Monday, April 30, 2012

Melville's America

In Sunday's NY Times, Canadian author Margaret Atwood shows Moby Dick to some Martians, who interpret America through it, at
Here's their analysis:
“ ‘Moby-Dick’ is about the oil industry,” they said. “And the Ship of American State. The owners of the Pequod are rapacious and stingy religious hypocrites. The ship’s business is to butcher whales and turn them into an industrial energy product. The mates are the middle management. The harpooners, who are from races colonized by America one way or another, are supplying the expert tech labor... Ahab, is a megalomaniac who wants to annihilate nature.
 “Nature is symbolized by a big white whale, which has interfered with Ahab’s personal freedom by biting off his leg and refusing to be slaughtered and boiled. The narrator, Ishmael, represents journalists; his job is to warn America that it’s controlled by psychotics who will destroy it, because they hate the natural world and don’t grasp the fact that without it they will die. That’s enough literature for now. Can we have popcorn?”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

(WP) Motherhood and Work

The inimitable Katha Pollitt takes on the micro-tempest over Ann Romney's work history: 
You will want to read the whole piece, but here is an excerpt:
We talk about employment or staying home as a matter of choice, which obscures what it takes to make that choice: money and a mate. Do books praising the stay-home life ever suggest that if it’s really best for children, the government, which supposedly cares about their well-being, should make that possible for every family? The extraordinary hostility aimed at low-income and single mothers shows that what’s at issue is not children—who can thrive under many different arrangements as long as they have love, safety, respect, a reasonable standard of living. It’s women. Rich ones like Ann Romney are lauded for staying home. Poor ones need the “dignity of work”—ideally “from day one.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Freedom and Art

A lovely, and somewhat convoluted, essay by Charles Rosen in the current New York Review of Books about language, music, art, and freedom:
After pithily observing how confining language can be: 
"Of all the constraints imposed on us that restrict our freedom—constraints of morality and decorum, constraints of class and finance—one of the earliest that is forced upon us is the constraint of a language that we are forced to learn so that others can talk to us and tell us things we do not wish to know."
 Rosen argues that the the meaning-indeterminacy of the arts, and in particular music, give us latitude for innovation and play:
"The partial freedom of, and from, meaning that is the natural result of aesthetic form is made possible by the exploitation of an inherent fluidity, or looseness of significance, naturally present in both language and social organization. This is a freedom often repressed, and attempts at repression and conformity are an inevitable part of experience. That is why aesthetic form—in poetry, music, and the visual arts—has so often been considered subversive and corrupting from Plato to the present day."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

(WR) Mecca Today

Excellent article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books (available in good old paper in the library, or electronically:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How is Registration like Global Warming?

Registration for fall courses is upon us, and as always some students are dragging their feet meeting with their advisers and signing up for classes. Beyond getting a seat in each of the classes you want, there is a larger reason to take this process seriously: the Dean often cancels smaller classes on the basis of those registration numbers. This means that the aggregate consequences of students' individual choices adversely affect the curriculum, at everyone's expense. If, say, 20% don't bother to register because they feel sure they'll get into the classes they want, the result is that some of those classes may not be there in September, which serves no-one's interest.

Monday, April 9, 2012

(WP) The Latest from Carol Gilligan

In the current Nation magazine, Carol Gilligan pointedly asks whether the Republicans think they can win without women. Unfortunately the article is behind a paywall online, but it's on the shelf in the library.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

(WR) Documentary

There will be a screening of the documentary Koran by Heart on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 PM at Mass MoCA. The timing is perfect for our course, and I strongly encourage everyone in World Religions to attend, as this will give a very vivid face to some of the issues we will be studying. Student tickets are just $5.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

(WP) Pay and Status

Here's a sharp little essay by author and editor Gloria Steinem (founding editor of Ms. Magazine) about how the social status (and gender) of workers, rather than the skill level or social importance of the work, defines pay scales.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gopnik Strikes Again

Why is it that every few weeks this guy produces one of the best things I've read on almost every subject he takes up? I don't know whether to be impressed or annoyed. In the April 9th New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has some unusually thoughtful and pithy things to say about Albert Camus. It's not available online unless you want to pay for it, but you can stroll right over to the library (remember those?) and read it. Here's an excerpt:

"What Camus wanted wasn't new: just liberty, equality, and fraternity. But he found a new way to say it. Tone was what mattered. He discovered a way of speaking on the page that was unlike either the violent rhetorical cliches of Communism or the ponderous abstractions of the Catholic right. He struck a tone not of Voltairean Parisian rancor but of melancholic loft. Camus sounds serious, but he also sounds sad -- he added the authority of sadness to the activity of political writing. He wrote with dignity, at a moment when restoring dignity to public language was necessary, and he slowed public language at a time when history was moving too fast."