Are We All Joyceans Here, Then?

Frankie Thomas in The Paris Review:

“Are we all Joyceans here, then?” the young professor asked, poking his head into the classroom doorway.

We looked back at him uncertainly. Yes, we were all here for the Ulysses seminar that met at six thirty P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But to call us “Joyceans” seemed like a stretch. Today—Thursday, January 29, 2015—was only the first day. And besides, this was City College.

No article about City College is complete without the obligatory phrase “the Harvard of the proletariat,” which was supposedly both our school’s nickname and its reputation in the mid twentieth century. By 2015, however, no one could deny that our beautiful Harlem campus was in decline. Governor Cuomo had recently slashed the budget for the entire CUNY system, with City College bearing the brunt of the cuts, and the disastrousness of this decision is difficult to convey without resorting to sodomitic imagery. That year, classrooms were so overcrowded that latecomers had to sit on the floor. One of my professors entered his office on the first day to find that his entire desk had been stolen. The humanities building still used old-fashioned blackboards, but the budget didn’t provide for chalk, so professors hoarded and traded it like prison cigarettes. Most bathroom stalls didn’t lock, and for several weeks, the entire campus collectively ran out of toilet paper—I’ll never forget the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2015 and the generosity it inspired in my fellow students, who shared their own toilet paper from home and never stooped to charging for it.

It was in this context that the English department decided to offer its first-ever Ulysses seminar, though they offered it as you might offer someone a home-cooked meal that you’re secretly pretty sure contains broken glass. “NB: This is a highly demanding course with a heavy reading load,” the course catalogue warned in bold italics, “more like a graduate seminar than a 400-level college class.” I don’t think it actually said “DON’T TAKE THIS CLASS,” but that was the obvious implication. I have since learned that our idealistic young professor was met with departmental resistance when he suggested a Ulysses seminar, and I now suspect that the department was half hoping no one would register for it at all. But the department hadn’t counted on the sheer belligerence of City College students. I took one look at that warning and immediately decided, thanks to the same knee-jerk rebelliousness that had led me to avoid college until the age of twenty-seven, that I had to take this class. I wasn’t the only one: there were thirty students in the Ulysses seminar. (This is what passes for a small discussion class at City College.)

Were we all Joyceans here, then? Taking our silence as a yes, our professor stepped into the crowded classroom.

More here.

The Modern Dignity of an Uncontacted Tribe

Kanishk Tharoor at The Atlantic:

Media coverage of uncontacted tribes often delights in painting indigenous groups as people out of time, hunter-gatherers in the age of Seamless. In November, an American missionary was killed trying to reach North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, home to a remote tribe thought to number about 100 people. Grainy images shot from a helicopter in 2004 of naked islanders brandishing spears flooded the internet. But when they first appear in Piripkura, Pakyî and Tamandua offer a different kind of spectacle. What is striking about them is not their timelessness, but rather their very modern resolve to persist against the odds, to be free from the outside world.

That independence is likely to come further under threat from the incoming far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has pledged not to reserve any more land for indigenous peoples. In previous years, Bolsonaro has said he would arm ranchers in their conflicts with native groups and has lamented that the Brazilian army was not as efficient as the American cavalry in exterminatingindigenous tribes. When trying to put a more benign gloss on these statements, Bolsonaro has claimed that government protections unfairly exclude indigenous people from the benefits of 21st-century life.

more here.

The Medical Portrait: Resisting the Shadow Archive

Susan Sidlauskas at nonsite:

Nearly two decades ago, photo historian Douglas Nickel observed that traditional art history had not yet developed the tools for handling non-art photographs.1 In many ways, much progress has been made since 2001: vernacular photographs of every kind have become worthy objects of study for scholars and critics—not only within visual culture, but in history, sociology, anthropology, and literary and cultural studies. In fact, these days, as Nickel himself has pointed out, studies of vernacular photographs outpace the production of monographic books about “fine art photographers.”2

However, it remains difficult for art historians to build an interpretative model that takes full measure of the visual subtleties of non-art photographs—including their unexpected aspirations towards the aesthetic—without slighting the historical and social conditions in which they were produced.3 With that challenge in mind, I consider here those very aspirations, as they surface repeatedly in a group of “medical portraits”: casebook photographs of patients made between 1885 and 1916 at the Holloway Sanatorium in St. Ann’s Heath, Virginia Water, Surrey, England (fig. 1).

more here.

Sally Rooney: The First Great Millennial Novelist

Lauren Collins at The New Yorker:

Rooney’s second novel, “Normal People,” was nominated for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and will be released in the United States in April. According to The Bookseller, it was the year’s most critically praised book in the United Kingdom. Like “Conversations with Friends,” it is basically a romantic tragicomedy. The point is not so much the plot as the characters, and the heady relationships in and out of which they move “like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronization that it surprises them.” In the opening chapters, Marianne, a smart and unpopular high-school student whose single mother is a lawyer, begins a secret relationship with Connell, a smart and popular high-school student whose single mother cleans Marianne’s family’s house. “She just acted the same as always, like it never happened, reading her book at the lockers as usual, getting into pointless arguments,” Rooney writes. One of the unusual pleasures of Rooney’s novels is watching young women engage in a casual intellectual hooliganism, demolishing every mediocrity that crosses their paths, just for the fun of it.

more here.

Tuesday Poem


First he said:
It is the woman in us
That makes us write–
Let us acknowledge it–
Men would be silent.
We are not men
Therefore we can speak
And be conscious
(of the two sides)
Unbent by the sensual
As befits accuracy.

I then said:
Dare you make this
Your propaganda?

And he answered:
Am I not I–here?

by William Carlos Williams
from: The Tempers, 1913

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Season of Turmoil

Katie Thomas and Charles Ornstein in The New York Times:

Hundreds of doctors packed an auditorium at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Oct. 1, deeply angered by revelations that the hospital’s top medical officer and other leaders had cultivated lucrative relationships with for-profit companies. One by one, they stood up to challenge the stewardship of their beloved institution, often to emotional applause. Some speakers accused their leaders of letting the quest to make more money undermine the hospital’s mission. Others bemoaned a rigid, hierarchical management that had left them feeling they had no real voice in the hospital’s direction. “Slowly, I’ve seen more and more of the higher-up meetings happening with people who are dressed up in suits as opposed to white coats,” said Dr. Viviane Tabar, chairwoman of the neurosurgery department. “The corporatization of this institution is clear to many of us who have been here a long time,” said Dr. Carol L. Brown, a gynecologic cancer surgeon, according to an audio recording of the meeting. The meeting ended after several doctors advocated an immediate no-confidence vote in the hospital’s senior leadership. The turmoil followed reports by The New York Times and ProPublica that the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. José Baselga, had been paid millions by drug and health care companies and failed to disclose those ties more than 100 times in medical journals, and that hospital insiders had made lucrative side deals that stood to earn them handsome profits, sometimes for work they had done on the job.

…Tensions among doctors at the hospital over conflicts of interests mounted through September. On Sept. 28, Colin Begg, the chairman of its department of epidemiology and biostatistics, wrote other department heads. “The key substantive issue is that the problems we face were not caused by failures to disclose conflicts. The problems were due to the conflicts themselves,” he wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and ProPublica. Referring to Dr. Thompson and Douglas A. Warner III, the outgoing chairman of the hospital’s board of managers and overseers, who is known as Sandy, he said, “As far as I can tell neither Sandy nor Craig understand this very basic point. And if you don’t recognize that a problem exists there is no chance you will solve it.”

He also said, “Making billions is not our mission. M.S.K. is a nonprofit with a fundamentally social mission.”

More here.