Mysteries of life

by Henry Farrell on May 14, 2009

David Brooks “ponders the human condition”:

In the late 1930s, a group of 268 promising young men, including John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, entered Harvard College. By any normal measure, they had it made. … And yet the categories of journalism and the stereotypes of normal conversation are paltry when it comes to predicting a life course. Their lives played out in ways that would defy any imagination save Dostoyevsky’s … The men were the subject of one of the century’s most fascinating longitudinal studies. They were selected when they were sophomores, and they have been probed, poked and measured ever since. … captured … in an essay called “What Makes Us Happy?” by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the forthcoming issue of The Atlantic. … But it’s the baffling variety of their lives that strikes one the most. It is as if we all contain a multitude of characters and patterns of behavior, and these characters and patterns are bidden by cues we don’t even hear … There is a complexity to human affairs before which science and analysis simply stands mute.

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Fraudulent journalist, c’est moi

by Michael Bérubé on May 14, 2009

In January 1995 I published a little essay that almost nobody liked.  Eh, that happens sometimes.  It was a review essay on the then-recently-published work of a couple of African-American public intellectuals, and I wrote it quite simply because the <i>New Yorker</i> asked me to.  I was a newly-tenured associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I was surprised by the request; to this day it’s the only time I’ve written for the <i>New Yorker</i>.  And then, within about three months of the thing’s appearance, a whole mess of people decided to weigh in on the work of a couple of African-American public intellectuals.  Many of those people came to the conclusion that I had done a pretty piss-poor job of writing about the recently-published work of a couple of African-American public intellectuals; the general verdict was that I had basically written a press release, a puff piece on a bunch of lightweights and/or sellouts.  But some of those people weren’t responding to me at all; they had much more important figures to go after, like Cornel West.  And it wasn’t just my little essay they were responding to; my essay was bad enough, sure, but it was compounded by the appearance, in the March 1995 <i>Atlantic</i>, of a much longer essay by Robert Boynton.  That essay was about the work of a couple of <i>other</i> African-American intellectuals, and, like my essay, it drew a loose analogy between contemporary African-American intellectuals and the New York intellectuals of yesteryear, so clearly there was some kind of conspiracy afoot.

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