The Bookseller/Diagram Prize, given in England, goes to the book that, according to voters, has the most bizarre title of the year. (Thanks to a Metafilter tipster for noting it.) "Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan" is up there this year, as is "How Green Were the Nazis?" My personal favorite of this year's shortlist, however, is "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence."
This, I assume, touches on a debate that is in fact very much alive in philosophical circles. Some ethicists -- no, not that one -- have wondered whether it is permissible to abort a fetus of a child who will have Down Syndrome or an even more debilitating condition. Then there are the Terri Schiavos, at the other end of life. Is it true that some people are better off dead? And, more difficult to answer, who gets to decide?
Noted philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote a paper called "Death," collected in "Mortal Questions," whose first sentence opens, "If death is the unequivocal and permanent end of our existence, the question arises whether it is a bad thing to die..." Nagel spills some elegantly arranged ink and arrives at the following stunner: it is, in fact, bad to die. I like that paper.
Ezra Klein late yesterday broke down the fourth wall, as it were, of the enterprise known as blogging. He's done it before, and he's good at it. There it is, in the middle of cogent and quickly delivered poltical commentary and barb-exchanging: a cri de coeur about what we're all doing, anyway:
So why is it that, even though it's been a busy day, I feel guilty for only putting up three blog posts (and two at Tapped!)? How unhealthily addicted am I to this thing? And why do I care what you people think? You're not even real people, you're internet people!
Bernard Lewis, the noted scholar of the Middle East, visited the American Enterprise Institute this week to pick up its Irving Kristol Award, which has been given since 2003 to honor people who have "made notable intellectual or practical contributions to improved public policy and social welfare."
The guy is 91, and remains active and feisty, if that's the word: In his AEI speech, he put in an unfashionable good word for the Crusades, according to this Wall Street Journal report, and said "terror" and "immigration" were the twin weapons Islam was deploying against the West. According to the National Review blog The Corner, "When Lewis was done, the first person to pop up from his seat for a standing ovation was Clarence Thomas."
The previous winners of the Irving Kristol Award are the historian David Hackett Fischer, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, columnist Charles Krauthammer, and economist Allan H. Meltzer.
Here's a disenchanted look at Baudrillard, written by Scott McLemee several months before 9/11.
The first lines:
No one ages less gracefully than a hipster past his prime -- unless it's a prophet of technological revolution, once his vision reaches the sell-by date. Roll them into one, and it's a miserable spectacle all around.
In answer to Josh's post about Jean Baudrillard and September 11: I haven't read Baudrillard's relevant work, but from Josh's description count me among the troubled disputers of his governing theory -- "that 9/11 had nothing to do with a clash of civilizations or religions." Josh writes:
Instead, he insisted, the terrorists were striking a blow against globalization: The World Trade Center was a symbol, around the world, not of America and its freedoms, but of capitalism triumphant, he claimed; the twin towers were a symbol, at a deeper level, of the perceived lack of alternatives, the closing off of even the possibility of imagining any non-neoliberal modes of organizing the world's societies and economies.
But that would be a strange point of complaint coming from the September 11 hijackers and, by extension, Osama Bin Laden. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers, and of course Bin Laden himself, came from Saudi Arabia. And, according to the US State Department:
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties.... The Basic Law sets out the system of government, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the State. The Basic Law provides that the Islamic holy book the Koran and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad are the country's Constitution. As custodian of Islam's two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, the Government bases its legitimacy on governance according to Islamic law.
Two other hijackers were from the UAE, which has no political parties and which is ruled by those holding power on the basis of their dynastic position.
In other words, these guys were hardly under great threat of capitalist-democratic steamrolling. Sure, they probably viewed globalization with a great wariness, since it's a word that means in essence a creeping dominance of the West and in fact of the US and its philosophies. But I still think the attack was carried out, if we can name one reason, because of what we do and do not value, which implies a clash of civilizations, in the well-worn phrase. If they were unhappy with the spread of our politics, it is because those politics involve a separation of church and state, and a church they reject besides. They wanted religious government, and they wanted our crass, commerce-worshiping secularism defeated.
Now Jan has alerted me to the fact that Stephen Colbert has also wondered aloud about Lehrer's politics. Great news minds... In fact, Colbert went so far, in his version of the No Spin Zone, as to ask Lehrer rather insistently about it, as reported by a Web site devoted to sussing out liberal bias in the media. The site, NewsBusters, cites Lehrer's "liberal questions" in a Bush v. Gore debate, and scoffs at Lehrer's responses -- that he is "bias-free"; and that the flavor he brings to the news -- Colbert insisted there must be one -- is "a flavor of neutrality."
Have to agree there. Colbert asked whether Lehrer indeed declines to vote, which is a rumor that has been bandied about. To the surprise of some, he said that he did vote sometimes, but didn't tell anyone about it. He added, in a strong rhetorical gesture for the quiet sage, "Is that a problem?"
I don't have a good answer to your question, Chris. I do believe that Richard Wolin is an unfair critic, though. A couple of years ago, I read his book "The Seduction of Unreason," in which he investigates postmodernism's debt to proto-fascist ideas and attitudes. It's an impressive piece of scholarship, but spoiled (for me) by Wolin's wholesale rejection of postmodernism on the grounds that, if Baudrillard, et al., are right, and the workings of power do persist in defiance of even the best-intentioned efforts to disrupt them, then "the emancipatory hopes of the vast majority of men and women seem consigned in advance to frustration and disappointment."
That strikes me as a case of killing the messenger: Baudrillard makes progressive types unhappy because he argues persuasively that our enlightened political schemes will end in frustration, so therefore we should reject him and everything he's written? Instead, it seems to me, we should think of Baudrillard, like other postmodernists, as an enlightener of the Enlightenment.
Speaking of the Enlightenment, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration and many others in the West wanted very much to convince us that the World Trade Center was destroyed because the Islamo-fascists hate our freedoms, i.e., they hate the Enlightenment. Liberal hawks quickly distanced themselves from postmodernist leftists critical of aspects of the Enlightenment; ironically, this put them in bed with the Intelligent Design-promoting Bush administration, which some liberals have since regretted. But we all remember this stuff.
Baudrillard courageously piped up -- from France, no less, a country full of surrender monkeys who also seemed to hate our freedoms -- and claimed that 9/11 had nothing to do with a clash of civilizations or religions. (Sorry, saber-rattling journalists and intellectuals eager to start a new Crusade against the unenlightened East.) Instead, he insisted, the terrorists were striking a blow against globalization: The World Trade Center was a symbol, around the world, not of America and its freedoms, but of capitalism triumphant, he claimed; the twin towers were a symbol, at a deeper level, of the perceived lack of alternatives, the closing off of even the possibility of imagining any non-neoliberal modes of organizing the world's societies and economies.
As you can imagine, this line of thinking got everybody upset.
I don't know much about Baudrillard, beyond the barest outline of his thought, and would love to learn more. Josh's post was a nice, pithy refresher course and memory aid.
Josh, one of your readers alludes to that famous/notorious essay he wrote after the September 11 attacks, and the reader suggests that Americans have been misled about its contents by "liberal war hawks and the U.S. media."
Are there any good online essays that would put Baudrillard's interpretation of 9/11 into what you would consider the proper context?
For readers who don't know about the controversy, the following attack on the French thinker by the American intellectual historian Richard Wolin,* is the sort of thing the reader is alluding to (the New Republic article is for subscribers only):
For Baudrillard, the attacks represented a glorious, long-awaited instance of wish-fulfillment: the Al Qaeda terrorists may have perpetrated the deed, but the act itself was something the entire world had long dreamed of and desired. For the postmodernist sage, criticism of the attacks cannot mask
"the prodigious jubilation of seeing this world superpower meet with destruction.... For it is [the United States] that, by its unbearable power, fomented all the violence infused throughout the world, and thus the terrorist imagination that dwells in all of us. Haven't we dreamt of this event, hasn't the entire world, without exception, dreamt of it; no one could not dream of the destruction of a power that had become hegemonic to such a point.... In essence, it was [the terrorists] who committed the deed, but it is we who wished for it."
With the publication of such texts, postmodernism's trademark cynicism about morality and democracy has reached (I hope) its nadir. In late 2001, following the Afghanistan war, Baudrillard granted an interview to Der Spiegel. When questioned whether the removal of the Taliban from power was not in fact an emancipatory political development, he emphatically disagreed: any expression of American power was a priori condemnable. When interrogated further about whether the spread of human rights and democracy to the Middle East and the Third World was desirable, the postmodernist philosopher again replied in the negative. Human rights, he claimed, are merely a cover for superpower global hegemony: "I believe that human rights have already been subsumed by the process of globalization and function as an alibi. They belong to the juridical and moral superstructure--in sum, they are advertising."
*I have no idea of Wolin's position on the Iraq war, lest I appear to be accepting the reader's characterization of Baudrillard's misreaders. The New Republic, however, would certainly count as a "liberal hawk" bastion, at least at the time Wolin was writing (Feb. 2004).
Scott Eric Kaufman, editor of the fine blog Acephalous, weighs in with the first worthy office story. Actually it's kind of a doozy, and for bonus points it's rendered in dramatic format: dialog introduced by comments, minimal stage direction.
It's worth reading this for yourself, but in brief, man walks into his own office, finds a young couple in flagrante. He kicks them out, provoking apparently genuine bewildering cries of harassment from the couple.
What is almost better is Kaufman's Update #3 at the bottom of the post, "My Morning: The Final Chapter," which charts the rather more weighty misunderstanding that follows.
It's impossible to sum up Baudrillard's thought in a single phrase, but there is one point that he makes, in various ways and over the course of many writings, that particularly "resonates with me," for lack of a less fuzzy phrase at the moment.
Remember, Baudrillard was very much a post-1960s intellectual. He was acutely aware that the dualisms (e.g., real vs. fake, original vs. copy) that had excited and outraged modernist thinkers, writers, and artists were old news now -- despite the efforts of journalists and second-rate philosophers to keep fighting the same battles forever. The particular point he makes that has stuck with me is this: The fake, the copy, the inauthentic, all these phenomena that were reviled in the authenticity-mongering 1960s, are actually preferable to what the real (itself a suspect concept) makes possible: the simulation, the cloned duplicate, the digitized and multiplied, the "hyperreal." I've always found that a very liberating notion.
Need examples? Somewhere in, I think, the 1983 Semiotext(e) booklet "Simulations," Baudrillard writes that the fake version of a living human (i.e., an early 20th-century-style robot; think of "Lost in Space") is "charming," whereas a simulated human being (think of the "replicants" in "Blade Runner") is scary. In a less sci-fi mode, in the 1990 book "Cool Memories II" (published in the US in 1996), Baudrillard describes the compact disc as "terrifying," because -- unlike the human, all-too-human music stored on it -- it never wears out. The vinyl LP, by contrast, with its skips and scratches, is charming. (But he predicted that "In time, they will no doubt reintroduce acoustic interference ... to provide an illusion of life and wear.")
A charming 'second-order simulacrum'
Like Philip K. Dick -- a sci-fi writer popular among French theorists of Baudrillard's generation -- he'd ask us to cherish the invented, the faked, the copied and cobbled-together, because these pathetic, charming phenomena are human. No wonder Baudrillard didn't think much of "The Matrix," whose content asks us to wring our hands over the same old real vs. fake, original vs. copy pseudo-problem, and whose visual style -- those much-praised, ultra-realistic special effects -- is itself a hymn of praise to the inhuman simulation.
I'm sure I'm making a hash of Baudrillard, in this hurried blog post, but I didn't want to spend a week carefully preparing an obituary when I know exactly what it is that I like so much about his theorizing! Anyway, moving on. Earlier today, I asked readers to respond to the death of Baudrillard. Here are a few of the first responses:
This is terrible. So now we enter the post-Baudrillard era. Why does the Times have to bring 'The Matrix' (and Alan Sokal) into it? How trivializing. -- Scott H.
Way too apocalyptic and generally over the top, but never failed to make me think. -- Louise L.
Too bad! And too bad that the US media and liberal war-hawks will force us to remember B. as merely the ultra-French philosopher who supposedly claimed that 9/11 never happened. That's what hurts the most. -- Clare J.
An amusing post at The Elegant Variation, a literary blog, makes me want to hijack its thread. So I think I will. It proposes a reader contest meant to promote the arrival of Josh Ferris's comic novel of the cubical, "Then We Came to the End." The challenge to the reader: who can send in the best workplace story?
Mark Sarvas, editor of the blog, throws out a story of mischief misfired that sets the bar at a decent level. I have my own involving a proofreader job I had and quickly left, but I'll save it for now. I don't think their winning story from readers is such a world-beater. Brainiac readers, what have you got?
OK, Lethem again. (I didn't promise!) A reader writes in to posit that what describes most of Lethem's work, which he describes as a mix of realism with elements of imagination and fantasy, is the old-saw term "magic realism." Magic realism arose in Latin American fiction in the 1960s; the Columbia Encyclopedia says it refers to works that "mingle realistic portrayals of ordinary events and characters with elements of fantasy and myth, creating a rich, frequently disquieting world that is at once familiar and dreamlike."
All that applies to Lethem's "A Fortress of Solitude," except, I would argue, the last clause. Lethem doesn't want the world created in his novels to be dreamlike or in this sense disquieting. We're still grounded in reality, and the imaginary and unrealistic is used only to throw light on the real, and not to throw it over. As he says, he likes "a literalness about metaphor," whereas I think the Gabriel Garcia Marquez books are not interested in being literal. They're more interested in creating a certain feeling, through tactics of Garcia Marquez's own devising.
Whatever you think about the ever (too?) clever Mr. Gopnik, this is worth a read. Like the Times reporter on Baudrillard's death, Gopnik makes more than glancing mention of the ties between Baudrillard and "The Matrix," which somehow managed both to star Keanu Reeves and to liberally crib from the not quite famous French theorist's ideas and thought experiments -- not to mention Descartes's, Bishop Berkeley's, and, as Gopnik says, Nozick's, the Cathars's, etc. The notion that the world as we experience it is not real but the product of a kind of collective hallucination -- that's Baudrillard for you. Here's Gopnik:
If the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, whose books -- "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place" is one -- popularized the view that reality itself has become a simulation, has not yet embraced the film it may be because he is thinking of suing for a screen credit. (The "desert of the real" line came from him.) The movie, it seemed, dramatized a host of doubts and fears and fascinations, some half as old as time, some with a decent claim to be postmodern. To a lot of people, it looked like a fable: our fable.
The first "Matrix" -- for anyone who has been living in Antarctica for the past four years -- depended on a neatly knotted marriage between a spectacle and a speculation. The spectacle has by now become part of the common language of action movies: the amazing "balletic" fight scenes and the slow-motion aerial display of destruction. The speculation, more peculiar, and even, in its way, esoteric, is that reality is a fiction, programmed into the heads of sleeping millions by evil computers.
And here, later in the piece, is where things really get juicy. Baudrillard, according to the Times, more or less disavowed "The Matrix," calling it the product of misreadings of his work, but he might have granted that Gopnik is on to something:
Whether it occurs in cult science fiction or academic philosophy, we seem to be fascinated by the possibility that our world might not exist. We're not strangers to the feeling that, for much of our lives, we might just as well be brains-in-vats, floating in an amniotic fluid of simulations. It doesn't just strike us as plausibly weird. It strikes us as weirdly plausible.
Ideas columnist James Parker is always worth reading, which is why I follow his reality TV column in the Boston Phoenix, despite the fact that I don't watch any reality TV myself. This week he's particularly good on the subject of "Stalking Pete Doherty," a British documentary chronicling the sad, creepy, but funny efforts of the depressive documentarian, Max Carlish, to get to know the shambolic Babyshambles frontman.
Here's an excerpt from Parker's column in this week's Phoenix:
Disaster engulfs the filmmaker. "A long hot summer of love in my heart was coming to an end," narrates Carlish bitterly, "to be replaced by a nuclear winter.” Brokenhearted and vengeful, he sells footage of Pete smoking heroin to a London tabloid. Pete tracks him down and assaults him, with surprising effectiveness. ("He's got a much more powerful punch than you'd imagine...") Carlish, alone in his bedroom, turns the camera on himself like a suicide's pistol: he is weeping, his black eye glistens obscenely, and he recites from William Blake's preface to "Milton": "I will not cease from Mental Fight/Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand..." Find, watch, marvel.
In an act of uncanny timing, earlier this week n+1 published on its Web site a smart piece devoted to a vexing and under-explored question: where are the Republican novelists?
Why uncanny? Why because I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted of perjury yesterday, he says, in case the only thing you read is Brainiac. And Scooter is a novelist! In other words, he's made stuff up before.
The n+1 piece by Benjamin Nugent, largely about the work of Mark Helprin, one of the few undisputed GOP fiction writers, is clever and incisive. First it draws authors in close to the GOP, pointing out the samenesses of today's American life:
literary writers like to bash effete chattering-class big-city Francophiles almost as much as the GOP does. We live in an age in which every American from Bakersfield to Nantucket likes lattes, has an idea for a psychological thriller, and knows that NBC is struggling to find a new ratings juggernaut, but hates latte-drinkers and Hollywood types.
The lattes are a nice touch. Moving on to address the lack of conservative scribes, Nugent posits that the project of fiction is rarely compatible with the optimism inherent in Reaganism and especially neoconservatism: "How many 19-year-olds start writing their first novels to show the world how it’s becoming a brighter place?"
P.S. I've always wondered whether Jim Lehrer, who manages to be a prolific novelist alongside his anchoring duties on PBS, is conservative. In fact, what I like about his stoical reporting and speech is that I've never detected a hint of bias. Does anyone know where he stands?
I've finally read the Lethem essay, much ravedabout on Brainiac, and I agree it's interesting, provocative, and clever. But these euphoric pieces on the absurdity of "owning" cultural work always put my teeth slightly on edge, partly, I guess, because as a freelancer I occasionally have to chase down people who reprint ("creatively re-appropriate"? "reinscribe and recontextualize"?) my work without paying for it. I know: great artists steal. But I still want my piddling reprint fee.
This unfortunate but widely reported story is a timely reminder to journalists that, at least so far, newspaper editors aren't quite as into the whole cultural-property "gift economy" thing as Lethem is. College professors, too, I suspect, will not buy the "originality is overrated" argument when they call you into their office to discuss that brazenly cut-and-pasted term paper of yours. ("But professor, you're beholden to a discredited paradigm ...")
I think the hard thinking begins when you have to theorize the distinction between praise-worthy and condemnation-worthy acts of cultural borrowing -- but Lethem just punts on that question.
But yes, Disney should give up Mickey already, and I like "Love and Theft" -- though not nearly as much as "Time Out of Mind."
Man. Those of us who grew up here in Boston always knew it wasn't the greatest place to live in the world -- lousy public transportation, public schools, and public monuments, for example -- but at least we were better than Ireland. After all, that's why this became such an Irish city, right? Because it was better here.
But now Joe Keohane -- who quit his job as editor of the Weekly Dig, and is currently a columnist at Boston Magazine -- argues, in this month's column, that it's time to get over this fantasy:
The reality, of course, is that Ireland's kicking the [EXPLETIVE] out of us right now. The country enjoys the third highest per capita GDP in Europe and the eighth highest in the world (the United States is ninth). The Irish unemployment rate is 4.3 percent (Massachusetts is at 5.3 percent). Ireland sends more than twice as many kids to college as this country does.
How to adjust to this new state of affairs? Keohane has a suggestion:
The American Ireland Fund, for starters, should be abolished. In its place, someone in Dublin should form an Irish America Fund, which can host black-tie galas to raise money for Boston's public schools.
Ouch! And as for Canada -- once known, in superioristic Boston, as "that snow-globe to the north" -- we're the only people on the planet who think it's not a better country than the United States. (What about Alex Beam, you ask? True, he is obsessed with Canada -- but it's a love-hate relationship.) According to the Associated Press, a BBC World Service globe-spanning survey of attitudes toward 12 major nations asked more than 28,000 people to rate Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the United States and Venezuela as having a positive or negative influence on the world. The results are in:
The United States had the third-highest negative ranking, with 51 per cent citing it as a bad influence and 30 per cent as a good one. Next was North Korea, which was viewed negatively by 48 per cent and positively by 19 per cent.... Canada had the most positive rating in the survey, with 54 per cent viewing it positively and 14 per cent negatively.
It is really more a presentation than a video, but it explains, with admirable clarity, the concept of Web 2.0, the term (vaguely) used to describe the new, collaborative Web applications, of which YouTube and Wikipedia are the foremost examples.
The clip has elements of the political manifesto -- "The Machine is us" -- combined with elements of corporate cheerleading -- "The Web links people." But above all it's a nice short seminar for those not on the leading edge of technology. Here we go:
In it Lethem doesn't talk about plagiarism, as he did with Harvey Blume in Ideas. The focus of Seed's short interview is a common thread that Lethem has identified in his own work: "a combination of observed elements and -- the other word is always harder -- the imaginary or fantastical or metaphorical." Lethem says this was an element of his father's work as a painter and is for the writer a necessary condition for art.
Lethem goes a step further to say that his own work takes the metaphorical or imagined and makes it real, in what he calls "a literalness about metaphor": "Whereas in someone else's story, the people might feel that they're superheros, in my book ['The Fortress of Solitude'] the characters actually get to try out being superheros." Similarly, though he doesn't say so, in "Motherless Brooklyn" the protagonist doesn't just have trouble communicating in some general, universal way. He has Tourette's syndrome, which comes with a brutal stutter. I look forward to the strand of metaphor made real in "You Don't Love Me Yet."
On Friday, a "DVD Extras" feature in Slate shed a little more light on what Peter Canellos suggested might be thought of as Barack Obama's generational politics. Or the politics of conservatives the same age as Obama, anyway. The Slate essay, titled "Reagan's Favorite Sitcom," notes that Michael J. Fox -- who, as I've pointed out, was born in 1961, the same year as Obama -- began his acting career as a pop-culture role model for the right.
In the essay, David Haglund writes:
From 1982-89, [Fox] played Alex P. Keaton, a briefcase-wielding teenage Republican, on 'Family Ties,' a popular NBC sitcom. As Alex, Fox was rakishly clean-cut -- strange as that may sound -- and he made conservatism seem at once upstanding and rebellious.
Haglund recounts how "Family Ties" was supposed to be a show about the post-hippie lives of Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross, their struggle to raise children in a post-1968, Reagan revolution world. In the first episodes of the show, Alex was a smug, arrogant free-marketeer who kept learning valuable lessons (from his parents) about how misguided his ideology was. But Fox was so endearing as a teen Reaganite -- so unrepentant in his worldview, despite what might be called the dominant discourse of his household -- that the show soon came to revolve around him. As a result, writes Haglund,
Ronald Reagan said 'Family Ties' was his favorite show and reportedly offered to appear in an episode. Even today, young Republicans cite Fox's character as an early role model. When California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman's 25-year-old opponent in the last election was asked why he joined the Republican Party, he explained: "It started with Michael J. Fox on 'Family Ties.'" And Tucker Carlson has built an entire career by channeling the character.
This fall, during the run-up to the midterm elections, a CNN headline suggested that, for conservatives the same age as Obama, there's one burning question: "What would Alex P. Keaton do?"
Again the point here is that even though anyone with some computer sophistication and a copy of Photoshop can touch up a portrait photo, a computer can do it solo in under five minutes -- or so say the PortraitProfessional people. As the boing boing contributor notes, the demonstration gallery of the PP site betrays a certain ghoulishness:
The effect in many cases is to give the subject a creepy, bug-eyed look that seems equal parts anime, Whitley Strieber alien, and those funny warped headshots made famous by (and with) Kai's PowerTools. The reworked photo on the home page isn't too extreme, but some of the ones in the sample gallery are downright disturbing. (And I can't imagine how you'd ever explain to a subject why you rebuilt his or her face as if you were a plastic surgeon in some military hospital.)
On Friday I blogged about a John Holbo piece on The Valve about his proposals to bring Internet technology to the world of academic publishing. He advocated beginning with the creation of one e-press he dubbed Electra, which would make its books and monographs widely available free and leave them open to liberal quotation and reuse.
Today the blog of the Institute for the Future of the Book has a long entry about a new statement released by the Association of American University Presses about "open access," which is the catch-all name for the sort of publishing Holbo was pushing for. The AAUP's statement represents a hedging of bets. While pushing for more open access initiatives, it also includes passages that argue against "more radical approaches that abandon the market as a viable basis for the recovery of costs in scholarly publishing and instead try to implement a model that has come to be known as the 'gift economy' or the 'subsidy economy.'" Gift economy was in fact a phrase that Holbo favorably used.
The blogger at "if:book" seems to wish the AAUP would drop these careful caveats: "You can have free online editions coupled with priced print editions, or full open access after an embargo period directly following publication. There are many ways to go OA and still generate revenue, many of which we probably haven't thought up yet."
It seems to me legitimate to see the future as a more open scholarly forum rather than a world of static bound volumes of dead pulp. And it also seems fair to wonder whether university presses should be so concerned, at well-funded and public-spirited universities, with recovery of costs. Nevertheless, the blogger's reference to ways of bringing in revenue "we probably haven't thought up yet" seems a bit of a cop-out. If you are running an academic press right now, with a tight budget, dreams of nonexistent publishing business models aren't so helpful.
Speaking of yesterday's interview in Ideas of Jonathan Lethem, I thought I'd chip in a few notes from a Lethem obsessive. (I can't claim to know all the sci-fi -- not my area -- but I've read everything he's published since approximately the mid-'90s.)
I read the recent Harper's essay, which can be reduced to a defense of plagiarism, though of course it's more sophisticated than that, and I was pleased to see that Harvey Blume made it a focal point of the interview. I was impressed by Lethem's argument, even if the form of the piece represented something of a clever stunt: as Harvey notes, he reveals at the end just where he cribbed nearly 100 percent of the ideas and turns of phrase in the piece. In the interview Lethem states his case more succinctly and perhaps more strikingly:
LETHEM: I'm suggesting [originality] is an overrated value. When we're satisfied or enraptured or delighted by something -- a painting, a song coming over the radio, a novel -- we look to ratify that feeling and make it seem respectable. "Oh," we say, "it's very original, it's quite relevant."
I'm saying we don't actually care as much as we are told we ought to about originality.
That last sentence is a refreshing slap in the face. And it feels right to me. What we look for in art, after all, is what many before me have called "the feeling/sting/moment/chill of recognition." We look for a feeling we've had before. And that feeling could have arisen from life or art. Perhaps that's why I'm ignorant of most Shakespeare plays but have seen "Hamlet" easily six times: I like the familiarity, the way I recognize its pivotal moments.
Thanks to Al Gore and others who claim that energy efficiency is the answer to curbing climate change, Australian officials and European lighting manufacturers have announced phaseouts of the energy-guzzling incandescent bulb in favor of CFLs and advanced halogen lamps. Some of the world's largest bulbmakers have joined environmental groups and the California Energy Commission in talks that could lead to a phaseout in the US within a decade, according to the CSM.
This raises a question. Can fluorescent lightbulbs, which flicker on so slowly, replace incandescents as a symbol of sudden mental inspiration? I think not. So... how to represent illumination of the mind? Readers, we want to hear from you.
The Open Culture blog announced on Friday that its website now links to hundreds of "educational and cultural" podcasts. A peek at the Arts & Culture section of their podcast library does turn up pretty impressive results. This morning, I streamed, downloaded, or visited the homepage for such podcasts as:
Whoops! When I blogged at length about Jonathan Lethem's plagiarism essay in Harper's, late last week, I didn't realize that Lethem would be interviewed on that very subject in Ideas this weekend! My bad.
Speaking of the current issue of Ideas, as an undergrad religion major, I was pleased to read Chris Shea's Critical Faculties column on "religious literacy." To me, it's a no-brainer that schoolchildren should learn something about world religions, and the influence of religion on history -- but as always, Shea digs deep, finding controversy and debate on this very topic.
In other news, the Washington Post ran a list of the Top 10 Most Sought-After Out-of-Print Books in 2006 last Sunday. I'm pleased to report that I own two of these books: Johnny Cash's autobiography and Suzanne Somers's poetry collection "Touch Me Again."