Monthly Archives: June 2012

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) on the Success and Survival of Shakespeare

Literary critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), in the famous preface to his eight-volume edition of Shakespeare’s plays (1765), attempts to address the question of Shakespeare’s genius: why have his plays been so captivating to so many for so long? Johnson offers … Continue reading

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Karl Marx for Beginners

First, let’s get a handle on two terms: bourgeoisie and proletariat. Bourgeoisie comes from the French word for those who live behind walls; those who dwell in bourgs, fortified market towns. For example, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a book-length allegory of the … Continue reading

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John Gray Skewers Slavoj Zizek

In the New York Review of Books, John Gray’s review of Slavoj Zizek’s career and most recent book, Less Than Nothing, is damning. At bottom, Gray pegs Zizek as an armchair revolutionary lending intellectual and moral support to terrorism and … Continue reading

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Danced Lately?

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A Great Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It’s her first sonnet in Sonnets from the Portuguese : I thought once how Theocritus had sung Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years, Who each one in a gracious hand appears To bear a gift for mortals, … Continue reading

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Donna Haraway’s Question: Would I Rather Be A Goddess Or A Cyborg?

Donna Haraway (b. 1944) teaches feminist and science studies in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In addition to taking a degree in English, she also studied biology at Yale. In 1985 she … Continue reading

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Zeev Sternhell’s Question: What Is To Be Done About The Anglo-French Enlightenment?

In The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition (Yale 2009), Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell (b. 1935) sees a fault line running through much of contemporary global culture: what to do about the Anglo-French Enlightenment. By the Anglo-French Enlightenment, he means the intellectual movement initiated in 17th … Continue reading

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Bruno Latour’s Question: Are There Things We Shouldn’t Deconstruct?

In his essay, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” (2003), historian of science Bruno Latour (b. 1947) worries that the intellectual atmosphere in the humanities—in which many scholars, including him, have … Continue reading

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Sweatshops Are A Good Thing?

I’m uncomfortable with the arguments made in the below video, but I can’t think of any holes in them. And the calm rationality on display seems to invite complacency. But I was already complacent.

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Martha Nussbaum’s Question: How Can We Activate Our Imaginative, Critical, And Moral Intelligences Against Invisibility?

In her essay, “The Narrative Imagination” (1997), Martha Nussbaum (b. 1947), a classicist, philosopher, and legal scholar who contributes regularly to the New Republic and teaches at the University of Chicago, writes the following: When a child and a parent … Continue reading

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“Courtly Love, Or, Woman As Thing”: How To Do Lacanian Analysis Like Slavoj Zizek (Or, At Least Understand What He’s Getting At When He Does)

In his essay, “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing” (1994) cultural critic Slavoj Zizek (b. 1949) presents courtly love—knight-Lady romance as ritualized in the European Middle Ages—through a Lacanian lens (Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalyst popularly dubbed the “French Freud”). Courtly … Continue reading

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Choosing Atheism Or Theism Is An Act Of Imagination

The universe appears to be lacking in purpose in some ways, but not in others. For example, the Holocaust and the panda’s “thumb” would seem to suggest that we live in a historically contingent universe indifferent and blind to both suffering and … Continue reading

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One of Ayn Rand’s Questions: What’s the Relationship of Art to Concepts?

Two novels-of-ideas by Ayn Rand (1905-1982)–The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957)–and the individualist and pro-capitalist positions that she laid out over the course of her lifetime under a philosophical system she created and designated “objectivism,” have had an outsized … Continue reading

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Life from Conception to Age 25

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What, Exactly, Is Wrong With Bestiality?

__________ The above video is amusing, but also raises an interesting question: what is it, exactly, that’s wrong with bestiality? Notice that the perpetrator isn’t getting it on with women and fantasizing about animals; instead, he’s getting it on with … Continue reading

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