The James Merrill Digital Archive Lets You Explore the Creative Life of a Great American Poet


The Oui­ja-inspired poet­ry of Pulitzer Prize-win­ning poet James Mer­rill (1926–1995) comes alive in a new­ly launched dig­i­tal archive from Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis. Vis­i­tors to the site can explore note­book after note­book bear­ing Merrill’s hand­writ­ten notes in all caps—col­or­ful tran­scripts from his “Thou­sand and One Evenings Spent/ With [part­ner] David Jack­son at the Oui­ja Board/ In Touch with Ephraim Our Famil­iar Spir­it.” Mer­rill, the son of Charles E. Mer­rill, cofounder of the Mer­rill Lynch invest­ment firm, was con­sid­ered one of the most sig­nif­i­cant Amer­i­can poets of his gen­er­a­tion.

The occult was cen­tral to all of Merrill’s lat­er work, includ­ing “The Book of Ephraim,” which is the cur­rent focus of the James Mer­rill Dig­i­tal Archive. Merrill’s com­plex and high­ly unusu­al cre­ative process is evi­dent in the mate­ri­als pre­sent­ed, all of them drawn from the exten­sive James Mer­rill Papers housed in the university’s Spe­cial Col­lec­tions.

In a descrip­tion on the site, project col­lab­o­ra­tor and grad­u­ate stu­dent Annelise Duer­den (pic­tured at cen­ter below) points out that “the open­ing to ‘The Book of Ephraim’ clam­ors for a medi­um ‘that would reach / The widest pub­lic in the short­est time,’ and we hope that dig­i­tal archiv­ing can pro­vide such an entrance to Merrill’s work, and to the rich­ness of the process behind his fin­ished poem.”


Duer­den, her­self an active poet, says she was impressed by Merrill’s “imag­i­na­tive force” and “relent­less ener­gy for revi­sion” while help­ing build the archive this past sum­mer along with staff from Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries and the Human­i­ties Dig­i­tal Work­shop.

“Mer­rill orig­i­nal­ly imag­ined con­struct­ing his sto­ry of Ephraim in the form of a nov­el,” she says. “He planned to write it for some time, began work on it, then lost the pages in a taxi, and gave up on the idea of the nov­el of Ephraim, instead writ­ing it in poet­ic form. In a Oui­ja ses­sion, Ephraim lat­er claimed cred­it for los­ing the nov­el.”

“The Book of Ephraim” was first pub­lished in Merrill’s book Divine Come­dies in 1976 and lat­er as the first install­ment of his apoc­a­lyp­tic epic The Chang­ing Light at San­dover, one of the longest poems in any lan­guage and fea­tur­ing voic­es rang­ing from the then-recent­ly deceased poet W. H. Auden to the Archangel Michael.

Evie Hemphill (@evhemphill) is a writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er for Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries in St. Louis.

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Virginia Woolf on James Joyce’s Ulysses, “Never Did Any Book So Bore Me.” Shen Then Quit at Page 200

woolf joyce

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Goodreads, that social net­work for the book­ish, recent­ly post­ed on its blog the results of a sur­vey tak­en among its 20 mil­lion mem­bers with the melan­choly title “The Psy­chol­o­gy of Aban­don­ment.” Com­plete with info­graph­ic, the sur­vey gives us, among oth­er things, a list of the “Top Five Aban­doned Clas­sics.” James Joyce’s Ulysses is third on the list, and I’m not at all sur­prised to find it there. One must know Ulysses, it seems, to mer­it con­sid­er­a­tion as a cul­tur­al­ly lit­er­ate per­son. But Ulysses, per­haps more than any work of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture, can eas­i­ly dis­cour­age. It presents us with a land­scape so psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex, so dense with lit­er­ary and his­tor­i­cal allu­sion and con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al ref­er­ence, that I can­not say I would have known what to do with it had I not read it under the aus­pices of an august Irish Joyce schol­ar and with Don Gifford’s guide­book Ulysses Anno­tat­ed ready at hand. I had nowhere near the breadth and depth of read­ing Joyce seems to assume of his ide­al read­er. Few peo­ple do.

Two of Joyce’s con­tem­po­raries, how­ev­er, had such a grasp of lit­er­a­ture and lan­guage: T.S. Eliot and Vir­ginia Woolf. And the two had quite a lot to say about the book, much of it to each oth­er. Eliot rec­om­mend­ed Joyce’s nov­el to Woolf, and very soon after its 1922 pub­li­ca­tion, she pur­chased her own copy. At the time, Woolf was hard at work on her sto­ry “Mrs. Dal­loway on Bond Street,” which would even­tu­al­ly grow into her next nov­el, Mrs. Dal­loway. She was also immersed in Proust’s epic Remem­brance of Things Past, just begin­ning the sec­ond vol­ume. Accord­ing to Dartmouth’s James Hef­fer­nan, Woolf “chafes at the thought of Ulysses,” writ­ing haugh­ti­ly:

Oh what a bore about Joyce! Just as I was devot­ing myself to Proust—Now I must put aside Proust—and what I sus­pect is that Joyce is one of those unde­liv­ered genius­es, whom one can’t neglect, or silence their groans, but must help them out, at con­sid­er­able pains to one­self.

Hef­fer­nan chron­i­cles Woolf’s read­ing of Ulysses, which she doc­u­ment­ed in her diary in a “with­er­ing assess­ment” as the work of “a self-taught work­ing man… ego­tis­tic, insis­tent, raw, strik­ing, & ulti­mate­ly nau­se­at­ing.” “When one can have cooked flesh,” she writes, “why have the raw?”

This pri­vate crit­i­cal opin­ion Woolf record­ed after read­ing only 200 pages of the nov­el. Hef­fer­nan makes the case that she read no more there­after. Though she claimed to have “fin­ished Ulysses,” he takes her to mean she had fin­ished with the book, putting it aside like those bewil­dered, bored, or exas­per­at­ed Goodreads mem­bers. Nev­er­the­less, Woolf could not shake Joyce. She con­tin­ued to write about him, to Eliot and her­self. “Nev­er did any book so bore me,” she would write, and many more very dis­parag­ing remarks about her bril­liant con­tem­po­rary.

Over and again she sav­aged Joyce in her diaries; so much so that it seems to Hef­fer­nan and Woolf schol­ar Suzette Henke that hers is a case of protest­ing too much against an author whom, Henke alleges, was her “artis­tic ‘dou­ble,’ a male ally in the mod­ernist bat­tle for psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism.” This may indeed be so. In the midst of her char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of Joyce as uncouth, bor­ing, “under­bred” and worse, she admits in her diary that what she attempt­ed in her fic­tion was “prob­a­bly being bet­ter done by Mr. Joyce.” While hard­ly any read­er of Ulysses—among those who fin­ish it and those who don’t—can say they are attempt­ing some­thing near what he accom­plished, we might all find some solace in know­ing that a read­er as sharp as Vir­ginia Woolf found his mod­ernist mas­ter­piece either so bor­ing or so intim­i­dat­ing that even she may not have been able to fin­ish it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

On Blooms­day, Hear James Joyce Read From his Epic Ulysses, 1924

Read Ulysses Seen, A Graph­ic Nov­el Adap­ta­tion of James Joyce’s Clas­sic

Watch Pat­ti Smith Read from Vir­ginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Sur­viv­ing Record­ing of Woolf’s Voice

James Joyce’s Ulysses: Down­load the Free Audio Book (also find in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

Do we have a more ener­getic com­men­ta­tor on pop­u­lar cul­ture than Slavoj Žižek, the Sloven­ian phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor who has risen to the role the Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion calls “the Elvis of cul­tur­al the­o­ry”? In the 2006 essay film The Per­vert’s Guide to Cin­e­ma, Žižek offered psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic read­ings of such pic­tures as The Red ShoesAlien, and The Matrix. (See him take on Ver­ti­go in a clip fea­tured here before.) Now he returns with a sequel, The Per­vert’s Guide to Ide­ol­o­gy. At the top, you can see him expound upon the role of ide­ol­o­gy in They Live, John Car­pen­ter’s 1988 sci­ence-fic­tion semi-com­e­dy in which wrestler “Row­dy” Rod­dy Piper hap­pens upon a pair of sun­glass­es that, when worn, reveal a host of sin­is­ter alien com­mand­ments behind adver­tis­ing and the media. “These glass­es func­tion like cri­tique-of-ide­ol­o­gy glass­es,” Žižek asserts.“We live, so we are told, in a post-ide­o­log­i­cal soci­ety. We are addressed by social author­i­ty not as sub­jects who should do their duty, but sub­jects of plea­sures: ‘Real­ize your true poten­tial,’ ‘Be your­self,’ ‘Lead a sat­is­fy­ing life.’ When you put the glass­es on, you see dic­ta­tor­ship in democ­ra­cy.”

Just above, Žižek looks into the ide­ol­o­gy of The Dark Knight, Christo­pher Nolan’s sec­ond Bat­man movie. “Who is Jok­er?” he asks. “Which is the lie he is oppos­ing? The tru­ly dis­turb­ing thing about The Dark Knight is that it ele­vates a lie into a gen­er­al social prin­ci­ple: the prin­ci­ple of orga­ni­za­tion of our social, polit­i­cal life, as if our soci­eties can remain sta­ble, can func­tion, only if based on a lie, as if the truth — and this telling the truth is embod­ied in Jok­er — means destruc­tion.” Last year at the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film fes­ti­val, Žižek par­tic­i­pat­ed in an on-stage con­ver­sa­tion about the project (intro­duc­tion, part one, two), “explain­ing” in his inim­itably round­about fash­ion some of the think­ing behind these cin­e­mat­ic cul­tur­al analy­ses. The Per­vert’s Guide to Ide­ol­o­gy also uses oth­er big-name movies like Taxi Dri­ver, Titan­icWest Side Sto­ry (and Jaws, some of which you can see him com­ment briefly upon in the trail­er) as jump­ing off points for extend­ed mono­logues on the unseen forces that he finds shape our beliefs and behav­ior. Unseen, of course, unless you’ve got those super­pow­ered sun­glass­es — or unless, even more uncon­ven­tion­al­ly, you’ve got a mind like Slavoj Žižek’s.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Žižek!: 2005 Doc­u­men­tary Reveals the “Aca­d­e­m­ic Rock Star” and “Mon­ster” of a Man

Good Cap­i­tal­ist Kar­ma: Zizek Ani­mat­ed

Slavoj Žižek: How the Marx Broth­ers Embody Freud’s Id, Ego & Super-Ego

A Shirt­less Slavoj Žižek Explains the Pur­pose of Phi­los­o­phy from the Com­fort of His Bed

After a Tour of Slavoj Žižek’s Pad, You’ll Nev­er See Inte­ri­or Design in the Same Way

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les PrimerFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

The Complete Wizard of Oz Series, Available as Free eBooks and Free Audio Books

wizard of oz original cover

The clas­sic Wiz­ard of Oz series was writ­ten by L. Frank Baum between 1900 and 1920. There are 14 vol­umes in total, start­ing with the most well-known book, The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz. Below we’ve gath­ered every vol­ume in the series, in both text and audio for­mats. If you have ques­tions about how to load files onto your Kin­dle, please see this instruc­tion­al video. You can find ear­ly film adap­ta­tions of The Wiz­ard of Oz in our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online. Plus else­where on our site we have the com­plete Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia (in audio) by CS Lewis, anoth­er endur­ing chil­dren’s clas­sic.

The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz  — Vol­ume 1

Note: If you want to read online a first edi­tion copy of The Won­der­ful Wiz­ard of Oz, you can do so thanks to The Library of Con­gress. Click here: Page Turn­er -PDF

The Mar­velous Land of Oz – Vol­ume 2

Ozma of Oz — Vol­ume 3

Dorothy and the Wiz­ard of Oz -- Vol­ume 4

The Road to Oz — Vol­ume 5

The Emer­ald City of Oz — Vol­ume 6

The Patch­work Girl of Oz -- Vol­ume 7

Tik Tok of Oz – Vol­ume 8

The Scare­crow of Oz -- Vol­ume 9

Rinkitink in Oz — Vol­ume 10

The Lost Princess of Oz — Vol­ume 11

 The Tin Wood­man of Oz — Vol 12

The Mag­ic of Oz — Vol 13

Glin­da of Oz — Vol 14

All of the texts list­ed above appear in our col­lec­tions: 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free and 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Ear­li­est Sur­viv­ing Filmed Ver­sion of The Wiz­ard of Oz (1910)

Dark Side of the Rain­bow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wiz­ard of Oz in One of the Ear­li­est Mash-Ups

Hear All of C.S. Lewis’ Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia Nov­els as Free Audio Books

The Anti-Slav­ery Alpha­bet: 1846 Book Teach­es Kids the ABCs of Slavery’s Evils

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Free Audio: 46 Minute Reading from Dave Eggers’ New Novel, The Circle


Dave Eggers, author of A Heart­break­ing Work of Stag­ger­ing Genius, has a new book com­ing out in ear­ly Octo­ber, The Cir­clea nov­el about “a young woman who goes to work at an omnipo­tent tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny and gets sucked into a cor­po­rate cul­ture that knows no dis­tinc­tion between work and life, pub­lic and pri­vate.” Break­ing with tra­di­tion, The New York Times has placed the nov­el­’s cov­er on the cov­er of its own Sun­day Mag­a­zine. It has also print­ed a lengthy excerpt from the book. Read it online here, or lis­ten right below (or on iTunes) to a read­ing of the excerpt by actor Don Gra­ham. It runs 46 min­utes.

The Stunt That Got Elvis Costello Banned From Saturday Night Live (1977)

One of the defin­ing moments in Elvis Costel­lo’s career hap­pened on Decem­ber 17, 1977, when he appeared on Sat­ur­day Night Live. Costel­lo was 23 years old. His debut album, My Aim Is True, had just come out in Amer­i­ca a month ear­li­er. When the Sex Pis­tols were unable to appear on the show as planned (see their last live con­cert here), Costel­lo and his recent­ly formed band, the Attrac­tions, got their big break.

They were sup­posed to play his sin­gle “Less Than Zero,” a catchy tune about a loath­some politi­cian in Eng­land. But only a few bars into the song, Costel­lo put a stop to it. “I’m sor­ry, ladies and gen­tle­men,” he said, “but there’s no rea­son to do this song here.”

At that point he and the band launched into “Radio Radio,” a song that takes a jab at cor­po­rate-con­trolled broad­cast­ing. Sat­ur­day Night Live pro­duc­er Lorne Michaels was furi­ous. Accord­ing to some reports, he raised his mid­dle fin­ger at Costel­lo and kept it up until the unap­proved song was over. Costel­lo was banned from the show for near­ly 12 years. You can learn more about the inci­dent by watch­ing this video from the Dai­ly Guru:

The rift between Costel­lo and Michaels even­tu­al­ly healed, and Costel­lo was invit­ed to appear again on Sat­ur­day Night Live in the spring of 1989. Ten years after that, on SNL’s 25th anniver­sary show, Costel­lo went on the show again and par­o­died his noto­ri­ous 1977 appear­ance by burst­ing onstage while the Beast­ie Boys were play­ing “Sab­o­tage” and order­ing them to stop. He and the Boys then launched into a rau­cous ver­sion of “Radio Radio”:

In an inter­view this month with Details mag­a­zine, Costel­lo talks a lit­tle about the 1977 inci­dent. “They’ve run that clip for­ev­er,” he says, “and every time any­body does any­thing out­ra­geous on that show, I get name-checked. But I was copy­ing Jimi Hen­drix. Hen­drix had done the same thing on the Lulu Show, when he went into an unsched­uled num­ber. I remem­ber see­ing it and going, ‘What the hel­l’s going on?’ ” To see for your­self what Costel­lo is talk­ing about, vis­it our post, Jimi Hen­drix Wreaks Hav­oc on the Lulu Show, Gets Banned From BBC.

Also see: 5 Musi­cal Guests Banned From Sat­ur­day Night Live: From Sinead O’Con­nor to Frank Zap­pa

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Night John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on Sat­ur­day Night Live, And They Got Banned from the Show

Elvis Costel­lo Sings “Pen­ny Lane” for Sir Paul McCart­ney

William S. Bur­roughs on Sat­ur­day Night Live, 1981

Watch Janis Joplin’s Final Interview Get Reborn as an Animated Cartoon

Four days before her death, Janis Joplin spoke with Howard Smith of the Vil­lage Voice in what was to be her last inter­view.

Their con­ver­sa­tion has been res­ur­rect­ed as a four minute ani­ma­tion for PBS Dig­i­tal Stu­dios’ Blank on Blank series. The car­toon Janis bears a close resem­blance to Glo­ria Steinem, an uncom­fort­able fit once the top­ic turns from her sad­ness at crit­i­cal rejec­tion to the sis­ter­hood’s alleged with­hold­ing of affec­tion.

Smith hits his sub­ject with some lead­ing ques­tions that smack of the myr­i­ad ways Wom­en’s Lib was dis­tort­ed by even the lib­er­al media of the time: “It seems to both­er a lot of Wom­en’s Lib peo­ple that you’re so upfront sex­u­al­ly,” he mus­es.

No need to take that one at any­thing less than face val­ue…

Joplin allowed her­self to be led, toss­ing off sev­er­al state­ments that ani­ma­tor Patrick Smith faith­ful­ly illus­trates. (In my opin­ion the wound­ed female drum­mers rock far more than preg­nan­cy and vac­u­ums, his short­hand for “set­tling.” )

When lat­er, Joplin timid­ly asks if “all that $#*% I said about chicks” sound­ed bad, Smith reas­sures her that no, she said what she want­ed to say. Per­haps he got what he want­ed her to say.

As com­menter hey­itsmoi observed on YouTube, “It’s always both­ered me when peo­ple ask suc­cess­ful women to com­ment on how some oth­er women don’t like them. I’ve yet to hear a suc­cess­ful man to be asked why oth­er men don’t like him, even though there’s sure to be plen­ty. Women seem to con­stant­ly be put in this defen­sive posi­tion where they can’t answer the ques­tion with­out mak­ing it sound like all women are jeal­ous beasts who can’t han­dle that some woman made it, and that’s sim­ply not true.”

If you’re left feel­ing vague­ly queasy, I sug­gest “Stilet­to Pow­er,” Blank on Blank’s take on Lar­ry Gro­bel’s 1994 inter­view with Far­rah Faw­cett. Gro­bel’s approach seemed to have been one of turn on the tape recorder and then get out of the way. Mis­sion accom­plished. The result­ing mono­logue is as fero­cious as it is fun­ny.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ani­ma­tions Revive Lost Inter­views with David Fos­ter Wal­lace, Jim Mor­ri­son & Dave Brubeck

Remem­ber­ing Janis Joplin: Some Clas­sic Live Per­for­mances and Pre­views of a New Joplin Musi­cal

‘Beast­ie Boys on Being Stu­pid’: An Ani­mat­ed Inter­view From 1985

Ayun Hal­l­i­day has fond feel­ings for both of the women fea­tured in the above arti­cle . Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Hergé Draws Tintin in Vintage Footage (and What Explains the Character’s Enduring Appeal)

“Tintin addicts are a mixed bunch,” writes New York­er crit­ic Antho­ny Lane, pro­fil­ing the beloved plus fours-clad, quiff-topped adven­tur­er and there­by reveal­ing him­self as one of the afflict­ed. “Steven Spiel­berg and Peter Jack­son [have] a three-pic­ture deal to bring Tintin to the big screen. I once heard Hugh Grant declare on a radio pro­gram that if he could take only one book to a desert island it would be King Ottokar’s Scep­tre (1939). [ … ] Gen­er­al de Gaulle declared that Tintin was his only inter­na­tion­al rival — he was envi­ous, per­haps, not just of Tintin’s fame but of the defi­ant­ly pos­i­tive atti­tude that he came to rep­re­sent.” Despite com­ing from Amer­i­ca, one of the few coun­tries nev­er to have tak­en whole­heart­ed­ly to the char­ac­ter, I too have read and re-read the 23 full-length com­ic books (or as we call them nowa­days, graph­ic nov­els) in which he stars, and I too envy his qual­i­ties, espe­cial­ly the use­ful amor­phous­ness of his iden­ti­ty: nei­ther man nor boy; nei­ther tra­di­tion­al nor mod­ern; pre­sum­ably Bel­gian, though for prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es state­less and apo­lit­i­cal; osten­si­bly a reporter, but no appar­ent need ever to file a sto­ry.

The late Har­ry Thomp­son sure­ly ranks as a top Tintin addict. A radio and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­er, com­e­dy writer, nov­el­ist, and cre­ator of Have I Got News for You, he also great­ly advanced the wide­spread avo­ca­tion of Eng­lish-lan­guage Tinti­nol­o­gy with his book Tintin: Hergé and his Cre­ation, pub­lished in 1991. Three years lat­er, he would star in this episode of Lon­don Week­end Tele­vi­sion’s doc­u­men­tary series Open­ing Shot on Tintin and his cre­ator (part one at the top, click for two and three). His analy­sis swift­ly assures any adult read­er just how and why they should go about pick­ing up and appre­ci­at­ing the tru­ly painstak­ing crafts­man­ship of these comics they so rel­ished in their youth. The broad­cast also fea­tures com­men­tary from Tintin’s Eng­lish trans­la­tors and, through archival footage, from Georges “Hergé” Remi him­self (seen draw­ing Tintin just above, and his com­pan­ion Cap­tain Had­dock below). Final­ly, we hear from more typ­i­cal Tintin read­ers in man-on-the-street inter­views — or rather, pre­co­cious-British-child-in-the-book­store inter­views: “My favorite char­ac­ter is Snowy, because he says real­ly rude things.” “My favorite book is Tintin in Amer­i­ca, because I like red Indi­ans.” How many of these kids, near­ly two decades on, can have resist­ed the siren song of Tinti­nol­o­gy them­selves?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Inscrutable Imag­i­na­tion of the Late Com­ic Artist Mœbius

Vis­it the World of Lit­tle Nemo Artist Win­sor McCay: Three Clas­sic Ani­ma­tions and a Google Doo­dle

The Con­fes­sions of Robert Crumb: A Por­trait Script­ed by the Under­ground Comics Leg­end Him­self (1987)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les PrimerFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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