“I’m telling you, I was almost walking out with three puppies. It’s so hard. That’s why we named her Sophie, because it was Sophie’s Choice. I was crying — it was so hard.”—Jennifer Aniston on getting a dog. In Sophie’s Choice, a mother at Auschwitz has to choose whether her 10-year-old son or 7-year-old daughter will live. (via officialssay)
Being a broken man himself, Greene knew how to probe the pain and romance of faith and its failed practitioners better than anyone else. Even those of us who never ended up in a prison in Mexico waiting for execution, like the whisky priest in The Power and the Glory, knew what his self-disgust felt like. We knew what Greene was on about when he described the sadness of missing happiness by seconds at an appointed place. A little more self-discipline and maybe our tormented hearts would have ceased tormenting yet. But we also knew somewhere inside that it was our failures that kept us human.
Being a priesthood themselves, great writers understand this better than most. Tennessee Williams knew that if he’d exorcised his demons he’d have destroyed his angels as well. And the poet Ian Crichton Smith understood that “from our weakness only are we kind”. Greene would have agreed with them both. There was human solidarity in weakness, fellowship in failure. That’s why the spoiled priest in his greatest novel was overwhelmed with compassion for other losers. When you looked at other men and women, “you could always begin to feel pity. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.” And that had to include self-hatred. In Greeneland, in the end, everyone is forgiven because everyone is understood.
“None of this offers even a start to the question of why people keep buying and presumably reading an interminably long, frequently repetitive and intermittently gruesome Iron Age rendition of Bronze Age combat. One reason, obviously, is that had Homer existed (in spite of his deconstruction by Wolf, and in spite of his substitution by Parry/Lord), he would have been the star pupil of any creative writing course. They teach a variety of tricks and techniques for different kinds of writing, but Homer uses absolutely all of them: the Iliad begins in media res with the action underway, and instead of a tiresome summary of the first nine years of the war, necessary context is supplied by scattered flashbacks; it starts, moreover, with a quarrel on the Achaean side that is a fast way of introducing its two principal protagonists, Agamemnon and Achilles, each acting out at maximum volume to reveal his character immediately; the indispensable enlistment of emotions to make us care for the characters’ fates is fully accomplished, on both sides, most strongly perhaps for Hector as he parts from his infant son and desolate wife for a day of combat, but also for the teenage fighter who grasps Achilles’ leg in a futile plea for mercy in Book 22, and many others; the build-up of tension leading to a great climax is relentless, and achieved not once but twice, first in the long delayed return of Achilles to combat, preceded by dramatic renditions of the bloody losses his absence had caused, and then in the duel between Achilles and Hector, all the more dramatic because of the final loss of nerve of Priam’s most valiant son. On top of that, there are the production values, as Hollywood calls them: lots of special effects ranging from the habitual falling-star incandescence of the gods to the extraordinary revolt of the river god Scamander against Achilles, who had fouled the river with bleeding dead bodies (he would have drowned in a thunderous flood had not the gods intervened); the gorgeous Cecil B. DeMille battle scenes written as if seen from above, sex scenes all the more erotically charged because they are inserted between dramatic peaks and, throughout, the reciprocal balancing of the inevitable human tragedy of mortality with the tragicomedies of the cavorting gods.”—Edward Luttwak reviews ‘The Iliad by Homer’ translated by Stephen Mitchell · LRB 23 February 2012 (via ayjay)
“Associations with night before the 17th Century were not good,” [Craig Koslovsky] says. The night was a place populated by people of disrepute - criminals, prostitutes and drunks. “Even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”
That changed in the wake of the Reformation and the counter-Reformation. Protestants and Catholics became accustomed to holding secret services at night, during periods of persecution. If earlier the night had belonged to reprobates, now respectable people became accustomed to exploiting the hours of darkness. This trend migrated to the social sphere too, but only for those who could afford to live by candlelight.
With the advent of street lighting, however, socialising at night began to filter down through the classes. In 1667, Paris became the first city in the world to light its streets, using wax candles in glass lamps. It was followed by Lille in the same year and Amsterdam two years later, where a much more efficient oil-powered lamp was developed. London didn’t join their ranks until 1684 but by the end of the century, more than 50 of Europe’s major towns and cities were lit at night. Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time.
“One of the more irritating arguments of a couple of years ago was that Greece was manageable because she formed “only” 2.8% of euro-area GDP. Well, now she is only 2.5% of euro-area GDP; progress of a sort.”—CreditSuisse
A song I know will be playing late at night in bars and at apartment parties until I’m old enough to annoy kids knee-deep in neo-dubstep with stories about how I saw him play it, twenty years ago, but was mostly concerned at the time with trying to determine whether there really was an abandoned briefcase behind me or if the weed that strange French girl had given me was actually PCP and I was hallucinating the briefcase. A song that sounds just as good when you’re 3,000 miles away from your buddies (“if I could see all my friends tonight…”) as when you’re in the same room as them (you can!), and for completely different reasons. Last week at a party I approached a girl I sort of knew once and asked her how a mutual friend of ours was doing. She said she’d had a baby and dropped out of school and doesn’t really talk to her anymore and then she told me never to graduate because after two years in a world resistant to idealistic dream-fulfillment she’d had a pretty hard time, and then she started crying. Writing about music allows me to articulate feelings that, in casual conversation and especially in loud crowded basements, otherwise come out as “oh my god I love this song like you have no idea, it means so much to me!” Which is basically what I said to her when it came on, which is maybe why she through tears asked me to sing it to her, which is unfortunate, because a song about growing older and losing friends probably wasn’t what she wanted to hear right then and there, but I did it anyway, and it seemed to cheer her up.
"Then again", Philippe continued, "many of my clients simply don’t seem to care a whole lot about what the general public think. These are extremely well-educated and multilingual professionals. Many are in mixed marriages with kids who have lived on two or three continents. These people don’t belong anywhere and don’t feel beholden to any national project. They want to pay as little in tax as they can, and they want to be safe. That’s it. Rule of law is very important for them.’
Philippe said: “A highly educated professional in the City of London has much more in common with a peer in Hong Kong, New York City or Rio de Janeiro, than with a monolingual, mono-cultural teacher or nurse somewhere up in Birmingham or Manchester. Solidarity for the new global elite is not geography-based or tied up with a state.”
Knowing this was for the Guardian, he added with a mischievous smile: “This is where the left seems lost. It insists on solidarity across the nation, with higher tax rates for rich people to help their less fortunate countrymen. But this solidarity is predicated on a sense of national belonging, to which the left is allergic; national identity comes with chauvinism and nationalism, and creepy rightwing supremacists. It’s quite ironic how postmodernists and many contemporary social thinkers on the left will tell you that all sense of belonging is a construct, tradition is invented and nations are simply fantasies or imagined communities. Well, the global financial elite agrees.”
“The explanation for this effect returns us to the benefits of not being able to pay attention. The stupor of alcohol, like the haze of the early morning, makes it harder for us to ignore those unlikely thoughts and remote associations that are such important elements of the imagination. So the next time you are in need of insight, avoid caffeine and concentration. Don’t chain yourself to your desk. Instead, set the alarm a few minutes early and wallow in your groggy thoughts. And if that doesn’t work, chug a beer.”—Jonah Lehrer on why being sleepy and drunk is great for creativity. Lehrer’s must-read new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, comes out in March and is now available on pre-order. (via curiositycounts)
“Při svých dennodenních cestách po Čechách se čím dál více setkávám s tím, že generace padesátníků má řadu dovedností v nejrůznějších oborech, třeba kovoobrábění nebo vstřikování plastů, ale lidé mého věku ve firmách už jen montují, nemají žádné zkušenosti s vývojem prvního kusu, nejsou schopni přínosných podnětů ani připomínek. Vždy mi pomáhá tým složený z lidí o dvacet let starších, než jsem já.”—Reflex
“Interestingly, when smart people feel less alienated, they seem to buy different sorts of books. Instead of condemning American society for not honoring the author’s personality or tastes, the new bestsellers explore the mysteries of human behavior. Think of Malcolm Gladwell’s various books or Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Perhaps once you accept that people really are different — that nobody’s normal and, at least when it comes to food or entertainment or vacations, there’s no one best way to live — you can, paradoxically enough, start to think about the commonalities known as human nature.”—Postrel: Can You Pass the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ Test? - Bloomberg (via ayjay)
From election to election, politics is mostly about jobs and the economy and the state of the public purse — which is as it should be. But the arguments that we remember longest, that define what it means to be democratic and American, are often the debates over human life and human rights, public morals and religious freedom – culture war debates, that is, in all their many forms.
Thus Plessy v. Ferguson, decided in 1896, is more famous today than, say, the Panic of 1893. The slogan “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” is better remembered than any of Grover Cleveland’s economic policies. The debates over Prohibition and women’s suffrage loom larger than Warren Harding’s early-1920s tax cuts.
It may well be the same for our own epoch. Come what may in our culture wars, the economy and the unemployment rate will largely determine whether Barack Obama or his Republican opponent wins the next election. But in the long run, and no matter which side ultimately prevails, the debates that just re-erupted may do more to define how our era is remembered.