Sunday Readings at the New Inquiry

Do you find it difficult to keep up with all the links I post to Facebook or Twitter? Well, since the start of the year I’ve been contributing my favorite links to Aaron Bady’s weekly “Sunday Reading” section on his New Inquiry blog.

While most of us probably feel that we have too much to read, we still find ourselves foolishly looking for something new. Well, look no further than “Sunday Reading”! Each week Aaron culls links from a dozen regular contributors and you are bound to find more than a few great articles or websites there each week.

I also archive links on my Pinboard account in case you are looking for something you know I posted but can’t remember when or where.

Consider the word ‘balti’

Consider the word ‘balti’ for instance; derived from the Portuguese ‘balde’, it probably referred originally to ship’s buckets: today, no Indian household is complete without a set of tin or plastic baltis, just as no English town is without its supply of  ‘balti chicken‘, which was probably also a Laskari invention.

via Amitav Ghosh.

The Sperm Whale’s Brow

Whale

To scan the lines of his face, or feel the bumps on the head of this Leviathan; this is a thing which no Physiognomist or Phrenologist has as yet undertaken…

Physiognomically regarded, the Sperm Whale is an anomalous creature. He has no proper nose. And since the nose is the central and most conspicuous of the features; and since it perhaps most modifies and finally controls their combined expression; hence it would seem that its entire absence, as an external appendage, must very largely affect the countenance of the whale…A nose to the whale would have been impertinent…

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The Children’s Wing of Budhan Theatre

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Towards the end of Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! there is an interview with two boys who had written a play about the Budhan Theatre library: Harry and Siddharth. They admit how scared they were that someone might forget their lines. We always get a laugh when they reveal that they wrote the mother role in their play just for the girl Nandini because they knew she would be good in the fight scene. Well, shortly after we finished primary shooting, Harry’s father passed away. You might remember Harry’s father from the film. He was the one who was beaten by the police after he tried to “go straight” by opening a store. Once a promising student and playwright, his father’s death forced Harry to leave Budhan Theatre to work at his father’s shop on the main road. Now history is repeating itself as Harry is frequently in trouble with the police. Siddharth, on the other hand, was able to continue with the theater. He is still in school, now in 11th grade and studying arts.

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This strangest of islands

This strangest of islands, I thought, as I looked out to the sea, this island that turned in on itself, and from which water had been banished. The shore was a carapace, permeable only at certain selected points. Where in this riverine city could one fully sense a riverbank?

The water was a kind of embarrassing secret, the unloved daughter, neglected, while the parks were doted on, fussed over, overused.

I knelt, and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were, ignoring that water, paying as little attention as possible to the pair of black eternities between which our little light intervened.

— Three quotes about New Yorkers’ relationship with the water, from Teju Cole’s Open City.

Where are the Crackpots in Treme?

I love Treme, Season 3 seems to have found a kind of groove that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before on TV. Narrative as improvisational jazz. David Simon deserves his “genius grant.” But something’s been bothering me about his representation of urban political and social life. Sure, he shows the drugs, the crime, the corruption, etc. but narratively there is no place in his vision for what I’ll call (for lack of a better word) “the crackpots.”

You know what I’m talking about. These aren’t crazy people exactly, but people who show up at a zoning board meeting to talk about some personal bugaboo which they’ve been harping about for twenty years and still haven’t gotten anyone to listen. In online forums and comment boards these people invariably show up and try to take over the conversation and they do the same in real life as well.

Of course you can’t show these people in a TV drama. Just doing so would be to let the trolls take over the story, diverting it away from the central narrative – exactly what these people want to do. But here’s the thing, if you want to show democracy in action, if you want to show diversity and civil society as it is really lived, you can’t pretend these people don’t exist. I don’t know what the solution is, but for me their absence detracts from the gritty realism Treme is trying to project.

Blaming the feminazis

The NY Times reports some on some “really alarming trends in life expectancy” among poor whites:

The decline among the least educated non-Hispanic whites, who make up a shrinking share of the population, widened an already troubling gap. The latest estimate shows life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma was 73.5 years, compared with 83.9 years for white women with a college degree or more. For white men, the gap was even bigger: 67.5 years for the least educated white men compared with 80.4 for those with a college degree or better.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh reports on another disturbing trend.

Gramsci vs. ‘the political’

…the Schmittian concept of the political in reality participates in one of the most venerable illusions of the Western metaphysical tradition: namely, the dogmatic assertion of a moment that provides the essence for the contingent events that are determined by it. Political philosophy, as the specific form of philosophy that thinks the political (and as distinct from modern political science, which can only analyse ‘mere’ politics), claims to have a privileged access to this moment…

…this approach offers a notion of a ‘real political’ or ‘true politics’ as a substitute for the pale imitations of traditional political philosophy and ‘official’ politics. Žižek, for instance… has argued that ‘a leftist position should insist on the unconditional primacy of the inherent antagonism as constitutive of the political’: ‘the internal struggle which traverses the social body’. For Žižek, the political thus ultimately finds its foundation in the social, or rather, it is precisely the suppression of the constitutive internal division of the social that requires the emergence of the political as the terrain of its resolution, in its turn suppressed or deformed by existing politics.

…Gramsci does not provide a theory of ‘the political’ as such, even less than he provides a ‘general theory of politics’. Rather, he attempts to provide an analysis of the ‘production’ or, more exactly, ‘the ‘constitution of the political’ – constitution in both the active and formalized sense – as a distinct social relation… Hegemony’ describes the process of this constitution, or the way in which historically identifiable political practices – the social relations of communication, coordination and organization of the project of a particular class or social group – have come to define the nature of ‘politics’ as such…

— Peter Thomas, Gramsci and the Political

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