‘Reclusive janitor by day, visionary artist by night, outsider artist Henry Darger moved through life virtually unnoticed. But after his death, a treasure trove was discovered in his one-room Chicago apartment: a staggering 15,000-page novel and hundreds of illustrations that continue to inspire artists around the world.’
From the PBS P.O.V. web page on Jessica Yu’s film In the Realms of the Unreal, about Outsider Artist Henry Darger. The film had its television premiere last night. Yu controversially animated Darger’s work in order to bring it to life, but the visual effect is enjoyable. More problematic is the film’s emphasis on the “visionary” and the inspiring, as if Darger were a William Blake figure rather than a tormented soul and “sorry saint” who was compelled to work on art and writing by forces far beyond his control. Retreating into Darger’s fantasy world, the film neglects to interview the scholars, art historians, critics, and psychologists who have worked on Darger’s case. The end result is that Darger appears more as a misunderstood genius than a desperately lonely figure whose mental illness forced him to create grand, terrifying, and beautifully-colored fictional universes.
From The National Geographic:
Just as the Atkins diet fad goes belly up—the Atkins Nutritionals company filed for bankruptcy on Sunday—a new, scientifically tested anti-obesity technique is making its timely debut. The potential treatment relies not on diets, medications, or workouts but on tricks played on the mind. U.S. researchers say they can put a people off fattening foods by tricking them into believing the foods made them sick as a child. This is achieved by planting false memories of past culinary encounters.
Similar mind games could be deployed around the family dinner table on sweet-toothed children, the study team reports in the Proceedings of the National of Academy of Sciences’ current Online Early Edition. During the study, the researchers told adult volunteers that data suggested they fell ill after eating strawberry ice cream as children—a patent falsehood. Up to 40 percent of the test subjects fell for the deceit and added that they would steer clear of strawberry ice cream in the future.
“Sex and drugs and drink and food … enough was never enough for William Leith. Here, the poster boy of binge living tells Tim Adams about a life lived in the grip of excess – and how he finally had his fill.”
From The Guardian:
I first got to know William Leith almost 10 years ago. He came to work at The Observer as a columnist and was preceded by a reputation. Looking back, he was perhaps some years ahead of his time. Before television screens and magazines were filled with the intimate personal confessions of people you did not know, he had written a column for the Independent on Sunday of such startling introspection that he had become a sort of poster boy for a new kind of journalism. In some ways, at The Observer, I recall, he started as he meant to go on: one of his earliest pieces for this paper was a 6,000-word article on masturbation, dwelling principally on his own inevitably tortured history with the subject.
Robert S. Leiken in Foreign Affairs:
Radical Islam is spreading across Europe among descendants of Muslim immigrants. Disenfranchised and disillusioned by the failure of integration, some European Muslims have taken up jihad against the West. They are dangerous and committed — and can enter the United States without a visa.
“While researchers probe sleep’s functions, sleep itself is becoming a lost art.”
Craig Lambert in Harvard Magazine:
Not long ago, a psychiatrist in private practice telephoned associate professor of psychiatry Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist specializing in sleep research. He asked whether Stickgold knew of any reason not to prescribe modafinil, a new wakefulness-promoting drug, to a Harvard undergraduate facing a lot of academic work in exam period.
The question resonated on several levels. Used as an aid to prolonged study, modafinil is tantamount to a “performance-enhancing” drug—one of those controversial, and often illegal, boosters used by some athletes. In contrast to wakefulness-producing stimulants like amphetamines, modafinil (medically indicated for narcolepsy and tiredness secondary to multiple sclerosis and depression) does not seem to impair judgment or produce jitters. “There’s no buzz, no crash, and it’s not clear that the body tries to make up the lost sleep,” reports Stickgold. “That said, all sleeping medications more or less derange your normal sleep patterns. They do not produce normal sleep.” Even so, the U.S. military is sinking millions of dollars into research on modafinil, trying to see if they can keep soldiers awake and on duty—in Iraq, for example—for 80 out of 88 hours: two 40-hour shifts separated by eight hours of sleep.
“No—no reason at all not to,” Stickgold told the psychiatrist. “Not unless you think sleep does something.”
“To which thinkers should we turn in a bid to ground a new conceptualization of political agency—or to determine whether such a move has been nullified by the transformations of the last decades? Gopal Balakrishnan on Machiavelli’s parables of innovation and readings of him from Rousseau to Schmitt, Strauss to Gramsci. The Florentine as strategist of beginning anew, in the context of historic defeat.”
From the New Left Review:
For a hundred years after 1848, defeats for the Left typically came in two, tightly intermeshed, forms. Crushing blows—1849, 1871, 1919, 1926, 1939—alternating with unexpected bouts of prosperity, could contain, for a time, the aspirations of those demanding more than the owners of society and their allies were prepared to concede. In the West, the great rebellions of the late sixties broke with this pattern. The unprecedented affluence of the first postwar decades had shaped a generational milieu resistant to an older, middle-class work and leisure ethic, and receptive to insurgencies of the downtrodden. The subsequent sharp upswing in working-class militancy in the core, and setbacks for American imperialism on the periphery, briefly made it seem to some as if distant pre-revolutionary situations were looming in the homelands of capitalism.
In attenuated local forms, various legacies of these overlapping moments have survived the sweeping rounds of capitalist restructuring that followed the world economic downturn of the mid-seventies. Despite this impressive feat of adaptation, such pockets of opposition have had difficulty coming to terms with the formidable staying power of a conservative/neoliberal ascendancy that is now in its third decade. In a parallel perhaps to the legendary failure of the interwar Left to comprehend the advances of fascism, opponents of this passive revolution have been unable to account for its great successes, as so far it seems to possess the historically unique ability to invent the standards by which it is judged. What accounts for the ease of its victories, often scored with sparing doses of coercion—‘democratically’—and yet in a context of declining fortunes for large majorities?
Stefan Beck reviews Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses by Theodore Dalrymple, in The New Criterion:
Among the ordure, both literal and figurative, on display at the Royal Academy of Art’s “Sensation” exhibition was an outsize portrait, based on a mugshot, of the child-murderess Myra Hindley. That this image was made up of a child’s tiny handprint (reproduced many times like the dots in a newspaper photograph) magnified the outrage of some of the public, including mothers of those killed by Hindley.
The British writer and prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple was quickly on the scene, to ask Norman Rosenthal, the Academy’s chief of exhibitions, what he thought of this bit of publicity. Rosenthal chirped that “the picture raises interesting questions.” Dr. Dalrymple called this tiresome bluff and asked what they were, as “it must be possible to formulate them in words.”
For Rosenthal’s stumbling and revealingly disingenuous reply, turn to “Trash, Violence, and Versace: But Is It Art?,” one of about two dozen essays, culled from City Journal, in Dalrymple’s Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses.
The Doctor’s question, which he might have phrased as a brusque Prove it, shows us the mission of his prose: truth, simply formulated.
Eric Hobsbaum reviews Between Sex and Power: Family in the World 1900-2000 by Göran Therborn, in the London Review of Books:
The family is a subject on which, for obvious reasons, there is no shortage of public or private views. Google records 368 million items under the word ‘family’, as against a mere 170 million under ‘war’. All governments have tried to encourage or discourage procreation and passed laws about human coupling and decoupling. All the global religions (with the possible exception of Buddhism) and all the 20th-century ideologies have strong convictions on these matters. So have masses of otherwise politically inactive citizens, as the rise of electoral support for religious fundamentalism indicates. It has been plausibly argued that ‘moral issues’ (i.e. abortion and homosexual marriage) won George W. Bush his second term in office.
The passion with which these opinions are held is almost always inversely correlated to knowledge of the facts, even in the holder’s own country: most of the public discourse on the relations between men, women and their offspring is both unhistorical and deeply provincial. Göran Therborn’s comparative survey of the world’s family systems and the ways in which they have changed (or failed to change) in the course of the past century, the result of eight years of intensive thought and research, is a necessary corrective in both respects.
After the first atomic bomb explosion (seen here from 10,000 yards away, in a time series from .006 seconds to .081 seconds after detonation), Oppenheimer recalled, “a few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent.”
Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin in Smithsonian Magazine:
A new biography of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the secret Los Alamos lab, chronicles the tense months leading up to the atomic bomb’s initial test and the debate among his co-workers about how the weapon should be used.
Compare our own S. Asad Raza’s take on Spielberg’s War of the Worlds with this review by Geoffrey O’Brien in the New York Review of Books:
Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is a movie at once authentically unsettling and deeply nostalgic. The nostalgia is for scary, long-cherished fantasias concerning alien invasions and men from Mars as filtered through boyhood comic books and drive-in movies and tattered paperbacks, a whole century of cheap thrills summed up and transfigured in a return to their primal source, H.G. Wells’s 1898 novel. But Spielberg doesn’t try to reproduce the camp goofiness of Mars Attacks! or the video game hijinks of Independence Day: he wants us to care about what is happening in front of us, as if we were contemplating this scenario for the first time.
That would require a return to childhood, a return to the childhood of the genre to which he has devoted so much of his energy and to whose historical permutations he can (and in this movie does) allude almost reflexively. (In passing I registered fleeting, virtually subliminal hints of The Birds, Alien, Night of the Living Dead, The Day of the Triffids, Panic in Year Zero, Quartermass and the Pit, and The Poseidon Adventure, not to mention Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park, whose raptor in the kitchen is paralleled here by aliens in the basement.) We would need to feel again how much our nostalgia is imbued with real terror, even if it was a terror at one remove, just distant enough that we were able to play inside it. War of the Worlds aspires to be a compendium of Wells and all that sprang from Wells, an all-in-one package that might serve as something like a child’s introduction to cosmic fear. It feels inevitable that the movie should come to revolve around the haunted face of a child, the inscrutably traumatized ten-year-old played (with an intensity in itself rather disturbing) by Dakota Fanning.
Timothy Williams in the New York Times Book Review:
On a gray and rainy day recently, the poet August Kleinzahler was eating a hot dog and greasy fries at a hot dog shop in Fort Lee, N.J., called Hiram’s, a gruff, no-frills place that Mr. Kleinzahler says is about as close to the literary establishment across the river in Manhattan as he cares to be.
But Mr. Kleinzahler, 55, noted both for poems that jarringly marry the high and the low and for keeping his distance from the New York illuminati, has found himself late in his career in a rather awkward spot: the cusp of respectability in the cliquish world of poetry.
While those who pay no attention to poetry have probably never heard of him, Mr. Kleinzahler has gradually become a poetry star. His work is a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy with a jazzy backbeat. His personality combines Allen Ginsberg’s goofball charm and Norman Mailer’s inveterate pugnacity.
More here, including four poems.
Adam Kirsch in The New Yorker:
On August 22, 1957, Pete Rademacher fought Floyd Patterson in Seattle for the world heavyweight championship. In the stands that day were two boxing fans from the English Department of the University of Washington: Theodore Roethke, a forty-nine-year-old professor, and his twenty-nine-year-old student James Wright, who was celebrating the completion of his Ph.D. Each was one of the leading poets of his generation. The year before, Wright’s first book of poems, “The Green Wall,” had been chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets award; Roethke’s most recent book, “The Waking,” had won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize.
Neither Roethke, the son of a greenhouse owner from Saginaw, Michigan, nor Wright, the son of a factory worker from Martins Ferry, Ohio, regarded a prizefight as an incongruous setting for poets. On the contrary, they imported the vocabulary of boxing—its swagger and its feuds—into their discussions of the poetry world.
Rachael Buchanan at the BBC:
Magicians have been using a clever mix of dexterity and deception for centuries to astound and captivate their audiences.
But how do they fool people who know they are going to be duped?
Well, cutting edge-psychology is now being applied to this most ancient of entertainment forms, to understand how these masters of legerdemain trick the complexities of the human brain.
The techniques involved have been discussed this week at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre, being held to mark the centenary of the Magic Circle.
At the vanguard of this unusual appliance of science is University of Hertfordshire psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman.
As a former conjurer, he is uniquely qualified to understand the social dynamics between a magician and his audience and he argues that there is a lot more happening in a magic show than people realise.
“The really good performers,” he said, “the ones who know what they’re doing, have an incredible grasp of psychology”, and use it to convince you to see their version of events.
Nicholas Roe in The Telegraph:
It’s the size of a postcard and has a small colour television screen with earphones snaking to a slot in the bottom. When I walk a few yards to my right… ping! A bell shrills in my ear and the screen bursts into life.
A cheery voice declares, “You have walked into an interactive area.” And what begins is a visitor experience like no other I’ve had. This tiny electronic prototype, called an Explorer, detects exactly where I’m standing within the 850-acre parkland surrounding Ashton Court, because it’s equipped with an internal Global Positioning System (GPS) based on satellite signals, accurate to within about three yards.
On screen, I see myself as a little red dot moving slowly over the grass. Depending on where I wander, an entirely different heritage or cultural story is presented through a combination of pictures, sound effects and narrative, all related to where I’m standing and what I’m looking at.
I walk to the bottom of the lawn. Ping! With the sweeping façade of Ashton Court spread like a film set, the screen shows me how the building has changed over the centuries, images building upon images as a voiceover explains why the place looks as it does now.
Janet Raloff in Science News Online:
Which is better for the environment: a meal cooked from scratch at home or a packaged frozen or freeze-dried meal cooked up in distant industrial kitchens and trucked to supermarkets? Most consumers would guess the former, notes environmental engineer Ulf Sonesson. Even many food scientists would vote for home cooking as the greener option, he says.
However, those guesses probably wouldn’t be taking into account economies of scale in food companies’ mass preparation of meals, says Sonesson.
Indeed, when he and his team at the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology made calculations including such efficiencies, they found no big difference between the environmental footprints of home-cooked versus ready-to-eat fare. Each means of putting food on the table has environmental advantages and disadvantages that, in the end, “even each other out,” the researchers concluded.
A major reason the resource costs of the two different types of meals are so similar, overall, is that cooking itself contributes comparatively little to environmental costs of a meal. Most impacts instead occur around the farm or in the marketplace—upstream of food preparation—and contribute comparably to meals, regardless of where they’re cooked.