“The conspiracy theory of society…comes from abandoning God and then asking ‘Who is in his place?'”–Karl Popper
Via Crooked Timber, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/11 conspiracies are making a comeback.
In recent months, interest in September 11-conspiracy theories has surged. Since January, traffic to the major conspiracy Web sites has increased steadily. The number of blogs that mention “9/11” and “conspiracy” each day has climbed from a handful to over a hundred.
Oddly enough, the answer lies with a soft-spoken physicist from Brigham Young University named Steven E. Jones, a devout Mormon and, until recently, a faithful supporter of George W. Bush.
Last November Mr. Jones posted a paper online advancing the hypothesis that the airplanes Americans saw crashing into the twin towers were not sufficient to cause their collapse, and that the towers had to have been brought down in a controlled demolition. Now he is the best hope of a movement that seeks to convince the rest of America that elements of the government are guilty of mass murder on their own soil.
His paper — written by an actual professor who works at an actual research university — has made him a celebrity in the conspiracy universe. He is now co-chairman of a group called the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, which includes about 50 professors — more in the humanities than in the sciences — from institutions like Clemson University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin.
In this entry from “The Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors,” Dave Eggers summarizes and notates Vonnegut’s literary output.
Dave Eggers in Salon:
Kurt Vonnegut is one of the few writers in this guide that I can be sure that everyone has already read (unless “everyone” includes people who cannot read, or do not read, or are very young, or speak a language into which his work as not been translated). So. Vonnegut is a science fiction aficionado, WWII vet, lover of women, pitier of the poor, cranky luddite, fun-loving doomsayer, sometime postmodernist. His books — very personal novels disguised as allegories disguised as science fiction — nearly always take the entire world (or more) as their canvas. Usually there is a world war, or some catastrophic event, or often genocide, or a scientific or political innovation that threatens to, or has succeeded in, destroying all that we hold dear.
Because of this, Vonnegut could be dismissed as a cranky pessimist. Because his prose is frank and uncomplicated and often very funny, he could be passed off as a “humorist.” Gore Vidal once called him “America’s worst writer.” But despite Vidal (did you know he’s related to Al Gore? And the Kennedys?) and other critics, for some inexplicable reason, Vonnegut is taken seriously (by many at least), and he is loved by millions — even the superintellectuals like yourself.
Karen R. Long in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
When Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday night in Manhattan, he had a drawing ready, a simple doodle really, of a bird cage standing empty, its door flung open.
Underneath the image is a simple “Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007,” the only post Thursday on the writer’s official Web site. His quick sketch amounted to the perfect exit line — accessible, playful, a hint of giving death the slip.
Like some of Vonnegut’s writing, in fact. The topic of mortality supplied Vonnegut with endless lines — from his jokes about having the bad taste to live until he was 84 to his famous refrain whenever a character dies in “Slaughterhouse-Five”:
“So it goes.”
That funny, harrowing book, published in 1969, quickly became an anti-establishment coda on the absurdities and horrors of war. Vonnegut took his acrid memories of surviving the 1945 Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany, as a prisoner of war, and turned them into a semi-autobiographical riff, a science-fiction-fueled work of art.
“God made mud. God got lonesome. So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”…And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. Lucky me, lucky mud…I got so much, and most mud got so little. Thank you for the honor! Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep. What memories for mud to have! What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met! I loved everything I saw! Good night.”
–The Last Rites of the Bokononist faith (Written by Kurt Vonnegut, jr. – RIP)
It is with sadness I eulogize Kurt Vonnegut, jr. today. He was an impressive sitting up mud! I used to cut classes in high school, to go sit under a tree and become engrossed in Vonnegut’s wonderful novel, “Cat’s Cradle.” I have used lines from “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions” as life references since the 1970’s. Terms such as “karass,” “sitting up mud,” “bad chemicals,” and “Bokononism” have become commonplace in my life, due to my exposure to Vonnegut at an early age. My father gave me “Cat’s Cradle” to read, and I handed it to my teenaged son to read as well. I normally do not enjoy fiction, but Vonnegut was an exception for me. I delighted in his plots and twists, all heavily laden with sarcasm and political angst. “Cat’s Cradle” is a fictional story about what scientists and their families did the day America dropped the A-Bomb on Japan. I love the dark humor throughout “Cat’s Cradle.” And the child’s game “cat’s cradle” has never seemed the same after reading that book! In the book, the father who rarely speaks to his children, walks up to his son and leans into the kid, in a frightening manner, and holding a cat’s cradle made of strings in his fingers, says, “See the cat? See the cradle?!” Yes, that in a nutshell, is the madness and beauty of Vonnegut’s writing style.
I can’t believe Kurt Vonnegut is dead. I don’t want to believe it. I cannot remember being this saddened by the death of a man that I did not know personally. I wish I had met him. I wish I had just seen him once. Beajerry has said something lovely in a comment to Robin’s post below: “Kurt’s death is a stroke to the world’s imaginitive mind. We shall now all limp.” Indeed. And also in the comments to that post, Storey brings to our attention this nice video tribute:
I expect we’ll have much more to say about Kurt Vonnegut in the coming days. Do take a look at the video of an interview with John Stewart that Robin has linked to below. At the end of the documentary about Muhammad Ali, When We Were Kings, George Plimpton simply says: “What a fighter. And what a man.” That’s where I got the title for this post. I’m off to dig up my copy of The Sirens of Titan for my wife, who has never read it. I envy her: what a delicious feast of savory ideas and beautiful language awaits her!
Very sad news: Kurt Vonnegut is dead. In the NYT:
Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.
Mr. Vonnegut suffered irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago, according to his wife, Jill Krementz.
Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.
Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?
John Stewart said in the introduction to his Daily Show interview of Vonnegut, “As an adolescent, he made my life bearable.” I’d add that he continued to deliver insights to adults as well.
Charles Bernstein at the University of Chicago Press website:
And they say
If I would just sing lighter songs
Better for me would it be,
But not is this truthful;
For sense remote
Adduces worth and gives it
Even if ignorant reading impairs it;
But it’s my creed
That these songs yield
No value at the commencing
Only later, when one earns it.
—translated from Giraut de Bornelh (12th century)
April is the cruelest month for poetry.
As part of the spring ritual of National Poetry Month, poets are symbolically dragged into the public square in order to be humiliated with the claim that their product has not achieved sufficient market penetration and must be revived by the Artificial Resuscitation Foundation (ARF) lest the art form collapse from its own incompetence, irrelevance, and as a result of the general disinterest among the broad masses of the American People.
The motto of ARF’s National Poetry Month is: “Poetry’s not so bad, really.”
New findings rekindle old debates about when the first people arrived and why their civilization collapsed.
Whitney Dangerfield in Smithsonian Magazine:
Hundreds of years ago, a small group of Polynesians rowed their wooden outrigger canoes across vast stretches of open sea, navigating by the evening stars and the day’s ocean swells. When and why these people left their native land remains a mystery. But what is clear is that they made a small, uninhabited island with rolling hills and a lush carpet of palm trees their new home, eventually naming their 63 square miles of paradise Rapa Nui—now popularly known as Easter Island.
On this outpost nearly 2,300 miles west of South America and 1,100 miles from the nearest island, the newcomers chiseled away at volcanic stone, carving moai, monolithic statues built to honor their ancestors. They moved the mammoth blocks of stone—on average 13 feet tall and 14 tons—to different ceremonial structures around the island, a feat that required several days and many men.
Catherine Brahic in New Scientist:
A new study of how the global airline network connects far-flung regions with similar climates may help pinpoint flights most at risk of unwittingly importing invasive species.
Andrew Tatem at the University of Oxford in the UK and Simon Haye at the Centre for Geographic Medicine in Nairobi, Kenya, mapped the routes of all 3.2 million flights scheduled between 1 May 2005 and 30 April 2006.
They looked at temperature, humidity and rainfall at the flights’ origins and destinations to gain an idea of how similar the climates were at each end of a plane journey.
“Species that are very sensitive to climate, such as mosquitoes and midges, will stand a better chance of being successful invaders if the climate at their new location is as similar as possible to the climate in their native habitat,” Tatem explains.
Momus (Nick Currie) in Wired:
At UNESCO’s glamorous Cold War spy-thriller headquarters in Paris, Koïchiro Matsuura, the Japanese diplomat running the organization, is pushing to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions.
Yep, he’s trying to keep English from muting out every other language, and that’s certainly nothing new. But unlike others, Matsuura comes off like an airline executive talking about routes, planes, hubs, spokes and flow. That’s because culture flows.
There are two basic route models in the aviation business. Airlines either fly point to point or hub and spoke. Point-to-point flights move from one city to another, while hub-and-spoke transit goes through connections via the airline’s base city. Now, let’s contemplate that in relation to cultural flows. With books, films and the internet, which kind of world do we live in, point to point or hub and spoke? If culture were an airline model, in other words, would Poles be able to fly to Tokyo without having to transfer at LAX?
David Brown in the Washington Post:
You should approach Joyce’s “Ulysses” as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.
— William Faulkner
Let’s approach Leonhard Euler and his work the same way. It will make things a whole lot easier.
If one is not a mathematician (and except for a few of you out there, who is?), it’s going to be impossible to actually understand why Euler was such a great man. Other people will have to tell us, and we should probably believe them.
In 1988, the journal Mathematical Intelligencer asked its readers to list the most beautiful equations in mathematics. Of the top five, Euler, who was born in Basel, Switzerland, 300 years ago next Sunday, discovered three of them, including No. 1:
ei(pi) + 1 = 0.
(The other two were from Euclid, who worked in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.)
There is nothing unique or even special about the phenomenon of artists who write with distinction about art generally and their own practices in particular. History provides numerous examples—Leonardo’s great notebooks, Reynolds’s Discourses, Vasari’s Lives, and Delacroix’s journals and letters among them. The twentieth century, with its enthusiasm for manifestos and credos, proves almost embarrassingly rich in this regard, from Gleizes and Metzinger to Peter Halley. But the publication of Jeff Wall’s Selected Essays and Interviews by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the artist’s retrospective there, is an especially valuable contribution to this literature, even a singular one. For while the postwar neo-avant-gardes have been extraordinarily prolific in terms of literate and rhetorically persuasive artist-writers—Allan Kaprow, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Marcel Broodthaers, Art & Language, Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger, and Mike Kelley, to name but a passel—Wall’s art-critical writing (and his concomitant interviews) bear the stamp of his formal art-historical training. He spent several years in the 1970s pursuing a postgraduate degree in the field at London’s Courtauld Institute, and this background left an indelible mark on his art production proper, as well as on its critical reception.
more from Bookforum here.
The Selimiye Mosque, in Edirne, a city in northwest Turkey, is a magnificent stone edifice, with four minarets and an austere, octagonal-shaped body supporting a large dome. Built for Sultan Selim II in the sixteenth century, it has withstood numerous earthquakes and can accommodate more than five thousand kneeling worshippers. One evening at the end of January, I visited the mosque with Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank, and a half dozen of his aides and colleagues. Two years have passed since President Bush nominated Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense and one of the architects of the war in Iraq, to head the sprawling multinational lending institution that has as its official goal “a world without poverty.”
more from The New Yorker here.
There he was, surrounded by urban noise and crowds, patiently inscribing grey stone. “To the unknown Roman girl”, said the brand new epitaph. I had come to 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London – the Gherkin – to see a poem that is written on benches around Norman Foster’s tower, by the Scottish conceptual artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. And here was another man, carving a memorial to a Roman skeleton to be reburied here this week. It was an encounter with the ancient world as unexpected as the one I’d just had in an exhibition of neon wall texts.
more from The Guardian here.
French postmodernism may be passing, but it had a point. Even if engagement with the world is the cure, the respite it gives may be short-lived. No sooner has the real moment gone than the work of memory begins, once more selecting, massaging, suppressing and spinning. That moment is like a glimpse of the naked king, or the politician’s one-day dash into the war zone: it may be a glimpse of truth, but even if we are honest enough to see anything we do not want to see, that in turn may just reinvigorate the work of disguise. That can’t have been the real Louis XIV, or the real Iraq. And heaven forfend that people see them like that—otherwise it might really destroy our legacy, or at any rate the bit that counts: its representation in self-image, story and picture.
more from Prospect Magazine here.