Without women the novel would die

Johanna Thomas-Corr in The Guardian:

Ian McEwan once wrote: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” Back in 2005, he and his son culled the library of his London house and took stacks of books to a local park to give away. He said every woman he approached asked for three, whereas every man “frowned in suspicion, or distaste” and usually said something like: “‘Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks, mate, but no.’” The history of fiction has always been a history of women readers. From the 18th century, the novel itself was aimed at a new class of leisured women, who didn’t receive formal education in science or politics. The male writers and critics who wrote and appraised the first novels legitimised the form, but Taylor says they “were quickly overtaken by women writers of sensation and romance fiction. Women took to it as a way of learning about other lives, fantasising about their own relationships and narratives that allowed them to challenge their own subordinate position to men.”

Though there have been histories of women’s reading, Taylor’s spirited, engaging study is the first that tries to capture how fiction matters to contemporary women of different ages, classes and ethnic groups. She says that when she tells men the title of her book, they get defensive. “They say, ‘But I read fiction too!’ I say, ‘I’m sure that’s true, but far fewer men do.’ When I scratch beneath the surface to find out why they have read a certain novel, they never give me an emotional answer. It’s always: ‘Well, it’s because I’m very interested in stories about the first world war or the Victorian period.’ Or they say they did history at university and want to follow up certain ideas. Or that they quite like to read Martin Amis because his characters are funny.”

More here.

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Daniel C. Dennett and Azra Raza

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NEW POSTS ABOVE AND BELOW



Ancient worm reveals way to destroy toxic cells in Huntington’s disease

Monash University in Phys.Org:

Associate Professor Roger Pocock, from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), and colleagues from the University of Cambridge led by Professor David Rubinsztein, found that microRNAs are important in controlling , proteins that have amassed due to a malfunction in the process of ‘folding’ that determines their shape. Their findings were published in eLife today. MicroRNAs, short strands of genetic material, are tiny but powerful molecules that regulate many different genes simultaneously. The scientists sought to identify particular microRNAs that are important for regulating protein aggregates and homed in on miR-1, which is found in low levels in patients with  such as Parkinson’s . “The sequence of miR-1 is 100 per cent conserved; it’s the same sequence in the Caenorhabditis elegans worm as in humans even though they are separated by 600 million years of evolution,” Associate Professor Pocock said. “We deleted miR-1 in the worm and looked at the effect in a preclinical model of Huntington’s and found that when you don’t have this microRNA there’s more aggregation,” he said. “This suggested miR-1 was important to remove Huntington’s aggregates.”

The researchers then showed that miR-1 helped protect against toxic protein aggregates by controlling the expression of the TBC-7 protein in worms. This  regulates the process of autophagy, the body’s way of removing and recycling damaged  and is crucial for clearing toxic proteins from cells. “When you don’t have miR-1, autophagy doesn’t work correctly and you have aggregation of these Huntington’s proteins in worms,” Associate Professor Pocock said. Professor Rubinsztein then conducted research which showed that the same microRNA regulates a related pathway to control autophagy in . “Expressing more miR-1 removes Huntington’s aggregates in human cells,” Associate Professor Pocock said. “It’s a novel pathway that can control these aggregation-prone proteins. As a potential means of alleviating neurodegenerative disease, it’s up there,” he said.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Follower

My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horses strained at his clicking tongue.
.
An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck
.
Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.
.
I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod.
.
I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
.
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away
.
by Seamus Heaney
from Death of a Naturalist
Faber & Faber 1966

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Is There a Crisis of Truth?

Steven Shapin in the LA Review of Books:

OF COURSE, there’s a Crisis of Truth and, of course, we live in a “Post-Truth” society. Evidence of that Crisis is everywhere, extensively reported in the non-Fake-News media, read by Right-Thinking people. The White House floats the idea of “alternative facts” and the President’s personal attorney explains that “truth isn’t truth.” Trump denies human-caused climate change. Anti-vaxxers proliferate like viruses. These are Big and Important instances of Truth Denial — a lot follows from denying the Truth of expert claims about climate change and vaccine safety. But rather less dangerous Truth-Denying is also epidemic. Astrology and homeopathy flourish in modern Western societies, almost a majority of the American adult public doesn’t believe in evolution, and a third of young Americans think that the Earth may be flat. Meanwhile, Truth-Defenders point an accusatory finger at the perpetrators, with Trump, Heidegger, Latour, Derrida, and Quentin Tarantino improbably sharing a sinful relativist bed.

I’ve mentioned some examples that take a crisis of scientific credibility as an index of the Truth Crisis. Though I’ll stick with science for most of this piece, it’s worth noting that the credibility of many sorts of expert knowledge is also in play — that of the press, medicine, economics and finance, various layers of government, and so on. It was, in fact, Michael Gove, a Conservative British MP, once Minister in charge of the universities, who announced just before the 2016 referendum supporting Brexit that “the people in this country have had enough of experts,” and, while he later tried to walk back that claim, the response to his outburst in Brexit Britain abundantly establishes that he hit a nerve.

More here.

The Thick Blue Line

Patrick Blanchfield in Bookforum:

The first test call using America’s 911 emergency system was placed on February 16, 1968. To fanfare in the press, a state legislator sitting in the City Hall of the small Alabama town of Haleyville dialed in to the local police station. His call was answered by a group of august notables—a US representative, a telephone-company executive, and president of the Alabama Public Service Commission Theophilus Eugene Connor. Better remembered today by his nickname, “Bull” Connor was an outspoken white supremacist who believed desegregation was a communist plot; just five years earlier, as commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, he had notoriously unleashed riot police, fire hoses, and attack dogs on nonviolent civil rights protesters.

That such a man should have been on the receiving end of America’s first 911 call is fitting. As Stuart Schrader reveals in his new book, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing, the United States’ 911 system was modeled on an earlier program pioneered by American-funded police forces fighting a Marxist insurgency in Caracas.

More here.

Democracy doesn’t matter to the defenders of ‘economic freedom

Quinn Slobodian in The Guardian:

Two of the “freest economies” in the world are on fire. According to indexes of “economic freedom” published annually separately by two conservative thinktanks – the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute – Hong Kong has been number one in the rankings for more than 20 years. Chile is ranked first in Latin America by both indexes, which also place it above Germany and Sweden in the global league table.

Violent protest in Hong Kong has entered its eighth month. The target is Beijing, but the lack of universal suffrage that is catalysing popular anger has long been part of Hong Kong’s economic model. In Chile, where student-led protests against a rise in subway fares turned into a nationwide anti-government movement, the death toll is at least 18.

The rage may be better explained by other rankings: Chile places in the top 25 for economic freedom – and also for income inequality. If Hong Kong were a country, it would be in the world’s top 10 most unequal. Observers often use the word neoliberalism to describe the policies behind this inequality. The term can seem vague, but the ideas behind the economic freedom index help to bring it into focus.

All rankings hold visions of utopia within them. The ideal world described by these indexes is one where property rights and security of contract are the highest values, inflation is the chief enemy of liberty, capital flight is a human right and democratic elections may work actively against the maintenance of economic freedom.

More here.

I Told My Mentor I Was a Dominatrix

Mistress Snow in The Chronicle Review:

Something seemed off when I signed into Interfolio one late September morning, during the break between two classes I was teaching. I scanned the dossier a few times, wondering if it could be a glitch, and then it hit me: My mentor had withdrawn her letter of recommendation. In fact, she had withdrawn all of her letters, from 2016 to now. The revelation rang in my ears, like crystal shattering on the floor.

My mentor — let’s call her Anne — was the sole reason I finished my dissertation. While she wasn’t my adviser or even in my primary field, she was my cheerleader and confidante. We had become quite close. She said she felt in loco parentis; I called her my “dissertation mom.” But things fell apart when, desperate to quell her fears after a summer teaching gig fell through, I outed myself to her as a sex worker.

“You will lose all credibility,” she told me in a long, difficult email. As it turned out, in Anne’s eyes, I already had.

The power dynamics that structure mentorship in academia are nebulous at best. In my own department, the only formalized mentor-mentee relationship was the somewhat-arbitrary pairing of graduate students at varying stages of their degrees. Mentorship between students and faculty members was, by contrast, an entirely informal, ad hoc alliance. Boundaries within these relationships are similarly opaque. Mentors can resemble friends, collaborators, parents, and even, occasionally, lovers. But these relationships are never fully severed from the institutional power a mentor has over their mentee — an imbalance that mentors prefer to overlook, even if mentees never really can. Your mentee may be your friend. Your mentor is not.

More here.

A Marvelous First World War Study

Christopher Clark at The Guardian:

By the first week of March 1915, food supplies inside the besieged fortress of Przemyśl were almost exhausted. Most of the horses that could be spared had been eaten. Bran, sawdust and bone meal were used to eke out the dwindling stock of flour. Cats were nowhere to be seen – they too had been eaten. A middle-sized dog fetched 20 crowns, if its owner could be persuaded to part with it. Even mice were being traded. The hospital was filled to overflowing with collapsing people. As one of the doctors tending them observed, the most shocking thing about the starving was their indifference to their fate. “They silently and without complaint accept a cold place in the hospital, drink the slop which passes here for tea; the next day, they are moved to the morgue.”

One of the marvels of Alexander Watson’s study of the bitter struggle for the fortress in 1914-1915 is his juxtaposition of magisterial technical analysis with scenes of timeless misery.

more here.

Natalia Ginzburg’s “The Dry Heart”

Merve Emre at Public Books:

Reading The Dry Heart is like listening to a person confess in half-truths. The second time the narrator revisits killing Alberto, she describes how she prepared him a thermos of tea with milk and sugar before pulling his revolver out of his desk. The third time, she reveals that he was packing his bags for a trip; that she suspected he was not traveling alone; and that when she told him she would “rather know the truth, whatever it may be,” he replied by misquoting Dante’s Purgatorio: “She seeketh Truth, which is so dear / As knoweth he who life for her refuses.”1 The final time, he laughs at her before she pulls the trigger.

We learn that husband and wife have played out their good-bye many times before, never getting any closer to the truth, suspended in a purgatory of weakness, indecision, loneliness, and self-deception. Alberto often leaves on holidays with his lover, Giovanna, but always returns.

more here.

A Human History of the Oceans

Margarette Lincoln at Literary Review:

In 2003, archaeologists excavating a cave shelter on the island of Flores, Indonesia, discovered the remains of early humans, remarkably over eighteen thousand years old. Even more surprisingly, the bones showed that these people were only about a metre tall and had brains no larger than a fizzy-drink can. Flores is one of a cluster of small Indonesian islands that may never have been connected by land bridges to nearby continents; it has only a small number of reptiles and animals. Some have conjectured that these people were small because they had no choice but to adapt to the island’s restricted diet. If so, they may have descended from earlier, taller hominids who managed to reach Flores. In any case, the discovery was strong evidence that very early humans crossed the seas. Other archaeological finds show that Australia’s Aborigines arrived there more than sixty thousand years ago; they can only have done so by crossing open water, out of sight of land.

The history of humanity is inextricably bound up with the seas and oceans, which were used for communication and trade but also for war and the determined exploitation of peoples and resources. 

more here.

Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?

Robert Fantina in Counterpunch:

In August of this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India suspended Article 370 of the constitution, the provision that granted some level of autonomy to Kashmir. Already heavily policed by Indian soldiers, nearly 40,000 additional troops were deployed to ‘calm’ (read: further oppress) the population following Modi’s repressive and illegal decision. Travel in and out of the country was banned, with even news reporters forbidden from entering, and all communication was disrupted, leaving people around the world with no word on the status of their friends and family members in Kashmir.

With India’s increased oppression of the people of Kashmir, one cannot help but see similarities to Israel’s decades-long, brutal oppression of the Palestinians. And that comparison was not lost on the government of India. On November 16, Sandeep Chakravorty, who is India’s consul-general to New York City, was in New York attending a private event. He told Kashmiri Hindus and Indian nationals that India will build settlements modelled after Israel for the return of the Hindu population to Kashmir. He did not mince words; said he: “I believe the security situation will improve, it will allow the refugees to go back, and in your lifetime, you will be able to go back … and you will be able to find security, because we already have a model in the world. I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it.”

Although Modi’s increased repression of the Kashmiri people has been condemned by much of the international community, most nations only objected with a whimper, and news of this unspeakable, ongoing oppression quickly took a back seat to other events. But for the Kashmiri people, the suffering continues.

More here.

England’s last roar

Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian:

Englishness was always a form of theatre, first staged in overseas colonies. Discovering its traces in Rudyard Kipling and India, VS Naipaul remarked on how, “at the height of their power, the British gave the impression of a people at play, a people playing at being English, playing at being English of a certain class”. Today, in a post-imperial Britain run by half-witted public schoolboys, the English character seems even more, as Naipaul wrote, “a creation of fantasy”.

Those such as Orwell, who saw through the fantasy, were usually mortified. He was born in Bihar in India to an opium agent, with a Caribbean slave-owner as an ancestor. While working as a colonial policeman in Burma, he discovered imperialism to be an “evil despotism” and Englishness to be a humiliating act: a pose of masculine authority and racial superiority necessary to keep volatile natives in their place. Others such as Enoch Powell, a lower middle-class native of the West Midlands, were seduced by this posture of stiff-upper-lipped preeminence. Powell became a classicist at Cambridge, taught himself fox-hunting, and wrote highly wrought Georgian verse; he exulted, as a brigadier, in the hierarchies of empire in India. Then, like Curzon, Milner, Cromer and other purveyors of an Englishness made in India and Egypt, he came to develop a certain rather fierce idea of England and its destiny.

Orwell, on the other hand, was an archetype of the unpatriotic leftwinger on his return home – until he found a lodestone of native English genius in the “red wall” of northern England. The spirited English response to Hitler’s vicious assault deepened his conviction of having discovered a new “emotional unity” in England – one that a socialist revolution could turn in favour of its downtrodden people. He persuaded himself that “England, together with the rest of the world, is changing”, and a new middle class blending in with the old working class would bring forth “new blood, new men, new ideas”.

More here.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Impostor Poets of Iceland Issue a Manifesto

From Literary Hub:

We’re on Flatey, a small island in an archipelago in West Iceland. These islands are clustered in Breiðafjörður, a fjord that Icelanders often talk about in metaphorical terms: “Their freckles were as countless as the islands in Breiðafjörður.” We write this in June, when the sun never forsakes the sky, and half of the island is closed off because it’s nesting season. There are birds everywhere.

There are six of us: Þórdís Helgadóttir, Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir, Sunna Dís Másdóttir, Ragnheiður Harpa Leifsdóttir, Melkorka Ólafsdóttir, and Fríða Ísberg. We’re here to write a book that will be published this fall. It will be our third book of poetry in three years.

In Iceland, there’s little if any hierarchy when it comes to bookstores. It’s nice if your book is released by a publishing house, but anyone can email the largest bookstore chain in the country and get their self-published book on the shelves. It’s one of the plus sides of living in a small society—you’re never very far removed from the tastemakers.

The Impostor Poets came into being in a summer cabin encircled by birch and stone. We’d gone there to write a book of poetry over the course of a single weekend.

More here.

The first systematic review finds that climate models have been remarkably accurate

David Roberts in Vox:

This reliance on models has always been a bête noire for climate change deniers, who have questioned their accuracy as a way of casting doubt on their dire projections. For years, it has been a running battle between scientists and their critics, with the former rallying to defend one dataset and model after another. (The invaluable site Skeptical Science has a page devoted to attacks on modeling, with links to further reading.)

Now, for the first time, a group of scientists — Zeke Hausfather of UC Berkeley, Henri Drake and Tristan Abbott of MIT, and Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies — has done a systematic review of climate models, dating back to the late 1970s. Published in Geophysical Research Letters, it tests model performance against a simple metric: how well they predicted global mean surface temperature (GMST) through 2017, when the latest observational data is available.

More here.

Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has cast two hundred million Muslims as internal enemies

Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker:

On August 11th, two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent soldiers in to pacify the Indian state of Kashmir, a reporter appeared on the news channel Republic TV, riding a motor scooter through the city of Srinagar. She was there to assure viewers that, whatever else they might be hearing, the situation was remarkably calm. “You can see banks here and commercial complexes,” the reporter, Sweta Srivastava, said, as she wound her way past local landmarks. “The situation makes you feel good, because the situation is returning to normal, and the locals are ready to live their lives normally again.” She conducted no interviews; there was no one on the streets to talk to.

Other coverage on Republic TV showed people dancing ecstatically, along with the words “Jubilant Indians celebrate Modi’s Kashmir masterstroke.” A week earlier, Modi’s government had announced that it was suspending Article 370 of the constitution, which grants autonomy to Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. The provision, written to help preserve the state’s religious and ethnic identity, largely prohibits members of India’s Hindu majority from settling there. Modi, who rose to power trailed by allegations of encouraging anti-Muslim bigotry, said that the decision would help Kashmiris, by spurring development and discouraging a long-standing guerrilla insurgency.

More here.

Putting the Art Back in Art History

Barry Schwabsky at Hyperallergic:

Wood points out that contemporary image-based culture — the profusion he can barely sum up by listing “advertising, fashion, celebrities, television, tattoos, toys, comics, pornography, politics, iPhones, and stuff in general” — is impossible for art history to grasp, even though it is to a great extent the content of contemporary art. But his belief that today’s art “is no longer preoccupied with form” is one that would hardly be accepted by most artists or anyone else who is involved in contemporary art on a daily basis.

The somber tone of Wood’s conclusion suggests that he is a historian to the core, prey to a melancholy such as Nietzsche might have predicted. While his narrative of the historical imagination in art is full of lively twists and turns — a baroque profusion that I could not imagine trying to summarize in the brief compass of a review such as this — he finds only entropy in the present.

more here.

The Future is Menopausal

Ann Neumann at The Baffler:

Pathetically little has improved for menopausal women since Wilson died in 1981. Our fears, degradations, and inequalities are still blamed on us—and are still well-used by corporate pill-pushers. Pharmaceutical industry watchers estimate that by 2022, the HRT market will be worth an estimated $28.4 billion. (By comparison, the annual revenue of one of the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the world, Johnson & Johnson, is $40 billion.)

I promise you that the many symptoms women experience when going through menopause are nothing to laugh at; the hot flashes, lethargy, and emotional ruptures can be debilitating. But Big Pharma’s attention to menopausal women over the past fifty years has unsurprisingly better served the industry’s own financial needs than women’s physical menopause symptoms—and I don’t mean the perceived loss of “beauty.” There is no rush to find scientific cures for the disruptive symptoms—today the cause of the cursed hot flash remains very much a mystery. Rather, menopause is a business opportunity, a billion-dollar drug category for corporations—and the industry’s main sell is telling women over fifty that something is drastically wrong with them.

more here.

To Be Mary MacLane

Penelope Rosemont at The Paris Review:

“Mary MacLane is mad,” wrote the New York Herald. “She should be put under medical treatment, and pens and paper kept out of her way until she is restored to reason.” The New York Times urged that she be spanked. Other critics raised the charge of “obscenity.” When the Butte Public Library announced that it would not allow the book on its shelves, the Helena Daily Independent applauded, arguing that if this book “should go in, all the self-respecting books in the library would jump out of the window.”

The Story of Mary MacLane was an instant best seller. Some eighty thousand copies were sold the first month alone, and the resulting $17,000 in royalties allowed MacLane to fulfill her greatest ambition: to escape Butte. The book went through several printings, and its author remained front-page news for years. Mary MacLane Societies were organized by young women all over the country. The popular vaudeville team of Weber and Fields—remembered today mostly as the introducers of pie-in-the-face gags—did a burlesque of the book. A full-length spoof was published, titled The Story of Willie Complain. “Montana’s lit’ry lady” found her way into the comics and popular songs. There was even a Mary MacLane Highball, “with or without ice-cream, cooling, refreshing, invigorating, devilish, the up-to-date drink.”

more here.

D. H. Lawrence’s stunning, indefensible essays

Christine Smallwood in Bookforum:

My relationship with D. H. Lawrence began in high school, when I bought a copy of Sons and Lovers more or less at random and proceeded to read it all the way through, by which I mean that my eyes literally traversed every page and recognized that the English language was there recorded in some complexity. But the words, instead of building a reality I could enter and move around in, were like a continually dying fluorescence. I had no idea what was going on. What registered was something like “words, words, flower, sentence, words, coal mining” (like I knew what a coal mine was). As far as I was concerned, Sons and Lovers appeared out of nothing and to nothing it returned. All I knew when I was finished was all I knew before I plucked it, more or less at random, off the shelf: that it was a “classic.”

So it remained between me and D. H. Lawrence, a situation of somewhat ashamed incomprehension, until, in my twenties, I received a hardcover edition of The Rainbow as a gift from the shittiest boyfriend I ever had. Overnight I became a devotee of the cult of Lawrence. There is no life situation, for a heterosexual woman, that can prepare her so well to fall into a Lawrentian hole than a high-drama, mutually narcissistic, obsessive relationship with an inadequate man, no way that more prepares you to be seduced into what is seductive and to (eventually) resist what needs resisting, yet to hold on to a vision of a world of perfect, horrifying union between lovers—horrifying because it threatens the only thing that Lawrence believed was worth anything, the individual soul.

More here.