The Widening Web of Digital Lit

“The World Wide Web is a glorious collection of the best that has been thought and said, especially if it involves Free Mortgage Advice 4 U! or sexual positions that approach the purely theoretical. In addition, however, the Web is home to hundreds of sites that talk about, pick on, poke at and generally mull over books, writers and writing. It would be impossible to list, much less describe, all of these destinations, but the following guide should provide you with an introduction to literary life on the Web; where you go from here is your own business. The sites of print publications (like The New York Times Book Review) have been excluded to allow more space for pure creatures of the Internet.”

More here by David Orr of the New York Times.

The Lannan Foundation Audio Archive


The audio archives of the Lannan Foundation are extensive. Here you can find readings, conversation and interviews of many of the world’s greatest writers, poets and essayists–Ana Castillo, Lucille Clifton, J.M. Coetzee, Bei Dao, Mahmoud Darwish, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Forché, Robert Hass, Seamus Heaney, W. S. Merwin, Czeslaw Milosz, Sharon Olds, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, Susan Sontag, Wole Soyinka, Mark Strand, Derek Walcott (pictured here and whose voice and poetry I so love) and David Foster Wallace, to name a few.

A review of Soames new history of analytic philiosophy

Alex Byrne and Ned Hall review Scott Soames tour of analytic philosophy, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 1: The Dawn of Analysis and Volume 2: The Age of Meaning.

“As Soames observes in the introduction to the first volume, ‘Analytic philosophy is a trail of influence’: the history of analytic philosophy is the history of a continuing dialogue, in the course of which terms and distinctions crucial to philosophical debates become steadily sharper, standards of argument become steadily more exacting, and occasional imaginative breakthroughs transform the way philosophical problems are posed. Soames is a particularly appropriate historian: he has made important contributions to contemporary philosophy of language, and his own talent for clarity and rigor testifies to one important kind of progress analytic philosophy has made in the last hundred years.

Given that analytic philosophy is not distinguished by a body of received answers to philosophical questions, has it made progress of another kind?”

Sadik al-Azm on Islamism’s last gasp

The Syrian critic Sadik al-Azm, perhaps best known for the essay “Orientalism and Orientalism in Reverse“, has a thought provoking piece on “Western dominance, Islamist terror, and the Arab imagination” in the new Boston Review.

The article begins, well, with a shocking admission.

“There is a strong injunction in Arab Islamic culture against shamateh, an emotion—like schadenfreude—of taking pleasure in the suffering of others. It is forbidden when it comes to death, even the violent death of your mortal enemies. Yet it would be very hard these days to find an Arab, no matter how sober, cultured, and sophisticated, in whose heart there was not some room for shamateh at the suffering of Americans on September 11. I myself tried hard to contain, control, and hide it that day. And I knew intuitively that millions and millions of people throughout the Arab world and beyond experienced the same emotion.

I never had any doubts, either, about who perpetrated that heinous crime; our Islamists had a deep-seated vendetta against the World Trade Center since their failed attack on it in 1993. [. . .] Does my response, and the silent shamateh of the Arab world, mean that [Samuel] Huntington’s clash of civilizations has come true, and so quickly?

In the end, no. Despite current predictions of a protracted global war between the West and the Islamic world, I believe that war is over. There may be intermittent battles in the decades to come, with many innocent victims. But the number of supporters of armed Islamism is unlikely to grow, its support throughout the Arab Muslim world will likely decline, and the opposition by other Muslim groups will surely grow. 9/11 signaled the last gasp of Islamism rather than the beginnings of its global challenge.”

Susskind vs. Smolin: The Anthropic Principle

“Recently, I received a copy of an email sent by Leonard Susskind to a group of physicists which included an attached file entitled ‘Answer to Smolin’. This was the opening salvo of an intense email exchange between Susskind and Smolin concerning Smolin’s argument that ‘the Anthropic Principle (AP) cannot yield any falsifiable predictions, and therefore cannot be a part of science’.

After reading several postings by each of the physicists, I asked each if (a) they would consider posting the comments on Edge, and (b) if they would write a new, and final ‘letter’.

Both agreed, but only after a negotiation: (1) No more than 1 letter each; (2) Neither sees the other’s letter in advance; (3) No changes after the fact. A physics shoot-out.”

That is John Brockman writing at, the whole exchange between Susskind (photo on left) and Smolin is here.

Matt Ridley welcomes Richard Dawkins’s genetic pilgrimage, The Ancestor’s Tale

“Evolution is both a process and a narrative; a science and a history. Richard Dawkins has made himself the foremost philosopher of the process, exploring with ruthless and surprising logic how bodies can be best understood as vehicles for the propagation of genes. But until now he has left the history to others such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Fortey: the grand narrative of how (some) microbes became men over three billion years. Now, in this extraordinary book, Dawkins turns chronicler.

He does so with a clever twist that avoids the perennial problem of evolutionary history-telling: how not to make it sound like an inevitable progression towards complexity and us. After all, bacteria and worms did not ‘fail’ to evolve into mammals. You could argue the opposite: that they were so good at being what they were that our ancestors had to invent a different way of living. Dawkins’s twist is to tell the story backwards, starting with us.”

More here from Matt Ridley (picture on left) in The Guardian.

The deafening sound of the seas

“The world’s oceans are now so saturated with noise that whales and other marine mammals are dying, biologists say.

The UK’s Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is launching a campaign, Oceans of Noise, to tackle what it says is the increasing problem of noise pollution.

It says key sources of undersea noise are the search for oil and gas, and the use of low-frequency military sonars.

The WDCS is proposing an action plan to regulate submarine noise pollution, and says a worldwide treaty may be needed.”

More here by Alex Kirby for the BBC.

Daniel Libeskind forced to marry David Childs by Larry Silverstein

“The architect who won the competition to rebuild on New York’s Ground Zero has revealed how the process degenerated into bitter feuds and childish squabbles among rival designers – though he rejects the notion that the new plan for the site is an uninspiring compromise.

In a candid new book, Breaking Ground, Daniel Libeskind recounts what he calls his ‘forced marriage’ to David Childs, the favoured architect of the World Trade Centre site’s developer, Larry Silverstein.

He portrays Mr Childs as patronising and overbearing, and intent on eliminating as much of Mr Libeskind’s vision as possible from the eventual design…

Since winning the competition last year, Mr Libeskind, designer of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, has been fighting to preserve what he can of his original concept, which had as its centrepiece a Freedom Tower, 1,776 feet high, to represent the date of the American declaration of independence. That symbolic height has been maintained, and the tower’s cornerstone was laid in July.”

More here from The Guardian.

Candidates shall not point rotating index fingers at their own temples to imply that opponent is mentally deranged

Christopher Buckley’s very funny “Rules of Engagement” for the presidential debates, from The New Yorker.

“Candidates shall not wear helmets, padding, girdles, prosthetic devices, or “elevator”-type shoes. Per above, candidates shall not remove shoes or throw same at each other during debate. Once a debate is concluded, candidates shall be permitted to toss articles of clothing, excepting underwear, into the audience for keepsake purposes.”

The Incredible Fullness of Less

“Very few artists thrive in a vacuum. They tend to gather in bands of like-minded individuals, many of whom are also artists. Josef and Anni Albers belonged to such a band: the Bauhaus, a legendary art school-cum-think tank that flourished in Germany between the world wars. With founders and faculty members like Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Mies van der Rohe and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus helped establish the basic tenets of modern design and architecture.

But the Alberses were also a band of two. Their marriage was a remarkable meeting of minds, souls and sensibilities that enabled each to sustain a long and fruitful career through the most turbulent of times. Taking separate paths, they pursued identical principles by different means. Their shared credo boiled down to the Bauhaus catch phrase “Less Is More,” which they followed as devotedly in their lives as in their work.

‘Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living,’ an enlightening, quietly excellent show at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, almost reverberates with a sense of this devotion. It could be called the incredible fullness of less.”

More here by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.

Painting to Please the Public

“Browsing Donald Norman’s recommended reading list, I was reminded of a funny project from several years ago in which two Russian artists created paintings driven solely by survey data. They allowed interviewees to determine style, subject matter, and two of the dominant colors even and then created the paintings that represented the most popular and least popular paintings for several countries.”

More very interesting material from kip/bot/blog.

The painting pictured on the left was the kind most favored by people in the U.S.

Fareed Zakaria on “looking inwards”

“Here’s a quiz: over the past two years, which developing country has undertaken the most dramatic economic, political and social reforms in the world? Some hints: this country has deregulated its economy, simplified its tax code and brought its fiscal house in order, resulting in 8.2 percent growth this year and a 10 percent rise in productivity. It has passed nine packages of major reforms that have reduced the military’s influence in government, enshrined political dissent and religious pluralism, passed strict laws against torture, abolished the death penalty and given substantial rights to a long-oppressed minority. The answer is Turkey. Even if it were not a Muslim country situated in the Middle East (sort of), its performance would be stunning. And yet, thanks to events last week, its long-sought quest to become a full member of the European Union may be thwarted.”

Here is the rest of Zakaria’s column from Newsweek. And here is his website, with an archive of his writings.