Saturday, April 19, 2014
 
The Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is currently undergoing a revival with a recent exhibition of her work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. She has long evoked interest not only because of her distinctive style but also because of her eccentric personality, her dominant — very dominant — role in a circle that in many ways prefigured the Bloomsbury of her grandniece, Virginia Woolf. But there was another strand in her life that was quintessentially Victorian: the imperial. She was daughter, wife and mother of Empire.
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  • On the morning of November 14, 1889, John Brisben Walker, the wealthy publisher of the monthly magazine The Cosmopolitan, boarded a New Jersey ferry bound for New York City. Like many other New Yorkers, he was carrying a copy of The World, the most widely read and influential newspaper of its time. A front-page story announced that Nellie Bly, The World’s star investigative reporter, was about to undertake the most sensational adventure of her career: an attempt to go around the world faster than anyone ever had before.
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  • Located in a historic building in Philadelphia, The Mütter Museum attracts a steady stream of visitors to its exhibits in medical history. Describing its exhibits as “Disturbingly Informative,” the museum’s highlights include a collection of skulls and other body parts put together by physicians; a startlingly large and varied array of objects that were swallowed and subsequently removed from the human stomach; slides of Einstein’s brain; and the “Soap Lady,” a corpse turned to adipocere.
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  • I was born in central London in 1947, a child in a very special generation. In no time at all it became perfectly clear to me that not just my parents but everyone had been awaiting my arrival and was delighted to see me. Grown-up people of all ages and genders peered into my pram and then my pushchair as if they were slightly distant relatives. They stopped on the street to chuck me under the chin and pinch my cheek (yes, well-fed, rosy with health) and congratulate the adult pushing me on bringing me into the world. Even old Queen Mary, Edwardian widow of George V, had her chauffeur stop the Rolls in St. James’s Park, where my father had taken me to feed the ducks.
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  • Progress is never inevitable, even in reform eras. The United States at the turn of the twentieth century was in a progressive mood. It was a time in which the nation’s leaders tackled some of modern life’s most vexing problems: from taming rapacious industrialization to ensuring a clean food supply to cleaning up political corruption, American progressives were seeking a more harmonious and salubrious national life. But for African Americans, even those closest to progressive national leaders, this was a period of disappointment and devastation.
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  • In 1983, Andre Schiffrin and Sara Bershtel, then of Pantheon Books, asked me to write a book on poverty for a new series on the politics of knowledge. The intended audience was non-specialist readers and college students. Reading extensively on the topic, I was struck by the repetitive quality of the literature: discussions of poverty revolved around the same themes stated and combined in different ways leaving the impression that there did not seem much new to say.
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  • Near the end of Susanna Clarke’s magical history, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, comes a peculiarly chilling scene. A magician named Childermass, riding through a wood festooned with corpses, arrives at the Castle of the Plucked Eye and Heart. Before the castle stands a champion who defends its lady by killing all who would insult her and hanging their bodies on the thorn-trees. Childermass has the wisdom to flee, but a more reckless colleague, Lascelles, scorns his cowardice and returns to challenge the knight.
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  • Man

    Upon arriving at the White House, Douglass found “the stairway was crowded with applicants … and as I was the only dark spot among them, I expected to have to wait at least half a day.” But within two minutes he was ushered into the president’s office, where he found Lincoln seated “in a low armchair with his feet extended on the floor, surrounded by a large number of documents and several busy secretaries.” Lincoln immediately put his visitor at ease. “I know who you are, Mr. Douglass; Mr. Seward has told me all about you,” the president said. “Sit down. I am glad to see you.”
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  • Nineteenth century New York City lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong was a man of intensely felt opinion. Charitable, and on some issues progressive, he nevertheless could not abide the idea of women entering his beloved profession of law. He heartily approved when, in the late 1860s, his alma mater, Columbia College (today New York City’s Columbia University) refused to admit women law applicants. But a small group of women dared to imagine themselves lawyers and defeated the George Templeton Strongs of the legal profession.
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  • Benjamin Robert Haydon, the artist who helped bring the Elgin marbles to the British Museum, was scathing about portraiture. It is, he declared in 1817, ‘one of the staple manufactures of the empire. Wherever the British settle, wherever they colonise, they carry and will ever carry trial by jury, horse-racing, and portrait-painting.’ His list of imperial products might also have included Joseph Banks (1743-1820), who is celebrated as one of Australia’s founding fathers.
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  • Most people have heard of the Council of Trent, and probably most of what they have heard is negative. It was a church council convoked to condemn the Reformation. It initiated a repressive epoch in Catholic countries and opposed everything good in the burgeoning “modern world.” It launched the dreaded Counter-Reformation. Beyond such clichés, few can venture. Like most clichés, these are badly misleading.
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  • With this beautifully modest sentence Greene excavated one of the most essential and enduring myths of the Cuban Revolution. Following the sheer, inviolable force of gravity that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, so much freedom was promised to the people, who in turn expected so much liberty, and yet the revolutionary soil proved infertile.
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  • The lone survivor of traditional Western European ‘scientific’ culture is science. It has survived because it is now the handmaid of technology, without which contemporary civilization would collapse utterly. Anyone who doubts this should try to get a research grant for genuinely “pure” research.
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  • Acratophorus, ("giver of unmixed wine"), at Phigaleia in Arcadia. Acroreites at Sicyon. Adoneus ("ruler") in his Latinised, Bacchic cult.
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  • The stunning spectacle of mass hero-worship in the Third Reich is compelling, in particular, the sight of unbridled joy at these mass rallies. This is even more so given that we – unlike those smiling faces - know what happened next, the nightmare of World War II and the deaths of countless millions.
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  • It occurred to me that Genesis is such a supreme fiction, or perhaps it is the supreme fiction in western culture, which begat many others. For thousands of years this book has been the mirror or lamp that reveals what reality consists of – regarding the nature of human existence, the cosmos, and God. Or, to put it differently, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
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  • Johann Schleyer was a German priest whose irrational passion for umlauts may have been his undoing. During one sleepless night in 1879, he felt a Divine presence telling him to create a universal language. The result was Volapük. It was designed to be easy to learn, with a system of simple roots derived from European languages, and regular affixes which attached to the roots to make new words.
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  • Ralph Waldo Emerson visited England twice – in 1833 and again in 1847. On his first visit, as a young and unpublished writer, he travelled to meet the men whose works had inspired him – one of these giants was Thomas Carlyle, the ‘lonely scholar’.
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  • Eric Hobsbawm outlived his short twentieth century (1917-1991) by more than twenty years. And right to the end he was still the object of scandal for having been far too long a communist. ‘You see’, he might have said, (‘you see’ was one of his habitual linguistic tics) ‘there have been many communists among major historians, but they left. Some stayed on the left (E.P. Thompson), some moved right (Annie Kriegel, François Furet). I stayed until the end, the bitter end.’
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  • Without a doubt, the most important book in English devoted to Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), the polyglot of Bologna, is The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, written by an Irish priest, Charles William Russell, and published in 1858. When I first began research on hyperpolyglots, I knew I was going to have to spend considerable time with Russell’s book.
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  • In 1952, Hellman was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). It was the height (or should I say “nadir”?) of the red hunt. Senator Joseph McCarthy, with the intimidating attorney Roy Cohn at his side, seemed to be making daily headlines with his irresponsible charges that however many communists were undermining virtually every aspect of American life.
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  • In any account of the United Farm Workers, there is ample room for recrimination and bitterness; but Bardacke shows none of that in his own spirited history. The story of the UFW is inseparable from that of Cesar Chavez, the most magnetic race leader in the mid-to-late twentieth century after Martin Luther King, Jr.
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by Kristen Zipperer
There are very few Urdu writers who have written about these despondent days in Pakistan’s history, with perhaps one notable exception. Intizar Husain is a novelist and short story writer whose work takes an unrelenting look at man’s attempt and ultimate failure to keep his humanity during the post-Partition period.
by Daniel Bosch
Even before the camera slowly swings upward from her mouth to her eyes, even before we realize that those are not opaque black pits but irises, the first frames of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo have made us conscious of how a camera and a screen limit and fix visual perception — even with all their jump cuts, films concentrate better than we do. And so it is strangely a relief to fall as we do into the pupil of the eye that Hitchcock’s camera enters.
by Stephen T. Asma
In his 1790 Critique of Judgment, Kant famously predicted that there would never be a “Newton for a blade of grass.” Biology, he thought, would never be unified and reduced down to a handful of mechanical laws, as in the case of physics. This, he argued, is because we cannot expunge teleology (goal-directedness) from living systems. The question “what is it for?” applies to living structures in a way that has no corollary in physics.
by Eric Schneider
Were Philadelphia police different? In some ways, yes; in other ways, no. City police may not have exchanged their badges for the white hoods of vigilante groups, but a nearly completely white police force held the same racial prejudices of the Philadelphia neighborhoods from which they were recruited.
by Russell Bennetts
Wittgenstein certainly regarded himself as a philosopher, and certainly believed in the fundamental truth of what he was saying. So it would be a misleading oversimplification to maintain that he was “against philosophy” or against “the possibility of philosophical truth”. More accurately, what he criticized was a certain kind of philosophy – perhaps the dominant kind in the West.
by Michael B. Katz
The biological definition of poverty reinforces the idea of the undeserving poor, which is the oldest theme in post-Enlightenment poverty discourse. Its history stretches from the late eighteenth century through to the present. Poverty, in this view, results from personal failure and inferiority. Moral weaknesses – drunkenness, laziness, sexual promiscuity – constitute the most consistent markers of the undeserving poor.
by Volker M. Welter
Following a map for a driving tour along Palm Spring’s mid-twentieth century Modernist homes and buildings, I had just peeked at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, the rebellious sibling from 1947 of Frank Lloyds Wright’s Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania, which was begun for the same client in 1935. Figuring out on the map where to drive to next, a house whose owner was identified as Dr. Franz Alexander caught my attention.
by Albert Rolls
Consider, for example, the Pynchon anecdotes told by the television producer Deane Rink — who attended Cornell a few years after Pynchon and studied creative writing under Walter Slatoff, with whom Pynchon had also studied. Rink tells his stories as part of an early Web exercise in which he sent emails for publication to the B&R Samizdat Express at the end of 1996, when he was in McMurdo, Antarctica, to work on Live from Antarctica (1997) for PBS productions.
by Cain Todd
In an effort to be interdisciplinary, and to keep up with the current trend for all things neuroscience, I recently attended a conference in Berlin on neuroaesthetics. One of only two philosophers in the room, I found myself on the receiving end of an incredibly hostile attack after asking a question of the founding guru of the discipline, the neuroscientist Professor Semir Zeki of University College London.
by Patricia Emison
I came to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing through the back door. About a decade after the four-part series on the BBC (1972) had excited attention as a scrappy response to Kenneth Clark’s staid Civilisation (1969), I read the book because the title was so often cited. I confess that I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. It was a little, murkily grey book that seemed to make rather obvious points about how the Old Masters had reinforced orthodoxies to which we no longer subscribe.
by Frank R. Stockton
In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done.
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