It is an understatement to say that the 42-year-old [Tino] Sehgal is obsessive about his work, from its concept to the lexicon used to describe it. His practice has more to do with theater and acting techniques (many of his players are professional actors) than it does with the tradition of performance art, the de facto description for any kind of live experimentation in the art world. And it’s not strictly conceptual art, either, if one goes by Sol LeWitt’s assertion that “the execution” of such art “is a perfunctory affair.” The reverence Sehgal inspires among curators, collectors and other artists is informed by his particularities: Following an interview for this piece, one slightly panicked museum official wrote to request that any accidental uses of the word “performance” be corrected. (Sehgal feels that term suggests works that are more fleeting and have more of a wall between audience and performer than exists in his art.) “I would hate for that slip-up to offend Tino,” the employee wrote. “I think it would be a bit serious, actually.”
Asad Raza, an artist and frequent collaborator of Sehgal’s, describes the process of purchasing a Sehgal as “almost like a kind of therapy” for those who buy it — an altogether different process than the moneyed art world is used to, even as museums and collectors expand their holdings to include unconventional performance and conceptual art.
The executive summary of the paper is this. They claim that the optical signal does not fit with the hypothesis that the event is a neutron-star merger. Instead, they argue, it looks like a specific type of white-dwarf merger. A white-dwarf merger, however, would not result in a gravitational wave signal strong enough to be measurable by LIGO. So, they conclude, there must be something wrong with the LIGO event. (The VIRGO measurement of that event has a signal-to-noise ratio of merely two, so it doesn’t increase the significance all that much.)
I am not much of an astrophysicist, but I know a few things about neutron stars, most notably that it’s more difficult to theoretically model them than you may think. Neutron stars are not just massive balls that sit in space. They are rotating hot balls of plasma with pressure gradients that induce various phases of matter. And the equation of state of nuclear matter in the relevant ranges is not well-understood. There’s tons of complex and even chaotic dynamics going on. In short, it’s a mess.
In contrast to this, the production of gravitational waves is a fairly well-understood process that does not depend much on exactly what the matter does. Therefore, the conclusion that I would draw from the Italian paper is that we are misunderstanding something about neutron stars. (Or at least they are.)
But, well, as I said, it’s not my research area. JCAP is a serious journal, and the people who wrote the paper are respected astrophysicists. It’s not folks you can easily dismiss. So I decided to look into this a bit.
FRANCIS WADE: You have emerged as a prominent critic of empire and its foundations in liberal ideas of freedom and progress. Can you outline how your thinking has evolved, from your early writings on the topic to the present, and describe the major events that either reinforced or altered your position?
PANKAJ MISHRA: I know from experience that it is very easy for a brown-skinned Indian writer to be caricatured as a knee-jerk anti-American/anti-Westernist/Third-Worldist/angry postcolonial, and it is important then to point out that my understanding of modern imperialism and liberalism — like that of many people with my background — is actually grounded in an experience of Indian political realities.
In my own case, it was a journalistic assignment in Kashmir that advanced my political and intellectual education. I went there in 1999 with many of the prejudices of the liberal Indian “civilizer” — someone who simply assumed that Kashmiri Muslims were much better off being aligned with “secular,” “liberal,” and “democratic” India than with Pakistan because the former was better placed to advance freedom and progress for all its citizens. In other words, India had a civilizing mission: it had to show Kashmir’s overwhelmingly religious Muslims the light of secular reason — by force, if necessary. The brutal realities of India’s military occupation of Kashmir and the blatant falsehoods and deceptions that accompanied it forced me to revisit many of the old critiques of Western imperialism and its rhetoric of progress. When my critical articles on Kashmir — very long; nearly 25,000 words — appeared in 2000 in The Hindu and TheNew York Review of Books, their most vociferous critics were self-declared Indian liberals who loathed the idea that the supposedly secular and democratic Indian republic, which prided itself on its hard-won freedom from Western imperialism, could itself be a cruel imperialist regime.
There are women left who have no rage in their wrists
As they slice greens or skin tomatoes towards mealtime.
Their husbands are at the beer-gardens with
Family money – what would amount to a bag of beans
Or soap bars.
There are women who keep both lips quietly touching,
Even as they gesture a fly from their brow, and
Swallow the mucus of a chilled afternoon.
They remember vaguely when love began
And the commonplace was not where they were going.
A woman is born knowing how it happens,
Her heart turning to dust as fine as cinnamon.
It has to do with disease, redder lips,
City restaurants, the cost of deodorant.
Indeed, it so happens that their men are condemned
To spend the rest of their lives staggering home
To fuck a corpse who smells of kitchen duty
And an unwillingness to preen for a wanderer.
These women wear long, brown dresses.
They rarely hurry across busy intersections,
They move as if, inside them, they carry a heavy mound.
by Tsitsi Jaji from Bitter Oleander, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003
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It is the mind of the writer that makes for the most brilliant essays. Reality—whether the material world of our senses or the intellectual world we apprehend—is of intrinsic interest. It exists, according to some thinkers, eternally in the mind of God, an object of divine contemplation. If our attention wanes it is only because we lack the godlike capacity to consider such objects—“the meanest flower that blows” or the cosmic fires overhead—with the attention they deserve. Had we the mind of a philosopher we might be able to observe the distant stars, their light, perhaps a photograph of what once was, and contemplate with love the fate of suns or our own mortality. But we scurry beneath sublimity, and when we glance up we blink.
Those who can attend, those who can make us stop and see some precious portion of reality, these people possess a gift. Call it genius if you want. It may be merely childlike wonderment. But whatever it is, such minds enable us to see something of the beauty of existence.
It was supposed to be the best day of Richard “Blue” Mitchell’s life, but June 30, 1958, turned out to be one of the worst. The trumpeter had been summoned to New York City from Miami for a recording session with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, an old friend who was being hailed as the hottest alto sax player since Charlie Parker.
But things started going wrong even before Mitchell arrived at Reeves Sound Studios on East Forty-Fourth Street. First, his luggage went astray en route from Florida. Then there was a surprise waiting for him in the control room: Miles Davis, one of his musical heroes, who had taken the extraordinary step of composing a new melody as a gift to Cannonball. Mitchell was supposed to play Miles’s part.
That wasn’t going to be easy, because the tune, called “Nardis,” was anything but a standard workout on blues-based changes. The melody had a haunting, angular, exotic quality, like the “Gypsy jazz” that guitarist Django Reinhardt played with the Hot Club de France in the 1930s.
Heike Geissler, the German novelist and translator, ran out of money in the winter of 2010 and took a temporary job at an Amazon warehouse in Leipzig to support her two children. As she tells us in the opening pages of her book about that experience, she was not intending to write a book about that experience. But intention is one thing and canniness another; a real writer’s canniness never deserts her. “Though the work was physically and mentally exhausting,” her translator explains, Geissler “managed to take notes on Post-its” during her six weeks at the warehouse, and write more detailed impressions at night.
Those Post-its make Geissler sound like a journalist—going undercover to show the human cost of our convenience addiction, if you like. But this is not a work of journalism. In fact, before she wrote Seasonal Associate, Geissler reportedly attempted a straight-nonfiction version of the story and five publishers rejected it.
The chief constraint on personal freedom in ancient Greece and Rome was what Epictetus knew at first hand, the social practice and indignity of slavery. It was slavery, the condition of being literally owned and made to serve at another’s behest that gave ancient freedom its intensely positive value and emotional charge. Slaves’ bodily movements during their waking lives were strictly constrained by their masters’ wishes and by the menial functions they were required to perform. But slaves, like everyone else, had minds, and minds as well as bodies are subject to freedom and constraint. You can be externally free and internally a slave, controlled by psychological masters in the form of disabling desires and passions and cravings. Conversely, you could be outwardly obstructed or even in literal bondage but internally free from frustration and disharmony, so free in fact that you found yourself in charge of your own well-being, lacking little or nothing that you could not provide for yourself. The latter, in essence, is the freedom that Epictetus, the ancient Stoic philosopher, made the central theme of his teaching.
Stoic philosophy had originated in Greece at the end of the fourth century BC. Its founding fathers were eastern Mediterranean immigrants to Athens, which was no longer a vibrant democracy, as the city had been at the time of Socrates, but a client state of the kingdom of Macedonia. Loss of political autonomy was reflected in philosophy at Athens by an inward turn in the focus of ethics. Neither Stoicism nor Epicureanism, the other leading Hellenistic school, engaged strongly in political theory, as their predecessors Plato and Aristotle had done. The main focus of the younger philosophers’ societal attention was not politics and legislation but personal well-being and self-improvement. This inward turn is strikingly illustrated by the way Stoic thought from its beginning treated freedom and slavery as primarily ethical and psychological denominators rather than marks of social status. According to Zeno, the original head of the Stoic school, freedom is the exclusive prerogative of those who are wise, while inferior persons, who comprise the majority of people, are not only fools but also slaves.
Scientists have long puzzled over the ‘immunological paradox’ of pregnancy1: how does the mother tolerate the fetus — a foreign entity that carries some of the father’s DNA? In a paper in Nature, Vento-Tormo et al.2 investigate this enigma. The authors performed single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) of cells isolated from the placenta and the decidua (the lining of the pregnant uterus), and from matching maternal blood for comparison. They identified an array of cell types unique to this maternal–fetal interface, and inferred the existence of a large network of potential interactions between them that would favour immunological tolerance and nurture the growth of the fetus. The authors’ molecular atlas provides an impressive resource for future studies of pregnancy and its complications.
The early embryo develops into a structure called the blastocyst, which implants in the lining of the uterus. Implantation triggers the development of the placenta from fetal membranes. The placenta nourishes the fetus through the umbilical cord3. Abnormal placental development can lead to several complications of pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia, fetal growth restriction and stillbirth. A better understanding of human placental development is sorely needed, but there is no good animal model for this process — it has to be studied in women. Vento-Tormo et al. collected placental, decidual and blood samples from pregnancies that had been electively terminated at between 6 and 14 weeks of gestation. The authors’ scRNAseq analysis enabled them to distinguish between cells of maternal and fetal origin, because the latter include RNA sequences that are absent in the mother. This clearly revealed that cells from the fetus had migrated into the maternal decidua (Fig. 1), and that a small subset of maternal immune cells called macrophages were located in the placenta.
For educated liberals, Jill Lepore is perhaps the most prominent historian in America today. Since 2005, two years after she moved across the Charles River from Boston University to Harvard, Lepore has written dozens of reviews and essays for the New Yorker on everything from Thomas Paine and Kit Carson to Wonder Woman and Rachel Carson. In some ways, this was a surprising development. When Lepore started her career in the Nineties, she specialized in colonial history, a period that many people view as equal parts boring and confusing. Lepore is, however, a gifted researcher and a lively writer, and her early books rightfully garnered acclaim: the first won the Bancroft Prize, and another was a finalist for the Pulitzer.
In those early books, Lepore’s argument hinged on the power of stories to shape our lives. This thesis has become the touchstone of both her historical and journalistic writing. “The rise of American democracy is bound up with the history of reading and writing,” she argued in The Story of America, her 2012 collection of essays. “The United States is a story,” she claimed; “it follows certain narrative conventions. … Who has a part in a nation’s story, like who can become a citizen and who has a right to vote, isn’t foreordained, or even stable. The story’s plot, like the nation’s borders and the nature of its electorate, is always shifting.” When Lepore wrote The Story of America, she was interested primarily in studying other people’s narratives about the nation, not in writing one herself. Six years later, she has offered up her own account.
“I haven’t attempted to tell the whole story,” she writes in These Truths, her new history of the United States. “No one could.” Instead, she explains, “I’ve confined myself to what, in my view, a people constituted as a nation in the early twenty-first century need to know about their own past.” What does the history of America seen through the lens of 2016 look like? In other words, what kind of story ends with Donald Trump?
In just a few weeks, humanity may take its first paid ride into the age of driverless cars.
Waymo, the secretive subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is planning to launch the world’s first commercial driverless car service in early December, according to a person familiar with the plans. It will operate under a new brand and compete directly with Uber and Lyft.
Waymo is keeping the new name a closely guarded secret until the formal announcement, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the plans haven’t been made public.
“Waymo has been working on self-driving technology for nearly a decade, with safety at the core of everything we do,” the company said in an emailed statement. A Waymo spokesperson declined to comment on the name of the new service or timing of the launch.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has a big goal for a relatively unknown business person:to reach the White House. And he’s aiming to get there by selling America on the idea that all citizens, ages 18-64, should get a check for $1,000 every month, no strings attached, from the U.S. government.
“People who think the antidote to Donald Trump is a boring generic Democrat missed the point. He is a sign of massive institutional failure. On both sides,” Yang said on Reddit on April 2.
A universal basic income (UBI) payment, which Yang calls “the Freedom Dividend,” is one of his major policies.
“The most direct and concrete way for the government to improve your life is to send you a check for $1,000 every month and let you spend it in whatever manner will benefit you the most,” Yang writes on his campaign website.
The government has “plenty of resources, they’re just not being distributed to enough people right now,” he says.
Mitchell settled in the imaginations of pop listeners in the early 70s. In the UK, “Big Yellow Taxi” was a biggish hit in the summer of 1970, its glassily sardonic reflections upon humanity’s relationship with the environment marking out the flaxen-haired Scando-Canadian hippie-chick who sang it as a poster girl for a certain kind of wholesome big-R Romanticism. She was fey, frowning, Nordically bony, the perfect package for the deal: a one-take archetype. What the songs didn’t articulate and the voice didn’t swoop upon like a slender bird, the hair flowed over in a river of molten gold. Like nature busily abhorring a vacuum, Mitchell flooded space that ought perhaps to have been filled by an array of other women before her: the role of thoughtful, poetically articulate, unsentimental, insubordinate, self-expressive female countercultural pop icon. It was a tough job and maybe Mitchell didn’t ask for it, but she certainly got it and then did it with never less than questioning commitment.
In 1962 Derrida published a book-length introduction to his translation of Husserl’s short work The Origin of Geometry in which the seeds of his later thinking were already evident, but it was in 1967 that he truly made his mark on the French philosophical scene. In that year he published no fewer than three books, and in so doing displayed the startling originality and productiveness that was to characterize his career until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2004: L’écriture et la difference, La voix et le phénomène and De la grammatologie. Five years later, another trio of books appeared, cementing Derrida’s position at the forefront of what became known in the English-speaking world as “post-structuralism”: La Dissemination, Marges de la philosophie and Positions. There followed a steady stream of publications; a recent posthumous volume produced by his favourite French publisher, Galilée, lists fifty-seven books from their own house and another thirty-one from other publishers – and this list includes only the first two volumes in the planned series of hitherto unpublished seminars delivered over more than forty years.
Color is Eugène Delacroix’s hero. He fights for color. He lives for color. His oil paintings are luxurious orchestrations of feverish reds, velvety blues, dusky purples, astringent oranges, and shimmering greens. In his works on paper, some of the same colors, presented as isolated elements, become refreshingly austere. There is nothing that this giant of nineteenth-century French painting cannot do with color. If his art is uneasy, it’s because his color is never easy. He flirts with chromatic chaos. He yearns for chromatic catharsis. “The very sight of my palette,” he once wrote, “freshly set out with the colors in their contrasts is enough to fire my enthusiasm.” However alien we may find some of his gaudy fantasies and megalomaniacal ambitions, there is no question that he is an artist who knows how to fill our eyes.
What’s demoralizing about the retrospective that is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is that Delacroix’s coloristic genius is so hard to find. The sepulchral installation muffles and sometimes even strangles his work. Is this the museum’s idea of what it takes to set a mood worthy of Delacroix’s reputation as the leader of the Romantic movement in France?
Many people are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which he argued that basic needs such as safety, belonging, and self-esteem must be satisfied (to a reasonable healthy degree) before being able to fully realize one’s unique creative and humanitarian potential. What many people may not realize is that a strict hierarchy was not really the focus of his work (and in fact, he never represented his theory as a pyramid).
…Overall, self-actualization was related to higher levels of stability and the ability to protect your highest level goals from disruption by distracting impulses and thoughts. Self-actualization was related to lower levels of disruptive impulsivity (“Get out of control”, “Am self-destructive”), nonconstructive thinking (“Have a dark outlook on the future”, “Often express doubts”), and a lack of authenticity and meaning (“Feel that my list lacks direction”, “Act or feel in a way that does not fit me”). Just as Maslow predicted, those with higher self-actualization scores were much more motivated by growth, exploration, and love of humanity than the fulfillment of deficiencies in basic needs. What’s more, self-actualization scores were associated with multiple indicators of well-being, including greater life satisfaction, curiosity, self-acceptance, positive relationships, environmental mastery, personal growth, autonomy, and purpose in life.
The urge to be a tiny bird
upon a tiny limb, maybe
a bridled titmouse
standing on its spidery feet,
not a big guy who falls
with a resounding thump
and bruises sidewalks and pastures,
sinks in river mud to the waist.
If my feet were spears I would have descended
to a tumultuous underground river that are
everywhere, earth-borne by the black current.
When young I thought I’d die in my thirties
like so many of my favorite poets.
At seventy-five I see this hasn’t happened.
Still, I am faithful to my poems and birds.
Birds are poems I haven’t caught yet.
Jim Harrison from Dead Man’s Float
Copper Canyon Press, 2015
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The line primus in orbe deos fecit timor — “fear first made gods in the world” — appears in at least twoLatin poems in the first century. Earlier it was expressed with great aplomb in Lucretius’s poem On the Nature of Things. For Lucretius, as for many thinkers since, what terrifies us is nature — the fickleness of seed and season, the wrath of storm and sea. At least since Freud, however, the fear of death, or cessation of the self, has been a more common theoretical fascination — “Man’s tomb is the sole birthplace of the gods,” according to Ludwig Feuerbach. I picked up the idea from a group of psychologists working on what they called “terror management theory,” an attempt to explain human behavior in terms of responses to the fear of death. They in turn had picked the idea up from Ernest Becker, an American cultural anthropologist working in the Sixties and early Seventies.
Becker’s book The Denial of Death won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction just two months after he died of cancer, aged forty-nine. The book advanced the theory that the knowledge and fear of death is humanity’s central driving force, underlying civilization and all human achievement. According to Becker, we are unique among animals in our awareness of our mortality. This knowledge leads us to construct systems of values — theological, moral, political, cultural, scientific — through which we can deny our finitude. All endeavors within these systems are attempts to obtain immortality, whether literal or symbolic. The terror management theorists turned Becker’s sweeping analysis into a scientific theory amenable to empirical testing. One experiment in a 1989 study involved twenty-two municipal court judges who were asked to set bail in the case of a hypothetical woman charged with prostitution. The judges were given identical prosecutor’s notes describing the case, but halfof the judges, randomly selected, also received instructions to imagine and write about what dying would be like and how these thoughts about death made them feel. The other half were spared any prompted thoughts about mortality. While the judges in the neutral condition set bail at an average of $50, the judges who were asked to contemplate death set bail at $455, over nine times higher. The researchers concluded that this showed that thinking about death made the judges more punitive against someone accused of violating a moral norm, confirming the idea that strengthening moral norms is part of what we do when we are anxious about our finitude.