Arts and Letters Daily is possibly my favorite site on the Web. Arts and Letters Daily is an Internet treasure — a one-stop shop for links to, basically, any and every subject that could be or is of human interest. And despite the site name, there’s definitely a lot more there than articles about arts and letters.
Herewith, therefore, are 10 fascinating, absorbing, thoroughly enjoyable articles I found at aldaily.com:
- Raymond Tallis, “Notes Towards a Philosophy of Sleep,” Philosophy Now.
If I told you that I had a neurological disease which meant that for eight or more hours a day I lost control of my faculties, bade farewell to the outside world, and was subject to complex hallucinations and delusions – such as being chased by a grizzly bear at Stockport Railway Station – you would think I was in a pretty bad way. If I also claimed that the condition was infectious, you would wish me luck in coping with such a terrible disease, and bid me a hasty farewell.
Of course, sleep is not a disease at all, but the condition of daily (nightly) life for the vast majority of us. The fact that we accept without surprise the need for a prolonged black-out as part of our daily life highlights our tendency to take for granted anything about our condition that is universal. We don’t see how strange sleep is because (nearly) everyone sleeps. Indeed, the situation of those who do not suffer from Tallis’s Daily Hallucinating Delusional Syndrome is awful. They have something that truly deserves our sympathy: chronic insomnia.
Since all animals sleep, we assume it has a biological purpose. The trouble is, we don’t know what that purpose is. There are many theories – energy conservation, growth promotion, immobilisation during hours of darkness when it might be dangerous to be out and about, consolidation of memories – but they are all open to serious objections. William Dement, one of the leading researchers of the last century and co-discoverer of Rapid Eye Movement sleep, concluded from his fifty years in the forefront of the field that “the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid, is that we get sleepy.”
- Daniel Levitin, “Amnesia and the Self That Remains When Memory Is Lost,” The Atlantic.
I walked down the stairs, past the rows and rows of identical apartment buildings, back to my car. Then I sat in my car with the key in the ignition, not wanting to move. Professor Pribram felt that when we lose our memory, we lose our entire sense of self. When I saw Tom, something fundamentally Tom was still there. Some of us call it personality, or essence. Some call it the “soul.” Whatever it is, the tumor that took Tom’s memory had not touched it.
- Eric G. Wilson, “Poetry Makes You Weird,” The Chronicle of Higher Education.
In my first semester as a tenure-track English professor, my chairman asked me to represent our department at a weekend recruiting fair for high-school seniors. My job would be to court prospective majors. Knowing that “yes” was the right pre-tenure answer, I agreed, and so found myself that next Saturday morning standing behind a folding table, cheap brochures littered on its brown surface. I was irritable, hung over, and resentful.
A father and son immediately appeared, in virginal Wake Forest T-shirts and blond crew cuts. They smiled at me as if I had just praised their promptness. The younger looked up at dad, and father nodded to son, and son blurted: “Sell me the English major!” Through my brain’s murk, I searched for the hype. Failing to find it, I confessed: “It makes you weird.”
- Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, “The History of Boredom,” Smithsonian.
For Ward, boring and interesting are two sides of the same coin; one man’s pylons is another man’s Playboy. But what does it really mean to be bored? And more importantly, what does being bored do to and say about you?
- Zadie Smith, “Joy,” The New York Review of Books.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount? It was the same even in childhood when most people are miserable. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way. I seem to get more than the ordinary satisfaction out of food, for example—any old food. An egg sandwich from one of these grimy food vans on Washington Square has the genuine power to turn my day around. Whatever is put in front of me, foodwise, will usually get a five-star review.
- Andrew Martin, “How We Read,” The Financial Times.
A declaration of interest: this article is written by a writer. I don’t say a good writer, but a full-time professional writer, and if you ask any representative of this dying breed how they feel about the apparent dissolution of print in the face of ebooks and websites, they will almost all say the same thing: they will tell you they are against it. Paper pages remind them of paper money: of the civilised advances paid before the electronic undermining of book prices prompted most authors to develop a sideline, usually teaching the profession from which they can no longer make a living.
But the attachment of writers to the old, tangible media is not just about money. The physical book seems like a fitting reward for the labour of writing a book. It is flattering that third parties – typesetters, printers, designers – are roped in on your behalf. A physical book represents closure, whereas ebook publication means becoming part of the eternal, energy-sapping flux of the internet. You have to do all your own marketing: blogging or tweeting about how great you are in defiance of all those childhood injunctions to be modest; and there are people out there who aspire to pick your work apart electronically, “remix” it in the name of some democratic hippyish ideal. If you become involved in that sort of interactivity, then you might have to spend a long time defending your vision or just lying awake and worrying about the assaults made upon it by people who, surely, ought to be making their own stuff up.
Fortunately we writers, being writers, can write about this. Whereas I don’t believe I have read a single work by a milkman lamenting that most people now buy their milk from a shop instead of having it delivered, books fretting over the death of print form one of the genres of the moment.
- Amy Leal, “Dream Map To a Mind Seized,” The Chronicle of Higher Education.
used to fantasize about becoming a wildly successful author or influential teacher; now I fantasize about having a map of my son’s body and brain, showing me the areas of hurt and how I can help. Gone are the phantom shelves of books I would have liked to write, the modestly tucked-away folder of imaginary teaching awards.
When I first knew that my son, now 3, was on the autism spectrum, I had hoped for the possibility of a high-functioning form, but that was before I learned he also has a rare form of epilepsy and a host of immunological problems. Now I just want him to be functioning—that is, alive and able to eat and walk and perhaps even improve over time.
- Jessica Vivian Chiu, “The Art of Friendship,” The Paris Review.
When I was thirty, I moved back to Philadelphia. I had only been gone a few years, and though I knew better, I had half expected it to be just as I’d left it. It was not: most of my friends had left the city altogether or moved, married, to the edges of town. Occasionally, I would run into people I had once known, encounters that produced deep and surprising embarrassment in me; unexplained life choices digested in fast, always alienating, appraisal. The more unsettling thing was that my close friendships were changing, too.
Friendship has never seemed both more important and less relevant than it does now. The concept surfaces primarily when we worry over whether our networked lives impair the quality of our connections, our community. On a nontheoretical level, adult friendship is its own puzzle. The friendships we have as adults are the intentional kind, if only because time is short. During this period, I began to consider the subject. What is essential in friendship? Why do we tolerate difference and distance? What is the appropriate amount to give? And around this same time, I discovered the curious, decades-long friendship between the writers Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and the sculptor Wharton Esherick. Their relationship seemed to me model in some ways; they were friends for over twenty years, mostly living in different cities. Each man was dedicated to pursuing his own line of work, and the insecurities and single-mindedness of ambition seemed analogous too to the ways that adulthood can separate us from our friends.
- David Wallace-Wells, “A Brain With a Heart,” New York Magazine.
To talk of diseases is a sort of Arabian Nights entertainment,” ran the epigraph to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks’s fourth book and his first best seller—the one that made him famous, in 1985, as a Scheherazade of brain disorder. A sensitive bedside-manner neurologist, he had previously written three books, none of which had attracted much notice at all. The Man Who Mistook would mark the beginning of another career, and a much more public one, as perhaps the unlikeliest ambassador for brain science—a melancholic, savantlike physician disinterested in grand theories and transfixed by those neurological curiosities they failed to explain. Sacks was 52 years old and cripplingly withdrawn, a British alien living a lonely aquatic life on City Island, and for about ten years had been dealing with something like what he’d later call “the Lewis Thomas crisis,” after the physician and biologist who decided, in his fifties, to devote himself to writing essays and poetry.
- Leonard Cassuto, “Woody Guthrie at 100,” The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Woody Guthrie has been having a blowout of a 100th birthday party, and it’s lasted all year long. Forty-five years after his death in 1967, you can suddenly hear him everywhere.
Tribute concerts have been held around America and in Europe, many with conferences attached, and the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in his Oklahoma hometown this summer swelled to extra-large proportions for the centennial. Smithsonian Folkways has released a lavishly documented box set, Woody at 100, that couples well-known compositions with rare and unreleased performances. On October 14th, all will culminate in a Kennedy Center Celebration Concert with an honor roll of musicians.
A handful of fine books have also been timed to appear this year—including a “song biography,” This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of an American Folk Song, by Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, and a biography cum memoir, Woody’s Road, by Guthrie’s younger sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, and the Oklahoma historian and folklorist Guy Logsdon. Guthrie’s archives, long housed in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., are being shifted amid great fanfare to Tulsa, Okla. There was even an announcement by the historian and television personality Douglas Brinkley and the polymathic performer Johnny Depp of a deal to publish the recently located manuscript of Guthrie’s previously unknown 1947 Dust Bowl novel, House of Earth.
But after the confetti flutters to the ground and the crowd disperses, exactly what will remain?