Demon and Craftsman: On D.H. Lawrence

D_H_Lawrence_passport_photographJames Longenbach at The Nation:

On November 13, 1915, following a hearing at London’s Bow Street magistrates’ court, D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow was suppressed under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. The magistrate, Sir John Dickinson, ordered that the 1,011 copies of the novel seized from the publisher be destroyed. Speaking for the prosecution, Herbert Muskett expressed “the most profound regret that it should have been necessary…to bring this disgusting, detestable and pernicious work under the notice of the Court.” The publisher was ordered to pay court costs of £10, 10s.

By the time The Rainbow was pulped, its 30-year-old author had published four novels, a play, a book of short stories and a volume of poems. Undaunted by the novel’s suppression, David Herbert Lawrence would in the next decade alone publish another play; two more books of stories; two travel books about Italy; two translations of the Sicilian novelist Giovanni Verga; a groundbreaking work of criticism about a national literature of which not only most Englishmen but many Americans were unaware (Studies in Classic American Literature); two works of speculative psychology (Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious); five novels, including his greatest, a sequel to The Rainbow called Women in Love; and five books of poems, including one of the most brilliant books written by an English-language poet in the twentieth century, Birds, Beasts and Flowers.

more here.

can whale teeth be money?

Spread_tabua_FINAL_1D. Graham Burnett at Cabinet:

Back to the sperm whale teeth. Were they money or not? They could certainly have that feel to a sandalwood trader trying to acquire a lucrative cargo of the fragrant lumber. But it didn’t take long before even those most nuts-and-bolts anthropologists noticed all kinds of un-money-like attributes of the local currency. You couldn’t quite count on your ivories to do what you thought they would do under all circumstances. That troubling randomizer of human behavior—meaning—seemed to inhere in the teeth, and generate various bizarre misunderstandings and conditions. There seemed surfeits of signification in the things—excess powers and unpredictable deficiencies.

For instance, while it was clear that some teeth (the larger, older, amber-hued specimens) received special attention (occupying pride of place in family treasuries and occasioning tenderly solicitous polishing), it did not follow, as one might expect, that such noble tabua traded hands at a consistent premium. Rather, for the preponderance of occasions in which the presentation of a tooth was required by custom (the building of a house, a diplomatic envoy, the death of an elder), it appeared that any tooth would do. Moreover, the “market” in teeth often behaved in what appeared a most irrational fashion. How could it be that a tooth acquired for less than one pound sterling in town could, a short distance away, secure a monster porker that would retail locally for ten? Where were the arbitrageurs?

more here.

For 3 Nobel Winners, a Molecular Mystery Solved

Lawrence K. Altman in The New York Times:

NobelThree Americans won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for discovering the machinery that regulates how cells transport major molecules in a cargo system that delivers them to the right place at the right time. The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm announced the winners: James E. Rothman, 62, of Yale University; Randy W. Schekman, 64, of the University of California, Berkeley; and Dr. Thomas C. Südhof, 57, of Stanford University. Their basic research solved the mystery of how cells, which are factories producing molecules, organize a system to transport the molecules within cells and export them outside. As it turns out, the molecules are moved around the cell in small packages called vesicles, and each scientist discovered different facets of what is needed to ensure that the right cargo is shipped to the correct destination at precisely the right time. For example, pancreatic cells make insulin and release it in the blood. Chemical signals called neurotransmitters are sent from one nerve cell to another to allow people to walk, talk, sing, pull their hand away from a hot stove and communicate. The molecular traffic within cells is as complicated as rush hour in any city, as the discoveries by the three Nobel winners revealed.

The world’s most prestigious scientific award arrived at a particularly dark time for federal science research: the National Institutes of Health, the agency that paid an estimated $49 million to help underwrite the winners’ work, has been forced to send home most of its staff because of the government shutdown. Basic research of the type that just won the Nobel is seen as particularly vulnerable to Capitol Hill budget cutters. “This is a stark reminder of how these are the best of times and the worst of times for American biomedical research,” Dr. Francis Collins, the N.I.H. director, said in an interview on Monday. “Today we celebrate the three N.I.H.-supported Nobel Prize winners, but we’re being slammed by sequestration and a government shutdown.”

More here.

Francois Englert And Peter Higgs Win Nobel Prize In Physics

Dina Spector in Business Insider:

Peter-higgsFrancois Englert, 80, and Peter Higgs, 84, won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for the theory of how particles acquire mass. Englehart and Higgs separately proposed this theory —what became known as the Higgs mechanism — in 1964. The theory also rests on the existence of the Higgs particle — a subatomic particle that provides proof of an invisible field that gives mass to matter.

But nearly five decades would pass before scientists could confirm the existence of a Higgs boson. On July 4, 2012, physicists using the Large Hardon Collider at CERN announced they had found a new particle that had the properties of the long-sought boson. The discovery was hailed at the biggest scientific breakthrough of this century. Higgs, now a professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, is notoriously modest about his involvement with the particle that bears his name.

More here.

looking for the real dante

Harrison_1-102413_jpg_470x717_q85Robert Pogue Harrison at the New York Review of Books:

Professionally trained Dante scholars—I am one of them—believe we have special access to The Divine Comedy’s deeper layers of meaning, yet judged by Dante’s criteria, we are self-deceived. In Inferno 9, Dante challenges his audience with a direct address:

You readers, who are of sound mind and memory,
Pay attention to the lessons woven into the fabric
Of these strange poetic lines.

Who among the members of the Dante Society believes in good faith that he or she possesses the “sound mind” that Dante appeals to here? No one reconstructed the Christian doctrines that supposedly underlie the Comedy’s veils of allegory more piously than the great American Dante scholar Charles Singleton. Yet Singleton was an agnostic who took his own life, and one hopes for his sake that he was right when he declared, “The fiction of the Comedy is that it is not a fiction.” If the poem contains an arcane truth that is predicated on faith—not only in the medieval Christian God but also in Dante’s version of history, with its Holy Roman Emperors and all—then none of us will ever gain full access to it.

more here.

Tuesday Poem

Meditation on a Grapefruit

To wake when all is possible

before the agitations of the day
have gripped you
To come to the kitchen
and peel a little basketball
for breakfast
To tear the husk
like cotton padding a cloud of oil
misting out of its pinprick pores
clean and sharp as pepper
To ease
each pale pink section out of its case
so carefully without breaking
a single pearly cell
To slide each piece
into a cold blue china bowl
the juice pooling until the whole
fruit is divided from its skin
and only then to eat
so sweet
a discipline
precisely pointless a devout
involvement of the hands and senses
a pause a little emptiness

each year harder to live within
each year harder to live without


by Craig Arnold
from: Poetry, Vol. 195, No. 1, October, 2009

The Nobel Prize Is Really Annoying

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

NobelOne of the chapters in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmanis titled “Alfred Nobel’s Other Mistake.” The first being dynamite, of course, and the second being the Nobel Prize. When I first read it I was a little exasperated by Feynman’s kvetchy tone — sure, there must be a lot of nonsense associated with being named a Nobel Laureate, but it’s nevertheless a great honor, and more importantly the Prizes do a great service for science by highlighting truly good work.

These days, as I grow in wisdom and kvetchiness myself, I’m coming around to Feynman’s point of view. I still believe that on balance the Prizes are a very good thing, and generally they honor some of the very best work in physics. (Some of my best friends are winners!) But having written a book about the Higgs boson discovery, which is on everybody’s lips as a natural candidate (though not the only one!), all of the most annoying aspects of the process are immediately apparent.

More here.

The Tyrant as Editor


Holly Case in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Joseph Djugashvili was a student in a theological seminary when he came across the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Bolshevik revolutionary. Thereafter, in addition to blowing things up, robbing banks, and organizing strikes, he became an editor, working at two papers in Baku and then as editor of the first Bolshevik daily,Pravda. Lenin admired Djugashvili's editing; Djugashvili admired Lenin, and rejected 47 articles he submitted to Pravda.

Djugashvili (later Stalin) was a ruthless person, and a serious editor. The Soviet historian Mikhail Gefter has written about coming across a manuscript on the German statesman Otto von Bismarck edited by Stalin's own hand. The marked-up copy dated from 1940, when the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany. Knowing that Stalin had been responsible for so much death and suffering, Gefter searched “for traces of those horrible things in the book.” He found none. What he saw instead was “reasonable editing, pointing to quite a good taste and an understanding of history.”

Stalin had also made a surprising change in the manuscript. In the conclusion, the author closed with a warning to the Germans lest they renege on the alliance and attack Russia. Stalin cut it. When the author objected, pleading that the warning was the whole point of the book, Stalin replied, “But why are you scaring them? Let them try. …” And indeed they did, costing more than 30 million lives—most of them Soviet. But the glory was Stalin's in the end.

The editor is the unseen hand with the power to change meaning and message, even the course of history. Back when copy-proofs were still manually cut, pasted, and photographed before printing, a blue pencil was the instrument of choice for editors because blue was not visible when photographed. The editorial intervention was invisible by design.

More here.

Poetry for an Ailing Homeland


Shaj Mathew in Guernica:

Chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria. After over two years of fighting, the conflict between rebel forces and the government of Bashar al-Assad shows no signs of abatement. Foreign powers may intervene. And yet, the sonorous voice of Adunis, the Syrian-born writer widely considered the world’s foremost Arab poet, has largely been silent. He did write an open letter to Bashar al-Assad in June 2011, but he was roundly criticized by fellow Arab intellectuals as being too soft on the dictator. Perhaps stung by this criticism, he has offered little comment since then.

His absence hasn’t prevented a new vein of Syrian poetry from emerging out of this uprising; a poem by Najat Abdul Samad, translated by Ghada al-Atrash for al Jazeera, epitomizes this movement’s jarring, visceral realism: “I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy/ they hit with an electric stick on his only kidney until he urinated blood./ Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration…/ I bandage it with the outcry: ‘Death and not humiliation.’”

That said, according to fellow Syrian poet Maram al-Masri, “people are waiting for opposition poems from Adunis. He does a little, but for me and for a lot of people, we feel disappointed. It’s not enough. We need the fathers of modern Syrian poetry to speak out.” More damningly, the Iraqi littérateur Sinan Antoon told the Guardian that the Arab Spring has “consigned Adunis, the self-proclaimed revolutionary, to irrelevance.”

More here.

Speak For Yourself: A Meditation on the Marketplace of Ideas

First-amendment-area-243x366Stuart Whatley in LA Review of Books:

How does a marketplace of ideas operate? Most who use the phrase today would say they’re speaking figuratively; a free market itself is a liberal ideal, positing that rational self-interest on the part of individuals will, collectively, lead to the best outcomes. In the realm of ideas, the maxim that “the market knows best” seems promising, but it doesn’t always work out that way. As Cass Sunstein, one critic of the metaphor, notes, valid information can be elusive in an open exchange because of various cognitive biases and information cascades:

Rumor transmission often involves the rational processing of information, in a way that leads people, quite sensibly in light of their existing knowledge, to believe and to spread falsehoods […] the processes that underlie the “marketplace of ideas” sometimes work poorly, because they ensure that many people will converge on falsehoods rather than truth.

Or, as Stendhal observed long ago, “petty despotisms reduce to nothing the value of public opinion.”

Beyond Sunstein’s heuristic critiques, markets in the real world are susceptible to monopolistic machinations, asymmetrical information, and distortions from government, industry, speculation, and malfeasance. It is important to remember that the marketplace of ideas is a market, and it fails as a metaphor for anyone lacking a starry-eyed view of markets themselves. It is not the “contest of opinion” Thomas Jefferson once described in his first inaugural address; there is an aspect of business to it, and with this, certain consequences.

In fact, the metaphor of a market for ideas isn’t really a metaphor at all. It’s a description of public relations, the one industry where ideas are actually supposed to be bought and sold; it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, to learn that it was PR men who helped to bring the “marketplace of ideas” into common usage in the first place.

More here.

3 Quarks Daily is looking for New Monday Columnists

Dear Reader,

6a00d8341c562c53ef010536413bef970b-400wiHere's your chance to say what you want to the large international audience of highly educated readers that make up the 3QD audience. Several of our regular columnists have had to cut back or even completely quit their columns for 3QD because of other personal and professional commitments and so we are looking for new voices. We do not pay, but it is a good chance to draw attention to subjects you are interested in, and to get feedback from us and from our readers.

You would have a column published at 3QD every fourth Monday. It should generally be between 1000 and 2500 words and can be about any subject at all. To qualify for a Monday slot, please submit a one or two paragraph bio and a sample column to me by email (s.abbas.raza.1 at as an MS Word-compatible document, or a URL if what you want us to look at is available online, which I will then circulate to the other editors and we will let you know our decision by about November 4. If you are given a slot on the 3QD schedule, your sample can also serve as your first column if it has never been published anywhere in print or online before. Feel free to use pictures, graphs, or other illustrations in your column. Naturally, you retain full copyright over your writing.

Please DO NOT submit more than one piece of writing, and also do not send the URL for a whole blog or website. I do not have the time to look through multiple postings. Select one piece of writing that you think is representative of the kinds of things you'd like to do at 3QD and just send that please.

Several of the people who started writing at 3QD have gone on to get regular paid gigs at well-known magazines, others have written well-received books. Even those who have not, have written to us saying that it has been a uniquely rewarding experience. If you have a blog or website of your own, please help us to spread this invitation by linking to this post.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 PM New York City time, Sunday, October 13, 2013.



Monday Poem


air once here goes
to fill a vacuum there

the sun no more,
is behind mañana’s door

I can’t recall my last glimpse of you
you went
imagination is your wake

and here comes Go again blazing her trail of tears
while Gone is close behind
sweeping footprints with a green pine bough
from Going’s dust as I pine now

by Jim Culleny

The Terrain of Indignities

by Namit Arora

A review of Unclaimed Terrain, a book of short stories translated from Hindi, and a conversation with its author, Ajay Navaria.

UnclaimedTerrain“Indian writing” is often equated in the West with its small subset: the work of a tiny class of Indians that thinks and writes in English. Salman Rushdie fueled this folly in his introduction to Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947-97, declaring the work of such Indians a ‘more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the “16 official languages” of India’. He co-edited this anthology and of the 32 works of fiction and non-fiction that appear in it, 31 were written in English and one in Urdu, i.e., only one translation made the cut. Some of this lopsidedness can be explained by the paucity of translations into English, but is Rushdie’s judgment defensible in a country where, even today, less than one percent of Indians consider English their first language, less than ten percent their second, and 80 percent of all books are put out by hundreds of vernacular language publishers, including from authors with far greater Indian readership than most who write in English? Rushdie doesn’t even speak most of these languages. Isn’t his claim, then, an instance of linguistic prejudice? Aren’t the dynamics of class in India, and the power of English language publishing in the West, speaking through him?

Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain—a collection of seven short stories translated from Hindi to English by Laura Brueck—shows from its first page how different its world is from those imagined by the Indians in Rushdie’s anthology. Navaria, a faculty member in the Hindi department in Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, may well be the first Dalit to teach Hindu religious scriptures at a major university. He is also the author of a novel and two books of short stories. In Unclaimed Terrain the protagonists of most stories are Dalit men who have clawed their way into the urban middle-class through their wits and education, sometimes with the help of reservations. Many harbor episodic memories of social life in ancestral villages, memories in which bigotry and abuse overwhelm kindness and beauty. They love the anonymity of the big city, even as they live in fear of being “found out” and reminded—in the artful ways of the metropolis—of their “proper place”.

In the story Subcontinent, for instance, the protagonist, as a boy, has seen village men abuse and assault his groveling father and grandma—returning after a stint in the city—for breaking caste taboos. As a boy, he has seen a Dalit wedding party attacked by thugs because the groom has dared to ride a horse in the village, and later that day, a woman of the party being raped: ‘I saw, beneath the white dhoti-clad bottom of a pale pandit-god, the darkened soles of someone’s feet flailing and kicking’. Rather than file a complaint, the village policeman mocks them, ‘They say she was really tasty. Lucky bitch, now she’s become pure!’ In his middle-age, the protagonist, Siddhartha Nirmal, Marketing Manager in a government enterprise in the big city, exults at the distance he has traveled in the world: 3BR flat; car; eating out at Pizza Hut and Haldiram’s, where the counter-boys call him Sir. He can hire the services of a Brahmin doctor, keep a Garhwali Brahmin driver who bows at him, and employ a Bengali music teacher he found on the Internet for his daughter, who goes to an expensive convent school. But such welcome anonymity that the city affords him disappears in familiar spaces, such as his office, which has ‘the same snakes. The same whispers, the same poison-laden smiles. Our “quota is fixed”. I got promoted only because of the quota … that’s it. Otherwise … otherwise, maybe I’m still dirty. Still lowborn. Like Kishan, the office janitor. Like Kardam, the clerk. Because I am their caste.’

Read more »



Inspired by Rumi

“May I borrow your donkey?”
A neighbor asked Kavanagh

Who said, “I'm very sorry,
I loaned out my donkey yesterday.”

At that moment, the donkey brayed
In the barn. The neighbor, believing

The donkey made Kavanagh a liar,
Asked “Then what is that I hear?”

Kavanagh replied, “Friend, are you going
To believe me or a donkey?”

By Rafiq Kathwari, winner of the Patrick Kavangah 2013 Poetry Award.

Darwin, God, Alvin Plantinga, and Evolution (Part II)

by Paul Braterman


Professor Plantinga lecturing, 2009

Prof Alvin Plantinga, of Notre Dame University, is perhaps the most distinguished critic of current views on evolution. He claims that if our conceptual apparatus is simply the product of naturalistic Darwinian evolution, it will generally give rise to unreliable results. From this premise he argues that it is unreasonable to accept naturalistic evolution, since[1] if naturalistic evolution were true, our reasons for accepting it would be unreliable. There is nothing wrong with his logic, but his premise rests on a basic misunderstanding of how evolution works.

Disclosure: around the time of the Kitzmiller-Dover trial, Prof Plantinga and I had a long e-mail correspondence, now unfortunately lost during a University mail system upgrade. I remember, however, the final exchange. He said that Behe, Dembski, and Thaxton, advocates of three different versions of Intelligent Design, had produced arguments that required an answer. In reply, I said that I totally agreed; the answer was, in each case, that they were wrong. Prof Plantinga did not reply.

Disclaimer: I have no credentials when it comes to philosophy. But let me plead in mitigation that Prof Plantinga has no credentials when it comes to evolutionary biology.

According to Plantinga, a belief is warranted when it is produced by cognitive functions working properly, according to a design plan aimed at producing true beliefs. The design plan could be produced by an agent (God, or a super-scientist), or by evolution. This convoluted definition is necessary to bypass cases that puzzle philosophers, such as, is a belief warranted when it happens to be true but we hold it for bad reasons.[2] Plantinga's position is encapsulated in the title of his 1993 book, Warrant and Proper Function.

I have three problems here. One is the choice of words; design plan and aim have connotations of foresightful agency, and it would be better to use neutral terms such as adaptationand tendency to produce. The second is circularity; how do we define proper function, if not in terms of giving warrant to beliefs when appropriate? The third, which is really a consequence of the second, is that it is useless in real disagreements, because it begs the question. For example, Prof Plantinga tells us that he possesses a sense of the divine, which he regards as a warrant. But how can he know that this is a warrant, unless he already knows that this sense is leading him towards the truth? And what, then, of Darwin's objection (Part I); how can we have confidence in the beliefs that this sense induces, when those who claim to possess it differ so forcibly among themselves?

Read more »

David Grossman v. Max Blumenthal

Corey Robin in his blog:

51-jsDj2gPL._SY300_Anyone familiar with Max Blumenthal’s journalism—in print or video (his interviews with Chicken Hawk Republicans are legendary)—knows him to be absolutely fearless. Whether he’s exploring the id of American conservatism orthe contradictions of Israeli nationalism, Max heads deep into the dark places and doesn’t stop till he’s turned on all the lights.

Courage in journalism requires not only physical fortitude but also an especially shrewd and sophisticated mode of intelligence. It’s not enough to go into a war zone; you have to know how to size up your marks, not get taken in by the locals with their lore, and know when and how to squeeze your informants.

Max possesses those qualities in spades. With laser precision, he zeroes in on the most vulnerable point of his subjects’ position or argument—he reminds me in this respect of an analytical philosopher—and quietly and calmly takes aim. In academia, this can make people squirmy and uncomfortable; in politics, it makes them downright nasty and scary. But Max remains unflappable; he’s never fazed. And that, I think, is because he’s not interested in making people look foolish or absurd. He’s not a gonzo of gotcha. He’s genuinely interested in the truth, and knows that the truth in politics often lurks in those dark caves of viciousness.

Max’s new book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel has just come out. It’s a big book, but it’s conveniently organized into short chapters, each a particular vignette capturing some element of contemporary Israeli politics and culture (not just on the right but across the entire society).

More here.

How to Write a Crap Philosophy Essay

James Lenman of Sheffield University:

Essay_-_Stations_of_the_CrossAlways begin your essay along these lines: “Since the very dawn of time the problem of free will has been considered by many of the greatest and deepest thinkers in history.”

Always end your essay along these lines: “So it can be seen from the above arguments that there are many different points of view about the free will problem.”

Whenever in any doubt as to what to say about X, say, apropos of nothing in particular and without explanation, that X is extremely subjective.

When that gets boring, try saying that X is all very relative. Never say what it is relative to.

Use language with as little precision as possible. Engage heavily in malapropism and category mistakes. Refer to claims as “arguments” and to arguments as “claims”. Frequently describe sentences as “valid” and arguments as “true”. Use the word “logical” to mean plausible or true. Use “infer” when you mean “imply”. Never use the expression “begging the question” with its correct meaning but use it incorrectly as often as possible.

More here. [Thanks to David Livingstone Smith.]

Sunday Poem

On The Shore

The winter sun was at its zenith.
His head poking above dry grass on a riverbank,
an old man of eighty-nine was fishing.
Holding a pole,
talking over old times with winter fish
swimming under reflected scatterd clouds,
he died.
The glittering
sun was lowering.
A cabbage butterfly tottered
toward the other bank.

Fish were calling the old man.
A small red cork
bobbing up and down,
made faint ripples.
by Shinjiro Kurahara
from Iwana
publisher Dowaya, Tokyo, 2010
translation Mariko Kurihara, William I. Elliott, Katsumasa Nishihara