A History of the Future
Rana Dasgupta’s absorbing essay [“The Silenced Majority,” December] leaves an important issue unresolved: What will the Western working classes do when they realize they’ve lost? What forms will their lives take? These aren’t questions that traditional academic disciplines are well equipped to answer, if only for lack of data.
I don’t have the answers, of course, but it’s crucial that we begin to consider the possible outcomes. As we do, we’ll probably want to follow Dasgupta in looking beyond recent events. Taichi Sakaiya’s 1985 The Knowledge-Value Revolution, or, a History of the Future, for instance, argues that over time people will stop caring about what’s suddenly scarce and once again embrace what is and has always been abundant: idleness and spirituality. Maybe there’s something to that.
Scenes from a Marriage
In his poem in the December issue [“Penelope Waits for Odysseus,” Readings], Edmund White imagines the thoughts of Penelope: “I forgot waiting itself / Would make me not worth waiting for.”
Homer dubbed his heroine Penelope the Wise—not Penelope the Vain. She is so compelling that Odysseus leaves Calypso’s island, forgoing immortality so that he might have the opportunity to grow old with her. He gladly accepts the cost of aging, whereas White seems to fear it, or view it as a source of melancholy. I imagine his Odysseus would remain on Calypso’s island forever.
Middle-aged women put a great deal of care into their appearances, it’s true. In this same spirit, White might spend a little more time on his conception of love and the passage of time. He subjects Penelope to the old, clichéd cycle of fading beauty: virgin, mother, hag. Let’s instead try to see women the way Gertrude Stein saw them: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
Jacob Mikanowski seems to believe that the former Yugoslavia contains too many monuments [“Abstract Expression,” Annotation, December]. He writes that an “alien flotilla” of abstract forms “litters” the landscape. He describes them as “nation-building props” designed solely to celebrate the Communist state and its myths.
Visitors to the Museum of Modern Art’s 2018–19 exhibition Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 will have received some valuable context. Yugoslavia’s wartime casualties were among the highest in Europe. A vast system of prisons and execution sites spread across the country from the moment German forces arrived in 1941. Years later, inspired by the ideals of antifascism, Yugoslav artists and architects reconceived historical monuments as opportunities for avant-garde experimentation, in the process recasting conventions of memorial design.
All memorials invoke myths, and the politics of memory undoubtedly played a role in Yugoslavia, too. But the individualism and nonconformism of these designs would have been rejected out of hand had Communist mythmaking been its guiding purpose. For that matter, the national memorial competitions were anonymous, their juries open to unorthodoxy. And why not? Yugoslavia hadn’t been part of the Soviet bloc since 1948.
These memorials are a credit to the Yugoslav terrain. Their complex construction required collaboration from some of the country’s premier artists, architects, and engineers. The topography became a part of the work, which in turn became integral to the majesty and silence of the landscape.
Mikanowski invokes video games and Star Wars, arguing that social-media posts have transfigured the monuments into something “impossibly distant, juvenile, a little kitschy.” It’s hard not to feel that this trivializes the tragedy they were intended to recall.
“Skin in the Game” by Avi Asher-Schapiro [Report, December] mischaracterized how the Holberton School designs its curricula. The article states that the school’s machine-learning module “was designed by a twenty-five-year-old whose only coding experience outside of her time at Holberton was a free online course about deep learning.” In fact, Holberton’s curricula are designed by a team that includes industry experts as well as former students. No Holberton courses are designed solely by former students.
The article also suggested that Holberton’s ISA repayment schedules are determined in part by third-party investors on the basis of students’ risk of default. All eligible Holberton ISA holders are required to pay the same percentage of future earnings, a number that is not determined by outside investors.
We regret the errors.