Monday, October 05, 2015
by Claire Chambers
Something rather different comes out of fiction by three Bengali women writers based in Britain, as compared to the male authors I examined in Banglaphone Fiction I and II. In this third and final part of the essay, I first examine Monica Ali who, in her novel Brick Lane, mostly evokes life in Britain, with only occasional and usually proleptic descriptions of Bangladesh. By contrast, Sunetra Gupta's Memories of Rain is at once intercontinental, urban, and stateless – often all within a single sentence. The final author Tahmima Anam deploys an alternative strategy again, choosing, in A Golden Age and The Good Muslim, to abjure representations of Britain altogether, in favour of a concentrated focus on the Bangladeshi nation.
‘This is another disease that afflicts us,' said the doctor. ‘I call it Going Home Syndrome. Do you know what that means?' He addressed himself to Nazneen. …
‘[W]hen they have saved enough they will get on an aeroplane and go?'
‘They don't ever really leave home. Their bodies are here but their hearts are back there. And anyway, look how they live: just recreating the villages here. … But they will never save enough to go back. … Every year they think, just one more year. But whatever they save, it's never enough.'
‘We would not need very much,' said Nazneen. Both men looked at her. She spoke to her plate.
No text exemplifies more clearly the contrast between the England-returned and the myth of return migrants that I discuss elsewhere than Brick Lane. The above quotation illustrates what the medical man Dr Azad calls ‘Going Home Syndrome', a disease that he claims afflicts Bangladeshi migrants. This links with a strand in the novel about the migrant's sense of being out of place, which can lead to mental illness such as Nazneen's collapse due to ‘nervous exhaustion'. (See Esra Santesso's Disorientation for a good reading of this.)
Probably the most important means by which migrants either try to assimilate in the host country or turn away from it towards the homeland is through education. At first, Nazneen's husband Chanu imagines himself to be immune to Going Home Syndrome, and tries instead to make a life for himself in Britain. When he arrives in England, all Chanu has is the usual few pounds in his pocket, along with the significant additional item of his degree certificate. In England he undertakes classes in everything from nineteenth-century economics to cycling proficiency, and acquires further certificates. These he frames and displays on the wall of his and Nazneen's poky Tower Hamlets home, as a talisman of his hopes of promotion at work and the consequent acquisition of a comfortable life in London. Yet his dreams remain unrealized, whether because of institutional racism at his work or his own incompetence is never made clear. Chanu's aspirations then take a bitter turn towards his becoming an England-returned success story. He clings increasingly to the fantasy of returning to Dhaka in financial and social triumph. However, as sociologist Muhammad Anwar argues, this notion of return migration often proves to be a myth, especially because wives and children help men to put down roots in the new country. Nazneen and especially her young daughters Shahana and Bibi fear their father's longed-for homecoming. The rationale for going back to Dhaka is tenuously based on a saviour complex – to rescue Nazneen's sister, the vulnerable ingenue Hasina whose unwittingly alarming letters to Nazneen about sexual grooming and exploitation pepper the narrative – but the three women now have roots in Britain. They decide to stay on. Trailing clouds of defeat more than glory, the patriarch Chanu goes home on his own.
Nasreen Mohamedi. From Nasreen's Notes.
by Brooks Riley
by Sue Hubbard
Four a.m. on an October Sunday morning. It's dark and there's a chill in the air as we head towards Dover. I am joining an artist friend to visit refugees in the Calais Jungle. She is a Catholic, so we are going with a west London Catholic mission. In the back of the car is a tiny Portuguese nun, Sister Natalia, who has many years of experience working in Africa and speaks Arabic, also a young missionary nun and a Somalian school-dinner lady, who is now a British citizen. As we drive along the empty, early-morning roads Sister Natalia prays and sings.
As the sun rises I stand on the deck and watch the White Cliffs of Dover disappear and think how easy it is for me to cross this narrow strip of water and how hard it is for so many others in the world.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
Ross Andersen in The Atlantic:
Aleppo, Syria, has as good a claim as any to the title of “world’s oldest city.” It is certainly among the longest to be continuously inhabited. There are hints that nomads camped out just north of Aleppo, as early as 11,000 B.C. People used to say that Abraham had climbed its highest hill, to survey the surrounding landscape. Alexander the Great conquered Aleppo in the 4th century B.C, and made it an outpost in his empire. It would later become a hub on the Silk Road, where trade routes from Mesopotamia, China, Europe, and Egypt converged.
What is a city, if not a place of convergence? For the bulk of our existence, we humans have been wanderers, lovers of open land and sky. Cities tricked us out of this way of life. They seduced us with convergence, with hundreds, thousands, even millions of people, all living in one place. When scholars debate the site of the world’s first city, they are yearning after our cultural origins.
Recent human history can plausibly be described as a great experiment in urbanism. We used to roam, then we settled, and condensed into nodes. For thousands of years, the pace of these changes was slow, but in our current era, urbanization has accelerated. Hundreds of millions of people have moved into cities during this past century. Theirs is the largest migration in human history, and by a wide margin.
Jennifer Percy in the NYT Magazine:
Lawton arrived in Syria, was given an M-16 and in just over two weeks was participating in the offensive at Tel Hamis. ‘‘Fighting ISIS wasn’t high-profile yet,’’ he said. ‘‘Wasn’t a big deal. Easy ride to the front.’’
His nom de guerre was Heval Sharvan, but the freedom fighters called him Captain America. ‘‘I think, after this, I might want to relax and go back to work,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe New York or maybe Miami. Well, Miami might be too chill.’’
Lawton told me about the day he killed an ISIS militant. A Kurd gave him a sniper rifle to attack an ISIS-controlled village. Lawton took a position on the roof of a building and saw an ISIS fighter with a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher running below. Lawton shot him.
‘‘The guy just exploded,’’ Lawton said. ‘‘He was just gone.’’ Lawton still had the rifle at his side, close to his body like a purse.
‘‘That was my first kill,’’ he said. ‘‘Kinda weird, but I had a nightmare that night.’’
‘‘About the militant?’’ I asked.
‘‘It’s hard to explain,’’ he said. ‘‘You know these guys are animals, but even with that knowledge … ’’ He trailed off. ‘‘You know you have to let the brain figure it out on its own,’’ he said. ‘‘He pointed the R.P.G. at me. He would have taken me and my friend. It was hard for me. Killing people, you know you are here to do it. But then, when it happens, and you see it. It’s different. He just exploded.’’
We walked together up the road toward the village. Barley fields spread for miles all around us. ‘‘A couple days later, I was good,’’ he said. ‘‘Ever since then, it’s been no problem. I just have to remember the videos.’’
He meant the videos of Foley, of the Syrian soldiers. He looked down and softened the earth with his boot. ‘‘See,’’ he said. ‘‘I have a big heart, and I never pictured myself actually doing it. I like to see the good in everybody.’’
Jedediah Purdy in The LA Review of Books:
EVERYONE I KNOW is reading, or means to read, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Elena Ferrante. These authors have very little in common, by the way such things are typically measured: they share neither genre, style, gender, race, nor nationality. What they do share is the sense of personal urgency, the hunger, they’ve created in readers. What does this response say about these writers, seemingly so different, and about all of us who have brought them together in our book bags, in mind and feeling? How have they arrested and occupied our attention?
Coates’s Between the World and Me appeals to readers’ desperation to see more clearly, feel more definitely, in a time of terrible racial violence. It resonates, too, with our doubts that justice is near, or possible, or even something much of the country wants. Ferrante’s novels — particularly her Neapolitan series, the final volume of which was just published — touch a nearer and quieter desperation. As Joanna Biggs wrote in a brilliant review essay, everyone she knows seems to have tumbled from Ferrante’s pages to some intense recollection of their own formative friendships and losses, their own most private and defining confusion and pain.
Yet in these books, both authors, seemingly knowing what readers have come asking of them, refuse to give it. They refuse on grounds that are formal, political, and, in a fashion, ethical. What joins these very different works is their refusal to be our books, to offer an easy connection, a place to rest that feels like clarity.
This is what makes the books documents of the moment. Their resistance to making connection and meaning co-exists with hunger for these. These authors argue, in their language as well as their stories and assertions, that you do not really know others, or yourself.
Max Tegmark in Nautilus:
Excuse me, but what’s the time?” I’m guessing that you, like me, are guilty of having asked this question, as if it were obvious that there is such a thing as the time. Yet you’ve probably never approached a stranger and asked “Excuse me, but what’s the place?”. If you were hopelessly lost, you’d probably instead have said something like “Excuse me, but where am I?” thereby acknowledging that you’re not asking about a property of space, but rather about a property of yourself. Similarly, when you ask for the time, you’re not really asking about a property of time, but rather about your location in time.
But that is not how we usually think about it. Our language reveals how differently we think of space and time: The first as a static stage, and the second as something flowing. Despite our intuition, however, the flow of time is an illusion. Einstein taught us that there are two equivalent ways of thinking about our physical reality: Either as a three-dimensional place called space, where things change over time, or as a four-dimensional place called spacetime that simply exists, unchanging, never created, and never destroyed.
I think of the two viewpoints as the different perspectives on reality that a frog and a bird might take. The bird surveys the landscape of reality from high “above,” akin to a physicist studying the mathematical structure of spacetime as described by the equations of physics. The frog, on the other hand, lives inside the landscape surveyed by the bird. Looking up at the moon over time, the frog sees something like the right panel in the figure, “The Moon’s Orbit”: Five snapshots of space with the Moon in different positions each time. But the bird sees an unchanging spiral shape in spacetime, as shown in the left panel.
For the bird—and the physicist—there is no objective definition of past or future. As Einstein put it, “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” When we think about the present, we mean the time slice through spacetime corresponding to the time when we’re having that thought. We refer to the future and past as the parts of spacetime above and below this slice.
Sebastian Smee in the Boston Globe:
Combining the techniques of traditional Indo-Persian miniature painting with 21st-century digital technology, Shahzia Sikander makes bewitching animations that cry out for multiple viewings. Her exhibition at Tufts University Art Gallery includes works on paper and photographs, but is centered on a stunning 15-minute animation, “Parallax,” projected on a wide, curving screen.
The film is derived from Sikander’s own paintings in watercolor, gouache, and ink. Their morphing forms, drenching colors, and disruptive details are lent added life and meaning by a haunting soundtrack. Produced by Sikander and the composer Du Yun, this audio helps steer us through the visuals. It shifts between the sounds of a bustling market, words intoned by three contemporary poets from Sharjah, and evocative music.
“Parallax” — the word describes two views of the same thing which are both real and yet incommensurable — is a work that asks to be experienced, then parsed, then experienced again. The middle part, the interpreting stage, can feel like hard work: Sikander’s struggles to give her work “relevance” can veer off, at times, into a free-associative gush.
But the work itself defeats objections, simply because it is so visually and acoustically captivating.
And the soul, if she is to know herself,
must look inside the soul —Plato
And the Soul
And the soul, if she is to know herself
must look into the soul and find
what kind of beast is hiding.
And if it be a horse, open up the gate
and let it run. And if it be a rabbit
give it sand dunes to disappear in.
And if it be a swan, create a mirror image,
give it water. And if it be a badger
grow a sloping woodland in your heart.
And if it be a tick, let the blood flow
until it’s sated. And if it be a fish
there must be a river and a mountain.
And if it be a cat, find some people
to ignore, but if it be a wolf,
you’ll know from its restless way
of moving, if it be a wolf,
throw back your head
and let it howl.
by Kim Moore
from The art of falling
Seren Books, 2015
Bee Wilson in More Intelligent Life:
“Dr Watson doesn’t write to you, he talks to you, with Edwardian courtesy, across a glowing fire.” So said John le Carré, one of many writers in thrall to Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). His most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, provides the excitement. But his second most famous, John Watson, provides the voice. The stories (1887-1927) are infinitely re-readable. Fans focus on Holmes himself, that perfect assemblage of cold calculation and eccentric tastes—the violin, the cocaine, the tobacco in the Persian slipper. “Every writer owes something to Holmes,” wrote T.S. Eliot in 1929. But Holmes would be precious without Watson’s direct, manly presence. A late story narrated by Holmes was hopeless. The prose lost most of its energy and all of its suspense, and became smug. Watson, the medic ever ready with a pistol and a flask of brandy, was a conduit for Doyle himself, who had been a GP. The doctor is decent, and, contrary to popular belief, not stupid. He shares the reader’s breathless bemusement at Holmes’s lightning deductions. “What can it all mean?” Watson gasps in “The Speckled Band”, the most terrifying story of all. “‘It means that it’s all over,’ Holmes answered.”
Use energetic verbs to add urgency to plots that could seem static. Holmes never stands up if he can spring to his feet. He also grasps, thrusts, jerks and tosses. Watson even “ejaculates” when excited. The innocence adds to the sense of adventure.
1. Conjuring up 221B Baker Street, a masculine setting, far from family life, but cosy. So many of the stories begin and end here. We may have been alarmed by psychotic stepfathers or Ku Klux Klan vendettas, but 221B is still there.
2. Hinting at a vast Holmesian hinterland, as in “the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee”. The endearing zealots who try to flesh out the back story are missing the point. To hear of Holmes’s monograph “Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos” is thrilling. To plough through it would be dull.
Saturday, October 03, 2015
George Yancy interviews Paul Gilroy in The NYT's The Stone:
George Yancy: In a review of the 2013 movie “12 Years a Slave,” you wrote that neoliberalism — the unquestioning faith in free market values taken to ideological extremes — essentially ignores the existence of systemic racism, and presents it as “anachronistic.” This worldview, which so many of us in the West confront in society, you wrote, “decrees that racism no longer presents a significant obstacle either to individual success or to collective self-realization.” This made me think of, among other things, the killing in April of Walter Scott, a black man who was shot in the back eight times by a white police officer in Charleston, S.C. Obviously, there is nothing anachronistic about American racism. It is alive and well. From your perspective in Britain, how do you understand events like the Scott killing?
Paul Gilroy: I don’t come to the United States very often but I happened to be visiting when Walter Scott was shot by another trigger-happy police officer. I was angry and upset. I hope I don’t need to emphasize that I am a firm supporter of the movement that has arisen in response to this sequence of killings exposed by the ubiquity of the camera phone and the communicative resources of social media. Britain isn’t a gun-loving or -toting nation. Racism in our country doesn’t operate on the same scale as the racial organization of law and sovereign power in the United States, but our recent history also includes a long list of black people who’ve lost their lives following contact with the forces of law and order. Similarly, our police and their various private proxies have never been held to account for those deaths, so this is very familiar ground. Police in many polities can kill with impunity, and racial hierarchy augments their essentially permissive relationship with the law. The officer in this case was charged with murder. We will have to see whether he is found guilty. That would be a very rare outcome indeed.
Of course, to say that neoliberalism presents racism as anachronistic was not to say that racism is anachronistic. Confronting racism is a timely, urgent matter. The casual killing of black people appears to be a pursuit that originated in an earlier phase of American history. In his epochal analysis of historical and cultural process, the prolific Welsh novelist and academic Raymond Williams drew an important distinction in the way that social and cultural formations develop. Drawing upon him, we can say that we live with neoliberalism but it might not yet be fully dominant. There is certainly worse to come. Neoliberalism could still be emergent, while what appears to be the casual habit of murdering people who come into contact with the police might belong to its prehistory and could be considered either dominant or residual, depending on your point of view.
Stoya in The Smart Set:
In How to Do Things with Pornography, feminist philosopher Nancy Bauer refers to a specific idea of pornography: the inherently harmful boogey creature that anti-pornography feminists have railed against since the 70s. A significant portion of her book is spent discussing the flaws in the anti-porn rhetoric of both Catharine MacKinnon and Rae Langton. All of which is in the service of what seems to be the true focus of the book: arguing against philosophers’ interpretations of J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words.
Austin’s philosophical work centered on language, specifically focusing on illocutions, perlocutions, and speech acts — uses of language where saying something is also doing. In the 55 years since Austin’s death, a number of anti-pornography feminists have referenced Austin’s work in their attempts to undermine the protection that the First Amendment provides adult films and the people who make them by framing it as something other than speech. Speech has First Amendment protection, but if pornography is other, that issue becomes less clear. Bauer disagrees with some of these finer points.
Declaring that the idea of pornography as a form of speech is overly simplistic, Bauer asks a number of questions:
“Who is doing the speaking? The subjects of the photographs? (And are they subjects or objects—or both?) The pornographers? And what exactly is being said? And to whom?”
Instead of attempting to answer the questions, she expresses surprise that “none of the people on either side of the pornography debates appears to be interested in doing [this work].” Bauer suggests the reason that these questions are not explored is due to the amount of pornography one would need to view and the amount of introspection one would need to have regarding that pornography, as well as awareness of one’s feelings on it. This would be an understandably distasteful task for people who believe pornography is inherently abusive towards women as a gender.
J. Hoberman over at the NYRB's daily blog:
Like a reel of film coursing through a movie projector, the history of motion pictures rolls on—if increasingly without the projector or the film.
Two twenty-first century phenomena have changed the way moving pictures are made and perceived. The first is the accelerating use of digital technology and the inexorable rise of a cyborg cinema that, by combining animated and photographic images, compromises the direct relationship to reality that had long been the medium’s claim to truth. The second is the trauma of September 11, 2001, which for many provided the ultimate movie experience that was more than a movie—spectacular destruction, broadcast live, and watched by an audience, more or less simultaneously, of billions.
Both events inform The Walk, the new 3-D movie by Robert Zemeckis that recounts and reconstructs the French aerialist Philippe Petit’s high-wire stroll between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Although amply justified by its thrilling twenty-minute set piece, The Walk (unlike Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s marvelous 2013 exploration of the 3-D void) is not a fully sustained experience. But it is a milestone in the development of digitalized cinema and the memory of 9/11.
Zemeckis is an immensely successful commercial filmmaker whose oeuvre has been characterized by recurring concerns. These include a preoccupation with the ways the American past has been made malleable by the media, mainly TV; a not unrelated fascination with the digital reshaping (or recontextualizing) of the human form; and a fondness for isolated protagonists who develop obsessive bonds with imagined entities.
Back to the Future (1985), Zemeckis’s best-loved movie, is at once celebratory and parodic, with its naïvely oedipal hero, airbrushed sense of the 1950s, and theme-park notion of America. It is a crucial Reagan-era text; Reagan himself quoted the movie in his 1986 State of the Union address when he proclaimed, “where we are going there are no roads.” (Garry Wills referred to Back to the Future several times in a chapter of Reagan’s America that speaks of our fortieth president as “America’s ‘remembered’ self.”)
Christopher Lebron in Boston Review:
On any given sunny afternoon, or appropriately dusky early evening, when the air seems filled with possibility and release, you can hear me coming a block away. Depending on your socio-cultural background you might not like what you hear. See, my car has thirteen speakers, two of which are subwoofers, and I get a great deal of gratification playing my rap music loud. I won’t reproduce any lyrics here, but suffice it to say, my preferred urban poets don’t always say very ‘respectable’ things. I often get side-eye from the police (playing my music the way I do is practically an open invitation to law enforcement to harass me), and from time to time white mothers and fathers clutch their sons’ and daughters’ hands a bit more tightly as I approach, leaning my lean, smirking my smirk (not at them, mind you).
I’m also the guy with a PhD from M.I.T and a faculty position at Yale. I’ve written a book that has won an important award in my field of political theory, I’ve published academic articles in good journals, and I’ve written for the New York Times as well as Boston Review. This despite having been on welfare, having collected unemployment, having been raised mostly poor, by a father without a high school education and a mother who never set foot in a university. I was the first in my entire extended family to get a four-year degree, much less a PhD, much less a PhD from the likes of M.I.T. Despite the fact that I’ve accomplished and produced more than many white counterparts, I’ve got to work hard to get what they tend to acquire with relative ease, which I do.
So, am I the that’s-what’s-wrong-with-black-people pariah or the that-goes-to-show-you-what-a-lot-of-hard-work-can-get-you-racism-be-damned exemplar? Am I respectable, or not? Some black elites believe I should care what you think. I don’t.
Being raced as I am, the politics of respectability should be a serious contender for my ethical commitments. But it is a position I find almost as confusing as figuring out what it would take for me simply to live without constant pre-meditation to get what others have in this society. In his recent Harper’s piece, ”Lifting As We Climb: A Progressive Defense of Respectability Politics,” Harvard professor Randall Kennedy offers about as coherent a defense of respectability politics as one can find. Yet, the whole position seems deeply muddled to me, despite Kennedy’s erudition and exceedingly clear and direct prose. However, I don’t think the fault is Kennedy’s. He is, so far as I can tell, accurately tracking a number of considerations that have beset the black intellectual and political tradition over the past 150 years.
Sherry Turkle is a singular voice in the discourse about technology. She’s a skeptic who was once a believer, a clinical psychologist among the industry shills and the literary hand-wringers, an empiricist among the cherry-picking anecdotalists, a moderate among the extremists, a realist among the fantasists, a humanist but not a Luddite: a grown-up. She holds an endowed chair at M.I.T. and is on close collegial terms with the roboticists and affective-computing engineers who work there. Unlike Jaron Lanier, who bears the stodgy weight of being a Microsoft guy, or Evgeny Morozov, whose perspective is Belarussian, Turkle is a trusted and respected insider. As such, she serves as a kind of conscience for the tech world.
Turkle’s previous book, “Alone Together,” was a damning report on human relationships in the digital age. By observing people’s interactions with robots, and by interviewing them about their computers and phones, she charted the ways in which new technologies render older values obsolete. When we replace human caregivers with robots, or talking with texting, we begin by arguing that the replacements are “better than nothing” but end up considering them “better than anything” — cleaner, less risky, less demanding.
First, let's clear up a misconception: Patti Smith's "M Train" is not a sequel to her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids." In fact, "M Train" is not a memoir at all, except in the loosest sense — a book of days, a year in the life, a series of reflections, more vignettes than sustained narrative. By saying that, I don't mean to be critical, for vignettes are what Smith does best. Just listen to "Land" and "Birdland," or read "Woolgathering," originally published in 1992 as a limited-edition handbook and reissued 19 years later in expanded form.
"Woolgathering" may be my favorite of Smith's books, smart and subtle and full of inference, existing in the middle ground between prose and poetry, memory and daily life. When she writes, as she does there, of having "no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the combo of the wind," she is describing her entire aesthetic, in which the internal becomes externalized, or vice versa, and we find ourselves moving through a landscape that is both utterly real and also strangely magical, one defined by myth and icons, "a silk of souls," she sings in "Paths That Cross," "that whispers to me."
Possessed of insatiable sexual appetite and film-star looks, Hughes was flagrantly unfaithful. Plath was, his supporters allege, unstable. His most extended adultery was with the poet Assia Wevill — his dark lady. There was, she said, an “animal thing” between them. He was unfaithful to Assia, and others, eventually choosing to marry Carol Orchard, a young woman who had minded his children. In a ghastly echo of Plath’s death, the betrayed Wevill had killed herself by gas oven. She took her and Hughes’s child, Shura, with her. “All the women I have anything to do with seem to die”, said Hughes.
It is too easy to see Hughes as a villain. Bate avoids such judgment and mounts a subtly constructed explanation (it is not an apology). Hughes, Bate points out, “believed that all artistic creativity came from a wound”. The wound in his late work, from Crow (1970) onwards, was, of course, Plath’s death.
Bate draws, as closely as he is legally able, on Hughes’s dream journals to argue that he was haunted by her. The image that recurs — one that was played with by Ted and Sylvia in their early relationship — is Wuthering Heights.
The Snake Handler
—After Dennis Covington
I’m not long for this
world, the young man
The next night I
watch him at church. Why
would one take up
death, suicide? He
grasps the rattler
from the wooden box.
can’t look away. He
lifts the serpent
slithering, tongue out
straight in my face—
all the madness and
of my faith I’ve tried
to keep hidden.
by Will Wellman
from Echotheo Review
Jennifer Egbebike in The Feminist Wire:
Are you familiar with the term manspreading?*
While I struggle to keep my legs crossed and take up as little space as possible as a common courtesy to the other passengers on this train, it’s a wonder that you’re so comfortable taking up as much space as you possibly can. I bet you don’t even notice. You must just have some sort of subconscious entitlement to space that persuades you to mark your territory and display your “dominance.” We have been taught to act in opposites. I’ve tried to sit like you once before, and was quickly scolded to close my legs and behave more “lady-like.”
Why do we teach women to take up as little space as possible while we teach men the opposite?
Marcel Theroux in The New York Times:
Salman Rushdie’s literary immortality is assured. His second novel, “Midnight’s Children,” lit up fiction in English with the exuberance of a Diwali firework. It was uniquely honored, winning both the prestigious Man Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers, for the best novel in the prize’s history. With his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, inadvertently conjured a jinni of intolerance.
...As the storytelling grows more manic, what comes through clearly — much too clearly — is the novel’s controlling theme: an allegory about humanity’s struggle between superstition and reason. “The battle against the jinn was a portrait of the battle within the human heart, which meant that the jinn were somehow abstractions as well as realities, and that their descent to the lower world served to show that world what had to be eradicated within itself, which was unreason itself.” The book’s title is a nod to “One Thousand and One Nights,” but this kind of overt commentary is a long way from the authorlessness and economy of fairy tales, which never lecture and whose bareness — envious stepmother, noble prince, dark forest — extends a more subtle invitation to the reader. The most felt things in the book are about Geronimo the gardener, lonely and aging in an unfamiliar city. He is doubly uprooted, separated both from the earth itself and the Indian birthplace that he loved. The prose quickens with specific detail when he mourns the loss of his childhood home: “He wished he had never become detached from the place he was born, wished his feet had remained planted on that beloved ground, wished he could have been happy all his life in those childhood streets, and grown into an old man there and known every paving stone, every betel-nut vendor’s story, every boy selling pirated novels at traffic lights.” It’s a huge relief when Geronimo finds himself back on more solid ground; it will be an ever bigger one when his author does too.
Friday, October 02, 2015
Lawrence M. Krauss in Nautilus:
Whenever you say anything about your daily life, a scale is implied. Try it out. “I’m too busy” only works for an assumed time scale: today, for example, or this week. Not this century or this nanosecond. “Taxes are onerous” only makes sense for a certain income range. And so on.
Surely the same restriction doesn’t hold true in science, you might say. After all, for centuries after the introduction of the scientific method, conventional wisdom held that there were theories that were absolutely true for all scales, even if we could never be empirically certain of this in advance. Newton’s universal law of gravity, for example, was, after all, universal! It applied to falling apples and falling planets alike, and accounted for every significant observation made under the sun, and over it as well.
With the advent of relativity, and general relativity in particular, it became clear that Newton’s law of gravity was merely an approximation of a more fundamental theory. But the more fundamental theory, general relativity, was so mathematically beautiful that it seemed reasonable to assume that it codified perfectly and completely the behavior of space and time in the presence of mass and energy.
The advent of quantum mechanics changed everything. When quantum mechanics is combined with relativity, it turns out, rather unexpectedly in fact, that the detailed nature of the physical laws that govern matter and energy actually depend on the physical scale at which you measure them. This led to perhaps the biggest unsung scientific revolution in the 20th century: We know of no theory that both makes contact with the empirical world, and is absolutely and always true. (I don’t envisage this changing anytime soon, string theorists’ hopes notwithstanding.) Despite this, theoretical physicists have devoted considerable energy to chasing exactly this kind of theory. So, what is going on? Is a universal theory a legitimate goal, or will scientific truth always be scale-dependent?