November 2008


“There is no exquisite beauty,” says Bacon, “without some strangeness in the proportions.” The philosopher had reference, here, to beauty in its common acceptation; but the remark is equally applicable to all the forms of beauty — that is to say, to everything which arouses profound interest in the heart or intellect of man. In every such thing, strangeness — in other words novelty — will be found a principal element; and so universal is this law that it has no exception even in the case of this principal element itself. Nothing, unless it be novel — not even novelty itself — will be the source of very intense excitement among men. Thus the ennyue who travels in the hope of dissipating his ennui by the perpetual succession of novelties, will invariably be disappointed in the end. He receives the impression of novelty so continuously that it is at length no novelty to receive it. And the man, in general, of the nineteenth century — more especially of our own particular epoch of it — is very much in the predicament of the traveller in question. We are so habituated to new inventions, that we no longer get from newness the vivid interest which should appertain to the new — and no example could be adduced more distinctly showing that the mere importance of a novelty will not suffice to gain for it universal attention, than we find in the invention of Anastatic Printing. It excites not one fiftieth part of the comment which was excited by the comparatively frivolous invention of Sennefelder; — but he lived in the good old days when a novelty was novel. Nevertheless, while Lithography opened the way for a very agreeable pastime, it is the province of Anastatic Printing to revolutionize the world.

By means of this discovery anything written, drawn, or printed, can be made to stereotype itself, with absolute accuracy, in five minutes.

….

The value of every book is a compound of its literary value and its physical or mechanical value as the product of physical labor applied to the physical material. But at present the latter value immensely predominates, even in the works of the most esteemed authors. It will be seen, however, that the new condition of things will at once give the ascendency to the literary value, and thus by their literary values will books come to be estimated among men. The wealthy gentleman of elegant leisure will lose the vantage-ground now afforded him, and will be forced to tilt on terms of equality with the poor devil author. At present the literary world is a species of anomalous Congress, in which the majority of the members are constrained to listen in silence while all the eloquence proceeds from a privileged few. In the new regime, the humblest will speak as often and as freely as the most exalted, and will be sure of receiving just that amount of attention which the intrinsic merit of their speeches may deserve.

– Edgar Allan Poe, “Anastatic Printing,” Broadway Journal, April 12, 1845, 1:229-231

Age of Power and Wonder Cigarette Card

Paris-London on a Beam.” Age of Power and Wonder Series. Max Cigarettes, cigarette card, c. 1935-38. Medium: Offset-Litho. In the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, George Arents Collection, at the New York Public Library.

Deep in concentration he suddenly starts to sharpen a pencil stub, trying to turn its tip into a mere point: then silence sets in; afterwards the ohs and ahs rise again on the properties of some sort of world, of another one, not of ours; I observed, how he would pace boomingly back and forth, his shaggy head hung somehow bitterly and tartly, hanging down to the right and staring at the even shelves of brown bookspines from under his brow, as though he were doing an inspection of them; he always pressed to his breast his right hand with a pencil stub, throwing into the air his waving left hand and he stuck out two fingers against the background of chocolate-colored wallpaper; and suddenly he began to shine so gently with goodness, when the contours of a new calculation “ef, ex” arose before him; they had reported on it at the Sorbonne; the French mathematician Darboux had exchanged impressions about it with Papochka, and Chebyshev—had trembled.

I know that scorpions bred here—not malicious ones, but bookish ones; Papa once showed me a scorpion, having grabbed me as I was passing by; he pressed me up against the bookcase;  and opening an enormous and smelly folio: a volume of Lagrange, he placed it up under my nose; he showed me a little scorpion, rather satisfied with this event.

“Hee-hee… Hee-hee-hee!…” he passed sentence upon it, catching it on a page of Lagrange with his big index finger.

“Hee-hee”—and his face began to wrinkle up with wrinkles—humoristically, almost sarcastically, but goodspirited and joyfully:

“Ah you, look here: you know it’s crawling, the rascal is crawling!”

And having winked at me with his little Tatar eyes, he pronounced in a respectful whisper.

“Do you know, Kotenka, he eats microbes: a useful beast.”

“Yes!”

I make out the little scorpion on the page of Lagrange; it is—tiny, it crawls, it destroys microbes; a useful rascal! And Papa, having slammed shut the useful rascal, takes it away to the bookcase; and—there came the smell of antonovka (he used to buy these antonovka apples, and bestow on us gifts of antonovka at dinner).

– Andrei Bely. Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Christened Chinaman (1921), translation by Tom Beyer.