forthcoming essay “Transmission and the Individual Remix.”