Old Bev: Nunchucks in the House

Nunchucks_1There’s nothing about nunchucks that makes C. Alice Newman smile. They’re “violent, flashy, and outmoded,” she told me last week over pie. When her stepson, Ben, buzzed her doorbell, Alice saw him on the security camera, saw his plastic nunchucks, and pressed the intercom. “I told him to get rid of them before he came up,” she reported, “and get rid of anything else violent while he’s at it. He knows better.”

Alice is a member of a book group composed solely of stepmothers; they meet twice a month to discuss literature that treats their particular role. “We’re basically always the bad guys,” says Shea Stetson-Brown, the group’s founder. “And it’s a relief to look at these stereotypes, and say, hey – that’s not how I see myself.” Last month’s title was “Warm and Wonderful Stepmothers of Famous People.” At our meeting, Alice had the novel “More Than You Know” tucked in her purse. Though the margins were full of her left-leaning slant, Alice confessed that most sessions are spent dissecting more personal narratives. For instance: nunchucks.

Ben receives a weekly allowance of $10 from his mother, Claudia. This money is deposited in a savings account in Ben’s name (he’s saving for a Nintendo DS). Last month though, to Alice’s dismay, he got his hands on some discretionary cash. Claudia’s dog Soupy got sick and puked under the kitchen table, and Claudia heard the retching, saw the mess, clutched her pregnant belly and started to cry. Ben ran in and offered to help, and she felt guilty about her ten-year-old doing such a thing alone until he proposed a $5 bonus. (And, Alice adds, “He says he couldn’t smell anyway on account of a cold, which I do not believe.”)

The nunchucks were $1.99 and Ben bought them at Jack’s World on the way to Alice’s apartment. The rush of his solo trip to the counter and pulling the bill from his pocket must have momentarily overwhelmed his judgment, because it’s true, Ben should have known better. He’d been in trouble with Alice before.

“He took my bra and he tried to hang my cat,” Alice said.

It soon became clear that the only evidence Alice had of Ben’s attempt was flimsy at best. She had left Ben alone in the apartment while she went to the UPS store to ship a Christmas gift to her sister. The store was closed, and she turned back. Ben must not have heard Alice return, because she entered her bedroom and saw Ben standing in front of her open closet. The top drawer of the dresser was open, Ben was holding a bra and the cat by the scruff of her neck, and he was looking up at the clothing rail. “I know what I saw,” Alice said when I challenged her conclusion. It was hard for me to think of what Ben might have been doing, but I thought messing around was a finer bet than hanging the cat. Alice remains convinced – and her group supports her. I spoke with Nedra Tomasino, who sees the situation as “fucking classic.”

Nedra’s tormentor is named Rougie, and she is fifteen and a winker. “Everything nice, everything sincere from her, is like, followed by this,” she groaned, and executed an overexaggerated wink, accompanied by a slight shoulder shimmy. “I think I’m doing something nice for her, and then there it is.” Nedra winked again. It all stems from a chat they had shortly after Nedra married Rougie’s dad. Apparently Nedra told Rougie that she’d never try to take the place of Rougie’s late mother, but she hoped that they could be friends, and she felt lucky to be a part of Rougie’s life. Then Nedra had winked. And now she can’t escape it.

Another group member who supports Alice’s interpretation, Joanna Clemmens, has encountered real violence from her stepchildren, Genny and Andrew. Genny is six and clings to Joanna during the day but at night screams and slaps at her, crying for her mom, who’s across the country in Washington State. Andrew, 17, just breaks things. He’ll idly pick up a decades-old china egg and let it slip through his hands. He’ll knock over flowers, and spill a gallon of Hi-C on the kitchen floor, and apologize for it all. “But he never breaks [my husband] Carl’s stuff,” Joanna explained.

With the blessing of her book group, Alice responded to the cat episode by eliminating Ben’s unsupervised time and axing his kitchen privileges. (“No knives.”) So Ben really should have expected Alice’s nunchuck decree. He didn’t. Over at his mom’s, those nunchucks meant he’d been a good boy. Here with Alice, they were proof of his delinquency. What did he think about as he sat out there on the stoop with those $1.99 nunchucks, waiting until it got dark and his dad got home? Alice says he opened his backpack and did his homework, but he kept the nunchucks tucked in the back waistband of his pants, so they would be visible on the security camera. After he finished the homework, he beat the stair railing with the nunchucks for an hour.

I asked Alice why she didn’t go downstairs and grab the plastic weapon and haul Ben inside. “I thought about it,” she replied, and dragged her fork through a few final wisps of whipped cream on her plate. “But he was sleeping at Claudia’s that night. I can only go half-way with this kid.”

Dispatches: Eindrücke aus Berlin

A kind of theme park of unthreatening anarchy, Berlin is a place where real bohemianism and eccentricity safely persist. The burdens of becoming capital again, and the corporate building spree that coincided, have done little to change the fact that if you’re awake at seven in the morning here, ist much more likely that you’re still, not already, up. To my brain, this is the central paradox of the city: an extreme level of precision coexists with rough slouching of the kind that New York probably hasn’t had in a decade, unless you count bike messengers. The U-bahn and trams run impeccably and frequently, but graffiti and tags are omnipresent in the stations, as well as on walls in even the poshest neighborhoods – they’re so far ahead of us in their lack of NIMBYism about the city. The apartments and specifically the bathrooms (which I duly note thanks to our very own Tom Jacobs), are just marvels of flush surfaces, seamless joins, and gleaming fixtures, whose comfort with modernism makes you feel philistine by comparison. Yet you can rent a one-bedroom for four or five hundred dollars a month no problem. The city is stagnant and metamorphosing, the place to go to be creative on no money but also the place to go to reinvent Europe as an urban planner or celebrated architect. It’s a funny alloy.

There’s also a kind of sixth borough sensation, as though Alphabet City and you-know-which part of Brooklyn floated loose in 1990 and sailed east to become Berliniamsburg. The most international of scenes, low rents have enabled a huge community of global expats to take refuge here, many of whom nurse their screenplays in endless spacious cafes. The one on Rosenthaler Platz, to take a standard example, would easily be the nicest place in the United States to drink coffee in the presence of well-designed tables and wall-mounted antlers. Our greatest luxury in NYC is in drool-inducing supply here: it’s like the United Arab Emirates of space. Cooks from Detroit open ‘underground kitchens’ where you can eat Thai-ish food for six or seven euros. Famous German actresses that grant Descha a couch in a pinch end up having also been housed by your friend Sophie four years before. Ballet dancers from New York often forget they’re in a foreign city, and pregnant Swiss-Iranian artists humor your bland spaghetti sauce. Little kids go sledding in parks full of tagged ruins next to Kreuzberg’s Turkish markets. People drive around in old Suzuki vans and chocolate shops look like *Wallpaper magazine built them for photo shoots. People let each other use their cell phones on the street, and places don’t have to close at any particular time.

The last time I visited Berlin, about ten years ago, Potsdamer Platz was a giant pit ringed by cranes. The new Berlin was in the process of being born, and Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers and the rest of the global brand-name architects were imagining what it might be. The contruction site was maybe the icon of the city back then, symbolizing better than any actual structure the flux and transformation of the city and the nation. What Berlin was going to look like was the question to speculate on and doing so was the pastime of many who thought about European identity in the wake of the breakup of the U.S.S.R. Happily, the future lasts forever and Berlin continues to feel as open-ended as I remember it; sadly, these days, Potsdamer Platz has been realized, and the results are unencouraging. The massive scale makes for a disorienting experience, and the sheer number of new builds competing for attention (and all sponsored by Disney or Sony or somesuch) makes one wonder whether perhaps the best-laid glass curtain walls and cantilevers of Renzo and Co. might not be less interesting, in theory and in practice, than the giant excavation they replaced. The brand-new and the brand-name did not impress me much here, but I was completely bowled over by mixtures of old and new that didn’t involve starting from scratch.

Symbolically, maybe the weightiest of these reclamations was the renovation of the Reichstag, completed about a decade ago. Luckily, in a way, the Third Reich’s parliament never sat at the Reichstag, perhaps because it was associated with Weimar decadence, so its resumption as the seat of power at least didn’t have to bust those ghosts. But anxieties about German reunification and the reluctance to appear triumphal had to be carefully managed. For these reasons I think it was a brilliant move to give the job to a foreign architect, in this case the brand-namer Norman Foster. He did good. The renovated Reichstag, with its new environmentally friendly glass dome, is one of the best public buildings I know. Instead of hiding the monumental scale, Foster’s design reinflects it and modernizes it in a way that respects the building without obsequiousness. The dome itself is really super, taking Wright’s spiral ramp to give vistors a purpose, and using mirrors to channel sunlight into the parliment visible below. It’s a good example of form and function being friends. At the top, the roof is breathtakingly open to the sky, though closed to birds by a net and to precipitation by an ingenious updraft of hot air. The place is also open to visitors until ten p.m. and displays some gutsy art on its walls. All of which feels like an unburdening, a newfound lightness, but not an erasure or an escape to Sony Village.

Down the road from P.P. lies Mies’ Neue Nationalgalerie, a fairly typical yet still elegant and solid Miesian box of an art museum, currently housing a confusing and fascinating show called ‘Melancholie: Genie and Wahnsinn in Der Kunst.’ Right off the bat, the subtitle made me wonder: in Der Kunst? Whoa. Whose art? When? Typically, American curators will mount multi-artist shows in which the grouping makes sense historically (this or that coterie or commune of likeminded mutual inspirers) or transhistorically around a more concrete subject. Here it was apparently permissible to collate sculpture and painting from antiquity to the present that deals with melancholy, the definition of which was stretched quite a bit – many of the accompanying texts sought to explain why, for instance, Warhols’s portrait of Joseph Beuys was about ‘sadness’ (because it was sprinkled with diamond dust?). Apparently, the only art excluded from consideration was non-Western, so I guess die Kunst might be said to mean ‘Western Art.’ Despite the fuzziness, though, the show was really engaging and fun to look at. How often do you get to see Max Ernst and a Durer etching in the same room, or statuary from the entrance to London’s Bedlam asylum next to a threatening Friedrich sky? Fast and loose, the show’s only requirement for entrance, it seemed, was that pieces partook of the iconography of melancholy from Durer, a wide-open net that includes polyhedrons, spheres, skulls, and most importantly, a head lethargically supported by the hand. To that end, Tony remarked, the show’s title should have been, ‘Melancholie, or the Heaviness of the Head.’ Ja. Maybe the looseness of the show, its ease in playing with the inheritance of history, has something to do with making melancholy the key affective state for art. Maybe a melancholic view of history makes the present lighter, more playable, even as one is conscious of the weight of things from before. If so, that’s a very Berlin feeling.

See All Dispatches

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A head for numbers

A new study shows the different thinking involved in “how much” versus “how many.”

Kevin Friedl in Seed Magazine:

Neuroscientists at University College London and Caltech identified the region of the brain active in performing basic mathematical concepts such as counting and arithmetic. Their findings could eventually help educators teach math more effectively and identify students with learning disabilities.

The study, published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also explains how our minds differentiate between “how many” objects we see or “how much” of something is in a particular space.

To understand the two different modes of evaluating amounts, imagine picking the shortest checkout line at the grocery store. You could count the number of shoppers in each, in which case you’d be thinking discretely, in terms of numerosity. However, if you were a hurried shopper, you would probably take a quick glance over each line and pick the one that seemed the shortest, thinking in terms of continuous quantity.

More here.

Robin McKie reviews books by Lewis Wolpert and Dan Dennett

From The Observer:

These are hard times for those who question mainstream religion. We live in a world inflamed by the godly, from rabble-rousing Christian fundamentalists to Muslim fanatics. In the Sixties and Seventies, doubters may have run the show, but today the God squad rules, at least in America and the Middle East. Only the brave or foolhardy risk its wrath.

Hence the surprise at the appearance, in the same month, of books published by two very different but equally distinguished non-believing intellectuals, writers who do not so much paddle in these troubled waters as plunge into them. Both look at religion as if it were a small, unpleasant growth in a Petri dish: not an approach likely to win many Vatican medals. Not that they care.

‘By asking for an accounting of the pros and cons of religion, I risk getting poked in the nose or worse,’ admits Daniel Dennett, a philosopher. ‘Yet I persist. Why? Because I believe it is very important to look carefully at the question: are people right that the best way to live a good life is through religion?’

Lewis Wolpert, a developmental biologist, is even more outspoken. ‘I know of no good evidence for the existence of God,’ he writes. ‘I am an atheist reductionist materialist.’ (Yes, but which kind, I wondered, recalling an old Glaswegian joke: a Protestant atheist reductionist materialist or a Catholic atheist reductionist materialist?)

More here.

AFRICA’S NEW OCEAN: A Continent Splits Apart

“Normally new rivers, seas and mountains are born in slow motion. The Afar Triangle near the Horn of Africa is another story. A new ocean is forming there with staggering speed — at least by geological standards. Africa will eventually lose its horn.”

Alex Bojanowski in Spiegel:

RidgeGeologist Dereje Ayalew and his colleagues from Addis Ababa University were amazed — and frightened. They had only just stepped out of their helicopter onto the desert plains of central Ethiopia when the ground began to shake under their feet. The pilot shouted for the scientists to get back to the helicopter. And then it happened: the Earth split open. Crevices began racing toward the researchers like a zipper opening up. After a few seconds, the ground stopped moving, and after they had recovered from their shock, Ayalew and his colleagues realized they had just witnessed history. For the first time ever, human beings were able to witness the first stages in the birth of an ocean.

More here.

A new twist on Calatrava’s tower

Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune:

There’s an old saying in journalism: Two facts and a deadline make a trend. Well, gentle readers, this is being written Friday morning, the day after the Chicago Plan Commission approved a plan by the renowned, Zurich-based architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava for a twisting tower that would be the nation’s tallest building. Your architecture critic is trying to make sense of it all and connect the trend lines.

So here goes: The design for the $550 million tower, which was breathtaking but hardly flawless when it was introduced last July, has taken some important steps forward, both in the sky and along the ground. Now here’s the trend part of the story: If this tower and Jeanne Gang’s sensuous Aqua high-rise both get built, Chicago will be running a clinic in the new aesthetic possibilities offered by skyscrapers that are places to live rather than work.

You can see those possibilities in the slender, but boldly sculptural, profiles of both designs. Tall residential buildings are apt to be thinner than tall office buildings so residents can be closer to the views for which they paid so dearly. They do not have to project the businesslike image of a corporation. And they are rising in a new kind of city, a post-industrial city, which manufactures culture instead of widgets.

More here.

Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife

Allen Esterson in Butterflies and Wheels:

0377229107_600It must have been around 1990 that I first read newspaper reports about the claims that Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Marić, had made substantial contributions to his early achievements in physics. The contentions seem not to have made much headway in the UK, and, after two popular biographies of Einstein published in 1993 rejected the claims, I presumed the story had ended up in the backwaters of speculative notions on great scientific figures. How wrong I was.

Towards the end of 2005 my attention was drawn to the fact that the claims had gained a new lease of life through the production of an Australian documentary “Einstein’s Wife”, which was broadcast in the United States in 2003 by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and is available on DVD. At the same time PBS produced a website devoted to the subject, complete with comprehensive lesson plans for teachers of high school students.[1] It was at this point that I decided to investigate the claims more closely. It turned out that they are almost entirely based on erroneous contentions and dubious hearsay evidence. However, in a relatively short article it will only be possible to provide a limited account of the misconceptions that occur in abundance in the documentary and on the PBS website.

More here.

The Great British-Pakistani-Muslim Hope

Pat Jordan in the New York Times Magazine:

19khan1Amir Khan is a slender 19-year-old with smooth skin the color of café con leche. His handshake is weak, his long, delicate fingers as easily crushed, it seems, as the stem of a flower. He began boxing when he was 8, in the tough old mill town of Bolton, in northern England. He is a British citizen of Pakistani descent and a practicing Muslim. At 11, he was a boxing prodigy. By his teens, he was the best young amateur boxer in the United Kingdom. In 2003, when Khan was 16, he won a gold medal at the Junior Olympics, which were held in the United States. One opponent at the event told him that if he fought at the Olympics the next year in Athens, he would “shock the world.”

So, Khan says: “I went home and looked at the rules. You had to be 18 to compete in the Olympics.” He petitioned the British Amateur Boxing Association to make an exception, but the A.B.A. refused. Khan threatened to fight for Pakistan. The A.B.A. relented, and that summer Khan was named the sole member of the British boxing team. “It would have been an embarrassment to have no boxer on the British team,” he says.

Khan advanced to the gold-medal bout by, as the press variously put it, “outclassing,” “demoralizing” and “hammering” his first four opponents. His graceful style elicited comparisons with Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali.

More here.

world mergers

THE PHOTOGRAPH, framed without margins and behind Plexiglas, is just under four and a half feet high by nearly nine and a half feet wide. Its title is A Lunch at the Belvedere, and it depicts an actual event that took place at the Hotel Belvedere in Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum of 2004. The lunch was hosted by Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, whose guest of honor was the famous American financier-philanthropist George Soros. The diners, eleven men, sit facing the viewer—though none looks toward the camera—on the far side of a long table that runs the full width of the picture. (To take this in the viewer must begin his or her engagement with the work by standing ten or twelve feet back from it.) One has the impression that the lunch has not properly begun. For the most part the men are talking quietly with one another, and to the left a chic young woman, possibly a waitress, bends over the table as if serving or taking an order. The image is by far most arresting toward its center, where the elegant, dark-haired and mustached Musharraf is shown talking earnestly to Soros, while a third man, to Soros’s left, listens in. And what is arresting is precisely the extraordinary accuracy, as it seems to one, of the depiction of an entire range of small-scale, unemphatic, but nevertheless intensely photogenic gestures, expressions, postures, and pieces of behavior: for example, the small-scale gesture–scarcely more than a tensing of the wrist–of Musharraf’s partly open left hand as he makes his point; the downward cast of Soros’s head and his inscrutable, almost sullen-seeming facial expression as he plays with something on the tablecloth with his left hand; and the diffident demeanor of the third man who sits with both elbows on the table and his hands clasped.

more from Michael Fried at Artforum here.

deaf, ill goya: the best

“I have no eyesight, pulse, pen or ink,” wrote the elderly Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, half-jokingly, in a letter to a friend. “The only thing I have in excess is willpower.” No doubt the painter meant that, despite the infirmities of age, he was still producing pictures. But anyone who sees “Goya’s Last Works” at the Frick Collection will sense something nobler than endurance in those wry lines. Goya, as he neared death, made no compromises: There was no wavering of the eye, no softening of the sensibility. He remained as committed as ever—relentlessly so, joyfully so—to the revelatory truth. No picture hides behind visual rhetoric. Each seems freshly won.

In 1824, at the age of 78, the deaf and increasingly frail artist had settled in Bordeaux, joining the expatriates who had fled there from the autocratic Spanish regime. Most of the 50 pictures in this wonderful show come from the four years of exile before his death in 1828. In the Frick’s twin basement galleries, the curators Jonathan Brown and Susan Grace Galassi have placed painted portraits in one room and drawings and ivories in the other. (Lithographs are upstairs.) None of the celebrated black paintings usually associated with late Goya is on view—he made them in Spain shortly before he went into exile—but their spirit is present, especially in certain tiny ivories of large feeling: Man Looking for Fleas in His Shirt, pictured here, measures only 2 3/8 by 2 5/16 inches.

more from New York magazine here.

Spice of Life

From The Washington Post:

Spice Two recent books — one an armchair travel book with recipes and photographs, the other a scholarly examination of the origins and cultural contexts of the foods of the Indian subcontinent — bear witness to a fascination with the food. Each takes the approach that culinary traditions of that vast landmass that stretches from Jammu and Kashmir in the north, to Pakistan in the west, Burma in the east and the Indian Ocean in the south are continually evolving.

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, a married couple who live in Toronto, have been on the road since they met in Tibet in 1985 and began a career uniting travel memoirs with the food they recorded, researched and photographed along the way. Their earlier books, Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas , Seductions of Rice , the highly praised Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey through Southeast Asia and Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World , have generally focused on a specific food category or region. Their observations are historically informed yet personal, inviting the reader to share their journeys. Mangoes & Curry Leaves has extended their exploratory approach to the street markets and homes of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and foods ranging from chutneys and salads to rice and bread, vegetables and lentils, fish, poultry and meat, and street foods, snacks and sweets.

More here.

Tragic drug trial spotlights potent molecule

From Nature:Tcell

Researchers are trying to explain how a prototype drug that manipulates the immune system triggered devastating side effects in a British clinical trial. The trial shot into headlines earlier this week when all six patients who took an experimental antibody fell rapidly and severely ill. Such an extreme reaction among so many trial participants is extremely rare. The UK medical products regulatory agency swiftly halted the trial and launched an investigation.

It is not clear whether the problem is due to a manufacturing error, contamination or the wrong dosage. It is also possible that this first trial in humans simply shows we are affected by the drug in a way that animals are not. The drug, an antibody called TGN1412, is being developed by German company TeGenero with the aim of directing the immune system to fight cancer cells, or calm joints inflamed by rheumatoid arthritis. The antibody binds to a receptor molecule called CD28 on the surface of the immune system’s infection-fighting T cells.

More here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

pierre guyotat

The French novelist Pierre Guyotat, who was born in 1940, raises disturbing questions about violence, lasciviousness, intellectual liberty and the future of human society. Especially since the publication of Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats (1967) and Éden, Éden, Éden (1970), what leaps to the eye in his novels astonishes, stuns, shocks and often disgusts: emotionless sexual intercourse, methodical military torture, cruel relationships based on slavery or prostitution, not to mention the strange spellings, displaced accents, eccentric punctuation, “Guyotatized” foreign terms, barbarisms, onomatopoeic coinings and other bizarre neologisms that characterize subsequent novels such as Prostitution (1975; revised edition, 1987), Le Livre (1984) and Progénitures (2000). This novelist, who was nicknamed “Doudou” in childhood because of his gentleness, has provoked scandals with nearly every book (Éden, Éden, Éden was banned between 1970 and 1981 in a rare case of censorship in post-war France; the novel is available in an English translation from Creation Books). Guyotat admits that he “painfully produces an oeuvre that is inhuman, against nature, both in mind and language”. “My ‘savage’ working material banishes me ever more irremediably”, he adds, “from society . . . even from my own being.”

more from the TLS here.

Anna Akhmatova

Akhmatova died in 1966, but the power of her poetry has not diminished with time. Generations of Russians have known by heart the love lyrics from her first two celebrated collections, “Evening” (1912) and “Rosary” (1914); no other poet has had quite her intonation of passionate, fragile restraint, her laconic poignancy, her ability to convey depths of feeling through the simple image of a woman who, in walking away from a lover, pulls her left glove onto her right hand. If the early Akhmatova is often compared to Sappho, in the later volumes “White Flock” (1917) and “Anno Domini MCMXXI” (1922) she speaks with the sonorous voice of Cassandra. Later yet came “Requiem,” a banned cycle of poems written at the time of Stalin’s Great Terror, during the endless months she spent waiting outside the St. Petersburg prison for news of her son’s fate. Published in Russian in its entirety only in 1987, the stark lines (cited here in Judith Hemschemeyer’s fine translation) still ring out with the force of shattering revelations:

That was when the ones who smiled

Were the dead, glad to be at rest.

And like a useless appendage, Leningrad

Swung from its prisons.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.


Kevin Kelly in Edge:

A particularly fruitful way to look at the history of science is to study how science itself has changed over time, with an eye to what that trajectory might suggest about the future.  Kelly chronicled a sequence of new recursive devices in science…

2000 BC — First text indexes
200 BC — Cataloged library (at Alexandria)
1000 AD — Collaborative encyclopedia
1590 — Controlled experiment (Roger Bacon)
1600 — Laboratory
1609 — Telescopes and microscopes
1650 — Society of experts
1665 — Repeatability (Robert Boyle)
1665 — Scholarly journals
1675 — Peer review
1687 — Hypothesis/prediction (Isaac Newton)
1920 — Falsifiability (Karl Popper)
1926 — Randomized design (Ronald Fisher)
1937 — Controlled placebo
1946 — Computer simulation
1950 — Double blind experiment
1962 — Study of scientific method (Thomas Kuhn)

More here.

Who’s the Man?

From The New York Times:Man_1

REMEMBER those great old “Saturday Night Live” bits about the moronic Germanic bodybuilders who kept offering to “pump you up” while flexing the delts of their bulbous foam rubber muscle suits? Remember how unwittingly fey they seemed, partly because of their wagging little pinheads but mostly because of the way they loved the words “girly” and “manly” — a pair of usages that was poignantly out of date by then among even minimally hip Americans? Remember that?

Apparently, Harvey C. Mansfield doesn’t. In fact, this Harvard professor of government and the author of “Manliness” (yep), a new polemic about the nature and value of masculinity, shows little awareness of much that’s happened recently — televisually and otherwise — in the allegedly feminized culture that he aims to shake up. Like Austin Powers (who, come to think of it, made even more fun of “manly” than Hans and Franz), Mansfield seems stuck in a semantic time warp in which it is still possible to write sentences like “Though it’s clear that women can be manly, it’s just as clear that they are not as manly or as often manly as men.”

More here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

john ashbery

If one were to approach a consensus that philosophical problems are, at root (though they may have no root), language problems, the poem emerges as a model of such anti-modelers. Yet Ashbery again slips these reigns. One feels that he has in mind the cynical legions sent out from Europe’s academies by Jakobson, Genette, Lacan, Bakhtin, Todorov, Shklovsky, and their post-structuralist seconds, when he casts out this barb:

There is no other way, and those assholes
Who would confuse everything with their mirror games
Which seem to multiply stakes and possibilities, or
At least confuse issue by means of an investing
Aura that would corrode the architecture
Of the whole in a haze of suppressed mockery,
Are beside the point. They are out of the game,
Which doesn’t exist until they are out of it.

more from Contemporary Poetry Review here

peter altenberg

With his walrus moustache, the disheveled, baggy clothes he designed himself, sandals on bare feet in all weather, and exquisite walking sticks, Peter Altenberg was a fixture in the cultural life of fin de siècle Vienna. He was a master of the vignette, a diviner of the telling detail, a prose poet of the demimonde. Altenberg was a Baudelaire with only a touch of spleen. Elegant, arch, and concise, his snapshots of life on the margins were not without bite. In cheerful disillusion, he deflated the hypocrisy and social niceties that were so important to the refined Gemütlichkeit of the middle and upper classes, but he did so with enough wit to amuse rather than insult his audience.

more from Bookforum here.