Anna Gát: What to Read This Weekend #49

Anna Gát: What to Read This Weekend #49

Poets, Boomers, girls in Gaza's tunnels, selves, Hume, Sartre, status, polyamory, Millennials, Tems, the Coens, ladies of the Canyon, Calvin & Hobbes, Thiel on postmodernism, names at Ellis Island...

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Hi everyone from New York City! This is my first time here with my new O1 visa leading Interintellect, and it’s such a huge change… It’s snowing in Manhattan, and despite the arctic cold, I feel warm.

Last night I joined Grace Bialecki’s in-person salon series; a beautiful discussion. Today I’m attending an online panel on independent grants, the first time the representatives of 4 major new grants will be all in one room! Next week I’ll be at the big Interintellect party we’re throwing for Esther Perel, Merve Emre, Agnes Callard, and Skye Cleary for Valentine’s Day.

Also, so much good stuff to read this weekend! Please enjoy my selection for you below x Anna

What Is Time? (2022)

Contrary to our everyday intuition, there isn’t an entity persisting through time in the form of a static “self.” All our conscious experiences are being generated anew by dynamic neuronal activity. Like an ocean wave, your “self” is an endlessly fluctuating process. Memories trail along from the past, and those memories impact your experience in this moment, but each moment of your experience still depends on the exact state of your brain at that particular point in time.

David Hume, co-founder of market liberalism

Adam Smith is usually regarded as both the father of economics and specifically (although some debate this) the father of free market economics. Yet, the contributions of his friend, David Hume (arguably the greatest philosopher of all time) are just as important. First, there are Hume’s explicitly economic essays. The most famous one is “Of the Balance of Trade”, which demolishes mercantilist logic by arguing that trade balances are irrelevant, and in the long run, more imports are followed by more exports. Then there is Hume’s early advocacy of what today is called the quantity theory of money. Scott Sumner has a good discussion of how Hume got there first.

  • Peter Isztin

Britain has seen an alarming rise in poetry sales

The problem with Instapoetry is not that it is full of nice words. Poetry has always allowed for prettiness: who knows, or frankly cares, what “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan” means when it sounds so good? The problem is that it doesn’t feel true. Larkin gives the reader a shiver of pleasure not because his lines are nice but because they are spot on. Perhaps Instagram account-holders do indeed look at their stretch marks and see “Mother Nature’s paintbrush”. It seems much more likely that they just think, “Damn”.

  • The Economist worries! Free version here

You can't unring a bell: what it means to propel forward — Irreversible life events: from surgery, to cells, to sport

I don’t get why we humans are so enamored with the notion of reversibility when life is inexorably irreversible from the very first breath. Despite our forward trajectory, we cling to the idea of reversibility. It gives us a sense of security or maybe a delusive semblance of control? Technology enables us to type and delete, act and undo, purchase and return, all with a simple click. We are copiously surrounded by redundant acts of reversibility so much so that facing irreversible situations becomes a formidable challenge.

  • The great Razan Baabdullah

John Gray and Peter Thiel: Life in a postmodern world

PT: “There’s a very complicated history of science. In some ways it was a by-product of Christianity, in some ways it was in opposition to Christianity. And certainly in its healthy, ambitious, early modern forms, whether it was a substitute or a complement to Christianity, it was supposed to be a vehicle for comparable transformation. The indefinite prolongation of human life was an early modern science project in which people still believed in the 17th and 18th centuries. There was a sub-movement within the revolutionary Soviet politics in the 1920s called Cosmism, where a part of the project of the revolution had to be to physically resurrect all dead human beings, because if science didn’t do that it would be inferior to Christianity.”

  • New Statesman

The Fate of Free Will

“The organism is not a pattern of stuff,” [Kevin] Mitchell says; “it is a pattern of interacting processes, and the self is that pattern persisting.

  • James Gleick; The New York Review of Books

On Not Disappearing (2021)

At some point I understood gatekeepers are so mean because they meet many times 500 people and out of them only a handful will stay the course, only a few will not disappear. Do not disappear; if you want to work with the public, if you want to serve the people, your number one job is to not disappear.

  • By me

A.I.’s Latest Challenge: the Math Olympics

“I would like to know how the machine is coming up with this,” he said. “But, I mean, for that matter, I would like to know how humans come up with solutions, too.”

  • Siobhan Roberts; The New York Times

We Need to Talk about Status

A quintessential feature of patriarchy is that men are revered as high status. They are knowledgeable authorities, speaking words of wisdom and deserving of deference. Women, meanwhile, are low status. Even though women always made important contributions to household survival and social reproduction, their work was devalued.

  • Alice Evans

A bowed head won't be cut by the sword

In Romania, the class teacher would hold monthly meetings with the parents, to discuss various issues. After the general meeting, she would identify certain parents for additional discussions. These parents, aware that the conversation would likely involve negative news about their children, would form a line, a sort of "queue of shame," with their eyes downcast in anticipation of the impending conversation. The parents who got singled out were overwhelmingly those of boys. That’s because boys usually broke things or fought with each other or did all sorts of stuff like that. And then, there was me.

  • Ruxandra Teslo

Sympathy for the Boomer

In thinking about my parents, I’m reminded of how their generation is perceived. Boomer criticism has become its own genre. They were born into an America that enjoyed strength and prosperity on a level the world had never seen. Everything from marriage to employment, affordable houses, and basic social trust seemed to come easy for them, and yet they will pass down a debt-ridden third-world basket case parody of what once had been a mighty nation. There is truth in those criticisms. However, it’s not the whole truth. There was, and is, so much more to them, and it saddens me the great archetypes to emerge with the Boomer were the Hippie and the Yuppie, both of which strike me as bearing the stamp of a crooked machine. 

  • Samuel Finlay; IM—1776

The Girls I Met in the Tunnels

Living in captivity is unbearable. You live death. The days and nights all blend into one, with thoughts of death rattling your soul. Will I die quickly, like my sister did? Or will it be a long, maddening abuse? Endless, torturous thoughts ran through my brain.

I don’t know if the women I left in the tunnels are still together. As I write these words, I can still see the look in their eyes. What more have they endured? Are they still being abused? Are they still alive? 

On November 26 I was released with my mother and my brothers after 51 days in captivity in Gaza.

  • Agam Goldstein-Almog; The Free Press

The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial (2017)

A few months ago, while dining at Veggie Grill (one of the new breed of Chipotle-class fast-casual restaurants), a phrase popped unbidden into my head: premium mediocre. The food, I opined to my wife, was premium mediocre. She instantly got what I meant, though she didn’t quite agree that Veggie Grill qualified. In the weeks that followed, premium mediocre turned into a term of art for us, and we gleefully went around labeling various things with the term, sometimes disagreeing, but mostly agreeing. And it wasn’t just us.

  • Venkatesh Rao; Ribbonfarm

Violent spring: The nature book that predicted the future (2018)

The Peregrine by J. A. Baker audiobook

I’ve never taken LSD: thanks to Baker, I don’t need to. His Essex is landscape on acid: super-saturations of colour, wheeling phantasmagoria, dimensions blown out and falling away, nature as hypernature. Baker has inspired many imitators over the years, aiming to riff and rip to a comparable intensity of description. I’ve been one of them.

  • Robert Macfarlane; The Guardian

Migraines, Motherhood and Marriage: On the Challenges of Managing an Open Relationship

“I’m not going to talk about your father’s experience,” my mother says, always the vault. Her words come out deliberately, with little pauses in between as she works to control the muscles of her mouth. “That’s a conversation you’ll need to have with him yourself.” I cringe at the mere thought of asking my father about his sex life or sharing even a shred of information about my own. “I’ll just say this: it was not easy. Not one little bit. We sometimes stayed up all night talking things through. But if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

  • Molly Roden Winter; Literary Hub

History is Written by the Losers (2016)

When high position is stolen from you, and access to the heights of wealth and power denied, there is little one can do about it—except write. History is thus rarely a “weapon of the weak.” The judgments of the historian do not serve the margins. They do not even serve the masses. They are a weapon in the hand of defeated elites, the voices of men and women who could be in power, but are not. What was true in Thucydides day is true in our own. The simplest explanation for modern academics’ hostility to 21st century capitalism’s  “structures of power” is their complete exclusion from them.

This is the motive of defeat. Intelligent enough to rule, but missing the wealth and position needed to lead, the historian continues the fight in the only domain that he or she can: the page.

  • Tanner Greer

What Madonna can teach Taylor Swift

As a product of the Xennial microgeneration born between 1978 and 1984, I’m almost exactly the same age as Madonna’s career, which also makes me young enough to remember when Taylor Swift was a teenage country singer whose song-writing skills were superior to her singing voice by an order of magnitude. What strikes me most now, comparing them, is that neither would have thrived in the other’s time.

  • Kat Rosenfield; UnHerd

What should we read? The American canon today

Consider the single most widely taught and widely cited work of contemporary American literature: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). According to the Open Syllabus Project, Morrison’s novel has appeared on the syllabus of more than 2,700 university classes. It has been cited in more than 1,000 scholarly articles, with more than thirty new articles about the novel appearing every year, according to records from the Modern Language Association. Beloved is canonical. But what makes Morrison’s novel about slavery appealing to teachers, scholars and critics?

  • Gordon Fraser; Times Literary Supplement

Stability Above All: Review of 'Troubled' by Rob Henderson

Henderson’s realizations about what distinguishes his upbringing from those of his classmates—he was shocked to find that the vast majority of his Yale classmates grew up in stable, two-parent homes, while almost none of his friends from home did—are startling. He observes that these same kids (and their parents and professors) love to downplay the importance of marriage and even monogamy. Henderson gained some renown for coining the term “luxury beliefs”—ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class at very little cost, while often inflicting costs on the lower classes. Such ideas include “monogamy is outdated” or success comes from luck (not hard work). Then there are the simple cases of social hypocrisy for the purposes of gaining income, as in the cases of the tech moguls who restrict their own children’s use of technology while depending on the way others less conscious of the damage being done are allowing their kids to live their lives on their phones: “Many affluent people I know promote lifestyles that are harmful to the less fortunate. Meanwhile they are not only insulated from the fallout; they often profit from it.”

  • Naomi Schaefer Riley; Commentary

You Don't Need To Document Everything

I’m pretty sure those with the best relationships post about them the least.

  • Freya India

No One Sounds Like Tems

“This is my safe place. Music is like my husband or my wife: I don’t know which — it doesn’t have a gender.”

  • Connor Garel; The Cut

“Match me, Sidney”: Burt Lancaster and the Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet Smell of Success also takes its place as one of the most blistering portraits of the world of the press and the assorted high-flyers and bottom-feeders it sustains.

  • Parichay Patra, Micheal Kho Lim; Sense of Cinema

Hell is other people … misquoting philosophers (2014)

The line comes from a 1944 existentialist play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Huis Clos, or No Exit. In the play, three people are trapped in Hell — which is a single room — and ultimately, while confessing their sins to one another, end up falling into a bizarre love triangle.

The confinement of the characters extends beyond their physical holding room: they are trapped by the judgments of their cellmates. That's why one of the characters says, "Hell is other people" — because of how we are unable to escape the watchful gaze of everyone around us. "By there mere appearance of the Other," says Sartre in Being and Nothingness, "I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other."

  • Brandon Ambrosino; Vox

No One’s Name Was Changed at Ellis Island

The urban legend that names were changed at Ellis Island comes from a scene in the Godfather movie and perhaps because people with Americanized names today like to think that someone other than their ancestor changed their name.

  • Alex Tabarrok; Marginal Revolution

28 Rock Albums We’re Looking Forward To In 2024

A Light For Attracting Attention, the 2022 debut album by the Smile, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s side band with drummer Tom Skinner, was a low-key affair that allowed them to stretch out a jam minus the grand expectations that always meet a Radiohead release. The pair and drummer Tom Skinner are back with Wall of Eyes, another engrossing LP of rich musical interplay and, on the eight-minute highlight “Bending Hectic,” the explosive apocalyptic catharsis few other bands can deliver with such force.    

  • Rolling Stone

The Returns to Science in the Presence of Technological Risk

Scientific and technological progress has historically been very beneficial to humanity but this does not always need to be true.

  • Matt Clancy

30 Years of Coens: No Country for Old Men (2014)

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Coen brothers' debut, Blood Simple, I’m re-watching their 16 feature films and attempting to jot down observations on one per day, in order of their release…

  • Christopher Orr; The Atlantic

Laurel Canyon: The Classic California Urban Ecosystem (2020)

As Crosby explains in present-day narration, Mitchell used an unusual combination of tuning scheme and chords. Clapton had never seen anything like it. In that moment, you can see the careers of both Clapton and Mitchell on the rise, like the morning sun over the San Gabriel Mountains…

Some of the magic of Laurel Canyon was rooted in economics. There was space in Laurel Canyon, and the space was inexpensive. The house that Mama Cass bought for a song in the mid-’60s now goes for over $5 million. 

  • Josh Stephens; Common Edge

Comparison Is the Way We Know the World

There is a paradox: we imagine the Holocaust in great detail, but we conceive of it as fundamentally unimaginable. It is the kind of evil that we cannot comprehend. But anything that happens in the present is, by definition, imaginable. We can see it.

  • Masha Gessen; n+1

10 Best Calvin & Hobbes Comic Strips Of All Time

Calvin's Snow Day With Dad Showed Good Priorities…

  • Thayer Preece Parker; Comic Book Resources

Era of complex and ambitious TV is over, says Sopranos creator

The creator of The Sopranos has decried what he views as the death of quality TV, blaming risk-averse executives and distracted audiences. David Chase, who wrote the HBO series about the New Jersey mafia that many credit with starting a golden age of television, said that era was now over. The 78-year-old said he was being told to “dumb down” his productions, and had been warned against making television that “requires an audience to focus”.

  • Helen Pidd; The Guardian

The Theory of Conspiracy (2021)

This is how the illusory truth effect works: we all tend to believe something is valid after it is brought to light several times, usually by varied sources. The more we hear something, the more authentic it seems.

  • Chandhana Sathishkumar

Peter Viereck: Psychoanalyst of Nazism

Peter Viereck argued that, for Hitler as for Wagner, ‘political antisemitism is no isolated programme’. Rather, it was the ‘first step’ in the revolt against ‘all restraints and liberties’.

  • Samuel Rubinstein; Engelsberg Ideas

Our language, our world

In revealing the diversity of realities created by languages, linguistics could help to expose how language misleads us. In 1924, Sapir wrote:

Perhaps the best way to get behind our thought processes and to eliminate from them all the accidents or irrelevances due to their linguistic garb is to plunge into the study of exotic modes of expression. At any rate, I know of no better way to kill spurious ‘entities’.
  • James McElvenny; Aeon

Why Kant Wouldn’t Fear AI

The suspension of the self at a slight distance from its immersion in the sensory world is what allows us to perceive anything at all, and also ensures that we may pause, consider what we have seen, heard, or felt, and ponder alternatives. It allows us to both be in the present and at the same time compare the present with our memory of the past, regret paths not taken, and compare possible ways forward. When faced with a choice of roads to take, beings like us immediately feel the pull of the road not taken, a road we can only barely make out. Like Robert Frost’s walker in the woods, we may keep “the first for another day,” but we doubt if we should ever come back.

Unlike us, an algorithm selecting a most-likely next word or a program calculating the best move in a game of chess isn’t choosing and can’t feel regret. It hasn’t chosen because, since its information is the same as its reality, it has already explored all available options; it has already traveled down all roads. Doubtless machines can and do mislead us into thinking that they are performing such cognitive functions as choosing what to do or say…

  • William Egginton; TIME

Thank you for reading!

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