Monday 17 October, 2022

A rose by any other name…

On our kitchen windowsill yesterday.

Quote of the Day

”His legs, perhaps, were shorter than they should have been.”

  • Lytton Strachey on Dr Arnold in Eminent Victorians

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Variations on a Theme of Mozart | Alrio Diaz


This has been on my ‘Favourites’ playlist for years.

Long Read of the Day

A Locus of Care

Justin E. H. Smith’s tribute to his late colleague Bruno Latour is a thing of beauty. It is also an insightful and generous reflection on his work.

This is how it opens…

Down in the crypt of the basilica of Saint-Maximin-La-Sainte-Baume, in the South of France, there is an exquisitely rare object. It is a skull, behind a wall of glass, and it is described by two separate and very different labels. The one label tells you it comes from a woman in her fifties, likely born in the eastern Mediterranean in the early first century CE. The other label tells you it is the skull of Mary Magdalene. Legends of her late-life migration to Southern Gaul had already been circulating for some time when the discovery of her skeletal remains in Saint-Maximin was announced in 1279, and the basilica was subsequently built up around this gravesite. In the fourteenth century the Genoese Dominican author Jacobus de Voragine tells the full story of Mary Magdalene’s shipwreck off the coast of Marseille, and of her subsequent long career of miracle-working throughout Provence. Europe was made Christian not just by real-time conversion, but also a great deal of retroactive inscription of Biblical personages, apostles, and early Church Fathers into the ancient history of what was not yet a well-delineated cultural-geographical sphere.

In 2017 my spouse and I were standing and looking at the skull behind the glass. I was inspecting the two labels, and thinking about the ironies of the contrasting accounts they presented, when, behind us, we heard a voice: Ah, c’est bien, ils nous donnent un choix, the voice said. We turned around, and saw that it belonged to Bruno Latour.

“It’s nice, they give us a choice.” With this simple, gentle affirmation, our beloved old master, so often derided in the Anglosphere for his role in landing us in the current “post-truth” desert, seemed to sublate all the irony of the contrasting accounts of the skull’s origins, into something that was, well, true — and not only true, but good: a good and true method for navigating the perilous terrain on which the truth-claims of these only purportedly non-overlapping magisteria have done their best to coexist for the past five centuries or so…

Do read the whole thing. It had a particular resonance for me because many years ago my wife and I had been astonished by seeing the (hideous, IMO) skull and the rival interpretations of it. We had been staying in the former monastery next to the basilica and had wandered into the building as casual tourists wondering why such an impressive church had been constructed in a relatively modest Provençal town.

Smith’s summing up of Bruno’s significance seems to me to be spot on:

Bruno Latour was honest and generous, and I don’t think there’s any question he took up that was not, for him, a true matter of concern. He was one of our era’s best guides between the eternal Scylla and Charybdis of dogmatism and skepticism. I am convinced that his comment about the skull in the crypt provides a key to his whole way of thinking. We have a choice — that’s what it all comes down to. Constructionism was never a matter of “just saying whatever”, and science can never be simply a matter of reading the dictates of the natural world off of our instruments, or out of our data, like a new sort of Divine Law. We have a choice as to how read the world, and it’s going to take all of our human ability, and perhaps some superhuman luck or grace as well, to read it for our own good.

It’s a great read and worth your time.

What are tech billionaires’ text messages like? Just as petty as ours, it turns out

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Most of the documents relevant to the case come varnished with three coats of prime legal verbiage, but one set turned out to be delightfully clear: the text messages exchanged between Musk and his buddies that had to be disclosed during the “discovery” process of the hearing. They come in exhibits H and J of his lawyers’ 151-page submission as 35 pages of messages, averaging 21 texts per page. That’s roughly 735 instances of pure, unadulterated billionaire-talk.

On the grounds that life is too short to be reading Musk’s text messages as well as his interminable Twitter stream, I’m ashamed to say that I had shirked the job of diving into the Delaware trove. But Scott Galloway, a prominent blogger, podcaster and NYU professor, is made of sterner stuff and took the plunge, seeking, as he put it, “a glimpse into the bowels of tech power”. And his conclusion from analysing private conversations between “some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world”? Simply that “bowels” was the correct metaphor…

Read on

My commonplace booklet

 Trump Outmaneuvers New York Lawsuit By Changing Name To Donald 2

Breaking news from The Onion:

PALM BEACH, FL—In a cunning attempt to outmaneuver the fraud lawsuit brought against him by the New York state attorney general, Donald Trump reportedly changed his name on Friday to Donald 2. “I’m not sure who these charges are referring to, as there is no such person named Donald Trump—I’m Mr. 2,” said 2, the former president, who confirmed that his driver’s license as well as his passport and all official personal documents now read “Donald J. 2.” “I’m Mr. 2, that’s me. I have no connection to this case. It’s an entirely different guy, though I do have it on good authority that if there were a Donald Trump, he’d be totally innocent.” At press time, 2 added that perhaps the lawsuit was referring to a certain 44-year-old businessman named Donald Trump Jr.

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