Skin Deep

Sherwin B. Nuland in The New Republic:

Book Lying on a couch in the office of one of the hairdressing salons that she owns in London, Sharyn Hughes perused the advertising brochure she had been sent by Makeover Getaways: “Our Malaysian Makeover Package is a brilliant combination of surgery treatments, sunny beaches and shopping. Offering the latest technological facilities in an exceptionally clean hospital environment, and with guaranteed five star hotel accommodation for postoperative recovery and holiday, you will return home fully revitalized and looking wonderful.”

Within minutes, she decided that this opportunity for what she called a “thorough overhaul” was precisely what she and her partner, Grant, had been seeking. They would join the 100,000 other men and women who became surgical tourists to Malaysia in 2006, up from 40,000 only three years earlier. For Sharyn’s breast enlargement, liposuction, and cosmetic dentistry and Grant’s liposuction and cosmetic dentistry, the total cost would be £9,000 (considerably less than the same surgery in London), with a tour of the country included. She phoned Grant about her discovery, and began making arrangements for both of them to fly off to Asia for their rejuvenation.

In his thought-provoking and disturbing new book, Anthony Elliott describes Asia as having become “the world’s hotspot for surgical tourism, particularly Thailand, Singapore and India.” Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Latin America, the Caribbean states, and parts of the Middle East have witnessed a similar phenomenon, as cosmetic surgery has become as globalized as any other industry — not only for patients, but also for the professional personnel who provide it. The demand for such services and the mobility of the providers has magnified in recent years, and by every indication it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the entire concept of periodically re-imagining oneself – -more, re-designing oneself — has taken its place in the culture of Western societies.

Elliott is a professor of sociology, and he has trained his keen sociologist’s eye on the astonishing phenomenon that cosmetic surgery has become. Using the methods of his field of study, he now presents us with this small and insightful book that is sure to alter the perspective of everyone who reads it. It is Elliott’s contention that there are three cultural forces, acting together and separately, that create the conditions driving the urge for the periodic reinvention of the self. It is an urge that has gripped many members of our society and will affect increasing numbers of those influenced by Elliott’s three forces — numbers that include just about everyone. Those forces are the cult of celebrity, consumerism, and the new economy characterized by globalization.

More here.

Thursday Poem

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Image_persimmons3Persimmons
Li-Young Lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmons and precision.
How to choose
……………………
persimmons. This is a precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu-chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked: I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo: you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds our of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.

He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of the one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

From Rose BOA Editions, LTD, 1986

///

The Art of Dying

From Orion Magazine:

Chicago I’M LYING ON MY BACK on the concrete in the heart of Chicago. Chaos whirs around me, so I try to focus, to let the warm light streaming down through the geometry of steel and glass become what it is, a prayer of forgiveness. But this only partly works. We need a lot of forgiveness these days. And I’m distracted—by the abrupt carbonic hiss of a bus pulling out into traffic and the sudden rat-a-tat-tat of a jackhammer breaking up a sidewalk somewhere. It sounds close.

My feet are a few inches away from the feet of the Flamingo, a four-story-high Alexander Calder sculpture in the middle of Federal Plaza. It has always looked like a big chicken to me, as if it should be titled Big Red Chicken Stalks Inner City. Since I have covered myself with a white sheet and am pretending to be dead, I can’t see the red chicken. But I imagine it looming over me, coming to life, pecking at my soft flesh and at the other bodies lying around me. Given the tenor of the moment—pretending to be dead and all—I should be more serious, but the chicken keeps scratching around in my brain.

I dream of the president making an emergency announcement on nationwide television that the Calder chicken and the equally worrisome Picasso sculpture in the Daley Plaza are terrorist robots that are electronically connected to a Henry Moore sculpture in the Art Institute of Chicago. Reportedly planted long ago by a sleeper cell of starving artists, they can be simultaneously activated at any moment. “We are all vulnerable to such attacks,” the president might say. “The enemy is everywhere. Even in modern art.”

But here’s the thing: this daydream is no more absurd than the war itself, or than I am, lying here wrapped in a sheet in the middle of a huge city on a busy workday, just a few feet from the honking congestion of Dearborn and Adams streets.

The die-in is an art installation. The organizers are artists.

More here.

Urgent Request From Republic Of America For Business Relationship (Confidential!)

Kevin Allman posts over at blogofneworleans.com:

Dear American, My Dear Friend:

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America.

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with “Mr. Phil Gram,” lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a citizen, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check.

We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction.

After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Do not discuss this message with anyone! Time is of the essence!

Yours Faithfully.

Minister of Treasury Hank Paulson

Socializing Debt, Privatizing Profits & Power

If I had pick one defining feature of the politics of the last 8 years it would be the tendency of the current US government to use any real or debatable or fictitious emergency to accrue greater executive power while curtailing transparency and accountability.   Even a financial crisis seems to require Bonapartism. Karyn Strickler in Counterpunch:

“Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”
— Language from Section 8 Treasury Financial Bail-out Proposal

Breathtaking in its scope and staggering dollar amount, the Treasury Financial Bail-out Proposal to Congress is a parting power punch from the Bush Administration.  Even as the American economy melts down, George W. Bush and his cronies are taking advantage of the emergency situation to turn over $700,000,000,000 of American tax payer’s money to bail out the same greedy, corrupt corporations that got us into this mess; transfer most of the scant remaining congressional power into private hands and eviscerate judicial or administrative review of the process.

“The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation,” and so begins the Proposal that is perhaps the biggest peacetime (or anytime) transfers of power from Congress through the Administration to private corporations, in history.

Democrats, the American people and patriots of every partisan position, should not drink the $700,000,000,000 Power Punch.  There is no circumstance under which we should tolerate this open theft of public funds, and permanent transfer of Congressional and Judicial power through one man, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, directly to private sector corporations, without oversight, review or accountability. 

The upcoming Congressional elections and the fear inspired in the heart of every incumbent politician are certainly no excuse to capitulate to this brazen, corporate power grab.  Democrats, true-blooded Republicans and the American people should not be intimidated by the rushed, fear-mongering tactics of King Henry Paulson. 

While our economy is in historic trouble, it’s simply impossible that more of the same power without oversight – the same unmitigated, unregulated nonsense that got us into this mess – is the cure to the precipitous plunge the American economy is taking. 

                                  

Wednesday Poem

///

Lay of Rome
Thomas Ybarra

Oh, the Roman was a rogue,

  He erat was, you bettum;

He ran his automobilis

  And smoked his cigarettum;

He wore a diamond studibus

  And elegant cravattum,

A maxima cum laude shirt,

  And a stylish hattum!

…………………………..

He loved the luscious hic-haec-hoc,

  And bet on games and equi;

At times he won, at others, though,

  He got it in the necqui;

He winked (quo usque tandem?)

  At puellas on the Forum,

And sometimes even made

  Those goo-goo oculorum!
…………………………..

He frequently was seen

  At combats gladiatorial,

And ate enough to feed

  Ten boarders at Memorial;

He often went on sprees

  And said, on starting homus,

“Hic labor — opus est,

  Oh, where’s my hic–hic–domus?”
…………………………..

Although he lived in Rome —

  Of all the arts the middle —

He was (excuse the phrase)

  A horrid individ’l;

Ah! what a diff’rent thing

  Was the homo (dative, hominy)

Of far-away B.C.

  From us of Anno Domini.

///

i’m delicious!

3thumbsuppig

JEJU-DO—Meat-eating in Korea is very literal. Humanity’s participation in the food chain is much less disguised than it is in North America, where people are happy to pretend their bacon burgers or pork tenderloin medallions are magically synthesized for the express purpose of being delicious. In Korean, the word for pork is dwaeji gogi — “pig meat.” Most other meats work the same way: insert name of animal, followed by the word for “meat” — not much in the way of linguistic frippery to disguise the fact that meat is basically dead flesh and ripped-apart muscle.

In an unsettling twist, restaurant signage follows suit. Many restaurants advertise specialties with pictures of their dishes, displayed right underneath jovial cartoon versions of whichever animal gave their life for the food. This is especially true of restaurants serving galbi, pork or beef rib meat barbecued over flaming charcoals stuck into the centre of your table.

more from The Walrus here.

rothko matters

Newrothko460

Rothko was interested in the simplified forms that inhabited his paintings, the spread of pigment across the canvas, and how different coloured areas meet; he was also much concerned with the layering of his paintings, from the bare canvas up. He painted from the inside out. Atmospheric photographs of the artist have him seated before an incomplete canvas, smoking and looking into the painted void. Somewhere in the world, an abstract painter is undoubtedly doing the same thing right now. The difference is that it is impossible to do this today without method-acting Rothko. Even he staged these scenes, for the photographer Hans Namuth.

During the 1960s, Rothko’s paintings become poised between the materiality of their surfaces and forms, and the emergence of an image, even if it is an image of nothingness, or an image denied: a blank black screen, or a simple near-horizontal division which we unavoidably see as a horizon, between grey and brown, or black and grey. Rothko cut out the clutter, and in his later work tried to make every single thing count. Someone once said of American abstract painting that Barnett Newman closed the door, Rothko pulled down the blind and Ad Reinhardt turned off the light. Rothko was much vexed by Reinhardt’s black-on-black paintings, with their exquisite impenetrability, their cruciform shapes revealed only as one’s eyes grow attuned to their close tones. Rothko was undoubtedly jealous of them, and even had an affair with Reinhardt’s widow.

more from The Guardian here.

The Pale Cast of Thought

Id_tyree_wallace_ap_0011_2 Josh Tyree on David Foster Wallace, also in The Smart Set:

The toxic yet vacuous phrase “self-indulgent” was often used by the detractors of David Foster Wallace (as if it isn’t self-indulgent to write anything at all). Another accusation, that Wallace was overly cerebral, misses the point completely. As a writer, the guy was as large-hearted as he was big-brained. Don Gately, the recovering narcotics addict in Infinite Jest, is one of the most compassionately drawn and convincingly real characters in contemporary fiction, close in intention, conception, and articulation to a latter-day Leopold Bloom.

I don’t think an essay more hilarious than “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” — Wallace’s account of a botched vacation on a cruise ship — has been written. It ranks with Twain and will endure as long as people want to laugh. His essays often brought forth a sense of exuberant joy, with their meanderings and addictive, often imitated footnotes and mock-scholarly sensibility. Yet Wallace’s fiction also portrays terrible mental darkness, especially what doctors call “major depression.” Wallace’s father told The New York Times that his son suffered from this disease for years, leading to two recent hospitalizations before his apparent suicide. A pair of brilliant and courageous Wallace short stories — “The Depressed Person” in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and “Good Old Neon” in Oblivion — similarly focus on profound psychological agony. With excruciatingly painful detail and a humane laughter that is neither cruel nor belittling, both stories relate the involutions of a consciousness at war with itself, in which the maze-like wandering of thought spirals in futility, deepening the distress without offering any way out. Both stories relate facets of broken-down self-consciousness — severe depression in one case, a terrible feeling of hollowness and fraudulence in the other — that generate a bad feedback loop in which thinking does not help the character to think, or to heal. In Wallace’s fiction, self-reflection is often worse than useless.

An Apology to David Foster Wallace

Id_tyree_wallace_ap_0011 Morgan on David Foster Wallace, in The Smart Set:

Nobody ever really knows why someone else commits suicide — that’s what makes it an ultimate act, an unsettling challenge to those of us who keep on. Anyway, it doesn’t matter why. The death of David Foster Wallace is simply a fact now and we’re the ones who have to deal with it.

I fear that we didn’t do very well by David. We didn’t listen to him closely enough and we kept making him into something that he wasn’t. We called him an ironist. We suggested, often enough, that he was part of The Problem. Or we simply dismissed him as a cute and funny writer with a number of tricks up his sleeve. It was true, of course, that he never came up with a solution — no one has. But he dedicated himself to the problem of America, how to write about it, how to care about it, how to negotiate between loving it and hating it.

Because he was reasonably honest, he ended up taking crap from all sides. To the cultural conservatives he was everything bad about postmodernism. To the postmodernists, he was the wunderkind and court jester who served literary pleasure. But he was neither. He was never willing to fall into either of those camps.

David Foster Wallace has left us with quite a few great essays. Perhaps none is as great as the piece “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I think of it as an anti-manifesto. It is the painstaking elucidation of a genuine conundrum. I call it a genuine conundrum because there is a difference between simply being confused and having earned your confusion. In “E Unibus Pluram,” Wallace lets himself think about literature as a task, literature as something each generation has to try and get right. Bravely, he begins the essay talking about television. He likes television. Goddamit we all like television. He will not join the ranks of those who simply dismiss the boob tube as nothing more than that. Or as Wallace puts it, laconically, “American literary fiction tends to be about U.S. culture and the people who inhabit it.” For Wallace, the central problem is not whether television is good or bad. Television, he wants to say, is constitutive of who we are, and that which is constitutive of who we are is beyond simple value judgments — it has become the necessary ground from which we proceed. You can’t be a writer, you can’t write about how the people around you experience the world, without taking into account that simple but massively important fact. You have to deal with television and other aspects of American popular culture, truly deal with it. And yet, Wallace doesn’t want to be reduced to television. He is confused about just how much he should accept it and how much he should reject it. He is trying to find the right balance in the midst of his confusion.

The rest is silence

From Prospect Magazine:

Wallace Like James Joyce, David Foster Wallace will be remembered—and, by some, fiercely loved—for a book which 99.999 per cent of the world’s population will never read to its end. Wallace hung himself in his home in California on 12th September 2008, aged 46. So Infinite Jest (1996), his second novel, turns out to be his final one, and lines and paragraphs throughout its 1,079 pages now flash in neon: “Help me, I’m depressed.” The neon will fade. It will be a magnificently ambitious book again. But right now it reads like a suicide note.

Wallace’s subjects were depression, addiction, language, advertising, philosophy, tennis—tennis was for Wallace what Catholicism was for Joyce—and, ultimately, America. His books (two novels, three short story collections, several collections of idiosyncratic and original journalism) sold well in the US, less so in Britain. Young writers loved him. On the small, strange planet (or, more accurately, asteroid) inhabited by novelists trying to reinvent the novel, this is the death of Kurt Cobain.

Wallace’s comic mode disguised the fact that his view of life was tragic. The last story in his collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is, I think, one of the great short stories of the past few decades. In it, he tells a story of a man telling an unnamed listener a story about a woman telling him a story about a man raping her. All those frames within frames should push the pain far away, but they don’t, they pull it closer. The story is postmodern and emotionally direct at the same time. That’s very hard to do. It is magnificent.

More here.

BOOKS MAKETH THE MAN

From The Literary Review:

Maddox_09_08 Attempting to tell an author’s life through the books he read is a risky enterprise. In this remarkable new biography of Oscar Wilde, Thomas Wright makes a convincing start with his claim that books were the greatest single influence on his subject’s life. Wilde’s first reading of some of his favourites was, says Wright, ‘as significant as his first meetings with friends and lovers’. Indeed, he later used gifts of books to seduce young men.

Wilde, born in 1854 and raised in a well-to-do, book-filled house in Dublin’s Merrion Square by a literary mother who called herself Speranza and performed public recitations of poetry, devoured the printed word from an early age. At his Enniskillen boarding school, Portora, he ran up a staggering book-bill of £11 5s 9d. The autograph and date (2 September 1865) on his copy of Voltaire’s L’Histoire de Charles XII make it the one book known to have been in his possession at the age of eleven, and mark his excellence in French. At Portora he also mastered the King James Bible, won a prize for Scripture and became a fine classical scholar, preferring Greek to Latin.

The most unconventional aspect of Wilde’s adolescent taste, in Wright’s view, was his love of French fiction. His passion was Balzac. He later said he wept ‘tears of blood’ when he read of the death in prison of the poet Lucien de Rubempré: ‘I was never so affected by any book.’  After Trinity College, Dublin he went on to Magdalen College, Oxford. There, in 1874, Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance struck him with the force of a revelation and he claimed never to travel without this book ‘which has had such a strange influence over my life’.

When disaster struck in 1895 and he was tried and found guilty of ‘gross indecency’, it struck his books too. Auctioneers descended on the house in Tite Street, Chelsea that Wilde shared with his wife Constance and their two sons. His cherished book collection was sold at auction to pay his creditors. According to Wright, who has consulted the ‘Tite Street Catalogue’, Lot 114 included ‘about’ 100 unidentified French novels.

Among the humiliations Wilde suffered after being sent to prison were not only compulsory silence – prisoners were forbidden to speak to one another – but deprivation of books. All he had in his cell at Pentonville, apart from his bed (a plank laid across two trestles), were a Bible, a prayer book and a hymnal. When at last his sympathetic MP won him permission to have more books, Wilde nominated Pater’s The Renaissance along with the works of Flaubert and some by Cardinal Newman. These were allowed, but only at the rate of one a week. Moved to Reading Gaol, he found himself under a more sympathetic prison governor. His book request lists after July 1896 show him developing an interest in more recently published titles, including novels by George Meredith and Thomas Hardy. Wilde later said that he also read Dante every day in prison and that Dante had saved his reason.

More here.

Last Ant Standing

From Science:

Ants Every night, the Brazilian ant Forelius pusillus takes self-sacrifice to a whole new level. At sunset, the colony protects its nest by sealing off the entrances with sand, and a few ants remain outside to complete the job. Unable to reenter, they die by the next morning–making them the first known example of a suicidal defense that is preemptive rather than a response to immediate danger. Social insects are well-known for their willingness to die for their colonies; a number of bees, wasps, and ants succumb after their stings lodge in targets and break off. But until now, these insects were thought to engage in such suicide missions only when enemies were present. Behavioral ecologist Adam Tofilski of the Agricultural University of Krakow, Poland, and his colleagues were studying how F. pusillus dispersed sand in a sugar cane field near São Simão in Brazil when they saw that as many as eight ants remained outside the sealed nests. These ants weren’t stragglers: They deliberately helped hide the entrances, spending up to 50 minutes carrying and kicking sand into the hole until it was indistinguishable from its surroundings.

Come morning, when the nest reopened, these ants were nowhere to be seen. The researchers found out why when they plucked ants left behind into a plastic bowl: Only six of 23 survived the night. These findings, which will appear in the November issue of the journal American Naturalist, show that staying outside was suicidal. “In a colony with many thousands of workers, losing a few workers each evening to improve nest defense would be favored by natural selection,” said co-author Francis Ratnieks, an insect biologist at the University of Sussex, U.K.

The ants stuck outside might be old or sick, Tofilski conjectured.

More here.

simic on roth

Charles_simic

“My fiction is about people in trouble,” Philip Roth told an interviewer after Goodbye Columbus received the National Book Award in 1960.[2] Some of the characters in his novels and stories are in trouble because of their own flaws and the mess they’ve made of their lives, but many of them are either the victims or are in some way implicated in the history of their times. World War II, the McCarthy period, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, political terrorism, Watergate, the women’s movement, and even the administration of President George W. Bush all figure in his most recent books. More and more, in Roth’s fiction, history and the individual are interdependent. He writes about the experience and the accompanying moral conflicts of those left at the mercy of events and ideas over which they have no power, the kind of people for whom official history has no place while ideology, too, passes over them in silence. It’s no exaggeration to say that Roth has been appalled by what has happened politically to his country since the days of Nixon and Vietnam.

more from the NYRB here.

measuring the planet

Solar3

How do we know anything about the Earth’s past climate? Discussions about climate change—its extent, its causes, and what to do about it—often hinge on what we know about our planet’s temperature history. Climate scientists and policymakers routinely talk about the Earth’s “global mean temperature” and compare today’s temperature to a record dating back hundreds of thousands of years. But where does that record come from? And what does it even mean for a single figure to represent the temperature of our entire planet, with its regional diversity and dynamic atmosphere? Scientists have devised ingenious techniques to peer into our planet’s past temperature record, but the picture they give us is a blurry one.

If today you decided that you wanted to know how the climate changes at a certain location, say the base of the Statue of Liberty, you could put a thermometer there and record a measurement at noon every day—or at the beginning of every hour or second, if you want finer resolution. This would ensure that you have a thorough record of fluctuations in temperature at that particular site, from this day forward.

Thanks to scientists (and scientifically-minded amateurs), we have such temperature records dating back more than two centuries for some particular sites. But in discussions of global climate change, the figure of interest is not just the temperature at the feet of Lady Liberty—no single site is wholly representative of the Earth’s complicated climate system—but rather a number representing the Earth’s temperature as a whole. This figure is often cited but rarely explained.

more from The New Atlantis here.

Paul Potts and Gadamer

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino offers this odd juxtaposition in the Manila Standard Today (Philippines) (for Sophie Schulte-Hillen):

‘Britain’s Got Talent” is the United Kingdom’s answer to “American Idol.” Simon Cowell also sits as judge and he is also referred to there as “the nasty Simon.” When Paul Potts, a salesman, announced that he was going to sing opera, it was not really incredulity that registered on the judges’ faces, just a dismissive “Oh, God…”. But as Paul sang the first bars of Nessun Dorma it became clear that here was someone who was not to be dismissed nonchalantly. As he took the song to its climax many in the audience wiped their cheeks, and the lady-judge shed tears unabashedly. Simon put it best when by calling the rendition “a breath of fresh air.” So why does Nessun Dorma appeal in an age of punk and metal?

If an aria from Puccini’s Turandot propelled Potts to stardom almost overnight—although he did figure in several singing events prior to this competition—then indeed Nessun Dorma is a classic, as The Illiad is a classic, as is Macbeth, as is a Bach fugue! Poll Pots won because he sang a beautiful aria beautifully. That is a truth-claim, and the common riposte: beautiful to you, not to me, is just naïve, if not uneducated. I am not saying that whoever dislikes Puccini is a boor (although that might very well be the case); I am saying that whoever recites with unction that well-worn refrain: good to you, not to me; beautiful for you, not for me, should be more reticent about exhibiting intellectual bankruptcy!

Gadamer dwelt on the subject of whether there can be a claim to truth absent the method of scientific inquiry. Do works of art, for example, make a claim to truth? Quite clearly, what truth there might be in a work of art will be different from the truth that astronomers tell us after receiving photos from the Hubble telescope—and even in this respect, we must be warned that they are not just reading, but always interpreting.

The Introduction to Raymond Geuss’ Philosophy and Real Politics

J88091 Over at Princeton University Press:

A strong “Kantian” strand is visible in much contemporary political theory, and even perhaps in some real political practice. This strand expresses itself in the highly moralised tone in which some public diplomacy is conducted, at any rate in the English-speaking world, and also in the popularity among political philosophers of the slogan “Politics is applied ethics.” Slogans like this can be dangerous precisely because they are slickly ambiguous, and this one admits of at least two drastically divergent interpretations. There is what I will call “the anodyne” reading of the slogan, which formulates a view I fully accept, and then there is what I will call the “ethics-first” reading.

The anodyne reading asserts that “politics”—meaning both forms of political action and ways of studying forms of political action—is not and cannot be a strictly value-free enterprise, and so is in the very general sense an “ethical” activity. Politics is a matter of human, and not merely mechanical, interaction between individuals, institutions, or groups. It can happen that a group of passengers in an airplane are thrown together mechanically when it crashes, or that a man slipping off a bridge accidentally lands on a tramp sleeping under the bridge. The second of these two examples is a salutary reminder of the role of contingency and of the unexpected in history, but neither of the two cases is a paradigm for politics.

Republican Liberty

Ellen Meiksins Wood reviews Quentin Skinner’s Hobbes and Republican Liberty in the LRB:

The essence of the ‘republican’ idea as Skinner outlines it here is that liberty is the absence of dependence, and that the mere presence of arbitrary power, whether or not it is exercised in ways that limit the freedom of action, is enough to transform the status of free men into that of slaves. Liberty, in other words, can be lost even in the absence of actual interference. The very existence of arbitrary power, however permissively or even benignly it may be exercised, reduces men to servitude; and free individuals can exist only in free states. The roots of the republican idea are traceable to ancient Rome and to the revival of republicanism in Renaissance Italy. Something like this conception of what it means to be a free man, Skinner argues, became especially prominent in England in the 1640s in opposition to the Crown’s assertion of its discretionary, and hence arbitrary, prerogative rights; and it would give rise to ‘republican’ classics in the writings of Milton, James Harrington and Algernon Sidney.

Hobbes’s three major works of political philosophy, The Elements of Law, De Cive and Leviathan, were designed, Skinner tells us, in direct opposition to parliamentary and radical writers. As the conflict between Parliament and Crown took its course, and his own circumstances changed, he refined and modified his arguments. Elements was not published until 1650, but was privately circulated in 1640, when Parliament was finally convened by Charles I for the first time in 11 years, and members of the Short Parliament were vociferously denouncing the king’s attacks on liberty. Later that year, Hobbes fled to Paris in fear that his absolutist views might put him in danger. He would remain in self-imposed exile for 11 years. His revision of Elements was printed in Paris in 1642, and in 1647 the new version was published in extended and revised form as De Cive. It was the final defeat and execution of the king in 1649 that provoked Hobbes to compose his classic Leviathan. This was, he wrote, ‘a work that now fights on behalf of all kings and all who, under whatever name, hold regal rights’ – an objective which, as Skinner demonstrates, could as easily serve Cromwell as hereditary kings.

Amit Chaudhuri’s Clearing A Space

The key to this rich, provocative and not entirely accessible collection of essays lies in a little piece from 2007, reprinted here from the New Statesman. “Anti-Fusion” lays down an aesthetic that governs Amit Chaudhuri’s recent second career as a musician, and points towards a set of possibilites for the anglophone Indian fiction in which he made his name, a way to push aside the pop postmodernism with which, in his view, it is too often associated. The usual assumption is that fusion music “comprises a departure, scandalous or liberating, from the canonical music traditions”. But Chaudhuri argues that those traditions are themselves “hybrid forms”, and most creative when most restless: when, in trying to incorporate the new, an inherited form sustains an “inner tension between domestication and accommodation”. For him most “fusion” music lacks that inner tension. There might be a face-off between the different traditions on which it draws, but they do not quite manage to transform one another. Too often “the Eastern and Western elements in fusion have a designated static quality that they do not in their own contexts”. So Chaudhuri speaks on behalf of dialectic, not fusion; on behalf of quarrel and assimilation, and not the kind of multi-culti celebration that often winds up confirming our “unexamined beliefs about identity and where we come from”.

Still, Chaudhuri doesn’t quite call for a sense of perpetual flux. He is certainly interested in how newness enters the world. But he is drawn to older things too, and in particular to a conception of modernity that he sees as threatened by the succeeding idea of globalization. A globalized postmodernity excludes as much as it includes, and Chaudhuri is particularly troubled by the way indigenous high culture gets lost in the organizing narratives of postcoloniality and cultural studies. His sense of this has perhaps a touch of caricature. He writes here as an academic responding to the interpretative fictions of other academics, and overemphasizes the degree to which the university has put its weight on the side of popular culture. So I in turn will simplify his own views. He may like Bollywood, but he loves Tagore, and believes there is something wrong with a critical practice that has forgotten the profound moment of cultural dialectic called the Bengal Renaissance. There is more in the past than one thinks to help or enable an Indian writer’s encounter with the West.