There once was a man from Nantucket
Whose life was a sham. It was muck. It
Was froth of the sea
Where he'd tried to be free
Algernon. Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I?
Cecily. Oh no. [Puts her hand over it.] You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication.
I love this moment in China Miéville's The City & the City: The narrator (for this is an I-book), Inspector Tyador Borlu, is a noir cop in a fictional Balkan capital, Corwi is his assistant, and in their language aj Tyrko means Turkish-style.
I guess I just want to register here that it's World Aids Day -- a day once and still too much without art.
You know how people will sometimes hum a phrase or say a word or two that haunts them, as though just that phrase, just those words, could mean everything? It's the literary equivalent of the magical name of the beloved. I need only think: Belinda or Geoffrey
But it was all a mystery. Here we are,
And there we go:--but where?
(Byron, Don Juan V.39)
Look there, look there, King Lear implores, pointing to the dead Cordelia. We know she's dead, but he wants her to "stay a little," which is so much less to ask, in this final scene, than his icy, impossible demand in the first scene that she "mend her speech a little."
How can you use the market place to predict future classics? How could you even bet on the literary future? EBay has found a way -- a really interesting one. The futures markets tell us that Darren Shan (author of the young adult series Cirque du Freak) is more than twice as valuable as of today than New Yorker darling David Mitchell. But Ken Follett is a cut above that.
How do I know?
Sometimes you notice an aesthetic effect or technique and assume that there must be a name for it. But how can you look it up? Maybe you can just ask.
I've been thinking about quotations out of context for a long time: probably since Ray Bradbury made me fall in love with Yeats without my reading a word of him except Bradbury's quotations in title and epigraph. When such quotations are great -- and really that's the most fundamental reason for wanting to quote, or at least for remembering quotations, getting them by heart -- there are two ways they can be great:
William Flesch is the author, most recently, of Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction (Harvard, 2008), and The Facts on File Companion to 19th Century British Literature. He teaches the history of poetry as well as the theory of poetic and narrative form at Brandeis, and has been International Chair Professor at the National Taipei University of Technology (2012) and Old Dominion Fellow of the Humanities Council and Visiting Professor at Princeton (2014-15).