that I should make more space and time for reading Dorothy Parker: Doc Searls’ questions about the provenance of a couple of quotes (which she may not have written, but who cares? Still a brilliantly sharp-tongued person, and perhaps it would be interesting to look into how she’s been misquoted).
I confess a hazy understanding of genomics (well, it’s probably even more vaporous than ‘hazy’), but this from the author of Accelerando‘s recent list of things to feel good about makes me think I should try again to wrap the mind around the subject:
There’s been enormous progress in genomics; we’re now on the threshold of truly understanding how little we understand. While the anticipated firehose of genome-based treatments hasn’t materialized, we now know why it hasn’t materialized, and it’s possible to start filling in the gaps in the map. Turns out that sequencing the human genome was merely the start. (It’s not a blueprint; it’s not even an algorithm for generating a human being. Rather, it’s like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process. Debug that.) My bet is that we’re going to have to wait another decade. Then things are going to start to get very strange in medicine.
Nice one over at Language Log: “Rice positivists” vs. “contextualized popular epistemologies”, commenting on the latest teapot tempest among anthropologists of different stripes. It’s nicely written (Mark Liberman’s postings always are), and this bit makes me especially glad to NOT be in the game any longer:
What does remain troublesome is the normative quality of the positivistic ethos that dominates the major agencies funding anthropological inquiry. Since researchers need funding, they are driven to adopt the rhetoric and mindset of the dispensers. (In missionary discourse, they become “rice positivists.”) “Applicants” (supplicants) are confronted with schedules whose headings conjure a fictive future of positivistic research: background (theories), problem, hypotheses, methods, measurements, data analysis, conclusions—in sum, the ideological rhetoric of natural science research within the positivistic mode. For natural scientists, the rhetoric is a convenient game its veterans can work retrospectively, offering to study the problems they have already resolved. But for anthropological fieldworkers, the application schedule can become an exercise in fantasy and falsification.
(Murray Wax 1997)
…which reminds me of one of my stable of quotations:
Oh, how he hated grant proposals. The hollow promises; the vaunting celebration of past success; the self-advertising emphasis on importance and significance; the absence of understatement; the omnipresence of exaggeration; the servile allegiance to tradition, formula, and established procedure; the utter predictability of every other sentence; the implicit greed of the genre…
(David Carkeet Double Negative, pg. 31)
I’ve taken extravagant pleasure in reading Phillip Lopate’s piece on Emerson in the Harper’s that arrived today. Three quotes that I just can’t bear not to rediffuse:
It is curious that Thoreau goes to a house to say with little preface what he has just read or observed, delivers it in a lump, is quite inattentive to any comment or thought which any of the company offer on the matter, is merely interrupted by it, &, when he has finished his report, departs with precipitation.
‘Tis strange, that it is not in vogue to commit hara-kiri as the Japanese do at 60. Nature is so insulting in her hints & notices, does not pull you by the sleeve, but pulls out your teeth, tears off your hair in patches, steals your eyesight, twists your face into an ugly mask, in short, puts all contumelies upon you, without in the least abating your zeal to make a good appearance, and all this at the same time that she is moulding the new figures around you into wonderful beauty which, of course, is only making your plight worse.
But the prize goes to this bit of insight:
A man of 45 does not want to open new accounts of friendship. He has said Kitty kitty long enough.
I’m enjoying Mark Twain’s Autobiography via iPad and Kindle, so page numbers aren’t an option for this lovely bit: William Dean Howells to Mark Twain, on autobiographical truth-telling:
The black truth, which we all know of ourselves in our hearts, or only the whity-brown truth of the pericardium, or the nice, whitened truth of the shirtfront? (note 52)
This certainly rings true to my jaundiced ear:
It’s really too late for both parties. They’re unreformable. They’ve squandered their legitimacy just as the US enters the fat heart of the long emergency. Neither of them have a plan, or even a single idea that isn’t a dodge or a grift. Both parties tout a “recovery” that is just a cover story for accounting chicanery and statistical lies aimed at concealing the criminally-engineered national bankruptcy that they presided over in split shifts. Both parties are overwhelmingly made up of bagmen for the companies that looted America.
Doc Searls, bless him, does a considerable service in his recent post after seeing The Social Network, suggesting to me that I ignore the phenomenon (of Facebook, and its broader significance) at my peril. Putting aside for a moment my squirmier feelings about Facebook itself, I focus on his comments on business, and specifically on a sentence he quotes from James Surowiecki’s New Yorker piece (“The Business-Movie Business“):
The film represents a rare attempt to take business seriously, and to interrogate the blend of insight, ruthlessness, creativity, and hubris required to start a successful company.
Yup, right there on a silken pillow is all my discomfort with ‘business’: ruthlessness and hubris I deplore, insight and creativity I applaud. Perhaps this is my problem… Anyway, thanks to Doc’s take, I’m much more likely to see the Facebook movie, to try to think more creatively about the Facebook phenomenon, and maybe even to think more insightfully about my long-term bugaboo take on ‘business’.
I’ve had Dwight Macdonald’s Parodies: An Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm –and After (1960) for years, and nibbled at it betimes. The September 20th issue of The New Yorker has a Louis Menand review of The Oxford Book of Parodies (2010) which has this beautifully clear –indeed, all but anthropological– summary of what HAPPENED in the 50 intervening years:
In 1960, though, Macdonald was pushing on a door where there was still some resistance. Since then, literature has ceased to be the dominant middle-class cultural preference, and the barrier between the authentic and the parodic has collapsed. A “diffused parodic sense” is everywhere. The culture is flooded with ironic self-reflexivity and imitations of imitations: travesties, spoofs, skits, lampoons, pastiches, quotations, samplings, appropriations, repurposings. This has happened at the low end (television commercials that are parodies of television commercials) and the high (postmodern fiction). And since 1960 a giant continent of mainstream entertainment has emerged of which parody is the foundation, from National Lampoon, Monty Python, and “Saturday Night Live” to Spy, Weird Al Yankovic, “The Simpsons,” and The Onion.
…even the members of reading clubs could use some guidance making sense of a culture in which almost nothing is taken seriously unless it first makes fun of what it is. This practice may be partly self-protective: it is harder for someone to subvert you if you are already subverting yourself. But self-parody can also convey authority. The “Daily Show” is a parody of a news program, and a lot of people rely on it for news.
Still, anthologically speaking, where to start? When everything is quasi-parodic, when everything presents itself with a wink of self-conscious exaggeration, then it may be that parody is finished as the kind of genre you can represent within the confines of an Oxford Book… (pg 80)
And an hour or so later I found myself immersed in Joshua Clover’s “Busted: Stories of the Financial Crisis” from September 20 issue of The Nation, staring at another brilliant bit of analytical abstraction:
…When one converts, say, collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps into a folksy story about the neighbors and their home insurance, the crisis appears more legible than its components, those acronymic phantasms of fictitious capital traded by the blind protocols of shell companies hoping to arbitrage a few billion pennies from minuscule imbalances in a great global system.
What those two passages share is an exemplary clarity of analysis and expression, to which I wish I could rise myself. Still, I know it when I see it.
Yesterday I got another Facebook invite from a friend from long ago, and I was less than satisfied with my explanation for declining to participate. This morning good old Doc Searls makes all much clearer as he cites Adam Rifkin:
Facebook is a lobster trap and your friends are the bait. On social networks we are all lobsters, and lobsters just wanna have fun. Every time a friend shares a status, a link, a like, a comment, or a photo, Facebook has more bait to lure me back. Facebook is literally filled with master baiters: Whenever I return to Facebook I am barraged with information about many friends, to encourage me to stick around and click around. Every time I react with a like or comment, or put a piece of content in, I’m serving as Facebook bait myself. Facebook keeps our friends as hostages, so although we can check out of Hotel Facebook any time we like, we can never leave. So we linger. And we lurk. And we luxuriate. The illogical extreme of content-as-bait are the Facebook games where the content is virtual bullshit.
(see Adam’s post for some eloquent links within that passage).
Describing A.J. Liebling:
A gouty fat man who was also a distinguished war correspondent, food writer, and press critic, he had formal education (he attended Dartmouth but did not graduate) but he also cultivated the Ishmaelian charm of the autodidact, always a little too eager to share his learning and a little tone-deaf when it came to distinctions between the canonical and the esoteric.
(Carlo Rotella, “The End of American Sporting Life” in A New Literary History of America pg. 859)