:: Essays

Dériving Through the City published 27/06/2018

We tend to think of ‘the city’ as expansive, even endless; a vast nervure of connectivity; a network rendered by myriad fragments and countless pathways. But Chombart de Lauwe, an urban sociologist, was trying to illustrate the narrowness of our real lived urban experience. Because when we say that we live in Paris or London or New York, we actually mean to say that we live somewhere in Paris or London or New York—in some (not-so) arbitrary collection of spaces, environments and zones. We live, that is to say we experience, a tiny specialised version of the city, itself inflected by concomitant associations and memories. His diagram tries to illustrate the city as it’s lived—not in expanse but in peculiarity.

To look at one’s own movements from a great distance, decontextualised, seems always to illustrate how one is enmeshed in the same coercive patterns as everybody else.

By Bertie Wnek.

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The Other Morrissey – Euro 96, TFI Friday and My Summer With Des published 22/06/2018

When England’s baser enthusiasms – for beer, patriotism and football – had coalesced to exert pressure on those who did not buy into them as mean-spirited and dour. Even though Morrissey’s character at the start of the series (from the vantage point of 1998) bemoans the contemporary presence of sleaze, Teletubbies and New Labour he does not realise what halcyon days of fleeting hope he is living in. A brief time in which the slovenly behaviour and lack of ambition of the English ‘lad’ could credibly elicit the affections of a woman like Weisz’s character. As England perform on the pitch, their followers perform to each other their identity with a lack of apology that is almost charismatic.

An extract from Albion’s Secret History – Snapshots of England’s Pop Rebels and Outsiders, by Guy Mankowski.

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Lionel Trilling: Literature & Liberalism published

Does our taste predict our politics? Is someone who watches House of Cards likely to vote any differently than someone who watches Big Bang Theory? Or someone who uses Spotify and someone who only listens to vinyl? And that these taste in any way present incompatible realities? In a market-based monoculture, where difference of taste is mere niche or “alternative,” no one can claim that aesthetics reveal values, or that people’s politics are likely to be shaped by the art they consume. If there are political divisions to be had on matters of taste now, they have moved on to other areas of the culture and are almost all superficial: liberals drive electric cars and shop at Whole Foods and conservatives drive trucks and eat red meat.

Jared Marcel Pollen on Lionel Trilling.

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Why I No Longer Read Heavy Books published 21/06/2018

We went to bookshops. She stood in front of the shelves and critiqued novels. I just listened. Often I couldn’t work out from what she said whether she thought the book was good or bad. She sounded just as clever when she was talking about books she disliked as books she liked. When I worked it out, I bought the books she approved of. I took them home and tried to make them look well-thumbed. In the mornings, I opened the books to the centre pages, and left them face down on my bedroom floor among stray socks and empty crisp packets, so that by the evening when I was home the spine was creased. I started carrying these books around in my hand with me when I left the house, especially when I would meet Jess. We would be walking down the high-street together and I would catch a glimpse of us reflected back in the windows of shops. I saw myself, Jess in one hand and a worn paperback in the other, and I liked what I saw.

By Andy West.

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The Wreckage and Squalor of Lionel Shriver’s Political Statements published 15/06/2018

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the structures in America that favour the white and well off, regardless of ability, are paralleled in England. In fact, to an outsider arriving in England for the first time (which Shriver was, which I was), they are starkly visible: a university admissions policy that favours those who attend private schools regardless of their ability, a creative sector that excludes talented and gifted who can’t afford an unpaid internship, and reliance on informal networking that repeatedly excludes those who aren’t born into it. I thought I knew about the unfairness and brutality of class stratification when I was growing up, but it wasn’t until I got to England that I really got it, could put my hand under the pump and call out water. Even coming from the United States, a country rife with racism and class stratification, England’s parsing and categorising, assumptions about what people can do and exclusion of them based on those assumptions, was a shock.

By Linda Mannheim.

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Hunter of the Self: Luis Oyarzún Peña’s Diario de Oriente published 12/06/2018

For Oyarzún Peña, the value placed on action in China has diminished an emphasis on the spirit, and on that sentiment of death which animates a certain perception of life. ‘The Chinese do not seem to have ever had great existential forebodings before death, which helps one to better understand their placidity, their lack of tragedy, their lightness and their current capacity to build a new society without feeling any anguish over the inevitable passing of time.’ Creation comes from the dynamic confrontation with mortality and a time that exceeds our presence, but the Chinese are living in ‘the naked time of eternity’. As Oyarzún Peña visits the Great Wall, observes workers in Loyang and reads a little book on mysticism ‘as an antidote to the excess of social exteriority’, he writes that ‘I am surprised not to perceive in China—perhaps due to my own inadequacy—expressions of human love. I see more organization, more social conscience than charity, flames of active love, love of one’s neighbor.’

Jessica Sequeira on Diario de Oriente by Luis Oyarzún Peña.

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Building the Dream: Lego Friends and the Construction of Human Capital published 11/06/2018

In his classic 1955 essay “Toys,” semiotician Roland Barthes commented that in modern plastic toys “…the child can only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it.” In looking at these Lego Friends sets, we pose questions about what sort of owners and users the child becomes when they build and play with these toys, as well as how the toys invite ambiguity and complicate Barthes’s critique of modern plastic toys. We also consider this line of toys as part of the constellation of cultural products that reflect and reinforce the millennial generation and the ways in which this generation become adults.

By Christopher Schaberg, Ginger Brimstein, Waverly Evans, Paige Franckiewicz, Nino Hernandez, Terran Lumpkin, Anahi Molina, & Adelaide Wight .

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There’s No Such Thing as Fake News (And That’s Bad News) published 09/06/2018

It seems everyone these days laments the polarized condition of democratic politics.  It is widely agreed that fake news is a central cause of the degradation of our political culture.  That there is accord on this point is noteworthy.  Perhaps the consensus on fake news offers a swath of common ground amidst all of the divisiveness?  Maybe our shared condemnation of fake news provides a basis for a broader plan for rehabilitating democracy?

Such optimism might be premature. 

Robert B. Talisse argues that fake news is fake news – and that’s bad news.

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Psychedelics and Education: A conversation with Kenneth Tupper published 06/06/2018

Ethnographers have documented the shamanic and psychedelic practices of indigenous people for centuries. This 1560 account from the Catholic evangelization of the Aztecs, by the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún, was published in a pharmaceutical trade publication in 1951 (the piece allegedly caught the attention of the banker Gordon Wasson, who then went on to become the 20th century’s most influential ethnomycologist). Points of resonance with western experiential education (e.g. the vision quest) are evident, but these indigenous practices are more likely to be conceptualized by westerners as superstitious ritual rather than as means of gaining meaningful knowledge about the cosmos or human condition.

Lindsay Jordan talks psychedelics with Ken Tupper.

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Norkore – Excerpt from See You Again in Pyongyang published 04/06/2018

We know from Dennis Rodman that the Marshal’s two favorite songs are the themes from Rocky and Dallas—tunes that undoubtedly implanted themselves in the young Jong Un’s brain during his own adolescence, growing up in Switzerland—which were played over and over again by an orchestra on the night of their banquet together upon the basketball player’s first visit to Pyongyang. In addition to this stylistic influence, the Moranbong Band has layered electronic beats, dance breaks, and soulful vocal acrobatics that channel Whitney and Mariah. Concerts are replete with synchronized dance moves, laser light shows, and digital video backdrops showing footage of missiles blasting off into the sky, ecstatic marching soldiers, and the biggest rock star of all, the Marshal himself, swarmed with hysterical citizen-fans.

An excerpt from Travis Jeppesen‘s account of life in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.

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