the New Aestheticist manifesto

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Unnurtured elsewhere, the New Aestheticist writer must perforce be a great and wide reader, taking heart from, for instance, classical Chinese poetry, Willa Cather, and van Gogh’s letters, such as the one where he complains of his contemporaries that “they do not admire enough.” Fortunately, the New Aestheticist cares little for self-expression, for his or her own special individual specialness. They are just as happy to see beauty in another’s work as to make it themselves. They tend to be translators. They do not fear accusations of plagiarism. They look backward, and outward. Some names to conjure with: Peter Handke. Alvaro Mutis. Anne Carson. Their books tend to be short, their long books in sections. In the movies: Kusturica’s Underground, Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I and Cleo from 5 to 7, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Only rarely does New Aestheticist art take on political topics, and even more rarely does it have a discernible message. For all its implicit timelessness, New Aestheticism will no doubt one day be seen as a reaction to its age and therefore part of it, like the Chinese literati in dark times who turned away from a corrupt court to tend to their gardens. Whom has all our genocide testimony helped? Has deconstructing the bourgeois subject of linear narrative served any purpose but to construct an escapist ghetto for intellectuals who might otherwise have been among the best minds of their generation? And then of course there’s the Bush years. But hear how shrill this all sounds. The New Aesthete would rather be beautiful than shrill. “I don’t know why literary people spend so much time apologizing for their perfectly harmless little books that no one will ever read. You don’t hear generals apologizing for killing people” (Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet). If you write interesting sentences then people will want to read them if not then not, that is the truth.

more from Damion Searls at the Quarterly Conversation here.

Now days are dragon-ridden

Yeats

William Butler Yeats has been called the twentieth century’s greatest poet. He may even deserve the title. As Richard Ellmann wrote in his classic study Yeats: The Man and the Masks, “it is not easy to assign him a lower place.” Others may have attempted more; none achieved it. Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and all the other contenders of Yeats’s illustrious generation—none stakes quite the same claim on the imagination, or on the idiom, of our time. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”; “A terrible beauty is born”; “Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare / Rides upon sleep.” Even Joyce has his protagonist Stephen Dedalus murmuring lines from Yeats’s early poem “Who Goes with Fergus?” on Sandymount strand: “And no more turn aside and brood / Upon love’s bitter mystery.” Like Shakespeare, Yeats is inescapable. Yet few critics, including Ellmann, have seemed entirely comfortable with this fact. As a man, Yeats could be personally unappealing, even arrogant and intolerant, although not more so than Eliot and less so than Pound. The problem with casting Yeats as the ne plus ultra of twentieth-century poets stems from the fact that his work defies preconceptions about what a sufficiently modern—and specifically Modernist—poetry should be. Yeats’s ties to the nineteenth century and the legacy of Romanticism were vital and strong. Most importantly, Yeats forsook radical formal innovation and was instead a lifelong advocate of traditional poetic meter and form.

more from Robert Huddleston at The Boston Review here.

A BOMB IN EVERY ISSUE

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Ramparts stands with a handful of 20th-century American magazines — Playboy, the Harold Hayes-era Esquire, Rolling Stone, Spy and Wired — whose glory days continue to influence editors. Each of these magazines not only grabbed the zeitgeist but shaped it. If you’ve never heard of Ramparts or have only vague awareness of its significance, Peter Richardson’s compact history, “A Bomb in Every Issue,” will assure you of its place in the magazine pantheon. This San Francisco Bay Area magazine didn’t live long, starting in 1962 as a quarterly and expiring in 1975. Its very best pages appeared between 1966 and 1968: in that short span, it restored the lapsed institution of muckraking, put showmanship back into journalism, exposed Central Intelligence Agency excesses, helped turn Martin Luther King Jr. against the Vietnam War, gave radicalism a commercial megaphone and boosted the careers of such notable journalists as Warren ­Hinckle (who gave the magazine its heart), Robert Scheer (who gave it its brain), Adam Hochschild, David Horo­witz, Peter Collier and Jann Wenner.

more from Jack Shafer at the NYT here.

The search for national identity in a post-national age

Clay Risen in The National:

Bilde Atop a forested hill a few kilometres outside the sleepy west German town of Detmold stands a 19-metre high statue of Hermann, the Germanic chief whose forces annihilated nearly 20,000 Roman legionnaires at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD. Gazing toward the French border, the copper statue, wearing a jaunty winged helmet, holds an upraised sword, whose blade bears the inscription “German Unity is my strength, and my strength is Germany’s power”.

The Hermannsdenkmal, or “Hermann Monument”, was unveiled in 1875, in the aftermath of Germany’s crushing defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent unification of the disparate German states into the Second Reich. At the time it was the world’s largest statue; standing on an 18-metre pedestal, it is visible for nearly 50 kilometres. The monument became a symbol for German militant nationalism and a pilgrimage site for the growing cult that celebrated Hermann as a kind of Ur-German, a movement that reached its fever pitch under the Nazis.

After the Second World War the Germans purged their culture of anything remotely tainted by Nazism, and the monument – and Hermann – fell into anonymity. The battle, once known as the Hermannschlacht, or Hermann Battle, was rechristened the Varusschlacht, after the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus: it is surely one of the only battles in history named after its loser. German schoolchildren, who once read from the countless Romantic Age poems celebrating Hermann, now learnt what a shame it was that the erstwhile hero had prevented Latin culture from reaching northern Germany.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Upon His Manifestations of Sickness

Manjusri: Householder, of what sort is your sickness?

Vimalakirti: It is immaterial and invisible.

I should tell you first that when the wind blows,
I feel wild joy, and when the settling leaves
restructure the street, I feel untied
because my sickness is of the sort
that is unphysical: the shape of wind.
And my sickness is of the sort
that is unseeable: the color of wind.

But you asked, Of what sort is your sickness?

It is invisible: a wild red joy.
It is immaterial: a wind-flung freedom.
It is what requires me to stand in the doorway:
the blinding, color-wild pavement,
the disembodied sound.

by Christine Hartzler

from The Teachings; Mudlark No. 60, 2006

Michelle’s Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy—and Yours

Henry Louis Gates Jr in The Root:

Youngmichelleobama_0 First Lady Michelle Obama’s maternal third-great-grandfather was a white man who fathered Melvinia Shields’ (her maternal third great-grandmother) son, Dolphus T. Shields, both slaves. This discovery, like all recoveries of the identities of ancestors we thought had been obliterated in the crucible of slavery, is first and foremost a welcome gift for the first family, especially for Michelle’s mother, Marian Shields Robinson, and the Shields family line. And for anyone still naïve enough to believe in the myth of racial purity, it is one more corroboration that the social categories of “white” and “black” are and always have been more porous than can be imagined, especially in that nether world called slavery. As I have learned since embarking upon my African American Lives series (for PBS), never before are more African Americans determined to ferret out the names of their slave ancestors, and never before have more resources, especially online, been available to facilitate these searches. But, be prepared. To paraphrase the Bible: seek; but fasten your seat belt as to what ye may find. For those of us fortunate enough to lift the veil on our family’s slave past and identify our actual ancestors, these genealogical searches often yield startling results—two in particular. The first shock? That Cherokee Princess that family lore says is your great-great-grandmother most probably never existed. The sad truth is that the overwhelming percentage of African-American people have very little Native American ancestry in their DNA.

A Harvard colleague of mine likes to say, “DNA don’t lie.” And the Reverend Eugene Rivers likes to say that “DNA has freed more black men than Abraham Lincoln.”

More here.

Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing

From The Guardian:

Clifford-Harper-illustrat-001 In terms of what we know about them, the contrast between our two greatest men of letters, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, could scarcely be sharper. Of Shakespeare, we know next to nothing; of Dickens we know next to everything. Dickens might well have wished it otherwise: speaking of his great predecessor, he wrote to a correspondent: “It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known about the poet. It is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should come out.”

The mystery of Charles Dickens is quite as profound as that of William Shakespeare, but it is essentially the mystery of art itself and of its roots in the deepest layers of experience and personality. Of the writer's external life, there is almost an embarrassment of riches. It was a life lived at full tilt. There are times in Michael Slater's indispensable new biography when one simply has to close the book from sheer exhaustion at its subject's expenditure of energy. It's like being sprayed by the ocean. Even Dickens was astonished at it: “How strange it is,” he said, “to be never at rest!”

More here.

Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government

Lawrence Lessig in The New Republic:

Lessigcover In 2006, the Sunlight Foundation launched a campaign to get members of Congress to post their daily calendars on the Internet. “The Punch-Clock Campaign” collected pledges from ninety-two candidates for Congress, and one of them was elected. I remember when the project was described to me by one of its developers. She assumed that I would be struck by its brilliance. I was not. It seemed to me that there were too many legitimate reasons why someone might not want his or her “daily official work schedule” available to anyone with an Internet connection. Still, I didn’t challenge her. I was just coming into the “transparency movement.” Surely these things would become clearer, so to speak, later on.

In any case, the momentum was on her side. The “transparency movement” was about to achieve an extraordinary victory in the election of Barack Obama. Indeed, practically nobody any longer questions the wisdom in Brandeis’s famous remark–it has become one of the reigning clichés of the transparency movement–that “sunlight is … the best of disinfectants.” Like the decision to go to war in Iraq, transparency has become an unquestionable bipartisan value.

More here.

The world’s smallest art prize

From New Scientist:

Crossing a microscope with a camera gives you a micrograph, a tiny photograph that allows artists and scientists to show the beauty inaccessible to the naked eye. Every year the Small World competition run by optics giant Nikon celebrates this hidden world. This year the winners range from an anglerfish ovary to the sex organs of plants via a rusted old coin.

Winner

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Heiti Paves of the Tallinn Institute of Technology, Estonia, won the competition with this image of a thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) anther magnified at 20x.

The thale cress is an important species used in the study of plant genome traits.

It made history in 2000 when it became the first plant to have its entire genetic code sequenced and now stands as a model species for understanding the molecular biology of many plant traits.

More here.

How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

Patricia Cohen in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 10 09.33 Many of the 17 books that Ms. Ehrenreich has written during the past three and half decades have taken her into alien worlds. In her fantastically successful 2001 book, “Nickel and Dimed,” for example, she details her experience of trying to get by on the salary of an unskilled, minimum-wage worker. By contrast, this newest volume is based on her stay in a world that she became intimately familiar with: the smiley-faced, pink-ribboned, positive-thinking culture that surrounds breast cancer patients.

Ms. Ehrenreich found out she had the disease in 2000, and the news left her dazed, fearful and, most of all, angry. What she found when she sought information and support, however, was cheerfulness, and that shocked her.

More here.

Barbara Skarga (1919-2009)

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„Poor” and „rich” are concepts Heidegger used in his 1929-1930 lectures, published posthumously as „Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt–Endlichkeit–Einsamkeit”. (The Basic Concepts of Metaphysics. World – Finitude – Solitude). He used them in relation to a world that – because of its metaphysical essence – is one of his key concepts, in addition to the ones mentioned above (world, finitude and solitude). However, this is not the point I intend to discuss here even though it is very interesting. What really interests me now is what Heidegger said later. He said that the world of the animal is poor although this does not necessarily mean it is imperfect. When a lizard lies on a hot stone in the sun, its world is lacking in nothing. It has access to warmth which it seeks, although it does so driven by instinct or drive, a sudden impulse generated by desire. The stone means everything to the lizard, offering protection from possible danger and its surroundings providing it with nourishment. What could be more wonderful? The stone demarcates the boundaries of its existence. Human existence, as would seem self-evident to us, cannot be compared with animal existence. It is created by a rich world, a world filled with varied types of activities, relationships to things and to other people, although animal drive or the desire to create a secure world around itself is not alien to it either.

more from a lecture by Barbara Skarga at Salon) here.

new stuff from rilke!

Rainer_Maria_Rilke

I.
You must have seen them: these small towns and tiny villages of my homeland. They have learned one day by heart and they scream it out into the sunlight over and over again like great gray parrots. Near night though they grow preternaturally pensive. You can see it in the town squares, where they struggle to solve the dark question that hangs in the air. It is touching, and a little ludicrous, to the foreigner, because he knows without a second thought that if there is an answer—any answer at all—it certainly won’t come from the small towns and tiny villages of my homeland, try as sincerely as they might, poor things.

II.
When I think about little girls in the moment of turning into big girls (it is no slow timid development, but something strangely sudden), I always have to imagine an ocean behind them, or a grave eternal plain, or something else you don’t actually see with your eyes but can only sense, and that only in the deep and silent hours. Then I see the big girls as being exactly as big as I was used to the little childlike girls being small—and heaven above knows why, that’s just how I want to see them. There is a reason for everything. But the best things that happen, after all, are the ones that hide their deeper reason with both hands, whether out of modesty or because they don’t want to be betrayed.

more from Rilke at The Paris Review here.

Friday Poem

I have No Problem

I look at myself:
I have no problem.
I look all right
and, to some girls,
my grey hair might even be attractive;
my eyeglasses are well made,
my body temperature is precisely thirty seven,
my shirt is ironed and my shoes do not hurt.
I have no problem.
My hands are not cuffed,
my tongue has not been silenced yet,
I have not, so far, been sentenced
and I have not been fired from my work;
I am allowed to visit my relatives in jail,
I’m allowed to visit some of their graves in some countries.
I have no problem.
I am not shocked that my friend
has grown a horn on his head.
I like his cleverness in hiding the obvious tail
under his clothes, I like his calm paws.
He might kill me, but I shall forgive him
for he is my friend;
he can hurt me every now and then.
I have no problem.
The smile of the TV anchor
does not make me ill any more
and I’ve got used to the Khaki stopping my colours
night and day.
That is why
I keep my identification papers on me, even at
the swimming pool.
I have no problem.
Yesterday, my dreams took the night train
and I did not know how to say goodbye to them.
I heard the train had crashed
in a barren valley
(only the driver survived).
I thanked God, and took it easy
for I have small nightmares
that I hope will develop into great dreams.
I have no problem.
I look at myself, from the day I was born till now.
In my despair I remember
that there is life after death;
there is life after death
and I have no problem.
But I ask:
Oh my God,
is there life before death?

by Mourid Barghouti


translation Radwa Ashour
from Midnight and Other Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden,
Lancashire, 2009

President Barack Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

From Chron:

Barack_obamaOSLO — President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a stunning decision designed to encourage his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism. Nobel observers were shocked by the unexpected choice so early in the Obama presidency, which began less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama woke up to the news a little before 6 a.m. EDT. The White House had no immediate comment on the announcement, which took the administration by surprise. The Norwegian Nobel Committee lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation but recognized initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future,” said Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee. Still, the U.S. remains at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Congress has yet to pass a law reducing carbon emissions and there has been little significant reduction in global nuclear stockpiles since Obama took office. “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act,” said former Polish President Lech Walesa, a 1983 Nobel Peace laureate. “This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres. Let's give him time to act,” Walesa said.

The award appeared to be a slap at President George W. Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama's predecessor for his largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The Nobel committee praised Obama's creation of “a new climate in international politics” and said he had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions like the U.N. to the center of the world stage.

More here.