History of the Bible

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I read The History of the Bible this weekend and enjoyed it a lot. I have a little collection of books about theology now, not because of any interest in faith but because I think it’s an interesting vein of history and culture. The bible is so often quoted, wittingly or unwittingly, in popular culture and everyday speech. Here are some good excerpts from the book. The first I’ve included because I like the readings of the Old Testament that give God a personality.

Signs your story is classist

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We’ve all seen sporadically employed heroes go home to expensive digs. Jessica Jones lives in Manhattan and, like any noir PI, struggles to get paid. Yet somehow she has an apartment that would cost several thousand a month all to herself. Angel does his unpaid rescue work in Los Angeles and gets an entire hotel for his operation. In the recent Picard show, Raffi complains about being poor but lives in an appealing future rustic home in a scenic park.

Sometimes popular stories come with explanations for how the hero can afford to live where they do. For instance, in the Daredevil Netflix show, supposedly Matt Murdock got his gorgeous apartment at a discount because of glowing billboards right outside the windows. But even when these explanations are realistic, storytellers are still choosing to carve out an exception that lets characters live beyond the means of real people in their income bracket.

These unrealistic depictions encourage inequality from two different angles. First, they deny the reality of high housing prices and insufficient wages in many cities. It’s easier to ignore how unaffordable housing is when the lower-income people in our stories all have plenty of space and privacy. Second, they deny meaningful representation to lower-income people. People who share a small apartment with several roommates or, gasp, live in their parent’s basement deserve to see that lifestyle in their stories.

Five signs your story is classist, Chris Winkle in Mythcreants

Murakami's Translationese

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What I was seeking by writing first in English and then “translating” into Japanese was no less than the creation of an unadorned “neutral” style that would allow me freer movement. My interest was not in creating a watered-down form of Japanese. I wanted to deploy a type of Japanese as far removed as possible from so-called literary language in order to write in my own natural voice.

On Translationese, Masatsugu Ono in The Paris Review

Igbo Orthography and The Ndebe Script

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Vowels are separated into low, rising, and high categories, which are presumably the only tonal delineations in Igbo. The notable absence of a corresponding “falling” tone, I first thought, creates problems for adapting the script to a language like Yorùbá, where, for example, the ọ̀ in Báyọ̀ carries a “falling” rather than a “low” tone when the sound is properly rendered. But on a second look, I find that what is meant as “rising” here is actually the same as a “mid” tone in Yorùbá. Still, linguists interested in adapting Ńdébé for languages with different tonal patterns than Igbo’s, or with no tone at all, like Fulfulde, have plenty to work with. Igwe-Odunze, who has been working on this writing system for over ten years, has been clear that her original intention was to provide an Igbo script, calling Ńdébé her “gift to every Igbo person.”

Writing Africa’s Future in New Characters, Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sú in Popula

Haruki Murakami Challenged On Women

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MK: That brings me to another question about the women in your novels. Something that comes up rather often when talking about your work. I’m thinking of the way that women are depicted, the roles they’re assigned.

It’s common for my female friends to say to me, ‘If you love Haruki Murakami’s work so much, how do you justify his portrayal of women?’ The notion being that there’s something disconcerting about the depiction of women in your stories. It irks some people, men and women alike. A common reading is that your male characters are fighting their battles unconsciously, on the inside, leaving the women to do the fighting in the real world.

HM: Really? How so?

MK: It goes beyond whether they’re realistic, or come across as ‘real-life women.’ It has more to do with the roles they play. For example, as we were saying earlier, the woman functions as a kind oracle, in that she’s made to act as a medium of fate.

HM: She takes you by the hand and leads you off somewhere.

A Feminist Critique of Murakami Novels, With Murakami Himself, Mieko Kawakami in LitHub

How a French Midwife Solved a Public Health Crisis

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Du Coudray knew many of her students were illiterate, so she created her book in a way that could be understood whether or not you could read. The colorful images depict the mother’s pelvis and some associated soft tissues and the descending infant, presented as if you were looking through the skin and fat and seeing only the necessary bones and reproductive parts. Also illustrated are the midwife’s hands and how they should be positioned. After being trained by du Coudray and practicing on her machine, the illiterate midwife could consult the book’s illustrations as a reminder of what to do in a particular case. As Schiebinger noted:

How a French Midwife Solved a Public Health Crisis

Greta Gerwig and the Politics of Women's Genres

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With the properly cinematic resources of space, time, and mise-en-scne, Gerwig approaches these contradictions as Alcott could not. Intercut with the meeting with Dashwood is a generically romantic resolution to the story - Jo’s dull professor-ex-machina, Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel), is retrieved from the train station on the brink of departure by a whole troop of Marches and March hangers-on in a rom-com race to unite the hetero-couple. However, the images of this resolution do not actually depict a proposal or a wedding. Rather, after the professor is brought together with Jo for the kiss that signifies traditional closure, the scene continues. A sweeping overhead long take, in motion like much of the film, depicts Bhaer as one among many teachers, family members, and students who fill the halls and grounds of the (integrated and co-ed) school Jo sets up at Plumfield, the home she inherits from Aunt March. (Meryl Streep introduces all kinds of intertextual noise in this role, one note of which derives from her turn as Emmeline Pankhurst in 2015’s Suffragette.)

Ambidextrous Authorship: Greta Gerwig and the Politics of Women’s Genres, Patricia White in Los Angeles Review of Books

James Joyce’s grandson and the death of the stubborn literary executor

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But, in an odd way, Stephen Joyce is probably one of the last of his kind we’ll see. D.T. Max, the journalist who profiled him, also happens to be David Foster Wallace’s biographer, and in the notes to his biography he writes that “David may have been the last great letter writer in American literature (with the advent of email his correspondence grows terser, less ambitious).” This is a claim that will probably be plausibly made about other writers in that generation or just before. But anyone whose career really began after the iPhone is likely to have archives that will present wholly different problems.

James Joyce’s grandson and the death of the stubborn literary executor, B.D. McClay in The Outline

Exploring the World of Paradise Lost



The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your command; and as you utter them you begin to realise that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning and that part only comes alive when you speak it. So at this stage it doesn’t matter that you don’t fully understand everything: you’re already far closer to the poem than someone who sits there in silence looking up meanings and references and making assiduous notes.

The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost, Philip Pullman in The Public Domain Review


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I read the Penguin Classics translation of Wasps by Aristophanes the other day. It’s a satirical play about how an older generation of Athenians who fought in the Peloponnesian War were taken in by a pandering demagogue called Cleon. To grasp what’s happening and get the jokes, you have to know a little bit about the context of Athenian politics at the time and how the jury system worked. But all of that is explained in a very quick note at the beginning of the edition.