Getting The Last Word

Sep 19 2014 @ 8:37pm

Roger Grenier contemplates how writers approach death:

With certain authors, including some of the very greatest, we cannot speak of a last work. With them an entire640px-Marcel_Proust_(Père_Lachaise) life’s work is constantly put back on the loom, and so is condemned to remain unfinished. Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Proust, Robert Musil are in this category. Nietzsche wavers between the desire to construct and a totally free form. Only death stopped Proust from pasting strips of paper onto his manuscripts and his page proofs. With Musil, we never stop digging away at the mass of unpublished pages that supplement The Man Without Qualities. Critics attribute his inability to finish to masochism. But is having more and more to say, trying to reach perfection, really masochistic?

Saint Bonaventure, the Franciscan philosopher nicknamed the Seraphic Doctor, supposedly had the unique privilege of continuing his memoirs after his death. François-René de Chateaubriand, the first great French Romantic, was jealous: “I don’t hope for such a privilege, but I would like to resuscitate at the ghostly hour—at least to correct my page proofs.”

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Have We Outgrown Growing Up? Ctd

Sep 19 2014 @ 8:04pm

A reader chuckles at the notion that high culture has ceased to exist:

Responding to A.O. Scott’s essay, Freddie writes:

There is no such thing as high culture. There probably never was but even if there was it died long, long ago. Outside of your fantasies, there is no group of intellectual elitists looking down their noses at the music or TV you like. Such people do not exist.

I find that amusing, considering this article from yesterday’s issue of the New Yorker on the resurgence of the Frankfurt School (probably history’s foremost critics of “low culture”). One passage:

Culture appears more monolithic than ever, with a few gigantic corporations – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon – presiding over unprecedented monopolies. Internet discourse has become tighter, more coercive. Search engines guide you away from peculiar words. (“Did you mean . . . ?”) Headlines have an authoritarian bark (“This Map of Planes in the Air Right Now Will Blow Your Mind”). “Most Read” lists at the top of Web sites imply that you should read the same stories everyone else is reading. Technology conspires with populism to create an ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes.

I agree with Freddie’s claim that lovers of pop culture are not “an oppressed and denigrated minority,” but to say that there is “no group of intellectual elitists looking down their nose at the music or TV you like” is just plain wrong. As a PhD student in Communications, I sit in classes with some of them on a daily basis.

Another is skeptical of the entire end-of-adulthood argument:

I’m sure A.O. Scott wrote that piece with the best of intentions, but it amounts to a navel-gazing bout of bullshit.

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Face Of The Day

Sep 19 2014 @ 7:40pm

Muslims Protest IS Violence

A young man chants as Muslims gather for Friday prayers on the street outside the Mevlana Moschee mosque on a nation-wide action day to protest against the Islamic State (IS) on September 19, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Muslims across cities in Germany followed a call by the country’s Central Council of Muslims to protest against the ongoing violence by IS fighters in Syria and Iraq. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Paternity Pays, Ctd

Sep 19 2014 @ 7:25pm

A reader makes a nuanced argument:

There are some real problems with Miller’s position. Men increase their hours, while women reduce theirs. As a rather natural consequence, men get bonuses and raises. This happens when one works longer hours and work harder. Women want to work less. As a rather natural consequence, women have trained employers to be suspicious of women after they have children. Even if a particular women works longer and harder, she is tainted by the general reaction. I don’t think this is the fault of employers. Employers have the rather sad duty of living in the real world where economic decisions actually matter and have consequences. Thus, they are typically a conservative (in the traditional sense) bunch who go with what mostly happens: a women will work less and want more time off.

What we really need to do is to stop being a society that demands that the adults in a two-parent family both work. We need to re-organize back to the idea of one parent works to support the family and one stays home. We should be egalitarian about which one stays home and encourage fathers to stay home as much as mothers.

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Flowery Speech

Sep 19 2014 @ 7:03pm


Robin Lane Fox surveys a history of plants in poetry:

Surprisingly, the poetry of flowers is often patchy and ill-informed. None of the ancient Greek poets mentions the brilliant wild tulips that run like red rivers through parts of the Greek landscape. Chinese poets focus on a narrow canon of flowers, soaked in symbolism and hidden meanings. They say nothing about the heavenly wild flora, the superb shrubs and mountain flowers that have transformed Western gardens since their collection and introduction by Europeans. John Milton’s poetry describes bunches of flowers that would never flower during one and the same season. No gardener, especially in Britain this year, would agree that April is “the cruellest month” and in no gardens or landscapes known to me does April breed “lilacs out of the dead land,” least of all on the American East Coast within range of the young T.S. Eliot.

The exceptions prove the rule. Sappho had an engagingly sharp eye for the flowers of her native Lesbos, including milk-white pansies. Theocritus’ poems, some three hundred years later, include particular flowers from his second home, Cos, and also from Sicily or southern Italy that he probably therefore visited. Shakespeare of course observed and included many flowers, and D.H. Lawrence was also unusually alert, not just to dark blue Bavarian gentians but to the dark trunks of almond trees, which he acutely observed during his time in Taormina and rendered in poetry there. William Cowper could garden well, but among living poets, only James Fenton has had a garden that challenged expert gardeners with its assemblages of snowdrops and highly unusual plants.

(Photo by Susanne Nilsson)

What A Drip

Sep 19 2014 @ 6:37pm

Colin Marshall introduces Dripped, an animated tribute to Jackson Pollack:

In its 1940s New York City setting, painting-swiping protagonist Jack lives not just to make world-renowned canvasses his own, but a part of him. When he gets these works of art back to his apartment, he doesn’t even consider selling them; instead, he chews and swallows them, thus enabling him to assume in body the forms and colors famously expressed in paint on their surfaces. We are what we eat, and Jack eats art, but even becoming the art of others ultimately leaves him unsatisfied. Determined to paint and eat a canvas of his own, he finds his stomach can’t handle his work in progress. Thrown into a bout of frustration, an angered Jack tosses one of his paintings to the ground, randomly splattering it with every color at hand. And thus he discovers, in this animated fantasy, the technique that Jackson Pollock would pioneer in reality.

The Collapse Of Arab Civilization?

Sep 19 2014 @ 6:11pm

That’s how Hisham Melhem characterizes the decades-long series of crises that led to state failure in the Arab heartland and the rise of ISIS:

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

And in his view, neither Arab nationalism nor Islamism is a viable solution, being both “driven by atavistic impulses and a regressive outlook on life that is grounded in a mostly mythologized past”. He concludes:

The Islamic State, like al Qaeda, is the tumorous creation of an ailing Arab body politic.

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Cool Ad Watch

Sep 19 2014 @ 5:44pm

Not cool so much as powerful:

Tim Nudd details the PSA:

With the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week, the world’s leading NGOs—Oxfam, Save the Children, Care, Amnesty and a hundred more—have banded together for a new PSA, directed by [Martin] Stirling, that attempts to capture the horrors being endured by ordinary Syrians on a daily basis. … The stylistic choice of using reverse footage almost becomes a moral choice here—it’s the hook that makes the piece haunting, and shareable, and thus capable of making a difference. The film is the centerpiece in the NGOs’ #WithSyria campaign, which drives viewers to a petition asking the UN Security Council to take next steps to protect civilians.

Stirling’s previous ad calling attention to the plight of Syrian civilians is here.

Maternal Ambivalence

Sep 19 2014 @ 5:14pm

Ann Friedman speaks for a lot of women:

Many women are certain they want kids someday. A smaller number are positive they don’t. But there’s another group that isn’t the subject of many hand-wringing studies or best-selling books: the ambivalent. The ones who vacillate between “I don’t feel compelled to have children” and “What if I regret not having had children?” …

“A lot of women on the fence feel like they should be feeling a deep longing to raise a child, and the truth is they don’t,” says Laura Carroll, author of The Baby Matrix. There’s really no evidence, she says, that women have a biological urge to procreate. Humans are the only animal that can choose whether or not to spawn. When you joke that your ovaries are jumping, it’s really your brain thinking, I’d like to be a mother someday. You’re emotionally — not biologically — processing all those cute baby photos on Instagram.

It would certainly be easier if there were a definitive biological drive pushing all women to become mothers. For most of us, it’s far more complicated than that. “Looking back, I never wanted kids,” says Jill Uchiyama, a 46-year-old filmmaker and teacher. “I think there was a moment when I did, because I was married and because I was so in love with my husband. That was the closest I got to really wanting it to happen. But it wasn’t strong enough to make it happen.”

Vengeance Of The Nerds

Sep 19 2014 @ 4:44pm

Writing in a NYT roundtable on the ascent of geek culture, Freddie accuses certain geeks of defensiveness, complacency, and paranoia:

By any rational measure, the geeks – fans of comic books, science fiction, video games and fantasy – are utterly triumphant. Economically, the genre in the media is dominant, earning billions of dollars a year. Critically, it is celebrated, getting sympathetic reviews in the stuffiest publications and winning national awards. In every meaningful sense, geeks are the overdogs.

For the geeks, this should be a moment of triumph and celebration. And yet instead, the typical geeks today still regard the world as fundamentally hostile to their beloved properties. The 800-pound gorilla still thinks of itself as a 98-pound weakling, and the results are ugly. The recent GamerGate controversy, so thoroughly misogynist and angry, demonstrates the problem with winners self-identifying as losers: once you’ve cast yourself as a victim in your own mind, there’s no need to interrogate your own behavior.

Alyssa nods:

Maybe this is a period of adjustment, and flag-flying geeks and nerds will emerge from this upheaval in a better place. Maybe people will see that the video game industry can survive both expansion and criticism. Maybe “Game of Thrones” fans will recognize that the show’s essence will survive even with fewer naked, threatened women on screen. Maybe the bomb threats will stop. The essence of confidence is the ability to handle critiques and the existence of challengers with grace and security in your own position. If what deBoer is describing is a permanent state, though, then a certain subset of angry geeks will prove themselves to be exactly what the once-dominant culture said they were all along: myopic and insecure.

Feminist writer Laurie Penny shows admirable and constructive empathy in the face of vile, misogynist threats:

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