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At The Margin
Vol. 1, Issue 10
Thursday, August 10, 2000
Details, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books.
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1. Where Paradigms Come From
2. Geezers Influence Book Publishing
3. John Milton Lives on the Web
4. Editor's Note (brief)
5. Messages to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?
7. Blue Underlined Words
1. Where Paradigms Come From
If you're a normal person, you are sick of hearing the word paradigm. At The Margin can't do anything to stamp it out, but we can give you some insight as to why you hear it so much.
As most people are aware, the word gained popularity from a 1962 book by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn captured the modern imagination with the notion that science is not just the inch-by-inch discovery of facts that build on each other to create truths. It is a drama of young ideas rising to do battle with established ones. Scientists, argued Kuhn, are not necessarily objective and independent thinkers. They are conservatives who work on puzzles by applying a shared set of beliefs (a paradigm). Anything that falls outside that set of beliefs is ignored. From time to time, someone emerges (Copernicus, Einstein) who devises a new paradigm that accommodates the facts being ignored by the old one. The two paradigms then struggle, and sometimes the new one wins.
Kuhn's theory of contending paradigms has been criticized in a number of ways, but you don't have to believe it is true in order to understand what a gift it was to science-envying humanities scholars. Kuhn's contribution to nonscientific academics was to humanize the face of science. He made it possible for literary theorists, art historians, philosophers, and others to feel that scientists (whose successes in the 1950s and 1960s seemed so spectacularly beyond anything going on in the humanities) were no better than anybody else. Kuhn's theory seemed to imply that scientists don't just discover truth by increments, that they will cling to beliefs for reasons that are essentially political.
An article at The New Criterion ("Thomas Kuhn's Irrationalism" by James Franklin) points out that The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is the single most cited work in arts and humanities in the twentieth century. It is, in other words, the work you are most likely to encounter in arts and humanities scholarship. A generation of graduate students and professors has cut its intellectual teeth on Kuhn's paradigms, even if only at secondhand. You can find the article at http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/18/jun00/kuhn.htm.
It's fairly safe to say you can't get through college without encountering paradigms. The idea has become a caricature of Kuhn's original concept, which was hedged with all kinds of qualifiers. "Paradigm" has come to serve as a shorthand expression for intellectual rebellion. And so the guy who stands up in your company meeting to say he wants to offer a new marketing paradigm can believe he's Galileo. And doesn't everybody want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the great astronomer against the forces of Ptolemaic darkness?
It's not over yet. The third edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published in 1996, is still in print, both hard and soft covers.
There's a good bio of Thomas Kuhn at the Emory University website: http://www.emory.edu/EDUCATION/mfp/Kuhnsnap.html.
2. Geezers Influence Book Publishing
Seeing the promos for Space Cowboys makes me wonder if we aren't witnessing the birth of a new film genre -- the geezer movie.
It's no joke. We members of the largest generation in history have begun to contemplate the specter of aging. As has happened again and again since 1945, our needs and desires will move the structures of the economy. We create the largest markets and thereby shape the goods and services available in them.
A case in point is large print books. Large print books are special editions with 16-point text. "Once a sleepy backwater in the world of publishing," reports Publishers Weekly.com, "large print looks to be the next fast track to new markets. Rights to the most sought after large-print titles are now being auctioned for as much as six figures." According to the article, Thorndike Press, which has been publishing large print books since 1978, will publish more than 1,000 titles in a broad range of categories this year. PW quotes the firm's publisher as saying more than a third of hardcover fiction titles are available in large print these days.
Big publishers such as Random House and HarperCollins are also inaugurating or expanding their large print divisions. Even Time magazine launched Time Large Edition in January 2000. The large print edition of the news magazine currently carries 80 percent of the regular edition's content, and the magazine says that proportion will soon be 100 percent. There is also a trend in large print specialty bookstores, if you can call at least one establishment (Denver's The Large Print Book) a trend. And Amazon.com now sports a feature called Search by Large Print Edition.
The baby boom generation has always gotten what it wants, and what it wants now apparently is not to squint. The full article is at http://www.publishersweekly.com/articles/20000731_88395.asp.
3. John Milton Lives on the Web
Knowing nothing about book prices, I nevertheless assume that a 1674 edition of Paradise Lost (the first edition with the arguments) would fetch about a jillion dollars. But if you just want to read it and appreciate it (rather than own it), untold riches are as close as your mouse. There are so many John Milton sites on the web that you are likely to blunder into one just by making a typing error in your browser.
A brief summary of Milton: He was born in 1608. His father was a scrivener, also named John Milton. He went to Christ's College, Cambridge and received a master of arts in 1632. His father wanted him to enter the clergy, but there were religious disputes in the family (as there were in so many at that time in England) and it seemed a better idea not to be a clergyman, especially since he was so interested in writing.
In 1643, he married a woman named Mary Powell. He was 33, she was 16. She left him within a few weeks, but she returned three years later, and they had three children before she died in 1652. The year he was married, the English Civil War started. Robert Graves, the peerless and tireless author of historical fiction, wrote a novel about this marriage called Wife to Mr. Milton. It was first published in Britain in 1942 and in the U.S. in 1944. It is out of print now, but it's been through a bunch of editions (including a Penguin paperback in 1954) so there are plenty of opportunities to get used copies. Milton married two more women and was survived by the final one, who collected some payments on Paradise Lost.
As you might expect from a writer whose wife left him, Milton's marital problems inspired essays, including one called "The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce." He wrote propaganda pieces against Charles I and translated diplomatic correspondence for Oliver Cromwell. He wrote Paradise Lost sometime in the decade between 1650 and 1660, after he had gone blind. His anti-royalist sentiments and pronouncements landed him in prison for a time. He entered into a contract for publication of Paradise Lost in April, 1667, making an agreement with a printer who promised to print no more than 4,500 copies, for which he paid Milton 20 pounds altogether. The first edition had a retail price of three shillings. After the first publication, the printer suggested to Milton it would sell better if he added an argument to each book of the poem to explain what was going on. For the second edition (1674), Milton restructured the poem from ten books to twelve and added the arguments. He died the year the second edition was published.
Paradise Lost is widely regarded as the finest specimen of epic poetry in English, but its classical and scriptural allusions are so dense and extensive that some scholars say it should only be read in a library. The web changes that. Thomas H. Luxon, an associate professor of English at Dartmouth who teaches a Milton course every other year, has created an extensive site called The Milton Reading Room. There, you can find Paradise Lost, Paradise Regain'd, Samson Agonistes, and a host of shorter poems, essays, and even the poet's commonplace book. All the works have been edited to use 17th century spellings and the pages are presented to look (more or less -- it's hard to specify oldstyle typefaces on the web) like those in the original works. The website presents the works with scrolling windows of annotations at the bottom of the page. These windows not only provide the usual commentary, but links to other works as well. Find the site at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/.
The Milton Reading Room (which is continually updated, by the way) may be the most impressive Milton site, but it is far from the only choice for the Milton junkie. The Milton-L Home Page (http://www.richmond.edu/~creamer/milton/) is the home of a John Milton discussion group (495 subscribers, worldwide), and it features e-texts of Milton's work, articles, reviews, and audio recordings of some of the arguments from Paradise Lost, as well as links to other Milton stuff on the web. The John Milton page of Luminarium (http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/milton/) features quotes, a biography, essays, and so on. But watch out: it plays music when you open the page, even if you don't ask for it (it's a song said to have been composed by Milton). There's also a good summary of the publication history of Paradise Lost at The Classic Text: http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/Library/special/exhibits/clastext/ clspg117.htm.
4. Editor's Note (Brief)
At The Margin exists to promote Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop and not me. But it occurred to me that some of you might be interested to know I have a new novel coming out. It's called Labor Day, and it will be published (Catbird Press) on Labor Day. It's my fourth "corporate nightmare," a fictional category that I believe I invented. The advance reviews have been favorable. Kirkus Reviews said it was "wry, sly, depressing," a blurb I hope to have carved on my tombstone when the time comes. OK, enough about me.
5. Messages to the Editor
Harold Bloom, Samuel Johnson, and James W. Earl
As before, this latest issue [ATM #9] has something of value. I was pleased to read the discussion on "Learning To Listen To A Book." Within the last week my son gave me a copy of Harold Bloom's new book, How to Read and Why. Now I don't know Harold Bloom, but I now know him to be a person of insight and above average perception. For in his prologue to the book he reveals that Dr. Samuel Johnson is his "ideal reader, for half a century." To that admission I can concur, but for a lesser period of time.
Harold Bloom appropriates a phrase from Dr. Johnson and advises, when reading, to "clear your mind of cant" in order to let the author read to you. In other words "Shakespeare reads to you more fully than you can read him, even after you have cleared your mind of cant." As Bloom reminds us that Dr. Johnson said "Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider."
Thank you for the introduction to Professor James W. Earl, he must have a similar point of view.
[Editor's Reply: I love it when ATM makes connections for its readers. Thanks for writing.]
6. Do You Know Me?
For those who like puzzles as well as books, this department brings you the first sentence of a novel, currently out of print in the U.S., by a famous writer. The name of the author and title of the book will be in the next issue, so write your guess down. If you want to send me your guess, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include your name (so I can congratulate you in this space if you're correct) and let me know if you recognized the writer's style or if you know the book, or both.
This Issue's Sentence:
The warning message arrived on Monday, the bomb itself on Wednesday.
I'm waiting for your guesses.
Last Issue's Sentence:
The sweet old farmhouse burrowed into the upward slope of the land so deeply that you could enter either its bottom or middle floor at ground level.
Nobody tried to guess this time, but I think vacation schedules must have interfered.
The sentence is from Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House by Eric Hodgins. The rule for this puzzle is that the book has to be out of print, and technically this one isn't, since there was a paperback edition published in February 1999. But the paperback edition is not readily available. Even Amazon.com says buying it takes three to five weeks (note that you can typically get it from your local used bookstore in three to five minutes). I trust you will not think I am trying to put one over on you by selecting for the puzzle a book that is so tenuously in print the publisher requires a month more or less to find a copy to sell you.
There is surprisingly little information on the web about Eric Hodgins, but I will tell you what I found. He began as a journalist in 1926 with a publication called Youth Companion and later joined the staff of Redbook. An exceptional writer, he attracted significant notice in 1934 with an article titled "Arms and the Men." He joined Time, Inc. in 1933, and became the managing editor of its fledgling business magazine, Fortune, in 1935, taking charge of a writing staff he characterized as "insane, unreliable, alcoholic, and, all in all, I think the most brilliant magazine staff ever to exist in America." He was said to possess personal charm that "could have turned Rasputin into a scoutmaster." Perhaps because of his charm, he was temporarily diverted from writing and editing into management, becoming Fortune's publisher in 1937 and ultimately assuming a vice presidency at the company. The Time-Life archivist later said of him, "He didn't write a memo to his secretary that wasn't hysterical." In this period, he wrote an article for Fortune (published in the April 1946 issue) called "Mr. Blandings Builds His Castle." (Characterizations of the Fortune writing staff and of Hodgins' charm come from an anthology of writers' memoirs called Writing for Fortune, published in 1980 by Time Inc.)
He resigned from the company in 1946 to devote more time to his writing, and it was in that year that Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House was published. The novel, in which an ad man depletes his savings attempting to fix up an old farmhouse in Connecticut, was based on the original article. The book was a considerable success, and the sequel, Blandings Way, was published in 1950. Between the novel and the sequel, the film (starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy) appeared in 1948. It is an entertaining film, but being a different medium, it lost the best part of the book: Hodgins' authorial voice. Bowing to the sensibilities of Hollywood in the 1940s, the film also left out one of the best gags in the book: the Knapp Laxative account, which was the basis of Mr. Blandings' success as an ad man. The reader is told Mr. Blandings wrote a three-word slogan that made Knapp the best-selling laxative ever, but the novel never reveals the slogan.
In 1964, Atheneum published Hodgins' nonfiction memoir, Episode: Report on the Accident Inside my Skull. It describes his experience of having a stroke, his subsequent aphasia, and his frustration with the treatments. The book is widely recommended among disability support groups.
Eric Hodgins also occupies a niche in the history of computing. The first proposal for hypertext was made by Vannevar Bush, who described a machine called a memex -- "a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library." Bush described something that could connect files and documents through "associative" indexing. His conception is said to be the precursor of Douglas Engelbart's work at Xerox PARC. Engelbart and Bush corresponded after Bush's original proposal, and Engelbart was the inventor of the mouse, which was used to operate the Xerox PARC machine, which (in the early 1970s, mind you) sported a windowed environment, an iconic interface, and associative data structures. This machine is known to have inspired Steve Jobs in his quest to develop first the Lisa and then the Macintosh computers. Bush had originally sent his proposal, "Memorandum Regarding Memex," in 1941 to Eric Hodgins at Fortune magazine. It's now in the Library of Congress.
7. Blue Underlined Words
I follow a lot of links in the course of compiling this letter, and some of the pages I visit look like they may be interesting or useful to you. I have only visited them and know nothing about them beyond what I could gather from the visit. So I'm not endorsing anything, just bringing it to your attention. Click at your own risk.
Standards for Electronic Publishing
Building on its success in standardizing bar coding and electronic data interchange, the Book Industry Study Group has announced its intent to develop standards for electronic books, metadata, and XML, all of which are important to web-based publishing. There's a press release at the BISG website. http://www.bisg.org/pressrelease_july_05_2000.html
Profile of an Independent Bookstore
The square of William Faulkner's hometown, Oxford, Mississippi, is commercially anchored by a bookstore that happens to be run by the current president of the American Booksellers Association, which is fighting the good fight against Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com over unfair competitive advantages and distribution. Interesting article. http://www.mojones.com/mother_jones/MJ00/oxford.html
Leave Jane Alone
This article argues that Jane Austen's modern imitators and sequel writers have failed to capture what is good about her work. http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2000/07/26/austen/print.html
Mapping Ancient Rome
Third century Romans made a 60-foot by 45-foot marble map called the Urbis Romae that showed every room, staircase, and portico in their city. It has been in shards for over 1,500 years, but now some Stanford University scientists think they can reconstruct it. http://www.discoveringarchaeology.com/articles/072600-rome.shtml
Trust the Brits to come up with a newsstand magazine about philosophy. Thank goodness somebody's trying to make this stuff accessible. The website doesn't give you the entire magazine, but there are some interesting articles here. http://www.philosophynow.demon.co.uk/main.htm
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