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From Venice: A Literary Companion

It's an intensely charming book full of the kind of mostly true history that would sound unrealistic most everywhere else.

Here's a letter fragment from Byron, after retelling one of his anecdotes (and actually a tame one):

You need not be alarmed – jealousy is not the order of the day in Venice, and daggers are out of fashion; while duels, on love matters, are unknown — at least, with husbands.

I love those last four words.

By the way, you could teach an entire course or write a very nice book about modern literature just based on that little traveling group of freewheeling debauchery: Percy Shelley, the radical Romantic poet, Lord Byron, who sort of invented (a modern version of) the scandalously hedonistic and stunt-prone international superstar artist, John Polidori, who invented (not the original, but certainly) the modern vampire tale probably just because he was somewhat fed up with said superstar, and nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley, who just said you bunch of amateurs and wrote the seminal science fiction story we're still getting our heads around and kind of using as a to-do list.

There's nothing in this that I don't find both implausible and hilariously inspiring. It makes me feel like going to everybody who thinks literary history is about ponderous Hegelian dialectic developments and tell them "No, no, it was about sex-obsessed superstars, and sardonic doctors, and genius young women, and a volcano had cooled down the planet that year, and then there was this storm, you see. And then the superstar went to lead a guerrilla war and drowned, but that was later."

Seriously, at times I don't know why we bother with alternate history.

A depressing thought

Had Frankenstein created a good-looking creature, the novel would be vastly different. The creature wasn't alienated from humankind by his origin as much as by his aspect.

Boundaries of science my ass. Most applied ethics are in practice thinly disguised aesthetics. Therein lies a lesson for mad scientists everywhere.

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December 2015



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