Listening to the Wounded City

by Misha Lepetic

Memory is the medium of past experience,
as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred.
~ Walter Benjamin

OldbuildWhenever I live in a city for a particular amount of time, I find myself increasingly subject to a peculiar desire. It is perhaps not so much a desire as, in fact, a sense of responsibility. When something disappears, I try to remember what was there. This holds true for the merest mom-and-pop shop as it does for an entire city block. I play the role of casual historian-observer to the ongoing drama – whether tragic or comic – of the development and elaboration of a city. What does the disappearance of a façade tell us about what might have been there before? When an entire block is demolished to make way for a building or set of buildings, who remembers its antecedents, and why should this kind of remembrance be important?

Being the casual sort, I have never felt the need to record these memories in any formal way. Nor do I consider this an exercise in sentimentality – the point, if there truly is one, is to deepen my experience of the ground of a place, and as a result the act is entirely selfish and self-contained. The end result of eleven thus-far years in New York is a private catalogue of jinxed restaurant locations, dearly departed graffiti, and equally unmourned Modernist and corporatist passings. I have always mystified my friends with a need to recall these things, and have little sense of restraint in either quizzing or boring them with said catalogue while walking down the street.

But this assumes a stately pace of destruction and renewal – if we entertain the metaphor of the city as a body, it is old cells dying and being replaced by new ones. What happens when the city becomes truly injured? When vast chunks of it are gouged out of its topography, its very identity, if not threatened, then decisively knocked about and re-shuffled?

A recent conference sponsored by Columbia University, entitled Injured Cities/Urban Afterlives, sought to take up that question. One of the most thought-provoking presentations, by Eyal Weizman, concerned itself with the idea of a forensic architecture. Rubble, like bones, has a story to tell, and the manner in which that narrative is elicited and disseminated tells us much about who we are, and what we might expect of others, and ourselves.

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Modernism, Again


by Vivek Menezes

There’s something deeply rotten about the way the international cultural phenomenon known as Modernism is studied, everywhere in the world. And everyone in the know realizes that we are fast approaching a tipping point that will entirely upturn the global narrative.

This has been an international problem for a long time, because the subject has usually been addressed with different parts of the globe kept conceptually distinct from each other for no good reason. And it is also a huge problem for the subcontinent, where a similar problem has persisted – scholars focus on the Bengal Renaissance to the maddening exclusion of everything else. But in all of this, both in India and the West, there is a curious and sustained reluctance to reckon with the very obvious evidence as it exists, a widespread phenomenon I have no hesitation as characterizing as both stubborn and lazy.

This is because the evidence to challenge most prevailing assumptions is extraordinarily copious, and literally wherever you want to look, so that it obviously requires a certain wilfullness to ignore it. This issue has caused me considerable anger and sorrow over the years, as I have become steadily involved without ever intending to do so. This Monday piece for 3QD is an unusually personal account of an art historical conundrum which I stumbled on with no idea of what was coming. It still wound up turning my life upside down.

[E]very Museum of Modern Art in the United States and Europe should be required, in the spirit of truth in advertising, to change its name to Museum of Western Modernism until it has earned the right to do otherwise.” Holland Cotter, New York Times 2008

Around twenty years ago, I spent about 18 months working from Bombay on assignment from Equipe Cousteau in Paris. In my very early 20’s, it was a reckoning with my home city on my own terms after more than a decade studying in the US, UK and France.

It happened that there were many others like me back home at the same time after years studying abroad – the economy was opening widely, multinational firms had started to recognize India’s growth potential, and we could all see a growing entrepreneurial zeal that was going to pay rich dividends in a fairly short while.

That is exactly what happened. The companies set up in that period include many of India’s best and most successful domestic and international brands, creating massive wealth for their owners. And the party boys whose drinks I once always paid for (Parisian salary!) have become billionaires, one crisp dollar bill fact to keep in mind as we proceed in this unlikely narrative.

But I was never destined to be that kind of rich, and have known it from day one. The focus of my passions has always been different.

Riding out by mere bicycle in the late evening cool from my office at Wellington Mews in Colaba, I developed a habit of going to the art galleries of the city for an hour or two before their closing time, and became a constant pestering presence who demanded to see every single item in the deepest recess of their collections. And I bought with some assiduousness too.

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“Mental-Rental”™ – a Device to Destabilize Capitalism

by Liam Heneghan

I hastily submitted this patent last week to provide an effective tool to further our revolutionary aims. This simple invention provides a novel mechanism to assist the Occupy Wall Street movement in bringing the system to its knees. Those who cannot march in the streets with Occupy Wall Street and yet who also inarguably Hate the Man™ and want to Destabilize the Status Quo™ can foment radical change from the comfort of home by deploying Mental-Rental™.

Patent Abstract

This simple notion, supported by a preformatted spreadsheet and a smart-phone “app”, is designed to calculate the mental exertion and botheration inflicted by mental parasitism by commercial jingles, catchy slogans, compelling catchphrases, easily recognized trademarks and mMental Rental0001_1any other mechanisms devised to coax you to buy useless pieces of shit. A set of accompanying tools calculates in the form of rent what is due to you for the occupancy of your mind. Mental-Rental™ also produces an itemized bill demanding cash compensation from offending commercial entities. These agitatory tools are supported by a synchronized website where you can track in real time the degree to which you have wounded capitalism as those exorbitant rental fees accrue. The system is fully integrated with Facebook and Twitter and with online banking.

Other U.S. Patent Documents by this Inventor

  1. Heneghan et al. 2005The Left-Shifting Mirror (a reflective surface that gives the mirror-gazer the impression of being more radical than is the case. Also, the claim extends to the device’s capacity to make fascists appear more reasonable under the heft of their own self-scrutiny).
  2. Heneghan and Dickens, 2009 – Cloned Tittlebats (a gene sequence from a common bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) is introduced into the common stickleback fish diminishing their eyesight and causing the fish to fly fitfully above water; I also claim a device for removing fish from your hair.)

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On the Gods of Horses

Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse 220px-Busto_Jenófanes

The Presocratic philosopher-poet Xenophanes famously noted that if horses could draw, they would draw their gods as horses. The same, he holds, goes for lions and oxen. What is the intended critical edge of such observations? Suppose it’s true that horses would draw their gods as horses. So what?

The famous Xenophanes fragment runs as follows:

If horses or oxen or lions had hands

or if they could draw with their hands and

produce works like men,

horses would draw the figures of the gods as

similar to horses, and oxen as similar to oxen,

and they would make the bodies

of the sort which each of them had.

The Christian apologist Clement of Alexandria is our source. He portrays Xenophanes as a religious reformer, one committed to criticizing anthropomorphism in religion. To construct a god in your own image, he holds, is a form of idolatry. Clement also provides another Xenophanes fragment, one that he takes to provide parallel support for this interpretation:

Ethiopians say their gods are snub-nosed and black;

Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired.

The same lesson is said to follow: Humans make their gods look like themselves. But the question remains. What is the critical edge? They serve a critical religious program, but there is no overt argument in either. We hold it that the observations function as a reductio ad ridiculum.

To see this, we must make explicit what’s funny about horses drawing horse gods. In doing so, we’ll ruin the joke, for sure, but that’s philosophy. So what’s funny about horses and horse gods?

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Frieze week, London and White Cube, Bermondsey

by Sue Hubbard

Folie_A_Deux,_2011Recession? What recession? The collapse of the Euro-zone? Who’d have guessed? One in ten Londoners unemployed; never? It’s Frieze art week in London and the glitterati are out on the town. My email in box is awash with invitations to private views, post opening parties, and champagne brunches. Everyone is hurrying somewhere, being terribly, terribly busy and in demand. Apart from Frieze itself there is the Pavilion of Art and Design in Berkely Square, a sophisticated boutique fair that brings modern design and the decorative arts together and Multiplied at Christies, the only fair devoted to art in editions, as well as Sunday – young, cutting edge and more alternative than the main event. Lisson Gallery held a magnificent party at 1 Mayfair, in a deconsecrated church filled with strobe lighting, while Blain Southern’s do after Rachel Howard’s opening show, Folie A Deux in Derring Street, was in a beautiful 18thcentury town house just down the road. (Howard, who used to paint Damien Hirst’s spots, is a fine painter in her own right). There are dinners and receptions for collectors, art historians, journalists and pretty much anyone who can blag their way in. Getting into Frieze itself is made as difficult as possible to keep the tension high. Being there and being seen is the name of the game. This is a parallel universe to the one most mortals inhabit and light years away from the life of the young woman, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week, who’d been made redundant, applied for 140 jobs without success, and was, now, with her daughter, living on job seekers allowance of £67.00 per week.

Whatever the private qualms of the art world movers and shakers about the future prospects of the art market really are, they’re not letting on. From all the parties, the flowing champagne and the PR babes in their short, short skirts and high, high heels arriving at yet another opening, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ‘90s had never ended; art is the new rock n’roll.

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A Cluttered, Unquiet Place

by Tom Jacobs

(Apologies to Ernest Hemingway)

Old-men4It was very late and many people had left the establishment (although many more had arrived to drunkenly bowl and play foosball and Duck hunter). An old man sat in the slight shadows cast by the Skee Ball and Hoop Fever Basketball Arcade machine. In the day time the place was mostly quiet and empty (except for the Power Hour Happy Hour at noon, where you can play an entire hour of video games for $10), but at night the place was flooded with tourists and those who were already drunk and looking for a goofy night out. He was deaf and now at night it was actually quieter than his apartment, which looked out over 42nd Street, which was so bright and loud (he could feel the vibrations through his bed) that he felt as though he was actually sleeping on the sidewalk. Dave and Buster’s was the quietest bar in the neighborhood, and it was cluttered but clean, and incredibly well-lighted.

The two waiters knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, and that they would never convince him to buy the $8 Potato Skins or the $7 Loaded Queso, much less the $9 Mountain O’ Nachos. So they kept watch on him.

“Last night he, like, tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.

“OMG! Why?”

“Ask him, dude. How should I know? I guess he was in, like, despair.”

“Like, what about?”

“Uh, duh! Nothing.”

“How do you know it was nothing?”

“Because, like, he’s totally loaded. He has heaps of money.”

They stood next to each other at the bar at the back of the place and looked out at the main room, which was surprisingly empty for a Wednesday night, since that was the night of the $15.99 Eat and Play Combo. A security guard walked by holding an intoxicated man in a suit and tie by the back of the neck.

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Soapbox Advice to the OWS Movement and Then Some

329358_10150356889943672_669448671_8140904_1283999185_oMark Cuban over at his blog (h/t: Philip Gourevitch):

2. Push to Make All Financial Institutions Partnerships

We should make all investment banks become reporting partnerships (meaning they still have the same reporting requirements they have today ). I would have no problem with our government loaning money to the partners of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and other Too Big To Fail Institutions so that they can buy back all public shares of their stock. Of course all those partners would become personally liable for repaying that money back to the government. It would probably be about 120B dollars in total to take these 2 companies private. That is far, far less than a possible bailout would cost.

Those personal guarantees would change EVERYTHING in the banking industry. It would change the decision making process across the board. There would be a moral hazard to every decision. Today , a wrong decision and they vacation on their yacht. As a partner, the wrong decision and they are protesting right next to the OWS crowd as a 99pct er. It would be the definition of having “skin in the game”

3. Limit the Size of Student Loans to $2,000 per year

Crazy ? Maybe, maybe not. What happened to the price of homes when the mortgage loan bubble popped ? They plummeted. If the size of student loans are capped at a low level, you know what will happen to the price of going to a college or university ? It will plummet. Colleges and universities will have to completely rethink what they are, what purpose they serve and who their customers will be. Will some go out of business ? Absolutely. That is real world. Will the quality of education suffer ? Given that TAs will still work for cheap, I doubt it.

Now some might argue that limiting student loans will limit the ability of lower income students to go to better schools. I say nonsense on two fronts.

A Philosopher’s Sickness

Tom Stern in The Point:

ScreenHunter_04 Oct. 16 14.52There is a device, known to students of literature and students of creative writing, called “defamiliarization.” In the creative writing course, the exercise might go like this:

Take something that is familiar to you (an object, an occasion). Now imagine you are an alien who has just landed on Earth and make a report on it to your alien superiors back home.

In this case, the defamiliarization is brought about by the alien narrator, the stranger in the strange land. Standard defamiliarizing narrators include the naive child, the animal or the inanimate object—other contenders might be the very clever or stupid, the very large or small. Using both of those latter two, Swift’s Gulliver—first colossal, then tiny—proves an ideal vehicle for defamiliarized observation. Gulliver also shows us the connection between defamiliarization and satire: both can provide a kind of distance from that which we see too closely ever to understand—from the speeches of politicians to the objects on our bedside tables. Viktor Shklovsky, the Soviet literary critic who coined the phrase, associated it strongly with a description of seeing something familiar as if for the first time. He uses the example of a Tolstoy story in which the horse- narrator fails to comprehend how he can belong to a person, how, as the horse puts it, “there was some sort of connection between me and the stable.”

More here.

Exploring Matter and the Cosmos

Peter Pesic in American Scientist:

2011101144838676-2011-11BrevPesicFALisa Randall’s new book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, takes us 10 years past her initial conjectures and in some ways may be even more ambitious. As the subtitle indicates, she wishes to take up larger questions about the nature of scientific thinking, including its relation to religion and its reliance on probability. At the same time, she wishes to bring her audience up to date regarding the status of her theory within the larger ambit of particle physics and cosmology as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) begins its work, a monumental collaboration involving the whole world. (Americans are the largest single nationality involved in its operation, although the United States is not an official member state of CERN, its operating consortium.)

The resulting book is valuable and engaging; like its predecessor, it is a tour de force of popularization. The good part about its wider ambition emerges in Randall’s clarification of the exact purport and scope of scientific work. But as she interweaves this with descriptions of theories and experiments, past and present, the reader may feel some tension between her somewhat divergent goals, which work together but also divide the reader’s attention and hence lead to organizational challenges.

Randall acknowledges in the preface that Knocking on Heaven’s Door is “in some respects . . . two books in one,” a statement that portends problems for the unity and cohesive force of the whole.

More here.

Bartleby’s Occupation of Wall Street

Hannah Gersen in The Millions:

ScreenHunter_03 Oct. 16 14.26After a couple days of hemming and hawing, I decided to join the protesters of Occupy Wall Street. I was hesitant to go because until very recently, I worked as an administrative assistant at a prominent Wall Street law firm. I didn’t know how, in good conscience, I could rail against The Man when my primary responsibility had once been to keep track of incoming phone calls from Goldman Sachs. But then I heard one of the protest’s organizers on the radio saying that the Occupy movement wasn’t against capitalism, corporations, or even big banking. He was for income equality. And democracy. The reporter pressed him to be more specific, but he refused.

“Why do they have to be more specific?” I yelled at the radio. “Isn’t it obvious why they’re upset?”

I was getting annoyed at the way Occupy Wall Street was being covered — as if it was insane to gather in a public space and protest. As if it had never happened in America before. Wasn’t the whole point of passive resistance to just be there? To not make any demands? As I tried to come up with a good parallel, I found myself thinking of Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville’s short story about an office worker, Bartleby, who decides out of nowhere that he doesn’t feel like working anymore, but continues to show up at the office every day. Bartleby’s idleness baffles and then infuriates his boss, who begs Bartleby to give some reason for his behavior. But Bartleby refuses to disclose his interests, and over the course of the story, his needs become so few that he dies of starvation. It’s a bleak, mysterious story, and as I returned to my copy to reread it, I was stilled to rediscover its subtitle: “A Story of Wall Street.”

More here.

Designer vagina surgery

Marie Myung-Ok Lee in The Guardian:

Designer-vagain-surgery-i-008I've come to the Congress on Aesthetic Vaginal Surgery because I want to learn more about one of the fastest growing cosmetic procedures in the US. This newish industry consists of doctors and their clients (clients, not patients, because these surgeries are cash-only elective procedures) who believe the female nether area can be improved upon or remediated. Procedures offered include labiaplasty (trimming or completely removing labia), vaginal rejuvenation (tightening), hymenoplasty (“revirgination”) and clitoral “unhooding” – among others.

On my way to check out the exhibits, I pass a 4ft welcome poster of a woman's bare back and well rounded buttocks. At a cosmetic gynaecology conference at a luxury hotel in Las Vegas only six weeks earlier (yes, these surgeries are so popular there are two competing conferences), even the ads for post-surgical “compression garments” were made to look a little S&M sexy, while the mostly male doctors walked around with name badges festooned with identifying ribbons (“Presenter”! “Faculty”! “Attendee”!), looking like generals returning from battle with a chest full of medals.

As I browse, a surgical equipment salesman mistakes me for a doctor and eagerly tries to sell me his new radiostatic scalpel (“Less thermal collateral damage!”), demonstrating its precision by cutting slices out of a piece of raw steak.

Designer vagina surgery is big business: according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2009 female consumers spent an estimated $6.8m (£4.4m) on these procedures (the figure counts only plastic surgeons, not gynaecologists).

More here.

Harvard Cancer Expert: Steve Jobs Probably Doomed Himself With Alternative Medicine

From Gawker:

ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 16 14.04Steve Jobs had a mild form of cancer that is not usually fatal, but seems to have ushered along his own death by delaying conventional treatment in favor of alternative remedies, a Harvard Medical School researcher and faculty member says. Jobs's intractability, so often his greatest asset, may have been his undoing.

“Let me cut to the chase: Mr. Jobs allegedly chose to undergo all sorts of alternative treatment options before opting for conventional medicine,” Ramzi Amri wrote in an extraordinarily detailed post to Quora, an online Q&A forum popular among Silicon Valley executives. “Given the circumstances, it seems sound to assume that Mr. Jobs' choice for alternative medicine has eventually led to an unnecessarily early death.”

Amri went on to say that, even after entering conventional medical care, the Apple CEO seemed to eschew the most practical forms of treatment. Addressing the period when Jobs began to visibly shed weight, Amri wrote, “it seems that even during this recurrent phase, Mr. Jobs opted to dedicate his time to Apple as the disease progressed, instead of opting for chemotherapy or any other conventional treatment.”

More here.

The Luck of the Irish

FlannRoger Boylan in More Intelligent Life:

Posthumous success is better than no success at all, but it’s still rotten luck when the applause erupts only after the curtain has fallen for good. Flann O’Brien was an Irish author who would have turned 100 this October 5th. Bad luck dogged him all his life, and he died unappreciated in 1966. He was so self-effacing and elusive that Brendan Behan, an Irish poet and novelist, said of his contemporary: “You had to look twice to see if he was there at all.” But in death O’Brien enjoys a cult following that expresses its devotion in Flann O’Brien pubs, literary conferences, T-shirts and the appearance of one of his books in an episode of the TV series “Lost”.

“Flann O’Brien” was the invention of Brian O’Nolan, who used the nom de plume as a way to hide his writing from his employers at the Irish Civil Service. (For this reason he also used the name Myles na Gopaleen, or Myles of the Ponies, to write columns in the Irish Times—a reference to a character in a 19th-century Irish play by Dion Boucicault.) O’Nolan was confined to speaking and writing in Irish (Gaelic) at home as it was the only tongue countenanced by his nationalist father. But he escaped into English as a child, via the works of Kipling and Conan Doyle, and ultimately preferred the language for his own books. After university, where he performed adequately, he entered the civil service and enjoyed a certain degree of independence until his father died. This promoted him to paterfamilias and sole supporter for his ten siblings, his mother and his wife, Evelyn. Writing was his only escape, which he indulged in the interstices of the job.

Cancer Research: Past, Present and Future

Ya Cao, Ronald A. DePinho, Matthias Ernst and Karen Vousden in Nature:

In your opinion, what have been the most important findings in cancer research in the past 10 years?

Ya Cao. Cancer has been identified as a chronic disease1. In an attempt to battle this disease the World Health Organization have developed three principles on cancer prevention: they have estimated that current prevention strategies could prevent up to one-third of new cancers; they have suggested that improved early screening could result in the detection of one-third of cancers at an early stage; and they have proposed that a comprehensive treatment strategy could improve survival and quality of life for another one-third of patients with advanced cancer. These strategies offer the most cost-effective, long-term control of cancer.

Cancer is a vastly complex disease exhibiting a plethora of changes in multiple genes. More and more attention is now being focused on the relationship between infection and cancer. For example, about 200,000 women die every year from cervical carcinoma, which is closely associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Importantly, a vaccine against HPV was the first cancer vaccine to be developed and should substantially reduce the incidence of cervical cancer. Besides HPV, Helicobacter pylori infection is linked with gastrohelcosis, which is the precancerous stage of gastric cancer. Clearly, the relationship between H. pylori and gastric cancer is an important basis for developing an efficient therapeutic strategy for controlling H. pylori infection and, ultimately, gastric cancer.

In the post-Human Genome Project (HGP) era, researchers and scientists are again recognizing the importance of the molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis from the genome-wide level.