nussbaum on roger williams


When we consider the current uproar over Muslim immigration, particularly in Europe, we can see that the allegedly enlightened societies of the West still have a lot of learning to do. Instead of seeing ourselves as fighting on the side of the angels in a great “clash of civilizations,” we should see each nation, Western and non-Western, as fighting its own internal “clash” between people who are prepared to live with others on terms of mutual respect and people who seek the protection of religious (and cultural) homogeneity. At a deeper level, each of us is always engaged, within ourselves, in an internal “clash of civilizations,” as narcissistic fear contends with our capacities for concern and respect.

In this struggle, it helps to have philosophical friends. Locke, ubiquitously invoked in this connection, is a good enough friend, but somewhat lacking in psychological insight. The history of the North American colonies, however, shows us another friend, an even better one–a hero, really–whose writings, now virtually unknown, can help us greatly as we grapple with problems that are not unlike those he confronted in the seventeenth century. He is Roger Williams. Williams wrote many books, including two lengthy philosophical treatises that are among the major works on religious toleration in the history of Western thought. Prolix, diffuse, and ill-organized, their thousand pages are hardly ever consulted, while Locke’s succinct A Letter Concerning Toleration is taught in countless college classrooms. Even Williams’s American contemporaries did not have much knowledge of his books, which were published in England.

more from TNR here.

REFLECTIONS ON seeing leonard cohen PERFORM IN MONTREAL ON JUNE 23, 2008


Tickets for this Leonard Cohen concert were very expensive. I paid $180 for this ticket. Because I’m a music critic, it’s tax deductible. Also, I thought I’d sell a review to someone, but in the end no one wanted a review. Sitting in the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, I think about what I would write if I were reviewing this for Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. “He seems at once smaller and larger than his songs. And, while I never need to hear ‘Democracy’ or ‘Boogie Street’ again, because they were terrible, I also never again need to hear ‘Who by Fire’ or ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ because they were beautiful.”

“Malgré les prix gonflés,” Leonard says, wryly, “j’espère que vous n’êtes pas déçus.” Despite the inflated prices, I hope you are not disappointed. While Leonard is playing “I’m Your Man,” I do some math. If the concert is three hours long, that’s just $60 an hour. Or $15 for 15 minutes. Which is about the same price as a taxi. Or laser tag. This concert is far, far, far better than riding a taxi or playing laser tag. Leonard, I am not disappointed.

more from McSweeney’s here.

the bishop


Elizabeth Bishop died in 1979 and immediately ascended to the heaven inhabited by dead poets—George Herbert, John Keats, and Emily Dickinson—whom everyone venerates. In a review of Alice Quinn’s edition of Bishop’s unfinished poems, William Logan put the following question apropos of Bishop’s ascendancy: “Why has our age become so enamored of a poet who almost to the end of her life required a special taste?” Logan doesn’t quite answer that question, though he does suggest what is probably undemonstrable—that readers “adore themselves for adoring her.” Nor can I demonstrate that the poets listed above are indisputably ones whom everyone venerates; but they share a winning vulnerability to the assaults of life, a vulnerability that many sorts of readers find deeply appealing, indeed irresistible. By contrast, two poets who ascended to another part of heaven, John Donne and Robert Lowell, for all their dramatizing of vulnerability (“Batter my heart three-personed God”; “I hear my ill spirit sob in each blood cell”) beat—in Lowell’s words from a letter to Bishop—the “big drum” so forcefully that they seem scarcely in need of our sympathetic concern. At any rate, it’s undeniable that Bishop’s reputation has been untouched by anything like adverse criticism, and it is no surprise that she is the first twentieth-century woman poet to be included in The Library of America.

more from Hudson Review here.

Horrible! The Art of Francis Bacon


Robert Hughes in the Guardian:

In 1988, Lucian Freud had an exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. It was a great success, of course: the German art audience knew about Freud already, and were able to see his work against the background memory of the German realist art movement of the 1920s known as Neue Sachlichkeit, “the new objectivity”.

In fact, the pictures were so well liked that one of them was stolen. It was a tiny portrait, done in 1952 on a sheet of copper no bigger than a leaf of typing paper, of his friend and fellow painter Francis Bacon. It belonged to the Tate, but someone just took it from the wall in Berlin and walked off with it.

Freud rang to tell me. It was shocking news. I had never known a friend’s painting to be stolen, particularly not a picture that I thought of as an unequivocal masterpiece: that smooth, pallid pear of a face like a hand-grenade on the point of detonation, those evasive-looking eyes under their blade-like lids, had long struck me as one of the key images of modernity, though a dozen years ago practically no one in America, where the big reputations were meant to be made, had even heard of Lucian Freud.

“Well,” I said to Freud, “at least there’s someone out there who’s really fanatical about your work.” “Oh, d’you think so ?” he replied. “You know, I’m not sure I agree. I don’t think whoever it was took it because he liked me. Not a bit of it. He must have been crazy about Francis. That would justify the risk.”

And as I chewed this over later, I came to think that Freud was quite possibly right.

A Lawsuit at the European Court for Human Rights…Against the Large Hadron Collider


Richard Gray in the Telegraph:

Critics of the Large Hadron Collider – a £4.4 billion machine due to be switched on in ten days time – have lodged a lawsuit at the European Court for Human Rights against the 20 countries, including the UK, that fund the project.

The device is designed to replicate conditions that existed just a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and its creators hope it will unlock the secrets of how the universe began.

However, opponents fear the machine, which will smash pieces of atoms together at high speed and generate temperatures of more than a trillion degrees centigrade, may create a mini-black hole that could tear the earth apart.

Scientists involved in the project have dismissed the fears as “absurd” and insist that extensive safety assessments on the 17 mile long particle accelerator have demonstrated that it is safe.

The legal battle comes as the European Nuclear Research Centre (CERN), in Geneva, prepares to send the first beam of particles around the machine at the official switch on, on September 10, although it will be several weeks before the first particles are collided together.

Opponents of the project had hoped to obtain an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights that would block the collider from being turned on at all, but the court rejected the application on Friday morning. However, the court will rule on allegations that the experiment violates the right to life under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Sunday Poem

The Dacca Gauzes
Agha Shahid Ali

…for a whole year he sought to accumulate the most exquisite Dacca gauzes. -Oscar Wilde/The Picture of Dorian Gray

Those transparent Dacca Gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. “No one
now knows,” my grandmother says,

“what it was to wear
or touch that cloth.” She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,
and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.

From Half Inch Himilayas (Wesleyan U.P., 1987)


Two of a Kind

From The New York Times:

Orwell This book has a thesis, and it is, on the face of it, a preposterous one: George Orwell = Evelyn Waugh.

Why is this preposterous? Because Orwell and Waugh were, in almost every salient respect, precise opposites. Orwell conjured up the nightmarish dystopia of “1984.” Waugh’s best-known work, “Brideshead Revisited,” was a reverie about a vanished age of Oxford privilege, titled Catholic families, large country houses and fastidious conscience. Orwell was tall, gaunt and self-mortifying, a socialist with an affinity for mineworkers and tramps. Waugh was a short, plump, florid social climber and a proud reactionary who declared, “I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants.” Orwell fought on the loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Waugh announced, “If I were a Spaniard I should be fighting for General Franco.” Orwell could tell you how to make a perfect cup of tea or Waugh where the best place was to roast a potato (under the meat). Waugh could give you advice on laying down a wine cellar or dressing like Beau Brummel on a budget. Orwell thought “good prose is like a window pane,” forceful and direct. Waugh was an elaborate stylist whose prose ranged from the dryly ironical to the richly ornamented and rhetorical. Orwell was solitary and fiercely earnest. Waugh was convivial and brutally funny. And, perhaps most important, Orwell was a secularist whose greatest fear was the emergence of Big Brother in this world. Waugh was a Roman Catholic convert whose greatest hope lay with God in the next. Indeed, about the only thing Orwell and Waugh seem to have had in common was the rather boring fact that they were both Englishmen born to middle-class families in 1903.

So what could David Lebedoff be getting at in “The Same Man”? Is he deliberately trafficking in paradox? Is he employing some sort of dialectical magic in which each thing is identical to its opposite?

More here.

Living Between Memoir And History

From DAWN:

Books8 Sara Suleri is now a noticeable postcolonial literary figure. Her first and third book are memoirs but there is also sufficient commentary on Pakistan’s post-partition history. Perhaps, one reason to write the history of Pakistan under the umbrella of fictional memoir is that in Pakistan, text book history is often distorted and tailor-made for the ideological suppression of the community. Suleri’s narratives have even greater relevance in the present times as contemporary Pakistan grapples for political stability. Poised to dispense the dual role of the creative writer and an academic, she has also contributed to post-colonial theory. While there is nothing apparently ground-breaking in merging memoir, autobiography and history by a Pakistani post-colonial woman writer, a greater degree of critical concern is attached to the narrative form of her books. It is safe to say that Suleri’s books are not novels but these books have basic ingredients necessary for the making of fiction.

The novel, by virtue of its form, includes the autobiographical trivia and subliminal experiences of the author as a character and narrator. The 19th and early 20th-century European novel is irretrievably autobiographical because the writers were more insightful about the advantages and disadvantages of depicting personal and public life. Suleri herself has been ambiguous about the form of Meatless Days (1989). She has called the book ‘a chronicle of the inextricably married histories’ and having said that she appropriates the Shakespearean method of fictionalising history. Shakespeare has also written chronicles and those were given a dramatic life. Suleri has rightly caught the Shakespearean habit of making history look like fiction, but the temporal pressures in the days of Shakespeare were much different from that of present times. The author finds herself in a world (post-colonial/political) which demands a logical fidelity to one’s cultural identity in the face of larger world conflicts.

More here.

Does Public Ignorance Mattter for Electoral Outcomes?

Larry Bartles over at his web page:

One of the best-selling political books of this election season is Just How Stupid Are We?, a report on “the truth about the American voter” by popular historian Rick Shenkman. Shenkman’s little book presents a familiar collection of bleak survey results documenting some of the many things most Americans don’t know about politics, government, and American history. He concludes that “public ignorance” is “the most obvious cause” of “the foolishness that marks so much of American politics.” Lest this conclusion seem dispiriting, an obligatory hopeful coda offers anodyne proposals for civic improvement.

Never mind whether more civics courses and “democracy parties” are really going to stem the tide of public ignorance. The reader’s first response to Shenkman’s indictment should be: So what?

Does it really matter whether voters can name the Secretary of Defense or know how long a senator’s term is? The political consequences of “public ignorance” must be demonstrated, not assumed. And that requires focusing not just on what voters don’t know, but on how what they don’t know affects how they vote. Do they manage to make sensible choices despite being hazy about the details of politics and government? (Okay, really hazy.) If so, that’s not stupid—it’s efficient. Moreover, what really matters is not whether individual voters go astray, but whether entire electorates do. A lot of idiosyncratic individual behavior can be submerged in the collective verdict of 120 million voters.



Who was Noah? The Bible tells us little. He was the flood hero of course, but what else? A drunken viniculturist who lived to the age of 950; who was 600 at the time of the flood and 500 when he fathered Shem, Ham and Japheth. His wrinkled bottom was ogled by his 100-year-old sons when he passed out from drunkeness in his tent one night. But was he not also an ‘upright man’ and a man who ‘walked with God’?

Each year hundreds of pilgrims, known as ‘Arkeologists’ make their way to Mount Ararat (where the Turkish, Armenian and Iranian borders meet) hoping to find clues and relics. Some return home with splints of wood, others only with soft memories of mystic vision. Arkeologists are simple folk, of whom the late Apollo astronaut, James Irwin, was one. They ignore the fact that in Genesis, Noah’s ship came to rest ‘in the mountains of Ararat’, which is not the same as ‘on Mount Ararat’. Never mind, they say, and never mind that the modern ‘Mount Ararat’ is situated outside the old Kingdom of Ararat and is not therefore among the ‘Mountains of Ararat’. Why should Arkeologists care if their mountain only got its name from Marco Polo in the 13th century?

more from The Spectator here.

kirsch: poet-critic


Poets and critics have been around for a long time, and some writers have been both poets and critics, but the “poet-critic” was invented in the 20th century. This hybrid role was created by T. S. Eliot and then adapted by a generation of poets who won positions in American colleges as literary critics, before the M.F.A. in creative writing gave poets jobs teaching writing workshops. The poet-critics of that era shared a point of view. They were against experimental literature. They valued rhyme and meter not only as expressive forms, but as safeguards against sentimentality, narcissism and even madness. They saw poetry as a way to preserve the individual’s spiritual and intellectual integrity in a society dominated by science and mass culture. They praised reason and proportion, but their mood was apocalyptic.

Adam Kirsch is a poet-critic of this type. He has taken up the aesthetic ideas of Eliot and his successors with anachronistic fidelity. Kirsch is not an academic; most of the essays in “The Modern Element,” his new book on contemporary poetry, first appeared as book reviews in The New Republic. Kirsch writes with admirable clarity for a general reader not automatically familiar with the poets he discusses. But when he is done with his poets, the general reader does not have much reason to read them. Like the poet-critics he admires, Kirsch mounts a defense of poetry at the expense of poetry he disapproves of.

A performance drug that could actually increase the fairness of Olympic contests?

Carl Elliott in The Atlantic:

DubisBeta blockers seem to be especially good performance enhancers when the performance in question involves an anxiety-producing public setting. This is because a large part of the anxiety of performing in public comes from the worry that one’s anxiety will become outwardly obvious. Most people who worry about public speaking, for example, aren’t worried that they’ll flub their lines, trip and fall as they approach the podium, or deliver an hour-long speech on television with their pants unzipped. They worry that their anxiety will become apparent to the audience. They’re terrified that their hands will tremble, that their voices will become high-pitched and quivering, and that beads of sweat will appear on their foreheads and upper lip, like Richard Nixon trying to explain Watergate. This is why beta blockers are so useful; people who have taken a drug that blocks the outward effects of their anxiety become less anxious—not because the drug is affecting their brain, but because their worst fears are not being realized.

Beta blockers have been around since the 1960s, but it took a while before anyone noticed how useful they were for performance anxiety. Probably the first performers to start using them widely were musicians, especially classical musicians, whose hands can get clammy or tremble during a concert performance.

More here.

Jesus Is Magic

Catherine Price in Mother Jones:

Witness320x240As the annual convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians kicks off on a hot July afternoon, the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University is awash in displays of irreverent reverence. Ventriloquists converse with Scripture-quoting puppets, unicyclists pedal through the halls, and a man plays “Amazing Grace” on a turkey baster. In the gym, vendors sell mysteriously materializing Communion cups, paper that dissolves in water (perfect for making sins “disappear”), and fire-spouting Bibles ($50 each, they open “with or without flames”). Visitors to the auditorium are greeted by a Noah’s ark and Jesus, life-size and complete with cross and crown of thorns, made from balloons by a group of self-described “balloonatics.” Outside, preteens wearing gold crosses and short shorts practice high kicks: The five-day event coincides with a gathering of the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders.

One of the main attractions is Duane Laflin, a 54-year-old former fellowship president who’s known for taking his showmanship as seriously as his message. Notebook- and camcorder-wielding fans pack into a small auditorium to see him deliver a lecture titled “Gospel Magic With a ‘WOW’ Factor.”

Laflin opens with a series of standard scarf tricks that ends with a twist—a silk square emblazoned with Jesus’ face.

More (including video) here.

Saturday Poem

Little Cambray Tamales
Claribel Alegria

(makes 5,000,000 little tamales) – for Eduardo and Helena
who asked me for a Salvadoran recipe

Two pounds of mestizo cornmeal
half a pound of loin of gachupin
cooked and finely chopped
a box of pious raisins
two tablespoons of Malinche milk
one cup of enraged water
a fry of conquistador helmets
three Jesuit onions
a small bag of multinational gold
two dragon’s teeth
one presidential carrot
two tablespoons of pimps
lard of Panchimalco Indians
two ministerial tomatoes
a half cup of television sugar
two drops of volcanic lava
seven leaves of pito
(don’t be dirty-minded, it’s a soporific)
put everything to boil
over a slow fire
for five hundred years
and you’ll see how tasty it is.

Translated from the Spanish by D.J. Flakoll From
WOMAN OF THE RIVER (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989)


A work in progress

From The Guardian:

Shakespeare460 Of all the beneficiaries of literary luck, Timon of Athens is perhaps the luckiest. All of Shakespeare’s plays that appear in the First Folio would have been lost had the playwright’s actor colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell not preserved them for posterity. But Timon was not supposed even to have been in the Folio. It takes the space reserved for Troilus and Cressida. Since that play had already been published in quarto, and particularly since there was some argy-bargy over copyright, another had to be dropped in that fitted. Timon was the play. To celebrate that good fortune, and at the invitation of Guildhall in London, I find myself waiting one morning at Guildhall Library with two of the actors from the Globe’s revival of Shakespeare’s satire – Simon Paisley Day, who plays Timon, and Patrick Godfrey, who is Flavius. The library holds one of the best Folios in existence, and this is the first time I have come into contact with one.

There is a certain Indiana Jones quality about the experience, as I imagine there would be for anyone from the literary world or the theatre. The First Folio is shrouded in mystery: is it all Shakespeare’s work? How were the plays collected, and by whom? How much impurity is in them? There is also the Folio’s tangled journey through time, as the 400 copies got sold and resold, and travelled all over the place, and were buried, and dug up, and stolen, and found, and collected, and became artefacts. There are only 14 so-called “perfect” copies left, one of which is here at Guildhall. Above all, there is the excitement of coming into contact with something so authentic, so close to the source, so in touch with the original magic.

The physical modesty of the Folio also has a kind of Indiana Jones aspect to it. At the end of The Last Crusade, the hero has to choose which of a selection of goblets and cups is the Holy Grail. Unlike the villain who goes for the gaudiest, Indiana walks past all the jewel-encrusted containers, and goes for the plain wooden cup. At Guildhall, we are shown down two staircases, into a small, brightly lit room. There, on the table, resting on cushions, is an unassuming book, about two feet by one, and three inches thick, which was rebound in leather a hundred years ago. We gather round, and there is a gentle holding of breath on opening it, but any anticipation that it might shine or glow, or that some literary radioactivity will pour out of it is disappointed.

More here.

The Arrangement

From The New York Times:

MARRYING ANITA A Quest for Love in the New India

By Anita Jain

Book Like many single women looking for love in New York, the journalist Anita Jain was fed up with the local dating scene. In 2005, Jain, who was then 32, wrote an article for New York magazine ­— “Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craiglist?” — in which she wondered whether she should let her Indian relatives find her a husband. It seemed tempting. What marriage-minded woman doesn’t dream of never having to walk into a singles bar again? Yet, while few modern Westerners would be willing to outsource their spousal selection (heck, most won’t even let their mothers set them up on a coffee date), Jain actually hopped on a plane to Delhi. It was the reverse journey her father had taken more than three decades earlier, when he left his homeland for America in search of better job opportunities. Jain, on the other hand, was going to India for what she hoped would be better dating opportunities.

It isn’t until the final weeks, when her parents visit, that she tries the arranged marriage route. By then, it’s apparent that while you can take the girl out of America, you can’t take American ideals out of the girl: she still craves a romantic spark. Of course, there’s nothing new in the story of a woman seeking a husband. What’s new here — and stunningly so — is Jain’s engaging, intelligent voice, at turns wry (when she catches sight of a former Sikh suitor without his turban, she comments: “Now that I can actually see him, I realize he’s kind of cute”) and provocatively curious (why do her smart, married Indian cousins, who aren’t allowed to defecate during the day in their own homes, seem more at peace with their lives than she is?). The result is less a dating memoir than a thoughtful, incisive exploration of the nature of connection. Ultimately, Jain seems to be asking, Is modernization really progress? After all, if with choice comes freedom, then why do so many single women feel imprisoned by their loneliness?

More here.

Mohsin Hamid on Pervez Musharraf

From Time Magazine:

A_essay_0901Musharraf’s legacy is a mixed one. Like many Pakistanis, I was appalled when he seized control of Pakistan in 1999. Pakistan had stagnated in the 1990s under the bickering and incompetent elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and her rival Nawaz Sharif. But I recalled the damage done by the oppressive dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s and had no desire to see Pakistan revert to military rule.

I began to revise my opinion of Musharraf after 9/11. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to terrorism, and the terrorist attack on its parliament later that year led India to threaten to do the same to Pakistan. Musharraf seemed to offer firm leadership in this time of crisis, managing to reverse Pakistan’s policy of support to the Taliban and embarking on a normalization process with India.

By the midpoint of Musharraf’s nine-year rule, a combination of sound economic policies and foreign aid had resulted in rapid growth for Pakistan. Optimism was in the air, and Pakistani friends of mine who had lived abroad for years — artists, bankers, architects, professors — were flocking back home.

Musharraf spoke in favor of tolerance, women’s rights and moderate interpretations of Islam. He liberalized the media, allowing dozens of private television channels to operate and freely criticize the government.

More here.