25 January 2014

Battle of the Books

Illustration from Jonathan Swift's 'Battle of the Books' (from 'A Tale of a Tub'), 1704.

In my leisurely stroll through Matthew Battles' Library: An Unquiet History, I've just finished the chapter on Swift's fanciful story of the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns-emblematic of the 17th-18th century public debate over whether modern learning had superseded classical tradition. Here we see one era of books jousting against another, as if the two ages of learning could not occupy the same space (notice the spider and the bee in the upper left). While our present age of enlightenment and 'universal tolerance' leaves more room for the coexistence of modernity and antiquity, we still see the creeping edge of plenty contemporary faddishness competing for, and in many cases, displacing, essential parts of the traditional liberal arts curriculum. It is becoming increasingly common for students to progress through high school and college without reading large chunks of Shakespeare, Dante, or even staples of American literary tradition, like Walt Whitman. Sometimes it leaves one to wonder if modernity has indeed won--not for its merits and might but instead because of its novelty.

Read more about Battle of the Books here.

22 January 2014

The Best Kind of Intellectual Wallpaper

Certainly something I wish everyone who doesn't keep books in their house would understand.

21 January 2014

January Culture Roundup: Iconography & Shakespeare

Here in the Nation's capital we're lucky to have such a plethora of arts & culture locally. While it can be argued that DC isn't exactly the foremost location for theatre and music, the museums and traveling gems we have are wonderful-with regularity. The icons exhibit currently hosted at the National Gallery of Art is a prime example. It also features books, jewelry, mosaics, ceramics, and manuscripts, most never before on loan to the US. It's only in town through March 2-get there if you can. Then it heads to LA for a few months before returning to Europe. Read more about the exhibit here.

Icon by Andreas Ritzos, from the Byzantine & Christian Museum in Athens. One of my favorites after recently visiting the exhibit.

An additional bonus, which I wasn't expecting, is The Dying Gaul from The Capitoline Museum in Rome, which is also in display in the National Gallery rotunda through early March. 


Recently I've found myself 'rediscovering' much of Shakespeare. I always enjoyed the plays in school, but they just get richer with age. We're lucky to live in a time that is producing some absolutely marvelous new adaptations for stage and screen, that are more accessible to the public than ever. First it was Hamlet and Macbeth from PBS, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. One of the best things to come out of 2012 was The Hollow Crown, a stunning film production of the four history plays that form Shakespeare's second tetralogy- Richard II, Henry IV (2 parts), and Henry V. Since I was exposed almost exclusively to the tragedies and comedies on school, this introduction to the histories was a real treat for me. The acting is just brilliant, featuring recognizable faces like Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, David Suchet, Patrick Stewart, Ben Whishaw, and Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery (though it is a shame that her character seems mainly to exist for the purpose of making out with Hotspur). The whole tetralogy makes for a bit of a long haul (8+ hours for all four plays), but you won't be looking at your watch at all. Watch a preview below (more video from the BCC here).

PBS has also produced a nice little series that showcases the actors' experiences preparing for Shakespearian roles, which aired last year. Watch Shakespeare Uncovered here.

And, as if Tom Hiddleston in The Hollow Crown weren't enough, he's also starring in the National Theater production of Coriolanus, which is going to be broadcast live in movie theaters around the world on January 30, with encores to follow in the weeks afterword. I am beside myself in excitement for this. Go here to find a screening near you!

Latvians Form Human Book Chain to Transfer Books to New Library

Over the weekend in Riga, Latvia, over 15,000 people gathered to form a human chain stretching more than a mile across the Daugava River to transfer books from the current national library to the new building set to open in August.  The event was reminiscent of 1989 Baltic Way, when 2 million people formed a human chain across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

And it looks like they all had a good time doing it too.