Tag Archives: literary critic

Almanac – June 03

1924 – Franz Kafka died. German-language writer of novels and short stories, regarded by critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century.

 Kafka strongly influenced genres such as existentialism. His works, such as Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle), are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, and mystical transformations.

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1926 – Allen Ginsberg born. American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s.

He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression. Ginsberg is best known for his epic poem “Howl“, in which he denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.

Ginsberg took part in decades of non-violent political protest against everything from the Vietnam War to the War on Drugs. His poem “September on Jessore Road“, calling attention to the plight of Bangladeshi refugees, exemplifies what the literary critic Helen Vendler described as Ginsberg’s tireless persistence in protesting against “imperial politics, and persecution of the powerless.”

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1942 – Curtis Mayfield born.  American soul, R&B, and funk singer, songwriter, and record producer.

He is best known for his anthemic music with The Impressions during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and for composing the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Super Fly, Mayfield is highly regarded as a pioneer of funk and of politically conscious African-American music.

He was also a multi-instrumentalist who played the guitar, bass, piano, saxophone, and drums.

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Almanac – April 15

1452 – Leonardo da Vinci born.  Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.

His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination“.

 He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.

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1802 – William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy saw a “long belt” of daffodils, on a walk around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District,  inspiring the former to pen I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud a couple of years later, inspired by Dorothy’s journal entry describing the walk –

When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up — But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway — We rested again & again. The Bays were stormy & we heard the waves at different distances & in the middle of the water like the Sea.

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1894 – Bessie Smith born. American blues singer. Nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, she was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, and is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on other jazz vocalists.

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1912 – The British passenger liner RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic at 2:20 a.m., two hours and forty minutes after hitting an iceberg. Only 710 of 2,227 passengers and crew on board survived.

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1980 – Jean-Paul Sartre died. French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.

He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

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Almanac – March 02

1717 – The Loves of Mars and Venus –  the first ballet performed in England – made its premiere at the Drury Lane Theater in London.

The creation of choreographer John Weaver,  the story of the ballet was derived from Greek mythology, although Weaver’s immediate source was P.A. Motteux‘s play, The Loves of Mars and Venus.

The role of Venus was performed by  Hester Santlow, who was highly regarded for her beauty, dancing, and ability as an actress. Although it is not certain, many believe the role of Mars was performed by the French dancer Louis Dupre.

At the time, most classical ballet was nearly devoid of dramatic content, and Weaver sought to change that using  dancing, gestures and movement to convey the plot and emotions of the ballet, without relying on spoken or sung text.

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1825 – Roberto Cofresí,  one of the last successful Caribbean pirates, was defeated in combat and captured by authorities.

Better known as El Pirata Cofresí,  he  was the most renowned pirate in Puerto Rico, and his life story, particularly in its Robin Hoodsteal from the rich, give to the poor” aspect, has become legendary in Puerto Rico and throughout the rest of Latin America. It has inspired countless songs, poems, books and films.

The entire town of Cofresí, near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, was named after him.

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1900 – Kurt Weill born. German composer, active from the 1920s,  in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, with whom he developed productions such as his most well known work The Threepenny Opera, a Marxist critique of capitalism, which included the ballad “Mack the Knife“.

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1930 – D. H. Lawrence died. English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter . His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. In them, Lawrence confronts issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, and instinct.

Lawrence’s opinions earned him many enemies and he endured official persecution, censorship, and misrepresentation of his creative work throughout the second half of his life, much of which he spent in a voluntary exile which he called his “savage pilgrimage”.

At the time of his death – from complications of tuberculosis –  his public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents. E. M. Forster, in an obituary notice, challenged this widely held view, describing him as, “The greatest imaginative novelist of our generation.”

Later, the influential Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis championed both his artistic integrity and his moral seriousness, placing much of Lawrence’s fiction within the canonical “great tradition” of the English novel. Lawrence is now valued by many as a visionary thinker and significant representative of modernism in English literature.

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1933 – The film King Kong opened at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Variety thought the film a powerful adventure. The New York Times gave readers an enthusiastic account of the plot and thought the film a fascinating adventure,  although the   film’s subtextual threat to Aryan womanhood got Kong banned in Nazi Germany.

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1942 – Lou Reed born. American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his solo career, which has spanned several decades.

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1991 – Serge Gainsbourg died. French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director.

Regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, he was renowned for his often provocative and scandalous releases, as well as his diverse artistic output, which embodied genres ranging from jazz, chanson, pop and yé-yé, to reggae, funk, rock, electronic and disco music – his extremely varied musical style and individuality make him difficult to categorize.

His legacy has been firmly established, and he is often regarded as one of the world’s most influential popular musicians.

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Almanac – January 19

1809 – Edgar Allan Poe born. American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement.

Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre, and is also credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction.

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1915 – World War I: German zeppelins bomb the towns of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn,  killing more than 20, in the first major aerial bombardment of a civilian target.

Over the course of World War I, the Zeppelins were mainly used in reconnaissance missions for the Navy. Bombing missions, especially those targeting London, captured the public’s imagination, but, in the end, proved to have only psychological value, and were not a military success.

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1943 – Janis Joplin born. American singer-songwriter. Joplin first rose to prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist with her more soulful and bluesy backing groups, The Kozmic Blues Band and The Full Tilt Boogie Band.

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1946 – Dolly Parton born. American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, and philanthropist, best known for her work in country music. She is one of the most successful female country artists of all time, indeed,  with an estimated 100 million in album sales, she is also one of the best selling artists of all time in any genre.

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1983 – Ham the Chimp died. Also known as Ham the Astrochimp, he was the first chimpanzee launched into outer space in the American space program. Ham’s name is an acronym for the lab that prepared him for his historic mission — the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center.

On January 31, 1961, Ham was secured in a Project Mercury mission labeled MR-2 and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a suborbital flight, and had his vital signs and tasks monitored using computers on Earth.The capsule suffered a partial loss of pressure during the flight, but Ham’s space suit prevented him from suffering any harm.

Ham’s lever-pushing performance in space was only a fraction of a second slower than on Earth, demonstrating that tasks could be performed in space.His capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was recovered by a rescue ship later that day,  suffering only a bruised nose. His flight was 16 minutes and 39 seconds long

After the flight, Ham lived for 17 years in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., then at the North Carolina Zoo before his death at the age of 26. His body was turned over to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for necropsy and it was decided that the AFIP would retain his skeleton for further study – his body was cleaned of soft tissue and. whatever remained, minus the skeleton, was buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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1986 – The first IBM PC computer virus was released into the wild. A boot sector virus dubbed (c)Brain, it was created by the Farooq Alvi Brothers in Lahore, Pakistan, reportedly to deter piracy of the software they had written.

When the brothers began to receive a large number of phone calls from people in United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere, demanding that they disinfect their machines, they were stunned and tried to explain to the outraged callers that their motivation had not been malicious. The brothers with another brother Shahid Farooq Alvi are still in business in Pakistan as Brain NET Internet service providers with a company called Brain Telecommunication Limited.

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2006 – Wilson Pickett died.  American R&B/Soul singer and songwriter, and a major figure in the development of American soul music. Pickett recorded over 50 songs which made the US R&B charts, and frequently crossed over to the US Billboard Hot 100. Among his best known hits are “In the Midnight Hour” (which he co-wrote), “Land of 1,000 Dances”, “Mustang Sally”, and “Funky Broadway”.

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