Mid-Summer Links 2016

Nuclear and Environment

Naomi Klein, “Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World.”

Aamna Mohdin, “Fearing a Nuclear Terror Attack, Belgium Is Giving Iodine Pills to Its Entire Population.”

Annabell Shark, “MoMA, The Bomb and the Abstract Expressionists.”

Alex Wellerstein, “The Demon Core and the Strange Death of Louis Slotin.”

Lake Chad disappearing over the past fifty years.

Continent 5.2.

And RDS-37 Soviet hydrogen bomb test (1955).

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Quantum Data Teleportation and Other Science Fictions (Links)


Adrienne LaFrance, “The US Army Says It Can Teleport Quantum Data Now, Too.”

Joe Veix, “Top Tweets from the CIA.”

Adrienne LaFrance, “The Promise of a New Internet” and “Facebook is Expanding the Way It Tracks You and Your Data.”

Robinson Meyer, “Google Owns a Satellite Now.”

According to Tim Parks, in “Reading: The Struggle,” it is really hard to read today. I wish someone would talk to me before making such claims. . . .

Andrew Leonard, “Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Vision of the Future is Terrifying.”

And some good news in hyperarchivalism: the entire Jade Tree catalog just became available for streaming. Avail, Cap’n Jazz, Denali, Jets to Brazil, Lifetime, Milemarker, Pedro the Lion, The Promise Ring, These Arms Are Snakes, The Turing Machine, et cetera. My youth in miniature.

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Big News in Science and Other Links


The first evidence for cosmic inflation–i.e., the Big Bang–was discovered this week.

Megan Garber at The Atlantic, “What It’s Like to be Right About the Big Bang?”

The search for Flight MH370 is revealing one thing: the ocean is filled with garbage.

Kim Stanley Robinson alert: Paul Rosenfeld, “Would You Take a One-Way Ticket to Mars?”

And as part of his forthcoming 3 million page novel, Breeze Avenue (2015), Richard Grossman has buried a crystal ball deep inside of Princeton Mountain in Colorado. The ball, “made of synthetic sapphire, which is almost as indestructible as diamond,” has the Ten Commandments inscribed on it in Hebrew, and in “20 million years, as a result of natural forces carefully calculated by the geologists, the Torah Ball will emerge from its eroded resting place and bear the Ten Commandments down the mountain.” Hyperarchivalists of the deep future rejoice!

Richard Grossman, The Torah Ball (Synthetic Sapphire, Princeton Mountain, 20 Million Years of Erosion, 2011).

Richard Grossman, The Torah Ball (Synthetic Sapphire, Princeton Mountain, 20 Million Years of Erosion, 2011).

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Elaine Scarry Has a New Book on Nukes, and Other Links

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a discussion of Elaine Scarry‘s new book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom (2014). Nathan Schneider has written an extensive review of Thermonuclear Monarchy, “A Literary Scholar’s Voice in the Wilderness: Elaine Scarry Fights American Complacency About Nuclear Arms.” Scarry is also the author of the monumentally important, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1987).

“Melting Ice Makes the Arctic A Much Worse Heat-Magnet than Scientists Feared.”

January was actually one of the warmest months on record.

And more disastrous weather to come.

Lennard Davis and Walter Benn Michaels writing for Jacobin on the University Illinois-Chicago faculty strike.

Davis and Michaels explaining why they’re striking at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Noam Chomsky: Zombies are the New Indians and Slave in White America’s Collective Nightmare.”

“David Foster Wallace, Mathematician.”

Samuel Cohen on Wallace, “Future Tense.”

My friend David Letzler reviews Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (2013).

On Dead Poets Society (1989) and the humanities.

“Feminism, Depravity, and Power in House of Cards.” I just finished watching the fairly incredible second season last night.

More Bleeding Edge Reviews and The Crisis in the Humanities

This month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine has a lengthy and interesting review of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge by Joshua Cohen (article link requires subscription), and an interesting take on the crisis in the humanities (something this blog has posted frequently on this last summer) in Thomas Frank’s monthly column, “Easy Chair,” titled, “Course Corrections.” Frank nicely summarizes many of the issues facing humanists and the humanities today, and ends with a fairly bold call: “The world doesn’t need another self-hypnotizing report on why universities exist. What it needs is for universities to stop ruining the lives of their students [financially]. Don’t propagandize for your institutions, professors: Change them. Grab the levers of power and pull.” (On a semi-related note I’m happy to report that my own current department looks like it is doing just that.)

What Will Probably be an Ongoing Series Reporting on the (Premature, Exaggerated, and Just Wrong) Reports About the Death of the Humanities and the End of Literature as We Know It With Links

David Brooks’s 20 June 2013 op-ed piece for The New York Times, “The Humanist Vocation,” in which he declares that the humanities are in decline, has sparked a flurry of debate and response. One of these reasons for the flurry of commentary is that the issue is more complicated than Brooks allows for in his quite brief piece (and he’s simply wrong on a few points, see Michael Bérubé below). Another reason for the considerable response is that his discussion of the humanities cuts to the bone for those of us who actually work in the humanities. (Certainly for me, as will be apparent below.)

Brooks’s article accompanied a report released by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences titled The Heart of the Matter, which takes the familiar line of: the humanities have to “retool” to fit the changes presented by our networked, scary world, with its new global economy, etc. This is not a quote,[1] but for anyone who has been following the discussions about the crisis in the humanities/higher education for the last five (or thirty) years, the kind of language The Heart of the Matter employs is familiar in its generality and emptiness, along with its refusal to look at how successful the humanities have been for the last five, ten, thirty, seventy, two-hundred, one-thousand . . . years. Indeed, part of its long-term success is that the humanities teach and emphasize old school things, like reading and writing. And that, despite all claims to the contrary (and with the requisite nods to the many questions posed about reading and writing during the theory boom, as well as to Marshall McLuhan and Friedrich Kittler), reading and writing do not change all that much, and haven’t for a long time.[2] To suggest that the technological changes bombarding us are going to remake the world and the people in it—how we interact and communicate, how we understand our place in the world—is to point out the blatantly obvious. But to suggest that the incredibly slow moving institution of humanistic study needs to rapidly change to meet these “new challenges,” is both to fundamentally misunderstand how the humanities work and to misunderstand the achievements made possible by an institution that is fundamentally stable[3] (i.e., grounded upon things—reading and writing—that do not change all that much[4]). Certainly humanistic study will have to change in some ways in these hyperarchival times, but I am of the mindset that the stability afforded by the humanities also gives them incredible flexibility to respond to and reflect upon the world. If you tend not to think the humanities is incredibly capable in terms of helping us understand, comment upon, change, and, perhaps most importantly, imagine the world . . . then you clearly haven’t studied the humanities, or at least not very well.

And I guess this is the whole point. For it is not just David Brooks that is telling me that my vocation does not matter, my students do as well (which is way worse). It seems easier and easier every semester for my, say, engineering students to inform me—thank you, by the way—that my class does not matter to them, because it will not help them get the job they want. That the stuff we are doing in this class—reading poetry, writing about it—does not matter. These skills do not pertain to their lives. Okay. Sure. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. I’m not. In my experience, if this is your attitude, there is only like a 1% chance I’m going to change your mind. And I’m just not interesting, charismatic, personable, or smart enough to do so. I’ve tried. I know. But of course you are able to say how this class does not matter and will not matter for you imagined-engineering-student because . . . you know very little about the humanities (which is why you are here anyway!). You also don’t know much about your own life yet, really.[5] Nor the future. Nor what skills you will actually need. Nor history. Etc. In other words, you are in a unique position. You are sitting in front of me because you do not know these things yet. You know a lot, certainly, and I can only teach you so much, and perhaps you will be able to teach me far more than I could teach you. But I do know a thing or two about literature, and I do know why it might be worthwhile to study. (And I’m certainly learning more every day. It is my job after all.) If you really knew this stuff, you would not need an education, at least from me. To base arguments for or against the humanities on undergraduate enrollment (undergrad enrollment is fine, by the way) as Brooks does, or on what undergraduates think they need, or in the way that undergraduates are now almost universally treated as consumers, again misunderstands the goals of the humanities, and certainly misunderstands the very concept of education. Imagined-engineering-student, you are in my seemingly unimportant classroom for a number of reasons, but one of those is because you cannot possibly know yet how learning to critically think, to closely read, and to carefully write will help you in the future. You can’t. Please stop informing me otherwise. And that way we can get to the really fun stuff. Which is, by the way, humanistic study.

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