Monthly Archives: August 2005

Amazon Shorts

Amazon.com is now selling "new short-form literature from top authors for only 49 cents." After years of people predicting the demise of the short story, it is interesting to see a market participant with the heft of Amazon backing the form. About 60 authors have signed up for the program.

Jonathan Skillings suggests that the move will retest the financial viability of the short story.

In a world dominated by blockbuster novels such as "The Da Vinci
Code" and higher-brow long works from "The Kite Runner" to "The Line of
Beauty," short stories typically receive short shrift. Fans of the
diminutive form have to subscribe to The New Yorker or literary
journals, and writers who focus on the form generally must content
themselves with a love of their art. Enter Amazon. On Friday, the e-commerce giant unveiled Amazon Shorts,
saying it hopes the digital-only outlet "can help to fuel a revival of
this kind of work." At the very least, the online bookshelf will
provide flanking support for the English teachers of the world and
their well-worn volumes of Hawthorne and Hemingway.

Chris Crum of WebproNews says readers will have the choice of three options: "including a ‘view now’ option, a downloadable PDF file, or they can choose to simply have the piece emailed to them."

The Wall Street Journal notes that the program is an evolution in how Amazon distributes digital content.

The Seattle company has been adding forms of digital content — books,
music and movies — to its Web site over the past year, with particular
emphasis on original material. Last December, it offered short films
that promoted products sold on the Amazon site. It later presented
short films from amateur filmmakers’ submissions to New York’s Tribeca
Film Festival. In July, Amazon Web cast short videos of celebrities
delivering Amazon packages to customers, and broadcast a full-length
concert with Norah Jones and Bob Dylan during its 10-year anniversary
celebration. So far, though, all these digital features have been free to Web
surfers, so the new Amazon Shorts program represents a departure.

Technorati Tag(s) – books.

Blur: Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter’s photo paintings can be viewed in The Contemporary Institute’s online gallery gerhard-richter.com. Wikipedia describes Richter’s technique.

Many of Richter’s most admired paintings are made in a multi-step process of representations. He starts with a photograph, which he has found or taken himself, and projects it onto his canvas, where he traces it for exact form. Taking his color palette from the
photograph, he paints to replicate the look of the original picture.
His hallmark "blur"—sometimes a softening by the light touch of a soft
brush, sometimes a hard smear by an aggressive pull with his
squeegee—has two effects: 1. It offers the image a photographic
appearance; and 2. Paradoxically, it testifies the painter’s actions,
both skilled and coarse, and the plastic nature of the paint itself. In some paintings blurs and smudges are severe enough to disrupt the
image; it becomes hard to understand or believe. The subject is
nullified. In these paintings, images and symbols (such as landscapes,
portraits, and news photos) are rendered fragile illusions, fleeting
conceptions in our constant reshaping of the world.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also has an online exhibit of Richter’s work. Actor Jude Law once compared his process for creating characters to Richter’s photo paintings.

"What I try to do is to start out perfectly clear and then
kind of smudge things. You don’t want anything to
seem too perfect. Gerhard Richter does it in those
abstract paintings, where he paints the canvas and
then scrapes across it. The effect is really forceful
— they’ve got motion, but they’re out of focus."

Literature and Cultural Dispossession

In reviewing Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf (NYT, 2/27/2000), James Shapiro argued that "influential American admirers [...] badly misread [Heaney] when
insisting that his poetry can be appreciated independent of its
politics." Shapiro noted how Heaney might have had to defend himself from Irish readers wondering why the poet had decided to take on the task of translating an old English poem. In the introduction to the Beowulf translation, Heaney himself explained the evolution of how he grappled with the problem of language and cultural dispossesion.

Sprung from an Irish nationalist background and educated at a Northern Irish Catholic school, I had learned the Irish language and lived within a cultural and ideological frame that regarded it as the language which I should by rights have been speaking but which I had been robbed of. I have also written, for example, about the thrill I experienced when I stumbled upon the word lachtar in my Irish-English dictionary and found that this word, which my aunt had always used when speaking of a flock of chicks, was in fact an Irish language word, and more than that, an Irish word associated in particular with County Derry. Yet here it was, surviving in my aunt’s English speech generations after her forebears and mine had ceased to speak Irish. For a long time, thereforre, the little word was–to borrow a simile from Joyce–like a rapier point of conciousness pricking me with an awareness of language-loss and cultural dispossession, and tempting me into binary thinking about language. I tended to conceive of English and Irish as adversarial tongues, as either/or conditions rather than both/ands, and this was an attitude which for a long time hampered the development of a more confident and creative way of dealing with the whole vexed question–the question, that is, of the relationship between nationality, language, history, and literary tradition in Ireland. (W.W. Norton, 2000, p. xxiv)

Amsterdam Moving Day (photo)

Eudora Welty

Jonathan Yardley writes about Eudora Welty in The Washington Post.

Eudora Welty is one of the most interesting and appealing figures in
20th-century American literature, and one of the most enigmatic. She
fits in no convenient literary pigeonhole, and a mere four years after
her death her literary legacy is not easily assessed. Between 1941 (A
Curtain of Green) and 1984 (One Writer’s Beginnings), she published
many short stories of indisputable brilliance — among them "Why I Live
at the P.O.," "A Worn Path" and "The Wide Net" — as well as five
engaging if somewhat less successful novels, a collection of excellent
essays and reviews and a volume of photographs of her native
Mississippi. It is an admirable life’s work, yet precisely where to put
it in the galaxy of American letters is something of a mystery.

Though Welty is best known for her writing, during her younger years she often took a Rolleiflex with her on journalism assignments. Welty the photojournalist was derailed, however, when she lost her camera in France. "I punished myself. I didn’t deserve a camera after that. I was so crushed, and by then cameras were much more expensive and of course now they are out of sight," she said.

Suggested Links:

The Seeing Eye: Eudora Welty as Photographer

Passionate Observer: Eudora Welty among Artists of the Thirties
Before You – Eudora Welty (Photobetty)

Technorati Tag(s) – books, photography.

Yanchao, Taiwan (photo)