February 25, 2012KR BlogBlogShort Takes/Mixed Tape

Short Takes: “Truth Broken into Prismatic Hues”

An argument for creativity as an inherent human feature—not an accident of the universe or luck, but something to be cultivated.

Is there a line between “nonfiction writer” and “essayist”? Is one beholden to a set of traditions or to an emphasis on factual truth that the other isn’t? Dan Kois considers John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact in the context of his encounter with that renowned advocate of fiction that “makes the stomach believe,” Tim O’Brien.

Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in a letter dated January 13, 1845: “…Night is drawing on and I go out—yet cannot, quiet at conscience, till I repeat (to myself .. for I never said it to you, I think) that your poetry must be, cannot but be, infinitely more to me than mine to you—for you do what I always wanted, hoped to do, and only seem now likely to do for the first time—you speak out, you,—I only make men & women speak,—give you truth broken into prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light, even if it is in me: but I am going to try ..so it will be no small comfort to have your company just now,—seeing that when you have your men & women aforesaid, you are busied with them, whereas it seems bleak melancholy work, this talking to the wind (..for I have begun)—yet I don’t think I shall let you hear, after all, the savage things about Popes and Imaginative religions that I must say.”

(But that’s just a speck in the sea of fabulous Browning correspondences. Image via Baylor University.)

The poem has the line, but the painting has the detail (inasmuch as our terminology allows us to differentiate between the two). Now, a catalog for some of the most fascinating of those details, including some from Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat and Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas.

It’s okay to grow garden plants, but not companies. And it can be an ordinary day out on the town, but it can—by no means—be regular. You can perform a deep study, but never an in-depth one. These and more “Americanisms” taken to task.

Certain lesser habits might be justified, as it turns out that sleepy and drunk people performed better on certain cognitive tests. But the equation of this success with some sort of brain damage? Not entirely comforting.

Bizarre-text aficionados, rejoice—one bibliophile has electronically transcribed Thomas Fuller’s Pharmacopeia Extemporanea (1710) and William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine (1769), along with some recipes from the unpublished notebooks (c. 1715) of the Reverend William Twigge. Sample “A common Gargle,” from Fuller’s book: “Take Plantain water 10 ounces; red Rose water 3 ounces; Syrup of Mulberries 2 ounces; Honey of Roses strained 1 ounce; Oil of Vitriol, as much as serves to give it a fitting acidity.”

Impossibly meta: The Collected Blurbs of Gary Shteyngart.