shhh, peaceful

Mar 10

What is the sea to Walcott? In the more than six decades covered by “The Poetry of Derek Walcott” … it can be anything, like matter itself. For the teen-age poet, making his début in the pamphlet 25 Poems, the sea is “the rounded / Breasts of the milky bays.” In his twenties, Walcott watches as “the green wave spreads on the printless beach” and hears “the sound of water gnawing at bright stone.” In his thirties, the water becomes “ocean’s surpliced choirs / entering its nave, to a censer / of swung mist,” or else “this sheer light, this clear / infinite, boring, paradisal sea.” The years pass and the images accumulate: “pages of the sea / are a book left open by an absent master”; “the pleats of the shallows are neatly creased / and decorous and processional.” The proliferation continues until the very last pages of the book, when Walcott, who is now an ailing man in his eighties, gives thanks for the balm of “the sea’s recitation reentering my head.”

—Adam Kirsch, "Derek Walcott’s Seascapes," The New Yorker


Jan 20
—Brian Skerry, Portraits of Planet Ocean

—Brian Skerry, Portraits of Planet Ocean


Jan 19

Book review: The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

My copy of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer says on the cover that he’s a “breathtakingly brilliant writer” and it took me awhile to figure out why. Possibly I wouldn’t have figured it out without the blurb there telling me I should be on the lookout. Thank god for blurbs.

So I started out with this passage, where Binx Bolling—our drifting protagonist, a 30-year-old New Orleans stockbroker—explains why he could never hack it as a scientist, no matter what his aunt says:

Read More



Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook — even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united — united with each other and against earlier and later ages — by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century — the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” — lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

—from C.S. Lewis’s introduction to St. Athanasius’ De Incarnatione Verbi Dei

(via)


Dec 14

Dec 9

Soon ants were spiraling up the tongues of my sneakers, onto my sock. I tried to shake them off, but nothing I did disturbed them. Before long, I was sweeping them off my own calves. I kept instinctively taking a step back from some distressing concentration of ants, only to remember that I was standing in the center of an exponentially larger concentration of ants. There was nowhere to go. The ants were horrifying — as in, they inspired horror. Eventually, I scribbled in my notebook: “Holy [expletive] I can’t concentrate on what anyone’s saying. Ants all over me. Phantom itches. Scratching hands, ankles, now my left eye.” Then I got in my car and left.
The Hungarian-born philosopher Aurel Kolnai gave the horrifying qualities of bugs some serious thought. Kolnai ultimately decided that what upsets us is “their pullulating squirming, their cohesion into a homogeneous teeming mass” and their “interminable, directionless sprouting and breeding.” That is, it’s the quantity of crazy ants that’s so destabilizing. As the American psychologist James Hillman argued, an endless swarm of bugs flattens your perception of yourself as precious and meaningful. It instantly reduces your individual consciousness to a “merely numerical or statistical level.”

—Jon Mooallem, "There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’" The New York Times (2013)

Soon ants were spiraling up the tongues of my sneakers, onto my sock. I tried to shake them off, but nothing I did disturbed them. Before long, I was sweeping them off my own calves. I kept instinctively taking a step back from some distressing concentration of ants, only to remember that I was standing in the center of an exponentially larger concentration of ants. There was nowhere to go. The ants were horrifying — as in, they inspired horror. Eventually, I scribbled in my notebook: “Holy [expletive] I can’t concentrate on what anyone’s saying. Ants all over me. Phantom itches. Scratching hands, ankles, now my left eye.” Then I got in my car and left.

The Hungarian-born philosopher Aurel Kolnai gave the horrifying qualities of bugs some serious thought. Kolnai ultimately decided that what upsets us is “their pullulating squirming, their cohesion into a homogeneous teeming mass” and their “interminable, directionless sprouting and breeding.” That is, it’s the quantity of crazy ants that’s so destabilizing. As the American psychologist James Hillman argued, an endless swarm of bugs flattens your perception of yourself as precious and meaningful. It instantly reduces your individual consciousness to a “merely numerical or statistical level.”

—Jon Mooallem, "There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’" The New York Times (2013)


Dec 6
historicaltimes:

A pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer, c. 1870

historicaltimes:

A pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer, c. 1870


Dec 2
Abandoned sites around Japan. This one is the old Sports World Izunagaoka Resort in Shikuoka prefecture.

Abandoned sites around Japan. This one is the old Sports World Izunagaoka Resort in Shikuoka prefecture.


He was seeing beyond the surfaces of the land to its hidden truths. Some nights he sat up late on his front porch with a glass of Jack and listened to the trucks heading south on 220, carrying crates of live chickens to the slaughterhouses—always under cover of darkness, like a vast and shameful trafficking—chickens pumped full of hormones that left them too big to walk—and he thought how these same chickens might return from their destination as pieces of meat to the floodlit Bojangles’ up the hill from his house, and that meat would be drowned in the bubbling fryers by employees whose hatred of the job would leak into the cooked food, and that food would be served up and eaten by customers who would grow obese and end up in the hospital in Greensboro with diabetes or heart failure, a burden to the public, and later Dean would see them riding around the Mayodan Wal-Mart in electric carts because they were too heavy to walk the aisles of a Supercenter, just like hormone-fed chickens.

—George Packer, The Unwinding (2013)


Dec 1

— Tabu Ley Rochereau, “Nzale,” The Voice of Lightness, 1961-1977 (2007)

I don’t think a single U.S. outlet has reported the fact that Tabu Ley Rochereau died this weekend. Sad news. Never mind all the “king of rumba” encomiums. He was one of the great singers (and bandleaders) of the last century, full stop.


Book review: My Beloved BrontosaurusBrian Switek

Like anyone who, as a kid, had dinosaur books and dinosaur sheets and dinosaur pajamas and dinosaur toys and dinosaur dreams, I can get a bit defensive on the subject of modern-day dinosaur science. Anytime paleontologists announce that, hey, T. Rex was actually just a scavenger or, wow, dinosaurs had fur and feathers — that doesn’t sit well. This isn’t how I imagined dinosaurs growing up. This isn’t cool. This isn’t right.

But Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus has convinced me it’s time to let go of that knee-jerk dino-nostalgia. We’re currently in a golden age of dinosaur science. We’re learning things about dinosaurs we never thought it’d be possible to learn: The way dinosaurs communicated, the way they had sex, why they became Earth’s dominant life form for hundreds of millions of years. And some of the things scientists are finding will upset our fond childhood memories of dinosaurs. But that’s okay, says Switek, an engaging dino-fanatic with boundless curiosity who confesses to the exact same pangs of nostalgia. The journey is worth it.

Read More



Dinosaurs must have had sex. … One of the earliest considerations of passionate dinosaur encounters was put forward a century ago. In 1906, the American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn used affectionate occasions between fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex to explain the dinosaur’s oft-ridiculed arms. A pair of Tyrannosaurus specimens collected by fossil hunter Barnum Brown unmistakably showed that this dinosaur had short, but heavily muscled, forelimbs. Osborn couldn’t imagine that such small arms played any role in grappling with big game like Edmontonsaurus or Triceratops, but perhaps the arm of Tyrannosaurus was “a grasping organ in copulation.” Just imagine two immense predators, one atop the other and holding onto his mate with those beefy, miniaturized appendages. Sadly, Osborn didn’t commission a drawing of the behavior from the skilled illustrators he often tapped to restore prehistoric creatures.
Osborn didn’t give any serious consideration to dinosaur sex, though. Nor did many other paleontologists of his generation. Dinosaur copulation was seen as a silly subject and beyond the reach of investigation. Plus, it seemed to make dignified researchers feel rather squicky. Sex, in natural history, is a perfectly acceptable subject when considering flashy courting behavior or when boiled down into quantitative surveys of gene pools, but the sordid details of sex itself have often made researchers feel awkward. Not long after Osborn briefly mused about Tyrannosaurus sex, George Murray Levick—a naturalist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition—was shocked and disgusted by the “sexual depravity” of Adelie penguins (which, you’ll recall, we now know are living dinosaurs). He was especially horrified by a young male penguin that tried to mate with a dead female. Levick wrote notes in Greek so that only classically educated scientists like himself would be able to read what he observed, and when he prepared a monograph on the penguins, the passages on sexual behavior were considered so sensational and disgusting that the section was cut and only circulated among a small cadre of scientists. (It wasn’t until 2012 that Levick’s observations—which were unique for their time—were rediscovered and made publicly available.) Sexual behavior, even among living species, was a taboo subject, and speculating in unseemly detail about the mating habits of dinosaurs would surely highlight a scientist as a pervert. Whatever dinosaurs did on hot Jurassic nights was kept behind the shroud of prehistory, and it seems that this was just as well for early-twentieth-century paleontologists.

—Brian Switek, My Beloved Brontosaurus (2013)

Dinosaurs must have had sex. … One of the earliest considerations of passionate dinosaur encounters was put forward a century ago. In 1906, the American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn used affectionate occasions between fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex to explain the dinosaur’s oft-ridiculed arms. A pair of Tyrannosaurus specimens collected by fossil hunter Barnum Brown unmistakably showed that this dinosaur had short, but heavily muscled, forelimbs. Osborn couldn’t imagine that such small arms played any role in grappling with big game like Edmontonsaurus or Triceratops, but perhaps the arm of Tyrannosaurus was “a grasping organ in copulation.” Just imagine two immense predators, one atop the other and holding onto his mate with those beefy, miniaturized appendages. Sadly, Osborn didn’t commission a drawing of the behavior from the skilled illustrators he often tapped to restore prehistoric creatures.

Osborn didn’t give any serious consideration to dinosaur sex, though. Nor did many other paleontologists of his generation. Dinosaur copulation was seen as a silly subject and beyond the reach of investigation. Plus, it seemed to make dignified researchers feel rather squicky. Sex, in natural history, is a perfectly acceptable subject when considering flashy courting behavior or when boiled down into quantitative surveys of gene pools, but the sordid details of sex itself have often made researchers feel awkward. Not long after Osborn briefly mused about Tyrannosaurus sex, George Murray Levick—a naturalist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition—was shocked and disgusted by the “sexual depravity” of Adelie penguins (which, you’ll recall, we now know are living dinosaurs). He was especially horrified by a young male penguin that tried to mate with a dead female. Levick wrote notes in Greek so that only classically educated scientists like himself would be able to read what he observed, and when he prepared a monograph on the penguins, the passages on sexual behavior were considered so sensational and disgusting that the section was cut and only circulated among a small cadre of scientists. (It wasn’t until 2012 that Levick’s observations—which were unique for their time—were rediscovered and made publicly available.) Sexual behavior, even among living species, was a taboo subject, and speculating in unseemly detail about the mating habits of dinosaurs would surely highlight a scientist as a pervert. Whatever dinosaurs did on hot Jurassic nights was kept behind the shroud of prehistory, and it seems that this was just as well for early-twentieth-century paleontologists.

—Brian Switek, My Beloved Brontosaurus (2013)


Book review: After Dark, Haruki Murakami

Tokyo after midnight is a different city entirely. As soon as the trains shut down, millions of people are left stranded. The city is too vast, and cabs too expensive, for most of them to get home. The night has them now.

There are young people who revel in this floating world—drifting for hours in coffee shops or bars until the first trains wake at 5:30. Straggling businessmen find themselves trapped, shut off from their families and in desperate need of a place to sleep. Others wander the streets and parks aimlessly, following the little bits of light that wink on and off.

Read More



Eyes mark the shape of the city.
Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature—or more like a collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old. To the rhythm of its pulsing, all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm. Midnight is approaching, and while the peak of activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city’s moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.
Our line of sight chooses an area of concentrated brightness and, focusing there, silently descends to it—a sea of neon colors. They call this place the “amusement district.” The giant digital screens fastened to the sides of buildings fall silent as midnight approaches, but loudspeakers on storefronts keep pumping out exaggerated hip-hop bass lines. A large game center crammed with young people; wild electronic sounds; a group of college students spilling out from a bar; teenage girls with brilliant bleached hair, healthy legs thrusting out from micro-mini skirts; dark-suited men racing across diagonal crosswalks for the last trains to the suburbs. Even at this hour, the karaoke club pitchmen keep shouting for customers. A flashy black station wagon drifts down the street as if taking stock of the district through its black-tinted windows. The car looks like a deep-sea creature with specialized skin and organs. Two young policemen patrol the street with tense expressions, but no one seems to notice them. The district plays by its own rules at a time like this. The season is late autumn. No wind is blowing, but the air carries a chill. The date is just about to change.

—Haruki Murakami, After Dark (2007)

Eyes mark the shape of the city.

Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature—or more like a collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. Countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells, sending out new data and collecting the old, sending out new consumables and collecting the old, sending out new contradictions and collecting the old. To the rhythm of its pulsing, all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm. Midnight is approaching, and while the peak of activity has passed, the basal metabolism that maintains life continues undiminished, producing the basso continuo of the city’s moan, a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.

Our line of sight chooses an area of concentrated brightness and, focusing there, silently descends to it—a sea of neon colors. They call this place the “amusement district.” The giant digital screens fastened to the sides of buildings fall silent as midnight approaches, but loudspeakers on storefronts keep pumping out exaggerated hip-hop bass lines. A large game center crammed with young people; wild electronic sounds; a group of college students spilling out from a bar; teenage girls with brilliant bleached hair, healthy legs thrusting out from micro-mini skirts; dark-suited men racing across diagonal crosswalks for the last trains to the suburbs. Even at this hour, the karaoke club pitchmen keep shouting for customers. A flashy black station wagon drifts down the street as if taking stock of the district through its black-tinted windows. The car looks like a deep-sea creature with specialized skin and organs. Two young policemen patrol the street with tense expressions, but no one seems to notice them. The district plays by its own rules at a time like this. The season is late autumn. No wind is blowing, but the air carries a chill. The date is just about to change.

—Haruki Murakami, After Dark (2007)


Page 1 of 52