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

Curiosity and the Cat: Quantum Theory and the Coen Brothers published 07/09/2015

Anything outside of our Newtonian comfort zone seems immediately counter-intuitive, unreal, and often disturbing. But we’re in a comfort-zone nonetheless, because what we might like to think of as ‘real’ is bigger. We know that now. At the level of ultimate detail, the one on which everything else is built, the rules of engagement are different. Welcome to the quantum level. And welcome, too, to the Coen Brothers. Now we see it… or do we?

By Seb Sutcliffe.

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Horror of Philosophy published 24/08/2015


What if we read Poe or Lovecraft as philosophers rather than as writers of short stories? What if we read Poe or Lovecraft as non-fiction? This means that the typical concerns of the writer or literary critic – plot, character, setting, genre, and so on – will be less relevant to us than the ideas contained in the story – and the central thought that runs through much of supernatural horror is the limit of thought, human characters confronted with the limit of the human.

A systematic, comprehensive exploration of the links between philosophy, religion, and the horror genre: excerpt by Eugene Thacker.

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Conspiracy in Literature published 21/08/2015


This logic and discourse of conspiracy in the popular political imagination is not, on the whole, that of Eco, or Shea and Wilson. Dan Brown, in his artless way, has captured the zeitgeist far more faithfully. This is the conspiracy just below the surface, but which most are too lazy to see, which Explains It All. It is a Manichean black and white world of good and evil, with one all controlling, all powerful secret at its heart. Once the dark, hooded, (and possibly albino) agents of the controlling conspiracies have been vanquished, then the truth will out, and we will be set free.

Ben Granger on conspiracy in literature.

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Kant’s Depression published 19/08/2015


The significance of Kant’s philosophy is, however, counter-balanced by its notorious difficulty. Reading through the table of contents alone, with its dazzling and labyrinthine array of sections, sub-sections, and sub-subsections, is a task in and of itself. Nevertheless, if Kant’s philosophy achieved one thing, it was a renewed optimism in philosophy, much in line with Enlightenment ideals concerning the advantages of secular reason and the “maturing” of humanity as a whole. Reading through Kant’s works, with their patient and rigorous divisions and sub-divisions, there is a sense of philosophy as an all-encompassing, totalizing endeavor. Philosophy, in its Kantian modes, knows everything – it even knows what it doesn’t know.

Philosophy meets horror against the backdrop of an indifferent, unhuman cosmos, in this excerpt from Eugene Thacker‘s Starry Speculative Corpse.

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Death’s Dream Kingdom published 18/08/2015


The inability to confront death directly may be why in America state executions are mediated through the polite theatrics of curtains drawn and undrawn: the botched executions of Dennis McGguire, Clayton Lockett and Joseph Wood last year provided rare glimpses into the netherworld beyond the screen when the grim choreography goes awry.

Zaheer Kazmi on death, dissent and religion in the secular imagination.

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Marcel Duchamp does not exist published 17/08/2015


In 1918 Marcel Duchamp left New York for Buenos Aires. When friends asked him why he’d chosen such a remote destination, he spoke vaguely of some distant acquaintance who ran a brothel there. The joke, or whatever it was, clearly masked more candid hopes… Two months after his arrival though, he came to describe the Argentine capital as “just a big provincial town full of rich people with absolutely no taste, and everything bought in Europe,” finally declaring that “Buenos Aires does not exist.”

Cioran McGrath on Marcel Duchamp in Buenos Aires.

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War And Morality published 16/08/2015


I happened to see Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July a few nights ago on cable TV and was surprised by how good it was, by the acting, the direction, the drama, the sheer power of it. It was in fact superb in every respect other than in its understanding of the Vietnam War.

Fred Russell reflects on Oliver Stone‘s Born On The Fourth Of July.

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Obama’s Speech on the Iran Nuclear Treaty published 15/08/2015


If the Congress sabotages this treaty, as Obama underlined, it will not only cause a larger and more dangerous war in the Middle East; it will fatally undermine America’s standing or credibility in the world as a political leader for diplomacy – a decent one, at least sometimes – as opposed to“with us or against us” naked aggression. And against Congress’s expressed wishes, it would enhance Iran’s standing and if the Iranian leadership so desired (it is not clear that they do), enable them to pursue a nuclear weapon quickly and with relief of most of the sanctions.

Alan Gilbert on Obama’s Iran Treaty Speech.

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De Merveilleux Espoirs: On the Work of Johanna Rocard published 13/08/2015


In France I want to know if I can be French. I want to know if I can shed a dead skin. I can buy French. I can study French. I can learn what is French. But I suppose I know this does not make me French. It does not negate a past and it does not protect me from the present. Whiteness invariably secedes, crosses the street, crosses itself, rends as it is rent, differentiates – withdraws in attempt to claim and (re)cover – wherever my presence constitutes and asserts ahistorical blackness, fugitive property, hypervisibility (as would be the case in a legal dispute) or invisibility (as is the case in healthcare and labor), I am at/a systemic risk and may be treated or revealed as such.

Andrew Colarusso on much more than the work of Johanna Rocard.

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Don’t Believe the Hype: David Foster Wallace and The End of the Tour published 12/08/2015

In a 1969 essay called “What is an Author?”, Michel Foucault proposed the following: “Writing unfolds like a game that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits. In writing, the point is not to manifest or exalt the act of writing, nor is it to pin a subject within language; it is, rather, a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears.” In The End of the Tour, the maximalist novel Infinite Jest seems to exert this gravitational pull—both on the author as well as on readers and potentially predatory journalists. As an act of writing, it has this slippery quality that galls Lipsky and Wallace alike: as much as the novel exists as a concrete thing in the world, it has also gone viral, and has mutated somehow—the novel cannot be pinned down, least of all by its author.

By Christopher Schaberg.

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