Roots of the “Tree of Life”

Animation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Tree of Life by artist Daryl Alexsy.

Many in the “Martin House community” are well aware that the famed “Tree of Life” art glass design bears a popular name, one not given by Frank Lloyd Wright or Darwin D. Martin. The term first appears in print around 1968, coinciding with a major exhibition and sale of art glass from the Martin House complex through the Richard Feigen gallery, New York (1968-70). The Feigen gallery bought a number of pieces of Martin House art glass (including one or more “Tree of Life” windows) from John Crosby Freeman, then Curator of the nascent Maltwood Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, Victoria, BC. Freeman had the enviable task of assembling an “Arts and Crafts” collection for the Maltwood, and had obtained 21 pieces of Martin House art glass from a dealer who most likely acquired them from Darwin R. Martin.

As to the burning question of the origin of the “Tree of Life” term (alternately written “tree-of-life”), Freeman has stated that he thinks the Feigen gallery may have come up with the name as a marketing device – a way to boost sales of the Martin glass by applying an evocative, romantic name. We may never know exactly when the term was first applied, or by whom, but one thing is clear: it stuck. The “Tree of Life” window soon became one of the most iconic of Wright’s Prairie house art glass designs, and this “brand” has been sought by major collections of decorative and fine arts world-wide.

Wrestling With the Gods: A Private Conversation With Nick Nolte

In shooting the documentary ‘Nick Nolte: No Exit’ (available On Demand via Sundance Selects), director Tom Thurman concocted a rather existential ploy to bring out the burly, intimidating seventy-three year-old actor’s vulnerable side: he assigned Nolte to literally interview himself. Hopefully, this oddball tactic would uncover the true Nolte, who in the past notoriously relished in embellishment.


“I’m known for being a liar,” Nolte said. “I lied for a living and I lied in my interviews. It got boring after twenty years. People have said to me, after interviews, ‘I really wished you answered that motherfucker’s question!'”

To avoid that escapism, Thurman and Nolte, who became friends while filming Thurman’s ‘Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film,’ developed a series of deeply intimate questions, several of which would probably catch Nolte off guard if an actual journalist posed them. In one day, Thurman shot footage of Nolte as slick reporter, sheepishly grilling Nolte the actor; the very next day, he filmed a wearier-looking Nolte answering his own questions, sometimes wistfully, sometimes sarcastically. Nostalgic slides of Nolte in his salad days were projected at random onto a computer throughout the “interview,” further derailing him.
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In Search of Spirit

Tuomas Kyrö
Tuomas Kyrö

In this series, Finnish authors discuss the difficulties of their trade. Attempting to write a novel on the basis of his successful television series, Tuomas Kyrö – author of the extraordinary novelistic chronicle of the birth of capitalism Benjamin Kivi, which we featured in the old print version of Books from Finland and which you can read here – found himself lost for words. Liberation came with the realisation that, unlike in television, in books it is the writer, and the reader, who are in charge, and the only limits are those of the human imagination.

In May 2009, after a year of writing, I held in my hand the manuscript of a novel whose plot and characters were complete. There was a subject, theme and the occasional good passage, but something was badly wrong.

When I swapped roles, writer for reader, I realised that my text did not touch the skin, and certainly did not get under the skin. I had wanted do more than raise a smile; I had thought I was writing a book that would make its readers want to turn the page, I had wanted to provoke, to cause laughter and even perhaps tears. Now all that my text provoked in the reader – me – was embarrassment and boredom.

What was wrong?

English Medieval Texts and Studies


Drawn from Aelfric’s Old English Lives of the Saints, this is an edition of the lives of the little-known virgin spouses: Julian and Basilissa, Cecilia and Valerian, and Chrysanthus and Daria. As well as the Old English original texts, it provides the reader with modern English parallel-text translations. As a useful comparison, their closest Latin source texts are also reproduced – again with English parallel-text translations. As a leading churchman writing at the time of the Viking raids at the end of the first millennium, Aelfric wrote his Lives to bolster the faith of English Christians. These three stories of couples who marry but do not consummate their unions point to an ideal of marital celibacy in Aelfric’s programme of pastoral care. Taken together, the group provides an opportunity to emphasise different but related points about literal and figurative types of chastity and purity appropriate to the laity.

Jack the Ripper’s Letter from Hell

Originally posted on A R T L▼R K:

15 October 1888 – says the postmark on the letter received by George Lusk, the then head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The sender of the letter was allegedly the serial killer and bogeyman of Victorian London, Jack the Ripper. The cryptic message in the letter read as follows:

From hell

Mr Lusk


I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer.


Catch me when you Can Mishter Lusk.

The letter was accompanied by a small parcel wrapped in a brown paper. The parcel contained a human kidney, preserved in “spirits of wine” (Philip Sudgen, Complete History of Jack the Ripper). Mr. Lusk’s initial reaction to the letter was that of laughter…

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Feature – From “Good Warm Sad Blood Spilling Out in the Forest”

Heather Christle, Matthew Rohrer, Zachary  Schomburg, and Matthew Zapruder talk about surrealism.

MZ: Basing the “hardness” or “softness” of surrealism on whether or not it challenges “poet-reader relations” and the “power relations of writing,” is not only ahistorical but beside the point. It’s like saying, “I like grandma’s meatloaf better than your meatloaf because your meatloaf is too coercive.” Coerciveness may or may not be an important value in meatloaf-eater relations, but it’s not what grandma or you were thinking about when you were making your meatloaves. Likewise, you can say “poet-reader relations” and the “power relations of writing” are the most important things to think about in every act of writing—I mean, that’s an opinion you can, tragically, have—but it wasn’t what Breton or James Tate or anyone else under discussion was thinking about.

Hannah Gamble: When I first emailed the four of you about this interview, I indicated that I saw surrealism as part of your poetic lineage; much of your work employs surrealist staples such as dream logic, collage, collaboration, tragicomic approaches to human existence, and inventive syntax which tries to get at a usually-inaccessible kind of hyper-reality. How do you feel about your work being referred to as “surreal”?

Zachary Schomburg: I’ve noticed poets of my generation often feel a bit leery of labeling their work as “surreal,” and suspicious of others who call themselves surrealists. But maybe this is a larger contemporary issue of poetry labels in general—nobody is willing to strike a pose, in fear of becoming a poser. I do feel proud when my poems are called surreal, because I think that adjective is not far off. French Surrealism is something I studied extensively at the University of Nebraska, and it became integral to my writing. What the original Surrealists were doing is something I, too, am trying to do, so I feel I am a part of that lineage. I’m certainly influenced more by them (and the Russian Absurdists perhaps) than by any other poetics. However, that label is far too simple. The process through which I write is entirely different from Breton’s (or what Breton may claim), as are my politics, my philosophies, etc.

Besides, the word “surreal” has—in our broader, non-poetry lexicon—come to mean something much simpler: strange, unreal, weird. I’ve read too many poems that are labeled surreal only because they are not obviously confessional or sincere. I’d hate for the word to become a catch-all, one that has no recollection of Breton. In other words, if we’re going to label something surreal now, those poems should probably resemble each other in some tangible way, or they should perhaps resemble the French Surrealists’ poems in some tangible way. There should probably be a new word for it, and a new manifesto, and maybe this conversation can spark something like that.
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The automaton that hooked Napoleon

Based on a true story, The Mechanical Turk is the breathtaking historical adventure of a legendary invention that astounded all who crossed its path.


The Turk was touted as an early robot that could play chess at the highest level. Built in Vienna in 1770 by the inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen, the machine consisted of a large pedestal, housing intricate machinery on top of which stood a chessboard. To this box was attached the upper half of a men dressed in oriental robes and a turban. Each performance began with an elaborate introduction to convince the audience that the Turk is really a machine. The automaton would then face a challenger. One person who did his best to find out how the Turk worked was Napoleon, who played the machine three times in Vienna in 1809. On the first encounter the Turk easily defeated him in 19 moves.

The Turk first dazzled the court of the empress Maria Theresa in Vienna. The machine moved its own pieces, and would instantly recognize illegal moves by its opponent. It offered a surprisingly good game of chess! The automaton soon became a sensation, toured Europe and North America, and was matched against some of the best chess players of the time. It lost some games, but won surprisingly many.

The story links an unlikely cast of historical characters, from Napoleon, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin and Poe to the pioneers of the computer age, and provides an accessible way of examining the complex relationship between magic, man, mind and machine…

Or so it says here.

Xuanzang and the Sacred Books of China


Journey to the West is a Chinese novel published in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty and attributed to Wu Cheng’en. It is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. The book tells the story of the fourteen-year pilgrimage of the monk Xuanzang, one of China’s most famous religious heroes, and his three supernatural disciples, in search of Buddhist scriptures. Throughout his journey, Xuanzang fights demons who wish to eat him, communes with spirits, and traverses a land riddled with a multitude of obstacles, both real and fantastical. An adventure rich with danger and excitement, this seminal work of the Chinese literary canonis by turns allegory, satire, and fantasy.

The textual history of ‘The Journey to the West’ is relatively simple. The standard modern version in four volumes, publisehd by The University of Chicago Press and translated by Anthony C. Yu, is substantially the same as what is thought to be the first edition, in 100 chapters, published (the author was anonymous) at Nanjing in 1592.

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Twin Cities Book Festival Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Twin Cities Book Festival—brought to you by Rain Taxi—is not only the largest and most important literary gathering in the Upper Midwest, it is the annual get-together for the Twin Cities’ devoted literary community.

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