Friday, February 05, 2016
Another sort of book should be written on Lowell and the women in his life. It would not spend as much time on the mother and the wives as Meyers’s does, but would be forced to reckon with Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop and Lowell were both tortured people, occasionally suicidal, and seasoned alcoholics. But they met through their work, and their relationship was primarily intellectual and epistolary. The correspondence between them was published in 2008 as Words in Air, which is among a certain sort of reader a talismanic book. They advised each other on their poems; they discussed the greats of their time (Marianne Moore, John Berryman) and of the past (Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins). The book has the magic quality that poets’ letters often have—the ratio of meaning to language is high, which gives their observations, flirtations, and arguments a near-cinematic quality. The playwright Sarah Ruhl loved them so much she turned them into a play, Dear Elizabeth.
Meyers gives the whole Lowell-Bishop friendship just a few pages, which is difficult to justify even in a book restricted to Lowell’s “loves.” Not least because Lowell was, at one time, in love with Bishop. He said so himself. The correspondence reaches a romantic crescendo early on, when Lowell in a letter dated August 15, 1957 admits to Bishop that he’d once wanted to marry her, and in fact had assumed they would marry. Things had almost come to a head in the summer of 1948 when they were sitting on a rock, looking out at the ocean from the coast of Maine. “When you write my epitaph,” Bishop told him then, “you must say I am the loneliest person that ever lived.”
There is nothing more hopeless in this world than the so-called Southwestern Regional Bus Station in Nanjing on May 5, 2002, shortly before seven o’clock in the drizzling rain and the unappeasable icy wind, as, in the vast chaos of the buses departing from the bays of this station, a regional bus, starting from the No. 5 bus stop, slowly ploughs onward—among the other buses and the puddles and the bewildered crowd of wretched, stinking, grimy people—up to the vortex of the street, then sets off into the wretched, stinking, grimy streets; there is nothing more hopeless than these streets, than these interminable barracks on either side, numbed into their own provisional eternity, because there is no word for this hopeless color, for this slowly murderous variation of brown and gray, as it spreads over the city this morning, there is no word for the assault of this hopeless din, if the bus pauses briefly at a larger intersection or a bus stop, and the female conductor with her worn features opens the door, leans out, and, hoping for a new passenger, shouts out the destination like a hoarse falcon; because there is no word which in its essence could convey whether the direction in which he now travels with his companion, his interpreter, exists in relation to the world; they are headed outward, moving away from it, the world is ever farther and farther away, ever more behind them; they are shaken, jolted in advance in the disconsolate brown and yellow of this ever-thicker, indescribable fog; headed to where it can hardly be believed that there could be anything beyond the brown and the gray of this frighteningly dreary mixture; they sit at the back of the ramshackle bus, they are dressed for May but for a different May, so they are chilled and they shiver and they try to look out of the window but they can hardly see through the grimy glass, so they just keep repeating to themselves: Fine, good, it’s all right, they can somehow put up with this situation, not to be eaten up from without and within by this grimy and hopeless fog is their only hope; and that where they are going exists, that where this bus is supposedly taking them—one of the most sacred Buddhist mountains, Jiuhuashan*—exists.
Could it be that the shabby, out-of-print volumes that keep custody of Stephens’s legacy are, as McCord argues, “vintage wine in a rain barrel?” Could it be that underneath a homely title like Irish Fairy Tales, which Padraic Colum notes was “never sufficiently praised” and which is now mislabelled as children’s literature, there lies a work of true genius?
Having read Irish Fairy Tales, I add my voice to those who sing in praise of the long-lost leprechaun of Irish literature. For Irish Fairy Tales is more than good. It’s a work of genius on the Joyce andW.B. Yeats level, though stylistically different in almost every way from that of his taller and more famous peers. Stephens writes in that work:
I became the king of the salmon, and, with my multitudes, I ranged on the tides of the world. Green and purple distances were under me: green and gold the sunlit regions above. In these latitudes I moved through a world of amber, myself amber and gold; in those others, in a sparkle of lucent blue, I curved, lit like a living jewel: and in these again, through dusks of ebony all mazed with silver, I shot and shone, the wonder of the sea.
No wonder no one ever wrote Stephens a fitting epitaph; no one could say it quite as well as him! But perhaps what Stephens wrote of the king of the salmon is good enough for himself. He is brave, skilled, honorable, and as unconcerned with either fame or revenge as his hero Fionn.
Kerri Smith in Nature:
British comedian Robert Newman kicks off new act The Brain Show like any self-respecting scientist: with an abstract. He tells the audience about the billions pouring into mapping European and American brains through, respectively, the Human Brain Project and the White House BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. He lays out the shortcomings of these projects’ best-known predecessor, the Human Genome Project, which, he bemoans, never did find half the genes it promised. There was no “gene for getting into debt”; no “low voter turnout” gene. And he explains what the rest of his argument will be: that humans cannot be thought of as machines, and that scientists devalue us all by conceptualising people in this reductive way. Critiques of neuroimaging could not often be called comic. Newman, however, manages it.
Newman hinges The Brain Show on a re-imagining of an infamous 2000 neuroimaging experiment by Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki. This claimed to have found the brain network responsible for romantic love, and Newman purports to have taken part. Many of his gags are only tangentially related to the science, but it’s skilfully done. He is asked to bring four photos to the scanner session: one of someone he is deeply in love with, and three of friends he is fond of. He worries about his selection of the first image. “I’m looking at this photo and thinking: is this the best picture of me I could have brought?”
Alex Altman in Time:
Sometimes the toughest tests for a public uprising take place in private. The Black Lives Matter movement faced one such moment in October, inside a turreted building of pale stone planted on the site of the old Pennsylvania Avenue slave market, just blocks from the White House. Eleven young activists filed into a conference room, snapping selfies as they waited for one of the most powerful women in America. It takes clout to finagle a meeting with Hillary Clinton—and courage to do what came next. All summer, Black Lives Matter protesters had disrupted campaign events and forced politicians to grapple with radioactive questions of race and justice. Clinton wanted to clear the air. But it was her guests who grabbed control. For 90 minutes, they peppered her with demands and pushed for sweeping investments in black communities. When the Democratic front runner said she couldn’t muscle race-based legislation through Congress, they accused her of exhibiting white privilege. Alwiyah Shariff, an organizer with the Ohio Student Association, asked how Clinton could be trusted to keep a promise to close private prisons while collecting campaign contributions from the industry. Flashes of irritation flickered across the former Secretary of State’s face. “There was fire in her eyes,” recalls Aurielle Marie, 21, an activist from Atlanta. The confrontation turned out to be a catalyst. At a Democratic debate a few days later, Clinton denounced mass incarceration, called for body cameras on every cop and proposed a “new New Deal” for communities of color. “Exactly the things we’re advocating,” says Sam Sinyangwe, a 25-year-old activist and data scientist who was present at the meeting. Within weeks, Clinton rolled out a criminal-justice platform ripped from the activists’ playbook, including plans to curb police militarization and strengthen federal investigations in cases of alleged misconduct. Her campaign also announced that she would refuse donations from private-prison lobbyists.
In 2015, Black Lives Matter blossomed from a protest cry into a genuine political force. Groups that embraced the slogan hounded police chiefs from their jobs, won landmark prosecutions and turned college campuses into cauldrons of social ferment. At the University of Missouri, a hunger strike incited a boycott by the football team that drove the president out of office.
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Those are the people who do complicated things.
they'll grab us by the thousands
and put us to work.
World's going to hell, with all these
villages and trails.
Wild duck flocks aren't
what they used to be.
Aurochs grow rare.
Fetch me my feathers and amber
A small cricket
on the typescript page of
"Kyoto born in spring song"
in time with The Well-Tempered Clavier.
I quit typing and watch him through a glass.
How well articulated! How neat!
Nobody understands the ANIMAL KINGDOM.
When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones.
by Gary Snyder
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Cedric Johnson in Jacobin:
Ta-Nehisi Coates recently criticized the Bernie Sanders campaign for Sanders’s pessimism regarding black reparations for slavery and Jim Crow segregation. When asked during a campaign event whether he would support reparations, Sanders responded with characteristic bluntness, saying that “its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil,” before adding that a push for formal reparations for slavery would be politically divisive.
Instead of reparations, Sanders argued,
what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.
Sanders’s plan is part of his long-held political vision that sees a revitalized public sector as a lever to address the needs of the most submerged segments of the population through universal social policy. But Coates was not impressed. As the foremost proponent of reparations in recent memory, he viewed Sanders’s response as a fundamental weakness in the senator’s “political revolution.”
Sara Solovitch in the Washington Post:
It was November 2012 when Dennis Hartman, a Seattle business executive, managed to pull himself out of bed, force himself to shower for the first time in days and board a plane that would carry him across the country to a clinical trial at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda.
After a lifetime of profound depression, 25 years of therapy and cycling through 18 antidepressants and mood stabilizers, Hartman, then 46, had settled on a date and a plan to end it all. The clinical trial would be his last attempt at salvation.
For 40 minutes, he sat in a hospital room as an IV drip delivered ketamine through his system. Several more hours passed before it occurred to him that all his thoughts of suicide had evaporated.
“My life will always be divided into the time before that first infusion and the time after,” Hartman says today. “That sense of suffering and pain draining away. I was bewildered by the absence of pain.”
Jesse David Fox in Vulture:
The oldest joke on record, a Sumerian proverb, was first told all the way back in 1900 B.C. Yes, it was a fart joke: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap.” Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it — something was definitely lost in time and translation (you have to imagine it was the Mesopotamian equivalent of “Women be shopping”), but not before the joke helped pave the way for almost 4,000 years of toilet humor. It’s just a shame we’ll never know the name of the Sumerian genius to whom we owe Blazing Saddles. But with the rise of comedy as a commercial art form in the 20th century, and with advances in modern bookkeeping, it’s now much easier to assign credit for innovations in joke-telling, which is exactly what Vulture set out to do with this list of the 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy.
A few notes on our methodology: We’ve defined “joke” pretty broadly here. Yes, a joke can be a one-liner built from a setup and a punch line, but it can also be an act of physical comedy. Pretending to stick a needle in your eye, or pooping in the street while wearing a wedding dress: both jokes. A joke, as defined by this list, is a discrete moment of comedy, whether from stand-up, a sketch, an album, a movie, or a TV show.
o literary genre is more ephemeral than art criticism. Mostly that’s a blessing, but sometimes writing of genuine value disappears from view. The 1960s and ’70s were years of tremendous vitality for American art criticism, as they were for American art. Yet today, when writers mention the debates of those days, they often focus on a handful of voices: Donald Judd, Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, maybe some late grousings from Clement Greenberg as his pen was running dry. The criticism of many others seems to have been unjustly forgotten. Among them I would have counted, until recently, Lawrence Alloway, who wrote regularly for this magazine between 1968 and 1981. To me, he remains the great intellectual resource among the art writers of that period, so I am happy to point out that a small revival of interest in his work is under way—an essay here, a conference there, and now a useful collection of scholarly papers, Lawrence Alloway: Critic and Curator (Getty Research Institute; $40), edited by Lucy Bradnock, Courtney J. Martin, and Rebecca Peabody. N
Many of the essays are based on archival research in the Alloway papers housed at the Getty Research Institute, where there is clearly a lot of fascinating unpublished material. They cover topics ranging from Alloway’s evolving views of museums to his ideas on the relationship between art and photography; from his love of movies (not “film” or “cinema”) and fascination with science fiction to his mutually enriching exchange of ideas with his fellow sci-fi fan, the artist Robert Smithson. I particularly appreciated Michael Lobel’s essay on Alloway as curator and his “global turn”; Jennifer Mundy’s account of his art-criticism course at SUNY Stony Brook; and Julia Bryan-Wilson’s exploration of his “self-reflexive” approach to criticizing the institutions of which he was a part.
The story of the Romanovs has been told countless times, but never with such a compelling combination of literary flair, narrative drive, solid research and psychological insight. The Romanovs covers it all, from war and diplomacy to institution building and court intrigue, but it is chiefly an intimate portrait that brings to life the twenty sovereigns of Russia in vivid fashion.
‘Heavy is the cap of Monomakh,’ Pushkin wrote in Boris Godunov, referring to the royal Mongol helmet used to crown Michael I, the first Romanov tsar, in 1613. Heavy indeed. The teenage Michael had been tapped by the boyars to take the throne following the destruction of the ruling Rurikid family and the subsequent national nightmare known as the Time of Troubles. He cried and insisted he wanted nothing to do with the crown, and for good reason: several of his uncles had been killed in the struggle for control of Russia. But the grandees refused to be put off and they begged on bended knees for hours until the weeping Michael finally gave in. Michael survived the throne, but quite a few later Romanovs would not be so lucky: six of the last twelve rulers, Montefiore notes, were murdered, and even those who survived slept with one eye open.
Michael had been chosen in large part because he was weak and would be putty in the hands of the mighty clans of the realm. ‘Let us have Misha Romanov,’ boyar Fyodor Sheremetev said, ‘for he is still young and not yet wise; he will suit our purpose.’ Sheremetev was right, but Michael’s strong-willed father, Filaret, acted as the true power behind the throne and kept in check the various factions competing for influence.
For over half a century, Indonesian literature has lived under twin shadows: that of the great writer and activist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006 aged eighty-one; and of the bloody events of 1965, which marked the end of the reign of Sukarno – the nation’s Communist-leaning first President – and the start of Suharto’s thirty-one-year New Order regime, during which all official discussion of the events was suppressed. The decades-long silence surrounding 1965 – during which up to a million suspected communist sympathizers were subjected to brutal torture and summary executions – was always tested by writers and journalists, even during the most repressive moments of the Suharto censorship campaign, but its general absence from school textbooks and official discourse has created an enduring problem for the writers currently at the forefront of Indonesian literature: how to reclaim the stories of a missing, epoch-defining era and reconstruct a new understanding of their country.
For authors such as Chudori who are now reconstructing this lost history there is a further complication: that of Pramoedya’s immense legacy. Jailed firstly by the Dutch colonial administration for his pro-Independence writings, and then by the Suharto regime for his unwavering leftist, pro-Sukarno stance, Pramoedya represents both an inspiration and a unique challenge to all Indonesian writers who follow in his footsteps. His monumental body of works – including the famous “Buru” quartet, written while he was imprisoned on the notorious island that gave the novels their nickname – seemed to mirror the size and scope of the largest and most populous country in the region: a vast archipelago boasting a culture, history and size surpassed only by China and India on the Asian continent but a past whose titanic – and relatively recent – political struggles have remained curiously invisible to the world’s gaze.
From The Black Past:
The slave ship Zong departed the coast of Africa on 6 September 1781 with 470 slaves. Since this human chattel was such a valuable commodity at that time, many captains took on more slaves than their ships could accommodate in order to maximize profits. The Zong’s captain, Luke Collingwood, overloaded his ship with slaves and by 29 November many of them had begun to die from disease and malnutrition. The Zong then sailed in an area in the mid-Atlantic known as “the Doldrums” because of periods of little or no wind. As the ship sat stranded, sickness caused the deaths of seven of the 17 crew members and over 50 slaves. Increasingly desperate, Collingwood decided to “jettison” some of the cargo in order to save the ship and provide the ship owners the opportunity to claim for the loss on their insurance. Over the next week the remaining crew members threw 132 slaves who were sick and dying over the side. Another 10 slaves threw themselves overboard in what Collingwood later described as an “Act of Defiance.” Upon the Zong’s arrival in Jamaica, James Gregson, the ship’s owner, filed an insurance claim for their loss. Gregson argued that the Zong did not have enough water to sustain both crew and the human commodities. The insurance underwriter, Thomas Gilbert, disputed the claim citing that the Zong had 420 gallons of water aboard when she was inventoried in Jamaica. Despite this the Jamaican court in 1782 found in favour of the owners. The insurers appealed the case in 1783 and in the process provoked a great deal of public interest and the attention of Great Britain's abolitionists. The leading abolitionist at the time, Granville Sharp, used the deaths of the slaves to increase public awareness about the slave trade and further the anti-slavery cause. It was he who first used the word massacre.
...Sharp attempted to have criminal charges brought against the Captain, crew, and the owners but was unsuccessful. Great Britain's The Solicitor General, Justice John Lee, however, refused to take up the criminal charges claiming “What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder… The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard.”
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
No center, no above, no below
Ceaselessly devouring and engendering itself
And drop into height
Clarities steeply cut
By the night's flank
Black gardens of rock crystal
Flowering on a rod of smoke
White gardens exploding in the air
One space opening up
Space in space
All is nowhere
Place of impalpable nuptials
by Octavio Paz
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Intizar Husain, A Pakistani Writer Who Saw Himself as Part of ‘a Great Tradition, as Much Muslim as Hindu’
Javed Malick in The Wire:
Widely regarded as the best fiction writer in the language since Qurratulain Hyder, Husain’s main achievement was the perfection of a unique style of fiction writing, which departed from the mainstream tradition of realistic fiction – developed and enriched by writers like Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Ismat Chughtai – and, instead, built on the age-old traditional techniques of story-telling. The corpus of his stories shows his mastery of an extensive range of narrative traditions. He drew upon Babylonian, Greek and Hindu mythologies; Biblical, Quranic and Buddhist texts; magical tales of West Asian and Indian origin; the traditions of the moralistic fable, the Qissa and the Dastan. While his treatment and techniques were traditional, Husain’s concerns were unmistakably contemporary.
Born and educated in Uttar Pradesh, Intizar Husain migrated to Pakistan and settled in Lahore. He began his literary career during the difficult years of the late 1940s. His early writing – like the work of major Urdu writers of that time – described the painful experience of the partition and the accompanying riots. His celebrated novel, Basti concerns a group of people who were uprooted from their homes. Through different characters and their several though different stories, the novel gives powerful expression to the terrible atmosphere of tension and fear and the sense of loss – material as well as spiritual.
Gregory Jones-Katz in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
ver the past four decades, scholars in the American humanities have used deconstruction — a style of interpretation pioneered by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida — to question the binary oppositions that structure society and enforce power relations. One example: The historian Joan Wallach Scott deconstructed the categories of "man" and "woman" and helped launch the field of gender history. While fueling trailblazing work such as Scott’s, deconstruction has conjured rather extreme, sometimes downright hysterical, responses. In the American press, vilification stretches back to the 1980s, when conservatives regularly launched polemics against deconstruction, condemning it as a movement against Western civilization. There has also been little love lost for deconstruction among members of the American left, from Marxists to Liberals, many of whom faulted Derrida and his epigones for an inadequate commitment to truth that made it impossible to develop a political philosophy.
But the left and right alike have misunderstood deconstruction — and the "de Man affair" certainly did not help matters. In 1987 it was revealed that the Yale professor Paul de Man, who had died four years earlier and was Derrida’s closest friend in American intellectual life as well as the most prominent exponent of deconstruction in the United States, had written pro-Nazi articles — at least one explicitly anti-Semitic — in 1941 and 1942 during his youth under the German occupation of Belgium. Derrida’s deconstructive readings of his friend’s wartime writings proved highly controversial; at one point, Derrida suggested that de Man’s criticism in his article "The Jews in Contemporary Literature" of "vulgar anti-Semitism" could be interpreted as support of a refined anti-Semitism and a clandestine critique of the "vulgarity of anti-Semitism." Derrida’s interpretation was red meat for hungry enemies of deconstruction, who offered it as proof of deconstruction’s nihilism. Since then, it has been difficult to conduct a dispassionate conversation about deconstruction.
It is into this contentious legacy that Theory at Yale arrives — marketed as an important first: a book-length history of the Yale School of Deconstruction. But Theory at Yale is instead a series of artful deconstructive readings of "the event of ‘theory’ in the American academy," with "theory" chiefly referring to "a certain kind of reflection on language and literature that garnered the tag ‘deconstruction’ in the 1970s, and in distorted form became a minor mass-media topic in the 1980s."
Thomas Piketty in the NY Review of Books:
The far right has surged in just a few years from 15 percent to 30 percent of the vote in France, and now has the support of up to 40 percent in a number of districts. Many factors conspired to produce this result: rising unemployment and xenophobia, a deep disappointment over the left’s record in running the government, the feeling that we’ve tried everything and it’s time to experiment with something new. These are the consequences of the disastrous handling of the financial meltdown that began in the United States in 2008, a meltdown that we in Europe transformed by our own actions into a lasting European crisis. The blame for that belongs to institutions and policies that proved wholly inadequate, particularly in the eurozone, consisting of nineteen countries. We have a single currency with nineteen different public debts, nineteen interest rates upon which the financial markets are completely free to speculate, nineteen corporate tax rates in unbridled competition with one another, without a common social safety net or shared educational standards—this cannot possibly work, and never will.
Only a genuine social and democratic refounding of the eurozone, designed to encourage growth and employment, arrayed around a small core of countries willing to lead by example and develop their own new political institutions, will be sufficient to counter the hateful nationalistic impulses that now threaten all Europe. Last summer, in the aftermath of the Greek fiasco, French President François Hollande had begun to revive on his own initiative the idea of a new parliament for the eurozone. Now France must present a specific proposal for such a parliament to its leading partners and reach a compromise. Otherwise the agenda is going to be monopolized by the countries that have opted for national isolationism—the United Kingdom and Poland among them.
Just for starters, it would be important for European leaders—the French and Germans in particular—to acknowledge their errors. We can debate endlessly all sorts of reforms, both small and large, that ought to be carried out in various eurozone countries: changed opening hours for shops, more effective labor markets, different standards for retirement, and so on. Some of these are useful, others less so. Whatever the case, however, the failures to make such reforms are not enough to explain the sudden plunge in GDP in the eurozone from 2011 to 2013, even as the US economy was in recovery. There can be no question now that the recovery in Europe was throttled by the attempt to cut deficits too quickly between 2011 and 2013—and particularly by tax hikes that were far too sharp in France. Such application of tight budgetary rules ensured that the eurozone’s GDP still, in 2015, hasn’t recovered to its 2007 levels
Tom Bissell in the NYT:
Something happens to a novel as it ages, but what? It doesn’t ripen or deepen in the manner of cheese and wine, and it doesn’t fall apart, at least not figuratively. Fiction has no half-life. We age alongside the novels we’ve read, and only one of us is actively deteriorating. Which is to say that a novel is perishable only by virtue of being stored in such a leaky cask: our heads. With just a few years’ passage, a novel can thus seem “dated” or “irrelevant” or (God help us) “problematic.” When a novel survives this strange process, and gets reissued in a handsome 20th-anniversary edition, it’s tempting to hold it up and say, “It withstood the test of time.” Most would intend such a statement as praise, but is a 20-year-old novel successful merely because it seems cleverly predictive or contains scenarios that feel “relevant” to later audiences? If that were the mark of enduring fiction, Philip K. Dick would be the greatest novelist of all time.
David Foster Wallace understood the paradox of attempting to write fiction that spoke to posterity and a contemporary audience simultaneously, with equal force. In an essay written while he was at work on “Infinite Jest,”Wallace referred to the “oracular foresight” of writers such as Don DeLillo, whose best novels — “White Noise,” “Libra,” “Underworld” — address their contemporary audience like a shouting desert prophet while laying out for posterity the coldly amused analysis of some long-dead professor emeritus. Wallace felt that the “mimetic deployment of pop culture icons” by writers who lacked DeLillo’s observational powers “compromises fiction’s seriousness by dating it out of the Platonic Always where it ought to reside.” Yet “Infinite Jest” rarely seems as though it resides within this Platonic Always, which Wallace rejected in any event. (As with many of Wallace’s more manifesto-ish proclamations, he was not planting a flag so much as secretly burning one.) We are now at least half a decade beyond the years Wallace intended his novel’s subsidized time schema — Year of the Whopper, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment — to represent. Read today, the book’s intellectually slapstick vision of corporatism run amok embeds it within the early to mid-1990s as firmly and emblematically as “The Simpsons” and grunge music. It is very much a novel of its time.
How is it, then, that “Infinite Jest” still feels so transcendentally, electrically alive? Theory 1: As a novel about an “entertainment” weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it, “Infinite Jest” is the first great Internet novel.
Aaron Bady over at The LA Review of Books:
When I first saw the TV show, I loved it. The first season is perfectly balanced between individual stories (the story of Hailey, the young oboe player who gets her shot at the big time; the story of Gael Garcia Bernal’s hotshot conductor Rodrigo, brought in to save the NYSO) and the story of the larger thing of which they are all a part: the orchestra, the music. As Hailey and Rodrigo enter the orchestra from opposite ends — the bottom and the top — we get an upstairs-downstairs picture of the institution, and at the same time, we are invited to consider the value of an undervalued art. In its first season, Mozart was essentially Slings and Arrows, the story of a group of players who must constantly, loudly, and insistently declare that the show must go on, because the people they must convince are themselves, because it’s anything but clear that it can, and because they are the ones who must put their asses and livelihoods on the line, day after day, night after night. Their belief, their faith, and their gamble are the only things that make the show go on: the only certainty is that if they stopped saying it, it wouldn’t. And so, the conductor, musicians, and staff of the orchestra all have to keep insisting that they are New York’s orchestra — that they are our orchestra, your orchestra — to keep the ship above water, and to counteract the worrying realization that no one seems to want them very much. Their audience is aging and dying, their patrons are more interested in cultural capital than in the music, and true lovers of their art are few and far between (and usually broke). Orchestras are expensive and tickets are hard to sell; the orchestra’s main audience seems to be itself while Roderigo DeSouza struggles to live up to the expectations of the ghost of Mozart.
The conclusion to the first season is superbly and powerfully crafted: the show, it turns out, goes on, but only once a few illusions are shed. The conductor must become a member of the orchestra; individual themes must be subordinated for the good of the music. At its best, it turns out, it isn’t about you. It’s about the music.
But the more I think about Tindall’s book, the more I realize how rose-colored that idealism ultimately is. The show not only makes classical music seem fun and sexy, and occasionally dangerous, but it draws you into its idealism, the abiding faith of its musicians that the thing itself is not only enough, on its own, but that it’s the only thing that matters. And this is exactly the passion for the music that the industry uses to keep itself going, and which keeps, in turn, its most exploited workers and musicians in their place.
Robert Greene II on Jonathan Zimmerman's Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education, over at US Intellectual History:
In 1947, just six years after Life Magazine declared the rise of the “American Century,” the American Social Hygiene Association (ASHA) distributed sex education materials to 47 different nations and over 60 organizations across the globe. Formed in the Progressive Era and now combined with the political, economic, and military might of the United States in the early years of the Cold War, the ASHA and similar groups reflected the rise of sex education in Europe, the United States, and eventually the non-western world throughout the twentieth century. Scenes of educators, government officials, and health care workers unpacking sex education films and written materials for classrooms in places such as East Asia, Africa, and Latin America symbolized the rising hopes and influence of western sex educators after World War II.
However, if little about the postwar world looked familiar to those who had lived through the first half of the century, historian Jonathan Zimmerman’s Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education (Princeton, 2015) emphasizes the enduring limits of sex education in both the United States and abroad. This brief but ambitious survey of sex education since 1898 tempers claims about modernity and revolutionary change with a narrative largely about continuity. Despite their resources and often evangelical commitment, sex educators in virtually every country from the United States to the Middle East faced strikingly similar opposition to their efforts to teach students about the physical, emotional, and social realities of sexuality. Rather than simply conflicts over specific curriculum materials or the training of teachers, the passionate arguments over the nature and future of sex education in the last century illuminate larger intellectual debates over culture, power, and rights, both individual and parental, in a globalized world.
Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian:
The governments of Egypt and Turkey are brazenly leading a multi-pronged assault on writers, artists and intellectuals. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month denounced his critics among Turkish academics as treasonous fifth columnists of foreign powers; many of them have been subsequently dismissed and suspended. Both Turkey and Egypt have imprisoned journalists, provoking international protests. But the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming much cannier forms in India, a country with formal and apparently free democratic institutions.
Controlled by upper-caste Hindu nationalists, Indian universities have been purging “anti-nationals” from both syllabuses and campuses for some months now. In a shocking turn of events last month, Rohith Vemula, a PhD student in Hyderabad, killed himself. Accused of “anti-national” political opinions, the impoverished research scholar, who belonged to one of India’s traditionally and cruelly disadvantaged castes, was suspended, and, after his fellowship was cancelled, expelled from student housing. Letters from Modi’s government in Delhi to university authorities revealed that the latter were under relentless pressure to move against “extremist and anti-national politics” on campus. Vemula’s heartbreaking suicide note attests to the near-total isolation and despair of a gifted writer and thinker.
The extended family of upper-caste nationalists plainly aim at total domination of the public sphere. But they don’t only use the bullying power of the leviathan state – one quickly identified by local and foreign critics – to grind down their apparent enemies. They pursue them through police cases and legal petitions by private individuals – a number of criminal complaints have been filed against writers and artists in India. They create a climate of impunity, in which emboldened mobs ransack newspapers offices, art galleries and cinemas.
Linda Braune in New Politics:
In his newest book, historian Greg Grandin provides background to Herman Melville’s classic Benito Cereno, an 1855 short novel about a slave rebellion. Reflecting on this story written almost two centuries ago, Grandin opens up space for further research by those investigating the Black Atlantic. Melville’s novel told the story of a concerned and liberal sea captain, Amasa Delano, who boarded the slave ship San Dominick and encountered a deferential slave, Babo, caring for his slave master who had taken ill. Delano was moved by the humble slave’s concern for his master, the ship’s captain. Not until the end of that day does Delano realize that he had been deceived and that the slaves on the San Dominick had revolted and had actually taken charge. Babo was not a deferential slave, solicitous toward his sick master, but rather was the revolt’s ringleader! When Delano discovers the true circumstances, he directs his armed team of sailors to round up the rebels, and a fight ensues. The Melville narrative is extraordinary, ironic, and liberatory, and Grandin’s book provides some remarkable background material to the novel. Benito Cereno had been based on actual events recorded in the non-fictional Delano’s 1817 journal. Grandin provides a context for grasping this late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century revolutionary era, reflecting a whole period of slave rebellion. However, three special contributions by Grandin deserve explication here: his emphasis on the Muslim influence on the slaves, the brutality of the free-enterprise seal-hunting industry, and the harsh march of slaves over the Andes.
First, one of Grandin’s striking contributions is his situating the real and the fictional Amasa Delano, and fictional Babo, within a revolutionary history and alerting his readers to the Muslim background of many West African slaves. Grandin reports that “some estimate as many as 10 percent” of over twelve million African slaves taken to America were Muslims (195). Grandin shows us, in fact, that when Protestant Delano meets Babo, he is possibly not confronted with a Christian slave, but a Muslim one, a Muslim brother of those who rose up and fought for a decade to acquire Haitian independence in 1804.
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Love Poem Entirely of Clichés
Breathing a word
but strictly between us
there is this about you
on the one hand
or the other
on the tip of my tongue.
You of all things
and of all people.
by John Stone
from In All This Rain
University State University Press, 1980