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1981 / August | View All Issues |

August 1981

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Letters

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The easy chair

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Sculptures in snow·

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Notes on the uses of the press

Letter from abroad

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Article

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Oiling the machine·

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The education of Alfonse D’Amato

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Panic among the Philistines·

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The collapse of the literary establishment

Ars politica

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Ars politica

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Ars politica·

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Fiction

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God’s marvelous plan·

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A story

Geography 105

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Geography 105

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Refugees·

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The public record

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Books

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A geographer of the imagination·

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The astute eye of Guy Davenport

In our time

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The evolution of the species·

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No. 4

In our time

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In our time·

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Poetry

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Warning the deer·

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The new irrelevance·

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Specialists in the noncontroversial

The mind’s eye

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A North/South dialogue·

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The mind’s eye

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Saki’s world·

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Killer elks and tyrannical aunts

Revisions

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The American Trotsky

American miscellany

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Puzzle

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I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

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“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
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“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
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“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

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