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But China– or Mao’s China, which was the only one on view to Westerners in 1974 – was entirely opaque to him, a string of stereotypes, or bricks, as he called them, borrowing a term from cybernetics. The one thing he loved was what he had already seen in Japan: calligraphy, “their only work of art,” he said of the Chinese, “absolute counter-vulgarity.” “The rest: Soviet realism.” He dutifully toured the factories and schools and museums with his friends; he listened to the same sermons again and again; he had migraines; enjoyed the food; made an effort every now and again to get a bit of semiotic mileage out of the repeating signs. One result of this was an essay he published in Le Monde: “Alors, la Chine?” Alors, nothing much, was the answer. Barthes had seen Antonioni’s 1972 film about China– he told the director that it was the reason he took the trip– and kept returning to the sense that he had nothing to add to that portrait. On one of his last days there he drew up a kind of balance sheet. He couldn’t write favourably of the place or coherently criticise it. “Impossible,” he said of both options. He didn’t want merely to describe his experiences: that would be “phenomenology,” meaning, I take it, just phenomenology. All that was left was “Antonioni,” an approach that had been excoriated in China and in the West as a betrayal of the Revolution. –“Presence of Mind,” Michael Wood, London Review of Books
Palin doesn’t believe that “thinking, loving beings originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea”;
an interview with Cormac McCarthy;
a good typo: “Even though Egypt is geographically close to East Africa, where one of the four strains of leprosy comes from, DNA from a 4th century mommy shows traces of the European strain.”
An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “saggital plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong. –“Malcolm Gladwell, Eclectic Detective,” Steven Pinker, The New York Times
The Michelin Guide opens Bibendum’s kimono (turns out restaurant reviewing is boring);
fat is an angry substance;
important: don’t mix pepper-spray and cocaine;
boffins find origin of arsenic in Bangladesh water-supply
For Hans, it is hardly a surprise that much of Shakespeare does resonate so in Punjab. “For the English, Shakespeare is something sacred,” he tells me, “They are incapable of a natural response. Our response, on the other hand, is not born of ritual admiration. The plots make sense to us, you want to read King John, think of the story of Aurangzeb. Take the Two Noble Kinsmen, and the plot is no different from any Hindustani film. Two cousins fight over the same woman. One claims he has the right to her hand because he loves her more, the other says she is his because he saw her first. They both die fighting.” Hans doesn’t have to say it, but even as we speak, somewhere in a Punjab village, a similar story may well be playing itself out. There are other correspondences that may be mapped too. “We share an attitude with the England of Shakespeare’s times—it extends to matters such as wine, women, wealth and even sex. The psychology of death is similar.” There are differences as well. For one, Hans is quick to point out, Punjabis lack the idea of courtesy that is so central to English culture. –“Though This Be Madness, There Is Method In’t: After sixteen years of work, Surjit Hans’ mission of translating all of Shakespeare into Punjabi is nigh an end,” Hartosh Singh Bal, Open (via)
Shakespeare and porn (Much Ado About Humping and A Midsummer Night’s Cream);
& more Shakespeare;
& the perfect combination of motorcycle tricks and guitar-playing
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.
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.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
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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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”