Articles & Opinion Pieces
A Review of: Martin Hägglund’s This Life
and Yi-Ping Ong’s The Art of Being
“This time the crisis seemed different; it seemed existential.”
Such a sentence could come from a novel. It could be in reference to a character’s state of mind, or to a family, or to a business concern. In this case, I am co-opting it for a field of knowledge.
In the 80s, when I started studying literature, the crisis was political. Conservatives were railing against the humanities for politicizing academia, for embracing race and gender studies, and for disrespecting the great tradition of thought that were the backbone of western culture, Matthew Arnold’s “the best that has been thought and said.”
Letter From Austria: Is Europe's ‘Tolerant Society’ Backfiring?
TODAY, THE VERY CONCEPT of reality seems to be at risk. According to the great Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, that may not be such a bad thing. Like much of Vattimo’s thought, his recent Of Reality: The Purposes of Philosophy is essentially an extended interpretation and advocacy of Martin Heidegger, but its philosophical leitmotif comes from Nietzsche’s dictum that, “There are no facts, only interpretations; and this too is an interpretation.”
Letter From Austria: Is Europe's ‘Tolerant Society’ Backfiring?
Not long ago, riding the subway with my 8-year-old son to his school here, I noticed a headline in a newspaper left on a nearby seat: “Schoolteacher sues Muslim father for refusing to shake hands with her.” Compared with the alarming rise of the far-right Freedom Party here in Austria in recent months, this was minor news, but resonant.
What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Zombies?
Legions of cultural critics are focusing the beam of Marxist-inflected critical theory on the mass-cultural phenomenon of zombies. And what a phenomenon they have become. Zombies—the rambling, post-apocalyptic, multitudinous variety, as opposed to the voodoo-induced loners of Caribbean lore—have spread like a virulent contagion since their introduction...
On Borges, Particles and the Paradox of the Perceived
In 1927 a young German physicist published a paper that would turn the scientific world on its head. Until that time, classical physics had assumed that when a particle’s position and velocity were known, its future trajectory could be calculated. Werner Heisenberg demonstrated that this condition was actually impossible: we cannot know with precision both a particle’s location and its velocity, and the more precisely we know the one, the less we can know the other. Five years later he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for having laid the foundations of quantum physics.
Can Neuroscience Challenge Roe V. Wade?
When I was asked this summer to serve as an expert witness in an appellate case that some think could lead to the next Supreme Court test of Roe v. Wade, I was surprised.
Rick Hearn is the attorney representing Jennie McCormack, an Idaho woman who was arrested for allegedly inducing her own abortion using mifepristone and misoprostol — two F.D.A.-approved drugs, also known as RU-486 — and for obtaining the drugs from another state over the Internet.
Bodies in Motion:
While neuroscience may well have very interesting things to say about how brains go about making decisions and producing different interpretations, though, it does not follow that the knowledge thus produced replaces humanistic knowledge. In fact, the only way we can understand this debate is by using humanist methodology — from reading historical and literary texts to interpreting them to using them in the form of an argument — to support a very different notion of knowledge than the one Professor Rosenberg presents.
‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction
Though the works of authors like Sophocles, Dante or Shakespeare certainly provide us with enjoyment, can we really classify what they have produced as “fun”? Are we not giving the Bard and others short shrift when we treat their work merely as entertainment? Does their fictional art not offer insights into human nature as illuminating as many of those the physical sciences have produced?
Freedom and Reality:
It has been a privilege to read the comments posted in response to my July 25th post, “The Limits of the Coded World” and I am exceedingly grateful for the time, energy and passion so many readers put into them. While my first temptation was to answer each and every one, reality began to set in as the numbers increased, and I soon realized I would have to settle for a more general response treating as many of the objections and remarks as I could. This is what I would like to do now.
The Limits of the Coded World
In an influential article in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Joshua Gold of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Shadlen of the University of Washington sum up experiments aimed at discovering the neural basis of decision-making. In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns.
The Art of Fiction
and Political Lies
This year we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of a man who, more than any other, trained the modern world in the art of fiction. In 2016 we also seem destined to pass another milestone: the low tide mark for truth in politics. While the two points may seem unrelated, it turns out that Miguel de Cervantes has a lot to tell us about why politicians lie so unrepentantly, and why their lies are so resistant to being debunked by mere facts.
In Defense of
Whether it's the U.S. president ordering the killing of an Islamist extremist in Pakistan, a Long Island congressman scheduling hearings on the radicalization of Islam in America, or mullahs in Afghanistan exhorting mobs to violence in response to a Florida preacher burning a copy of the Quran, it's hard to avoid the impression that the West is at war with Islam.
The Revenge of the Novel
On Thursday the Swedish Academy announced that the 2010 Nobel Prize for literature would go to Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, citing "his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat." The academy’s decision was heralded by many in the Latin American press and in scholarly circles as long-awaited, if not overdue.
Essays & Scholarly Works
Empire of Solitude
This is an excerpt just published in the LA Review of Books' Philosophical Salon from Medialogies, a book I am co-authoring with David Castillo.
On Dante, Hypersphere's, and the Curvature of the Medieval Cosmos
Reality is Bleeding: A Brief History of Film from the Sixteenth Century