Reviews and News:
James Russell, Amy, Robert—the Lowells of Massachusetts “are a fascinating bunch: spinsters, ministers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, factory builders, poets, college presidents and soldiers. One is even an astronomer. They cultivate fruit trees, write in their diaries and raise their children. They build mill towns and fight slavery. They fall in love, go mad, lose their babies, travel to Europe, design beautiful homes and alter the course of American history through public service and the letters, poems and sermons they write.”
Dwight Garner reviews D. J. Taylor’s The New Book of Snobs: “Taylor’s book takes its title and inspiration from William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs (1848), in which that Victorian novelist defined a snob as one ‘who meanly admires mean things.’ Snobbery is no longer so easy to define. As in a string of binary code, the ones and zeros keep flipping. In a world in which reverse snobbery is often the cruelest sort, it can be hard for the tyro to keep up. This is where Taylor’s book comes in. The New Book of Snobs will not help you navigate the American status system. It’s a very British book; so British that there are currently no plans to publish it in the United States…To understand Taylor fully, it will help to be conversant with the humor magazine Viz, as well as with the humor magazine Punch; with the reality-TV star Katie Price as well as with the writer Nancy Mitford; and with the Kray twins and the rapper Tinie Tempah, as well as with Evelyn Waugh and Beau Brummell.”
Adventures in surrealism: “Leonora Carrington was strikingly beautiful with ‘the personality of a headstrong and hypersensitive horse’ (according to her friend and patron Edward James); and she fled from her family, renouncing a life of privilege and ease to pursue her calling as an artist. Joanna Moorhead deplores the fact that she is ‘not much more than a footnote in art history’. But she has long been a legendary figure (among recent devotees, apparently, Madonna and Björk); in Mexico, where she lived and worked for most of her life, she is a national treasure; and for the feminist she is a heroine and her art ‘a modern woman’s codex’. She painted some marvellous pictures in her own, very personal brand of surrealism and wrote, in addition to fantastic, gruesome and often very funny stories, an account of her experience of madness, Down Under.”
In 2011, Daniel Mendelsohn’s 81-year-old father audited his course on the Odyssey. Then the two travelled to Greece: “‘Journey of Odysseus’ was an ‘educational’ cruise, and my father, although contemptuous of anything that struck him as being a needless luxury, was a great believer in education. And so, a few weeks later, in June, fresh from our recent immersion in the text of the Homeric epic, we took the cruise, which lasted ten days, one for each year of Odysseus’ long journey.”
The secret life of pitchers: “A multibillion-dollar industry—one that has been a centerpiece of American popular culture for more than a century—rests on a figure standing alone in the grass with millions of eyes staring at him. Such a pivotal role can exact a high price, as Rick Ankiel discovered one day back in October 2000.”
Other theories of the unconscious: Freud “built a therapeutic empire by identifying the id, ego and superego as the forces of a ‘power struggle’ between instinct and morality ‘going on deep within us’. Yet as Freud’s cultural stock rose, his writings remained testament to an elective blindness, showing imperial disregard for most of his philosophical precursors and peers. In all his major publications on the unconscious, from Studies through to Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Freud barely acknowledged the pioneering Pierre Janet, the French psychiatrist well-known for his theory that traumas caused personality to dissociate into conscious and unconscious parts. There was no mention of Friedrich Nietzsche, who held that the unconscious mind yielded the deepest truths, or of Arthur Schopenhauer, who identified will itself as unconscious. Freud all but ignored the experimental work on unconscious inference that Hermann von Helmholtz had undertaken since the 1840s. And he showed curmudgeonly disdain for the rival theories of his one-time acolytes and ultimate critics Alfred Adler (who put stock in feelings of inferiority) and Carl Jung (a proponent of archetypes inhabiting the unconscious). In fact, despite Freud’s renown, several approaches to the unconscious had already been established before the advent of psychoanalysis.”
Essay of the Day:
In The New Atlantis, Ari Schulman examines the mystery of the mind and the meaning of experience:
“Physicalists regard the common-sense view that the mind is special — whether because it’s self-aware, can think and feel, or has free will — as an illusion. Aiming to refute physicalism, [Australian philosopher Frank] Jackson asks us to imagine a scientist named Mary, who is so brilliant that she acquires all of the ‘physical information there is to obtain’ about the workings of vision. Mary, that is, learns everything there is to know about how various wavelengths of light stimulate the retina, the neurology of the visual processing system, how this system interacts with the speech centers to produce spoken descriptions of images, and so on. The catch is that Mary has lived her whole life in a room in which everything is entirely in black, white, and shades of gray, including her books and the TV monitor she uses to investigate the world.
“One day Mary is released from her room. For the first time, she sees colors with her own eyes. The question is: Does Mary learn something new?
“The intuitive answer for most people is: yes, of course — Mary learns what it is like to see color. She learns about the redness of a rose, the blueness of the sky. But recall that Mary already knew everything physical about vision. So whatever it is that Mary learns is not encapsulated in physical descriptions. We can conclude, then, that there are such things as nonphysical facts about vision, meaning there must also be nonphysical properties of vision. In short, there is something special about the mind, and physicalism must be false.
“The conclusion may strike many readers as obvious, but physicalism is the orthodoxy among today’s physicists, biologists, and philosophers of mind. To the physicalists, their position is the beginning and the end of the modern scientific project: in principle, a core metaphysical commitment that distinguishes modern science from its forebears; in its particulars, the final theory that is supposed to await us on the distant day when science is finished.”
Poem: Mark Jarman, “Seam”
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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard