Brandon M. Terry in the Boston Review:

Terry2As we grasp for a proper accounting of King’s intellectual, ethical, and political bequest, commemoration may present a greater obstacle to an honest reckoning with his legacy than disfavor did in the case of Du Bois. There are costs to canonization.

The King now enshrined in popular sensibilities is not the King who spoke so powerfully and admiringly at Carnegie Hall about Du Bois. Instead, he is a mythic figure of consensus and conciliation, who sacrificed his life to defeat Jim Crow and place the United States on a path toward a “more perfect union.” In this familiar view, King and the civil rights movement are rendered—as Cass Sunstein approvingly put it—“backward looking and even conservative.” King deployed his rhetorical genius in the service of our country’s deepest ideals—the ostensible consensus at the heart of our civic culture—and dramatized how Jim Crow racism violated these commitments. Heroically, through both word and deed, he called us to be true to who we already are: “to live out the true meaning” of our founding creed. No surprise, then, that King is often draped in Christian symbolism redolent of these themes. He is a revered prophet of U.S. progress and redemption, Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, or a Christ who sacrificed his life to redeem our nation from its original sin.

Such poetic renderings lead our political and moral judgment astray.

More here.

Thursday Poem


In real life
you are aging at the rate of a short-lived sitcom

and the only kind of loneliness worth laughing about
is throwing out half a frozen meal for two

because leftovers
are never funnier the next day.

In real life
there is no such thing as a gritty reboot — it’s just

fucking gritty all the time, mate,
because your best-laid plans are always someone else’s

chance to crash a car into the crowd at a
men’s rights charity concert.

In real life
the nice guys pull out of the race

when their tires are slashed or they turn back
because they think they left the iron on

and no one adheres to sports film clichés anyway — 
we’re all selfish and we want that trophy.

In real life
you’ll never make it out of your homophobic small town

alive, so your left hand begs for water
while your right hand swings an ax

your left foot drags a church bell
while your right foot taps — S.O.S., S.O.S., S.O.S.

by Chris Tse
from Poetry (February 2018)

on ‘Judging Shaw’, by Fintan O’Toole

Download (10)Anthony Roche at the Dublin Review of Books:

Some years ago, the Royal Irish Academy began a series of lavishly illustrated critical monographs on important figures in twentieth century Irish history. The first three published were on former taoisigh: Eamon de Valera, Seán Lemass and WT Cosgrave. This, on George Bernard Shaw, is the first on a literary figure. The RIA approached Fintan O’Toole to write the present volume. They must have been struck, as I am, by the parallels between author and subject. Shaw was recently described by Brad Kent as “easily the world’s most well-known Irish public intellectual of the first half of the twentieth century”. The same could be said of O’Toole in relation to the past thirty years, not just for his prominent position as our leading public intellectual but for the world stage he also commands. In 2017 alone, O’Toole was awarded the European Press Prize and the Orwell Prize for Journalism, and holds honorary doctorates from several Irish universities. Shaw was, until recently, the only person to hold both an Academy Award (for the screenplay of Pygmalion in 1938) and the Nobel Prize for Literature. (O’Toole points out that, since last year, Bob Dylan can now make a similar claim.) Both speak and write with unshakable confidence and authority on a wide range of social and political issues; but both are also particularly acute theatre critics. Indeed, both began as theatre critics (and Shaw on music also) before venturing more completely into public affairs; it could be argued that Shaw’s plays are the logical extensions of the pitiless criticism he directed at the lamentable state of late nineteenth century theatre in England. Shaw was a committed socialist all his life; O’Toole’s politics might best be described as left-leaning. There are other books on Shaw and there will be more; but none will be more Shavian than this one.

more here.

the legacy of paul robeson

Callow_1-020818Simon Callow at the NYRB:

When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson was much in evidence, on records, on the radio, on television. His name was haloed with the sort of respect accorded to few performers. The astonishing voice that, like the Mississippi in the most famous number in his repertory, just kept rolling along, seemed to carry within it an inherent sense of truth. There was no artifice; there were no vocal tricks; nothing came between the listener and the song. It commanded effortless attention; perfectly focused, it came from a very deep place, not just in the larynx, but in the experience of what it is to be human. In this, Robeson resembled the English contralto Kathleen Ferrier: both seemed less trained musicians than natural phenomena.

The spirituals Robeson had been instrumental in discovering for a wider audience were not simply communal songs of love and life and death but the urgent cries of a captive people yearning for a better, a juster life.

more here.

Julia Kristeva and thought in revolt

Julia-KristevaJohn Lechte at the TLS:

Julia Kristeva (b. 1941) is not a philosopher in the formal sense. She was not educated in the discipline (although coming from communist Bulgaria, she did, albeit unsystematically, absorb the ideas of Hegel and Marx). Her work does not pertain exclusively to any of the commonly accepted domains of philosophical inquiry, although her projects continue to have an impact on them. Rather, she has frequently been called a linguist (even though her oeuvre includes studies in semiotics and literary theory), a psychoanalyst (her approach is of a very particular Freudian bent that includes a focus on the feminine and maternity), or a novelist (which is true, but the point to note is that there is a crossover between novelistic content and theoretical and analytical work).

In 2004, Kristeva was awarded the first Holberg International Memorial Prize for innovative work on issues, “at the intersection between linguistics, culture and literature”. And the chairperson of the Holberg selection panel noted that: “Julia Kristeva . . . demonstrates how advanced theoretical research can also play a decisive role in public social and cultural debate in general”.

more here.

warp-speed evolution is transforming ecology

Rachael Lallensack in Nature:

LizIt took Timothy Farkas less than a week to catch and relocate 1,500 stick insects in the Santa Ynez mountains in southern California. His main tool was an actual stick. “It feels kind of brutish,” says Farkas. “You just pick a stick up off the ground and beat the crap out of a bush.” That low-tech approach dislodged hordes of stick insects that the team easily plucked off the dirt. On this hillside outside Santa Barbara, there are two kinds of bush that the stick insect (Timema cristinae) inhabits. The creature comes in two corresponding colorations: green and striped. Farkas and his fellow ecologists knew that the stick insects had evolved to blend in with their surroundings. But the researchers wanted to see whether they could turn this relationship around, so that an evolved trait — camouflage — would affect the organism’s ecology.

To find out, the team relocated mixtures of green and striped insects to different plants, so that some insects’ coloration clashed with their new home. Suddenly maladapted, these insects became targets for hungry birds, and that caused a domino effect1. Birds drawn to bushes with mismatched stick insects stuck around to eat other residents, such as caterpillars and beetles, stripping some plants clean. “That this evolutionary force can cause local extinction is striking,” says Farkas, an ecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “It affects the entire community.” All this happened because of an out-of-place evolutionary trait.

Ecologists have generally ignored evolution when studying their systems; they thought it was impossible to test whether such a slow process could change ecosystems on observable timescales. But they have come to realize that evolution can happen more quickly than they assumed, and a wave of studies has capitalized on this idea to observe evolution and ecology in unison. Such eco-evolutionary dynamics could be important for understanding how new populations emerge, or for predicting when one might go extinct. Experiments suggest that evolutionary changes alter some ecosystems just as much as shifts in more-conventional ecological elements, such as the amount of light reaching a habitat. “Eco-evolutionary dynamics is the dragon lots of people are chasing right now,” says Troy Simon, an ecologist at the University of Georgia in Athens. Rapid evolution can sometimes offset some of the detrimental effects of a warming climate and other known drivers of change; in other cases, it can worsen those effects. Even for the most common processes, such as changes in population size or food chains, ecologists must take evolution into consideration, researchers say. “Everybody realized rapid evolution was occurring everywhere,” says evolutionary ecologist Andrew Hendry of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

More here.