Carlos Fuentes on Cervantes, Kafka, and the saving grace of literature

From Sign and Sight:

Not long ago, the Norwegian Academy addressed one hundred writers from all over the world with a single question: Name the novel that you consider the best ever written.

Of the one hundred consulted, fifty answered: “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Quite a landslide, considering the runners up: Dostoevsky, Faulkner and Garcia Marquez, in that order. The results of this consultation pose the interesting question of the long-seller versus the best-seller. There is, of course, no answer that fits all cases: Why does a bestseller sell, why does a long-seller last?

Don Quixote was a big bestseller when it first appeared in 1605, and has continued to sell ever since, whereas William Faulkner was definitively a bad seller if you compare the meager sales of “Absalom, Absalom” (1936) to those of the really big-seller of the year, Hervey Allen’s “Anthoy Adverse”, a Napoleonic saga of love, war and trade.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Don Quijote: ESA targets asteroids to study deflection capabilities

Asteroid_1Carl Sagan, from his book Billions and Billions:

Some mass extinctions of life in the past are now understood by immense mantle plumes gushing up through the surface and generating lava seas where solid land once stood. Others are due to the impact of a large comets or near-Earth asteroids igniting the skies and changing the climate. In the next century, at the very least we ought to be inventorying comets and asteroids to see if any of them has our name on it.

From ESA News:

Based on the recommendations of asteroid experts, ESA has selected two target asteroids for its Near-Earth Object deflecting mission, Don Quijote.

The current scenario envisages two spacecraft in separate interplanetary trajectories. One spacecraft (Hidalgo) will impact an asteroid, the other (Sancho) will arrive earlier at the target asteroid, rendezvous and orbit the asteroid for several months, observing it before and after the impact to detect any changes in its orbit…

While the eyes of the world were on the Asian tsunami last Christmas, one group of scientists were watching uneasily for another potential natural disaster – the threat of an asteroid impact.

On 19 December 2004 MN4, an asteroid of about 400 m, lost since its discovery six months earlier, was observed again and its orbit was computed. It immediately became clear that the chances that it could hit the Earth during a close encounter in 2029 were unusually high. As the days passed the probability did not decrease and the asteroid became notorious for surpassing all previous records in the Torino and Palermo impact risk scales – scales that measure the risk of an asteroid impact just as the Richter scale quantifies the size of an earthquake.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

September 26, 2005

Atelier: Hurricanes, Race, and Risk

Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans, has, as of yesterday, officially invited the residents of Algiers to return to their homes. Algiers, a neighborhood of 57,000 people, is situated on the other side of the Mississippi River, away from the main part of New Orleans; consequently, it was largely untouched by the massive flooding from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and, unlike much of the rest of the city, it has clean water and electricity. The Ninth Ward, on the other hand, perhaps the hardest hit of all the New Orleans neighborhoods, was the site of a second round of crumbling levees and massive flooding, this time courtesy of Hurricane Rita. The differences between these two neighborhoods – one predominantly white and middle class, the other impoverished and overwhelmingly black – are, of course, largely over-determined. It seems, however, that of all the differences between Algiers and Ninth Ward, the most nettlesome one continues to be the fact of their racial difference, a difference, for sure, that New Orleans, especially given its racially contentious history, is keenly aware of. It is this racial distinction, and the host of inequities that this distinction serves to cover up, that has been so ruthlessly exposed and indicted by the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

What is unusual about New Orleans is that, historically speaking, racial segregation in U.S. cities has generally followed a purely horizontally- oriented spatial logic. Detroit provides perhaps the best example of this movement: generous FHA housing subsidies encouraged whites to migrate to the outlying suburbs, while those residents who remained in the inner city, an overwhelming number of whom were black, were left to grapple with the difficulties of an inner city that was increasingly dilapidated, de-industrialized, and under-serviced. The topography of New Orleans is a spatial manifestation of these same generous and highly racist Federal Housing Administration loans; we see a similar urban sprawl effected by the movements of whites out of the center of the city. The history of New Orleans, when seen through its longue durée, adds a particular Cajun piquancy to the normal ways in which space is meted out in relation to race. Of all the amenities available to white New Orleans, its most easily forgotten has always been its relative safety from the contingent forces of nature. While New Orleans had its last colossal flood in 1927, the Ninth Ward has suffered several smaller ones: the Industrial Canal, which cuts through the Ninth Ward, and which failed during Katrina’s onslaught, has failed three times before, once during Hurricane Flossy in 1956 and again during Hurricane Hilda in 1964 and Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

Because of its peculiar geography, New Orleans has always been a disaster waiting to happen; consequently, real estate values in New Orleans reflect and anticipate this impending danger: how badly a given flood or hurricane affects you is determined primarily by where in New Orleans you live. The Ninth Ward is both the poorest and the lowest part of New Orleans. This confluence of qualities particular to the Ninth Ward make sense once we examine those gross inequities that Hurricane Katrina served to expose. In New Orleans, differing abilities to insure against the contingencies of the future are not only bifurcated along an axis of race, but are also physically materialized within the built environment. The spatial features of New Orleans only truly make sense, however, if we take into consideration the ways in which race serves to cover over these economic and spatial inequalities.

In the context of the United States, the construction of race has historically manifested as a black and white binary; such a forced construction needs perpetual maintenance, of course: the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1892) – brilliantly analyzed in Saidiya V. Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection– is only the most dramatic instantiation of a wide variety of legal and social mechanisms employed to maintain the fiction of racial difference. This fiction – to be cynical for a moment – continues to provide a necessary service: blackness has always functioned in this country, albeit in historically varied ways, as an alibi for those economic inequalities that are an inherent feature of capitalism.

Blackness serves to simultaneously elide the cause and corporeally represent the effect of capitalism’s inherent inequality. By reifing the equivalence between blackness and say, poverty, there is a retroactive, normative ‘logic’ that comes to the fore which precludes blackness from being seen as a bodily attribute that has been constructed to always already represent a category of people positioned as poor and unequal. This reified equivalence insists upon a direct causal relation that equates blackness in its ontological essence with the existential fact of being poor and unequal. Blackness, to function as it does, requires an illogical confluence between the realm of appearances and the realm of “essences”. To the extent that supposed cultural or economic inequalities come to be represented and representable to society by the appearance of black skin, the structural inequalities of our economic system are, to a certain extent, made to disappear.

As the flood waters recede, so too will the media coverage; perhaps it would do us all well to continue attending to a disaster whose aftermath has exposed more acutely and more incisively than perhaps any other event of the last decade the insidious function of race within the United States. Forced into the national spotlight by a gross and perhaps even criminally negligent mishandling of those worst-off residents of New Orleans, the vast majority of them both poor and black, race (accompanied as always by its steadfast companion, racism) has finally come clean: the sorry truth is that racial distinctions (and the inevitable hierarchy and exploitation that attends such distinctions) are as American as apple pie; race was violently stitched into our nation’s very fabric, right from its beginning. It is high time we looked carefully, without flinching, at that warped and misshapen pattern that our nation has woven.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Planks from the Lumberyard

Spider Holes & Spider Goats: Tuning in the (White) Noises from the Margins

As if anyone needed further reason to become even more paranoid (or is it “perceptive”?), a marine involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein tells us that the “spider-hole” scenario was a carefully contrived spectacle directed by a “military production” unit; apparently Hussein was actually found in a “modest home in a small village” the day before. And, although by now it’s been long forgotten, the same seems to be true of the classic image of our troops assisting Iraqis with the toppling of the Saddam statue in Firdos square, which was almost certainly a thoroughly staged spectacle meant to shift public opinion (which, by and large, it did). These stories made only the tiniest disturbances in the mainstream media’s coverage, and were quickly lost in the endless maelstrom of disastrous news pouring in from both home and abroad.

Despite the surfeit of available information and the variety of news sources, it’s hard to know who or what to believe these days: when we are made to rely on questionable evidence to understand events we have not witnessed, the whole epistemological structure crumbles. Connections are indeed everywhere, but it takes a certain degree of sense and maybe even taste to follow them; it seems doubtful, for instance, that the resemblance of the satellite image of Hurricane Katrina to an unborn fetus bears any theodical significance.

The curious paranoid, however, will find his strangest and worst fears confirmed (and plenty of fuel to feed his fire) in reading some choice bits from the FBI files on “unusual phenomena,” now readily available on the FBI’s website thanks to the freedom of information act. There you will find extraordinary accounts of the FBI’s investigation into the rampant cattle mutilations in the midwest in the 70s and 80s; or the remarkable story/hoax of the “Majestic 12” , a secret ensemble of the country’s top scientific minds gathered to collaborate on decoding top secred alien codes found at Roswell. It’s unsettling to read through these files and consider how many man hours and tax dollars must have been spent investigating each of these cases which, to the contemporary field officer, must have seemed even more strange. And as any viewer of the X-Files could tell you, what better way to expose an event as a hoax than to offer the files freely to the public. If you are wondering, by the way, the source of the ongoing cattle mutilations has never yet been determined.

Skeptical? Let’s turn for a moment to “nature.” Have you heard about the spider-goats of Plattsburgh, New York? These two genetically-modified goats are surrounded by razor wire and guarded by armed security for the spider silk they produce in place of their goat milk, which is 3 times stronger than kevlar and intended for use in weaving bulletproof clothing, medical sutures, or superstrong ligaments. Perhaps you’ve heard of the parasitic hairworm, the zombifying parasite that rewires the grasshopper’s brain, inducing it to take a suicidal leap into open water? Or the wasp that injects its larvae into the orb-weaver spider, where it grows until the day before killing its host, it rewires its brain so that the spider weaves a web custom-made for the larvae to pupate in? And I’m sure things get far weirder still.

Although these strange noises issuing from the margins are rarely picked up by the major media, they resonate on more than just the paranoid registers. At the very least, they make for interesting reading; at best they provide non-normative perspectives and logics through which to receive and evaluate the larger flows of information. Allowing for the possibility that things are darker and more strange than they appear need not necessarily be considered the the first step down the fun-house hall of paranoia. Between spider holes and spider goats lies a great swath of unprocessed and poorly understood phenomena, things that only the figures on the margins seem to take seriously, be they (mad?) scientists or independent media hounds. And who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, the noise generated by the alt. zines and indy media of the world, speaks to you?

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Critical Digressions: The Three-Step Program for Historical Inquiry

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,

Mapofasia14thcentury_2When we read, especially fiction, we are all aware that that power and perspective have an inverse correlation. First-person narration – “I” – although intimate, is generally said to be “unreliable” (as your grade school English teacher must have informed you when lecturing on Huckleberry Finn or My Antonia or The Catcher in the Rye) while third-person narration is thought to render reality (as you learned in your class on Russian Realism in college). Compare the following: “On Monday morning, I slid out of bed, dull, dead, and only after a cigarette, and after having surveyed 3Quarksdaily, I felt alive, connected in some way to the world around me”; “He woke on Monday morning, wearily slid out of bed, smoked a cigarette, and sat before his laptop, surveying the posts on 3Quarksdaily.” The former employs idioms suggesting subjectivity – dull, dead, alive – with the latter catalogues facts. In a way, reality is measured by the distance between narrator and subject: when narration pulls away, it exerts more control over the subject and the “world” of a novel or story. (Of course, there are exceptions: Lolita and Midnight’s Children come immediately to mind.) But this is just a matter of perception. Both are constructions, fictions (although the wild popularity of 3Quarksdaily is an undisputable fact).

Worldmapcirca1780_1 Historically, the third-person has had a monopoly on reality. History, in fact, has been written in the third-person. But we know that history is also a construction, and has often been a fiction. (Napoleon apparently said, “What is history, but a fable agreed upon…”) We are all aware that in the US, creationists are presently lobbying for the reintroduction of Biblical myths in history textbooks. Indeed for many literal interpreters of religious texts – Christian, Muslim, Jew or Hindu – Darwin’s monkey business is tantamount to blasphemy. Many elementary-school textbooks in madrassas across the Muslim world preach obscurantist Islamism. Interestingly, Pervez Hoodbhoy, the Pakistani physicist and activist, notes that in 80’s Afghan “children’s textbooks designed by the University of Nebraska under a $50million USAID” posed the following types of questions: “One group of maujahidin attack 50 Russian soldiers. In that attack 20 Russians are killed. How many Russians fled?” In India, during the recent tenure of the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – textbooks were rewritten to include the fictional “Indus-Saraswati civilization” and exclude “many awkward facts, like the assassination of…Gandhi by a Hindu Nationalist in 1948.” But these are obvious instances of history as fiction. We have to be cognizant of subtler fictions.

In his book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Mahmood Mamdani, director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia, writes:

“When [a 16th] century Italian missionary…brought a European map of the world-showing the discoveries of America-to China, he was surprised to find that the Chinese were offended by it. The map put Europe in the center of the world and split the Pacific, which meant that China appeared on the right-hand edge of the map. But the Chinese had always thought of China as literally the ‘Middle Kingdom,’ which obviously should have been in the center of the map. To please his hosts, [he] produced another map, one that split the Atlantic, making China more central. In China, maps are still drawn that way, but Europe clung to the first type of map. The most commonly used map used in North America shows the [US] at the center, sometimes splitting the Asian continent in two.”

Manifestly, even east and west are entirely subjective locations. And of course, “East” and “West,” are constructions, perhaps even fictions. On the first page of Orientalism, the book (and idea) that shook the grand edifice of history and historicism to it’s core, Edward Said, writes, “The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunted memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.” He continues:

“Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the ‘the Orient’ and…‘the Occident.’ Thus a very large mass of writers…poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economist, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind’, destiny, and so on.”

Orientcover_1 You, in the know, may be cognizant of Orientalism’s implications theoretically, but may be unable to apply it to our understanding of other histories or, for that matter, to popular discourse. It takes considerable effort. Earlier in the summer, you may remember, after watching the Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” we became interested the series of events that have come to be known as the Crusades, the classic, epic (indeed the first) confrontation between the East and the West. How do you go about approaching the Crusades, events so infused with competing agendas and colored by contemporary events? This is how: you read three different versions – Runciman’s comprehensive, old school, Orientalist trilogy; P.M. Holt’s spare catalogue of events and personalities; and Amin Malouf’s engaging, novel, novel-like The Crusades Through Arab Eyes.

Whitmogp You may justifiably ask: why go through the trouble? Because history, ladies and gentlemen, informs notions about ourselves – who we are as much as what has been. For instance, we denizens of the Subcontinent, have been weaned on the Two-Nation Theory, a theory stipulating that Muslims and Hindus have historically been two separate nations. This theory, in various incarnations, has informed the way we have thought about ourselves since about 1857. In the last two decades, however, this theory has been debunked by the likes of Ayesha Jalal, the MacArthur-winning historian at Tufts; Willam Dalrymple, who in White Mughals depicts the syncretistic culture of the Subcontinent; and by H.M. Seervai, the Indian constitutional expert who in Legend and Reality ascribes Partition not to Jinnah but to Nehru and Mountbatten, the last British viceroy.

The implications of these academic inquires permeate popular discourse: when L.K. Advani, the hardline leader of the BJP (a party that instigated pogroms killing close to ten thousand people in Bombay and Gujrat) was recently invited to Pakistan, he proclaimed in an inspired moment that M.A. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan,was not only a great man but a secular one. Although the BJP has since dismissed Advani because of his remarks, debate on Jinnah’s worldview has been reignited in the Pakistani and Indian presses. The idea of Jinnah (or the paradigmatic personae of Akbar and Aurengzeb for that matter), who has been a construct of British historiography and of Indian and Pakistani nationalisms (and, not to mention, of Attenborough’s film, “Gandhi”), is changing. Moreover, our conception of ourselves, of our history, is also changing.

We all have our own, parochial agendas. We need to make them explicit: this is who we are and this is why we read and write. The pretense and conceit of the third-person needs to be reviewed.  And we have to ask: why do we ask the questions we ask?

In the effort to make revise history, we propose a three-step-program for historical inquiry. (1) Labeling system for academia: Like the FDA, which regulates labels on everything from cereal boxes to psychopharmaceuticals, a global agency, the HHA – the Human History Agency – should be orgainzed to checks for idiom, tone and trajectory of history textbooks as well as the author’s background. (For example, WARNING: AUTHOR WORE WIGS AND WAS A KNOWN ANTI-SEMITE. THIS READING OF HISTORY IN STRONG DOSES WILL DISTORT YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD. SIDE EFFECTS INCLUDE HEADACHE, CONSTIPATION.) The agency would also review history sociologically and anthropologically, addressing questions that may include: why did Dante shove Mohammed in Hell when he borrowed Arabi’s eschatological infrastructure? Or, why is Socrates deified in epistemology when Khaldun, the father of economics, sociology and anthropology, is relegated to the periphery? Or, why is Said being revised? And, why the obscrantist legacy of men with pubic beards – from the Kharijites, Naqshbandiya, Ibn Tamiyah to the Salifis, Whahabis, Bannah, Qutb and Mawdoodi, exerts so much influence on modern Muslim political thought? In a strage way, Wikepedia, the online encyclopedia, plays a role similar to that of the proposed HHA. (2) Due diligence for readers: As we have mentioned, this requires reading at least two different books with competing agendas (for example, Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States should complement any readings in US history and McCullough’s 1776). (3) Travel: By traveling, we get perspective, an outsider’s perspective, a sort of third-person perspective – like the bird-eye view from the airplane – as well as an on-the-ground, insider’s perspective. Note, than when fused, the third-person and first-person is the second-person: you, we.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

monday musing: 7 train

It’s a rather long story as to why, but Stefany, my wife my love, and I have just spent roughly twelve hours riding back and forth on the 7 train in Queens, New York. For those who don’t know, the 7 train runs from Times Square in Manhattan out to Main Street in Flushing, Queens. It’s a trip from one world into another. No, it’s a trip through several worlds and a number of levels of experience on top of that.

A few years ago John Rocker, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, hurled some attention the 7 train’s way with notable comments to Sports Illustrated. He said of New York, “It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”

Imagine.

Of course, it’s easy to make fun of a silly hick like John Rocker. It’s rather more difficult to explain just how wonderful and sublime it is to meander across the Queens landscape on an early Fall afternoon dipping down into the street life of particular neighborhoods and then ascending again to the platforms of the friendly old train. It straddles whole blocks. It dominates an entire chunk of Queens Blvd., and then Jackson and before that it weaves through the massive warehouses of Long Island City like an ancient snake that has its own well-worn paths.

The 7 train is great in a million ways but it really shows off after Hunter’s Point when it gets to burst out of the tunnel and go above ground. It’s a cocky train. That probably comes from sitting around at Times Square and 5th Ave. and Grand Central. The 7 train knows the bright lights and the glamour. But that’s not where it stays or where it spends its time. The 7 train heads out to Queens and it has its heart there.

Not able to get its head straight after the blast across the East River the 7 train bounces around the lost blocks of LIC like its trying to find someone it knows or shake someone it doesn’t. The developers in LIC spent so long concentrating on the neighborhood as naught but a residential appendage of Manhattan that that is what it feels like. It’s a vampire living for someone else.

But the rest of Queens was made for people to live in and they do. When the 7 train settles down on Queens Blvd. and then works its way into Woodside and Jackson Heights you can feel its gentle chugging on the old wooden tracks and you can hear a kind of metallic, mechanical confidence. If you have an ear for such things.

The train is filled with everybody, by the way. There is no greater definition of everybody than the 7 train. There is no more powerful statement of ‘everybody’ than scanning your eye across a stretch of 7 train at anytime, any day, whenever you like it and some struggling fuck-up from Mexico or Bangladesh or Korea or Uzbekistan or Ecuador or Kenya or Romania has a kid on his lap and is stroking the kids hair and saying in whatever mumbly-talk incomprehensible language “go to sleep my sweet child go to sleep my lovely child I’m doing everything for us that I possibly can.”

If you ride the 7 train enough like I do you see that kind of shit all the time. You might think you get blasé about it but you don’t. It makes some part of your chest cavity swell up dumb and sputtering and overdrawn. That might be one response to John Rocker types if it could be expressed more clearly.

You’ve got tons of Indians and other flavors of South Asian around the 60’s and 70’s and then it’s dominated by Latinos in the blocks after that. It’s not the same New York as other places here and that doesn’t mean it’s either better or worse. What is remarkable is the sense of transference that occurs. Manhattan is an international place but it brings all the world into its orbit. Queens reverses that.

I’m sure that walking around certain blocks in Corona Park more closely approximates walking down a specific street in some little po-dunk town in the countryside of Columbia or Peru than anything else in the world. It’s like the fucking Incan empire had a second wind on a few of those streets.

And then boom, you’re in the frickin far East. Korea, China, Korea, China, a touch of the Philippines and throw in whatever else. Main Street is just simply Asia, which kind of delights the mind to consider for a moment.

Anyway, I hope this is how all things get. I hope all cities get smooshed up and tossed around like Queens did. I hope the 7 train isn’t something just accidental that happened and will go away, will get lost somehow or forgotten. When the sun is sliding away to the West and you’re standing on one of the sparse platforms of the 7 train you see Queens like a weird urban plain at the foot of the Manhattan skyline. It’s sweet and quiet but for the slow rumble of the subway cars doing their rounds day and night. This is a new kind of nature that I love and I’ll speak for as best I can. It’s as good as anything.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Dispatches: Optimism of the Will

The first time I saw Edward Said, in 1993, I was an undergraduate studying literature at Johns Hopkins, where he had come to give a lecture.  An extremely pretentious young person, I arrived in the large hall (much larger than the halls in which other visiting literature professors spoke) with a mixture of awe and, I’m afraid to say, condescension.  This was born of the immature idea that the author of Orientalism had ceased to occupy the leading edge of the field, postcolonial studies, which his work had called into being.  At that time, the deconstructionist Homi Bhabha and the Marxist Aijaz Ahmad were publishing revisions of (and, in the case of Ahmad, ad hominem attacks on) Said’s work, and Said himself seemed to be retreating from “theory” back to some vaguely unfashionable (so it seemed to me) version of humanism. 

There are interludes in which a thinker’s work, no matter how enabling or revolutionizing, are liable to attack, to labels such as “dated” or “conservative,” from more insecure minds.  In this case, the actual presence of Said destroyed those illusions utterly.  Seated on a dais at a baby-grand piano, he delivered an early version of his reading of “lateness,” on the late work of master figures such as Beethoven and Adorno.  In a typical stroke, Said’s use of Beethoven’s late work as one example, and then Adorno’s late work on Beethoven as a second example, highlighted the mutual relationship between artist and critic, each dialectically enabling the other’s practice.  The further implication, of course, that Said himself was a master critic entering such a late period (he had recently been diagnosed with cancer) was as palpably obvious as the idea that Said would say such a thing aloud was preposterous.  And on top of it all, he played the extracts from Beethoven he discussed for us, with the grace of a concert pianist (which he was).  I left the auditorium enthralled.

Within the next year, I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner with Said by my aunt Azra, who was one of the doctors treating him for leukemia.  Seated next to him, I challenged him on several subjects, with the insufferable intellectual arrogance of youth.  His responses were sometimes pithy and generous, sometimes irritated and indignant.  On Aijaz Ahmad, who had been attacking him mercilessly and unfairly, he simply muttered, “What an asshole.”  How refreshing!  When I asked him why we continued to read nineteenth-century English novels, if they repressed the great human suffering that underwrote European colonial wealth, he gave the eminently sensible answer, “Because they’re great books.”  At another dinner, at a Manhattan temple of haute cuisine where he addressed the waiters in French, I complained that the restaurant’s aspirations to a kind of gastronomic modernism were at odds with their old-fashioned, country club-ish “jacket required” policy.  He raised an eyebrow at me and dryly remarked, “I hadn’t even noticed the internal contradiction.”  Score one for the kid.

In 2003, as a graduate student in English at NYU, I rode the subway up to Columbia each week for a seminar with Said, which turned out to be the last one he taught.  Wan and bearded, Said would walk in late with a bottle of San Pellegrino in hand and proceed to hold forth, off the cuff, about an oceanic array of subjects relating to the European novel (Don Quixote, Gulliver’s Travels, Sentimental Education, Great Expectations, Lord Jim, etc.), alternately edifying and terrifying his audience.  He had an exasperation about him that demanded one to know more, to speak more clearly, to learn more deeply in order to please him.  Some found the constant harangues too traumatic for their delicate sensibilities; I loved to have found a teacher who simply did not accept less than excellence.  It was a supremely motivating, frightening, vitalizing experience.  In a class on Robinson Crusoe, a fellow student became confused about the various strands of eighteenth-century non-conformist Protestantism, prompting Said to irritatedly draw a complex chart of the relations between Dissenters, Puritans, Anglicans, etc.  Similar demonstrations of the sheer reserves of his knowledge occurred on the subjects of the revolutions of 1848, the history of Spanish, and the tortuous philosophical subtleties of Georg Lukacs’ Theory of the Novel, among other things.  Said had a whole theory of the place of nephews in literature (not the real son, but the true inheritant), and he made himself his students’ challenging, agresssive, truth-telling, loving uncle.

What was most impressive, perhaps, was that in a discipline in which rewarding fawning acolytes is the norm, Said never once allowed a student to make facile, moralizing remarks about ‘imperialism’ or ‘Orientalism.’  His belief was that in order to mount any kind of critique of these works, one had to master them first in their own context, on their own terms.  He wasn’t interested in hearing denunciations of colonialism; rather, he was obsessed with getting across the sheer formal complexity, the deep symmetries and ironic gaps, of great artworks.  He demanded that we memorize information of all kinds, from the relevant facts about historical events to the birth and death dates of authors.  He screamed at a student for not knowing what a nosegay was, the key to a climactic scene in Flaubert.  His passion, a powerful negative vaccine, to paraphrase his comments on Adorno, infected those of us who weren’t frightened into disengagement.  I began to realize that here was a unique resource, an irreplaceable historical repository of culture and information, personified in the form of this dapper, indignant man.  Said represented not only a set of unmatched comparatist knowledges, but a collection of rigorous reading practices and an unequaled example of thorny, courageous commitment to difficulty.  And around this time, I found myself realizing that irreplaceable or not, he wouldn’t be around much longer.

One day, Said yelled at me publicly for misprounoucing my own name.  I had Americanized its proununciation for the benefit of a visiting professor, John Richetti, who I was questioning.  “Your name is Us-udth!” Said cried, “It means lion in Arabic!  Never mispronounce it for their benefit!”  (Richetti was an old friend of Said’s and found being characterized as one of “them” highly amusing; I ran into him a year ago and we laughed about it.)  Afterwards, Said walked over and put a hand on my shoulder.  “Sorry about that. We can’t change ourselves for anyone.  Opposition,” he intoned, quoting Blake, “is true friendship.”  That encounter marked a turn for me. I began to visit Said in his office, waiting while he took phone calls from friends like Joan Didion, and telling him about my work.  He had the special ability to make one feel that one could achieve anything – maybe it helped that he set the bar so high himself.  Despite his heavy criticism of my use of certain theoretical vocabularies he had moved past (“the merest decoration,” he called them), the last word of his handwritten comments on my paper inspired me and continues to inspire me: “Bravo.”  As a favorite aphorism of his from Gramsci goes, pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.  Yet, during this period, he would intimate to me that things were not optimistic with his health at all.  One day he declined my request that he read a chapter I had written, saying only, “I don’t have time.  You know, Asad, I’m not well.”  The unsentimental, factual tone of resignation told me everything I didn’t want to know.

I remember September 25, 2003 vividly, the phone call I received from my aunt Azra with the inevitable news, the sick feeling with which I arrived at the class I was teaching, and then this: a strange, powerful feeling of indignation came over me, and I found myself needling my students, finding myself irritated when they didn’t know something, and applauding zealously when they did made a breakthrough.  I was, I realized, channeling or imitating the ornery yet loving spirit of the old lion.  And since that time, I’ve suffered more losses, of people I love to illness and absence, and I have thought of him, bravely refusing to stop expecting more.  In his last decade, as the situation in Palestine and Israel worsened and beloved friends such as Eqbal Ahmed and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod died, I know Edward felt more alone in the world.  With his passing, though we try to forget it, the world has equally became an emptier, lonelier place.  Without the superbly contradictory, fearfully charismatic, bravely heartfelt Edward Said, it is also a far less cosmopolitan place.  And in the last two years, despite events that have made my world much emptier, much lonelier, I have remembered how to transform irritation with this fallen world into action, how to keep, in the face of all, indignantly hoping for better.

Two years ago yesterday, Edward W. Said died at the age of 67, having achieved eminence in criticism, literature, music, and politics, having served as an exemplar of the one doctrine that perhaps he in his uncompromising way would have accepted uncompromisingly, humanism.  Bravo, Edward.

Dispatches:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Vince Vaughan…
The Other Sweet Science
Rain in November
Disaster!
On Ethnic Food and People of Color
Aesthetics of Impermanence

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Poetry and Culture

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. All postings at 3QD (September 26, 2005–March 3, 2008) are copyright, the author. All rights reserved. Apart from fair use provisions under the Commonwealth of Australia Copyright Act 1968, and its amendments, subsequent copying in any other manner requires written permission of the author.

The following essay can also be read online at Blesok in an English/Macedonian bilingual edition. Blesok No. 56 Volume X September-October 2007 ed. Igor Isakovski; available in print, Prosopisia Vol 1, 2008, Jayanta Mahapatra, Anuraag Sharma, Pradeep Trikha eds., Ajmer, India 44–56

To Seek and Find: Poetry and Limitations of the Ironic Mode in the New Millennium

The catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 were, obviously enough, an epic  moment in world history. And in cultural history too. Here, with Dantesque finality, was a brutal confrontation between annihilating fundamentalism and capitalist pluralism. Art is political, and the implications for art arising out of this attack have complex resonances. Artistic periods never end with punctuation marks of such cataclysmic force, and doubtless, in years to come, there will still be people bringing their lack of seriousness  onto us in the name of some tail-end of the expected modernist nirvana. September 11 should have brought us to a political and artistic reckoning. Subsequently, Australian artists have every reason to similarly confront the tradition within which they work and create, after the outrages in Bali on October 12, 2002. What have modernism and postmodernism given us, and what might be the limitations of their aesthetic cultural agendas. And where will we go from this point on.

One might have read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil as a brilliant intellectual exercise without thereby adhering to his scorn for what he termed ‘slave morality’. Perhaps one could claim Nietzsche as the ‘godfather’ of the present loss of nerve amongst poets, though that would be unfair—Duchamp’s Fountain looks to be a more likely progenitor. In fact there was no getting beyond good or evil, even as love, just as there were clear limitations to the philosophical and artistic liberation proposed by modern and postmodern sensibilities. If Voltaire was the instigator of the enlightenment, then, surely, an act of terror was the symbolic black end of one loop of cultural experimentation which not all the references to Joyce, Eliot and Beckett, Mallarmé, Kafka or Sartre, Schopenhauer, Heidegger or Foucault, could summon back from entropy. Could the imagery be any starker: the contrast between art that indulged itself, increasingly in the ironic mode, at the cost of any semblance of responsibility to its increasingly unimpressed and diminishing readership; and there, in countless desperate acts, the brittle certainties of the funded fun future made seemingly redundant. In poetry, amenable sensibilities had a propaganda effort made on their behalf worthy of Goebbels, but the prospective audience was never convinced, either by the art itself or the slurry of theory surrounding it. The gentility principle might have driven many to the desperate shores of a verse technique where a confessional mode almost became a therapeutic cry for help;—much contemporary verse politicking espoused a similarly-perceived principle. There, the understood ground rules were based on an a priori assumption that what had passed before during the entire history of poetry was no longer adequate to meet the expressive demands of the brave new world. Since stem cell research and silicon chips could only preserve a sense of well-being to a certain extent, some were now going to open up a newly-evolved and superior verse technique that would conquer the deconstructed past and lead us into a freshly-felt and apprehended poetics. Or not. It was all very well to get enthusiastic about the Modernist ethic as espoused by a le Corbusier. Actually living in the buildings put up proved to be another matter altogether. And living in, or with, the poems put out by the critical establishment as similarly worthy of merit often found readers abandoned in a maze that could lead them up a desolate cultural garden path.

A large part of the critical ethos of our culture, with its net of conservative and avant-garde sensibilities, now seems an inadequate systematisation of the complexities within important works of art. In the sudden and unexpectedly given act of courage, grace or death, or the long slog toward some human dignity—the aid worker getting down in the dust and the blood, the teacher supplanting ignorance with learning—there was an alternative poetic act that had no need of accommodating aesthetics. As artists, we had learned to corral art into convenient and limiting holding pens; the animals inside were then sold off to the highest bidder. Some gave good money for New York expressionism; others paid handsomely for suicide chic; over at  the ISCM they put down a fortune for the Boulez electronic extravaganza. But something strange happened along the way because it looked increasingly as if apparently outmoded nineteenth-century art had got beyond whatever forefront was being temporarily talked up. Tristan und Isolde sounded the depth of our skinful, but there was a Verklärung waiting in the wings, and the contemporary had no time for transfigurations. Emily Dickinson’ s poetry startled with its savage joy; Goya dragged revolutionary tumult to the edge of the canvas, seething with the imagery of disaster. But art aficionados, safe in their Western enclaves, mute herds trading their tame emails, had entirely missed the point. One was never in advance of the immediate historical moment, however seductive it seemed to want to have it otherwise. There has been some not-very-logical wish-fulfilment in the poetry world based on a futile desire to appropriate a time-traveller’s gold points reward scheme for being ahead of the rest. Certainly, talk about art, and theorising about art, reached the point where secondary considerations—the talk about art—was in danger of supplanting the primary consideration—the art. If Australians grabbed at people who ran or swam fast, or bashed balls of various kinds skilfully, as a desperate remedy for a failure to confront their destiny—Aboriginality, salinity, harsh political reality—the rest of the Western world showed that it was no less given to avoidance of reality too. Foreign policy had failed the poverty of millions; political imperialism had given itself over to triumphalism; fanatical hatred made suddenly clear the terrible cost of the partial, self-congratulatory view. Mandarin encyclicals sent forth from politically-correct, or incorrect, clearing houses had nothing to do with the creation of genuine works of art; to see so many poets set up house in them was just one more sign that the poetry world was diminishing in strength, diversity and vitality despite the fact that more poetry was now published than at any time in history. But how do you employ a poet, since any reasonably-good poet is going to be a Cassandra given to  psychic keening: that never went down well in the staff room.

It is easy to make accusations of parochialism and to portray the reaction I have just outlined as retroactive. But if artists are claiming to do something important and worthy of our time, it is essential that we also remain worthy of the  inheritance of freedom and democracy that gave us the option to write, compose or paint—digitise, download or deconstruct—as we wished. Aesthetic freedom never meant anarchy; being an individual in art did not mean you could indulge your sensibility, because the resulting artistic ivory towers were just as certainly going to go down in flames. Fortunately, this could occur without violence (though perhaps not the ‘violence from within that protects us from a violence without’ Stevens). Despite a century of despotism from various factions in the poetry world, from which one might have thought people had learned some principles of democratisation, and putting all the stylish folderol of HTML to one side, we were just getting the old Stalinist power plays all over again. Nothing had really changed in the minds of these people; they were dully intent on repeating their one-note aesthetic agendas. Thus when it came time to anthologise what we usually got was a series of fetishised poems meant to underline the editor’s subjective aesthetics—we hardly ever got the best poems by the best poets. And these people could not resist utilising the means of production. You could draw a comparison between the appalling collectivist farms at the height of the Communist period in Russia and many a poetic enclave. Just as the collectivist farm failed and millions starved, so the self-enclosed poetry collective saw off any untoward intellectual or poetic disturbing element. The purifying flame of excommunication hovered in the background. The end result was always the same—death of the system and the extinguishment of its hopes. Only the seeding ground of the house of all nations could breed the soil from which a civilised sensibility could emerge. Strangely enough, it was the Russian poets who seemed to get beyond the usual politics. What a roll-call of talent and individuality they managed amongst all the turbulence.

When considering the history of poetry during the twentieth century, it looked increasingly clear that the poets who mattered enough to become part of the culture that was going to last were going to be those instinctive poets who wrote because they had to, not spruik lines at the behest of a grant. There was Auden’s cosmopolitan insouciance, Frost’s dark pastoral, Stevens’ marmoreal aesthetic grandeur. Limestone cliffs, glittering birches, dazzling Key West reefs: the aesthetic was personal, political. It never made the mistake of romanticising itself through adoption of theory or of using language as a game, because poets of their stature knew that art was far too serious not to take language seriously too. Though clusters of theory gathered around their poetry, they had no need of it. If it was merely funny to hear a teenager refer to the ‘genius’ of the latest ersatz pop star, it was truly terrifying to read the German composer Stockhausen referring to the September 11 events as a ‘grosseste Kunstwerk’. Here was the aesthetic response gone completely awry. A century of aestheticising and ironising experience had reached beyond the protecting field of common sense.

[Part 2 of this essay continues here.]

                                                                       *

                   A Definition

It lives
When the gold myrtle wreath
From an uncertain tomb
Is put on display under glass,
Is sex and death
In each of their various fashions,
Tastes of salt,
Smells of hot bitumen
Or a handful of crushed leaves.
It rids the boredom of known stuff
And gossip that doesn’t amaze
In a shiver scalping our skin.
It can’t be polite—
Mucus, scar tissue, fluids
Best not mentioned
Rush to its page
That we sometimes write,
Sometimes sleep with,
Sometimes kill with.
Our depression won’t exhaust it.
Think of a cleaver stuck in your thigh,
Skin made mortal,
Or the crimp on the face
When we stand on the edge of large things—
A hard birth, the end of the affair,
That loved thing whose name makes us sweat.
It isn’t money,
Though money might buy
Something of it
(Cézannes on the wall,
The rights to Fellini’s next film).
It might come
Just as you’ve ironed the ninth shirt
And feel like throwing the kid
Who hasn’t shut up for three hours
Out the window along with the bills
(But the child
Is made wholly of this thing—
It can shred as years intervene).
Then, for each expert
Who sets down its plan,
The real thing goes off at tangents.
It won’t fit in troughs,
Glinting, flittering over books,
Breaking Olympic records.
Try to put a sack over it,
Hold it under water—just like Johnny,
It’ll be back, grinning.
So, whatever you might think
About its demise, it will be around,
The warmth behind our monotony,
That passion in the slipstream,
For it lives and keeps on:
That’s what poetry is.

Written 1989 Published 1997 A Dwelling Place 20–21

               

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

September 25, 2005

Cricket’s Superpowers

David Runciman in the London Review of Books:

Tendulkar2010kIt would be nice, particularly after this summer of summers, to think that the Ashes remains the pre-eminent contest in world cricket, and that Anglo-Australian rivalry is still one of the most significant in all sport. But it is not true, and it hasn’t been true for some time. The rivalry in international cricket that counts at present is the one between Australia and India. If this were geopolitics, then Australia would be the United States, the one unquestioned superpower for over a decade, used to getting their own way ever since they saw off their rival superpower, the West Indies, in the early 1990s (the West Indian cricket team, like the Russian state, now seems to be in a condition of permanent and rather squalid decline). India, meanwhile, would be China, the superpower of the future, with all the resources needed to beat the Australians at their own game – the manpower, the talent, the raw nationalist passion – so long as a way can be found by their often corrupt and incompetent administrators of harnessing these obvious advantages. And England? England would be the EU: once the centre of the world, but currently engaged in an urgent and not always pretty attempt to modernise in order not to get left behind.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Step-fathers of the Serengeti and Other Future Movies

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

“March of the Penguins,” the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is “the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.” —from an article describing how some religious leaders and conservative magazines are embracing the blockbuster documentary.

Well, it’s 2010, and what a remarkable five years it’s been. The blockbuster success of March of the Penguins in 2005 triggered a flood of wonderful documentaries about animal reproduction, all of which provide us with inspiring affirmation of the correct way to live our lives. Here are just a few of the movies that can guide you on your path…

Dinner of the Redback Spiders: This documentary follows the heartwarming romance between two spiders that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate, his reproductive organs still delivering semen into the female as she devours him.

Toxic Love of the Fruit Flies: In this movie, male fruit flies demonstrate their ingenuity and resourcefulness by injecting poisonous substances during sex that make it less likely that other males will successfully fertilize the eggs of their mates. Sure, these toxins cut the lifespan of females short, but who said life was perfect?

Harem of the Elephant Seals: Meet Dad: a male northern elephant seal who spends his days in bloody battles with rivals who would challenge his right to copulate with a band of females—but doesn’t life a finger (or a flipper) to help raise their kids.

Much more here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Japan to test supersonic airliner prototype

Kelly Young in New Scientist:

Dn78961_250 On 14 June 2005, Japan and France signed an agreement to develop jointly a new supersonic commercial jet. The three-year research plan includes developing lightweight composite materials.

The proposed aircraft could hold 300 passengers – three times that of Concorde – and would aim to make the New York to Tokyo journey in just 6 hours. It could be in business as early as 2015.

Japan also aims to cut the noise created by the jet’s sonic booms and reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions from the flights.

NASA is also funding research into designing supersonic aircraft with a smaller sonic boom and less pollution in its Sonic Boom Mitigation Project, based at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, US. In May 2005, the agency awarded four industry teams $1 million each for a five-month study, says Kathy Barnstorff, a Langley spokesperson.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

INTELLIGENT DESIGN

Paul Rudnick in The New Yorker:

Day No. 1:

And the Lord God said, “Let there be light,” and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, “Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?”

“I’m loving that,” said Buddha. “It’s new.”

“You should design a restaurant,” added Allah.

Day No. 2:

“Today,” the Lord God said, “let’s do land.” And lo, there was land.

“Well, it’s really not just land,” noted Vishnu. “You’ve got mountains and valleys and—is that lava?”

“It’s not a single statement,” said the Lord God. “I want it to say, ‘Yes, this is land, but it’s not afraid to ooze.’ ”

“It’s really a backdrop, a sort of blank canvas,” put in Apollo. “It’s, like, minimalism, only with scale.”

“But—brown?” Buddha asked.

“Brown with infinite variations,” said the Lord God. “Taupe, ochre, burnt umber—they’re called earth tones.”

“I wasn’t criticizing,” said Buddha. “I was just noticing.”

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Ban the Bard

Miranda Sawyer in The Guardian:

Yes, yes, Shakespeare was a talented chap, but is he all that British theatre has to offer? Like Pride and Prejudice, like the Brontes, like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, it seems that we, specifically, the English, can never get enough of Billy Shakespeare. Every season, there’s some hot new production, some new approach, analysis or cast. If it’s not theatre, it’s a film, a television series or clever new book.

But is it audiences that clamour for such well-worn tales or the powers that be? Are Mr Darcy, Anne Boleyn and Macbeth so much more interesting than what’s going on today? In this turbulent time of war and money, of natural disasters and manmade destruction, are our contemporary stories so dull, so unfabulous, so irrelevant?

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Tate bans work for fear of offending Muslims

David Smith in the Observer:

One of Britain’s leading conceptual artists has accused the Tate gallery of ‘cowardice’ after it banned one of his major works for fear of offending some Muslims after the London terrorist bombings.

John Latham’s God Is Great consists of a large sheet of thick glass with copies of Islam, Christianity and Judaism’s most sacred texts – the Koran, Bible and Talmud – apparently embedded within its surface.

The work was due to go on display last week in an exhibition dedicated to Latham at London’s Tate Britain, but gallery officials took the unprecedented decision to veto it because of political and religious sensitivities.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Heatwave makes plants warm planet

Richard Black at the BBC:

A new study shows that during the 2003 heatwave, European plants produced more carbon dioxide than they absorbed from the atmosphere.

They produced nearly a tenth as much as fossil fuel burning globally.

The study shows that ecosystems which currently absorb CO2 from the atmosphere may in future produce it, adding to the greenhouse effect.

The 2003 European summer was abnormally hot; but other studies show that these temperatures could become commonplace.

In some parts of Europe, 2003 saw temperatures soaring six degrees Celsius above normal; hot enough that estimates of the deaths which it caused run into the tens of thousands.

It was also significantly drier than usual; and these two factors appear to have had a major impact on plant growth.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

The environment isn’t flat

“Thomas Friedman’s vision of developing countries enriched by free trade and globalization could be an environmental disaster.”

Jerald L. Schnoor in Environmental Science and Technology:

…Friedman is such an unrepentant cheerleader for globalization and free markets that he fails to recognize severe constraints on production caused by environmental degradation. In Chapter 2, his irrational exuberance is at its peak:

I think it would be an incredibly positive development for the world. . . . If India and China move in that direction [free market democracies without corruption], the world will not only become flatter than ever but also, I am convinced, more prosperous than ever. Three United States are better than one, and five would be better than three.

Can the environment really assimilate the current consumption patterns of even one U.S., let alone three? Can we raise the living standard for 3 billion more people in developing countries from poverty to the middle class, from an annual income of $3000 to $20,000 per capita, from an annual energy consumption of 30 to 150 gigajoules per person, from an emissions level of 0.5 to 6.0 metric tons of CO2 carbon per person per year? Can our atmosphere assimilate an additional 10 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases every year when we have the equivalent of five more countries with U.S. emission rates?

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

The Prospect/FP Top 100 Public Intellectuals

From Foreign Policy:

Who are the world’s leading public intellectuals? FP and Britain’s Prospect magazine would like to know who you think makes the cut. We’ve selected our top 100, and want you to vote for your top five. If you don’t see a name that you think deserves top honors, include them as a write-in candidate. Voting closes October 10, and the results will be posted the following month.

Name

OccupationCountry
Chinua AchebeNovelistNigeria
Jean BaudrillardSociologist, cultural criticFrance
Gary BeckerEconomistUnited States
Pope Benedict XVIReligious leaderGermany, Vatican
Jagdish BhagwatiEconomistIndia, United States
Fernando Henrique CardosoSociologist, former presidentBrazil
Noam ChomskyLinguist, author, activistUnited States
J.M. CoetzeeNovelistSouth Africa
Gordon ConwayAgricultural ecologistBritain
Robert CooperDiplomat, writerBritain
Richard DawkinsBiologist, polemicistBritain
Hernando de SotoEconomistPeru
Pavol DemesPolitical analystSlovakia
Daniel DennettPhilosopherUnited States
Kemal DervisEconomistTurkey
Jared DiamondBiologist, physiologist, historianUnited States
Freeman DysonPhysicistUnited States
Shirin EbadiLawyer, human rights activistIran

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

Anti-Bush, And Mincing No Words

From Washington Post:

Chavez_1 This administration invaded Iraq. According to Pope John Paul II, it is an illegal war, an immoral war, a terrorist war. The U.S. has bombarded entire cities, used chemical weapons and napalm, killed women, children and thousands of soldiers. That’s terrorism. In Venezuela they fostered a coup d’etat [in 2002] manufactured by the CIA . . . Recently,ReverendRobertson called for my assassination. This is a terrorist attack, according to international law. In Miami, on a daily basis, people on TV shows are calling for my assassination. This is terrorism. This [present U.S.] government is a threat to humanity. I have confidence that the American people will save humanity from this government — they will not allow it to [continue to] violate human rights and to invade countries.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

The Corrections

Nora Krug in the New York Times Book Review:

Krug184In at least one respect, Seth Mnookin’s “Hard News” mirrors its subject – this newspaper – with almost dead-on accuracy: its paperback edition, published last month, includes a carefully constructed list of corrections. Many errors in the three-page mea culpa may seem mundane or inconsequential (“Danny Meyer is a celebrity restaurateur, not a celebrity chef”), but its very existence is noteworthy.

Corrections in books are rare. But the conclusion this implies – that books rarely contain errors – is itself incorrect. Books are not usually corrected because they can’t be, not because they shouldn’t be. As Mnookin’s book shows, putting a statement between hard (or soft) covers does not make it more reliable than one published in a newspaper.

“The printed book page has always enjoyed a mystique that newsprint hasn’t,” said Ron Chernow, the National Book Award-winning author of “The House of Morgan” and “Alexander Hamilton.” “People tend to accept more uncritically what they read in a book than what they read in a magazine or newspaper.” Yet authors themselves, especially the most careful ones, know this mystique is undeserved. Uncorrected errors – some big, some small – are far more common than most publishers admit.

More here.

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email

September 24, 2005

Plague hits the virtual world

From the BBC:

“A deadly virtual plague has broken out in the online game World of Warcraft. Although limited to only a few of the game’s servers the numbers of characters that have fallen victim is thought to be in the thousands.

Originally it was thought that the deadly digital disease was the result of a programming bug in a location only recently added to the Warcraft game.

However, it now appears that players kicked off the plague and then kept it spreading after the first outbreak.”

Like what you're reading? Don't keep it to yourself!
Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Share on Reddit
Reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin
Email this to someone
email