Orpheus Ascending, Part 2

Australian poet and author Peter Nicholson writes 3QD’s Poetry and Culture column (see other columns here). There is an introduction to his work at peternicholson.com.au and at the NLA.

If Solomon Volkov’s Shostakovich memoirs are to be believed, Stalin was listening to Mozart before he died. And Mahler had a secret passion for The Merry Widow. And Hitler liked The Merry Widow too. And Mahler was a great Wagner conductor. How easy it is to get all worked up about the chance encounters historical figures can make. Are we to enlist Mozart as the avenging angel of Stalinism. Was Mahler a proto-Hitlerite: you know he liked The Merry Widow too and was prone to dictatorial mannerisms just like . . .  The absurdity of thinking in this way is clear. In the case of Wagner, such false historicism seems to be the only way that some people manage to cope with complexity. An important artist is always going to be misunderstood at first. With Wagner the misunderstandings show no sign of diminishing. If only Wagner hadn’t written Judaism In Music or any other of those interminable essays he cooked up in between bouts of supreme creativity. That is just the point. Artistic grandeur survives the unedifying spectacle of an advancing anti-Semitism. Even as Wagner died he was trying to give theoretical shape to the enormity of existence so convincingly conveyed in his music. The theory fails, the art succeeds. Art does not seek to explain. It expresses our mystery, our tenderness and joy, our beauty, and our destructive capacity too. When we listen intently to Wagner’s music we undergo an aesthetic experience which transcends our usual gravitational urge to banality. That some find the experience tedious or incomprehensible is no criticism of Wagner. The art waits for us; if we are not worthy of it there is always some cultural product that will be.

To call Wagner a Romantic does not get us very far. The so-called Romantic poets—Byron, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth—are often lumped together despite the fact that each has an independent sensibility. The mania for classifying performs no useful function for the artist concerned. After all, Schumann, Brahms and Chopin get called Romantic composers too, but does that label really help us to come to terms with each of their unique oeuvres. The appeal of Wagner to modernists as diverse as Baudelaire, Eliot and Joyce should warn us of the dangers inherent in this unsatisfactory label. Wagner belongs to the world of Freud and Ibsen as much as to that of Heine and Caspar David Friedrich.

There are some who regard all this concern with Wagner as so much antediluvianism. They look to Pound, Marinetti, Gertrude Stein, Pollock or whoever as the way forward. The concept of cultural heritage does not figure prominently in their attitude. They favour the approach of the tabula rasa, like Pol Pot emptying Phnom Penh, murdering all the professionals and starting up from primitive scratch. A wholly new approach can sometimes yield worthwhile cultural results—Rimbaud, for example—but most artists know that the inheritance of the past must sit on their shoulders and bear down on them with its splendours. Wagner knew that. The regular readings from the Greek tragedians, Shakespeare and Goethe tell us as much as the concern with Beethoven and Weber. Wagner was honest enough to admit that his great bête noire, Mendelssohn, would have been horrified to see how he composed. In other words, Wagner was an artist who cared about musical technique and the degree to which he could use that technique to convey the cultural heritage of the past to the future. If a critic today looks on the basilisk face of Wagner and sees only overweening arrogance, how little do they find of the real Wagner, the Wagner whose insecurities and bad dreams still reach out to us today. We have our bad dreams too. Only now our bad dreams are realities. If we could listen to Wagner with open ears we would hear the voice of an art that, to use Grillparzer’s phrase, transfigures what it consumes. If darkness is visible in this art, so much more truthful is it in portraying the human element in its entirety. The ideal can only be approached after an exhaustive struggle with reality—Parsifal’s lonely years of wandering finally allow him to understand the significance of the Grail. Name calling of the Jews and the French might have been a popular pastime at Tribschen and Wahnfried, and Alberich, Mime, Beckmesser and Klingsor may have begun life as Jewish caricatures—Wagner knew perfectly well that art had to get beyond chauvinism and prejudice if it was to take its place in the great chain of cultural being.

Whereas the Greek work of art expressed the spirit of a splendid nation, the work of art of the future is intended to express the spirit of free people irrespective of all national boundaries; the national element in it must be no more than an ornament, an added individual charm, and not a confining boundary.                                                                                                                                              Art and Revolution

Wagner was an arch-hypocrite on the subject of the Jews, displayed nowhere more clearly than in his investment of a 40 000 thaler gift from Ludwig in 1865 with the Jewish banking firm of Hohenmeser in Frankfurt. However, if we are going to look for moral perfection in an artist we have absolutely no hope of finding within ourselves, then we are participating in the very hypocrisy we criticise the artist for. Science tells us that dinosaurs roamed the Earth for millions of years before the most enigmatic arrival of all—that of Homo sapiens. Artists of Wagner’s significance do not come along very often. To reduce an art as grand and poetic as Wagner’s to the level of a series of moral failings simply wont do. We all of us have moral failings, but we are not very likely to leave a Ring cycle behind as our calling card to posterity.

What a cast of characters can be called in to witness the Wagnerian biography as it makes it stormy progress from one unsettled residence to yet another, dogs in faithful attendance. It is just as well there are biographical remains for us to look at, otherwise we would be hard put to understand just how the art and the life all got fitted into the space between 1813 and 1883. Aspects of that life still fire the imagination with their drama and passion, perhaps nowhere more profoundly than in that great moment when Ludwig summoned Wagner for the first time. How one would have liked to be a fly on the mental wallpaper of that first encounter. Naturally, this friendship has been trivialised and parodied beyond the point of no return. A sober and detached view would reveal one of the most significant cultural and political relationships in the history of artistic endeavour. To sit in the theatre in Bayreuth and see a performance there is to participate in a poetic ideal, an ideal that still comes to the world across minefields of ideology and propaganda. Wagner once commented that every part of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus was stained with his and Cosima’s blood. That is probably true but it is terribly unfair to Ludwig. It is all very well to say that Ludwig was unsuited to the task of kingship or that Wagner manipulated the rhetorical tone of his letters to the king so as to ensure a codependent relationship. Let us remember Ludwig’s steadfastness; without it there would be no Bayreuth ideal, an ideal that goes beyond Wagner and Wagnerism, the fairy-tale castles or the drowning in Lake Stamberg. And let us remember too that Ludwig, who must surely be the most perfect Wagnerite of all time, completely rejected Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Adomo once claimed that attending the Bayreuth Festival was akin to actively participating in one’s own oppression. Ludwig gives the lie to this idea right from the start, because not only did Ludwig occasionally tire of the whole Wagnerian circus, staging works in Munich when he lost patience with the composer’s grandstanding; he actually refused to attend a premiere in the Festspielhaus itself. How annoying for the composer that the king, his great benefactor, should turn out to be so independently-minded. In fact, Wagner’s attempt to get the world to think as he did has failed. We are Ludwig’s heirs as well as Wagner’s in that regard. We can honour the greatness of Wagner the artist, but we do not leave our conscience or our critical faculties at the door of the Wagner treasure trove.

Part 3 of Orpheus Ascending can be read here.

The end of the Ring with the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Georg Solti and Birgit Nilsson singing in the Culshaw Decca recording can be heard here. 8′ 30”

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Sunday, July 2, 2006

Islam’s Reformers

Ehsan Masood in Prospect Magazine:

Picture_2It is a scene I won’t forget in a hurry: Jean-Marie Lehn, French winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry, defending his atheism at a packed public conference at the new Alexandria Library in Egypt. In much of the Muslim world, talking about atheism in public is dangerous.

But the Alexandria Library is run by Ismail Serageldin, a Muslim intellectual who has a bold and ambitious project for Egypt. This is to create a place for dissent in public life. He wants to encourage people to grow thicker skins, help them appreciate that if Muslim societies want to return to the forefront of global intellectual life, they need to be comfortable with public dispute. The library is one place where open debate can take place—although this is partly because it is protected by having as its chair Suzanne Mubarak, wife of President Hosni Mubarak.

Serageldin is not alone. In my travels across the Muslim world, I am finding that what he (and others) are trying to do in Egypt is also happening elsewhere.

More here.

A Mystery Fit For A Pharaoh

The first tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since King Tut’s is raising new questions for archaeologists about ancient Egypt’s burial practices.”

Andrew Lawler in Smithsonian Magazine:

Pharaoh_interior_1The child-size coffin in KV-63 held the flashiest artifact: a second, nested coffin coated in gold leaf. It was empty. Instead of the usual mummies, the other coffins opened so far contain only a bizarre assortment of what appears to be debris and constitute a 3,000-year-old mystery: Why fill coffins and jars with rocks and broken pottery, then carefully seal them up? Why hew out a subterranean chamber only to turn it into a storeroom? And who went to all this effort? “It may not be the most glamorous find,” says Betsy Bryan, an Egyptologist at Johns Hopkins University, “but it is a whole new kind of entombment—which raises all kinds of questions.”

More here.

Darwinism Invades the Social Sciences

In the 1970’s, 80s and 90’s, “economic imperialism”–a term that refers to the invasion by the methods of neoclassical economics and game theory of the other social sciences–was the rage. Now evopscyh begins its tear across the social sciences and the “standard social scientific model”. A review of Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists (edited by Jerome H. Barkow), in Evolutionary Psychology.

I began my graduate career in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington, where the great sociobiologist Pierre van den Berghe taught all his career. I was a stupid SSSM (“Standard Social Science Model”) sociology graduate student then, and I joined the chorus of the confederacy of dunces to ridicule Pierre’s sociobiological work. More than a decade later, I discovered evolutionary psychology on my own by reading Wright’s The Moral Animal, and converted to it overnight. When I began working in EP, I apologized to Pierre for having been too dense to see the light a decade earlier, and told him my grand plan to introduce EP into sociology and revolutionize social sciences. Pierre was encouraging but cautious. He told me that he had tried to do that himself a quarter of a century earlier but to no avail. Sociologists were just too stupid to understand the importance of biology in human behavior, a view that he has expressed in print (van den Berghe, 1990), and he eventually left the field in disgust. Blinded by youthful optimism and ambition, I did not heed Pierre’s cautionary words and tried very hard to introduce EP into sociology. Nearly ten years later, I too have now come to his conclusion, and have left sociology in disgust. I have given up on the social sciences.

Now a group of ambitious scholars, under the leadership of no less an authority on EP than Jerome H. Barkow, attempts to accomplish what Pierre and I failed to do. Missing the revolution: Darwinism for social scientists is a collection of essays by evolutionary scientists from a range of disciplines, all with the aim of convincing social scientists to take evolutionary theory seriously and join the “Darwinian revolution.” If social scientists continue to miss the revolution after reading this book, they have nobody but themselves to blame. They certainly cannot blame Barkow and his collaborators in this volume, because (with one exception) they compile truly impressive contributions in an earnest attempt to show the Darwinian light to the social scientists.

Pollitt on the anti-Caitlin Flanagan, Linda Hirshman

Katha Pollitt on Linda Hirshman, in The Nation:

Hirshman first made her vigorous, no-holds-barred case against stay-home motherhood in an article called “Homeward Bound,” in The American Prospect. She got a huge amount of media attention–at last, a feminist who admits she thinks stay-home moms are wasting their lives!–and has now expanded the essay into a (very slender) book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World. Fans of the original article will be pleased to know that the book preserves the abrasive, my-way-or-the-highway features of the essay. Don’t major in art. Do prepare yourself for a lifetime of work–and by work Hirshman means things like corporate law and business, not social work or, I fear, writing for The Nation. Don’t ever “know when you’re out of milk”–i.e., don’t take on the role of domestic expert. Do “marry down”–i.e., a lower-earning husband, so his job won’t be more important than yours. Don’t have more than one child.

It’s easy to make fun of Hirshman’s directives. Corporate lawyers are miserable! Everyone should know if there’s milk in the fridge! As for marrying down, well, whatever floats your boat, but anyone who thinks a less successful husband means a more equal marriage doesn’t know much about men, or women either. Her potted history of second-wave feminism as a contest between a properly “judgmental” pro-work Betty Friedan and a wishy-washy “choice feminist” Gloria Steinem is off the mark too. For Friedan the enemy was not stay-home moms but “man-hating” feminists and lesbians; Steinem, for her part, could be plenty judgmental: I once heard her compare women who enjoyed pornography to Jews who enjoyed Mein Kampf. On work and family, though, both women had similar, flexible views, as indeed any leader who hoped to make a mass movement would need to have.

That said, there’s something refreshing about Hirshman. Why should the antifeminists monopolize the high ground? It’s about time someone asked, again, such basic questions as: If cleaning the house is so fulfilling, how come men don’t want to do it, and how can you get them to do it anyway (cf., milk, obliviousness to lack of)? And if having a mom at home is so beneficial to kids, how come even Flanagan admits she could see no difference in children raised by stay-homes and working mothers except that the working mothers’ kids seemed smarter?

Mobilizing the Religious Left

A review of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right, in the Boston Globe.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, founding editor-publisher of the liberal interfaith magazine Tikkun , is forming a national “Network of Spiritual Progressives” in an effort “to provide an alternate solution to both the intolerant and militarist politics of the Right and the current misguided, visionless, and often spiritually empty politics of the Left.”

His new book, “ The Left Hand of God,” is a rallying cry and a theoretical and scholarly analysis of the appeal of the religious right. It is also a kind of handbook for creating a movement “that can be for the Democrats and Greens what the Religious Right has been for the Republicans,” by providing “intellectual, political, and spiritual inspiration for those in the party even while not being formally aligned when it comes to elections.”

Lerner is stumping the country on his book tour much the way the progressive evangelical Jim Wallis did a year ago with his book “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” As writers, speakers, and organizers, Lerner and Wallis have come to fill the void left by the leaders of the civil rights and the antiwar movements in the ’60s and ’70s.

Killing Off Harry Potter, Maybe

JK Rowling hints at killing off two main characters in the 7th Harry Potter novel, including perhaps Harry himself.

“The final chapter is hidden away, although it’s now changed very slightly,” she said in a rare live television interview with Channel 4’s teatime chat show hosts Richard and Judy. “One character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I did not intend to die.”

When asked whether the characters were “much loved”, she replied: “A price has to be paid, we are dealing with pure evil here.

“They don’t target extras do they? They go for the main characters. Well I do.” In a phrase sure to be closely analysed by the legions of visitors to Harry Potter fansites that deconstruct the author’s every word, she said she empathised with Agatha Christie, who killed off her detective Hercule Poirot so that other writers would not be able to continue his stories after her death.

“I’ve never been tempted to kill him [Harry] off before the end of book seven, because I always planned seven books and that’s where I want to go,” she said.

Dutch Government Falls Over Ayaan Hirsi Ali Controversy

I’m surprised that this hasn’t been getting more prominent headlines. The government of Jan Peter Balkenende has fallen over a controversy resulting from the horrid Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk’s threat to strip Ayaan Hirsi Ali of Dutch citizenship.

From the BBC:

A junior partner in the coalition, the centrist D-66 party, walked out after failing to get Mrs Verdonk sacked.

It objected to the way she had handled the citizenship case of a Somali-born Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The MP has been under police protection since a militant Islamist murdered Theo van Gogh, her collaborator on a film they made lambasting the treatment of women in Islamic society.

Mrs Verdonk threatened to strip Ms Hirsi Ali of her Dutch citizenship for lying in her asylum application in 1992.

But this week Mrs Verdonk did a U-turn, claiming she had found a legal loophole that would allow Ms Hirsi Ali to stay in the Netherlands.

Also more from Scott Martens at A Fistful of Euros here. And more here in Der Spiegel.

What He Could Do for His Country

From The Washington Post:Kennedy

LET EVERY NATION KNOW: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words By Robert Dallek and Terry Golway.

JACK KENNEDY: The Education of a Statesman By Barbara Leaming.

The generation of Americans who were teenagers and young adults when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated — the idealists who were the most likely to have asked what they could do for their country — is starting to grow old. As the lives that were inspired by JFK’s presidency begin to slow, Kennedy may suffer in the opinion polls that have consistently placed him among the four or five greatest chief executives, ranking him up there with Washington, Lincoln and FDR despite his abbreviated presidency and lack of major legislative accomplishments. These books focus on the two outstanding features of his time in the White House — his rhetoric and his statesmanship — and together they make a convincing case against any demotion.

More here.

Fixing Foreign Policy

From Harvard Magazine:Us

Can American foreign policy be fixed? First, the United States is nowhere near as powerful as it was five years ago, or as many within the Bush administration believe it to be. The disproportionate military and economic might that this country brought to bear in the 1990s lulled a lot of people into a false sense of security: we measured power on an old-fashioned, twentieth-century abacus—according to gross domestic product, advantageous trade deficits, or unsurpassed military and technological supremacy. The memory of how the Cold War was allegedly won further fueled this idea. We outspent and outgunned the Soviet Union, the story went, and our freedoms won the affections of repressed peoples.

But what we recognize now, as the Bush administration tries to exert American will around the world, is the degree to which the old power metrics are anachronistic.

More here.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Love, Life, Goethe by John Armstrong

Reviewed by C J Schüler in The Independent:

Goethe_2In this lucid and engaging book, John Armstrong blows away the dust from this most misunderstood of major writers, and reveals a fascinating and often likeable figure whose work is of the utmost relevance to the problems we face today. And if Love, Life, Goethe is more of a straightforward cradle-to-grave biography than its subtitle might lead one to expect, Armstrong, a philosopher at Melbourne University, never loses sight of his central idea: Goethe’s belief that the job of the artist is to help people to live happily and well.

It is ironic, then, that Goethe first shot to international fame, at the age of 25, with a novel that became the handbook for moody, alienated youth everywhere: The Sorrows of Young Werther. Yet Goethe’s intention was not to glorify romantic disaffection but to warn against it.

More here.

China and The King of Cars

Ted Conover in the New York Times Magazine:

02cover_1The figures behind China’s car boom are stunning. Total miles of highway in the country: at least 23,000, more than double what existed in 2001, and second now only to the United States. Number of passenger cars on the road: about 6 million in 2000 and about 20 million today. Car sales are up 54 percent in the first three months of 2006, compared with the same period a year ago; every day, 1,000 new cars (and 500 used ones) are sold in Beijing. The astronomic growth of China’s car-manufacturing industry will soon hit home for Americans and Europeans as dirt-cheap Chinese automobiles start showing up for sale here over the next two or three years. (Think basic passenger car for $10,000, luxury S.U.V. for $19,000.)

But of course the story is not only about construction and production; car culture is taking root in China, and in many ways it looks like ours. City drivers, stuck in ever-growing jams, listen to traffic radio. They buy auto magazines with titles like The King of Cars, AutoStyle, China Auto Pictorial, Friends of Cars, Whaam (“The Car — The Street — The Travel — The Racing”). Two dozen titles now compete for space in kiosks. The McDonald’s Corporation said last month that it expects half of its new outlets in China to be drive-throughs. Whole zones of major cities, like the Asian Games Village area in Beijing, have been given over to car lots and showrooms.

More here.

The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India

Julia Keay reviews the book by Tristram Stuart in Literary Review:

Keay_07_06One of the hardest things about writing on what might be called a ‘special interest’ must be convincing potential readers that you are not going to preach at them. Rest assured. Tristram Stuart doesn’t preach. What he does do is try to make us think about what we eat, and why, and what effect our choice of diet has on ourselves, the animal world, and the ecology of the planet. And, in spite of his misleading subtitle, he succeeds triumphantly. ‘Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India’ suggests a claim to spectacular achievement on the part of a fringe group trying to enhance its credentials. In fact The Bloodless Revolution is a scholarly, wide-ranging and utterly absorbing history of vegetarianism.

Although the word ‘vegetarian’ was not coined until the 1840s, as long ago as the sixth century BC Pythagoras propounded a theory of immortality that entailed the transmigration of the soul between living creatures – and thus the immorality of eating the flesh of any of them. Pythagoras was thought to have encountered this theory while travelling in Egypt, to which country it was believed to have been introduced by philosophers from India.

More here.

new musical instrument exemplifies the love affair between math and music

David Cohn in Seed Magazine:

Tritareexample_1In 580 BC the Greek philosopher Pythagoras discovered that harmonies could be expressed mathematically. His insight, which is based on the observation that doubling or halving the size of an instrument’s string produces a new octave, is the cornerstone of the musical scale.

Twenty-five hundred years later, two Canadian mathematicians from the University of Moncton in New Brunswick have created an entirely new kind of string instrument that exploits a kind of mathematics owing more to Pythagoras’s theorem for triangles than to anything he ever thought about music.

The Tritare is a Y-shaped guitar-like instrument, custom made by Claude Gauthier and Samuel Gaudet. The strings twist through three necks (Spinal Tap, eat your heart out), all of which project from the body of the instrument at different angles. When strummed, the result is a “network” of vibrations that yields a

More here.

A perfect new member for the EU

Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian:

Canada_flag3_1Driving through Toronto earlier this week I saw a shiny black 4×4 with an English flag sticking out of one side window and a German flag out of the other. Presumably a Canadian family of mixed English and German origin, so rooting for both teams in the World Cup. A little later I saw a car with the Portuguese flag on one side and the Italian on the other. It occurred to me that this pretty much sums up what we’ve been trying to achieve in Europe since the second world war. Welcome to the European Union – in Canada.

In fact, why doesn’t the European Union invite Canada to join at once? In most respects it would be a much easier fit than Ukraine, let alone Turkey. It effortlessly meets the EU’s so-called Copenhagen criteria for membership, including democratic government, the rule of law, a well-regulated market economy and respect for minority rights (Canada’s a world-leader on that). Canada is rich, so would be a much-needed net contributor to the European budget at a time when the EU has been taking in lots of poorer states. One of Europe’s besetting weaknesses is disagreement between the British and the French, but on this the two historic rivals would instantly agree. English-speaking Canada would strengthen the Anglophone group in the EU, Quebec the Francophone…

More here.  [Thanks to Seanna Blair.]

Humans As Cat Chow

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

LionlicklipsTwo hundred thousand years ago or thereabouts, an African lion killed someone. Along with a meal, the big cat got a wicked stomachache. Today a record of that unfortunate death still survives, in the bacteria that make big cats sick.

The trail of this strange story starts in the 1980s, when scientists discovered that ulcers are caused by bacteria known as known as Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori is found in people around the world, and scientists learned how to recognize the different strains they carried. Based on the patterns of the strains, a team of scientists concluded in 2003 that Helicobacter pylori must have been present early in the history of our species, and was spread across the world during the migration of humans. (I wrote a long post on H. pylori and human evolution when the scientists who discovered its link to ulcers got the Nobel Prize.)

But there were skeptics.

More here.

The US and Iran: Three Nuclear Ironies

Ted Daley in Common Dreams:

Mushroom20_cloud“With supreme irony,” said historian James Harvey Robinson of the First World War, “the war to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ ended by leaving democracy more unsafe…” With comparable irony, a nuclear war to make the world safe from nuclear peril could end by leaving America more exposed to nuclear annihilation than at any time since the dawn of the atomic age.

A Nuclear Attack on Iran?

In the April 17th, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons perhaps 5-10 years from now, Pentagon planners were preparing not just military strikes on that country, but nuclear strikes. Some analysts, according to Hersh, insist that only our own tactical nuclear warheads can guarantee the elimination of Tehran’s nascent nuclear capability.

President Bush had the opportunity to disavow Hersh’s stunning charge on April 18th, when a reporter asked him directly if his administration was planning a nuclear strike on Iran. His reply? “All options are on the table.”

More here.

Bush, Koizumi see Elvis’ Graceland

From CNN:

StorygracelandarrivalAll it took was a simple invitation from Bush.

“You’re a pretty good Elvis singer,” the president said, in an obvious prompt to his guest. Bush knew what was coming, having previously experienced Koizumi’s tendency to burst into song when it comes to the late rock ‘n’ roll legend who is the Japanese leader’s undisputed musical hero. (Watch Koizumi’s attempt to sing Elvis’ ‘I want you, I need you’ — 2:06)

Koizumi quickly complied. “Love me tender,” he sang. “Wise men say, ‘Only fools rush in.’ “

More here.

Pyschiatry by Prescription

From Harvard Magazine:Psych_1

By the time he reached his early thirties, James was a promising scientist who had all the makings of an academic star. He had earned a stream of fellowships and was on the path to tenure at one of Boston’s preeminent universities. But James had a problem: he dreaded speaking in public. Academic conferences terrified him, so he avoided them whenever possible. He rarely interacted with colleagues. As a result, his ideas didn’t circulate and his career stalled.

In frustration, James sought help from a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with a mental disorder known as “social phobia” and prescribed a well-known antidepressant effective in the treatment of extreme inhibition. The medication alleviated his severe anxiety and enabled him to do the things he previously couldn’t do. His work gained public recognition, and he has subsequently risen to the top of his profession.

In recent years, James’s story has become increasingly common. An estimated 22 million Americans currently take psychotropic medications—most for relatively mild conditions.

More here.

Up in Smoke

From The New York Times:

Chatt190 ‘English, August: An Indian Story,’ by Upamanyu Chatterjee A specter haunts Indian writing — the specter of authenticity. In the pages of magazines and journals, at soirées and (sparsely attended) book parties in New Delhi, literature is being judged by a specious metric of cultural and national loyalty. According to this standard, it is in the work of writers who live in India and write in an Indian language (and thus have trouble finding a Western publisher), and not, to quote one critic, in sell-out “export-quality prose,” that the country’s authentic voice is to be found.

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s “English, August,” was first published in India in 1988. The story of a young civil servant posted to a fictional rural town, it was hailed as the country’s “Catcher in the Rye” — a novel that captured the zeitgeist of the 1980’s, when India was uncertainly emerging from decades of economic isolation and ill-conceived socialism. Now, nearly two decades later, “English, August” is at last being published in America. The long wait, and the fact that, although Chatterjee writes in English, he still works and lives in India, confer a certain legitimacy upon his book. In a market dominated by cosmopolitan authors and fusion prose, “English, August” is being presented, in the words of one admirer, as “the ‘Indianest’ novel in English that I know of.”

More here.