In Alan Moore’s superb and baroque graphic novel From Hell, Jack the Ripper is quoted as saying, “One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the 20th century.” If such bloody and fevered characters can be set to frame a century, then Heath Ledger’s incarnation of The Joker in The Dark Knight is the cinematic icon that frames the 21st century thus far. Christopher Nolan returned to theaters over the summer with yet another big, loud opus, the World War II epic Dunkirk. Yet his most successful film has not only aged well but has gained a potent and disturbing relevance. [Read more…]
August 15, 2017
The drama of Trump Times threatens to consume us in fire and fury.
The President found the right words when threatening North Korea, but he put them in the wrong context. With his penchant for violence made worse by illiteracy in his own native tongue, Trump moves the country to hell in a handbasket while the apparently sane seek salvation in the wrong places.
We need recognize the times in which we live and articulate a vision that moves us beyond not just this present, but also that past which got us here. [Read more…]
The geometer’s circle is a perfect abstraction, a static and timeless singularity. The naturalist prefers ripples on a pond: plural, overlapping, and dynamic. Throughout their histories, much of philosophy and art have sided with the geometer, regarding the eternal form as more real, more substantial. This perspective denounces the transitional for its decay and change; it sees permanence as superior.
In his essay “Circles,” Ralph Waldo Emerson takes a different approach. He says, “Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” [Read more…]
July 18, 2017
Famous for the Art of the Deal even before reality shows became a big thing, Donald J. Trump has demonstrated this week that he does not even know how to play the game in Washington DC. Legislation is not the same as a political campaign. “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare was a great slogan for mobilizing those who didn’t really understand the complexity of health care (as this president himself admitted) but who hated that last guy in the White House. But without an alternative to Obamacare, this is not even a good con, as the failure in the Senate illustrates. We might then rework Trump’s sole literary claim into something more appropriate: perhaps the Art of the Fool?
Trump, however, is no fool, at least not in the tradition of the venerated Fool. [Read more…]
Epigraph: The German philosopher, Hannah Arendt, once said that ‘factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the non-totalitarian world” (Origins of Totalitarianism, p.388). What if instead of construing Trump as an instrument, cause, an agent of his own will and power, we consider him a symptom, an extrusion of a set of complex conditions manifesting itself in the opportunistic formation that identifies as this man. Configurations of power are always dependent upon the conditions of their emergence. Mechanistically speaking, we know some of the conditions—erosion of public education, the exaggerated income gap, increased inequity mapped onto race, class, and ethnicity, the destruction of the working class and its guarantees or even possibility of a secure lifestyle. The breakdown of a democratic system rotted by the diseases of capitalism is easily trackable. We can see all of the elements of our condition and how they combine to create anger. Add to this the various drugs: literal drugs, the opiates, and the psychic drugs, the fantasy products pumped into the social system in the form of entertainment, the unreality television, the nighttime series the daytime rants–all part of the frenzy of consumption.
Power is never as effective as when it is abusive. And abuse is never so effective as when it is arbitrary. Combine these insights with a few others and the shape of the current political climate emerges starkly [Read more…]
If the greenhouse warming effect of the resultant increasing atmospheric CO2 is as great as the most advanced current models suggest, a critical level of warmth will have been passed in high southern latitudes 50 years from now, and deglaciation of West Antarctica will be imminent or in progress. Deglaciation would probably be rapid once it had started, and when complete would have led to a rise in sea level of about 5m along most coasts.
–Prof. John H. Mercer, 26 January 1978
12 July 2017
A trillion-ton iceberg totaling 2,240 square miles, or 12% of the Antarctic peninsula, and 40 trillion cubic feet of ice — a volume twice that of Lake Erie — today broke free from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. Following the collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, today’s calving further weakens the entire continental glacier and sets in motion what scientist believe is the first stage of total glacial collapse. [Read more…]
No more should Black English be presented largely as a dialect that leaves out this and reverses that, with specialists then wondering why the public continues to think of it as a cluster of errors and isn’t impressed that the errors are systematic. Rather, Black English must be introduced via a collection of ways in which it is more complex than Standard English, not less.
People respect complexity. People like simplicity in their music and in ways of preparing food, but in terms of grammar, not so much. Some people involved with presenting Black English to the public might wonder just what such a collection of complex features would consist of, other than the shadings of verb usage I just mentioned. The simple fact is that specialists in Black English have not been primed to seek out those features that outdo Standard English in complexity. Systematicity will intringue and stimulate academic linguistic analysis, but the public isn’t having it, so we must change the lens.
Below I will discuss five things in the dialect that demonstrate that anyone speaking Black English is doing something subtle and complex.
1. Up what?
I once had occasion to ask a black American with a solid command of Ebonics what up means in a sentence like “We was up in here havin’ a good time:’ [Read more…]
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) biologists have captured and fitted a tracking collar to a female gray wolf in Lassen County, and confirmed that the wolf and her mate have produced at least three pups this year.
During summer and fall 2016, remote trail cameras captured images of two wolves traveling together in Lassen County. There was no evidence they had produced pups at that time. While the female’s origins remain unknown, genetic samples obtained from scat indicated the male wolf originated from Oregon’s Rogue Pack. The famous wolf OR7 is the Rogue Pack’s breeding male. [Read more…]
Sofia Coppola’s sixth movie, The Beguiled, has been making waves recently. An adaptation of a 1966 book and 1971 movie featuring Clint Eastwood, the plot follows a group of isolated Confederate women and the havoc wrought by an unexpected Union soldier who drops into their midst. Starring such recognizable names as Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, it has been lauded as a feat of mood, art direction, acting, and costuming, with the cast as well as Coppola herself garnering platitudes: she won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival for the film, making her the first woman director in 56 years and only the second overall to win the prestigious award. Oscar buzz is already swirling.
However, the film has also generated controversary for its use of an entirely white cast against the backdrop of the Civil War-ravaged South, despite the fact that the source material included Black women characters in Edwina, a free mixed race teacher who hides her Black parentage, and Mattie, a house slave. [Read more…]
The final scene of 1973’s cult horror film The Wicker Man was inspired by an aside in Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars, which screenwriter Anthony Shaffer claimed he fixated on because it was “the most alarming and imposing image” he had ever seen. Caesar, traveling through Gaul, remarks on how the people are “extremely devoted to superstitious rites,” so that when they are troubled with severe disease or engaged in battle, they often resort to human sacrifice, “because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods can not be rendered propitious.” Among the various means of sacrifice Caesar had heard about, it was one in which figures of vast size were constructed, “the limbs of which formed of wicker they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames.” While, Caesar concludes, they “consider that the oblation of such as have been taken in theft, or in robbery, or any other offense, is more acceptable to the immortal gods; but when a supply of that class is wanting, they have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent.” [Read more…]
June 15, 2017
Socialism was to be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, a consciousness-driven model of social transformation but without the processes that would allow it to validate its understandings against how the world really worked. Focused more on mobilization against an enemy than understanding itself and its society, the Communist Party and its state were both constituted through mechanisms they also made. The way in which they were made also prevented authorities from recognizing the real problems they faced.
I wrote that paragraph to describe Andreas Glaeser’s book on the political epistemics organizing the East German society communists ruled. One can understand Trump Rule better in light of that work, as well as of others illuminating communist rule.
It’s not only the pervasiveness of the lie. Do we need to trust authorities to act on our behalf and require no evidence that they do? Do we need to emulate the sycophancy of the leaders’ lieutenants in order to find our place in the new order? If we challenge authority, do we risk becoming an enemy? In this kind of order, it’s not the rule of law but the rule of loyalty that determines trustworthiness and truthfulness. [Read more…]
A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Edo-Period Prints and Paintings (1600–1868)
at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
excerpted from a review by Ian Buruma
Read the full review in the May 11, 2017 issue of New York Review of Books, or read it on site at nybooks.com
Lusting after pretty teenage boys was not considered shameful in premodern Japan. Experienced older women did it. Young women did too. Older men indulged in it (as long as the boys were passive sexual partners). Adultery was not permitted, on the other hand, and it was unseemly for grown men to love other grown men. But the love of older men for young boys, a practice called shudo, literally “the way of boy love,” was considered, especially during the eighteenth century, and notably among samurai, to be a mark of erotic discernment. [Read more…]
It would be easy to say that the alternative histories portrayed in the works of Umar Rashid are perfectly timed to reflect the era of “alternative facts” taking place in this historical moment. But the truth is, if you are going to make art intended to talk, both directly and indirectly, about the oppression of people of color and the suppression of their history, there is no time in the modern era when the work would not seem timely.
As Frohawk Two Feathers, and now Umar Rashid, the artist re-imagines 18th century history in images that recall traditional portraiture, folk art and Native American art but updated with details from the contemporary world. The mash-up allows him to speak simultaneously about the past and the present, accompanied by a complicated written narrative that must be read to fully understand the work. [Read more…]
I was on the phone with my father and I can’t remember exactly how we got to the part of the conversation we were destined to get to—the part of the conversation everyone was destined to get to—as we watched the unfathomable unfold on that morning of September 11, 2001. Two flights out of Boston bound, on paper anyway, for the city I was calling my father from on an otherwise normal Tuesday morning.
George W. Bush had been president for all of eight months. [Read more…]
Francisco Goya’s magnificent image, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1797-99), is emblematic of the Enlightenment’s faith in rationality–and its fear of what occurs when Reason falters through negligence or ignorance. Goya had good evidence on which to fear those lapses, as documented in his powerful depictions of the Disasters of War. Monstrosity comes in many forms, but in the 18th century it was understood as an aberration of nature, including human nature. [Read more…]
My friend Joseph Howley, who teaches classics at Columbia University, leans over to me at a bar and asks, “Have you ever heard of Julius Obsequens?” At some point I became known among some friends and acquaintances as someone who collects strange and interesting information, which means I’m now passed all manner of strange tidbit and interesting factoid: over the Internet, at bars, over coffee. This is how Julius Obsequens came into my life—a writer whose story is also about the strange way knowledge is transmitted. [Read more…]
Millions of marchers, worldwide, jammed streets and transit routes. In Los Angeles, the mood was jubilant and festive, with a family outing atmosphere. We waited for two and a half hours on the Metro platform, cheering one jammed train after another. Placards flat against the windows proclaimed every possible version of equal rights, reproductive choice, attention to the earth, and the need for health care. Solidarity was assumed, and spontaneous conversation broke out everywhere. [Read more…]
by Jacqueline Bell Johnson
We have entered uncertain times. While I keep moving forward, fulfilling my roles at home, at work, and out in the art world, I’m aware that I have also been wandering aimlessly since early November. Questioning the validity of my life choices, especially my career path, asking, “What do I do now?” and wondering if any of my own wants and goals are even worth pursuing. [Read more…]