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There is a type of Ethiopian poetry known as “Wax and Gold” because it has two meanings: a superficial “wax” meaning, and a hidden “golden” one. During the 1960s, the anthropologist Donald Levine described how the popularity of “Wax and Gold” poetry provided insights into some of the northern Ethiopian societies from which Prime Minister Meles would later emerge. Even ordinary conversations frequently contain double entendres and ambiguities. Levine theorized that this enabled the expression of satire, humor, and even insults in an otherwise strictly controlled and hierarchical society of all-powerful kings, peasants, and serfs.
However, he worried that this mode of communication would hold Ethiopians back in their dealings with Westerners, who tend to value concreteness and rationality. Double meanings and poetry provide no advantage when drafting legal contracts, filling out job applications, or designing nuclear reactors. It didn’t occur to Levine that “Wax and Gold”–style communication might give Ethiopians like Meles an advantage in dealing with Westerners, especially when the Westerners were aid officials offering vast sums of money to follow a course of development based on liberal democracy and human rights, with which they disagree. –“Cruel Ethiopia,” Helen Epstein, The New York Review of Books
Sofoklis Schortsanitis: Last year, he was simply too fat play; allegedly nearer to 500 pounds than 400, and seemingly trying his best to undermine the team that continues to persist with him perhaps long after they shouldn’t. Sofo appeared in only 95 minutes all season, and fouled once in every four of them. How a man can get as big as he did is hard to fathom, and how a professional athlete (at least ostensibly) can get that big is simply mindblowing. But it happened. Sofo has always had a huge frame, yet with all that fat on him, he was heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEYYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGE. You could feel your head being drawn closer to the screen, such was his gravitational pull. He was the biggest basketball player I have ever seen. And it was reflected in his frankly pretty hopeless play. –“Where Are They Now, 2010; Part 59,” Sham Sports
Must-haves for April: a “life recorder” to provide video, audio and GPS data of your every moment;
a “Backtacular gluteal cleft patch” to fight plumber butt with style;
a headless, one-armed, Pepto-Bismol-complected “Girlfriend Body Pillow” to comfort you in bed
The updated Europa Editions release of Seven Tenths, a collection of Hamilton-Paterson’s writings about the sea, is the passionate result of a poet’s eye making sense of rigorous research and humanity’s impossibility. Running through the essays divided into thematic chapters is the tale of a free diver who has lost his boat, the cord he had tied around his ankle loosed from the tiny vessel’s prow. Resurfacing, the boat is nowhere to be found, and the swimmer considers being stranded in a “conspiracy of waves.” The umbilical connection between salt water and our lives is literal and figurative. But when the ocean claims a ship or a person or even disproves earlier scientific findings it does so by shutting off that object from what Paterson-Hamilton calls the “continuity of vision.” For him this is a sublime quality.
The author’s obsessing over oceans and seas is fueled by the fact that we know so little about them, especially beneath the surface. Of course, throughout time the curious have ventured. Alexander the Great had a special glass cage made so he could be lowered into the Mediterranean; salvage missions attempted to resurrect sunken valuables; and Scandinavians tried to correlate fish supplies with tidal currents. But, according to Hamilton-Paterson, “until the late eighteenth century the average European’s mental image of the sea was literally superficial, of a navigable surface above an abyss.” –“Chasing the Whale: Bansky, Obsession and the Sea,” Buzz Poole, The Millions
More from Rafe Bartholomew:
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.”