children of the days


For all of Galeano’s appreciation of history’s absurdities, he has chosen a format that leads to an ahistoric, almost medieval experience of time, a liturgical calendar in which the days don’t move forward into the future but rather pile up into an eternal present. He celebrates non-­Western peoples who experience history as repetition (“In the Quechua language,” he writes, “naupa means ‘was,’ but it also means ‘will be’ ”) while reminding readers that moderns are stuck in their own kind of regression: genocide in the 16th century looks a lot like genocide in the 20th. Thus “Children of the Days” commemorates insurgents so audacious they thought they could stop time, like the Parisian revolutionaries who on July 29, 1830, took stones to the city’s clocks, or the Mayan peons in Mexico who on July 31, 1847, rose up and seized both the plantations and the local archives, eventually burning the “documents that legalized their enslavement and the enslavement of their children and the enslavement of their children’s children.”

more from Greg Grandin at the NY Times here.

laid low by luminosity


It is apposite, and more than a little sad, that one of the greatest directors of them all saved his most eloquent remarks for describing his routine confrontations with all those demons. Orson Welles was stymied at virtually every stage of his career by those whom he believed to be inferior and, in consequence, terminally unsympathetic to him. Welles wrote the template for the way in which arrogance and insecurity fuel each other to produce breakdown. There was the stellar ambition of Citizen Kane (1941), and then immediate and lengthy decline. His physique swelled, his patience shortened, his friends, or “friends”, scarpered. He ended his days at his regular hang-out, Hollywood’s Ma Maison restaurant, draping himself, as Gore Vidal once described, in “bifurcated tents to which, rather idly, lapels, pocket flaps, buttons were attached in order to suggest a conventional suit”. Which is where we find him in My Lunches With Orson, Peter Biskind’s sensitively edited account of Welles’s conversations with Henry Jaglom. The British-born actor and director became Welles’s regular lunch partner and confidante, and taped their dialogues over a couple of years before Welles’s death in 1985. This is Welles riffing uninhibitedly on his life and times, lurching from mischief to melancholy, and it is riveting.

more from Peter Aspden at the FT here.

Understanding Huma

Emily Greenhouse in The New Yorker:

Huma-abedin-580“Huma for Mayor,” many tweeted on Tuesday. Others, fancying themselves funny: “Free Huma.” Huma Abedin, a close aide to Hillary Clinton, and more important for now, wife to Anthony Weiner, is certainly an object of some interest; Mark Jacobson, in a recent New York magazine cover story about Weiner, described a bird of a beauty heretofore unknown. (“Her brown eyes,” he wrote, “were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race.”) When Weiner resigned from Congress two summers ago, after being outed as a distributor of below-the-waist selfies, people flocked to Abedin, promising her solace and options. She received hardly a negative word in the press. When she stood by her man—“for me, for our son, for our family”—many of us told ourselves it was her life, her choice, and a brave one at that. She seemed the bearer of a wisdom that the masses could not know. And then Tuesday, at the press conference following the revelation of Weiner’s post-resignation online tryst as Carlos Danger, Abedin took a turn at the microphone after her husband, who hadn’t quite offered a satisfying mea culpa. She didn’t look happy up there, exactly, but she couldn’t manage to pull off gravitas, either. Neither showed much energy or punch until afterward, at a forum hosted by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, where Weiner worked the room with panache, winning “rapturous applause” from activists in attendance. He’s a gifted politician, don’t forget.

The fallout from the story has been about Weiner’s mayoral prospects, about whether or not his sexts were disgusting or disappointingly dull, and also about Abedin. This country can understand a redemption story: man screws up, talks endlessly to a therapist about family narratives and feedback loops, offers himself up, gets forgiven by loyal wife. Such tales form the highest peak on the great American mountain. But Weiner screwed up again. And, as he admitted this, Huma kept on standing by his side. What can we make of that? The feminist and activist Gloria Steinem postulated that “the Stockholm syndrome” might be responsible. The New York Posts cover cried, “Señora Danger … WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” as though a woman should be held responsible for sexual misdeeds one just expects from a man. (“Sure, Carlos Danger is a sleaze,” it noted in smaller print, “but his señora is no saint either. Huma Abedin happily lied to a public that had been nothing but sympathetic to her as she inexplicably stood by—and colluded with—Anthony Weiner.”)

More here.

War Torn

Jacob Heilbrun in The New York Times:

WarIn July 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt met with senators from both political parties at the White House in a final effort to persuade them to amend the Neutrality Act preventing America from aiding other countries. After drinks were poured, Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, argued that the world was approaching a catastrophic war. The 74-year-old Republican senator William Borah, who had led the fight against Woodrow Wilson and American entry into the League of Nations in 1919, shook his head in disgust. “There is not going to be any war in Europe this year,” he said. “All this hysteria is manufactured and artificial.” Two months later Hitler invaded Poland, and England and France declared war on Germany.

Now that it has become the good war fought by the greatest generation, the ferocity of the disputes over entering World War II has largely been forgotten. But the story of America’s anti-­interventionist lobby is not only historically fascinating, it also echoes in debates today over whether America should engage abroad or hold back. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. — whose memoir, Philip Roth said, inspired his novel “The Plot Against America,” about an alternative reality where the isolationists, led by Charles Lindbergh, defeat Roose­velt for the presidency — recalled the dispute as the “most savage political debate in my lifetime,” eclipsing those over McCarthyism and Vietnam in its intensity.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Shakespeare and U Punnya

Shakespeare and U Punnya.
Not enough chanting and singing.
Learn at school and read at home.
Know all the texts.

Once put to memory, in the crowd
drop references boastfully.
Articulate but cannot plough.
Go hungry
when the pitaka pot breaks.

by Tin Moe
from Anya lann ka tamah dann (Rows of Tamah Trees in Upper Burma)
publisher: Shwe Thingaha Myanmar Association Library, Korea, Bucheon City, 2006
translation: Violet Cho and David Gilbert

Translator's Note: U Punnya was a late nineteenth century Burmese poet. The pitaka pot is a Buddhist metaphor for a container of knowledge.

Temple of Womb


Kartik Nair in New Inquiry:

In the summer of 1975, faced with intensifying opposition from trade, student, and government unions—and the stench of a court conviction over electoral ­misconduct—Gandhi had a state of “internal emergency” declared. In middle-class memory, the next 21 months are recalled as that rare time in postcolonial India when the streets stayed clean and trains ran on time. It was the last gasp of truly centralized state control, the climax of Big Government, the paroxysm of the plan—with the poor at the receiving end.

Among the many technologies unveiled during the Emergency were “family planning camps” across India. Here, citizens (mostly lower class, mostly male) were encouraged, pressured, and often forced to undergo vasectomies. This coercion—the preferred term was “motivation”—occurred in more than one way: Sometimes whole villages were rounded up and hauled to these camps; other times, men were offered “gifts” in exchange for sterilization.

In cities, family planning dovetailed with slum demolition. The poor were promised plots of land if they agreed to move out of the slum and submit to “voluntary” sterilization. In the paper trail of official documents left behind by this black market, Emma Tarlo, in her Unsettling Memories: Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi, finds “documents in which ‘family planning’ is defined as ‘sterilization’ and ‘sterilization’ is defined as voluntary even before the person has begun to fill out the form. What we find in this small piece of paper is a fragment of the dominant Emergency narrative—a token of official family-planning euphemisms in action at a local level.”

Surfacing Impunity


Emma Myers interviews Joshua Oppenheimer in Guernica:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers to the sound of trumpets.” No one captures the problematic pretense of impunity better than Voltaire—except perhaps documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer. The director’s new and profoundly disturbing film, The Act of Killing, opens with a direct nod to the philosopher, if only to one-up him. In an effort to expose the moral murkiness behind Indonesia’s 1965 and 1966 government sponsored purges, Oppenheimer gets up close and personal with a group of perpetrators whose attempts at self-glorification are enough to make a full brass band seem understated.

Documenting a fictive take on reality rather than reality per se, The Act of Killing unfolds in an unnerving aesthetic overlap between the surreal and the hyperreal. The subjects of the film, former members of the country’s vigilante military Pancasila Youth Party, go to theatrical extremes to reenact the atrocities they committed. In addition to recruiting women and children to act out large-scale massacres, the men stage interrogations, beatings, and executions, as well as costumed and almost hallucinogenic musical numbers in which dancers emerge from the mouth of a gargantuan metal fish.

Despite the overall effect of visceral and ethical nausea, moments of uncomfortable humor arise out of the disjunction between what we know about the subjects’ past and the way we see them behave in the present. When they drunkenly belt out Bob Dylan lyrics or stop filming because the call to prayer demands a moment of spiritual reverence, the viewer is forced into a state of cognitive dissonance. But as the Oppenheimer observes, the Manichean divide of good guys and bad guys can “only exist in movies.”

Reading Hegel in a Tehran Prison


Ramin Jahanbegloo in the LA Review of Books:

[I]n a solitary jail cell, books simply help one to survive; one can never underestimate their power and importance in such a place. For prisoners in solitary confinement, reading books can guarantee their mental sanity. Strangely enough, the abstract philosophy of Hegel proved beneficial in pulling my mind out of the horrible dungeon in which I was living. Throughout the many years that I had read and taught Hegel’s Phenomenology, I had never had such an intimate relation with a philosophy in the making. In my cell I would read out loud each paragraph of the book in order to fully hear the sound of the abstract Hegelian concepts. I felt as if I was part of Hegel’s epic voyage of philosophical discovery; I was myself a stage of the process of spiritual history which the philosopher reproduces in his book.

The Phenomenology became an inseparable companion of the long hours of solitude that I spent in my cell, especially during the nights when my inquisitors did not poison my fragile existence, and the prison was haunted by a terrifying silence. While sitting on my blanket on the cold cement and leaning against the wall of my cell, I would take this huge book in my hands and start reading it slowly, in such a manner that only I could hear it. Phrases such as: “Universal freedom can […] produce neither a positive achievement nor a deed; there is left for it only negative action; it is merely the rage and fury of destruction” made my suffering soul tremble with excitement. Wasn’t I myself a victim of this tendency towards destruction, combined with an unyielding and constant suspicion, which leads inevitably, after each revolution in history, to the killing of innocent individuals? I was sharing the same space of death where many had agonized until the last moment before their execution.

This prison has the task not only of extinguishing life, but also of wiping out the individuality that threatens the whole that the revolution espouses. Thus every act, necessarily enacted from the standpoint of individuality, is treated as guilty — a guilt that only confession followed by death can absolve. And the lesson that I could see in all this was simple: a revolution is capable only of condemnation, and the guilty party, like me, must either negate the revolution or be negated by it.

From my house to U2 with some of Beethoven’s Pathetique

I made a video of a bike ride from my house to a bar called U2 in the parking lot of the Aquarena. I like this place because while every other place around here has some oppressively beautiful view from its outdoor seating area, U2 opens out onto the expansive asphalt of the Aquarena Parkplatz. Makes me feel like I am still a part of civilization, not some mountain man like Ötzi. The whole ride is only about a kilometer. Happy Friday night!

Rape Joke: A Poem By Patricia Lockwood

In The Awl [h/t: Susan Svatek]:

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”

No offense.

The rape joke is that he was seven years older. The rape joke is that you had known him for years, since you were too young to be interesting to him. You liked that use of the word interesting, as if you were a piece of knowledge that someone could be desperate to acquire, to assimilate, and to spit back out in different form through his goateed mouth.

Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all.

The whole poem can be found here.

It’s Easier for Aliens to Visit Us Than Previously Thought

K-bigpic (2)

George Dvorsky in io9:

A new study suggests that by using the slingshot effect to propel self-replicating probes through interstellar space, an advanced extraterrestrial civilization should be able to visit every corner of the galaxy in a startlingly short amount of time. The Fermi Paradox, it would seem, is alive and well.

Before we get to the new study, let’s quickly review what we mean by self-replicating probes and their relation to the Fermi Paradox.

The hypothetical self-replicating probe (SRP) is an idea that’s been around since the 1940s. Devised by the brilliant mathematician John von Neumann (which is why they’re also called Von Neumann probes), it’s a non-biological system that can replicate itself. Von Neumann wasn’t thinking of space exploration and colonization at the time, but other thinkers, like Freeman Dyson, Eric Drexler, and Robert Freitas, have since extended his idea to exactly that.

Once launched into space, an SRP could travel to a neighboring star system, and through the application of robotics, molecular assembly, and AI, seek out resources to build an exact replica of itself. Really, all it would need to do is find an asteroid with the right material components.

clive’s dante


There are at least two dozen English translations of parts or the whole of The Divine Comedy in print today, their number suggesting there is something symbolic about the enterprise itself. James’s introduction tells us that, for him, an important part of this symbolic value is in paying tribute to his wife, the Dante scholar Prue Shaw, from whom he has been publicly estranged. Yet he also advances another reason for publishing this version. According to James, most English translations fail to bring across the assonant and alliterative interplay of Dante’s original, because they are busy with the almost impossible task of reproducing its terza rima, the chain-link rhyme scheme. He is right: the strengths of polyglot English are also its weakness when it comes to rhyme. The kind of music that is almost automatic in Italian is achieved only with invention – and sometimes evident strain – in English.

more from Fiona Sampson at the New Statesman here.

The sea defines us, connects us, separates us


The world is full of wonders and mysteries, cruelties and colourful characters, and occasional flashes of enlightenment, as Philip Hoare’s book reminds us. Chief among the enigmas are other people. Until that moment, I’d thought the whale unfathomable. A half-fabled creature, emerging from the deep in a holiday resort. But that woman was now the greater puzzle. What was going on in her head? Hoare’s previous book, Leviathan, was a lengthy and engrossing disquisition on whales, whale lore, whale hunting and humanity’s abrupt volte-face about these creatures. He was also co-curator of the Moby Dick Big Read, an online extravaganza which involved all 135 chapters of Melville’s book being read, a chapter a day, by people as different as Stephen Fry, Tilda Swinton, even David Cameron, as well as ordinary folk. The Sea Inside is most at ease when, again, he is in the company of whales. Companionable and entertaining, the book follows the recent fashion for combining memoir, travelogue, historical byways, natural history and lore. This can suggest a hoarder’s fear that something might be left out. Or perhaps it’s a bid to escape categories in favour of an appropriate fluidity.

more from Kathleen Jamie at the LRB here.

photos from the Faroes


The Faroese are a storytelling people, with ancestries tracing back to Nordic and Irish lines and a history etched in bloody Icelandic sagas. For centuries, fishing has been a pillar of the Faroese livelihood and economy, a profession that keeps fathers, sons, and brothers at sea for nearly a lifetime. “My uncle used to quip that anyone who fished less than three hundred days a year was considered a hobbyist,” Rasmussen says. The Faroes became a protectorate of Denmark in the sixteenth century. Just shy of 50,000 people, it enjoys one of the highest minimum wages in the world ($20 USD) and a strong social-​welfare system that supports a healthy middle class. This sense of support permeates the culture. “Even if you’re the town drunk,” Rasmussen says, “even if you’re someone who’s slipping through the cracks, it’s such a tight-​knit community and network of families that you’re never going to slip through those cracks.”

more from Benjamin Rasmussen at VQR here.

How to Read Literature

From The Guardian:

No-one-cares-whether-you--010Terry Eagleton was once the bad boy of English studies. His seminal textbook Literary Theory introduced generations of students to what their tutors feared was the mind-rotting influence of the continent. But his new book is a more traditional affair. Aimed at “readers and students”, it is a personable stroll through a predictable canon: Charlotte Brontë, Forster, Keats, Milton, Hardy et al – plus JK Rowling, perhaps thrown in so as not to appear snobbish. The avuncular prof cautions his audience not to read in certain ways (no one cares whether you like the characters or not), and aims to show, through close reading of selected passages of poetry and prose, how to appreciate the best of what's been thought and said. Eagleton has many interesting things to say – as it were, in passing – about Conrad, Milton and so on, in a series of thematic chapters that focus in turn on “Openings”, “Character”, “Narrative”, “Interpretation” and “Value”. There are some longueurs, as when he devotes four pages to an elaborate reading of the nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in order to show why such an interpretation is under-justified by the text, but overall it's an amiable affair. Charming, too, to find that Eagleton is a kind of happy existentialist who finds support for such an attitude in modernist (and proto-postmodernist) literature. “Works of fiction like Tristram Shandy, Heart of Darkness, Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway,” he remarks with cheering optimism, “can serve to free us from seeing human life as goal-driven, logically unfolding and rigorously coherent. As such, they can help us to enjoy it more.”

The book's knottiest chapter is the last, on “Value”, in which Eagleton considers various criteria for what literary value might be and gleefully demolishes them all. Must good literature be groundbreakingly original? In that case, Eagleton points out, “we would be forced to deny the value of a great many literary works, from ancient pastoral and medieval mystery plays to sonnets and folk ballads”. Should literature speak to our everyday concerns? Balls to that: “If we are inspired only by literature that reflects our own interests, all reading becomes a form of narcissism. The point of turning to Rabelais or Aristophanes is as much to get outside our own heads as to delve more deeply into them.”

Picture: 'Dostoevsky is better than Grisham in the sense that Tiger Woods is a better golfer than Lady Gaga' … Terry Eagleton.

More here.

What The Physics Of Love Looks Like

From PopSci:

Physicsoflove1Louise Ma, a Brooklyn-based designer, has been exploring the visualization of one of our most pressing emotions in an ongoing project called What Love Looks Like. This video, the first in a six-part series, shows different kinds of relationships as different solubility of a liquid in water–the people that become a part of you, the people you'll always remember and those who don't matter at all.

Ma and her collaborators, Chris Parker and Lola Kalman, have posted two more videos you can check out here. One involves fire! What Love Looks Like, video one of six from Tangible Graphics on Vimeo.

More here.