The Science of Scarcity


Cara Feinberg in Harvard Magazine (Photograph by Jim Harrison):

TOWARD THE END of World War II, while thousands of Europeans were dying of hunger, 36 men at the University of Minnesota volunteered for a study that would send them to the brink of starvation. Allied troops advancing into German-occupied territories with supplies and food were encountering droves of skeletal people they had no idea how to safely renourish, and researchers at the university had designed a study they hoped might reveal the best methods of doing so. But first, their volunteers had to agree to starve.

The physical toll on these men was alarming: their metabolism slowed by 40 percent; sitting on atrophied muscles became painful; though their limbs were skeletal, their fluid-filled bellies looked curiously stout. But researchers also observed disturbing mental effects they hadn’t expected: obsessions about cookbooks and recipes developed; men with no previous interest in food thought—and talked—about nothing else. Overwhelming, uncontrollable thoughts had taken over, and as one participant later recalled, “Food became the one central and only thing really in one’s life.” There was no room left for anything else.

Though these odd behaviors were just a footnote in the original Minnesota study, toprofessor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan, who works on contemporary issues of poverty, they were among the most intriguing findings. Nearly 70 years after publication, that “footnote” showed something remarkable: scarcity had stolen more than flesh and muscle. It had captured the starving men’s minds.

More here.

A Crisis at the Edge of Physics


Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser in the NYT (image by Gérard DuBois):

DO physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?

You may think that the answer is an obvious yes, experimental confirmation being the very heart of science. But a growing controversy at the frontiers of physics and cosmology suggests that the situation is not so simple.

A few months ago in the journal Nature, two leading researchers, George Ellis and Joseph Silk, published a controversial piece called “Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics.” They criticized a newfound willingness among some scientists to explicitly set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today’s most ambitious cosmic theories — so long as those theories are “sufficiently elegant and explanatory.” Despite working at the cutting edge of knowledge, such scientists are, for Professors Ellis and Silk, “breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical.”

Whether or not you agree with them, the professors have identified a mounting concern in fundamental physics: Today, our most ambitious science can seem at odds with the empirical methodology that has historically given the field its credibility.

How did we get to this impasse?

More here.

How elite soccer illustrates an ancient paradox and a current problem

by Emrys Westacott

The market is efficient. The market knows best. This belief underlies much contemporary theory and practice, especially in the realm of government policy. It is has been used, for instance, to justify privatizing the railways and the post office in the UK, and it forms a central plank in the arguments of those who oppose a government run national health care system in the US. Imgres

The basic idea is simple enough. People express their preferences through their spending habits; they vote with their wallets. If DVDs replace video tapes, or if Amazon puts Borders Books out of business, that is just efficiency in action, with the market performing the function that natural selection performs in the course of evolution. And just as evolutionary biologists do not criticize environmental conditions (although they may sometimes put on another hat and seek to protect threatened species or habitats), so economists, insofar as they are trying to be scientific, will not criticize consumer preferences. About expressed preferences there is no disputing.

But of course, as engaged, concerned, interested, moralizing, and occasionally sanctimonious human beings, most of us do make value judgements about people's preferences. We do this in one of two ways.

1) We normatively judge the preferences themselves. E.g. we criticize people (including ourselves) for drinking too much, eating unhealthy foods, watching stupid TV shows, spending too much time playing video games, or engaging in conspicuous consumption. And we applaud people for learning new skills, cultivating their talents, supporting a local enterprise, or giving to charity.

2) We evaluate how well people's preferences, as expressed through their actions, will help them realize their ultimate goals. E.g. Teachers tell students that if they want to be professionally successful they should study more and party less. Psychologists tell us all that if we want to make ourselves happier we should spend less on ourselves and more on others.

Often, the first sort of evaluation is really a version of the second, but that needn't concern us here. It's the second kind that interests me.

We all often act on specific short-term preferences in a way that produces long-term consequences that are contrary in some ways to what we really desire. The paradox that by pursuing what we think we want we fail to attain what we really want was first explored by Plato in the Gorgias and the Republic.[1] I believe top-flight soccer offers an interesting and instructive illustration of this paradox.

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An Interview with Jeffrey Renard Allen

by Randolyn Zinn

Jeff AllenRead Jeffrey Renard Allen’s masterful novel Song of the Shank (published by Greywolf Press) and you'll meet Thomas Greene Wiggins, a 19th century slave and musical genius who performed as Blind Tom. The book earned rave reviews, was named a New York Times’ Notable Book of 2014, and was a finalist for the PEN Faulkner Award. This spring Allen was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation award to write a new book and this fall he will become a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virgina. He earned a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been a Professor of English at Queens College and an Instructor in the MFA Creative Writing Program at The New School.

We met at the Cornelia Street Café in NYC last month where our conversation began with a discussion about the style of Song of the Shank.

Randolyn Zinn: Your narrative stance reaches deeply into the heart of whatever you’re describing, be it place, period, landscape or a character’s interiority.

Jeffrey Renard Allen: That sounds about right. I was having a conversation about this with my editor. I said that I have a thick style. Meaning that in this book, in particular, there are a lot of voices. I am an expansive writer and this density happens at the level of the sentence. Or the paragraph. I’m interested in all the avenues of a character.

RZ: You don’t stand back at a distance describing characters; you write from the center of his or her experience and readers are pulled right in.

JA: Yeah, I’m very much about trying to write through the mind of the character, yet have enough liberty to be elastic to do interesting things with the language.

RZ: You don’t use quotation marks around dialogue.

JA: Maybe I have in some stories. But since I began to write seriously, going back to the 80s, I’ve tended to do away with that.

RZ: Why? Because it feels extraneous? Because it’s obvious, as readers, that we understand when a character is speaking?

JA: I think there are a couple of things. Some of it comes from studying writers I like. Joyce was the first person to do away with quotation marks around dialogue. Other writers don’t use them: John Edgar Wideman, a lot of Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy. When you do away with the quotation marks, t forces the reader to pay attention to what’s happening on the page. The writer makes the narration and the action blend in with the dialogue. It all becomes one voice in a way, even though you still have the distinct voices of the characters, their speech. I like that the language can work in such a way that it all blends together.

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How not to be afraid of death

by Charlie Huenemann

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” —Woody Allen

DT40Set aside any belief in an afterlife, even the vaguely hopeful “I’ll return to the energy of the universe” sort of view. The realization that your run of life is finite is troubling. At first, when we begin to think about the full extent of our lives, we tend to think of that extent as a short stretch of time found within a very broad scope of time: I exist for several decades within – what? – billions and billions of years. It’s a tiny blip, hardly anything at all. And, automatically, we associate the very short episode called “our lives” with more ordinary episodes, like seeing a movie on a Sunday afternoon. In that case, we enjoy the movie, and after that, we drive home. But then a second realization hits: after this life, there will be no driving home. There will not be anything for us – no recalling of favorite moments, no do-overs, not even a moment of nostalgia. Nothing. That life we just had will be all we ever are, forever. The pit of existential despair opens before us, and boy howdy, does it ever stink.

Both Socrates and Seneca defined philosophy as preparing for death, and there’s no denying that if we haven’t come to terms with this fact – I will die – we have not yet found wisdom. Now I’m as foolish and troubled as anyone else, but I have come across a line of thought that, at least when I manage to remember it, makes that pit of existential despair disappear.

The line of thought comes from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, though it can also be found in the writings of Epicurus. They diagnose our problem as arising from that first view we adopted, the one that sees life as an episode within a larger frame of time. Sometimes that perspective is perfectly accurate: namely, when we look at other people’s lives, and we note how there were things happening both before they lived and after they died. Their lives are rather like Sunday afternoon movies to us in this regard. But – according to the Epicurus/Wittgenstein line of thought – when it comes to our own lives, that same picture does not apply: for of course there will not be, in our lives, any events before we live or after we die. When I try to adopt a perspective that sees my life as a short expanse of time within a larger expanse of time, I am trying to adopt a nonsensical point of view. I am trying to view my life from a life that is both my life and not my life.

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Few Thoughts about Pegasus

by Carl Pierer

4064449132_7452ccd2d1_oLet us suppose Pegasus does not exist. This simple idea has proven to lead to plenty of philosophical trouble. Because what exactly is the thing that does not exist? Quine puts the “Riddle of Non-being” as: “Nonbeing must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not?” The problematic coin has two sides. First, it seems that in supposing to talk about Pegasus at all, we are simultaneously asserting that something that answers to the name of Pegasus is – in some sense. This is the semantic side: If Pegasus is not, in any sense of the word, what would we be talking about?

In the same essay, Quine states the problem of ontology as: “What is there?” and answers immediately: “Everything”. This approach leads to the same problem, albeit from a different angle: if everything exists, how can we deny the existence of any particular thing, e.g. Pegasus? We may call this the logical side of the problem. For example, if A says Pegasus flies, then A is committed to the claim that something that flies exists. However, if A says Pegasus does not exist, how can the obvious contradiction of asserting that something exists that does not exist be avoided?

Quine proposes the following. The apparent contradiction in stating that something does not exist can be resolved thusly: a statement denying the existence of something, say Pegasus, can be analysed in terms of its logical structure. So, to say that Pegasus does not exist means simply ~∃x (x is Pegasus).

This by itself does not solve the problem, as a further instance of existential generalisation creates the same problem this was set to solve: ~∃x (x is Pegasus) becomes ∃y~∃x (x is y) – meaning again there exists a thing such that it does not exist. To avoid this trouble, Quine suggests – following Russell – that the proper name “Pegasus” can be substituted by a description, e.g. “the winged horse that was captured by Bellerophon”. Hence if F = the winged horse that was captured by Bellerophon, the sentence becomes: ~∃x Fx and no existential generalisation can be made. The logical part of the problem is thus solved.

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Translations from Urdu: Three Poems by Majeed Amjad

by Ali Minai

299190_10150747706740262_6590189_nMajeed Amjad (1914 – 1974) is considered one of the most important modern poets in the Urdu language. He was born in Jhang, which is now in Pakistan, and spent most of his life in the small towns of Punjab, away from the great literary centers of Urdu. Perhaps this was one factor in giving his poetry a distinctive style and idiom that is impossible to place within any of the mainstream contemporary movements in Urdu poetry. Amjad's style is characterized by striking images, unexpected connections, and a very personal voice. He had a challenging life, with financial insecurity, domestic problems and literary frustrations. His philosophical and introspective nature drew upon these challenges to create a unique mixture of sweetness and bitterness that makes him one of Urdu's most original poets. Starting out with traditional forms, Amjad experimented extensively with new ones, and much of his later poetry is in free verse.

I have chosen to translate poems by Amjad because, despite the acknowledgment of his stature in literary circles, he is not as well known among general audiences as his great contemporaries, Faiz and Rashid. I chose these three poems based purely on personal preference, though they are also quite representative of his work. In particular, they capture his characteristically mysterious allusions, where he seems to refer to something particular without specifying exactly what it is, leaving the reader to infer multiple scenarios. Personally, I find this to be both aggravating and interesting – and a very modern aspect of his work, occasionally bordering on the surrealistic. The poems also have a lot of psychological nuance, which was another distinguishing feature of Amjad's poetry.

In the original, the first two poems are in metered verse and the third in free verse. While I have tried to follow the general structure of the poems, I have not attempted to translate strictly line by line, preferring to capture the thought rather than the form. In this sense, the translation is not literal, though it is quite close with minimal reinterpretation of metaphors, etc. As with all translations, it is impossible to capture all the nuances of the original. I just hope that the translated versions have sufficient interest in their own right and convey some of Amjad's uniquely mysterious, imagistic and elegiac style.


Poem 1: Superficially, this poem starts out as an elegy on the grave of some unknown poet, with the usual symbolism associated with such poems. But as one reads on, it becomes clear that this is not about any particular poet at all, nor is it an elegy. It is rather a fierce critique of that poetic tradition – long dominant in Urdu – that seeks to create art for art's sake, and has little time for the actual lives of individuals and societies. In this, Amjad is making the same point that many of his Progressive contemporaries – notably Faiz – made about the received poetic tradition in Urdu. But Amjad's allusive and imagistic style contrasts strongly with the explicit protests found in the work of the Progressives. The build-up through this poem culminates lines that send chills down the spine.

Amjad has been called a poet of brutal realism. In some of his poems, this realism is explicit, but here it is couched in a more symbolic – perhaps more appealing – form.

Voice, Death of Voice (1960)

No ornate ceiling, nor canopy of silk;

no shawl of flowers; no shadow of vine;

just a mound of earth;

just a slope covered with rocky shards;

just a dark space with blind moths;

a dome of death!

No graven headstone, no marking brick –

Here lies buried the eloquent poet

whom the world implored a thousand times

to speak out,

but he, imprisoned by his fancy's walls,

far from Time's path,

oblivious to the lightning upon the reeds,

drowned himself in the breast of a silent flute:

a voice become the death of voice!

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Crime hurts, justice should heal

by Thomas R. Wells

Ex-teacher-gets-1-year-in-jailJudicial punishment is the curious idea that individuals deserve to be punished by the state for breaking its laws. Intellectually this is rather counter-intuitive. If crime is so terrible because it is a social trauma then deliberately hurting more people would seem to amplify that trauma rather than treat it. There are intellectual arguments for retributive punishment of course, many of them rather ingenious, but they have the look of post hoc rationalisations for a brute social fact: we just like the idea of hurting bad people – even if these days their suffering is the mental torture of prison rather than the rack.

The modern criminal justice system – bloated and terroristic – is the product of government expansionism combined with this societal lust for vengeance.


In theory there are great advantages to having the state administer criminal justice – i.e. as a prosecutor and punisher rather than merely as a judge – such as ensuring some baseline of fair treatment for less powerful victims and defendants. However, these are not guaranteed. For example, it is a well-studied fact that young African-American men, a minority stereotyped as especially liable to criminality, are more likely to be stopped by government agents, arrested, charged with a higher crime, denied bail, found guilty, and sentenced to a harsher punishment.

This is not the only way that the state's takeover of criminal justice goes awry. By converting crime from a relationship between victim and perpetrator to a relationship between a criminal and the state it has justified a vast expansion of what is criminalised and of the severity of punishment. The problem of crimes such as rape are conceived not primarily as harms to specific people that need to be redressed, but as transgressions of laws that represent the will of society. All crimes are now offenses against the dignity of Society, as represented by the government. The democratic requirement that justice must be seen to be done means that the moral indignation of society as a whole drives the government's punishment decisions, not the interests or wishes of actual victims of crimes.

Locking millions of people into squalid little boxes for years on end doesn't make much sense if you take away its real motivation: the naked desire to make society's enemies suffer. Besides being a very inefficient – socially expensive – means of hurting people (something I've discussed elsewhere), the mental suffering of prison does little to advance the supposed moral goals of criminal justice.

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Art in a Disenchanted World

by Mathangi Krishnamurthy

Kochi One

In the middle of a semester of endless world travel, and a series of screechy deadlines, I gifted myself a three-day weekend to go meander at the Kochi Muziris Biennale of 2014/15. Our survival as, dare I say, members of a sensate world, depends on the idea of a full life, and into every full life, some art must fall is what I told myself as I made plans to visit. Gathering up a friend, and all my depleting stamina, I boarded a plane and then a cab to reach the wonderfully lovely town of Fort Kochi across the breadth of which were strewn the venues for this year's installations enunciating “Whorled Explorations”. 94 artists from 30 countries held court for a hundred and eight days across thirty venues.

Even as I disembarked prepared to be impressed, the superbly humid Kochi weather seeped slowly into my skull, rendering inchoate my cultural ambitions. Kochi is by the sea, the month was February, and we were catching summer in all its ambitious force. Our charming inn-keeper had been pretty certain over the phone when confirming our booking that we would not need an air-conditioned room. It's a good thing he left the choice open. The air-conditioning was all that lay between us and a lifetime vow to never pursue art. Spoilt; I know.

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What is Innateness?

by Michael Lopresto

Forest_PathWhen it comes to explaining human cognition and human uniqueness, everyone seems to think that nature and nurture constitute a false dichotomy. Both nature and nurture work together harmoniously to contribute to the cognitive traits that make humans profoundly different to every other animal on the Earth. Unlike every other animal on Earth, humans are uniquely flexible; we have inhabited every kind of environment, engaged in intergenerational social learning, cooperated with those outside of our immediate group, accurately described things we'll never directly observe, and much more. Humans are cognitively flexible, behaviourally flexible, communicatively flexible and representationally flexible. Representational systems employed by humans are open-ended and unprecedented in the animal kingdom: natural languages like English and Chinese, artificial languages like predicate logic, formal languages like those in mathematics, pictures, diagrams, weather maps are all but a few of the representational systems employed by humans (not to mention mental representations, which are likely to be analogues of the aforementioned systems).

One of the central questions of cognitive science is explaining how humans acquire cognitive traits, including ones that contribute to human uniqueness. Is the trait for language innate or learned? Is the trait for mental time travel (the ability to experience one's past or future) innate or learned? Is the trait for moral reasoning innate or learned? And so forth.

Nativists are those who say that lots of cognitive traits are innate, and empiricists are those who say that very few cognitive traits are innate. The nativism/empiricism distinction is not to be confused with the rationalism/empiricism debate of early modern philosophy. That debate was primarily over epistemology, while the contemporary debate is primarily over psychology. However, questions of epistemology and psychology were systematically conflated, as Kant and others pointed out, and we ought to be careful not to conflate the same questions now. Even so, there are fairly clear links between the two questions. The rationalists of early modern philosophy, like Descartes and Leibniz, argued that a great many cognitive traits were innate, and the empiricists of that era, like Locke and Hume, argued that very few cognitive traits were innate. (Although those philosophers spoke in terms of “innate knowledge” and “innate ideas”—phrases that certainly need careful interpretation).

However, the question “Is cognitive trait X innate or learned?” presupposes that the concepts INNATE and LEARNED are somewhat well defined.[*] (I take it for granted that the concept COGNITIVE TRAIT is uncontroversial, i.e. phenotypic traits relating to things like thinking, inference, perception, intelligence, and so forth.) Our question certainly doesn't presuppose that for any cognitive trait it's all or nothing; totally innate or totally learned, or even totally acquired through environmental interaction.

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A Modern Mystic: Agnes Martin, Tate Britain, Until 11th October, 2015

by Sue Hubbard

“Beauty is the mystery of life, it is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.” —Agnes Martin

010Over the last few years Tate Modern has paid homage to a number of important women artists including, amongst others, Eva Hesse, Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Marlene Dumas and Sonia Delaunay. That the psychodrama of Frida Kahlo and Louise Bourgeois, the theatre of Kusama and the eroticism of Marlene Dumas should have had wide public appeal is not surprising. All provide the means for the viewer to identify with the artist, to ‘feel her pain' and be drawn into her emotional maelstrom and visual world. But the current exhibition of work by Agnes Martin is an altogether more difficult affair. It makes demands on the spectator who, if willing to engage, will be rewarded by moments of Zen-like stillness and clarity.

To sit among Martin's white paintings, The Islands I-XII, 1979, is akin to being alone with Rothko's Seagram paintings. Though while Rothko is chthonic, the colours womb-like and elemental as he wrestles with the dark night of the soul, the subtle tonalities of Martin's pale paintings are, in contrast, Apollonian. She is Ariel to Rothko's Caliban. Full of light and air, her paintings quieten the busy mind, provide space, tranquillity and silence. Yet each of these silences is subtly varied, broken by differing accents and rhythms. The tonal shifts, the small variations and delineations of the sections of the canvas demand attention and mindfulness. These works offer not so much an experience of the sublime – that form of masculine awe and ecstasy – as a dilution into nothingness, an arrival at T. S. Eliot's “still point in a turning world.” Here we find stasis, where everything, as in meditation, has been stripped away, so that we are left with nothing more than the rhythm of the world, with what simply IS.

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Must We Mean What We Say? On Stanley Cavell

Charles Petersen in n + 1:

ScreenHunter_1214 Jun. 08 12.10Stanley Cavell, born in 1926 and now 86 years old, is one of the greatest American philosophers of the past half-century. He was also something of a musical prodigy and like many prodigies his accomplishments struck him as a matter of fraud. During his freshman year at Berkeley, he writes in Little Did I Know, his 2010 memoir, he walked into one of his first piano courses and was asked to prove he had the requisite chops by playing a piece on the spot. Not having practiced anything but jazz for years—this was 1944, and big band swing was at its peak—the budding pianist sat down at the bench, broke into a half-remembered theme from a Liszt impromptu, and “stopped playing as the theme was about to elaborate itself, as if I could have gone on to the end were there time and need.” He could not have gone on to the end, nor even a note further, but his teacher, a brilliant young pianist with some of the look of Marlene Dietrich, was nonetheless taken in. “Isn’t it fine to hear a man’s touch at the piano?” she said to the class. Cavell felt smitten, but also unmanned. “It is true that I had really done whatever . . . . I had done, but I could not go on.” Although he could play almost anything on demand—and would later win praise from Ernest Bloch, Milton Babbitt, and Roger Sessions, rescuing the premiere of one of the latter’s works through an emergency mid-concert transposition—for Cavell it was as if each new performance followed only from instinct, without the understanding that promised a way forward. No matter his successes, he couldn’t escape the feeling that he was a fraud.

Two decades later, in 1965, Cavell, having abandoned music for philosophy, returned to the problem of fraudulence in a now classic essay, “Music Discomposed.” (It would become a centerpiece in his landmark first collection, Must We Mean What We Say? [1969].) The motivating question of the essay — “How can fraudulent art be exposed?” — though couched in the nomenclature of composers like Cage and Stockhausen, seems now, in light of Cavell’s memoir, to be addressed as much to his own uncertainties as a young musician.

More here.

An interview with… Noël Carroll on the Philosophy of Art

Download (3)

Over at 5 Books:

Could you give an example of the kind of question that stimulated you to get into philosophy? Often practising artists and even critics are sceptical about the subject, saying that it misses the point of the arts.

Well, as both an artist — I was a fledgling poet, and I did go to film school — and then as a critic at that time of my life, which was the 1970s, I was vexed by the tendency towards relativism. When I made various things, I didn’t mean them to be open to any interpretation possible. I also felt that a number of critics were using works of art to ride their own hobbyhorses, and defending this on the grounds of relativism. I wanted to investigate the philosophical foundations of that kind of interpretive freedom, and to discover whether or not there might be a philosophical foundation to my own conviction that some interpretations were right and others were wrong.

Now, the Five Books that you’ve chosen are all from the twentieth century, which has probably been history’s greatest century in aesthetics. Do you agree?

My view is that the philosophy of art is something that arose to deal with a specifically modern problem. Before the eighteenth century, people talked about the individual arts but they didn’t think of them as a unified system. In the eighteenth century you begin to get a feeling that certain things go together — poetry, theatre, dance, music, painting, and sculpture. Prior to that, things could be put together a little differently — music could go with mathematics, or painting could go with medicine, because both apothecaries and painters ground things in pestles. In the eighteenth century we get this formation of what we call the “Fine Arts” and what they called in those days the “Beaux Arts.” They were thought to be unified by the notion of the imitation of the beautiful in nature. But no sooner was that view afoot than there was a crisis: the crisis of absolute music. Absolute music — music without text or programmes — became more and more central. Other art was said to aspire to its condition but, of course, an imitation theory didn’t fit that view very well so other views had to be discovered and a whole range began to be fielded including expression theories, formal theories, and aesthetic theories. This, in turn, was exacerbated by the growing velocity of the appearance of an avant-garde. No sooner did one view of the nature of art appear than it had to be repaired because something else came down the pike. The reason I think that the philosophy of art is particularly modern, and the reason that the twentieth century was so involved with it, was that it had to deal with the constant challenge of the avant-garde. We see that in the first of the texts that I’ve chosen, by Clive Bell. His book,Art, is a defence of a then emerging avant-garde: the avant-garde movement of post-impressionism.

More here.

A Party of Latecomers


Francis Mulhern in New Left Review:

A magazine, if it is not doctrinaire, should have a character rather than a programme—so wrote Roberto Schwarz in 1967, launching a new publishing initiative for the left in Brazil. His preferred comparison was ‘a good essay’, something both surefooted and unexpected, clearing an uncertain path by the light of interest and strict reasoning, and certainly not without guiding convictions. [1]Recall of this prospectus is prompted by the record of the New York-based n+1, which has now completed ten years of publication as a magazine devoted, in its own phrasing, to ‘literature, culture and politics’, establishing itself in that time as a distinctive presence on the intellectual left, in the United States and beyond. Convention alone suggests that this is a good time to make a provisional assessment of the project—or more aptly perhaps, to appraise its ‘character’.

An outline description of the practical ensemble called n+1 gives a first indication of the unfolding scope and spirit of the undertaking and at the same time suggests the necessary modesty of a small-scale account of it. The magazine itself is dual-platform, combining a print publication that has so far seen more than twenty book-length issues, and an online supplement that expands and also diversifies editorial capacity, creating space for special subject streams, accommodating shorter or more time-sensitive contributions, and in all ways enhancing the ability to manoeuvre. n+1 has spun out a book series under the same name, some but not all of the material originating in its pages, and also publishes a sister magazine, Paper Monument, devoted to contemporary art. These print and online manifestations take on immediate, face-to-face form in occasional panel discussions, public launch parties and other convivial events [2] —all this miniaturized, as it were, if only for a time, in a Tumblr-based personal ads service. More than a publication, n+1 is a micro-culture, a whole way of intellectual life.

For all that, the magazine, including its online supplement, amounting to an archive of texts in the high hundreds, will be the main reference in what follows. More programmatic ventures, being more tightly focused and (inevitably) more repetitious, offer interpretive economies. Here, the case is otherwise: in n+1, the essay has been foremost, and even paradigmatic, with all that implies of mobility and surprise—and for a reader, the counterpart risks of reductive generalization.

More here.