The Phallic Art Of Louise Bourgeois And Yayoi Kusama

Sarah Boxer at Bookforum:

Kusama’s Narcissus Garden and Bourgeois’s Ventouse both feature gleaming globes on flat surfaces. And both, I believe, come from a similar place—the land of daddy complexes and phallic fetishes. (I’m not the first to notice some parallels between Kusama and Bourgeois; in 2017 Sotheby’s S|2 gallery in London presented a joint show, as did Peter Blum Gallery in 2001.)

The biographical parallels are pretty stunning. Both girls’ fathers cheated on their mothers, and both girls were cast into their parents’ marital maelstroms. (Kusama’s mother demanded she spy on her wayward father; Bourgeois cared for her ailing mother in southern France while her father cavorted in Paris with her English tutor.) Both were smart, strong-willed, sensitive, and ambitious girls from prosperous families whose wealth came from their mothers’ side. Both were involved in their family’s work. (Kusama, born in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1929, spent time in her family’s seed nursery, which is where she had her first hallucinations, of talking flowers. Bourgeois, born in Paris in 1911, worked in her family’s tapestry-restoration business, drawing in the missing feet of the figures on worn-out textiles.)

more here.

Dodie Bellamy’s Many Appetites

Emily Gould at The Paris Review:

“I loved it when my tits or my cock or my asshole would destroy my own ego with their needs,” writes Dodie Bellamy in The Letters of Mina Harker. It’s true that these body parts and many others assert themselves vehemently throughout the text, which is already a riot of warring impulses and contradictory or just chorusing voices. Most writing strives to unify impulses, to find harmony between the heart (or whatever) and the mind, the corporeal and the spiritual, the story and its narrator. Dodie begins this book by disassembling that expectation, mocking it as she discards it, bringing it up again and again only to find it eternally lacking. Formal contrivance can never compete for long with what’s real and right in front of us. This book interrupts itself often to critique itself, or tell the story of its own creation, or take a break from itself to eat a snack, jerk off, begin again.

I have to admit, the first time I attempted to read this book circa 2012, I didn’t “get it.” I came to it because I was obsessed with diaries and had loved Dodie’s then-latest book, which was a diary that she initially serialized as a blog of an affair with a shitty Buddhist teacher.

more here.

The Bitcoin Fountainhead

Daron Acemoglu in Project Syndicate:

With the price of Bitcoin reaching new highs, and El Salvador and Cuba deciding to accept it as legal tender, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. What implications will this have for money and politics?

Money depends on trust. It is accepted in exchange for goods and services only because people can confidently assume that others will accept it in the future. This is as true for the US dollar as it is for gold. To argue that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are merely a confidence game – or a speculative bubble, as many economists have emphasized – is to ignore their popularity.

And yet, cryptocurrencies lack the stable institutional foundations needed to bolster the public’s trust in them. Trust thus ebbs and flows, making them fragile and volatile, as Bitcoin’s wild gyrations have amply demonstrated.

Moreover, with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that rely on “proof-of-work” mechanisms, transactions must be continuously verified and logged in a decentralized ledger (in this instance based on blockchain).

More here.

What Do Dogs (and Other Animals) Do All Day and All Night?

Raghavendra Gadagkar in The Wire:

My inspiration for this essay comes from reading a paper entitled ‘Time-activity budget of urban-adapted free-ranging dogs’, by Arunita Banerjee and Anindita Bhadra, published in the journal acta ethologica on September 8. This study provides a rigorous quantitative answer to the question raised in the title of my essay, at least for stray dogs in India.

People often ask me why I like some papers more than others. One of my answers is that a paper should make me jealous that I did not write it. This feeling can only come if I could easily have conducted that study and written the paper, at least in principle. Arunita and Anindita’s paper has the potential of making every citizen of India jealous because any one of us could have done their study and could have done it anytime in the last 100 years, if not earlier.

But there is also another reason why this paper moved me so much. It brought back fond memories of my own research in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I was studying the Indian paper wasp Ropalidia marginata as a hobby.

More here.

Is Nuclear Power Our Best Bet Against Climate Change?

Samuel Miller McDonald in the Boston Review:

For half a century the debate around nuclear energy has produced more heat than light, inspiring impassioned discourse on all sides. But given the many urgent imperatives for rapidly transitioning our energy systems from high- to low-carbon—and from centralized and vulnerable to decentralized and resilient—in the very near future, an even-handed, impartial reckoning with nuclear power is perhaps more important than ever.

High-profile accidents like Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island have helped to make both policymakers and the general public skittish about nuclear energy, despite the fact that the number of combined fatalities from nuclear energy is dwarfed by fatalities caused by fossil fuel-derived energy.

More here.

She was in no woman’s land

Kylie Cheung in Salon:

Nearly three years ago, Christine Blasey Ford testified before the U.S. Senate that then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her decades ago. In many ways, her testimony, which became a watershed moment for survivors and women in politics, was able to happen because of the Black woman who had come before her: Anita Hill. A new podcast called “Because of Anita” revisits how in 1991, Hill testified that then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while she worked for him. Not only did her testimony introduce the concept of workplace sexual harassment into the lexicon, but it had galvanized generations of women, and shined a light on the unique experiences of Black women who seek safety and justice.

“There was an understanding [in 1991] — white women stood for gender, and Black men stood for race,” Cindi Leive, who co-hosts of the podcast along with New York Times cultural critic Dr. Salamishah Tillet, told Salon. “As a Black woman, she was in no woman’s land.  . . . And it was really important for us to foreground that in this podcast.” At the time, it was precisely this limited conception of identity and its intersections that labeled Hill as a “race traitor,” a Black woman playing the part of a white woman for challenging Thomas, who was seen as representing all Black people as a Black man.

That’s why 30 years later, Anita Hill’s story feels more relevant than ever. To examine its impact and gain new insights, the four-part podcast features a conversation between Hill and Dr. Ford, as well as numerous interviews. Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in particular recalls attending the hearing and discusses intersectionality, a term she coined, in relation to Hill’s story and our understanding of it today. Other guests include: journalist Jane Mayer; Kerry Washington, who portrays Hill in “Confirmation”; Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman U.S. Senator; Me Too founder Tarana Burke; and a wide range of other expert voices.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Throwing Away Several Pages of Poetry

They were decent little nuggets
almost. Interesting lumps of ideas,
I think. Stupid, incoherent, nearly
lovable phrases. A few beginnings
and I tossed them away. Threw them
into the invisible heap of rejected things
like a drunk landlord, so sure of himself,
singing Puccini as he goes up the basement
steps after dropping the rent checks
into the coalbin.

Well, now I go back into the basement
to search for them. I’ve come to
wonder what shadow of things
I was trying to find words for; what
form of love was too trivial or sad
to acknowledge. Naked, I nose
into the coalbin, the fine fur
of coal dust slowly settling over me.
I dig through the hunks of black,
concealed fire, and then I think
suddenly — why am I here? why
couldn’t I just forget, just let go,
or why didn’t I save everything,
every word, every crazily valued
bent coin experience? Because,
I hear myself say, there is no
peace, dammit, no real peace.

by Lou Lipsitz
Seeking the Hook
Signal Books, 1997

We Are Beast Machines

Anil Seth in Nautilus:

I have a childhood memory of looking in the bathroom mirror, and for the first time realizing that my experience at that precise moment—the experience of being me—would at some point come to an end, and that “I” would die. I must have been about 8 or 9 years old, and like all early memories this one too is unreliable. But perhaps it was at this moment that I also realized that if my consciousness could end, then it must depend in some way on the stuff I was made of—on the physical materiality of my body and my brain. It seems to me that I’ve been grappling with this mystery, in one way or another, ever since.

Consciousness won’t be solved in the same way that the human genome was decoded, or the reality of climate change established. Nor will its mysteries suddenly yield to a single Eureka-like insight—a pleasant but usually inaccurate myth about scientific progress. A science of consciousness should explain how the various properties of consciousness depend on, and relate to, the operations of the neuronal wetware inside our heads. I say wetware to underline brains are not just computers made of meat. They are chemical machines as much as they are electrical networks. Every brain that has ever existed has been part of a living body, embedded in and interacting with its environment—an environment which in many cases contains other embodied brains. Explaining the properties of consciousness in terms of biophysical mechanisms requires understanding brains—and conscious minds—as embodied and embedded systems.

This way of thinking leads us to a new conception of what it is to be a self—that aspect of consciousness which for each of us is probably the most meaningful. An influential tradition, dating back at least as far as Descartes, held that non-human animals lacked conscious selfhood because they did not have rational minds to guide their behavior. They were “beast machines”: flesh automatons without the ability to reflect on their own existence.

More here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sacrificing for the Climate

David McDermott Hughes in the Boston Review:

Renewable energy seems set to repeat many of the mistakes of fossil fuels. Though wind and solar power will not degrade the conditions for life on planet earth, the geography and corporate structure of these industries concentrate benefits and exclude communities in the style of Big Oil. The neighbors tend to notice—and to complain. So-called “renewable energy rebels” want a slice of revenues, or wind farms that are smaller or farther away. These “not-in-my-backyard” protests are delaying and blocking projects from Spain to Germany to the United States. To the extent that these movements succeed, they undercut the planet-saving ideal these technologies promised to all of us.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Anil Seth on Emergence, Information, and Consciousness

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

Those of us who think that that the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely known tend to also think that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon that must be compatible with those laws. To hold such a position in a principled way, it’s important to have a clear understanding of “emergence” and when it happens. Anil Seth is a leading researcher in the neuroscience of consciousness, who has also done foundational work (often in collaboration with Lionel Barnett) on what emergence means. We talk about information theory, entropy, and what they have to do with how things emerge.

More here.

Before Truth: Curiosity, Negative Capability, Humility

Will Wilkinson in his Substack newsletter, Model Citizen:

Curiosity is very closely related to one of my most highly prized traits, what Keats called “negative capability”… “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” There’s whiff of Romantic mysticism about this, for sure, but I see it primarily as openness to complexity, comfort with ambiguity, patience with not knowing. (If you’ve never read it, “Not-Knowing” by Donald Barthelme is one of my all-time favorite essays.)

Now, I really care about truth. Which is why I’m so consistently antagonized these days by the overconfident incuriosity of many folks who pride themselves on their supposed rationality and proclaim themselves defenders of “Enlightenment values.” So little negative capability! So much needless anxiety about categorization. So much attachment to simplifying pet theories their subcultures have coded as “smart.” So much drive to definitively settle tough questions. So much “irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

These are all ideological impulses. Giving in to them is a terrible way to get at the truth. That’s why I’ve become suspicious of people who get strenuously ideological about truth.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

The Wild

My mother lives in a little yellow cottage
that rests in the tall shadow of
Grandfather Mountain. At night,
she smears peanut butter onto pine cones
and sets them out on the porch,
leaving them for the bears
the way children leave cookies for
Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

My mother knows that this is a silly
(some say foolish) thing to do, but she
will not be told. Something in her
always longs for more Wild. So she
stands barefoot in her flannel nightgown
on her snow-covered stoop
and calls it to her door. Leaves
the windows open as she sleeps—even in
the February chill—and this is how
I learned.

How I learned to hold my chest wide, an open
invitation. How to be a refuge
for all wandering and hungry and sometimes
wounded, sometimes dangerous

……… Once, I pulled a screaming
……… baby bunny from the clamped jaws
……… of a stray cat—
……… (and didn’t I get scratched?)
……… and didn’t I sit up all night
……… holding it under a lamp
……… dabbing warm goat’s milk into
……… its little mouth?
……… And didn’t I feel the chill, too,
……… when its tongue grew cold
……… beneath my fingers? When
……… its body became still (so still)
……… and the little house I built for it
……… suddenly turned into a casket?
……… And how many times?

Read more »

The Afterlives of E.M. Forster

Alexander Chee in The New Republic:

Cynthia Ozick’s surprisingly scalding and chaotic 1971 review of Maurice in Commentary, “FORSTER AS HOMOSEXUAL,” in which she calls Forster’s posthumous revelation of his sexuality an “audacious slap in the face,” includes a decent one-paragraph summation of what we might call the first public Forster, the one the public thought they knew when they mourned him:

He endured the mildest of bachelor lives, with, seen from the outside, no cataclysms. He was happiest (as adolescents say today, he “found himself”) as a Cambridge undergraduate, he touched tenuously on Bloomsbury, he saw Egypt and India (traveling always, whether he intended it or not, as an agent of Empire), and when his mother died returned to Cambridge to live out his days among the undergraduates of King’s. He wrote what is called a “civilized” prose, sometimes too slyly decorous, occasionally fastidiously poetic, often enough as direct as a whip. His essays, mainly the later ones, are especially direct: truth-telling, balanced, “humanist”—kindhearted in a detached way, like, apparently, his personal cordiality. He had charm: a combination of self-importance (in the sense of knowing himself to be the real thing) and shyness. In tidy rooms at King’s (the very same College he had first come up to in 1897) Forster in his seventies and eighties received visitors and courtiers with memorable pleasantness, was generous to writers in need of a push (Lampedusa among them), and judiciously wrote himself off as a pre-1914 fossil. Half a century after his last novel the Queen bestowed on him the Order of Merit. Then one day in the summer of 1970 he went to Coventry on a visit and died quietly at ninety-one, among affectionate friends.

His bachelor life, however, was not mild, and underwent several cataclysms—and “seen from the outside” barely admits what a closeted life could hide.

More here.

Weird dreams train our brains to be better learners

Jim Davies in Nautilus:

For many of us over the last year and more, our waking experience has, you might say, lost a bit of its variety. We spend more time with the same people, in our homes, and go to fewer places. Our stimuli these days, in other words, aren’t very stimulating. Too much day-to-day routine, too much familiarity, too much predictability. At the same time, our dreams have gotten more bizarre. More transformations, more unrealistic narratives. As a cognitive scientist who studies dreaming and the imagination, this intrigued me. Why might this be? Could the strangeness serve some purpose?

Maybe our brains are serving up weird dreams to, in a way, fight the tide of monotony. To break up bland regimented experiences with novelty. This has an adaptive logic: Animals that model patterns in their environment in too stringent a manner sacrifice the ability to generalize, to make sense of new experiences, to learn. AI researchers call this “overfitting,” fitting too well to a given dataset. A face-recognition algorithm, for example, trained too long on a dataset of pictures might start identifying individuals based on trees and other objects in the background. This is overfitting the data. One way to look at it is that, rather than learning the general rules that it should be learning—the various contours of the face regardless of expression or background information—it simply memorizes its experiences in the training set. Could it be that our minds are working harder, churning out stranger dreams, to stave off overfitting that might otherwise result from the learning we do about the world every day?

More here.

Georgia O’Keeffe Finally Arrives in Paris

Roxana Robinson at The New Yorker:

The works carry a metaphysical meaning, as well as a geographical one. With the skulls and antlers, bones and shells, O’Keeffe creates a secular iconography. For her, these subjects did not represent death but something vital and lasting. A bone found in the desert is like a shell found on the beach: both are forms defined by function, both are beautiful and enduring evidence of life. O’Keeffe’s images and juxtapositions are mysterious, but she wasn’t a member of the Surrealist movement, which deliberately juxtaposed objects without connections to one another. Her intention was quite different: these objects have a deep connection—one that we recognize on an intuitive level. “Pelvis with the Distance,” from 1943, shows a smooth, white bone, all curves and slopes and openings. It is suspended, high in the air, above a line of low, undulant blue hills. This physical juxtaposition—the celestial locus of the bone, the earth-hugging horizon below—creates a majestic sweep of space. O’Keeffe places the viewer aloft, level with the bone, high up in the empyrean. The supernatural height, the mystery, the hallucinatory beauty of the object—all combine to create a sense of the sublime.

more here.

Kashmir at the Crossroads

Owen Bennett-Jones at Literary Review:

With admirable clarity, Sumantra Bose’s Kashmir at the Crossroads helps to explain the tensions and the motives of the various parties involved in the intractable Kashmir conflict, including Chinese cartographers, Indian Hindu nationalists, Pakistani intelligence officers, violent jihadists and the group that barely gets a look in, the Kashmiris themselves. Landlocked and surrounded by three antagonistic nuclear powers with claims on their land, the Kashmiris are always the last ones to have a say over their own future.

Much of the book canters through the established history of the conflict. The problems began in 1846, when the British sold part of what is now Kashmir, including Muslim-majority areas, to a Hindu, Gulab Singh. After India’s partition in 1947, Gulab Singh’s descendant opted to unite Kashmir with India rather than Pakistan. Outraged Pakistani tribesmen went to fight for their Muslim brethren but found their way blocked by Indian soldiers.

more here.