Sunday, September 15, 2013
More than putting another man on the moon,
More than a New Year’s resolution of yogurt and yoga,
we need the opportunity to dance
with really exquisite strangers. A slow dance
between the couch and dining room table, at the end
of the party, while the person we love has gone
to bring the car around
because it’s begun to rain and would break their heart
if any part of us got wet. A slow dance
to bring the evening home. Two people
rocking back and forth like a buoy. Nothing extravagant.
A little music. An empty bottle of whiskey.
It’s a little like cheating. Your head resting
on his shoulder, your breath moving up his neck.
Your hands along her spine. Her hips
unfolding like a cotton napkin
and you begin to think about
how all the stars in the sky are dead. The my body
is talking to your body slow dance. The Unchained Melody,
Stairway to Heaven, power-chord slow dance. All my life
I’ve made mistakes. Small
and cruel. I made my plans.
I never arrived. I ate my food. I drank my wine.
The slow dance doesn’t care. It’s all kindness like children
before they turn three. Like being held in the arms
of my brother. The slow dance of siblings.
Two men in the middle of the room. When I dance with him,
one of my great loves, he is absolutely human,
and when he turns to dip me
or I step on his foot because we are both leading,
I know that one of us will die first and the other will suffer.
The slow dance of what’s to come
and the slow dance of insomnia
pouring across the floor like bath water.
When the woman I’m sleeping with
stands naked in the bathroom,
brushing her teeth, the slow dance of ritual is being spit
into the sink. There is no one to save us
because there is no need to be saved.
I’ve hurt you. I’ve loved you. I’ve mowed
the front yard. When the stranger wearing a sheer white dress
covered in a million beads
slinks toward me like an over-sexed chandelier suddenly come to life,
I take her hand in mine. I spin her out
and bring her in. This is the almond grove
in the dark slow dance.
It is what we should be doing right now. Scraping
for joy. The haiku and honey. The orange and orangutan slow dance.
by Matthew Dickman
from American Poetry Review
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Lee Konstantinou in the LA Review of Books:
IN 2004, The New York Times reported on the effort of the borough of Queens to find a replacement for Hal Sirowitz, its departing poet laureate, “one of those rare New York writers who is willing — eager, in fact — to identify himself with the borough.” The qualifications for the position were simple: “The winner must be someone who has lived in Queens for at least five years and has written, in English, ‘poetry inspired by the borough.’” But finding someone who met both criteria proved more difficult than expected. Compared to other boroughs — especially Manhattan and Brooklyn — theTimes concluded that “[t]he muse has been less kind to Queens.” Submissions ranged from poems celebrating the fact that the city’s two airports were housed in the borough to odes to those felled on Queens Boulevard, America’s premiere Boulevard of Death.
With Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem — now, inconveniently for official purposes, a resident of California — makes a belated bid for the job of the borough’s poet laureate. Lethem’s longstanding willingness to traverse borders, whether of culture, race, or genre, carries him away from his beloved Brooklyn into what his narrator calls “that impossible homeland of steaming stacks and tombstones.” Dissident Gardens suggests that if you can overcome what Lethem calls “Boroughphobia,” you might find in Queens the makings of something like Utopia, a word often hard for American tongues to pronounce without irony.
An assured, expert literary performance by one of our most important writers, Dissident Gardens is a largely plotless, multigenerational novel about the network of characters surrounding Rose Zimmer, a member of the American Communist Party whose husband leaves her, and who must raise their daughter Miriam alone. After being expelled from the Party in 1955 for having an affair with a married black policeman, Douglas Lookins, Rose becomes the “Red Queen” of Sunnyside Gardens, Queens, a community of garden homes built around a common courtyard. Rose is at the center ofDissident Gardens; around her, in the thrall of her tremendous gravity, orbit a variety of other characters.
Philip Kitcher in The NYT's The Stone:
Thomas Nagel, one of the world’s most eminent philosophers, is especially noted for his ability to write about the most difficult questions with subtlety and clarity. His recent book, “Mind and Cosmos,” has sparked lively discussion, as he observed recently in his précis of the book’s main argument in The Stone. He has found new – not always welcome – allies (“Nagel has paved the way for a religious world-view!”), and some long-time admirers have denounced his claims and arguments (“Nagel has paved the way for religious mumbo-jumbo!”). But the link with religion is a sideshow. Nagel’s main concern lies with the requirements of a complete metaphysical view.
J. L. Austin is reputed to have remarked that, when philosophy is done well, all the action is over by the bottom of the first page. Nagel does philosophy very well. Once he has set up the framework within which the possible positions will be placed, his arguments are not easy to resist. In my view, though, the framework itself is faulty.
In his Queries to the “Opticks,” Newton looked forward to a vision of the cosmos in which everything would be explained on the basis of a small number of physical principles. That Newtonian vision remains highly popular with many scientists who turn philosophical in their later years and announce their dreams of a final theory. Yet, since the 19th century — since Darwin, in fact — that has not been a convincing picture of how the sciences make their advances. Darwin did not supply a major set of new principles that could be used to derive general conclusions about life and its history: he crafted a framework within which his successors construct models of quite specific evolutionary phenomena. Model-building lies at the heart of large parts of the sciences, including parts of physics. There are no grand theories, but lots of bits and pieces, generating local insights about phenomena of special interest. In the revealing terms that Nancy Cartwright has borrowed from Gerard Manley Hopkins, we live in a “dappled world.”
Melanie Tannenbaum in the Scientific American blog in PsySociety:
Although it is often called the “holiest day of the Jewish year,” what is notable about Yom Kippur is not the fact that it is particularly holy, nor is it the fact that many Jews you know might be particularlyhungry today. Yom Kippur is notable because it is really all about the unequivocal importance of one thing — atonement. We sit in our religious services all day, reflecting on the need to atone for our sins. However, it is stressed that we cannot just do this by showing up to services and praying. We must also directly ask for forgiveness from those that we have wronged in the past year; and, in turn, we must be willing to grant forgiveness to those whom we believe have wronged us.
This past week has been a particularly challenging one for me, a fact that is only made more salient by my recent reflection on Yom Kippur. This was a week filled with a lot of stress – a major disagreement with friends (an unpleasantry that doesn’t happen all too often, thankfully, though this relative infrequency makes it especially painful when it does occur), dissertation work, transitioning back into a new semester of teaching, losing a flash drive for a period of about 24 hours (always enough to give me a few panic attacks). I had to face the unavoidable fact that I’ve once again found myself over-scheduled and under-rested this semester, and brace myself for the uncomfortable reality of having to let go of a few commitments and inevitably let people down. And of course there were more things — smaller stresses here and there that are not worth mentioning, and larger ones that are less appropriate for a public blog. But in a way, it’s almost perfect that Yom Kippur has arrived for me after such a truly stressful, overwhelming week. If nothing else, this week has served as a critical reminder to me of one of the most consistent and foundational facts in all of social psychology. The environment that surrounds us — those stressors, obligations, demands, fights, and other situational pushes that we constantly experience — have a strong, disconcerting influence on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If we’re going to reflect on atonement, it must serve us well to acknowledge just how important our surrounding environments can be when it comes to events that require repentance — and just how often we might fail to acknowledge the situation’s strong role in our lives. If someone were to judge me for anything that I said or did this week, I know that I would hope they would have accounted for the numerous stressors and other dramatic ongoings that could be influencing my words and actions. Unfortunately, given what I know of social psychology, I’m also well aware that they probably would not have done so — and to be fair, I likely wouldn’t be immediately prone to doing so either, if the tables were turned.
Anjum Hasan in Caravan:
WHEN MO YAN WON the latest Nobel Prize for Literature, I was struck by a curiosity that the prize is perhaps meant to trigger: I hadn’t read Mo Yan and was wholly ignorant about contemporary Chinese fiction. So I ordered his novella Change (2010) from Seagull Books. The title had been put out as part of their ‘What Was Communism’ series, with a cover designed in-house that prominently mentioned the win. Change (and Mo’s Pow!, also published by Seagull) turned out to be the only examples I could find of Chinese fiction independently sourced and published in India. Most Chinese literature available to us, I discovered in the coming months as I looked for more to read from that country, travels here through Western channels—either reprints of Western editions or these editions themselves, priced for Indian markets.
This is to be expected, given that American and British publishers are the source of virtually all the international fiction we read in English. We’ve grown used to discovering first the Russian writers, then the Latin American, and lately the African via Western selections and translations. This traffic is so old and so commonplace it doesn’t surprise us. Yet it’s worth wondering why two countries that share such a long border and seemingly many a cultural trait, not to speak of being gripped today by similar economic and social upheavals, can only access each other’s novels based on the tastes, fashions and economics of Western publishing.
It could be argued that the nationality of a book’s publisher has no effect on the reader’s experience of the text. This may be true: that Western publishers are the gatekeepers of what we read from China doesn’t change our way of reading, but it does exert a considerable influence on what Chinese fiction gets widely circulated in the English-speaking world. Pankaj Mishra wrote in these pages three years ago, in his essay ‘National Identities and Literature’, of his hope that “one day soon a Chinese novelist aspiring for an international reputation will be able to steer clear of the misery of the Cultural Revolution or the massacre in Tiananmen Square (perennial publishing favourites in the West).”
This tendency (to write what the West expects and recognises) as well as its constant accompaniment (the anxiety that writers are pandering to Western expectations of a country’s literature) are all too familiar to us in India. Both are blind allies, the tendency as limiting as the anxiety is counter-productive. Yet they both also open up interesting questions. How, for instance, has the English-speaking West come to have such a large stake in the translation and transmission of Chinese literature, or in giving Indian literature in English global currency?
Samira Shackle in Aeon:
We are sitting in a room the size of a football pitch in an upmarket area of Karachi: men and women in our mid-20s, most smoking cigarettes. On a coffee table in front of us sits a two-litre bottle of imported Famous Grouse whisky and an equally outsize bottle of Absolut vodka. Occasionally, a servant — a young man the same age as us — enters to remove dirty glasses or refill the ice bucket. Outside is a fleet of cars, and three armed guards; two working at the gate of the house, and one who accompanied a guest. The group is debating the merits of the iPad mini. Sadia bought hers on a recent trip to New York. Faroukh interjects: ‘You’re so lucky you have a US passport. I’m dying to go. I’ve been waiting for my visa for eight weeks now.’ Talk turns to the torturous process of travelling with a Pakistani passport. One young woman says with outrage that her parents recently had a visa application rejected by the US embassy: ‘I mean, what the hell are they going to do? Blow up the White House?’
In the eyes of the world, Pakistan equals terrorism. For young, privileged Pakistanis wishing to travel to the UK, the US or France, that means submitting to a visa application process that can take months to allow for extra security checks. ‘I feel self-conscious, even apologetic when I’m travelling internationally,’ said Komail Aijazuddin, a 28-year-old artist from Lahore. ‘I’m not always made to, but myself I feel it.’ Ghazal Raza, a 26-year-old NGO worker from Peshawar, in north-western Pakistan, describes being pulled out of a queue in Bangkok airport. ‘They said: “You’re a Pakistani passport-holder. We have to do a full security check.” When you travel, you know what people think of you and your country.’
Like many others, Ghazal blames overly negative media portrayals of Pakistan. But the hindrance of the Pakistani passport also underscores deeper questions about national identity. When I first met Komail, at his house in Lahore, he showed me the clause printed on every page of his passport: ‘Valid for every country of the world except Israel.’ ‘In order to get my passport to leave the country, I have to say that Israelis don’t exist, and that Ahmadis [a persecuted Muslim sect] don’t exist, and that I believe in the Prophet and the last word of God,’ he told me. ‘Fine. But what do the Israelis have to do with it?’
Are you ready for Thomas (Screaming Comes Across the Sky) Pynchon on the subject of Sept. 11, 2001? On the one hand, his poetry of paranoia and his grasp of history’s surrealist passages make a perfect fit. Yet his slippery insouciance, his relentless japery, risk being tonally at odds with the subject. Either way, and despite his sensibility’s entrenchment in ’60s Californian hippiedom, Pynchon is a New Yorker, with an intimate license to depict the sulfurous gray plumes and tragic tableaus of that irreconcilable moment: “On the way home she passes the neighborhood firehouse. They’re in working on one of the trucks. . . . She threads among the daily bunches of flowers on the sidewalk, which will be cleared in a while. The list of firefighters here who were lost on 11 September is kept back someplace more intimate, out of the public face, anybody wants to see it they can ask, but sometimes it shows more respect not to put such things out on a billboard. . . . What makes these guys choose to go in, work 24-hour shifts and then keep working, keep throwing themselves into those shaky ruins, torching through steel, bringing people to safety, recovering parts of others, ending up sick, beat up by nightmares, disrespected, dead?”more from Jonathan Lethem at the NY Times here.
Nicholson Baker never meant to write a sequel to "The Anthologist." And yet, he explains by phone from his home in Maine, the narrator of that 2010 novel, a poet named Paul Chowder, kept demanding to be heard. "It was more a refusal," Baker notes, voice dry as a whisper on the wire. "A refusal on Paul's part to be overlooked. I was writing a different book, in my own voice, and I kept slipping into his voice. At a certain point, I just gave in." What Baker's getting at is the tendency of characters — or certain characters — to assert themselves, to emerge in a piece of writing whether we want them there or not. Paul is such a figure: idiosyncratic, unashamed of his quirks and ticks and odd obsessions, not unlike the author who created him.more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.
The culture of stardom abhors a vacuum: empty celebrity spaces can fill with nothing but mystique. Such was the ironic fate that befell JD Salinger when he tried to withdraw from the conditions of his fame. His silence became as resonant as his writing had once been. After being catapulted into the limelight with the publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, instantly hailed as an American classic, Salinger continued writing short stories for The New Yorker, which were occasionally reprinted in various books over the next 15 years: Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). Eudora Welty, reviewing Nine Stories in the New York Times, wrote: “He has the equipment of a born writer to begin with – his sensitive eye, his incredibly good ear, and something I think of no other word for but grace. There is not a trace of sentimentality in his work, although it is full of children that are bound to be adored.”more from David Shields at the FT here.
From Intelligent Life:
IN THE SETTLEMENT of Moach Goth on the outskirts of Karachi lives a heroine. To meet her you must drive out towards the provincial border of Sindh and Balochistan. En route to Moach Goth, you are shown the flyover that collapsed, the factory that burned, and an entrance to Lyari, the ghetto whose gang wars and body-counts are in the papers every day. It was a momentous time to be in Pakistan, ten days after general elections and the first transition in the nation’s history from one elected government to another. The talk was of tabdeeli, change, and dhandhli, rigging. The talk was of whether things were getting better, or whether they were going to get worse before they got better. The day before repolling in a constituency in southern Karachi, Zahra Shahid Hussain, a much-admired professor, activist and vice-president of the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, had been shot dead at the gates of her house by two men on a motorcycle. The next morning Samina Baig, a 22-year-old, became the first Pakistani woman to scale Everest. To enter Moach Goth is to begin to understand another climb, that made by Humaira Bachal. When she and her family came here, they had just cleared their debts. It was probably some time in 1995, but they are not sure. The settlement was small, nothing like now. A fishing village had been here for a long time, but now it was transforming into a squatter’s colony in the fast-expanding conurbation of Karachi. When they arrived, as they remember it, there were about a hundred mud and straw huts. There were jungles of thorny acacia. The gangs had not yet formed, and in any case no vehicles really came to the village, so you didn’t need to flash your headlights in code to enter anybody’s turf after dark. Now, between the Sindhis, Balochis, Kutchhis, Brohis, Mohajirs, Punjabis and Bengalis, there are 160,000, perhaps 180,000, people in Moach Goth. The sand blows through its unpaved streets. The cement water tower that stands tall over the population worked for two months, then ran dry, so now they must buy water from private contractors. Electricity lines have been installed, but there are power cuts for nine hours a day. Sewage pipes were laid twice; each time they burst in the rains.
Two of the three government schools in Moach Goth are ghost schools, abandoned by their teachers and administrators and occupied instead by junkies or criminals; there are an estimated 30,000 such schools in Pakistan. The single working school left in Moach Goth barely functions. Boys are usually pulled out at 12 by their families and put to work in factories or on construction sites; girls are rarely permitted to study at all. Government figures state that 40% of Pakistani girls have had a primary education, but other official sources put female literacy in Pakistan at 26%. According to independent sources, if you exclude those who can form only their signature, the figure tumbles to 12%. So when Humaira Bachal matriculated—the equivalent of taking her GCSEs—it was about the most improbable thing a girl from Moach Goth could do. And then she built perhaps the most improbable school in the world. She is 26 now, and she started it when she was 13.
Francine Prose in The New York Times:
As a young person, I adored “The Catcher in the Rye.” I read it over and over. Holden Caulfield, c’est moi! But when I reread the novel some 15 years ago, because my sons were reading it for school and complaining, I understood their problem. I found Holden’s voice precious and vaguely grating, his character not so unlike that of the poseurs and phonies he perpetually rails against. Even so, I’m a passionate Salinger fan — thanks to “Nine Stories” and “Franny and Zooey.” The stories in the first are seductive, clever, almost unbearably sad. In fact, sadness is one of their subjects, along with the way melancholy can erupt into cruelty, indifference, even violence. “Franny and Zooey” may seem, on the surface, like a light comic novel about a college student who suffers a breakdown and retreats to her zany family of former vaudevillians. Yet it takes on the essential (and inarguably heavy) question of how it’s possible to live in a world in which suffering is a given. In both books, Salinger proves himself to be a technical wizard, a master of compression and the telling detail. Early in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” a woman named Muriel is talking on the phone to her mother, who is anxious about Muriel’s husband. When the mother asks, “Did he try any of that funny business with the trees?” it’s all we need to comprehend why Mother and Muriel are worried. I hope the recent “revelations” and the concurrent publicity will inspire people to read and reread “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” and “Franny” without being distracted by the juicy gossip. What troubles me is the suspicion that behind the desire to dig up dirt is the wish to discover that the dirt not only explains the work but is the work. Everything is autobiographical! How much easier it will be to connect the life and the fiction, how much more challenging to give the writer’s imagination and craft the credit they deserve.
...For me, the last words — the last three words — on the subject are to be found in the second volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle,” a book I’ve been urging, begging, everyone to read. A friend asks Knausgaard why no one has written about the diaries of Olav H. Hauge, journals charting that gifted Norwegian poet’s descent into a particularly shaming form of madness. Knausgaard suggests there’s a reason for the general reticence, and for his own. “And that would be?” his friend inquires. “Decency,” Knausgaard answers. “Manners. Consideration.”
More here. (Note: Saw the biopic. Not special)
Friday, September 13, 2013
I thought the peace accords 20 years ago could work, but Israel used them as cover for its colonial project in Palestine.
Avi Shlaim in The Guardian:
Exactly 20 years have passed since the Oslo accords were signed on the White House lawn. For all their shortcomings and ambiguities, the accords constituted a historic breakthrough in the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. It was the first peace agreement between the two principal parties to the conflict: Israelis and Palestinians.
The accords represented real progress on three fronts: the Palestine Liberation Organisation recognised the state of Israel; Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people; and both sides agreed to resolve their outstanding differences by peaceful means. Mutual recognition replaced mutual rejection. In short, this promised at least the beginning of a reconciliation between two bitterly antagonistic national movements. And the hesitant handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat clinched the historic compromise.
Critical to the architecture of Oslo was the notion of gradualism. The text did not address any of the key issues in this dispute: Jerusalem; the right of return of 1948 refugees; the status of Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land; or the borders of the Palestinian entity. All these "permanent status" issues were deferred for negotiations towards the end of the five-year transition period. Basically, this was a modest experiment in Palestinian self-government, starting with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
The text did not promise or even mention an independent Palestinian state at the end of the transition period. The Palestinians believed that in return for giving up their claim to 78% of historic Palestine, they would gain an independent state in the remaining 22%, with a capital city in Jerusalem. They were to be bitterly disappointed.
Robin Ince in the Huffington Post:
There are many pessimistic, sometimes apocalyptic, predictions of what happens to human beings when they lose religion.
What of the sense of community?
How will we face death?
What of charity, empathy and altruism?
A strong and fair society needs all these things, but does religion really provide them?
Some agnostic and atheist intellectuals eulogize the powers of religion. Of course, it's not needed for them. They can survive without it because they have read Plato in the original classical Greek, Attic dialect and all, and are financially secure enough not to need the pew, sermon and parish fete. They are thinking of others not as strong as them; how kind, how patronizing.
So what of those societies like ours that are reaping the benefits of fervent religion and the joy, community and altruism it brings.
In the rich nations list, Japan and Sweden vie for the least religious, while the USA seems to have a clear lead as the most. Poor Japan and Sweden must be in a parlous state, and yet...
...Why does the USA have murder rates five times worse than Japan and Sweden, incarceration almost 10 times worse than Sweden, a higher suicide rate amongst the young (and as Al Alvarez wrote in his study of suicide, The Savage God, the more religious the nation is the less likely it is to declare suicide as cause of death). The U.S. has twice the mortality amongst under fives than Japan and Sweden. Let's not forget the statistics on sexual disease and abortion; number one for gonorrhea, number one for syphilis and number one for abortion, not by a little bit, we are talking 40 to 50 times more than Japan and Sweden. Thank goodness the USA has religion, or imagine what state it would be?
One of the more depressing and alarming charts ever, in the Economist:
LAST year a brutal gang-rape on a bus in Delhi caused outrage in India. On September 10th the woman’s attackers were convicted of rape and murder. The case has brought new attention to violence against women in India. Unfortunately, the situation in neighbouring countries is none too bright, according to new research in the Lancet Global Health, a medical journal. More than one in ten men surveyed in six Asian countries said they had raped a woman who was not their partner—and that figure rose to nearly one in four when wives and girlfriends were included among victims...
Corey Robin in Jacobin:
Political theorist Marshall Berman, who was my colleague at the CUNY Graduate Center, died yesterday morning.
When I heard the news last night, my first thought was the date: 9/11. There’s no good day to die, but to die on a day so associated with death—whether the murder of nearly 3000 people on 9/11/2001, most of them in his beloved New York, or the 9/11/1973 coup in Chile that brought down Allende and installed Pinochet—seems, in Marshall’s case, like an especially cruel offense against the universe.
For as anyone who knew or read him knows, Marshall was a man of irrepressible and teeming life. The life of the street, which he immortalized in his classic All That’s Solid Melts Into Air; the life of sex and liberation, which he talked about in The Politics of Authenticity (read the section on Montesquieu’s Persian Letters; you’ll never read that book the same way again); the life of high art and popular culture, whether it was the Sex Pistols or hip-hop.
Marshall took in everything; his portion was the world. The only thing he couldn’t abide, couldn’t take in, was ugliness and cruelty.
Evelyn Lamb in the Scientific American's mathematics blog Roots of Unity:
On Monday, the Onion reported that the “Nation’s math teachers introduce 27 new trig functions.” It’s a funny read. The gamsin, negtan, and cosvnx from the Onion article are fictional, but the piece has a kernel of truth: there are 10 secret trig functions you’ve never heard of, and they have delightful names like “haversine” and “exsecant.”
A diagram with a unit circle and more trig functions than you can shake a stick at. (It's well known that you can shake a stick at a maximum of 8 trig functions.) The familiar sine, cosine, and tangent are in blue, red, and, well, tan, respectively. The versine is in green next to the cosine, and the exsecant is in pink to the right of the versine. Excosecant and coversine are also in the image. Not pictured: vercosine, covercosine, and haver-anything. Image: Tttrung and Steven G. Johnson, via Wikimedia Commons.
Whether you want to torture students with them or drop them into conversation to make yourself sound erudite and/or insufferable, here are the definitions of all the “lost trig functions”
I found in my exhaustive research of original historical textsWikipedia told me about.
I must admit I was a bit disappointed when I looked these up.
Here are a few facts about the Pacific Ocean. It is the biggest ocean by far. Four of our seven continents border the Pacific, and Antarctica would too if not for the Southern Ocean. The Pacific comprises 46% of the world’s water surface and one-third of its overall surface. This makes the Pacific Ocean bigger than all the Earth’s land area combined. The Earth is mostly water as we are mostly water, and if we think of ourselves as citizens of the world then all of us are children of the Pacific. The moles of the new-built California towns, the endless Archipelagos, the skirts of Asiatic lands — all are washed by the same waves of the Pacific. That’s what Herman Melville wrote. “Here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.” The Pacific is the great Potter’s Field of four continents, wrote Melville — the Indian and the Atlantic are merely its arms. From the middle of the Pacific we could be floating in space, and human life would be just as significant. Crossing the Atlantic makes us feel important. Crossing the Pacific makes us feel anxious and small. In the peaceful Pacifico is a Ring of Fire. Beneath the Pacific lies the deepest, darkest hole in the Earth.more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.
“I don’t like reading other people’s private correspondence in print, and I do not want other people to read mine.” So T. S. Eliot wrote to his mother in 1927, in one of his letters that all sorts of other people may now read, as volumes of them succeed one another. Willa Cather agreed with Eliot when she made her will, forbidding all publication of her letters in full or in part. Yet here they are, or rather a large selection from the three thousand of them known to exist. The editors justify themselves for defying the will in favor of “the values of making these letters available to readers all over the world.” They state that hitherto the only permissible way a biographer or critic could proceed was through paraphrase, which they rightly point out has its own distortions and limitations. But readers eager for more insight into Cather’s “sexuality” (as academics have learned to call it) will surely be disappointed that the two women with whom she was closest over the years—Isabelle McClung Hambourg and Edith Lewis—are scarcely represented. Since Isabelle McClung’s husband returned about 300 of the letters Cather wrote to her, it’s clear that some effective destruction took place.more from William H. Pritchard at Hudson Review here.
“The Americans are so natural. Far superior to us,” Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, confided to his diary in 1935, after seeing “It Happened One Night.” American films, including musicals, were popular in Germany; they had a relaxed, colloquial way about them that German filmmakers, who tended toward agonized expressionism in the nineteen-twenties and rigid didacticism during the Nazi period, couldn’t match. Goebbels’s wistful appreciation of American ease is one of the bizarre ironies of the story, since he was intent on purging the cinema of anything that didn’t comport with Nazi ideology. Among other things, he removed Jewish artists and workers from the German film industry and pushed out Jews who worked for the distribution arms of American studios. The Nazis saw every movie as a potential threat to their immaculacy. Urwand quotes some solemn colloquies among Nazi officials, including a mental-health expert. Would “King Kong” (giant ape with Nordic-looking blonde) offend the “healthy racial feelings” of the German people? How about “Tarzan” (shirtless jungle man with white woman)? “King Kong” was released, “Tarzan” banned.more from David Denby at The New Yorker here.
"Beer goggles" are said to make the potential object of your affection look more and more attractive as more alcohol is imbibed, but do those goggles work on your self-image as well? Researchers have shown that they do, even if you only think you're having a stiff drink — and that discovery earned an Ig Nobel Prize, one of the silliest awards in science. An international team of scientists received the "Psychology Prize" for their beer-goggles study at the annual Ig Nobel ceremony on Thursday. The parody of the real Nobel Prizes has been paying tribute to "science that makes you laugh, then makes you think" since 1991. Past winners have included the inventor of a bra that turns into a pair of gas masks, a researcher who reported on what's thought to be the first documented case of homosexual necrophilia in ducks, and a team of scientists who studied how painful it can get when you have to pee.
Thursday's ceremony took place at Harvard University, amid the traditional flurries of paper airplanes, tributes to past winners, and interruptions from an impatient 8-year-old girl to move the proceedings along. Under the direction of Ig Nobel impresario Marc Abrahams, real Nobel laureates handed out this year's 10 prizes. Abrahams announced that each prize-winning team would receive a cash prize amounting to 10 trillion dollars — Zimbabwean dollars, that is, which equals about four bucks. The festivities also included the premiere of "The Blonsky Device," a mini-opera celebrating the invention of a bizarre birthing centrifuge. The device's creators won an Ig Nobel in 1999. Although the awards are silly, most of the winners are serious scientists. Physicist Andre Geim won an Ig Nobel in 2000 for his work with magnetically levitating frogs, and then went on to win the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics for his work with graphene. That's one reason why Brad Bushman, an Ohio State University psychologist who worked on the "beer goggles" study, doesn't mind being singled out this year.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Kenan Malik in Padaemonium:
It was forty ago today that Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende, in a CIA-supported coup, replacing his democratically elected government with a bloody dictatorship. Twelve days after the coup, the poet Pablo Neruda died in mysterious circumstances, many believe murdered by the Pinochet regime. (Earlier this year a Chilean court ordered Neruda’s body to be exumed for forensic tests and a warrant was issued for the arrest of the man supposedly involved in poisoning the poet).
Gabriel García Márquez once called Neruda ‘the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language’, though as New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman observed after the poet’s death ‘No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans’, or indeed to the wider Anglophone world. Born in 1904 as Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, Neruda chose his pen name after the Czech poet Jan Neruda. He first came to attention with his 1924 collection Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’), a cycle of sensuous and erotically charged love poems, but one also shot through with an almost unbearable sense of alienation, despair and chaos. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca said of Neruda that he was ‘a poet closer to death than to philosophy, closer to pain than to insight, closer to blood than to ink. A poet filled with mysterious voices that fortunately he himself does not know how to decipher.’
Ben Orlin in The Atlantic:
Some things are worth memorizing--addresses, PINs, your parents' birthdays. The sine of π/2 is not among them. It's a fact that matters only insofar as it connects to other ideas. To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence "Hamlet kills Claudius" without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is--or, for what matter, of what "kill" means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It's a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding.
Memorization has enjoyed a surge of defenders recently. They argue that memorization exercises the brain and even fuels deep insights. They say our haste to purge old-school skills-driven teaching from our schools has stranded a generation of students upriver without a paddle. They recommend new appsaiming to make drills fun instead of tedious. Most of all, they complain that rote learning has become taboo, rather than accepted as a healthy part of a balanced scholastic diet.
Certainly, knowledge matters. A head full of facts--even memorized facts--is better than an empty one. But facts enter our heads through many paths--some well-paved, some treacherous. Which ones count as "memorization"?
Steven Nadler in Humanities:
Bento de Spinoza was a young merchant in Amsterdam, one of many Sephardic Jews in that city involved in overseas trade in the early 1650s. The specialty of his family’s firm, which he and his brother Gabriel had been running since their father’s death in 1654, was importing dried fruit. Bento (or Baruch, as he would have been called in Hebrew in the Portuguese community’s synagogue—the names both mean “blessed”) was, at this time and to all appearances, an upstanding member of the Talmud Torah congregation. His communal tax payments and contributions to the community’s charitable funds may have been especially low by early 1656, but this could have been a reflection only of the poor condition of his business.
Or it may have been a sign that something else was amiss.