On this day in 1527

On this day (August 3) in 1527, the first English-language letter known to be sent from North America was dispatched by John Rut while at St. John’s, Newfoundland.

[This] third day of August we entered into a good harbour called St. John and there we found Eleuen Saile of Normans and one Brittaine and two Portugal barks all a fishing and so we are ready to depart towards Cap de Bras that is 25 leagues as shortly as we have fished and so along the Coast until we may meete with our fellowe

”Literature…allows us to recall from oblivion all that which the contemporary eye, more immoral every day, endeavors to pass over with absolute indifference.”

Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartelby & Co.

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong. But he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.”

  • Hugh of Saint-Victor

Oblomovism (n) - The inability to bring oneself to act; apathy; indolent, lazy inertia. After the main character in an 1859 book by the same name (Oblomov, by Ivan Gocharov).

agnotology (n) - the study of deliberate, culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, typically to sell a product or win favour, particularly through the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

“True literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics.”

  • Yevgeny Zamyatin, in a 1921 essay titled “I Am Afraid” (via this article)

“Whenever I went someplace, I liked to present myself with such problems that gave me—someone who could find no particular reason to stay there otherwise—a reason to stay.”

Jung Young Moon, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River

Today I learned that Persian identity once transcended the boundaries of political empires, ethnicities, and religions. A glimpse of a road abandoned in favor simple nationality.

Aporetic (adj) - characterized by an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction.

“I think we have lost a very important science: ethics. People admire lying. They admire cheating. They admire a man being a millionaire. The things that are important, really important, are the books a man reads, his feelings, his actions, while opinions are not. They come and go. I’ve been a nationalist, I’ve been a communist, a quiet anarchist.”

Today I learned about mautâm, a cyclic ecological phenomenon occuring every ~50 years, when vast bamboo forests in northeastern India flower simultaneously, resulting in abundant seed, a boom in the rat population, then a famine when the rats run out of seeds and turn to crops.

Eccentricity as an Antidote to a World Gone Mad

While an honest assessment of the past might make us realize “the low likelihood of the present and the future turning out any differently…we still must care for one another as the tragedy unfolds.”

Enjoyed this review of The Counterforce, a book that seems right up my alley in proposing that “Pynchon can help us diagnose much of what’s wrong with our culture in general, and literary culture in particular” and suggesting the cultivation of “eccentricity as an antidote to a world gone mad.”

Cathexis (n) - investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea.

On this day in 1958, Ben Carlin became the first (and only) person to circumnavigate the Earth by amphibious vehicle, traveling 17,000 km by sea and 62,000 km by land. It took him ten years and seems to have been quite the odyssey, as could be expected.

Today I learned that euhemerism is an approach to the interpretation of mythology in which mythological accounts are presumed to have originated from real historical events or personages.

Today I learned that in the second century BCE, Eratosthenes developed an algorithm used to this day to find primes, drew perhaps the first ‘scientific’ map, and calculated the circumference of the Earth to within about 2%. His work was lost with the Great Library of Alexandria.

Sesquipedalian (adj) - Long and ponderous; polysyllabic. From the Latin sēsquipedālis, of a foot and a half in length.

Today’s amazing word is “gallimaufry” (n) - A jumble or hodgepodge.