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26 AUGUST, 2011

Illustrated Three-Line Novels by the One-Man Twitter of 1906 France

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What an early 20th-century Parisian dandy had to do with political theater and the rise of micro-nonfiction.

We’ve previously shown that the literati of yore had their own Facebook, and it turns out they had their Twitter, too. Artist, anarchist and literary entrepreneur Félix Fénéon was the one-man Twitter of early 20th-century France. Between May and November of 1906, he wrote 1,220 succinct and near-surrealist three-line reports in the Paris newspaper Le Matin, serving to inform of everything from notable deaths to petty theft to naval expedition disasters. In Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon, artist Joanna Neborsky captures the best of these enigmatic vignettes in stunning illustrations and collages, inspired by Luc Sante’s English translation of Fénéon’s gems for the New York Review of Books. Sometimes profound, often perplexing, and always prepossessing, these visual snapshots of historical micro-narratives offer a bizarre and beautiful glimpse of a long-gone French era and a man of rare creative genius.

Félix Fénéon was a dandy, a literary bricoleur, and a terrorist, maybe. Biographers dispute his guilt in the 1894 bombing of a restaurant in Paris. As the journalist himself might later have written, ‘A flowerpot left on a windowsill exploded in the Rue de Conde. In the Restaurant Foyot, appetites and the eye of Laurent Tailhad, 40, were lost.’ Fénéon, then a clerk in the government’s War Office, was arrested and tried int he sensational Trial of the Thirty, a piece of political theater aimed at exposing the anarchist underground. After he was acquitted (evidence was flimsy, the prosecution, inept), two policemen followed Fénéon for the next two decades. But how do you shadow a shadow? In life and work, the wraithlike Fénéon — his lean face darkened by a top hat and limned by a goatee that friends said gave him the look of Uncle Sam, or Mephistopheles — preferred to disappear. His love was art, and his subject, the genius of others.”

Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon comes from indie powerhouse Mark Batty Publisher, who have previously delighted us with explorations of everything from how sounds became letters to why typography might be the key to cross-cultural understanding to what the ecology of Antarctica has to do with remix culture and many, many more treats.

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26 AUGUST, 2011

Video Portraits of Resilience from Sri Lanka

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Three beautiful short films about ingenuity in the face of scarcity and hardship.

In the 1990s, the Sri Lankan government’s embargoes on fuel, medicines and food items in the north and east of Sri Lanka in an effort to frustrate the operations of a potent separatist militant group known as the Tamil Tigers reached their peak. In the face of dearth and hardship, the locals resorted to increasingly inventive ways of making do. From narrative multimedia journalist Kannan Arunasalam comes a beautiful and poignant series of video portraits of resilience, expression and survival, capturing the stories of the people of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and their remarkable ingenuity — a taxi drivers taking the sick to the hospital with no fuel, a lepers community persevering despite despair and isolation, a newspaper publishing without newsprint.

Watch all three of the terrific films below:

Paper brings to mind the world’s last 3 hand-written newspapers.

The project was supported by Sri Lankan citizen journalism platform GroundViews and captures the sort of next-gen storytelling we’ve previously seen News21 aspire to.

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26 AUGUST, 2011

The Ghost Map: Hard Lessons in Epidemiology from Victorian London

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What an ill Victorian infant has to do with the power of maps and the future of modern cities.

At around 6AM on the morning of August 28, 1854, the Lewis infant started vomiting and excreting greenish stools with a pungent smell. Her mother gathered the soils in a bucket of tepid water and tossed them into the cesspool in the family cellar. So began the story of London’s most horrific epidemic, the Broad Street cholera outbreak. In The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson, easily my favorite nonfiction writer working today, unleashes his signature cross-disciplinary thinking to explore the intricate interconnections between the spread of the disease, the rise of cities, the mysteries of medicine, and the very nature of scientific inquiry.

It’s the story of two men, Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead, who began to suspect the true cause of the outbreak and were eventually proven right by a rigorous, contested investigation. But Johnson’s genius is in his ability to translate the fascinating but seemingly irrelevant into a highly context of excruciating relevance, exploring what this story means for the liabilities and vulnerabilities of modern cities. (Cue in Monday’s omnibus of 7 essential books on cities)

This is a story with four protagonists: a deadly bacterium, a vast city, and two gifted but very different men. One dark week a hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of great terror and human suffering, their lives collided on London’s Broad Street, on the western edge of Soho.

This book is an attempt to tell the story in a way that does justice to the multiple scales of existence that helped bring it about: from the invisible kingdom of microscopic bacteria, to the tragedy and courage and camaraderie of individual lives, to the cultural realm of ideas and ideologies, all the way up to the sprawling metropolis of London itself. It’s the story of a map that lies at the intersection of all those different vectors, a map created to help make sense of an experience that defied human understanding.”

I’m a big believer in the power of maps as great sense-making mechanisms, so I find The Ghost Map deeply fascinating and an extraordinary feat of intelligence. It also makes me wonder how an epidemic of this scale would unfold today, at a time when evolved high-tech mapping tools like Ushahidi would not only glean better understanding of how the deadly wave is propagating but also track its progress in real-time and offer a powerful weapon in the arsenal of man’s epic battle against microbe.

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