Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
For a philosopher, one well-traveled route to renown is to stake out a position and defend it tirelessly against all comers. That was not Hilary Putnam’s style. When Putnam died last year at 89, the tributes to the Harvard philosopher, mathematician, and computer scientist almost invariably noted his willingness to change his mind. Martha Nussbaum, who declared Putnam "one of the greatest philosophers this nation has ever produced," argued that his generosity and curiosity prevented him from slipping into intransigence, and that "being led to change was to him not distressing but profoundly delightful." Among those who led him to delightful change over the years, it turns out, was his wife, Ruth Anna Putnam. They are the co-authors of a new book, Pragmatism as a Way of Life: The Lasting Legacy of William James and John Dewey (Harvard University Press), which contains 27 essays — 10 by Hilary, 15 by Ruth Anna, and two by both of them — that make a case for the relevance of pragmatism and attempt to rescue it from those who, in their view, have taken its good name in vain.
The book is engaging on its own merits, but it’s also notable for being the combined effort of a high-profile intellectual couple. Other philosophical couples, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, come to mind, though the Putnams never achieved that level of renown, nor was their personal life ever on public display. And while they co-wrote an essay or two along the way, their professional lives existed mostly in separate realms, at least until now. Pragmatism as a Way of Life is, among other things, an argument for the value of philosophy. As the Putnams see it, pragmatism means thinking about the world "in ways that are relevant to the real problems of real human beings." It’s an approach to philosophy that manages to be humble and hopeful while, for the most part, keeping its feet firmly on the ground.
Colin Dayan in Avidly:
I awakened one morning with the name “Dorothy Dandridge” floating, it seemed, above me.
I knew the name but had no idea why. My mother, the woman of glamour who reserved a sneer only for me, admired Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and later, when I was older, Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson. I do not recall her ever mentioning or even listening to Dorothy Dandridge. So the weekend after the name sounded out over my head that early morning, I forgot about the Nashville heat and read “Everything and Nothing,” her purported autobiography, and Donald Bogle’s biography. The latter still sits on my desk with a photo of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.
…So Dorothy Dandridge scared people. Too black and too white, or neither black nor white, she fit nowhere. She made viewers think, even when singing about sex. Knowing in her bones how race hatred, ever inventive, traveled from the South to Hollywood, though under cover as entertainment—perhaps even more pernicious and long lasting because of that—she threatened. Her rendition of “You Do Something to Me” is a call to arms. She literally blasts through her guise of demureness and hesitation, with the dare in her eyes, what she does with her hands. And then when she parts the frontal split in her long dress before she strides forward among a phalanx of men, it’s a severance as fierce as the parting of the Red Sea, and at the same time, somehow fantastically, it is also the consummate seduction. Even in her early 3-minute “soundies” in the early ’40s, she played her femininity to the hilt, even as she crushed it under foot. Whom was she fighting? What did she fight against? At a time when blackface was common, jungle movies scintillated, and a black woman could expect to play only maids or mammies, she was the first African American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award playing opposite Harry Belafonte in Carmen Jones (the year of Brown vs. Board of Education); the first to break the color barrier at the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria; the first to appear on the cover of Time and Life, although the article in Time reduced her compelling talent and promise to the “wriggling” of a “caterpillar on a hot rock.”
When thinking about the tragedy of her life, it’s both easy and strategic to blame it on inner demons, a mean, aloof mother, or a penchant for abusive men. But it is instructive and urgent now to understand what her story tells us about a particular history of the United States. Its peculiar and long-lived brand of racism depends for its sustenance on an intricately contrived practice of subjugation that succeeds most when its object is most celebrated and apparently indomitable. The more Dandridge surpassed the expectations of a white world, the less she was expected to do. At the height of her fame and glory, she could not find a role here, though she persisted in breaking the color codes of the Flamingo in Las Vegas, as she made sure her band could enter the front doors as she had; introducing Martin Luther King at a rally in 1963; and, in one story, after she put her toe in the pool at another hotel in Las Vegas, it was promptly drained.
Song for Those Who Know
Something must be done right away
that much we know
but of course it's too soon to act
but of course it's too late in the day
oh we know
we know that we're really rather well off
and that we'll go on like this
and that it's not much use anyway
oh we know
we know that we are to blame
and that it's not our fault if we are to blame
and that we're to blame for the fact that it's not our fault
and that we're fed up with it
oh we know
and that maybe it would be a good idea to keep our mouths shut
and that we won't keep our mouths shut all the same
oh we know
oh we know
and we also know that we can't help anybody really
and that nobody really can help us
oh we know
and that we're extremely gifted and brilliant
and free to choose between nothing and naught
and that we must analyze this problem very carefully
and that we take two lumps of sugar in our tea
oh we know
we know all about oppression
and that we are very much againstit
and that cigarettes have gone up again
oh we know
we know very well that the nation is heading for real trouble
and that our forecasts have usually been dead right
and that they are not of any use
and that all this is just talk
oh we know
that it's just not good enough to live things down
and that we are going to live them down all the same
oh we know oh we know
that there is nothing new in all this
and that life is wonderful
and that's all there is to it
oh we know all this perfectly well
and that we know all this perfectly well
oh we know that too
oh we know it
oh we know
Hans Magnus Enzensberger
from The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry
Vintage Books, 1996
Maya Jasanoff in The Guardian:
Investigative journalists know that the way into a great story is to “follow the money”. In this vivid history of one of the world’s most celebrated gemstones, the Indian diamond known as the Koh-i-Noor, Anita Anand and William Dalrymple put an inventive twist on the old maxim. “Follow the diamond,” they realise, and it can lead into a dynamic, original and supremely readable history of empires.
Well before diamonds became a western synonym for wealth, Hindu scriptures endowed gems with magical, even divine, qualities, while central Asians – including 16th-century India’s Mughal rulers – prized rubies as tangible distillations of the light of the setting sun. On festive occasions the Mughal emperor would have himself weighed against offerings of gems, pearls and gold presented by his courtiers – and then distribute the treasure among the people. The imperial treasury of the 1600s, as described by a handful of gasping visitors, cascaded with gems of exceptional size, clarity and colour.
Which of these loose stones was the Koh-i-Noor nobody can say, but by the middle of the 1600s it had pride of place in the magnificent Peacock Throne, commissioned by the emperor Shah Jahan. There would be no greater statement of Mughal splendour than this orgiastic jewel-encrusted confection, “without parallel in any of the treasure of past or present kings” – and no greater prize for any of the Mughals’ enemies. In 1739, the Persian ruler Nader Shah swept into Delhi and conquered the capital in a frenzy of carnage. The throne – with the Koh-i-Noor embedded in it – left India in “a haemorrhage of booty”, carried into Persia on the backs of thousands of elephants, camels and horses.
Jazmine Hughes in The NYT Magazine:
Welteroth’s guiding instinct was that Teen Vogue needed to widen its scope beyond beauty and fashion. ‘‘I felt like there was an opportunity to go a little deeper and to feature a different type of girl: someone who actually used their platform to be a role model and to be a thought leader. There was something shifting in the zeitgeist.’’ If it was going to continue to exist as a teen magazine, it would have to acknowledge that its readers cared about politics and social activism and sexual identity, topics it had avoided in the past.
Five months later, after the presidential election, Teen Vogue published an online-only article by Lauren Duca titled, ‘‘Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,’’ and suddenly, adults started paying attention. When Welteroth appeared on ‘‘The Daily Show’’ with Picardi, Trevor Noah asked them a question that, presumably, most of his audience was thinking: How had Teen Vogue established itself as a formidable source of political commentary? ‘‘If you guys have haters who say, ‘What do you guys know about journalism?’ how do you respond?’’ Noah asked. Picardi, who edited Duca’s article, snickered. But Welteroth grew serious. By that point, she had published four issues, including a ‘‘For Girls, by Girls’’ issue, which featured an essay by Hillary Clinton, along with interviews of Loretta Lynch, who was then the attorney general, carried out by the actress Yara Shahidi, and the activist Gloria Steinem, conducted by the actress Amandla Stenberg. Her ‘Smart Girls Speak Up!’’ issue, guest-edited by Shahidi and the actress Rowan Blanchard, suggested Ta-Nahisi Coates’s ‘‘Between the World and Me’’ and ‘‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’’ by Zora Neale Hurston as book-club picks.
Gordon Douglas at Public Books Monthly:
H. P. Lovecraft seems to have been, as his longtime interrogator and interpreter Alan Moore has written, “an almost unbearably sensitive barometer of American dread,” whose writing reflects precisely the fears of the “white, middle-class, heterosexual, Protestant-descended males who were most threatened by the shifting power relationships and values of the modern world.” In this way, the eccentric horror writer was also, however problematically, a perceptive observer of America’s growing cities and new social problems—a kind of Robert Park or Upton Sinclair, but more fearful and mean.
Moore is no generous devotee of Lovecraft’s work. He has been deeply engaged with it for a couple of decades now, and has just as long been engaged in simultaneous tributes and critiques that darkly tweak and parody it in ways that would have made Lovecraft squirm. This is important in the context of the 80 years since Lovecraft’s death, during which generations of readers and scholars have mostly embraced his work with far too little critique. His almost entirely posthumous fame spawned an entire genre of weird fiction and a still flourishing world of interconnected, self-referential fantasy writing (the so-called Cthulhu Mythos) that is somewhere between a shared fictional universe and nerdy fanfic. Only quite recently has his work received a spate of explicitly critical engagements, which not only call out, but also probe and prod, Lovecraft’s racism and other faults. Indeed this has to some extent become a new standard of popular engagement with his work, at least as judged by prominent additions to the mythos last year (Victor LaValle’s Ballad of Black Tom, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country), and a new biography (W. Scott Poole’s In the Mountains of Madness). Strangest among these, yet perhaps also the deepest and in some ways the most faithful, are the multiple projects by Moore and his collaborator, the artist Jacen Burrows, the culmination of which is the just-concluded 12-issue comic book series Providence.
Iain Sinclair at The Guardian:
A voice. “Are you on the street?” Reverberating footfall in the underpass. And an urgent call demanding acknowledgement. He hustled after me, swearing, smacking a fist into his open palm. We moved, pursuer and pursued, in steady bank holiday drizzle, down a slippery, stone-flagged ramp towards the laby-rinth of borough engineer Sidney Little’s reinforced concrete subterranea: a buried swimming pool, a vault to take cars away from the promenade, a marine walkway pressed against a wall of broken bottles. Like a reliquary for beachside drinking schools, the thirsty ones at the end of the land.
Panoramic sea windows, lacking glass, are set in expectation of invasions still to come. (Between 1940 and 1944, Little had a sideline, working with the Admiralty on the construction of a concrete Mulberry harbour for the D-day landings.) Hastings in the 1930s, in the borough engineer’s pomp, was a punt at the better way: sanctioned leisure time for all, seasonal tourism as a benefit. And smooth rail connections to the capital, the Smoke. Open roads, carving through the humped folds of the chalk downs, beneath the outlines of mythical giants, were celebrated in collectable posters by the finest artists and designers. Cars were not yet weapons of choice, primed for mindless assault on the crowd, those who are privileged to walk freely in the city.
Michael Dirda at the Washington Post:
Ours is a great age for classical translation. Just in the past dozen years, Virgil’s “Aeneid” has been tackled by Robert Fagles, Stanley Lombardo, Frederick Ahl, Sarah Ruden and, now, David Ferry, who previously gave us the best modern English version of Horace’s odes . Being the work of an award-winning poet, Ferry’s “Aeneid” can be read with excitement and pleasure — but so can all those other translations. What really matters is to read at least one of them.
Born in 70 BCE, Publius Vergilius Maro, commonly known as Virgil, was the greatest of all Roman poets. After a childhood spent in provincial Mantua, he was educated in Milan and Naples, as we would now call them, and finally arrived in Rome around the time Lucretius brought out his cosmological masterwork, “On the Nature of Things,” and Catullus published his overheated love poems. Virgil’s genius was quickly recognized and his later career, as well as that of his friend Horace, was partly fostered by the proverbially rich Maecenas, an ardent patron of the arts.
According to early biographies, the poet was tall, shy and of a philosophical temperament. The unreliable Suetonius adds that “he very often suffered from stomach and throat troubles, as well as with headache; and . . . ate and drank but little.
i think of it as a raw
boy & ..a first clever
step ..boy without
bridle .. and i think of it
as a wrecked
… wing fluttering
coast to crude
landfill .. & i
think of it as dust
on a page in some attic
across from some former
convent …. as a hurt
no skin .. no bone
.. & i think
of it as the daughter .. i
said i never wanted .. & found
myself keeping … daughter
of the beat morning
daughter of the cracked
by Jim Bell
from Crossing the Bar
Slate Roof Press, 2005
Rafia Zakaria in Prospect Magazine:
Kamila Shamsie’s Man Booker-nominated novel Home Fire begins with a scene that will be familiar to many Muslims. A western airport, a suspicious security guard and a humiliated subject whose belongings are displayed for inspection. The traveller in question is Isma who has just started her PhD in America. Luckily, she has rehearsed her answers with her younger sister Aneeka, whom she has raised along with her twin brother since their parents’ deaths. As the story unfolds, we learn that Isma has more reason than most to be worried. Her father abandoned the family years ago to become a jihadist and died while being taken to Guantanamo, leaving the shadow of suspicion forever on his children. And her brother Parvaiz, following in his footsteps, has joined Islamic State. To complicate things further, Aneeka gets romantically involved with Eamonn Lone, son of the assimilated British Muslim Home Secretary Karamat Lone. The affair’s ultimate outcome will be familiar to readers who know Sophocles’ Antigone, of which Home Fireis a modern re-telling: after her brother’s death, Aneeka appeals to her lover’s father for him to be buried in Britain, not be banished back to Pakistan.
Shamsie’s prowess as a storyteller infuses Home Fire with an addictive vitality. Her deft delineation of gradations of religiosity (the elder Lone’s scepticism of the hijab, for example) and class (the younger Lone’s posh west London digs against the dowdy environs of Aneeka’s Wembley) reveal the complexities of a community too often reduced to stereotypes. It is not just the skill with which Shamsie wraps this story around its Sophoclean bones that makes Home Fire distinctive; it is also the care with which she humanises her characters.
Jonathan Stevenson in the NYT:
In his 1960 book “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto,” Rostow posited that robust growth was a nation’s best insurance against the political emergence of Communism, and cast growth as a multistage process that depended crucially on a “takeoff” period propelled by rapid expansion in key segments of an economy. Though criticized as tendentiously Western-centric, the book attracted Kennedy’s attention. In a matter of months, Rostow moved from holding forth in the academy to planning America’s strategy in Vietnam, tightly guided by his ideas about economic development.
Most leading civilian strategists, who were so inventive and authoritative on nuclear strategy, steered a safe middle course between withdrawal and escalation in Vietnam, and did not enunciate big strategic concepts to guide the prosecution of the war. Rostow was different. He believed that the Vietcong were impeding South Vietnam’s advancement to the takeoff stage, and that the United States therefore needed to expend all necessary military and diplomatic means to stop the Vietcong’s guerrilla infiltration. This was a neatly packaged but narrow vision that both opened the door to expansive military action but also reduced it to an adjunct of politics and economics.
Jamie Bartlett in Aeon:
Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, large centralised bureaucracies grew up to manage them. Those governments best able to unify their regions, store records, and coordinate action (especially war) grew more powerful vis-à-vis their neighbours. Revolutions – especially in the United States (1776) and France (1789) – helped to create the idea of a commonly defined ‘national interest’, while improved communications unified language, culture and identity. Imperialistic expansion spread the nation-state model worldwide, and by the middle of the 20th century it was the only game in town. There are now 193 nation-states ruling the world.
But the nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority is increasingly out of step with the world. And as Karl Marx observed, if you change the dominant mode of production that underpins a society, the social and political structure will change too.
The case against the nation-state is hardly new. Twenty years ago, many were prophesising its imminent demise. Globalisation, said the futurists, was chipping away at nation-states’ power to enforce change. Businesses, finance and people could up sticks and leave. The exciting, new internet seemed to herald a borderless, free, identity-less future. And climate change, internet governance and international crime all seemed beyond the nation-state’s abilities. It seemed too small to handle international challenges; and too lumbering to tinker with local problems. Voters were quick to spot all this and stopped bothering to vote, making matters worse. In 1995, two books both titled The End of the Nation State – one by the former French diplomat Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the other by the Japanese organisational theorist Kenichi Ohmae – prophesised that power would head up to multinational bodies such as the European Union or the United Nations, or down to regions and cities.
Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated, and the end-of-the-nation-state theory itself died at the turn of the millennium. But now it’s back, and this time it might be right.
Briahna Joy Gray in Current Affairs:
The trouble with Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” is not that it is bad. It’s that it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Big Mama Thornton’s original 1952 version of the song is sleazy and defiant. In a bluesy growl, she tells off the low-down guy who keeps “snooping round her door.” It’s a declaration of independence by a woman who is sick and tired of having a “hound dog” of a man take her for granted. The lyrics are full of dirty double-entendres: “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more.” In Elvis’s version, sanitized for a pop audience, the line is changed to “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.” Drained of its original meaning, the song seemingly becomes about… an actual dog. Yet Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” sold 10 million copies and became his single best-selling song. It’s ranked #19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The term “cultural appropriation,” a pejorative used to criticize certain types of ostensibly illegitimate borrowing from other people’s cultures, gets a lot of people into a lot of arguments. That’s especially true now that it is used to describe an ever-widening set of acts. What constituted “cultural appropriation” might once have been relatively clear: if you wore a ceremonial Native American headdress without actually being a Native American performing a ceremony, you were disrespectfully appropriating a culture that was not your own. But nowadays, the notion can be far more expansive in its scope. “Cultural appropriation” has been taken to mean that only blacks are entitled to create art about black historical figures: white artist Dana Schutz was boycotted and protested after displaying a painting of Emmett Till’s body, on the theory that black suffering was not a fit subject matter for nonblack painters. It’s also infamously been invoked to suggest there’s something wrong with people making foods from cultures other than their own.
William Corwin at artcritical:
The day before the opening of the exhibition Kiefer was interviewed at the New York Public Library. Kiefer’s interlocutor, Paul Holdengräber, was able to expertly unpack much of the symbolism that forms a sturdy foundation for the current work. The discussion focused on the immediacy of the work in the life of the artist: Kiefer was brought up in a house in ruins, as it was bombed on the night his mother rushed to the hospital to give birth to him (or so the story goes), so the destructive propensities of history and the devastation in his work is from direct observation and experience. This was heightened in the discussion by Holdengräber’s bold decision to frankly address Kiefer’s “Occupations” series, the artist’s powerful and equivocal assessment of the war. On the humorous side, a slide of the artist dressed as a Cardinal underlined the fact that as a youth he longed to enter the Catholic Church and rise up the ranks of sacred hierarchy but was thwarted by the blunt assertion that no German could be pope. These revelations of juicy subtexts aid immeasurably in the understanding of the work, and even hint at the angle at which Kiefer approaches the erotic.
Unlike Picasso, the sexual imagery of whose late work emerges from his own lascivious fantasies, Kiefer’s vision is predicated on the works of his poet friend Jean-Noël Vuarnet, whose “Extases Féminines” (Paris, 1980) described the experiences of such personages as Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Siena. (Kiefer’s series of watercolors inspired by Vuarnet is on view.) Kiefer immediately builds a religious and numinous subtext into his eroticism, much as Wagner does with his field of seductive flower girls crossed with Christian iconography in Parsifal, and this accounts for the flowers as well as the Christian symbolism mixed together in the watercolors.
Eimear McBride at The New Statesman:
The book’s journey from pen to pyre and thereafter to the status of a cherished classic frontloads any approach to it with political meaning. But it would be a shame to allow the book’s tumultuous history to distract from its literary and artistic treasure. By turns beautiful and bawdy, funny and haunting, The Country Girls, often referred to as the quintessential tale of Irish girlhood, is not the novel that broke the mould, it is the one that made it.
In essence the trilogy comprises the intertwined and, latterly, internarrated stories of Caithleen/Cait/Kate Brady and Bridget/Baba Brennan, two girls – sometimes allies, sometimes enemies – who have grown up together in the stifling religious atmosphere of 1950s rural Ireland. When we first encounter them, both are still schoolgirls. Cait lives with her gentle, adoring mother, who is something of a martyr to the antics of her violent alcoholic husband, who terrorises them both with his binges and financial ineptitude. The family’s sole preserve is Hickey, the underpaid farmhand who keeps the place going and, only occasionally, helps himself to a free chicken. Hickey’s simple warmth and reliability are balm to the drink-torn household, and mother and daughter alike live in fear of his moving on to better-paid work.
Ben Pfeiffer at The Paris Review:
Four years before his death, John Gardner committed his negative opinions of his contemporaries to print. Gardner’s On Moral Fiction argues for a moral, life-affirming view of fiction and aims to continue the conversation left off at the end of Leo Tolstoy’s late-in-life screed What is Art? (in which the Russian master denounces everything he’s written as not being true art). Gardner railed against his contemporaries, such as Updike and Thomas Pynchon, accusing them of a tricksiness that elided fiction’s eternal verities. Most contemporary literature, he claimed, was “either trivial or false.” On Moral Fiction’s tone was perceived as deeply conservative—so much so that the American Nazi Party sent Gardner an invitation for membership (he sent back an expletive-filled reply saying, in effect, fuck off). Gardner’s publisher, Knopf, refused to print the manuscript, but Basic Books eventually did. In an essay published fifteen years after his death, Gardner’s second wife, Liz Rosenberg wrote, “Nearly overnight, he turned from darling of the literary establishment to its pariah.” She says she thinks Gardner named names in On Moral Fiction to prove to himself he wasn’t afraid. “Perhaps,” she wrote, “he should have been.”
The Warburg Effect describes a phenomenon in which cancer cells voraciously consume glucose for energy—something scientists have long known, yet have had little success exploiting as a way to stunt tumor growth. Now researchers at Duke Cancer Institute have not only untangled an unusual wiring system that cancer cells use for carbohydrate metabolism, but also identified a natural compound that appears to selectively shut down this system in laboratory studies.
"The Warburg Effect has been known for decades, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood," said Jason Locasale, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology at Duke and senior author of a study published Sept. 14 in the journal Cell Metabolism. "We started with the idea that if you understand how it works, you should be better able to control it, and we think we might have some insight on that, as well." Locasale and colleagues, including lead author Maria Liberti, studied cancer cells to determine how their metabolism changes so dramatically from that of normal cells, which use oxygen to break down sugar. Cancer cells, instead, use fermentation, which is less efficient and therefore uses more sugar. The researchers found particular points where carbohydrate metabolism is controlled differently in cancer cells undergoing the Warburg Effect, and they homed in on an enzyme, identified as GAPDH, that controls the rate at which glucose is processed in cancer cells. And while the Warburg Effect is strong in many cancers, it's absent or weaker in others. By measuring the GAPDH enzyme, the Duke team was able to develop a predictive model to measure how extensively cancer cells are under the influence of the Warburg Effect. Where the effect is strongest, the tumors could potentially be vulnerable to a therapy that targets the process.