A Week of Reading: 4-10 September 2012

Reading 4-10 September 2012 (ZiR)

Texts William Eaton has been pleased to spend time with this week

[One in an ongoing series of posts. For the full series see Zeteo is Reading.]

4 September 2012

The Summer 2012 issue of The Hedgehog Review, . . . excellent “conceptual history” of “sustainability” by the issue editor, Joshua J. Yates, and an equally engaging piece on “The Historical Production (and Consumption) of Unsustainability,” by Lafayette College professor Benjamin R. Cohen. From the latter:

Lest we think the trend for evermore consumption has abated in the face of health problems related to poor diets and over-consumption, [Carolyn] de la Peña reports a recent discussion by diet soda consultants on a new concept called “stomach share.” Soda makers are fighting for our stomachs—not just defining the human body in quantified, disembodied terms, but moving on to internal organs. For them, . . . the problem remains under-consumption. Increasing the share of a person’s stomach is the next frontier in taking the assumptions of the control, production, and consumption paradigms forward.

[See de la Peña, “Stomach Share,” and Yates’s article is also online: Abundance on Trial: The Cultural Significance of “Sustainability”]

5 September 2012

My colleague and friend Kelly Dean Jolley posts on his blog, Quantum Est in Rebus Inane, a haunting, perhaps brutal, short poem by Ezra Pound:

And the days are not full enough

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

6 September 2012

Finally get to the July/August issue of Sierra Magazine (magazine for Sierra Club members) and am brought up short by an “Innovate” feature about “ocean thermal energy conversion or OTEC”. Cold water is taken from 3,000 feet or more below the surface of the ocean; once on land its coolness is used in various ways to make human life superficially easier; and then the water is injected back into the ocean at a depth where the surrounding water is the same. Would one have to be an environmental scientist, I wonder, to realize that removing water at one temperature and returning it at another temperature is going to have profound effects on the ecosystems involved? Naturally (can I say?), I find in another of part of the magazine a statement from Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune: “[I]t’s hard to find the right solution if you don’t understand what’s causing the problem.”

Why don’t we say this instead: It’s quixotic at best to think that problems related to the development of new technology will be solved by more new technology. And might we also question this whole way of looking at life as a series of problems and solutions. (The real final solution—immortality?)

7 September 2012

A conversation with a friend leads me to re-find on the Web and e-mail her a bit from a blog post of the Canadian philosopher Justin Erik Halldór Smith (who must be one of the most prolific bloggers on the planet). The bit:

One thing that comes as a surprise to people with little historical memory is that it was not until very recently that sexual insatiability came to be associated with men. In the early modern period, these were classic female attributes, and if a man were to exhibit them he would be thought to have lapsed into effeminacy. The idea that men are naturally and essentially the lustful ones, and the pseudoevolutionary explanations that are offered for this idea, are really nothing more than apologetics for our own current set of prejudices. I have never come across a single early modern male author who owns up to his own libidinousness. They write about themselves as if sexuality were not a defining factor of their existence.

[The Venereal Gadfly: More Notes towards a History of Orgasm]

8 September 2012

Working on a review of Daniel Horowitiz’s Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World, I get my election-season dose of Habermas, here in Horowitz’s encapsulation of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (first published in German in 1962):

Habermas argued that a whole range of forces came together by the middle of the twentieth century to form a powerful mixture, including advertising, public relations, publicity campaigns, public interest groups, political parties, public bureaucracies, the commodification of news (“a system of other-directed consumption habits” in the “so-called consumer culture”), the erosion of the distinction between public and private, the power of the social welfare state (which he opposed from the left), large labor unions, and oligopolistic industries. These forces made citizens increasingly passive and undermined the possibility of “rational-critical debate” in “the manufactured public sphere,” with the commercialization of public space greatly weakening any prospect of participatory democracy. The expansion of modern media, he wrote pessimistically, gave “the masses in general access to the public sphere,” but did so by depoliticizing that realm. Under these power conditions, the citizen became a consumer, experiencing a sense of self not through democratic participation but by making purchases . . .

9 September 2012

Go out to dinner with Williams English Professor John Limon’s approach, through literature, to the subject of death (Death’s Following: Mediocrity, Dirtiness, Adulthood, Literature). “Unimpeachably brilliant,” one of the back cover blurbs declares, and this comes to seem right. The book is hardly bleak (or dirty). and nicely it begins with a discussion of Catch-22 which I have been reading out-loud to my son. Quite unintentionally, innocently, I hooked my son with the part in the very first chapter about Yossarian in the military hospital censoring letters written by the enlisted-men patients.

To break the monotony he invented games. Death to all modifiers he declared one day, and out of every letter that passed through his hands went every adverb and every adjective. The next day he made war on articles. He reached a much higher plane of creativity the following day when he blacked out everything in the letters but a, an and the. . . . Soon he was proscribing parts of salutations and signatures and leaving the text untouched. One time he blacked out all but the salutation “Dear Mary” from a letter, and at the bottom he wrote, “I yearn for you tragically, A.T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army.”

10 September 2012

Talking with a friend who is working on a piece for Zeteo and also for a professional conference. The talk turns to the value, for a writer, of self-confidence (and one might also talk about when self-confidence gets in a writer’s way). My friend is from Jordan, she hasn’t read “Self-Reliance.” She hasn’t read any Emerson. I cannot not at least e-mail her this:

There is a time in every man’s [and woman’s?] education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.  The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do nor does he know until he has tried.

(I find a copy of the text on a “smartwomeninvest” website, which turns out to be (only appears to be?) the site of a female insurance agent in Nevada. So maybe Emerson wasn’t just writing about men, or writing, or corn?)

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