Poe is truly a genius. He stands on a level up at which HP Lovecraft could only gaze. But Lovecraft is pretty frickin cool. A new edition of the Tales and a biography are reviewed in the NY Times book review.Lovecraft184

If you spend enough time in Lovecraft’s lonely landscapes, fear really does develop: not the fear that you will come across unearthly creatures, but the fear that you will come across little else. And what first seems horridly overdone accumulates a creepy minimalism. Taken as a whole, Lovecraft’s work exhibits a hopeless isolation not unlike that of Samuel Beckett: lonely man after lonely man, wandering aimlessly through a shadowy city or holing up in rural emptiness, pursuing unspeakable secrets or being pursued by secret unspeakables, all to little avail and to no comfort. There is something funny about this — in small doses. But by the end of this collection, one does not hear giggling so much as the echoes of those giggles as they vanish into the ether — lonely, desperate and, yes, very, very scary.

Literary Reviews

Pardon the voicing of my own personal opinion here but it seems to me that it is time for many of the interesting and valuable literary review magazines and journals to establish more of a place for themselves on the web. The older and stogier seem to be the most reluctant in doing so, which is a shame because there is much worth reading in their pages (some pedantic junk too but such is life). Here is what The Antioch Review, The Gettysburg Review, Granta, and The Southern Review make available on line. The Boston Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Wilson Quarterly among others have a better approach.

Here’s a link from The Gettsyburg Review to these and some other good magazines in the same vein.

Is Frantz Fanon Still Relevant?

Homi K. Bhabha in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Frantz Fanon’s classic of decolonization, The Wretched of the Earth, was published in Paris in the fall of 1961, as the author lay dying of leukemia in a hospital bed at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md.

The messages of poet-politicians are never as easy to decipher as the myths offered up in their names. Each age has its own peculiar opacities and urgent missions. What seems to survive the contingent movements of historical change is Fanon’s passionate hope that a liberated consciousness should be grounded in a historical sense of “time [that] must no longer be that of the moment or the next harvest but rather of the rest of the world.”

More here.

Gonzo Nights

Rich Cohen in the New York Times:

He sank a straw into a plastic container and took some cocaine onto his tongue. He returned to the drawer constantly in the course of the night, getting cocaine, pills, marijuana, which he smoked in a pipe — the smoke was soft and tangy and blue — chased by Chivas, white wine, Chartreuse, tequila and Glenfiddich. The effect was gradual but soon his features softened and the scowl melted and his movements became fluid and graceful. By midnight, the man who had emerged a bleary-eyed ruin hours before was on his feet and swearing and waving a shotgun and another show had opened in the long run of Hunter S. Thompson.

More here.

Superatoms: A new kind of alchemy

Philip Ball in New Scientist:

2495_fundamentalsAccording to Mendeleev’s roll call, an element’s chemistry can be deduced from where it sits in the periodic table. Reactive metals like sodium and calcium occupy the two columns on the left. The inert “noble” gases make up the column on the far right, flanked by typical non-metals such as chlorine and sulphur.

Now this neat picture is being disrupted by superatoms – clusters of atoms of a particular chemical element that can take on the properties of entirely different elements.

More here.


Clay Risen in The New Republic:

Thom_mayneArchitecture, like literature, rarely translates into breezy newspaper copy. That’s why every spring when the Pritzker Prize rolls around, critics and reporters spend the bulk of their column inches gushing over the winner’s biographical highlights–and few, if any, on the substance of their work. These highlights then become shortcuts and talking points for the chattering class, such that while most people know that last year’s winner Zaha Hadid was born in Iraq and is the first woman to capture the prize, few could give even a cursory explanation of what her work actually looks like, let alone what makes it special.

Similar treatment has befallen this year’s winner, Santa Monica-based Thom Mayne.

More here.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Einstein’s “Year of Wonders,” 100 years later

Stefan Lovgren in the Ntional Geographics:Einstein_3

In his first paper in March 1905, Einstein argued that light is not a wave, as most physicists previously thought, but instead a stream of tiny packets of energy that have since come to be known as photons. The theory won Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921 and helped lay the foundation for quantum theory, which states that physics cannot make definite predictions. It can only predict the probability that things will turn out one way or another. The quantum theory, with its statistical description of nature at the subatomic scale, has turned out to be right. However, Einstein came to reject the unpredictability of quantum mechanics, famously saying, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

“He couldn’t accept that so deeply woven into the fabric of the cosmos was an element of uncertainty,” said Brian Greene, a physics and mathematics professor at Columbia University in New York. “He hoped the probabilistic framework of quantum mechanics was merely an intermediary point physicists reached in their study. But that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Greene, who wrote the best-selling The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Einstein never succeeded in his search for a theory of everything. But many people consider string theorists such as Greene to be Einstein’s natural successors. String theory is a physical model that says that the fundamental building blocks of the universe are vibrating filaments of energy within every particle.

More here.

Yankee Independence: Henry David Thoreau and the Birth of American counterculture

Cindy McGroatry in Newtopia:

Thoreau Modern-day ecologists can look to Thoreau as a naturalist who possessed what many experts believe was a great deal of scientific sophistication. He readily understood Darwin and wrote intelligently on the cycles of nature. At the same time, he had a sense that the unspoiled environment was integral to our development and health as human beings. For that reason, he remains an inspiration to environmentalists.

Just as a conscientious soul can better an institution, Thoreau’s work has the power to improve us, to be our country’s most honest and persistent conscience as we journey into the 21st Century. He asks the difficult but important questions we face as individuals and as a nation, even if he leaves it to us to find most of the answers. E.B. White once compared Thoreau’s style of social commentary to a “modern Western” where the writer “rides into the subject at top speed, shooting in all directions.” Like any good anti-establishment hero, Thoreau has made the fight valorous, and his gunshots are still loud enough to wake us. “How splendid it was,” White concluded, “that somebody should have ridden in there and raised all that ruckus.”

More here.

The triumph of technology

The British public’s choice of safety bicycle as Britain’s greatest invention of all times, bypassing scientific achievements such as electricity generation, the jet engine, the invention of vaccination and the discovery of DNA structure, triggered the topic for this Reith’s series of lectures, titled “The triumph of technology”, given by Lord Broers and broadcasted by BBC4. The lectures take place in April and May and their transcripts and recordings can be found here.

“Humankind’s way of life has depended on technology since the beginning of civilization. It can indeed be argued that civilization began when humans first used technologies, moving beyond the merely instinctual and into an era when people began to impose themselves on their environment, going beyond mere existence, to a way of life which enabled them to take increasing advantage of their intellect…In the course of these lectures I shall look at some of the ways in which technologies have grown more complex, and yet how – despite hugely expanded public education – understanding of them has diminished.”

“Modern technology tends to be thought of in terms of the advances brought about by computers and electronic communications but it is in transport, medicine, energy and weaponry that we have seen the greatest impact upon our lives. It is these areas that distinguish the first world from the second and third worlds.

If poverty and disease are to be alleviated and the environment sustained, then technology must be harnessed on a vast and all inclusive scale. Large scale industry must be involved. Significant technology is not created by lone workers but by tens and hundreds of individuals working together across social and geographic boundaries.”

“I want this lecture series to act as a wake up call to all of us. Technology, I repeat, will determine the future of the human race. We should recognise this and give it the profile and status that it deserves.”

Topics already discussed are “Technology will determine the Future of the Human Race” and “Collaboration”, and the upcoming are “Innovation and management”, “Nanotechnology and Nanoscience” and “Risk and responsibility

An Expansion Gives New Life to an Old Box

Nicolai Ouroussaff in The New York Times:

Walker184_1  EVEN amid all the jostling institutional egos – with one museum after another gushing about ambitious expansion plans – it’s hard not to get excited about the Walker Art Center’s new home. For decades now, the Walker has been one of the liveliest museums in the country, an institution that maintained a strong independent voice despite its ties to the mainstream art world. When the museum hired the Swiss team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to design a $67 million expansion and renovation of its existing 1970’s-era building, it seemed like a match made in heaven. The architects had built their reputations on museum projects like London’s Tate Modern and the Goetz Collection in Munich, known for their meticulously refined materials and a sense of inner tranquillity.

Walker_2 The result is an exhilarating place to view art, one that packs in 11,000 square feet of additional gallery space, a 385-seat theater, a hip new restaurant and an expanded bookstore while upholding art’s place as the center of the museum experience. Anchored by an aluminum-clad tower, the addition is a masterly example of how exhausted motifs can acquire new meaning when reworked in a fresh setting.

More here.

The Top 40 Picks From the Tribeca Film Festival

From the Village Voice:Tribeca2

Since the Tribeca Film Festival’s 2002 debut, naysayers have grumbled that the last thing New York’s crowded movie calendar needs is an event this large and unwieldy. But the fourth annual edition, squeezing 158 features and 96 shorts plus workshops and panels into 14 venues and 13 days (April 19-May 1), should prove that Tribeca is no longer just a corporate-powered celebrity pep rally for Lower Manhattan. The city’s biggest and by default most eclectic film festival, Tribeca has also significantly upped the quality control in the last couple of years.

Night Watch A box-office smash in Russia last summer, this metaphysical horror thriller stages a battle between Light and Dark forces in present-day Moscow—complementing the struggle over a young boy’s destiny with simplistic but convoluted mythology and a ton of Slavic brooding. Director Timur Bekmambetov is a Roger Corman protégé, and there’s an endearing B-movie spirit to the enterprise, copious digi-effects notwithstanding. Amusingly crammed with blatant steals from the Matrix, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings movies (not to mention Buffy, the David Fincher playbook, and even Jonathan Glazer’s iconic UNKLE video), it’s itself the first in a trilogy—still to come: Day Watch and Dusk Watch. A Fox Searchlight release, opens July. LIM

4 This precociously nuts debut by 30-year-old Muscovite Ilya Khrzhanovsky links numerology to cloning to the genetic manipulation of livestock to the homespun manufacture of doll parts. Larded with dead and aging tissue, this jaw-dropping whatsit—winner of a top prize at Rotterdam this year—is a grandiose study of barbarism and decay, a treatise on the way of all flesh, with DNA spliced in from Leos Carax, Kira Muratova, PETA ads, and Chris Cunningham’s Aphex Twin videos. LIM

Gilaneh The newest film from Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Iran’s grande dame of popular-resistance cinema, isn’t quite the deft balancing act that Under the Skin of the City was, but it’s the only Persian film we’ve seen that addresses life on the ground during, and after, the eight-year-long war with Iraq and “that Baathist bastard.” It’s a diptych: First, a histrionic matriarch and her pregnant daughter, refugees from bombing, decide on the eve of the war’s end to return to their city homes, which they find bombed out and devoid of men. Fifteen years later, they’re back in barren countryside, the grim after-effects of war dominating their lives. Co-directed with newcomer Mohsen Abdolvahab, Gilaneh is too indulgent to impotent peasant speechifying, but the reverb is substantial. ATKINSON

More here.

Physics and the public: Science as illusion

Alison Abbott in Nature:Magic

It seemed rude to leave the lecture hall when the president of the Max Planck Society had generously given the floor to a representative of the “young generation of researchers” in whose hands lie the “future of science”. Still, when Thomas Fraps thanked the society for the opportunity to speak for “55 minutes on some of the many promising themes in science and medicine”, some at the back did quietly slip away.

The remaining audience grew visibly impatient as Fraps warmed to his theme. “My generation is aware of its growing responsibility to bring to the public an informed transfer of new scientific knowledge from the interdisciplinary dialogue within our universities…” They had already sat through a long evening of televised discussion on bioethics, and there was something annoyingly smug, even odd, about this guy. And was his tie really getting longer?

Fraps stepped away from the podium and began self-importantly to clean his glasses with a silk handkerchief from his pocket. Then he pulled the cloth straight through the lenses, flicked the silk to one side and revealed, in his previously empty hand, a glass of orange juice. “Cheers!” he said, taking a sip.

More here.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Kennan reconsidered

Anders Stephanson writes on the life and legacy of George Kennan.

“Being ideologically anti-ideological, Kennan said more about Soviet ideology in his foundational texts than he usually did, much to his later regret. The notion of containment, nevertheless, was not really about ideology. His account of the Soviet Union had centered, as was his wont, on its alleged ‘nature’ as a specific phenomenon. As was also his wont, the analysis was couched in a language seductively metaphorical and suggestive–a language whose sources of inspiration had little to do with the ideology of the embryonic cold war.

First, ‘containment’ was the language of disease and disease control. Soviet communism was for Kennan ‘a malignant parasite.'”

Too Much Time, Too Much Whiskey in the Northeast of India

Anderson Tepper in the Village Voice:

Book_1 In Siddhartha Deb’s peripatetic second novel, Amrit Singh, a young but prematurely jaded journalist with the Calcutta paper The Sentinel, is looking for a way out: out of Calcutta, the routine of newspaper reporting, the darkness of his gloomy office cubicle and blinkered life. The opportunity comes with an assignment to head to the northeast of the country and open a branch of the paper there. His exile to this forbidding territory along the Burmese border turns out to be precisely the mission he’s been looking for.

Deb is a fluid, thoughtful novelist intent on retracing his steps around the periphery of his country—around the very idea of the nation itself. With his intimate portrait of a shattered, neglected landscape, Deb revitalizes a very Naipaulian obsession. “It was a town dissolving bit by bit into a state of nothingness,” Singh says of Imphal, “with each one of us in the town seceding in his own way from the blinding presence of the republic.” As young writers increasingly lay claim to different regions of India (Pankaj Mishra keeps returning to Benares and the Himalayas, and Amit Chaudhuri is enveloped in the sights and sounds of Calcutta), Deb rediscovers this faraway corner of the northeast.

More here.

Mechanism Of RNA Recoding: New Twists In Brain Protein Production

From the March 17 issue of Nature:Rna

University of Connecticut Health Center scientist, Robert Reenan, has uncovered new rules of RNA recoding–a genetic editing method cells use to expand the number of proteins assembled from a single DNA code. According to his work, the shape a particular RNA adopts solely determines how editing enzymes modify the information molecule inside cells. The study may help explain the remarkable adaptability and evolution of animal nervous systems–including the human brain.

In the Figure: DNA (left) encodes the instructions for making protein, but cells can’t read them directly. Instead, the DNA code is copied first into RNA in a process called transcription. RNA includes coding regions that direct protein assembly (green) and non-coding regions–called introns–that play a regulatory role (yellow, pink). By studying the RNA code for the nervous- system protein, synaptotagmin, in several different insects, Reenan uncovered the general rules of RNA editing. Each insect’s RNA folds differently and the structures determine how the molecules get edited inside cells. This figure illustrates editing of fruit fly and butterfly RNA molecules. RNA folding brings regulatory regions (yellow, pink shapes) together with editing sites (green shapes). The resulting “knots” of fruit fly RNA (upper panel) and “loops” of butterfly RNA (lower panel) guides editing enzymes to sites destined for modification. RNA editing lets cells produce a variety of different proteins from a single DNA code (right). The altered proteins often have different functions from their unmodified counterparts. (Credit: Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation)

More here.

Despite concerns, Open-Access Journals Flourish

Randy Dotinga in Wired:

Despite concerns about the ethics of pay-for-play publishing, the number of open-access academic and medical journals is growing at a fast clip.

In January, an open-access pioneer announced it would more than double the number of journals it offers. Meanwhile, Blackwell Publishing, the world’s largest publisher of academic society journals, is dipping its toes into open access, and the number of free journals has grown by about 300 over the last few months…

Not everyone is thrilled, however. With some exceptions, journals have done things the old-fashioned way — charging for subscriptions and accepting advertising — for as long as anyone can remember. Many of the biggest names in the journal industry are sticking with the traditional model, and some of their editors say they have major doubts about their new competitors, especially considering the financial pressures they face to stay afloat.

More here.

Bearing Russia’s Burdens

Margaret Paxson in the Wilson Quarterly (via Arts & Letters Daily):

Can a nation look for grace? Can it assign a category of persons to bear the burden of its moral tribulations, to be its collective conscience and collective sacrifice, to be its source of spiritual transcendence? In the story that Russia tells about itself, the category of people known as the intelligentsia has borne much of that burden. Members of the intelligentsia have prodded and scolded the people, sought spiritual high ground through their knowledge, and endured the loneliness of sacrifice and struggle against the powers of the state. Pushkin and Dostoyevsky and Maya­kovski and Brodsky (scolds and prophets all) were part of the intelligentsia, but so too were thousands of other souls, more modest in their orations to the people, perhaps, but no less full of longing for knowledge and truth.

And now, in the rough-and-tumble of Russia’s transformation, what is to become of this intelligentsia, so weighed down by its historical role and by a sense of its moral mission?

More here.