- John Byron Kuhner considers the depressing children’s stories of Leo Tolstoy for the LA Review of Books:
The first story turned out to be the only one we endured together. It’s about a hungry lion in the zoo, whose keepers comb the streets for stray cats and dogs to feed him. Tolstoy recounts the lion coming for a puppy that got lost by its master: “Poor little dog. Tail between its legs, it squeezed itself into the corner of the cage as the lion came closer and closer.”
The lion decides not to eat this puppy, and they become friends. Until we get to page two, when the puppy, now a year old, suddenly sickens and dies. So what does the lion do? “[H]e put his paws about his cold little friend and lay grieving for a full five days. And on the sixth day the lion died.” The end.
“Daddy,” my stunned four-year-old son asked, “why did the lion die?”
“Daddy Daddy,” my daughter asked, still wondering about the now-dead lion’s lifestyle, “why did the people feed the lion puppies?”
So I took the book away and hid it from the children. Later I read it through. If you do this, be sure to read something lighter afterward, like perhaps Anna Karenina’s suicide scene, or a biography of Sylvia Plath. The rest of the stories are just as dark as the first one.
- Kwame Anthony Appiah reviews new books about Franz Boas, a highly controversial figure in anthropology. He writes:
The world — at least the academic world — is no longer safe for Franz Boas. Perhaps that should be no surprise. What we all want, and cannot have, is the ideological equivalent of a Forever stamp, the assurance that our version of enlightenment will withstand the passage of years, without requiring ungainly supplementation. Precisely because the main tenets that Boas and his protégés fought to establish are part of our common sense, we’re alert to the ways in which time has not been kind to them. Yet the fiercer revisionists don’t simply argue that the Boas circle made mistakes; they hold that the “liberal antiracism” it inaugurated ultimately sustains white supremacy — that Boas, in the end, must be seen as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
From Boas to Black Power, by the UC Santa Cruz anthropologist Mark Anderson, gives a sympathetic hearing to these revisionists and advances kindred criticisms. Taking an ethnographical approach to his discipline, Anderson does not exempt himself from scrutiny. There’s an air of apology about the account he gives of himself in the introduction as “a white, middle-aging, heterosexual man.” (Apology accepted, Professor Anderson!) And the issue arises because he wants to amplify efforts from what he describes as a “Black Studies perspective” to interrogate anthropology’s progressive image.
Here the gravamen is that the Boasians, in their liberal reformism, discouraged real social change. They didn’t say enough about the exploitation of subject peoples. By pushing race out of social science, as an explanatory concept, they left cultural anthropologists unable to come to grips with race as a structuring principle of society, and, in Anderson’s gloss, helped “minimize racism as a social reality.” Indeed, separating race from culture, we’re told, had the ironic effect of invigorating the ideology of scientific racism.
- What happens when you’re a curator and you spent a very long time working on your once-in-a-lifetime exhibition and then the coronavirus hits? It begins:
The Ghent Altarpiece was never supposed to leave St. Bavo’s Cathedral again. Not after the 15th-century masterpiece was nearly destroyed by rioting Calvinists in 1566. Not after its panels had been stolen at least six times: once by Napoleon, later by the Nazis (who took the whole thing). Church leaders in Ghent, its Belgian home, were overjoyed in 1945, when the altar by Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubert was returned.
“The cathedral decided it would not leave anymore,” said Maximiliaan Martens, an expert in early Netherlandish painting, who would have a hand in changing this. Dr. Martens, 59, first saw the altarpiece when he was 3, has studied the work of Jan van Eyck for 35 years and helped oversee the restoration of the panels at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent beginning in 2012. As the work continued, Dr. Martens and museum employees persuaded cathedral authorities, just this once, to lend out some of the recently restored panels.
That coup became the starting point for a blockbuster exhibition, “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution,” the largest-ever display of van Eyck’s work. It opened on Feb. 1, and the city of Ghent dedicated an entire year to the celebration of van Eyck, plastering walls and even wastebaskets with posters about him. Then on March 13, the museum closed because of the coronavirus, less than halfway through its scheduled run. Last week, the museum announced that the show would not reopen.
- Many people are tired of Joan Didion defining California in the literary imagination, particularly since the state has such a long and large Mexican history. Myriam Gurba writes:
I doubt my abuelito read Didion. He’s dead so I can’t ask him. He was a Mexican writer, publicist, and machista who actively avoided prose written by women. I do know that critic Michiko Kakutani’s claim that “California belongs to Joan Didion” would’ve given him a chuckle. He’d whip a pen out from under his serape and fix the line: “California belongs to Joan Didion because her ancestors stole it.”
In my imagination, Abuelito’s version of history wrestles Didion’s. The white literary establishment handed her California but I propose we wrest it away from her. The Mexican presence haunting her work could do so if those of us living outside Didion’s prose lend a hand to the diaspora trapped inside of it.
- 99% Invisible looks at the world of knockoffs:
- Conspiracies, fake experts, and coronavirus are not a good mix and now it’s turning really, really scary, according to this report from Buzzfeed. Ugh:
To help you cut through the misinformation, we’re keeping a running list of the most prominent people who have pushed what scientists and professional fact-checkers have found to be demonstrably false claims about the outbreak — and who they really are. We’re also highlighting real experts whose words were taken out of context and deliberately distorted.
- Which reminds me that the QAnon crowd are entering a really scary phase, according to The Atlantic:
Pizzagate seemed to fade. Some of its most visible proponents, such as Jack Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist who is now a correspondent for the pro-Trump cable-news channel One America News Network, backed away. Facing the specter of legal action by Alefantis, Alex Jones, who runs the conspiracy-theory website Infowars and hosts an affiliated radio show, apologized for promoting Pizzagate.
While Welch may have expressed regret, he gave no indication that he had stopped believing the underlying Pizzagate message: that a cabal of powerful elites was abusing children and getting away with it. Judging from a surge of activity on the internet, many others had found ways to move beyond the Comet Ping Pong episode and remain focused on what they saw as the larger truth. If you paid attention to the right voices on the right websites, you could see in real time how the core premises of Pizzagate were being recycled, revised, and reinterpreted. The millions of people paying attention to sites like 4chan and Reddit could continue to learn about that secretive and untouchable cabal; about its malign actions and intentions; about its ties to the left wing and specifically to Democrats and especially to Clinton; about its bloodlust and its moral degeneracy. You could also—and this would prove essential—read about a small but swelling band of underground American patriots fighting back.
- Still wondering if the egg or the chicken came first? PBS’s Eons has your answer: