Philosophical Moods

by Jalees Rehman

Nietzschean, Heideggerian, fascist, anarchist, libertarian, brilliant genius, blabbering nutjob – these and many other labels have probably been used to describe Peter Sloterdijk, who is one of Germany's most widely known contemporary philosophers. He has achieved a rock-star status in the echelons of contemporary German thinkers, perhaps because none is more apt than Sloterdijk at fulfilling the true purpose of a public intellectual: inculcating his audience with an insatiable desire to think. His fans adore him; his critics are maddened by him. Few, if any, experience indifference when they encounter the provocateur Sloterdijk.


Sloterdijk achieved fame in Germany after publishing his masterpiece “Kritik der zynischen Vernunft” (English translation: “Critique of Cynical Reason“) in 1983, but his hosting of the regular late-night talk show “Das Philosophische Quartett” on the major German TV network ZDF for ten years turned him into a cultural icon and a household name. I realize that it might seem strange to non-Germans that philosophers instead of comedians can host TV talk shows, however Sloterdijk would probably be the first to agree that there isn't much of a difference between a true comedian and a true philosopher. Not only do we Germans have TV philosophers, we even enjoy the TV gossip and cockfights that they indulge in. When the ZDF network decided to get rid of Sloterdijk and replace him with the younger, more handsome and less thoughtful philosopher Richard David Precht, they start engaging in reciprocal mockery and name-calling.

Unfortunately, Sloterdijk is not quite so well-known in the English-speaking world and this may in part be due to the fact that much of his oeuvre has only recently been translated into the English language. It is no easy feat to translate his writings, in part because his playful mastery of German words is one of his signatures. Sloterdijk is a wonderful story-teller who weaves in beautiful images and puns into his narration, many of which are unique to the German language. His story-telling also makes it difficult to understand some of his texts in the original German. One may be enthralled by his stories, but after reading a whole chapter or book, it is quite difficult to condense it into a handy “message” or “point”. Sloterdijk is a professional digressor, going off on tangents that are entertaining and exciting, but at times quite frustrating. He shares his brilliant insights on a broad range of topics ranging from metaphysics to politics with his readers, but he also offers practical advice on how we can change our lives as well as bizarre and pompous statements.

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Monday Poem

—on the occasion of an unexpected email from an old
friend who'd abruptly withdrawn from conversation
some years earlier without explanation


Just wondering if worlds seen from a distance
really are smaller than they are
Could it be that when we sleep
the world we leave goes on without us
Maybe you remember the old days
when greenhorns multiplied their joys
and were thoughtless as a new moon
Is it possible that, from upstairs,
everything is seen through a rose window
crisp as Venus or is nothing to be seen between us
Perhaps, in your wintering,
you needed to spend some years
on an island being tuned
when suddenly you cleared your gears
and thought I might be snow shoveling
this morning on the cusp of spring
I wanted to ask if maybes still exist
or if tomorrow is so sure a thing
So, are you still counting coup
on the enemies of the morning dew
I hadn’t heard, so thought I’d start a new tale
of thoughts that may never have been played,
thoughts naked as the first babe born today
Have you noticed something odd
—that nothing ever changes but the color
of the feather in the hat band of god
Could I
Would you
What the
And why the unworn soles of the shoes
on the tongue of the dancer —bad luck?
When did you say you last caught
glimpses of the ghosts you fought
I never asked, but I suspect
you’re still stuffed with words,
a cornucopia of clever corkscrews
in our alphabet
Possibly it’s a mistake,
but even god's not perfectly awake
For what it’s worth breakfast’s the best meal of the day
The sun’s a fresh egg, the clouds white albumin
—ahead? a day with plenty of time and space to stew in
Guess I could just jot something down
recalling our bridges of contention
with their steel beams and tenuous
cables of suspension
If it’s not too much to ask (you asked
—the paper being so unreliable these days
and TV a joke)
how’s the weather?

Fine , and yours?
as fine, I hope

by Jim Culleny

The Café between Pakistan and Afghanistan

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

6a017ee9ca5f10970d017d426fcac6970c-800wiTorkham, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, felt like an utter release— as if we were random things, a fistful of summer insects set free in space. This, of course, was before the Soviet war. I was in elementary school.

Dwarfed by the standoffish ice blue mountains on the road to Torkham, we loved the bridge one must drive under twice, once before and once after a loop. Where Peshawar of the ‘70s was a nest of “jhoola parks” with stone slides, school routine, snack bars, badminton for girls, street cricket for boys, Torkham was a rush of freedom.

Sunlight hit the rocks here in a way that kept shadows minimal, the boundlessness was the essence of the place and a contradiction to the bitterly disputed Durand line, the artificial boundary that stared you in the eye with a chilling animosity, and worse to be reprimanded by the guards that it was forbidden even to straddle the rope that marked the border and to declare proudly as we did: “look, look, this is how to be in two countries at once!” Afghanistan was silent and unfriendly in the distance as we stood sobered and chastised for mocking the sanctity of the divide that the miserable rope represented. This corridor between countries, this no-man's land demanded veneration as if it had an invisible flag and a soundless anthem of its own. It filled us with awe and a little disgust until the frowning guard gave us a watermelon to make up for spoiling the moment. [Photo shows the author at Torkham in 1977.]

My brothers must have enjoyed the treeless, rugged mountains, the wide embrace of the sun, the cool wind whipping, shalwars swelling like sails. I preferred to gaze at this generosity of grayness, angularity and sun from the café window. There was only one café, with nothing on the menu except for Coca Cola and tea sandwiches but the place was magical and never felt lacking in anything. Peshawar being desperately short of tourist attractions, my father used to bring his overseas guests to Torkham. We came here so often that my younger brother served as a perfect tourist guide, somehow communicating to the Japanese, British, or American guests all the tourist worthy aspects of a place more historical than any of us realized then.

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…And Thanks For All The Fish

by Misha Lepetic

“Fish is as natural in Fulton Market as they are in their own briny element.”
~Harper's Magazine, 1867

Elliott_Erwitt_Fulton_Fish_Market_New_York_1276_67Followers of the New York City food scene have recently been galvanized by yet another all-too-predictable brawl between, on the one hand, real estate developers and the city and, on the other, scrappy entrepreneurs bent on preserving another endangered aspect of New York's urban heritage. In this case, the contested site is the Fulton Fish Market, whose fishmongering operations had already decamped to the Bronx back in 2005. Since then, two sizable waterfront buildings have remained astonishingly, unconscionably empty. In the meantime, the New Amsterdam Market, founded by Robert LaValva, has grown its following with increasingly successful seasonal, weekly markets, conducted in the shadow of the old fish market for the last seven years.

Not only has New Amsterdam Market been steadily expanding since its 2005 inception, but LaValva's vision is decidedly more ambitious: to re-occupy the former market buildings and create an urban market as worthy of New York as Reading Terminal Market is of Philadelphia, as La Bocqueria is of Barcelona, or as Les Halles once was of Paris. This unstoppable force has, unsurprisingly, run into the immovable object of what we may call the “city-developer complex.”

But in order to understand what it would take to recreate the Fulton Market, it is instructive to look back to its genesis. Markets tend not spring wholly formed from the minds of expert city planners, visionary mayors, or magnanimous philanthropists; nor do they manifest themselves in some sui generis manner from self-organizing associations of merchants. They are messy affairs, constantly contended and never fully secure. What, then, drives the creation – and maintenance – of a successful urban market?

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Cardiac surgery is not so bad

by Syed Tasnim Raza

Coronary_artery_bypassThis is a response to the article “A Cardiac Conundrum” by Alice Park in the March-April 2013 issue of Harvard Magazine. The article mostly discusses a new book: Broken Hearts: The Tangled History of Cardiac Care by David S. Jones, which I have not read, so the following comments are only in response to the article itself, which may or may not represent the book exactly. I am a heart surgeon and I will limit my comments to the parts of the article referring to coronary artery bypass graft operations, not to angioplasties.

The author indicts coronary artery bypass operations, which are performed widely by claiming that they “provided little or no improvement in survival rates over standard medical and lifestyle treatment except in the very sickest patients.”

Let me start by giving a little historical perspective, slightly different then the author's recalling. Until 1896, surgeons were too afraid to even attempt suture of the heart. In that year Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt repaired a stab wound to the heart of a young man, who survived, thus beginning the era of heart surgery. From then until the 1950's most attempts at heart operations were largely unsuccessful. It is only after the development of the Heart-Lung machine (John Gibbon 1952) and it's further improvement at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, between 1955 and 1960, that the modern era of heart surgery began. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which is blockage of coronary arteries by atherosclerotic plaques and can result in a heart attack was recognized mostly by indirect methods or post-mortem, until 1958, when selective coronary angiography was developed at the Cleveland Clinic. Before then it was the symptoms of CAD namely angina which was clinically recognized and attempts at surgical treatment for angina had been made since 1930's including denervation of the heart, surgically causing inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart (pericardium), hoping that it would result in formation of new blood vessels (Beck's operation) and in 1960's implantation of Internal mammary artery into the muscle of the left ventricle with the hopes that new blood vessels would form (Vineburg operation). All these operations were unsuccessful and are of historical interest only. It was only after selective coronary angiography was possible in 1958, that Favalaro developed the operation that is now referred to as coronary artery bypass graft (CABG, pronounced cabbage) surgery. The first successful operation was performed in late 1967. The results of this operation were such a vast improvement over any other treatment then available that it was taken up by surgeons everywhere and by early 1990's over half a million such operations were being performed annually throughout the United States.

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Five new poems from ‘Over the Rainbow’, the central section of ‘The Forgetting and Remembering of Air’, (Salt Publishing), due May 2013

by Sue Hubbard


“When the Fuehrer has won the war, he has promised me that I can go to
Hollywood and play my own part in the film of our life story.”

Not long out of the convent, balanced on Herr Hofmann's ladder
in search of files I knew, when you entered the studio you were looking
at my legs, that the hem of my newly shortened skirt wasn't straight.
With your funny moustache, English coat and big felt hat,
I saw my destiny – though you forbade me dance or smoke,
abandoned me to brood and pine, do gymnastics by the lake.
Afternoons I'd shop for Ferragamo shoes, change and re-change my dress,
read romantic novels while you built an Empire to last a thousand years.
Betrothed to the Nation you'd say I was your secretary when you dined at
The Berghof with generals and dukes, refused me marriage for fear your
children might be mad. It wasn't much of a wedding, though I'd waited
15 years. Your favourite black dress and diamond watch, I had my hair
especially curled. Alone amid the long shadows of the bunker, you gave me
my wedding gift, the thin glass vial placed like a fresh-water pearl in my palm.
I understood what was expected as the radio announced the Russians closing
in, saw what you'd done to Blondi. Man and wife for less than 40 hours.
Now I, too, will be etched on the glorious tomb of history,
this trace of bitter almonds smeared like your last kiss upon my lips.


Not even a blonde. That came later.
She was born brunette, Norma, a sad neglected child,
her mother in an institution for the crazed.
In the orphanage she told stories – how Cary Grant
was her father who'd carry her off away from
the reek of poverty that seeped beneath
the chipped green doors, the echoing linoleum
scrubbed with carbolic to a God-fearing shine,
those grey-tinged sheets stale with another's breath.
But in front of my lens her skin had that special glow.
The walk, the wiggle, the pout, you know,
were all invented. I shot her in leopard-skin,
lithe among the long grass,
and poised beneath a parasol, her white
broderie anglaise cinched tight to give an hour-glass waist,
then in front of the washroom glass with it hitched,
knowingly, around her thighs.
Even towards the end, dizzy with bourbon and Nembutal
she gave everything she had, as if the camera
was her one true love. Yet when you looked deep
into her eyes she had already become a ghost.
They had to smash in the door with a poker,
found her nude body face down, sprawled
diagonally across the bed, a bottle of pills,
and her left hand touching the ivory telephone
as if there was still one last thing she wanted to say.


June, the Chelsea streets blousy with petrol fumes
and dust, and across the cobbled mews
the private suddenly exposed like a glimpse
of dirty washing as a door bursts open
and she runs flushed, mascara-streaked,
into the evening air. He is her fifth.
Married a hundred days and nothing
but shouting. There are rumours that he's gay.
Next morning he's woken from a drunken sleep
by a trilling phone, discovers the bathroom locked,
the front door flung open. Clambering over the roof
he finds her slumped on the toilet,
dry blood caked around her mouth and nostrils.
They carry away her emaciated frame, draped
like a folded coat across the policeman's arm,
hidden by a blanket. Forty-seven and fading fast,
past the middle way. But oh, how we loved her;
forgave that broken voice, the barbiturate slur
as we watched Dorothy's ruby slippers
bear our childhood dreams to the Emerald City
just a step beyond the rain.

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