:: Essays archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

Proof through the night published 31/07/2015

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The popularity of silhouettes and shadow theatre should be sought in the suggestion of substance which memory and imagination relish to fill. This no doubt is a considerable part of the attraction of abstract concepts; to attribute it only to their communicative utility would be as mistaken as explaining the appeal of shadow puppets by their low cost of production. The enchantment of conceptual abstraction can be profound and elaborate—like that of the human shadow play in Dreyer’s silent Vampyr. As long, that is, as you never try to touch or sink your teeth into such concepts in hopes of getting fed.

Excerpts from S.D. Chrostowska‘s forthcoming Matches.

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Racist Terrorism: Dead For Driving Whilst Black published 28/07/2015

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On the facts revealed on tape so far, Officer Encinia stopped Sandra Bland falsely, threatened to “Light Her Up” with a taser for smoking in her car, took her out back, and – her words on the tape are convincing evidence – beat her. The passerby’s tape has him kneeing her limp body on the ground.She was taken to jail, her medical condition ignored, and two days later she was dead. Her cell phone has disappeared; the tape of the pursuit was edited (the audio is complete, but the video has gaps).

Alan Gilbert on US Police Racism.

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7 Points for Greek Resistance published 21/07/2015

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Germans have commendably put up holocaust memorials – there is nothing like this in terms of lynching in the American South as Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative has rightly emphasized. Germany has many intelligent, common good-sustaining welfare programs – no student debt for university training, compared to the vast post-1990 mortgages on the future of students – a sabotaging of democratic education by the banks – in the United States. Many Germans are anti-racist. I hope that these understandings, which go far in some respects, will finally be turned, before it is too late, to the ideology which has possessed its leaders.

Alan Gilbert on the Greek Crisis.

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Greek Resistance published 04/07/2015

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Krugman has now recognized, even in the Times, that Michael Kalecki, the Polish Marxist/Keynsian theorist of economic cycles, was right in a lecture in 1942. He said there – and Krugman did not believe him until the bizarre elite response to the 2008 collapse – that the rich will oppose any programs that benefit the working classes, and will starve them to death for fear of their seeking higher wages and better conditions.

Alan Gilbert on the Greek Crisis.

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The Monkhood of the Left published 01/07/2015

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Leftism should not be an example of perpetual homo ludens, of a monkhood of radicals at play, forever reading and never to be read. It should be an example of willed adversity that adversity might disappear from the greater landscape.

Jeremy Brunger on the politics of leftist theory (or the theory of leftist politics).

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Crying at Robots: Emotional Responses to Artificial Intelligence published 22/06/2015

Robots, especially those with ambitions to be human, or adopt human traits, always seem to make an emotional connection with me. Johnny Five is an early example. I recall witnessing Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), the android who steered the U.S.S Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation, stumble and fall, yet continually pull himself up, in his quest for humanity. His response to most situations were tinged with a childlike curiosity. Encountering the deadly Borg, intervening in an alien squabble, discovering a new gaseous cloud, and even sex, were all greeted with the same enthusiasm and wonder.

Stephen Lee Naish on the emotional intensities of robots in popular cinema.

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On Blood Writing published 17/06/2015

Perhaps the strangest object to surface after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq is known only as the Blood Quran. When I first heard its name, I pictured Dead Sea scrolls of carmine papyrus, quartered away in some limestone crypt. But while the words are ancient, the edition is new. Commissioned by the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on his 60th birthday, the book was printed in the blood of its patron. Over the course of two years (and twenty-something litres) master penman Abbas Shakir Joudi al-Baghdadi calligraphed 605 pages of sanguine verse. Now, kept under lock and key in a Baghdad mosque, the book presents a double bind. It has been ruled haram (forbidden) to copy the Quran in bodily fluids; it is also frowned upon to destroy a working copy of the sacred text. This exegetical uncertainty, the language’s messy entanglement with the actual life force of a former despot, and the surprisingly aesthetic quality of the object make it difficult to determine what should be done with the book of blood.

By Hunter Dukes.

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The Rise and Fall of Fantasy published 13/06/2015

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Fantasy 1 is that we do not live in an oligarchic democracy. We do. One of those is one where the best-off 10th in society has 5,233 times the political power and influence of the worst-off 10th. Wait for less inumerate political theorists and scientists to confirm it.

Ted Honderich on the fantasies restricting inquiry, debate and truth.

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Three Visions of Zosimus published 08/06/2015

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“I am Ion, hierophant of the innermost sanctuary and I have endured unbearable violence. At dawn, I was overtaken and dismembered by one wielding a sword. He chopped me apart according to the strictures of harmony. He gripped his blade, scalped me, and gathered together my bones and flesh. Then he burned them in the numinous fire until I learned to become spirit through transformation of the body.”

Andrew Barrett translates three visions of Zosimus from the Ancient Greek.

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The ‘Deus’ in ‘Ex Machina’ published 24/05/2015

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Would the advent of conscious machines would aid humanity, even save it, by leading to the kind of super-intelligence that we can harness to our own ends? Or would it mean the end of human beings, their replacement by creatures with godlike powers? If the former, the end of the human story is more like the deus ex machina of ancient Greek drama, a plot device in which divine intervention saves characters from an otherwise irredeemable tragedy. If the latter, it has more in common with the contrived ending to which the phrase now generally refers: radically incongruent with the events that have preceded it, to sinister effect.

Wes Alwan on Deus ex Machina.

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