It kills me to write this because I love the Museum of Modern Art. Aesthetically speaking it’s where we all come from, where we go to commune with our ancestors and become new again. Yet the more I go to the new MOMA–and I’ve been there over 50 times since it reopened a year ago this week–the more I think this crown jewel is becoming a beautiful tomb. At MOMA the unruly juice of art history, the chaos, contradiction, radicality, and rebellion, are being bleached out. Instead, we’re getting the taming of modernism–modernism as elevator music.
An observation by Jacques Lacan might describe the dire straits MOMA is in: “A madman who believes he is king is no more mad than a king who believes he is king.” Of course, this statement means a king who believes he possesses an inherent “king gene” is implicitly mad. Second, and more pressing, it means that to be king the people must believe you are king. Being king is a relationship.
Kelley, whose most recent show opened recently at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, was the last artist—and by last, I mean both “most recent” and “last ever”—to pull off the great gambit of 20th-century art: He made things that, upon first inspection, you would think had no artistic qualities whatsoever, things that were not and could not possibly be art, let alone significant art. And yet there they were, in a gallery or museum, and after you spent some time with them, you began to think, Yes, of course this is art; and after a little more time, you began to realize that it was very significant art indeed. It now falls to me, and art writers like me, to exercise, for the last time, the great gambit of 20th-century criticism, and explain why. . . .
In all the chatter about a “new formalism” going on, folks who should know better tend to overlook that any so-called new formalism is still formalism—a crucial aspect summoned too often just as formula or a way of putting thought on crutches when confronting abstraction and nonrepresentation, instead of allowing it to stumble into the unknown. Artists create and de-create new forms, which mostly aren’t categorizable until they’ve already moved elsewhere. Like any other artist who actually wishes to accomplish something meaningful, Hill’s trying to sort through many things at once. I doubt he’d start with his “interest” in form, point blank, as what gets him out of bed, but neither would he prioritize grooving to the sometimes contradictory currents of Sturtevant, Billy Al Bengston (color as space, vernacular as history), and Fecteau (poetic rigor) over possibly testing the aesthetic potential of Spencer’s Gifts (the “adult” novelty shop specializing in the black-lit paraphernalia of stoner eroticism), fabric and glass arts, or the low-key cool of surf culture (coral, pastel beach stones, killer airbrushing) and its mum, soulful atmospherics.
The real inflection point of this presidency was not Iraq; rather, it was Hurricane Katrina. Rightly or wrongly, Bush was perceived not just as unprepared for a major hurricane strike, but also as oblivious to the seriousness of the humanitarian disaster in New Orleans. This perception solidified the opposition of the U.S. left, denied the president any help from the American center and cracked the heretofore unified American right. The result was a president in danger of losing his core supporters, without whom no president can effectively rule. Similar circumstances condemned past statesmen such as Wilson, Truman, Johnson and Nixon into the unenviable company of failed presidents. (GW Bush picture here).
Since Katrina, the Bush administration’s fortunes have only slid further, with three critical defeats standing out most glaringly. First, its primary congressional ally, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has been indicted for fundraising improprieties. Second, the administration’s efforts to shuttle Harriet Miers into the Supreme Court resulted in a break within the Republican Party. Third, the vice president’s chief of staff — Lewis “Scooter” Libby — has been indicted for disclosing the status of undercover intelligence officers to the press, a charge that may well be pressed against political mastermind Karl Rove, and perhaps even the vice president himself.
It seems that 9-year-old boys aren’t the only male creatures who will join together to torment their female counterparts. When male lizards largely outnumber females, they direct their aggressiveness toward mating partners, population biologists report. Such belligerence, they say, could put lizard populations at risk of extinction.
Lizards were separated into two populations, each with about 70 members. In one population the adults were three-quarter males, and in the other they were three-quarter females. Lizards were allowed to emigrate to another population of the same bias in sex ratio. The mortality and emigration rates of male lizards were unaffected by sex ratio imbalances, the team reports online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But females were 2 to 3 times more likely to die or be wounded by males when their environment was male-dominated than when it was female-dominated. The team concluded that rather than fighting off male competitors, the too-numerous male lizards forced the females into mating.
Has there ever been a great poet as tempting to laugh at as William Wordsworth? The tradition of mocking him is as old as the tradition of revering him. In 1807, when Wordsworth published “Poems, in Two Volumes,” the fashionable reviewers competed in the ingenuity of their scorn. Francis Jeffrey, the critical dictator of the Edinburgh Review, declared that “if the printing of such trash as this be not felt as an insult on the public taste, we are afraid it cannot be insulted.” Jeffrey remained the chief bane of Wordsworth’s career—in 1814, his review of “The Excursion,” a nine-thousand-line epic, began with an airy “This will never do”—but he was just one of many who felt the need to cut the poet down to size. “For nearly twenty years,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge complained in “Biographia Literaria,” Wordsworth’s poems “have well-nigh engrossed criticism, as the main, if not the only, butt of review, magazine, pamphlet, poem, and paragraph.”
David P. Barash in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Rather than defending their discipline, many among the literati have mourned its imminent demise. Thus, in his book The Literary Mind: Its Place in an Age of Science, Max Eastman concluded that science was on the verge of answering “every problem that arises,” and that literature, therefore, “has no place in such a world.” And in 1970 the playwright Eugene Ionesco wondered “if art hasn’t reached a dead-end, if indeed in its present form, it hasn’t already reached its end. … For some time now, science has been making enormous progress, whereas the empirical revelations of writers have been making very little. … Can literature still be considered a means to knowledge?”
Balancing Eastman and Ionesco — humanists pessimistic about the humanities — Noam Chomsky is a scientist radically distrustful of science: “It is quite possible — overwhelmingly probable, one might guess — that we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology.” Should we see the two cultures, instead, the way Stephen Jay Gould used to describe science and religion: as “nonoverlapping magisteria”? But in fact, they do overlap, most obviously when practitioners of either seek to enlarge their domain into the other. And when this happens, there have inevitably been cries of outrage, reminiscent of the Snow-Leavis squabble. Thus Edward O. Wilson’s effort at “consilience” evoked strenuous opposition, mostly from humanists. Reciprocally, more than a few scientists — Alan Sokal most prominently — have been outraged by postmodernist efforts to “transgress the boundaries” by “privileging” a kind of poly-syllabic verbal hijinks over scientific theory building, empirical validation, and careful thought.
New technologies appear all the time. Right at this moment scientists are laboring away on the Herculean task of making an artificial cell, a challenge that for the first nine tenths of the 20th century many biologists would have dismissed as an impossibility. Just as important as new invention, though, is the translation of ingenuity into practice. This year’s SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 50 represents a testament to pragmatism. Many of the reports that have wowed the public on advances in nanotechnology or stems cells, to name just two, have taken a big step from graduate-level research toward becoming items for purchase at Wal-Mart or routine therapies at your local hospital.
A Korean researcher gained worldwide attention by achieving a 10-fold improvement in the number of stem cell lines derived from cloned human embryos. Japanese investigators created a solar cell that both generates and stores electricity. For the fourth year, the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 50 recognizes people, teams and organizations whose recent accomplishments, whether in research, business or policymaking, demonstrate leadership in shaping both established and emerging technologies.
Dozens of outlandish mega-projects — including “The World” (an artificial archipelago), Burj Dubai (the Earth’s tallest building), the Hydropolis (that underwater luxury hotel, the Restless Planet theme park, a domed ski resort perpetually maintained in 40C heat, and The Mall of Arabia, a hyper-mall — are actually under construction or will soon leave the drawing boards.
Under the enlightened despotism of its Crown Prince and CEO, 56-year-old Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Rhode-Island-sized Emirate of Dubai has become the new global icon of imagineered urbanism. Although often compared to Las Vegas, Orlando, Hong Kong or Singapore, the sheikhdom is more like their collective summation: a pastiche of the big, the bad, and the ugly. It is not just a hybrid but a chimera: the offspring of the lascivious coupling of the cyclopean fantasies of Barnum, Eiffel, Disney, Spielberg, Jerde, Wynn, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
How do I know that you have a pain in your leg? Perhaps you tell me or I see you hopping around or grimacing while holding your leg. In short, I know that you have a pain in your leg by observing your behavior (including your verbal behavior). Of course, sometimes this method doesn’t work because you’re faking—but usually it does. How do I know that I have a pain in my leg? In the typical case, not by asking my doctor or seeing myself in the mirror hopping around. It is not immediately clear how best to characterize the method I normally use to find out whether I am in pain, but it is clear that whatever that method is, it is quite unlike the way I have of knowing that you are in pain. And similarly for other mental states. I know that you believe that the pub is open because I see you striding purposefully toward it; I don’t know that I believe that the pub is open by catching a glimpse of myself in a store window, heading for the pub. Usually I do not need to observe myself to find out what I believe. A person, then, has a special way of finding out about her mental states that is quite different from the way she finds out about others’ mental states. Let us mark this fact by saying that we have peculiar access to our mental states. Contrast this with finding out one’s own weight or underwear color: here all the methods of discovery—using scales, undressing, and so on—can also be employed to find out these facts about other people.
The Seed Media Group has launched a new version of Seed Magazine, whose motto is “Science is Culture.” They have also developed a beautiful way of presenting science-related items from around the web, and they call it Phylotaxis. From their website:
Phylotaxis is an exploration of the space where science meets culture.
Its structure, derived from the Fibonacci Sequence and closely related to the Golden Ratio, is one of nature’s most elegant. The Fibonacci Sequence is the set of numbers where each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. This simple sequence governs phenomena as diverse as the petal arrangement of roses, the breeding patterns of rabbits, and the shape of our galaxy. It is also evident in the design of the Great Pyramids, the composition of the Mona Lisa, and the construction of Stradivarius violins.
Related to the Fibonacci Sequence, Phylotaxis (Phyllos – leaf, Taxis – order) is the study of the ordered position of leaves on a plant stem, and also applies to the shape of pinecones, and the dispersion of seeds on the flat head of a sunflower. Seed has chosen this shape to represent the perfect synthesis of science and culture.
Without the randomness of culture, science becomes dry and predictable, imprisoned in a strict square grid. Without the rational thinking of science, culture quickly teeters towards chaos. Only when science and culture act as peers can harmony be achieved, expressed through the astonishing Phylotaxis shape.
The individual beads of the Phylotaxis represent an ever-changing zeitgeist of science news in our world, populated automatically every few hours by a computer program that scours a slew of online news sources and blogs that focus on science. The Phylotaxis is therefore beyond human control, autonomously composing its own new identity, based on what’s happening in the world of science.
Practically all architects dream of changing the world through their work, achieving fame not merely of the celebrity sort but the world-historical variety. They aspire to be not merely the next Frank Gehry, but the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. After the Paris riots, though, there’s one world-historical architect they almost certainly don’t aspire to emulate: Le Corbusier.
One of the leaders of the modernist movement, Le Corbusier was also the forefather of the modern high-rise, low-income apartment complex, the “machines for living” that sprouted by the dozens on the outskirts of French cities, and which were soon imported by American public housing authorities, who used them as a model for such notorious housing projects as Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing Development and St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex. The banlieues, as they are known in France, quickly became the hub of the country’s pathologically poor and disenfranchised immigrant classes; their dark hallways and looming mass became synecdoches for squalor and crime.
Catullus’s work, with its impassioned, insistently present-tense scrutiny of love and faithlessness, reflects his generation’s appalled awareness that the spoken words we depend on to reveal emotional affinities and make social contracts real are insubstantial, wayward things, “written on running water, on the wind.” “Rufus, I thought you my friend. In vain, and to no purpose”; “You told me once, Lesbia, that Catullus alone understood you”: Catullus’s gaze, disconcertingly fixed on the unraveling of every human bond, erotic, affectionate, or political, is entirely new to classical poetry, and for all its deserved reputation for charm, his is an art sparked by social disorder. Even the semidivine legendary founder of Rome gets slapped with a crude epithet for tolerating the corruption of Caesar and his cronies: “Hey, / fag Romulus, can you put up with such a scene?”
The first images ever made of retinas in living people reveal surprising variation from one person to the next. Yet somehow our perceptions don’t vary as might be expected. As they took pictures of the thousands of cells responsible for detecting color in the deepest layer of the eye, scientists found that our eyes are wired differently. Yet we all — with the exception of the colorblind — identify colors similarly.
The results suggest that the brain plays an even more significant role than thought in deciding what we see.
Christina Koenig found out she had breast cancer on a Friday afternoon. She was just 39 years old. On Monday, she thought she knew why the cancer had struck. “I went in and talked to a team of medical professionals who ultimately performed a lumpectomy, and I said, ‘How long has this been there?’ They said, ‘Five to ten years.’ And immediately, my mind jumped to: ‘Well, I did go through a divorce. I did have stress.’ ” Ms. Koenig, who lives in Chicago, was divorced four years before her cancer was diagnosed. Was it just a coincidence, she wondered? Now, four years later, she still wonders. So do many other women who get breast cancer. Ms. Koenig now works for Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization, which gets 40,000 calls a year on its hot line. Over and over, she says, women ask, Did stress cause their cancer by weakening their immune system and allowing a tumor to grow? “It’s a widespread belief,” Ms. Koenig said.
And it is not restricted to women with breast cancer.
Sam Harris at the Council for Secular Humanism (via One Good Move):
There is a conflict between science and religion, and it is zero-sum. Surely it is time that scientists and other intellectuals stopped disguising this fact. Indeed, the incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either one has good reasons for what one strongly believes, or one does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they can. When rational inquiry supports the creed, it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided. It is only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, that its adherents invoke “faith.” Otherwise, they simply cite the reasons for their beliefs (“The New Testament confirms Old Testament prophecy,” “I saw the face of Jesus in a window,” “We prayed, and our daughter’s cancer went into remission”). Such reasons are generally inadequate, but they are better than no reasons at all. Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. In a world that has been shattered—utterly—by mutually incompatible religious beliefs . . . in a nation that is growing increasingly beholden to Iron Age conceptions of God, the end of history, the return of Jesus, and the immortality of the soul . . . this lazy partitioning of our discourse into matters of reason and matters of faith is now unconscionable.
“A creationist when he visited the Galápagos Islands, the great naturalist grasped the full significance of the unique wildlife he found there only well after he had returned to London.”
Frank J. Sulloway in Smithsonian Magazine:
Charles Darwin stepped into a treacherous world of sun-baked lava, spiny cactus and tangled brushwood in September 1835, when he reached the Galápagos Islands with fellow crew members of the HMS Beagle. The Beagle‘s captain, Robert FitzRoy, described the barren volcanic landscape as “a shore fit for Pandemonium.” Darwin’s five-week visit to these remarkable islands, when he was 26 years old, catalyzed the scientific revolution that now bears his name.
According to the well-established creationist theory of Darwin’s day, the exquisite adaptations of many species—such as the hinges of the bivalve shell and the wings and plumes on seeds dispersed by air—were compelling evidence that a “designer” had created each species for its intended place in the economy of nature. Darwin had wholeheartedly accepted this theory, which was bolstered by the biblical account in Genesis, until his experiences in the Galápagos Islands began to undermine this way of thinking about the biological world.
…excruciating as his entry is, [John] Updike is up against some stiff competition. Among the 11 contenders for the prize this year are some of the biggest names in literature, including Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paul Theroux. Of the three, Theroux’s offering, from Blinding Light, is arguably the most deserving of the prize, with its description of a character’s orgasm as
“…not juice at all but a demon eel thrashing in his loins and swimming swiftly up his cock, one whole creature of live slime fighting the stiffness as it rose and bulged at the tip and darted into her mouth.”
Theroux does, at least, manage to insert some punctuation into his description. Giles Coren, however, is in the running for an extract which comprises a 138-word long sentence followed by a two-word followup (“Like Zorro”, in case you were wondering) and which contains the alarming image of an excited male member “leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath”.
“Dubai is trying to build itself a future as a great global city. In the process, it has become the largest architectural experiment on earth.”
Steve Rose in The Guardian:
Welcome to Greenland, a sun-drenched, palm-fringed island 100m across. On a clear day, or even an unclear day, you can see across to Canada. In fact you could swim to it in a couple of minutes, but at the moment, there’s nothing there except sand. Greenland, meanwhile, has a luxurious air-conditioned villa with an infinity pool – not that anyone lives in it yet.
This isn’t the real world, of course: it is The World, situated a couple of miles off the coast of Dubai, just next door to The Palm, a giant artificial island shaped like a stylised date palm, which gained national attention a couple of years ago when David Beckham and other England footballers bought luxury properties on its fronds. The World takes the whole concept one step further, laying some 300 new islands in a blurry Mercator projection. Both developments are run by the state-owned Nakheel company. As their sales literature puts it, “The Palm put Dubai on the map, The World is putting the map on Dubai.”
The World is the latest in a string of building projects that have made Dubai, the second largest of the United Arab Emirates, the most spectacular and outlandish architectural experiment on the planet. The country is relentlessly, almost obsessively, building itself into significance. Under the auspices of the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed and the rest of the ruling Maktoum family, Dubai is being transformed from a blank canvas into an Islamic fusion of Singapore and Vegas.
More here. Also see this about Ski Dubai (yeah, that’s right, Ski Dubai!).
Harper’s Magazine is an intellectual hothouse that tends to grow its own. The magazine will announce today that Roger D. Hodge, 38, will succeed Lewis H. Lapham as editor in April, and Mr. Hodge is no exception. After being turned down for an internship in 1996, he got a call back a few days later and has remained planted at the magazine since, holding a variety of jobs, most recently serving as deputy editor.
Then again, Mr. Hodge was born and raised in Del Rio, Tex., and as the son of a rancher knows his way around cattle, sheep and a gun. The family spread is now a hunting ground, and Mr. Hodge’s gimlet eye extends beyond raw copy to the scope of a rifle.