Jonathan Kramnick to Judge 5th Annual 3QD Arts & Literature Prize

Update 29 June: Winners announced here.

Update 19 June: Finalists announced here.

Update 18 June: Voting round now closed, semifinalists announced here.

Update 12 June: Voting round now open, will close on 17 June 11:59 pm EST. Go here to browse the nominated posts and vote.

FullSizeRender-6We are very honored and pleased to announce that Jonathan Kramnick has agreed to be the final judge for our 5th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of arts & literature. Details of the previous four arts & literature (and other) prizes can be seen on our prize page.

Jonathan Kramnick is Maynard Mack Professor of English at Yale University. His research and teaching is in eighteenth-century literature, literature and philosophy, and cognitive science and the arts. He's the author of two books, Making the English Canon (1999) and Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (2010), and many essays. His current work is on the relations among literary form, perceptual consciousness, and built and natural environments.

As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Professor Kramnick.

The first place award, called the “Top Quark,” will include a cash prize of 500 dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of 200 dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with a 100 dollar prize.

(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS Feed.)

The schedule and rules:

June 1, 2015:

  • The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.
  • Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
  • Each person can only nominate one blog post.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been first published on or after June 1, 2014.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • Nominations are limited to the first 100 entries.
  • Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.

June 10, 2015

  • The public voting will be opened.

June 17, 2015

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

June 19, 2015

  • The finalists are announced.

June 29, 2015

  • The winners are announced.

One Final and Important Request

If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.

Best of luck and thanks for your attention!

California Dying

by Gerald Dworkin

Assisted DyingI am finishing the six months a year that I live in California. While here I have been working on the campaign, led by an organization called Compassion and Choices, to get a bill passed by the California legislature–SB128. This is a bill to allow medically-assisted dying in the state of California. It is modeled on the measure passed by referendum in Oregon in 1994 by 51% of the voters. A legal injunction halted implementation of that law until 1997 when the Ninth Circuit lifted the injunction. In 1992 Californians rejected a referendum legalising assisted-dying, and the legislature has rejected similar bills four times.

Some form of medically assisted-dying is now legal in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont , and one county of New Mexico. This latter reminds me of Woody Allen’s view on the existence of God. He exists everywhere except in certain parts of New Jersey.

The methods of legalization differed from state to state. Oregon was by referendum. Montana was a Supreme Court ruling. Vermont was by statute. Washington’s ballot initiative passed by 58% of the voters.

My own interest in these issues has been long-standing. In 1998 I wrote, together with two other philosophers, a book called Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide. Two of us argued for its moral and legal permissibility; one against. I should note that the use of the term “Physician-assisted suicide” is now politically incorrect, for tactical reasons. I understand that the popular prejudice against suicide makes it more difficult to rally support for the bills I favor. And even some potential users of such measures object to their death-certificate reading “suicide.” But to list the cause of death, as many such bills do, as the underlying disease process seems to me simply a lie. What caused the person diagnosed with terminal cancer to die now, rather than somewhat later, is the secobarbital the patient took. But learning to keep silent about such terminological matters was only one of many lessons I had to learn.

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Rainy days

by Rishidev Chaudhuri

ScreenHunter_1206 Jun. 01 11.44If there were a canonical essay topic for the Hindi classes that I struggled through as a child, “The arrival of the monsoon” would be a leading candidate. So typical a topic that it almost constituted its own form and mode of cultural practice, it was assigned to us several times a year. And we dutifully produced accounts of hot streets and families watching for storm clouds from verandahs and rushing winds and skies flickering with lightning and children playing in the streets and grateful farmers fornicating in suddenly-muddy fields while relieved trees looked on.

But of course this was an entirely fitting essay topic. Much as the coming of winter looms in the imagination of people in further latitudes, the coming of the rains is atavistically woven into the fabric of the subcontinental consciousness, stirring strange rain-fed yearnings in the blood, reflected back at us in art and in politics. The arrival of the monsoon is tracked for weeks, the subject of prayers and village ritual and newspaper op-eds and roadside chatter. Musical forms are dedicated to the first rains; governments fall because of late rains. And, fittingly, the first storms of the season are grand affairs, full of sound and fury, signifying life and fertility. Indeed, for years several friends of mine thought that one got pregnant by dancing around trees in the rain, based on their extensive watching of Hindi movies.

I worked on a farm for half a year after college, through the dry scorching heat of the summer (all fine dust and burnt skin and plants with insufficiently sublimated death drives) and into the coming of the monsoon. My most vivid memories from that year are the monsoon evenings spent sitting on the verandah after a day at work in the fields, drinking rum and watching the rain upon the rice fields and the lightning play through the sky, trees suddenly illuminated by flashes, slightly damp dogs curled up at my feet. And this is to say nothing of other memories of watching the rain fall in the courtyards of old Calcutta houses, which should justifiably be the subject of a novel-cycle about memory and decay (it probably is).

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The Current Spike in Baltimore Violence

by Akim Reinhardt

MurderAs has been widely reported, May was an exceptionally violent month here in Baltimore. The city has witnessed dozens shootings and 38 murders. That is the most murders in any one month since 1996.

Such a spate of violence is certainly worth reporting, and the national media has been quick to pick up on it. However, many media outlets are also drawing lazy connections to the riot and protests that took place several weeks back.

The typical analysis, whether implied or explicit, goes something like this.

There was a riot in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. The riot amplified already troubled relations between Baltimore's African American community and its police force. The police, unhappy about the indictment of six officers in the Gray case, are staging a work slowdown. The result is tremendous violence across the city.

Examples are: here, here, here, here, and here.

This brand of analysis is not factually wrong. Some of those statements may be a bit vague, but they're wrong in and of themselves. However, when those those facts are strung together in this manner, the narrative they produce is just a bit too facile to offer a penetrating explanation for recent upswing in violence.

The problem with such an analysis is that it's:

  • Too focused on the present to account and fails to account for historical forces, and;
  • Too narrow in the way it corrals all the immediate factors but fails to make room for larger structural forces

All of this leads to questions bout causality. For example, to what extent could Baltimore's bloody May be part of a seasonal burst of violence that has taken place across the country?

And how, exactly, does a bad relationship between black Baltimoreans and Baltimore police directly lead to more black-on-black murders (which is mostly what has happened)? Black people don't trust cops, so now they're murdering each other more? That seems like a very peculiar correlation to make.

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Lieko Shiga, ​Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore), 46, 2011, ​from the series ​Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore)​​, 2011. Photograph, digital print.

Lieko Shiga.Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore), 46, 2011, ​from the series ​Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore)​​, 2011.

Photograph, digital print.

“The Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, and an enormous wave of water swept through towns in the Tōhoku (Northeast) region, destroying virtually everything in its path and irrevocably damaging the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This triple disaster was of such epic proportions that it became a defining moment for Japan. A number of photographers felt compelled to record not only the events’ physical effects on the land, but also to interpret the overarching significance of the tragedy through art. …”

Part of current exhibition titled In The Wake at MFA, Boston.

On Veganism

by Tara* Kaushal Renee-Somerfield-Save-the-Earth-300

Why I think it is the only food and lifestyle philosophy that aligns with my value-systems.

So shall we get the calls of “hypocrite” out of the way?

I am not a vegan (eats and uses only plant matter). I've spent my adult life oscillating between being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (vegetarian, plus dairy and eggs), pescetarian (lacto-ovo-vegetarian, plus seafood) and omnivore (eats both plant- and animal-origin food). (I'm calling out the way I've used these terms, as there are so many types and definitions: eg, in Indian Hindus, ‘pure veg' usually means lacto-vegetarian.)

Truth is, veganism is the only food and lifestyle philosophy that aligns to my belief systems; and food is the only aspect of my life in which I am a blatant hypocrite, where my actions don't match my words. With a personality that's “guilt-prone” (my therapist's words, not mine), it bothers me no end that I am not even a committed vegetarian; niggling guilt and disappointment tinge the pleasure of a good steak. I cannot believe my lack of will power, that my tongue and hedonism (and laziness) win in a battle against my beliefs.

So what are the beliefs that point me straight to a vegan lifestyle?

Anthropocentricism: Let's consider, first, the mediocrity principle, the opposite of anthropocentricism. What is the place of humanity in The Grander Scheme of Things? We are, for all our self-aggrandisement, no more than one species on earth, and one of millions in the universe. If we are no more or less than the animals who co-inhabit earth with us, we don't—shouldn't—have rights over them.

Let's say one believes the opposite, that humans are the most significant species on the planet, the very pinnacle of evolution, the Masters of the Earth. One could take an anthropocentric belief system to mean that we are the rightful owners of everything that lives—or see that it grants us agency, great power… and great responsibility. In a situation where we can control the fates of other species, how should we treat them? If you had a kingdom, what kind of monarch would you be?

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Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Fury Road and Absolutely Everything

by Matt McKenna

15-mad-max.w529.h352.2xNot since last December's American Sniper has a simple blockbuster action film generated as much serious discussion as Mad Max: Fury Road. Where American Sniper seemed to tie people in knots about its stance on war, Fury Road has divided moviegoers as to the film's feminist credentials. Is it really a feminist film? Is it merely a film that has non-terrible female characters? Or is it actually an anti-feminist film in feminist film's clothing? Who knows, but what both American Sniper and Fury Road make quite clear is that a straightforward action movie is wide open to interpretation as writers transform its explosions into exegesis, its car chases into consternation, and its body count into boycotts.

The plot of Fury Road is terrifically thin: Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by a violent totalitarian post-apocalyptic dieselpunk gang but has the good fortune of being set free during a calamitous rebellion lead by the gang's once-loyal lieutenant, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Max and Furiosa eventually team up, blow up a lot of cars/people, and–excuse the spoiler–kill the bad guy. That's all the plot there is, but that's all the plot the movie needs as the attraction of the film has nothing to do with story and everything to do with its wonderfully cinematic action sequences. It may therefore seem odd for so many words to be written about a film whose story can be losslessly compressed into a compound sentence or two, but it turns out this lack of specificity in the film is precisely what is required to generate such high-minded dialogue between interested moviegoers.

There's a segment in the Sophie Fiennes directed, Slavoj Zizek narrated film Pervert's Guide to Ideology in which Zizek describes the first half of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as being a capable vessel for ideology because of its “universal adaptability.” In the film, Zizek explains that the symphony has been used at different times to promote all sorts of conflicting political ideologies such as Nazism, communism, and a host of other -isms. Zizek attributes the symphony's ideological flexibility to its being “an empty container, open to all possible meanings.” He doesn't say it exactly like this, but I think Zizek is calling Beethoven's Ninth the musical equivalent of Murphy's Law. Where Murphy's Law is usually stated something like, “anything that can happen will happen,” Zizek's Law takes the form of “anything that can be read into this thing will be read into this thing.” Doesn't that pretty much describe Fury Road as well?

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Why Did America Kill Hundreds Of Thousands Of Iraqi Women And Children? Ask Jeb Bush

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

JebSo Jeb Bush gets asked if he would have invaded Iraq “knowing what we know now,” and he flubs his answer.

But he got asked the wrong question.

The right question to ask Jeb Bush is this:

“How dare you run for president when you should be dying of shame instead, because your brother is a war criminal?”

We seemed to have banished simple morality from all our discussions of public policy.

We call the Iraq War our “most serious foreign policy blunder” instead of what it really was: a war crime. An evil deed conceived by evil men because Saddam Hussein cut oil deals with Russian, French and other foreign oil companies, instead of with American oil companies — a snub that our two Texas oil men in charge, Bush and Cheney, could not abide. So they committed a war crime, and lied our whole country into their war crime.

Their act of evil makes the all-too-often-invoked Nazi analogy applicable to America. Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice-Powell are the mini-Hitlers of our time, and our country, America, is the Nazi Germany of our time, because of the war crime of the Iraq War. Because of our evil, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women and children are dead.

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“I was not so bad as Carlyle, was I?”

by Eric Byrd

Edgar_Degas_Portrait_of_DurantyReading To the Lighthouse I was especially struck by her treatment of what Henry James calls, in his preface to The Tragic Muse, “the artist-life,” as a “human complication and social stumbling block.” The tension of contemplative withdrawal and selfless attention, the janicular simultaneity of egoism – egoism as a revelation of spirit, egoism as a spiritual imposition — struck James, and it seems to have struck Woolf, “as one of the half-dozen great primary motives.” Both James and Woolf were children of voluminous Victorians, would-be sages attended by disciples but fundamentally dependent on their wives; philosophers who had to be supported while they wrote and brooded. On patriarchal needs, the memoirs seem to intersect:

He needed always a woman to sympathize, to flatter, to console. Why? Because he was conscious of his failure as a philosopher, as a writer. But his creed made him ashamed to confess this need of sympathy to men. The attitude that his intellect made him adopt with men, made him the most modest, most reasonable of men. Vanessa, on Wednesdays, was the recipient of much discontent that he had suppressed; and her refusal to accept her role, part slave, part angel of sympathy, exacerbated him so that he was probably unconscious of his own barbarous violence…

(“A Sketch of the Past”)

We simply lived by her, in proportion as we lived spontaneously, with an equanimity of confidence…which left us free for detachments of thought and flights of mind, experiments, so to speak, on the assumption of our genius and our intrinsic interest, that I look back upon as to a luxury of the unworried that is scarce of this world. This was a support on which my father rested with the absolute whole of his weight…

All which is imaged for me while I see our mother listen, at her work, to the full music of the 'papers.' She could do that by the mere force of her complete availability, and could do it with a smoothness of surrender that was like an array of all the perceptions.

(Notes of a Son and Brother)

Mr. Ramsay rests on his wife with the absolute whole of his weight. He imposes his hunger for sympathy tactlessly, childishly, to the rage and impatience of the actual children. Mrs. Ramsay wonders if her husband thinks he would have written better books had he not married (Nietzsche said the married philosopher “belongs in a comedy”).

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Baku Firing the Imagination

by Maniza Naqvi

Baku4What do the Swedes Robert, Ludvig and Alfred Nobel have in common with South Asian Multani pilgrims and traders? Well for starters a certain fire in the belly of Azerbaijan.

I wake up to the sounds and smells of explosives, the whiff of dynamite mixed with a faint scent of petroleum which sometimes wafts on the breeze here, it is midnight in Baku, and there are extravagant fireworks, over the Caspian waters, framed in my hotel window—as Azerbaijan marks its Independence day. I am awake, and from the tower where I lie, I stare into the near distance at the make believe flames superimposed on three glass towers shaped as flames and lit up at night, appearing like the licks of burning tongues. These are, yes, The Flame Towers, a monument of sorts to free enterprise, trading and a homage to fire temples in the beautiful city of Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea on the peninsula of Absheron, in Azerbaijan, in the South Caucuses, north of Iran, South of Georgia and Russia, west of Turkmenistan across the sea and East of the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and that other country one doesn’t name here.


Baad e koo–city of winds—the strong gusts that rise from the south and the sea are called Khaezaeri while those from the north are called Kilavar. The Caspian in Azeri is Khaezer.

I am wide awake, resolutely denying jetlag and contemplate if I should work and finish the note I am to write on Somalia.I have a few hours before my day is to start. But staring at my reflection on the window glass, all I manage to scribble is: From Mogadishu to Baku there is you in common—From Mogidishu to Baku it always ends with you. I mull over the lines and tell myself I will write this. At some point. But as I drown and drowse and surrender to sleep, the moon wanes over the sea slick with oil rising to its surface and I dream of suns rising. My back hurts from the long flight over. I send whatsapp videos back home of the Towers.


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Goodbye to New York (Whether or Not it’s ‘All That’)

by Kathleen Goodwin

IMG_0599I'm currently in the process of moving away from New York City and while I've only lived here for two quick years, now seems as good a time as any for some reflection. Apparently since Joan Didion wrote a piece in The Saturday Evening Post in 1967 about her departure from the city (on a temporary basis as it turned out), it's become a trope for self-centered New Yorkers to announce their leaving the city in the same way, as if this place cares about one less inhabitant. I guess I'm more of a New Yorker than I let myself realize.

While many of my peers seemed to consider moving to New York an end-goal in itself, I had never intended to end up here and was primed for resentment that only grew as time passed. To me, it seemed that New York was a fantastic hoax, where everyone claims to love it and to be happy to be there, so no one is able to admit that they feel otherwise. At times I have felt like screaming that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. In “Goodbye to All That” Didion says that New York is “a city only for the very young.” Leslie Jamison, in a passage about living in New York in her novel The Gin Closet, says, “The truth of being young felt like an ugly secret that everyone had agreed to keep.”

Within the surplus of literature about New York writers love to utter universal truths about the city, probably not taking the time to consider if their experience is the same as the woman who does their laundry or the guy who guards the doors at their midtown office. My observations of New York come from the conscious vantage of someone who is white, educated, and gainfully employed in a city where one is likely to have an entirely different experience if she isn't one or any of those things. It would be very easy to write about unfathomably high rent prices, working too many hours, and competing with all of my former classmates for jobs and grad school spots. But that is the allure of the New York I know, after all. It's a difficult and competitive place to thrive which is precisely why many ambitious people want to be here—a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

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The Next 100 Years in the Human Sciences, a Reply to Frank Wilczek’s Remarks about Physics

by Bill Benzon

Frank Wilczek, theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate at MIT, has recently published his speculation on what physics will yield over the next 100 years [1]. It’s an interesting and provocative read, if a bit obscure to me (I never studied physics beyond a mediocre high school program). And, of course, I had little choice but to wonder:

What about the human sciences in the next 100 years?

My initial reaction to that one (with a nod to Buster Keaton): Damfino!

But then I actually began to think about it and things got interesting, in part because some of Wilczek’s speculations about physics have implications for the human sciences.

I begin with a failed prognostication of my own from four decades ago. Then I move on to Wilczek’s central theme, unification, and conclude with some observations about memory and quantum computing.

Computing, the Prospero Project, and Cultural Singularity

Back in 1976 David Hays and I published a review of the then current computational linguistics literature for Computers and the Humanities [2]. At the time Hays was a senior scholar in the Linguistics Department with a distinguished career going back to his early days at the RAND Corporation, where he led their work in machine translation. I was a graduate student in English literature and a member of Hays’s research group.

Once we’d finished with the research roundups standard in such papers we indulged in a fantasy we called Prospero (p. 271): “a system with a semantics so rich that it can read all of Shakespeare and help in investigating the processes and structures that comprise poetic knowledge. We desire, in short, to reconstruct Shakespeare the poet in a computer.” We then went to specify, in a schematic way, what would go into Prospero and what one might do with Prospero as a research tool.

We did not offer a delivery date for this marvel, specifying only a “remote future” (p. 273). That, I’m sure, ways Hays’s doing; he was too experienced in such matters to speculate on due dates and told me so on more than one occasion. I’m quite sure that, in my own mind, I figured that Prospero might be ready for use in 20 years, certainly within my lifetime. Twenty years from 1976 would have been 1996, but nothing like Prospero existed at that time, nor was it on the visible horizon. Now, almost two decades after that we still have no Prospero-like computational systems nor any likely prospects for building one.

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