Here’s a headline worth pondering: “Chinese parents want students to wear dystopian brainwave-detecting headbands.” The story, on the website SupChina, details the latest innovation at the Jiangnan Experimental School in Hangzhou.
Interestingly enough, the electronic headband, dubbed Focus EDU, is made by a Harvard-incubated American startup, BrainCo, based in Somerville, Massachusetts—right next to Cambridge.
As the company’s chatty video explains, in a traditional classroom, “It can be challenging to teachers to easily understand their students’ comprehension of the material.” Yet with Focus EDU, “teachers can easily observe all of their students’ attention levels from one place.”
"As a result, there’s a good argument to be made that the dominance of the first-person poem has killed off the rich possibilities available to poets. Formal poetry, narrative verse, satirical verse or light verse, dramatic verse—all these options have, with a few exceptions, largely vanished from mainstream poetry. Poems now are almost exclusively concerned with the feelings of a speaker who appears to be, at most, a slightly distanced version of the poet. This predicament becomes more evident when it is multiplied across an entire industry, with thousands of personal lyrics published year after year. That doesn’t make all personal lyric bad; in fact, most (published) contemporary poetry is not characterized by badness at all but rather by a professionalized mediocrity that flattens the language until everyone sounds the same."
The “joy of descent,” as Baudelaire puts it, is often a kind of embrace-your-fate. If there is progress in any given struggle for Baudelaire (“progress” being another fraught word for him), it is not the inexorable move toward Spirit in Hegel, nor that toward communitarian ideal in Marx or Proudhon. For Baudelaire, “progress” more often than not lies in the inevitability of descent; it is, he writes in his work on Poe, “that great heresy of decrepitude.” Baudelaire’s “little men” in “Le gâteau” fight no less ferociously than did the master and slave in Hegel; but there is no advancement to be gained from the vicious struggle, no higher ground to which a new dialectic can be lifted up, and the conflicting forces remain of equal strength and thus afford no happy resolution, no matter how distant. It is man’s inherent and inherited evil that causes the struggle, and it is evil that will win by simple virtue of the struggle itself.
Original sin, in other words, is for Baudelaire the engine motivating the conflict between (even) children, causing the contradiction between the thought of the good and its constant defeat in the face of man’s heredity of evil. It is the same contradiction that motivates the passage we considered from the Confessions: even as a baby, man is sinful in the eyes of God: “no man is free from sin, not even a child who has lived only one day on earth.” Baudelaire’s frequent recourse to children who demonstrate their potential for evil is a reminder to himself not to be taken in by the seductive promise of goodness: for him, it will always be a promise broken. Another of Augustine’s phrases from The Confessions can only have been endorsed by our poet: “If babies are innocent, it is not for lack of will to do harm, but for lack of strength.” The passage that follows in Augustine is as if an earlier version of “Le Gâteau”: “I have seen,” writes Augustine, “jealousy in a baby and know what it means.” A toddler is jealous when his baby brother nurses at the breast, though there is abundant milk. Can this be innocence, asks Augustine, “to object to a rival desperately in need and depending for his life on this one form of nourishment?” Such faults are not a “mere peccadilloes,” since they are “intolerable” in adults. Equilibrium will always yield to, or be rooted in, evil.
It follows quite logically, then, that it is virtue that is artificial, and evil that which is effortless and natural. Consider the following passage in “The Painter of Modern Life”: “Crime,” he writes is, “the taste for which the human animal acquired in his mother’s belly, is originally natural. Virtue, on the contrary, is artificial.”
Helen Andrews' insightful and moving essay about public shaming from January's issue of First Things:
The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie. Matthew Yglesias once claimed that the reason he mocked David Brooks for his divorce was because Brooks had written columns about the social value of marriage, but I do not believe him. He did it because it’s fun to humiliate your political opponents. Moira Donegan claims that she created the Shitty Media Men List—a clearinghouse of anonymous accusations optimally parked for maximum dissemination in the Google Spreadsheet cloud—for altruistic reasons and with no thought of its being used to hurt anyone, but I do not believe her. If it was about protecting women in media from harassment, then why no attempt to sort the true accusations from the false? Why the coy protestations that “I thought that the document would not be made public,” when of course she knew that it would be spread far and wide, or she wouldn’t have bothered creating it?
Donegan’s defenders do not behave like people interested in finding the truth. They stirred up a Twitter mob against Katie Roiphe before her Harper’s piece about the Shitty Media Men List was even published. Claims to be motivated by concern about possible backlash against Donegan, if Roiphe revealed her as the creator of the list, were more than a little disingenuous. Since being outed, Donegan has gotten a book deal with Simon & Schuster and a regular column in the Guardian, which is precisely what anyone could have predicted. When John Hockenberry, also in Harper’s, wrote about his experience being #MeToo’d out of his job at NPR, admitting some charges and explaining why he thought others were bogus, his detractors did not bother refuting his case. They simply ridiculed him. And no one has offered him a book deal.
"Davenport writes in his essay “Joyce the Reader” that
It is difficult to think of writers other than James Joyce the understanding of whose works is so dependent on knowing what they read. Once writers have achieved Joyce’s status, curiosity alone might lead us to look into their reading. What we discover is that literature is a complex dialogue of books talking to books. We see significances generated by affinites and associations of great imaginative intensities.
This collection underscores Davenport’s observation, and expands it to include the complex dialogue of critics talking about books talking to other books. It’s a palimpsest, or a Russian nesting doll of conversation. As Kenner and Davenport communicate to one another, the best that Western civilization has to offer speaks to us through them.
Hinted at in the deep echoes of their words is the current denouement of our own collective passion towards artistic and cultural origins. Without such creative caretakers, Pound’s “Make it new!”, first denuded of the tradition to which “it” referenced, then robbed of its “make” by now outmoded “death of the author” trends, left us only with the “new” part of the equation. Which, of course, doesn’t mean much without context other than a particularly banal sort of amnesia. Kenner and Davenport lived that context, and their epistolary dialogue breathes a bit of life back into a world still waiting for the Waste Land to transform back into our home."
MP: The question of being Jewish bothered him surprisingly little until the early 1930s when he had to admit to himself that he belonged by ancestry to the religious and ethnic group that was being persecuted. He had been brought up as a Catholic, and he always loved—even if he didn’t quite believe in—Christianity. Like so many of the affluent, cultured Jews of Vienna, he was himself rather anti-Semitic.
In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein says “the meaning of the world must lie outside the world,” which is an amazing statement.
JS: In other words, you cannot provide answers for many of the questions of life while you are living.
"This is why the film is now more relevant than ever. In our current cultural climate of hyperpolarization and unceasing outrage, of cancelling people and policing speech, that central human question—“What can we forgive?”—becomes all the more crucial to debate in our heads, amongst our families and friends, and in society at large. Does Quiz Kid Donnie Smith deserve forgiveness? How about Earl Partridge? Frank T.J. Mackey? Jimmy Gator? As with all great films, Magnolia gives us no direct answer. It doesn’t necessarily advocate a blanket forgiveness; it merely asks us to engage more deeply with the question.
Of course, you might reasonably ask, does a film need an over-three-hour-runtime just to pose the question, “What can we forgive?” But Magnolia does need its length; the bloated runtime helps the movie enact stylistically and formally its own thematic inquisition. In other words, the film asks us as viewers, “What can we forgive?”—not just of ourselves and of each other, but of a film."
"Whatever the tenor of the criticism, approaching Duca like a cosmic anomaly that vomits hate-clicks overlooks how primed the atmosphere was for such a person to gain so much influence. And she is by no means the most egregious practitioner within it. Frank Rich and Virginia Heffernan are both respected media critics who have pivoted to becoming shills for Trump anxiety disorder. I’m not sure why Teen Vogue deserves ire when the New Yorker, a legacy publication that should know better, turned its online wing into an intellectual red light district for the prejudices and vulgar desires of the open floor plan mafia.
“Journalists write because they have nothing to say,” Karl Kraus wrote, “and claim to have something to say because they write.” I’m not sure which is worse: that the vast majority of media is the same debased infotainment it’s always been, or that its current practitioners have gaslighted themselves into thinking that it’s noble this time. In any case, there is virtue, possibly even wisdom, in playing the long game with your professional hatreds. Or at least wait until after they’ve turned 30."
"Professor Curl relates how, from the esoteric, perverse, and ominous—but largely unrealized—theorizing of the 1930s, architecture in the Western world experienced a step-change from 1945 on, an explosion in the scale and quantity of actual modernist construction and a concomitant disfigurement of towns and destruction of neighborhoods. He places much emphasis (and no doubt rightly) on the complicity of political and commercial interests in this unfolding tragedy. But there is, in my view, another major factor, namely the huge post-war expansion both of academia and of the television media and the consequent ever-growing power of an academia–media intelligentsia nexus to spread a pervasive intellectual groupthink on all but the most unbiddable minds."