The influence of Homer’s epics: “Did the Iliad and the Odyssey really influence young people’s behaviour, as Plato suggests?” Yes, Richard Hunter shows in his “fascinating” The Measure of Homer.
Everyone is reading George Orwell’s 1984 when they should be ready Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Guy Davies writes: “Brave New World, published in 1932, envisioned a society in which the state deprives its subjects of freedom by administering a potent cocktail of consumerism, technology and hedonism. In the London of 2540 AD (or 632 AF — ‘After Ford’), 10 World Controllers exercise absolute political control. But they don’t need a Big Brother police state. Instead, universal access to sex, drugs and leisure keep the population subdued in blissful passivity. The means of pleasure are deployed as instruments of policy, ‘for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation’. Sound familiar?”
The music of Willa Cather’s My Ántonia: It “binds the characters across the generations and, for us readers, endows them with vividness and depth.”
A history of the American circus: “Just a few decades ago, moviegoers still routinely clapped at the end of films. Today, ringmasters routinely have to badger audiences to applaud the circus stars—each of whom, as live performers, needs the energy of a reactive audience. So, as modern viewers withdraw, performance takes on a kind of heartache, like a failed romantic gesture. The fire swallower now somehow more desperate and less daring. The spandex-clad woman rotating inside the gyroscope the object only of a quiescent lust. It wasn’t always so, and in the long decades of the decline, we’ve lost something that the circus once provided—some integration of the unlikely and uncanny.”
The Paris Review has published a few excerpts from Lionel Trilling’s letters. Allen Ginsberg was a student of his in the 1940s. The two became friends, but Trilling famously didn’t care for Ginsberg’s Howl: “I’m afraid I have to tell you that I don’t like the poems at all. I hesitate before saying that they seem to me quite dull, for to say of a work which undertakes to be violent and shocking that it is dull is, I am aware, a well-known and all too-easy device. But perhaps you will believe that I am being sincere when I say they are dull. They are not like Whitman—they are all prose, all rhetoric, without any music.” On “the new,” Trilling writes: “The new is weekly celebrated in the Times Book Review, or at least received, but the terms of the welcome by its partisans give the show away: such dull hurrahs.”
Learning another language should be compulsory in every school, Daniel Everett argues in Aeon.
In City Journal, the late Stefan Kanfer writes about the evolution of American retail: “Credit Suisse recently predicted that by 2022, some 25 percent of U.S. shopping malls will fold. And this may underestimate the trend. Ron Friedman, a retail specialist at the advisory firm Marcus, indicates that the situation could be ‘more in the 30 percent range. There are a lot of malls that know they’re in big trouble.’”
Essay of the Day:
In The Atlantic, Kimball Taylor writes about the wave pool wars. Will surfing real waves shortly be a thing of the past?
“In 2015, a rancher named David Howe lifted off from a California airfield on a covert mission. For weeks, a neglected water-ski park in his Central Valley farming community had been mysteriously ensconced in privacy fencing and manned by a security detail. The clandestine development raised eyebrows in town, but according to Howe, locals contracted to do work at the facility weren’t talking.
“To quench his curiosity, Howe decided to sneak in an aerial view. In a helicopter normally employed in crop dusting, he and a friend rose over the lake, and saw something like a train car moving back and forth, causing a disturbance on the water’s surface. On a second pass, workers emerged from trailers below. ‘They looked mad,’ Howe says. ‘We laughed at how hard they were trying to keep their secret.’
“Trained as an engineer, Howe had no doubt what the train-car contraption was being used for: Whoever was behind the development was trying to generate ocean-like waves in a lake. This was an odd thing to build in a lightly populated community 100 miles inland. ‘We don’t have any surfers around here,’ Howe says.
“Later that year, the surfing legend Kelly Slater caught the surfing world unaware by posting the first video of the waves created at the facility. The pool, he said, was his “little secret spot,” a mechanism designed by his Kelly Slater Wave Co. to create ‘perfect waves’—the kind surfers scour the globe to find. And now, if Slater’s plan worked, West Coast surfers could soon enjoy a dependable supply in landlocked Lemoore, California.
“Until that point, the physical act of surfing had just about defied monetization. Great surf spots can net up to tens of millions in visitor dollars for their host communities annually, but the main ingredient—waves—was delivered for free. Enthusiasts rarely paid admission or membership fees. Competitions generated no ticket sales; no price-gouging hotdogs or sodas. Now, Slater opened the possibility of growing fans and participants in geographically disparate markets, of controlling access and production, of generating leagues and erecting stadiums. He could turn a fickle, nature-dependent activity into a commodifiable sport.”
Photos: Winners of the 2018 Small World Photomicrography Competition
Short Story: Joseph Epstein, “Bachelor”
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