Beauty is difficult


Sadakichi Hartmann arrived in America in 1882, at the age of twelve, disowned by his father in Hamburg and shipped off to live with a great-uncle in Philadelphia. The young man had only lived for one year or less in his native country. He spoke with a strong accent, later described by a newspaper as “half German, the other half not altogether definable.” He was thoroughly German in all that he did, sarcastic and serious, forever hunched under a small rain cloud. And yet he was hailed by friends and strangers as coming directly from the Orient. Self-taught and curious, he made his first contact with what would become an influential circle of acquaintances by knocking unannounced on the door of the poet who lived across the river in Camden, New Jersey: “I would like to see Walt Whitman.” The poet—with his long gray beard and open, flowing shirt, which revealed his naked chest—greeted him by sight. “That’s my name. And you are a Japanese boy, are you not?”

more from Michelle Legro at The Believer here.

Final fragments of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

From The Independent:

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of The Leopard, one of the most poignant and enduringly popular novels of the 20th century, left only a few other pieces of fiction when he died in 1957 at the age of 60. A new book, published by Alma Classics in a new translation by Stephen Parkin, collects Lampedusa’s extant shorter fiction and provides a glimpse into the writer’s workshop and the background to the composition of his masterpiece. It also includes the previously unpublished fragment “The Turret”, which we reproduce here.

And then there was Torretta. As much as Santa Margherita was loved, Torretta was detested. It has always symbolized and accompanied illness and death, and for me continues to do so. Torretta is a village around 20 kilometres outside Palermo, inland from the coast and about 500 metres above sea level. Its lofty position gave it the reputation as a cool and healthy spot; in reality the place, hemmed in by a narrow valley, overlooked by steep and barren mountains on every side, and devoid of sewers, running water, a postal service and electricity, is one of the least healthy places on earth. Whenever any members of my family fell sick and were sent to Torretta to “recover”, they wasted away, grew melancholy and within three months died. The local population were sullen, dirty, uncouth, and lived like rats among those sordid alleyways. Our house was the “baronial residence” of the village, and as such was located on the main square – just as in Santa Margherita, but with a world of difference. There the square was spacious, tree -lined and sunny, and all the houses surrounding it were in at least decent condition; in Torretta it was narrow, dark and closed in, its cobblestones were always damp and adorned by the golden excrement deposited by the local mules. In the middle of it, there was an ugly baroque fountain with three wretchedly small spouts from which the only fresh water available in the village spewed forth; as a result it was surrounded day and night by a throng of women and boys holding their pitchers, or quartare, in their hands, who, with a typically Sicilian scorn for any kind of order or waiting in line, created all sorts of scenes by shouting, jostling, trampling and threatening each other.

More here. (Note: If you have not already done so, please read The Leopard immediately. Here is my favorite quote from it: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”)

Symmetry study deemed a fraud

From Nature:

TRIVVERSFew researchers have tried harder than Robert Trivers to retract one of their own papers. In 2005, Trivers, an evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, published an attention-grabbing finding: Jamaican teenagers with a high degree of body symmetry were more likely to be rated ‘good dancers’ by their peers than were those with less symmetrical bodies. The study, which suggested that dancing is a signal for sexual selection in humans, was featured on the cover of this journal (W. M. Brown et al. Nature 438, 1148–1150; 2005). But two years later, Trivers began to suspect that the study data had been faked by one of his co-authors, William Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the time. In seeking a retraction, Trivers self-published The Anatomy of a Fraud, a small book detailing what he saw as evidence of data fabrication. Later, Trivers had a verbal altercation over the matter with a close colleague and was temporarily banned from campus. An investigation of the case, completed by Rutgers and released publicly last month, now seems to validate Trivers’ allegations. Brown disputes the university’s finding, but it could help to clear the controversy that has clouded Trivers’ reputation as the author of several pioneering papers in the 1970s. For example, Trivers advanced an influential theory of ‘reciprocal altruism’, in which people behave unselfishly and hope that they will later be rewarded for their good deeds. He also analysed human sexuality in terms of the investments that mothers and fathers each make in child-rearing.

Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, calls the dancing paper “a lark” and “journalist bait” that lacks a firm basis in theory. “It was cute rather than deep,” he says. But he describes Trivers’ earlier work as “monumental”, and says that it would be a travesty if Trivers became known for one controversial study rather than his wider contributions to evolutionary biology. “Trivers is one of the most important thinkers in the history of the biological and social sciences,” Pinker says.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Service Office
I played the part of man, and more or less
it came to me quite well. I used deceptions,makeup,
mascara, base, a huge number
of words, for nearly everything is possible
with words, and everything was going well,
life from a suitcase, life on credit, nerves
before a trip, a house, a name and surname,
words, a whole host. I played the part of man,
and I was expert at it. Words like friendship,
father, woman, love, the word betrayal,
the word forgive. I could have forgotten myself,
I could have gotten lost in making words
my body, hands, and heart, little was missing.
Only the dog could tell. He bristled in his sleep.


by Tomaz Rozycki
from Colonies
published in The Hampden Sydney Poetry Review
translation, Mira Rosenthal

Prominent Scholar Was Banned From Rutgers Campus


Christopher Shea in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A long-simmering feud between the prominent evolutionary theorist Robert Trivers and a colleague at Rutgers University took a strange turn last month, when Mr. Trivers revealed that he had been banned from the New Brunswick campus for five months last year for violent and threatening behavior.

He says the accusations were trumped up, prompted by his efforts to bring an alleged academic fraud to light. Mr. Trivers says he was allowed back on the campus last fall, provided that he stay at least 20 feet from the office of a colleague he'd argued with.

In “Fraud at Rutgers,” an angry post on his Web site last month, he explicitly contrasted his treatment with that of the men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, who—at first—received a mere three-game suspension when the university became aware of his beaning players with basketballs and shouting slurs at them. (Mr. Rice was subsequently fired, in April.)

“Rutgers turns a blind eye to real violence by its basketball coach but uses its antiviolence policy to harass a professor with no violent tendencies but who is acting as a whistle-blower,” Mr. Trivers wrote.

Lee Cronk, the anthropology professor from whose office Mr. Trivers has been banned, says that when Mr. Trivers confronted him in March 2012, he felt genuinely disturbed. The university declined to comment on the subsequent investigation, which—according to documents provided by Mr. Trivers in which he responded to the charges—found a pattern of violent or threatening behavior by Mr. Trivers.

The professor's reference to whistle-blowing opens the door to a complex saga of academic infighting, one that involves both substantive and personal issues. Since 2008, Mr. Trivers has contended that one of his six co-authors on a 2005 paper, “Dance Reveals Symmetry Especially in Young Men,” published in Nature, had doctored the data, leading to a bogus result.

Kierkegaard’s ‘Antigone’


Ulrika Carlsson in the NYT's The Stone:

Perhaps the most central theme in Soren Kierkegaard’s religious thought is the doctrine of original sin: the idea that we share in some essential human guilt simply by being born. But guilt is an important concept also in Kierkegaard’s secular writings. He thought that the modern era was defined by its concept of guilt. Kierkegaard’s 200th birthday gives us an occasion to assess the modern relevance of his legacy and the viability of his own view of modernity.

Kierkegaard thought of Socrates as the person who first discovered human autonomy — the fact that we are free to determine our own actions and therefore responsible for those actions. This insight undermined the ancient worldview, which found its perfect representation in tragic drama, where characters bring about their own ruin because they are fated to do so. In his 1843 essay “Ancient Tragedy’s Reflection in the Modern,” Kierkegaard grappled with this question partly through an analysis of the work of Sophocles. In the play “Oedipus the King,” the gods have cursed the tragic hero with a fate to commit two terrible crimes.

The curse is visited upon his children, too, including his daughter who in the follow-up play “Antigone” commits a crime of her own. Sophocles thus invites us to think of this curse as something like a hereditary disease, passed on from parents to children.

What Do You Desire?

Image (1)

Emily Witt in n+1:

On a Monday last April, I stood in line at JFK Airport to board a plane to San Francisco. Before me stood a silver-headed West Coast businessman. His skin had the exfoliated, burnished sheen of the extremely healthy; his glasses were of an advanced polymer; he had dark jeans. He wore the recycled ethylene-vinyl acetate shoes that are said never to smell. His fleece coat was of an extraordinary thickness and quality, with a lissome external layer that would not pill. He seemed like the sort of man who would pronounce himself a minimalist and say that everything he bought was selected for its extraordinary craftsmanship and beautiful design. But the silver fox’s computer bag was a cheap thing with netting and buckles that saidGOOGLE on it. The person in front of him in line wore a Google doodle T-shirt with Bert and Ernie where the Os would be. In front of him was a Google backpack.

Until I left San Francisco it never went away. It was embroidered on breast pockets, illustrated with themes of America’s cities, emblazoned on stainless-steel water bottles, on fleece jackets, on baseball caps, but not on the private coach buses that transported workers to their campus in Mountain View, where they ate raw goji-berry discs from their snack room and walked about swathed, priestlike, in Google mantles, with Google wimples and Google mitres, seeking orientation on Google Maps, Googling strangers and Google chatting with friends, as I did with mine, dozens of times a day, which made the recurrence of the logo feel like a supremacist taunt.

My first day in the city I sat in a sunlit café in the Mission District, drank a cappuccino, and read a paper copy of the San Francisco Chronicle that lay anachronistically on the counter. I overheard someone talking about his lunch at the Googleplex. “Quinoa cranberry pilaf,” I wrote down. And then, “coregasm.” Because that was the subsequent topic of discussion: women who have spontaneous orgasms during yoga. The barista was saying how wonderful it was that the issue was receiving attention, coregasms being something a lot of women experienced and were frightened to talk about. Those days were over.

Here a quack, there a quack

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Coppersmith_Barbet_I_IMG_0006As the Bombay heat began to set in this morning at nine o'clock, I heard amidst the cawing crows, the shouts of a street vendor, local kids playing cricket, and cars and motorcycles, a long metronomic birdcall emitted from a tiny, fleeting visitor. The Coppersmith Barbet, adopted as the city's official bird, is known so because of its signature call – a metallic evenly paced sound, “tuk…tuk…tuk (or tunk), reminiscent of a copper sheet being beaten”. Rickshaws were passing by raucously; on occasion one would sputter into action after picking up a fare. It is intriguing to consider the only similarity between the two – how the sounds they make are described in speech. If the little crimson-throated visitor's call can be described with a set of phonemes that attempt to approximate it, then the rickshaw's steady rhythm as it charges down streets have led to it being named onomatopoeically. From the tuk-tuk in the tree to the tuk-tuk on the street, it is both the ubiquity and the boundaries of onomatopoeia that is fascinating. I cannot recall now, if I sipped my tea, or slurped it, as the Barbet's sound ceased and the distressing white-noise of the water-pump took over.

From babbling brooks to angry oceans, soft breezes to fierce gales, trains, bullets, rockets, machine guns, and the purrs, meows of cats to the roars of wild beasts, we find ways, in all cultures and languages, to phonetically transform the sounds we hear into words that can be spoken and written. Songs, poetry, and literature are suffused with the sounds of the world we live in through onomatopoeic words.

The steady rhythm of human life itself, the beating of hearts, is cross-linguistically broad in description – from bumm-bumm in German, lab-dab in Tamil and Telugu, doki-doki in Japanese to tum-tum in Arabic, the way chests throb and pulses race find varying phonetic forms across the globe. Boom-boddie-boom was the way it went for Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren in the promotional song for the 1960's film The Millionairess, and in Hindi cinema, we have long known of dil ki dhadkan and the pulsating dhak-dhak. From the diastolic to the systolic, to aches and sighs, the heart and its cadences is widely found in song form.

Onomatopoeia-Is-A-Straight-Forward-Disease-Comic-By-Cyanide-HappinessThe role of onomatopoeia in evolutionary linguistics is highly disputed, and the theories of ‘opprobrious names', the ding-dong, bow-wow, and pooh-pooh, which do not heed visual signs and cues, writes EL Thorndike, are largely discredited. However, the role phonetic elements play in mimetic gestures is an interesting one and the links between sound and sense is an essential aspect of language and speech.

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Passionate About The Actor’s Art: an interview with Michael Howard

by Randolyn Zinn

The media is chock full of celebrity gossip, but you still may wonder how actors pursue the tasks of creating characters, accessing emotion and delivering a playwright's intentions.This week master teacher Michael Howard offers 3QD readers a peek into this elusive art.


Al Hirschfeld drawing of Michael Howard

Randolyn Zinn: I hear you just turned 90. Congratulations!

MH: Thank you, yes, I share a birthday with Shakespeare. And did you know that Shakespeare died on the same calendar day as he was born? April 23rd. So I’m always careful on mine. I don’t jaywalk.

RZ: You have worked as an actor, directed actors, you were the artistic director of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, and you’ve been teaching for almost 60 years whether at Juilliard, Yale or your own studio here in New York.

MH: I had no thought that teaching was what I wanted to do. I started teaching at the High School of the Performing Arts here in New York where Sydney Lumet was teaching the senior class. When he took a job as an assistant director in television, he suggested that the school should hire me to replace him. We’d worked together as a group of young actors trying to form a company, that’s how we knew each other.

RZ: Where did you study acting?

MH: Before the war at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sandy (Sanford Meisner) and David Pressman, a wonderful man. And our dance teacher was a woman named Martha Graham.

RZ: What were her classes like?

MH: Hard to describe. Much of what we did was on the floor. She’d get us on the ground and twist us, bend us, give us pain. We understood that the development of our bodies would be useful. You could not be in the same room with Martha Graham and not recognize the enormous energy that came from her. At that time we weren’t aware that she was an icon.

RZ: What did you learn from Meisner?

MH: Oh dear, in one sentence? It’s impossible to say, it’s a challenge. I became aware of what truth meant in acting. I became aware of what the word ‘action’ meant. When I got to the Playhouse, I had done a play in what we now call off-Broadway as well as a tour and I considered myself…AN ACTOR! Sandy wanted to take away all you thought you knew about acting – on purpose! All the old-fashioned thoughts you had about what acting is Sandy worked very hard at breaking down and taking away all the things you held close…but he did it brilliantly…and painfully.

Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner

RZ: Did he build you back up again?

MH: Yes and he gave you what you needed. A new and different way to approach acting. Any 18-yr old actor who’s successful thinks Oh, I know what to do and how to do it! And that assumption is based on talent and intuition and pleasing an audience and feeling good. But those things don’t have anything to do with what acting is really about. Sandy worked on you constructively, efficiently…but not always pleasantly. I hated it. I was angry with him, naturally. To take everything away from you and to hear that you knew nothing was hard…but by the end of the two years, I was more sure of myself in some ways and less sure of myself in others. I think I had a sense of what I should aim for, what I should try to become, what it means to be an actor — not a performer, mind you, not a personality — but an actor.

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The United States: A Premature Postpartum in Four Parts

by Akim Reinhardt

Ottoman EmpireThe Ottoman Empire, which emerged during the beginning of the 14th century, reached its zenith some 250 years later under its 10th Sultan, Suleiman the Law Giver. By that point, the empire held sway over more than 2 million square miles spread across parts of three continents, from Hungary in the west to Persia in the east, from the north shore of the Black Sea to the southern tip of the Red Sea.

And then began the long, slow slog towards oblivion. Osmanli imperial decline unfolded over the course of three and a half centuries. There was no shortage of ups and downs along the way, but of course there were more of the latter than the former. The empire teetered into the 20th century, and by the start of World War I, had lost almost all of its holdings in Europe and north Africa. As with the Hapsburgs and czarist Russia, the war itself proved to be the coup de grace, signaling an end to the era of classic empires. Ottoman forces achieved mixed results during the actual fighting, but by the time the war was over, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was leading a successful revolt from within. The sultanate was abolished in 1922, and the empire's Anatolian rump reformed as the modern nation of Turkey the following year. After more than six centuries of rise and fall, the empire was done.

It had taken 350 years for the Ottoman empire to slip from apogee to dissolution; just its decline alone had lasted longer than many political entities exist in toto. Indeed, the United States first gained first independence “only” 230 years ago, which means it needs well over four and a half more centuries to match the staying power of the Ottomans.

As a Historian, I know better than most how useless it is to predict the future. I will not even hazzard a guess as to when the United States will finally dissolve or how it will occur: through bloody war, contentious rebellion, or quiet disintegration.

But it will happen eventually. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing.

And whenever it does happen, future historians might possibly look back to the mid-20th century as the U.S. imperial acme in much the same way they now look back to the mid-16th century as the peak of Ottoman glory.

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GENISIS: Sabastião Salgado, National History Museum, London

by Sue Hubbard

What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another. —Mahatma Gandhi

Fo_salgado_genesis_tradeThe Wild contains answers to more questions than we've yet learned to ask. There was a time when the wilderness never seemed far away. Life was a battle against its encroachment. It existed on the edge of our consciousness and our safe physical world: a place of danger and a space for the imagination to roam. It was in the 18th century, with the rise of industrialism that artists and poets began to see the wilderness as an alternative space, a place of wonder and awe, where man was but a tiny element, dwarfed by nature's sublime mountains and waterfalls, its forests and snow-capped peaks. In 1798, at the age of 28, Wordsworth wrote in his great pantheistic autobiographical poem, The Prelude:

Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free…

“Not until we are lost”, wrote Thoreau, “do we begin to understand ourselves”. For Freud the forest was a metaphor for the unconscious where the self could easily become lost in a welter of elemental fears. In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness the jungle represented what was atavistic within the human psyche: the Id to the Ego, Caliban to Arial. For Marlow the Congo was chthonic, savage and elemental and stood in counterpoint to civilisation and his vision of the whited sepulchre of Brussels. For us post-moderns the wilderness represents a prelapsarian world, for so few of us, living in our suburbs and crowded cities have any real experience of the wild, which for many is as alien and remote as the moon.

The photographer Sabastião Salgado has a deep love and respect for the natural world and is concerned with how modernity is impacting on it with, often, devastating socio-economic and ecological implications. Born in Brazil in 1944, one of eight children, he studied economics before becoming an economist in the Finance Department of the São Paula city government. Moving to France in 1969 to study for a doctorate, he opted, instead, for a career in photography, joining the press agency Gamma. Research into the living conditions of peasants and the cultural resistance of the indigenous Indians in Latin America resulted in the book Other Americans. While Workers (1993) documented the vanishing way of life of manual laborers across the world and Migrations (2000) was a tribute to mass migration driven by hunger, natural disasters, and environmental degradation. Mythic, poignant and, seemingly timeless, his images of toiling mine workers could be Egyptians workers erecting the pyramids. An investigation into the lives of the inhabitations of the “4000 Habitations” – a large housing project in La Courneuvue, just outside Paris – continued his concern with humanitarian subjects. This was followed by Sahel, L'Homme en detresse, photographs taken in the drought ridden Sahel region of Africa whilst working with the humanitarian aid group, Médecine Sans Frontières.

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Why Wall Street Bankers Are The Biggest Dumbasses On Earth

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

First off, over 50% of Wall Street bankers suffer from erectile Bankerdysfunction. They can't get it up. So ladies, don't date a Wall Street banker. You won't get fucked, unless he has a chauffeur you can turn to. Your banker can take you to Paris, but he can't ring your bell. Wall Street bankers have floppy winkies. Can you imagine being so stupid as to choose a profession that will compromise your very manhood? Well, that's how dumb Wall Street bankers are.

Furthermore, Wall Street bankers don't do anything remotely socially useful. They don't make things. They don't create. They don't help or heal or advance society, like teachers and nurses and doctors and cops and firefighters and scientists and industrialists. All they do is move money around. That's it. A really dumbass way to spend your life. Imagine this is the epitaph on your gravestone: “I lived for money.” It's got to be the dumbest choice anyone can make about what to do with your blessed one-time-around-only human life. Especially if phrased thusly: “I gave up boners to live for money.”

Because they're so useless at making an honest living, what do Wall Street bankers do? They cheat. They commit fraud. They rig things in their favor. They rip off their clients. They sell stuff to clients that they know they're going to bet against. They despise their clients. They become criminal to make money. They're common thieves, which is certainly another dumb way to make a buck.

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Sometimes, it’s still hard to be a woman…

by Sarah Firisen

[See Frank Bruni in the New York Times.]

AToday we are all equal, right?
No more damsels and their brave knight
I can fight, I can vote
Choose on whom I will dote
And any wage difference is slight

But is this the end of the tale
Of the fight for the rights of the female?
Is there further to go?
Is a lot just for show?
Is progress the hare or the snail?

A woman's a tramp or a whore
If she finds sex more than a chore
But a man, he's stud
No name dragged through the mud
No loose morals for all to deplore

When men cheat, it's news for a while
Yes, called pathetic and vile
But the news' cycle roll
Is a balm for the soul
And soon the man's back to beguile

For Clinton, Petraeus and Weiner
Such blips are a mere misdemeanor
They retreat for a while
Their wives bravely smile
And to make a fresh start, no one's keener

But if a woman commits such an act
It's a tear in the social contract
No doubt she's a slut
Just look at her strut
And what from this view can detract?

So when will we all be the same
Transgressions no worse for a dame?
When will our sexual sins
Be societal twins?
And not unequal parading of shame

Robert Bly: By the Book

From the New York Times Book Review:

0505-bks-BTB-articleInlineThe poet and critic, whose correspondence with the poet Tomas Transtromer, “Airmail,” has just been published, was influenced by Kierkegaard: “He predicts the rise of savagery.”

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

Coleman Barks’s translations of Rumi are always wonderful, especially “A Year With Rumi: Daily Readings.” The poem for Jan. 10 for instance, “A Piece of Wood”:

I reach for a piece of wood. It turns into a lute.
I do some meanness. It turns out helpful.
I say one must not travel during the holy month.
Then I start out, and wonderful things happen.

Oh, and here’s an even better one. Sept. 20:

Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer
and find myself chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
And fall in.

I should be suspicious
of what I want.

More here.