From the monthly archives:

September 2018

Sunday photoblogging: junk shop in Marseille

by Chris Bertram on September 9, 2018

Marseilles- junk shop in the Noailles district


by John Holbo on September 8, 2018

As Sparknotes writes,

Endgame‘s opening lines repeat the word “finished,” and the rest of the play hammers away at the idea that beginnings and endings are intertwined, that existence is cyclical. Whether it is the story about the tailor, which juxtaposes its conceit of creation with never-ending delays, Hamm and Clov’s killing the flea from which humanity may be reborn, or the numerous references to Christ, whose death gave birth to a new religion, death-related endings in the play are one and the same with beginnings.

I cannot help but think of this passage as I read Jonah Goldberg’s erudite musings in the pages of National Review.

In the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950s and 1960s, explains, European playwrights “did away with most of the logical structures of traditional theatre. There is little dramatic action as conventionally understood; however frantically the characters perform, their busyness serves to underscore the fact that nothing happens to change their existence.”

That’s a pretty good description of the sound and fury signifying nothing on display this week from Democrats and protesters alike.

In this blog post I would like to argue that, as in the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950’s and 1960’s, in Goldberg’s essay, “Theater of the Absurd Has Taken Over The Senate,” what we see is a conservative intellectual tradition that is ‘finished’, and yet at the same time intertwined with its own beginnings. The life of the conservative mind is cyclical, juxtaposing attempts to kill the stubborn flea of liberalism with lofty dreams of the rebirth – ever-promised, never fulfilled – of the conservative mind.

To put it another way, as Shmoop writes:

Waiting for Godot is hailed as a classic example of “Theater of the Absurd,” dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name. This particular play presents a world in which daily actions are without meaning, language fails to effectively communicate, and the characters at times reflect a sense of artifice, even wondering aloud whether perhaps they are on a stage.

In conclusion I would like to argue that, just as the ‘theater of the absurd’ is about dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name, so ‘conservatism’ is about works that promote the philosophy of its name: namely, conservatism. And, just as this particular play presents a world in which language fails to effectively communicate, so Goldberg’s essay fails, effectively, to communicate. It seems like “a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets [its] hour upon the” front page of National Review, then is heard of no more.

Improving instruction on campus: concrete ideas.

by Harry on September 4, 2018

A while ago I promoted this event, slightly anxious that no-one would turn up. Contrary to my fears, it was packed, and a huge success. I asked 5 students to describe and motivate a pedagogical practice that they had experienced, and that they think should be more widely shared among faculty. Inside Higher Education has run an article today containing the text of all the student contributions — which are great! Please feel free to add your own tips, ideally there, but here if you like; and do me, and the students, a favor, by sending the story to people you know! Also, think about replicating the event on your own campus (if you have one).

Think-tank Fiction

by Maria on September 3, 2018

Reading the intro to what turned out to be Gardner Dozois’ final SF anthology (RIP – his collections were my favourite by a country mile. In memory and thanks, I finally took his beseechings to heart and renewed subscriptions to a couple of SF magazines), I discovered there’s a name for a thing we’ve started to see a lot of and which I’ve also started doing in the last year or so; think-tank fiction.

Apparently, Jonathan Strahan coined the phrase to describe what Dozois said are ‘Futurology anthologies, many of them with corporate or government sponsors”. Henry wrote a nice piece on Philip K. Dick for the Boston Review dystopia one. Wired is at it, Slate, too. MIT, and various tech firms. I’ve even had a chat with the BBC about one. Let’s see what happens.

In a much smaller way, I wrote a bunch of 500-word future newspaper articles on the theme of ‘the Internet in 10 years’ for a report by the Internet Society, last year. The idea was to do three per report theme, I think, and they’d go with those sections, but in the end they were all bundled into a section of their own. I’m writing some again this year, but now the brief is for 1000 – 1500 words, and just three or four of them. So, by way of writing long as I don’t have the cognitive bandwidth to write smart, some observations: [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Chair, Pézenas France

by Chris Bertram on September 2, 2018

Chair, Pézenas