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Words and lies.

Paul Cohen: ‘The Liar’s Dictionary is not just a showcase for its author’s linguistic ingenuity. Its affecting characterizations, its absorbing plot, and even its vivid evocation of the largely forgotten but deadly 1899 explosion at Barking have much to offer the reader.’

Theodora’s complaint.

Paul Cohen: ‘Here is the paradox at the root of Judæo-Christian-Islamic iconoclasm. God may make a human image, but man must not. The ambitions of artists push them to join, or even compete with, God as a creator, but one of the most fundamental Commandments of the faiths—right up there with “Thou shalt not kill”—forbids it.’

The latest event in the history of the novel.

Paul Cohen: ‘A central concept of postmodern literary theory is intertextuality: a recognition of the highly complex relationships among literary works. One could consider Remainder to be the emblematic novel of the age of intertextuality.’

‘A greater writer than in fact he ever became…’?

Paul Cohen: ‘In our increasingly specialized world, where the sum of human knowledge has grown so prodigiously, our polymaths no longer have the range of Leonardo da Vinci, Athanasius Kircher, and Benjamin Franklin. We still, however, find the occasional figure such as semiotician-anthropologist-novelist Umberto Eco, chemist-novelist-playwright Carl Djerassi, and painter-writer-composer Tom Phillips. Gourmont, though, was not only one of these, but also a man who deliberately abandoned intellectual consistency for the excitement of the free play of ideas.’

A pataphysical education.

Paul Cohen: ”Pataphysics presents a challenge to reality, most characteristically, though not always, carried out through humor. Unfortunately, as Andrew Hugill notes in his new book on the subject, “the word is often used quite loosely to invoke anything that seems wacky, weird, or bizarrely incomprehensible,” much as the word “surreal” is often used to refer to anything strange.’

A partial archive of the New Series.

A partial archive of the New Series, 2009-2023.

‘Contra Mortem’ and ‘Journey to a Known Place’.

Stephen Wiest: ‘Publishing mostly with small presses, and avoiding academia until he was almost 60, his concerns for the poor, rural life, inequality and loneliness became the central subjects of his work. Well regarded for technical mastery of the many forms and modes of his poetry, and never settling on a particular voice, he called his style “miscellaneous”.’

Selections from ‘The Problem of Style’.

Gourmont: ‘A writer when he is writing should never think of his masters or even of his style. If he sees, if he feels, he will say something; it may be interesting or not, beautiful or mediocre, the risk must be taken….Style is feeling, seeing, thinking, and nothing more.’

The ‘secular monk’ in the rue des Saints-Pères.

Richard Aldington: ‘…the very essence of Gourmont’s thought is that he placed himself quite apart from doctrines and parties. It was a Nietzschean effort to rise “beyond good and evil”. But this uncompromisingly individualist judgment does not necessarily reduce Gourmont to a minority of one. Inasmuch as every one of us is an individual, inasmuch as we exist more or less apart from collective bodies and opinions, Gourmont speaks to us. He speaks to us not as members of groups, not as citizens, but as individuals. He does not assert that he had anything valuable to tell us; he does not pretend to solve anyone’s problems, offers no panacea, makes no promises, cares nothing whether he is read or not, or, if read, whether anyone accepts or rejects his thought.’

The problems and pleasures of ‘Le Probléme du style’

John Taylor: ‘Needless to say, in our present era, structuralist and post-structuralist readings of literature are hardly Gourmont-ish in flavour. Yet it has just occurred to me: are some of Roland Barthes’s sensitive, sensually attentive readings perhaps rather Gourmont-ish and therefore exceptions to this rule?’

Promenades littéraires: 7ième série.

Remy de Gourmont: France ‘may still observe with a certain amount of complaisance the intellectual subsidence to which the Anglo-Saxon world has been reduced by the taste for religious nonsense. These nations with their great physical activity are perhaps on the way towards reducing themselves to the mechanical condition of ants or bees. The intelligence is there concentrated on a few practical points; everything which is disinterested escapes it. Hence an absence of culture which places them at the mercy of every religious imposture. Messiahs, prophets, mystic healers, raisers of the dead, swarm in these environments which are lacking in the critical sense.’

Remy de Gourmont.

Ezra Pound: ‘I believe he has never once made an over-statement, or, for that matter, an under-statement of his thought. I don’t say that he has always been right. But he had this absolute fairness, the fairness of a man watching his own experiment in laboratory. And this absolute fairness, this absolute openness to all thought, is precisely the most difficult thing to attain.

‘M. de Gourmont carried his lucidity to the point of genius. All ideas, all works of art, all writing came to him, and he received them all graciously, and he praised graciously, or ignored graciously. And he wrote beautifully and graciously from himself. He was the friend of intelligence. He had not lost touch with “les jeunes.”’

The Invention of the Modern World 17.

Spring-Summer Serial 2012. Chapter 17: THE ENGLISH PATH By Alan Macfarlane. THERE ARE FOUR possible views about when ‘The Great Divergence’ which led to our modern world began.  One is that it is a very ancient divergence. This would argue that in terms, not of productive output, but of religion, politics, society, ecology, economic organization […]

The Invention of the Modern World: Bibliography

Note: All books published in London, unless otherwise indicated.♦Acton, Modern: Lord Acton, Lectures in Modern History (1907) Ady, Candle: Thomas Ady, Candle in the Dark (1656) Allen, ‘Yangtze’: Robert C. Allen, ‘Agricultural Productivity and rural Incomes in England and the Yangtze Delta, c. 1620-c.18200’, working paper on Robert C. Allen’s website at Nuffield College, Oxford […]

The world we live in.

Alan Wall: ‘he Plague is no longer a historical item, safely bracketed away with things that no longer happen. All those buboes. It is back on our streets, in our homes, in our lungs.’