I have been reading Italo Calvino’s If on a winters night a traveller. One chapter is particularly interesting because it draws heavily on the imagery of optics (one of Calvino’s obsessions). It makes a reference to the 19th century British scientist David Brewster for his invention of the kaleidoscope. I hadn’t read about Brewster before so I had to look him up. He was so much more than the inventor of kaleidoscope.Read more
In V., Chapter 14, Pynchon made passing references to the Dreyfus Affair - a social controversy that divided France near the end of the 19th century. Just by coincidence, I read something about it earlier this year. The Father Brown story “The Duel of Dr Hirsch” by G.K. Chesterton is a very odd detective story, because it’s really a commentary on the Dreyfus Affairs. The other historical figure that plays a more significant role in V.Read more
As a PhD student, I took a class in animal behaviour. I didn’t work very hard and have forgotten most of it. However, since I became a father, I have been thinking more about this class. One of the papers I read was the classic “The social function of the intellect” by Nicholas Humphrey, first published in 1976. The paper is packed with insightful analogies. For example, Humphrey offered an interesting interpretation of Robinson Crusoe.Read more
An obscure historical note from Thomas Pyhcon’s novel V.: there is a Chopin museum in the Spanish island of Mallorca, where you can see a cast of Frédéric Chopin’s hand. Chopin spent a winter there in 1838.
In Thomas Pynchon’s first novel V., there is a subplot involving rhinoplasty. A surgeon in the story (“being a conservative”) refers to his own profession as the “Art of Tagliacozzi”. This is reference to the 16th century surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi, who pioneered surgical techniques for nasal reconstruction. He was a professor of anatomy at the Archiginnasio of Bologna, whose famous anatomical theatre houses a statue of Tagliacozzi holding a nose. I visited Bologna in 2015.Read more