Expected scientific discoveries, 2005

We here at 3QD like lists.  Here’s one from The Guardian, a list of scientific discoveries we should have made by the end of 2005.  Some of it’s rather strange.

4. How someone looks after a face transplant

A surgical team from Louisville, Kentucky, is hotly tipped to perform the world’s first face transplant this year, taking a face from a donor corpse and attaching it to a severely disfigured recipient.

The team, which includes bioethicists, submitted a detailed proposal to an ethics panel last May, and the lengthy approvals process concludes soon. In Britain, meanwhile, plans have been put on hold after a Royal College of Surgeons’ working party concluded that the risks outweighed the benefits.”

Also via Political Theory Daily Review.

Happy people are less well-connected to reality and what it may mean for the rest of us

Most explanations and explanatory frameworks in the social sciences ignore the role of emotions in determining human behavior.  Largely, this is a product of the fact that it’s hard to address emotions within a theoretical framework.  There have been attempts to systematically study the role of emotions in recent years.  I suspect that the events of the past few years will lead to a even great focus on things like a sense of humiliation, anger, envy, fear, etc. 

Here’s a study that reports the results of two experiments on the influence of mood on moral judgments. “[T]he data support other empirical research showing that individuals in a positive mood (here, happiness) tend to process information more superficially than those in a negative mood (here, anxiety).”

(Via Political Theory Daily Review)

Rorty’s Kripke

About ten years ago I picked up Kripke’s Naming and Necessity in the midst of lots of reading that centered on German Idealism and the Ancient Greeks. I didn’t really get the point of Kripke, I didn’t ‘feel the force’ of the philosophical problems except to notice that the emphasis on language’s relation to natural kinds seemed vaguely Aristotelian in an unpalatable sort of way.

Still, the urgency with which Kripke wrote also created the impression that something important was going on. In a way, that led me to a much deeper engagement with analytic philosophy and I’m thankful for that, even if much of the stuff is turgid scholasticism.

A lovely short tour through the Kripkean ‘revolution’ is Rorty’s review of Soames’ new tomb in the London Review of Books. If only more people could write like Rorty does about contemporary philosophy.

Before Kripke, most analytic philosophers would have said that all essences were merely nominal. That is, they thought that the question of whether water was ‘essentially’ H2O, or whether something with much the same properties but a different chemical composition might also be water, was uninteresting, because merely verbal. (This is also the view of most non-analytic philosophers: Heideggerians treat talk of real essences as part of the discredited onto-theological tradition, and Derrideans as a distressing symptom of phallogocentrism.) On a pre-Kripkean view, it may indeed be found convenient to find a word other than ‘water’ for the strange new substance, but there are no deeper reasons – nothing like what Kripke had dubbed ‘metaphysical necessity’.

Darwin was generally thought to have struck a blow against Aristotelian essentialism by showing that the lines between biological species had not been drawn by God, and that species kept mutating into different species. But Kripke argued that one could accept Darwin’s story but still say that ‘Whales are not fish’ is a necessary a posteriori truth. For whales would not be whales if they did not have a certain DNA sequence, just as water would not be water if it were not made of hydrogen and oxygen. Microstructure is a tip-off to intrinsic nature, not just a pragmatically useful redescription of things that were originally identified by their macrostructural properties.

Kripke thought that their refusal to take natural kinds seriously showed that everybody from Russell to Quine had been arrogantly turning their backs on what Soames calls ‘the great mass of ordinary, pre-philosophical convictions arising from common sense, science and other areas of inquiry’ – convictions that philosophy cannot ‘overturn wholesale’. A typical result of this arrogance was Quine’s claim that everything we talk about – water, electrons, numbers, mountains, you, me, the Olympian deities – is just a pragmatically convenient ‘posit’. This looked to Kripke, as it does to Soames, like frivolous paradox-mongering. The popularity of such frivolity in the winter of 1970 was, Soames thinks, a sign that analytic philosophy was in dire need of reform.

Tsunami Philosophicus

I suspected in a post here at 3Quarks just after we learned of the devastating Tsunami that such events do not occur without generating a little reflection about the meaning of it all. Terrible natural disasters are particularly difficult to accept without raising fundamental Kantian-themed questions about the relation between Nature and Freedom and the like. As I noted then, nothing shattered the confidence of the Enlightenment like the Lisbon earthquake.

In an offering from Leon Wieseltier at TNR, exactly that theme is expounded upon.

On the morning of November 1, 1755, an earthquake destroyed Lisbon. It lasted ten minutes, and concluded with a tsunami at the mouth of the Tagus River. Tens of thousands of people perished, and the philosophical confidence of Europe was forever shaken. When I began to grasp the magnitude of what the Asian ocean wreaked last week, it was to the Lisbon literature that I turned for assistance. I was in no mood to open a Bible. It is indecent to move immediately from catastrophe to theodicy. Evil should shock and disrupt. The humanity of the dead should be honored with the tribute of dissonance, the tribute of doubt. I do not see how a theistic view of the world cannot be embarrassed, or damaged, by such an event. If it is not possible to venerate nature for its goodness, then it is not possible to venerate the alleged author of nature for His goodness.


And Hendrik Herzberg muses in the New Yorker:

The terrible arbitrariness of the disaster has troubled clergymen of many persuasions. The Archbishop of Canterbury is among those newly struggling with the old question of how a just and loving God could permit, let alone will, such an undeserved horror. (Of course, there are also preachers, thankfully few, who hold that the horror is not only humanly deserved but divinely intended, on account of this or that sin or depredation.) The tsunami, like the city-size asteroid that, on September 29th, missed the earth by only four times the distance of the moon, is a reminder that, one way or another, this is the way the world ends. Man’s laws are proscriptive, nature’s merely descriptive.

Yet it is the very “meaninglessness” of the catastrophe—its lack of human agency, its failure to fit into any scheme of human reward and punishment—that has helped make possible the simple solidarity of the global response. President Reagan, to the exasperation of his aides, used to muse that human beings, faced with some mortal threat from beyond the skies, would put aside their differences in common cause. Something like that, on a very modest scale, appears to be happening as the world clamors to help the survivors of the destroyer from beneath the seas. Tsunamis have no politics.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Democratic Vistas

We observe this week the eagerly awaited translation of Giorgio Agemben’s State of Exception (Chicago, 2005). Among the most creative political theorists on the international scene, Agemben here takes stock of the fate of democracy in the post 9/11 era, placing the suspension of civil liberties in a long historical and philosophical context. Agemben describes the two-fold dimension of the argument in a recent interview in the German Law Journal as follows: “The first is a historical matter: the state  of exception or state of emergency has become a paradigm of government  today.  Originally understood as  something extraordinary,an exception, which should have validity only for a limited period of time, but a historical transformation has made it the normal form of governance.  I wanted to show the consequence of this  change for the state of the democracies in which we live.  The second is of a philosophical nature and  deals with the strange relationship of law and lawlessness, law and anomy.  The state of exception establishes a hidden  but fundamental relationship between law and the absence of law.  It is a void, a blank and this empty space  is constitutive of the legal system.”

Agemben received some attention stateside last year when he refused to take up a visiting position at NYU because traveling to the US would have required fingerprinting.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The System of World Literature

Few books in the literary humanities today have much of an impact outside their respective fields. Such is the fate of a discipline objectively in crisis. Even so, Pascale Casanova’s recently translated World Republic of Letters (Harvard, 2005) is making quite a mark. An analysis of “the global economy of prestige that ushers some authors into the international literary sphere while keeping others shut out,” Casanova’s study argues that the Parisian cultural establishment gives shape to national literatures far outside its geographical and linguistic purview.

Cultural Capital Volume Two

An analysis of the debate over the literary canon, John Guillory’s Cultural Capital (Chicago, 1993) was among the most widely cited and influential books published in the academic literary humanities in the 1990s: “the idea was to push the debate off the term ‘identity’, or social identity, and move it more in the direction of considering schools, institutions, language, the discourse of literature, the discourse of criticism.” In this recent interview, Guillory considers the impact that his book had and takes a look at the current state of the academic discipline of literary study. He also discusses what it was like to be a graduate student at Yale during the heyday of deconstruction and how his early Jesuitical training influenced his later, secular vocation as a critic.

Friday, January 14, 2005

On Pickles

The New York Times recently piqued my interest when it ran a short piece about at-home-pickler Rick Field: Pickle

Along the way broader realizations about pickling’s impact on his emotional fortitude became clear to Mr. Field in therapy. “The world is incredibly crazy and complicated,” he said, “and at some point I started to feel as if there was something very satisfying about putting something in a jar, looking at it, closing it, tucking it away, watching it, giving it to someone and moving on.”

To see Mr. Field’s surprisingly elegant pickle website, click here.

For a good index of New York City pickle spots, including long-time favorite Guss’s Pickles, click here.

Mark Kurlansky’s book, “Salt: A World History” provides a useful gloss on the process of pickling:

The process by which the Chinese, and later the Japanese, fermented beans in earthen pots is today known as lactic acid fermentation, or, in more common jargon, pickling. Optimum lactic fermentation takes place between sixty-four and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit, which in most of the world is an easily achieved environment.

As vegetables begin to rot, the sugars break down and produce lactic acid, which serves as a preservative. Theoretically, pickling can be accomplished without salt, but the carbohydrates and proteins in the vegetables tend to putrefy too quickly to be saved by the emerging lactic acid. Without salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles.

Between .8 and 1.5 percent of the vegetable’s weight in salt holds off the rotting process until the lactic acid can take over. Excluding oxygen, either by sealing the jar or, more usually, by weighting the vegetables so that they remain immersed in liquid, is necessary for successful lactic fermentation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

On Atmospheric Augury

The American Institute of Physics website contains a fascinating and enjoyably dense history of the science of climatology. Particularly pleasurable is the website’s explication of related developments in chaos theory, computer science, and hermeneutics, all of which deeply effected climatology’s evolution as a science:

The more people worked with computers, the more examples they found of oddly unstable results. Start two computations with exactly the same initial conditions, and they must always come to precisely the same conclusion. But make the slightest change in the fifth decimal place of some initial number, and as the machine cycled through thousands of arithmetic operations the difference might grow and grow, in the end giving a seriously different result. Of course people had long understood that a pencil balanced on its point could fall left or right depending on the tiniest difference in initial conditions, to say nothing of the quantum uncertainties. Scientists had always supposed that this kind of situation only arose under radically simplified circumstances, far from the stable balance of real-world systems like global climate. It was not until the 1950s, when people got digital machines that could do many series of huge computations, that a few began to wonder whether their surprising sensitivity pointed to some fundamental difficulty.

In 1961, an accident cast new light on the question. Luck in science comes to those in the right place and time with the right set of mind, and that was where Edward Lorenz stood. He was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where development of computer models was in the air, and intellectually he was one of a new breed of professionals who were combining meteorology with mathematics. Lorenz had devised a simple computer model that produced impressive simulacra of weather patterns. One day he decided to repeat a computation in order to run it longer from a particular point. His computer worked things out to six decimal places, but to get a compact printout he had truncated the numbers, printing out only the first three digits. Lorenz entered these digits back into his computer. After a simulated month or so, the weather pattern diverged from the original result. A difference in the fourth decimal place was amplified in the thousands of arithmetic operations, spreading through the computation to bring a totally new outcome. “It was possible to plug the uncertainty into an actual equation,” Lorenz later recalled, “and watch the things grow, step by step.”

Lorenz was astonished. While the problem of sensitivity to initial numbers was well known in abstract mathematics, and computer experts were familiar with the dangers of truncating numbers, he had expected his system to behave like real weather. The truncation errors in the fourth decimal place were tiny compared with any of a hundred minor factors that might nudge the temperature or wind speed from minute to minute. Lorenz had assumed that such variations could lead only to slightly different solutions for the equations, “recognizable as the same solution a month or a year afterwards… and it turned out to be quite different from this.” Storms appeared or disappeared from the weather forecasts as if by chance.

Full article here.

For the American Petroleum Institute’s wholly predictable take on the unpredictability inherent in forecasting drastic climate change, click here.

A shorter article from Physics Today can be found here.

The Return of Still in Theaters

Darger3In the Realms of the Unreal, Jessica Yu’s documentary on recluse artist Henry Darger, who passed away in 1973, has been held over at Film Forum for at least the next week. Working with almost foolproof material, the documentary provides insight into Darger’s inner world through interviews with the handful of people left alive who knew him, as well as extensive and cleverly animated imagery from his 15, 000 page graphic novel and life’s project, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. But the film also reflects important trends in contemporary art displaying interest in the queer, the subcultural, and the handcrafted. Video artists such as Paul Chan, as in his Happiness (finally) after 35, 000 Years of Civilization, and Tom Kalin, as in his new short Every Wandering Cloud–part of MoMA’s Premieres last Sunday (Jan. 9)–have expressed outright their inspiration drawn from Darger’s seminal work, and scores of other young artists aspire to his imagination, aesthetic, and inimitable Outsider-artist chic.

For a comprehensive list of Darger links click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Counter-Inauguration

The Counter-Inaugural 2005 website appears to be the main digital hub responsible for the organization of a wide variety of political action groups that, however disparate, do share one common goal: expressing their strong objection to the upcoming presidential inauguration.
Of a numerous list, one of my favorites would have to be a political action group going by the name of Bang!Zoom! Their inaugural day protest takes the form of a collective mooning of the president.

For a full index of all the groups set to converge on Washington, D.C. come inauguration day, click here.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Should we get rid of the Gregorian calendar

A physicist at Johns Hopkins University, Dick Henry has proposed replacing the Gregorian calendar with a new one. 

The current calendar, which runs for 365 days, was instituted by Pope Gregory in 1582 to bring the length of the year in line with the seasons. But because the Earth actually orbits the Sun every 365.24 days, a 366-day “leap year” must be added every four years to account for the extra fraction of a day. In this Gregorian system, a given date (such as New Year’s Day) falls on different days of the week in different years because 365 is not evenly divisible by seven.

. . .

So Henry designed a calendar that uses 364 days, which breaks down evenly into 52 weeks. In his so called ‘Calendar-and-Time’ (C&T) plan, each month contains 30 or 31 days. He decided on each month’s length by forbidding the new calendar to differ from the old one by more than five days and by setting Christmas Day, 25 December, to always fall on a Sunday.

. . .

His constraints meant eight months would have different lengths than they do now. March, June, September, and December would each contain 31 days, while the other months would each get 30. To keep the calendar in synchronisation with the seasons, Henry inserted an extra week – which is not part of any month – every five or six years. He named the addition ‘Newton Week’ in honour of his favourite physicist, Isaac Newton.

‘If I had my way, everyone would get Newton Week off as a paid vacation and could spend the time doing physics, or other activities of their choice,’ he says.

Despite this incentive, Henry says he has encountered resistance to his plan – mainly because people would be ‘stuck’ with a birthday that always falls on a Wednesday, for example. Henry, who is among that group, is not moved by the argument. ‘You have my permission to celebrate your birthday the preceding or following Saturday,’ he says.”

Bernard Henri Levy Under Attack

Via political theory daily review:

France’s love affair with its highest-profile living philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, appears to be at an end after the publication of a number of books attacking his writings and methodology.

The latest critique, by the investigative journalist Philippe Cohen, brands Lévy intellectually ‘incoherent’. His book, BHL – a biography, published this week, coldly sets out to unmask the philosopher.

It attacks France’s most media-friendly intellectual on all fronts, dissecting not just his work but the man himself.

It reproaches him for impoverishing French intellectual debate by over-simplifying any complex issue for mass consumption and demonising the opposite point of view.

It even suggests that the ideas set out in his work French Ideology accelerated the rise of France’s hard-Right National Front.”

Giddens on the New Terrorism

The sociologist Anthony Giddens has a provocative piece on Al Qaeda and the new terrorism in The New Statesman.  The upshot:

“The left has to adjust its attitudes towards terrorism, just as it had to adjust them towards crime. It won’t do to say that there are no serious threats. It won’t do to blame the troubles of the world on George W Bush or the Iraq war. It is no good pretending that there aren’t problems in reconciling civil liberties with adequate protection and security. It is not wrong to say that we have to deal with the social conditions that have helped to produce new-style terrorism – poverty and unemployment, schisms between the Islamic world and the west, the situation in Israel/Palestine. And it is certainly right to say that we need urgent measures to halt further nuclear proliferation.

But as with crime, we cannot think only of the underlying conditions. New-style terrorists are by no means always drawn from the ranks of the dispossessed; and their aims, as in the case of al-Qaeda, may be primarily religious and strategic. We have to respond to the dangers they pose in the here and now.”

Gerard Debreu, 1921-2005

Another great economist, Gerard Debreu, winner of the 1983 Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, has also died.  Debreu was known for his work on general equilibrium, his proofs of the first and second fundamental theorems of welfare economics, and the integration of uncertainty into general equilibrium through state-contingent commodities.

“Mr. Debreu won the Nobel for his work on a mathematical approach to one of the most basic economic problems: how prices function to balance what producers supply with what buyers want.

A slender 100-page book he wrote that was published in 1959, ‘Theory of Value: An Axiomatic Analysis of Economic Equilibrium,’ is considered a classic of the field.

. . .

In contrast to other winners in economics, Mr. Debreu focused on basic research rather than applications of economic theory.

‘You would not get much of an economic policy discussion out of him,’ Assar Lindbeck, chairman of the panel that reviewed nominations for the Nobel committee, said when he announced the award to Mr. Debreu 21 years ago. ‘He is the kind of teacher who starts in the top left corner of the blackboard, fills it with formulae and reaches the bottom right corner at the end of the class.'”

Robert Heilbroner, 1919-2005

Robert Heilbroner, one of the great economic historians of the era and author of the canonical Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers, has died. 

“A professor at the New School in New York for five decades and author of more than 20 books, Dr Heilbroner remains best known for his first book, Worldly Philosophers, an engrossing account of the lives and contributions of economists from Adam Smith and Karl Marx to John Maynard Keynes. Written as his doctoral thesis in 1953, Worldly Philosophers has sold nearly 4m copies – the second best-selling economics text of all time (after Paul Samuelson’s Economics)-and remains required reading in the economics departments of virtually every American college. The book is also credited with inspiring the careers of generations of economists.

In his later years, Dr Heilbroner became a critic of the modern economics, cautioning that the focus on mathematics and esoteric models to the exclusion of any societal factors diverged from the great strides made by his Worldly Philosophers. This failure of vision, he warned, threatened to render the field irrelevant. In 1996’s The Crisis of Vision in Modern Economic Thought, co-authored with Will Milberg, he noted that ‘the high theorising of the present period [in economics] attains a degree of unreality that can be matched only by medieval scholasticism’.”

Saturday, January 8, 2005

Still in Theaters

Finger Zhang Yimou’s latest film, House of Flying Daggers is still at select New York metro area theaters. Not without its definitively campy moments, the director’s painterly composition slips from one scene to the next with colors so saturated even the pirate-dvd looks hot, while Takeshi Kanehiro is a beautiful boy and starlet Zhang Ziyi’s willowy figure has prompted the New York Times to breathlessly declare current Chinese film the new orientation of glamour (the original article, written by Manohla Dargis, had a front page spread in the December 5, 2004, Arts and Leisure section but is now inaccessibly archived. Check out the IHT text).

The movie is set in 859 ce amidst the chaos of the latter Tang Dynasty (roughly 618 – 907 ce), an era that has proved an endless repository for the Sinophile (including Japanese and perhaps also Korean literati) imagination ever since its ultimate collapse. The dynasty was brilliance at its most desirable: full of insane elixir quaffing emperors, court intrigue, westward expansion campaigns, Silk Road cosmopolitan decadence, and perhaps one of the most lyricized socio-political apocalypses in world history. The Tang Dynasty poets were the most poetic, the heroines the most heroin, and everyone immortal. So it’s great to see that brought to cinema in loving, precise detail and extravagance. An entire multi-story bordello recreated complete with painted floors and an entire drum brigade deserves major respect and Zhang Ziyi’s dancing is perfected by the most exacting placement of hand to cheek, pinky finger extended just so to set lordly wags twisting in their tombs.

The question of course, after all this beauty-incited longing, is: Zhang Yimou has always been accused of being an Oriental’s Orientalist, making lavishly indigenous films for Western (festival circuit) consumption, what? Stop hating. My own opinion is that if anything, House of Flying Daggers, with its lacquered storyline and forced intrigue, represents a director indulging in a reckless visual excess that transcends criticality. Best to catch it while still in on the big screen.

Friday, January 7, 2005

Save The Subway from Barbarians!

Today is the last day of the 45-day public comment period before New York City Transit votes on whether to institute its asinine proposal to ban photography in the subway. How enforceable. We occupy a moment in time, I believe, in which the state’s limitless appetite for juridical incursions into the sphere of social freedom would make Foucault blanch (not such an easy thing to do). The Times has this piece on those who make pictures underground; the absence of the perspective of graffiti chronicler Martha Cooper is a crying shame. However, there’s also this excellent interactive feature containing some of Bruce Davidson’s work and interviews with many characters you’ll recognize, such as the guy with the mannequin in Times Square (anyone else find New York Times references to Times Square a little uncanny?) and Jonathan Zizmor, Dr. Z himself.

Here’s the text of the proposed rule change (look in Section 1050.6). If you agree that such pointless restrictions of freedom in the name of “security” degrade our civil society and public space, please email the MTA before tomorrow.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Spurious post on Wes Anderson

Lifeaquatic2_2 So, assuming that reviews would be raving about Wes Anderson’s latest film, I was on the verge of not posting anything when doing a little research I found to my surprise that writers across all (web-posted) media almost unanimously cracked down on the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, highlighting ‘unconvincing pirate attacks and animated sea creatures’ (Rolling Stone); Wes Anderson’s “precious”-ness (was that somewhere in the studio press release? Cited in multiple reviews including Entertainment Weekly and Slate); “mawkish”-ness (Slate); lack of narrative continuity (again, singling out the pirate attack: see the New York Daily News); and stifled character development (Village Voice), among other points.

All of which suggests the alarming literal-mindedness with which respected, or at least authoritative, reviewers in the American media establishment view cinema, if not life. Suggesting, further, the residual and overpowering morality (the Darwinian-ascetic drive to perfection) that informs prevailing continental aesthetics. While Anderson’s neo-cinephile appeal can indeed quaff irritatingly “precious” or gimmicky or baroque, taken on it’s own, Life Aquatic achieves a lightness uncommon in current American film. Its humor is restrained, subtle, and reflective (what many reviewers term quasi-pejoratively as “deadpan”)—full of quirky details, such as the much maligned pirate sequence: bravo to Wes Anderson for finding a way to work Tagalog (the language spoken by most Filipinos, the ethnicity of the movie’s pirate crew) into a 50-million dollar English-language production! And incorporating a sophisticated use of musical overlay to redirect dramatic tension into a marvelous concatenation of twitchy retro-chic techno-synth non-sequitor.

the spurious part,

Movies, even Wes Anderson movies, need be neither brilliant nor profound, and it’s debatable whether Wes Anderson has yet achieved such a movie himself. Nor does a movie’s significance have to rest in the realm of gut-gratifying metaphor that so many reviewers seem to crave. The Life Aquatic lolls in those always escaping half-stops between statement and meaning that constitute irony, yes, but this does not make it heavy-handedly ironic. How about playful? Enjoyable? Seductive? Indeed, the film’s initial surface artifice inevitably leads the viewer into darkly fulfilling desolate spaces—a torched boat, an abandoned island resort, oceanic abysses.

And perhaps the long-standing tyranny of “character development” as critical hammer is also indebted to an all-too facile embrace of psychology as interpretive crutch, assuming that even in intimate interaction two people can ever explain each other’s actions? Or that in any community (ensemble) all personalities can be accounted for?

more spurious.

Regardless of how I felt critically, what has impressed me about the two Wes Anderson movies I have seen, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, is that the director seems to have a preternatural understanding of the Japanese aesthetic of “mono no aware,” which can be understood as “the evanescence of things,” or “the evanescence of beauty,” or “the pathos inherent in evanescent beauty.” In Japanese material culture, for example, the mono no aware aesthetic has contributed to a taste for “the quirky,” or “the imperfect,” “the asymmetrical,” “the scarred,” and the grotesque as propagated most infamously by current figurehead artist Takashi Murakami’s theory of superflat. And in literary culture, the mono no aware aesthetic has manifested itself in countless celebrations and inversions of interrupted love and longing: the play between love/emotion, beauty, and death.

It’s kind of interesting and refreshing to find this expressed in Anderson’s work, as characters, in between wisecracks, confront the sudden loss of something they hold dear. And if viewed through the sympathetic lens of mono no aware, many of Anderson’s uneven edges become understandable or endearing. In a way the he might even be working towards the Neosincerity that fellow 3quarkser Morgan Meis has already been noted for in this same blogspace. All this to say, Speak up for a practicing director who has a good eye for twisted melodrama in the face of boorish boors.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Tom DeLay and the tsunami

Continuing on the theme of the tsunami and religion, Representative Tom DeLay (R-Texas) offered this passage from Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount.

21. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

22. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’

23. Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’

24. Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

25. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

26. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.

27. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

He offered it at the 109th Congressal Prayer Service, which you can find at C-Span.  The choice of passage paints at least a plausible image that he believes that believers received God’s punishment.  But interestingly, not everyone sees it that way, and certainly, it possible that DeLay doesn’t see it that way.  (Although, my take on Tom DeLay leads me to suspect that he did mean it that way, but I could be wrong.)  The discussion of DeLay’s choice of the passage over at Crooked Timber is interesting.  One commenter suggests that the passage is not about judging unbelievers but rather:

“One of the points Jesus is making in the passage Delay read out is that self-proclaimed ‘faith’ without works will not be recognized. The last sentence before the passage De Lay read is ‘by their fruit you will recognize them.’ (7:20) Among the ‘words’ which hearers are to put into practice are: ‘Love your enemies’ (5:44), ‘do not resist evil,’ (5:39), ‘do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth’ (6:22), and ‘do not judge.’ (7:1) . . . [I]f his prayer is understood as an appeal to his fellow Christians to put their faith into practice, it takes on a different appearance. Try reading it as not about the victims of the tsunami, but about those who are hearing it read out to them. . . The passage, in context, is addressed to Christ’s ‘hearers’ and is a challenge to them. It is explicitly not about judging others. It is about doing God’s will — where that means, as Matthew also tells us, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. (25: 35-36)”

I have my doubts that this is how DeLay reads it.  But there are those who do think that things like this are God’s punishment and they do read it that way, even if most believers don’t, as these comments on whether the tsunami was an act of God suggest.  Perhaps the most interesting question is why “blaming the victims” is so easy a turn for religion, even if it isn’t the most common one.