Tuesday 25 January, 2022

To Infinity and beyond

Saturday morning last.

Quote of the Day

”Candy is dandy
But Liquor is quicker.”

  • Ogden Nash, Reflection on Ice-breaking

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mahler | Fifth Symphony | Adagietto | Berlin Phil | Karajan


Long Read of the Day

On Not Hating the Body

A truly extraordinary essay by Martha Nussbaum on body-hatred. An unlikely topic, you might think, though if you were brought up as a Catholic you might find resonances galore in it. Plato has a lot to answer for, and she holds him to account. But she has a much longer charge-sheet than that. And such a great intellectual range.

Let us consider other highly intelligent animals. Elephants fear death, and seek to avoid it for self and others, and even, as we now know, grieve the loss of loved ones with rituals of mourning. Mother elephants even sacrifice their lives to protect their young from speeding trains. That is how vividly they see death ahead of them, and how bad they think it is. But they stop short of body-hatred. They do not adopt a distorted attitude to their potentially crumbling frames that leads to projective aggression against other groups of elephants.

Do not say, please, that it is because they are less aware. We are finding out more all the time about their communication systems, their social organization, their capacious and nuanced awareness. But we do not find disgust. That pathology appears to be ours alone. In her beautiful memoir, Coming of Age With Elephants, Joyce Poole, one of our greatest elephant researchers, describes the way in which her human community impeded her “coming of age” as a fulfilled woman and mother. The researcher group was highly misogynistic and racist. They deliberately broke up her happy romance with an African man. When she was raped by a stranger, they treated her as soiled and did nothing to deal with her trauma. In elephant society, by contrast, she observed better paradigms of inclusive friendship, of compassionate and cooperative group care. The memoir ends when she returns to the elephant group after a two-year absence, carrying her infant child in her arms. The matriarchal herd not only recognize her, they understand her new happiness. And they greet her with the ceremony of trumpeting and defecating by which elephants greet the birth of a new elephant child. No body-hatred, no disgust, no projective subordinations.

Nussbaum’s also good on the absence of body-hatred in James Joyce’s great character, Leopold Bloom. Recall that, early in the day chronicled in Ulysses, he

ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

When Mr Kernan pompously observes that the liturgical trope I am the resurrection and the life “touches a man’s innermost heart”, Leopold thinks:

Your heart perhaps but what price the fellow in the six feet by two with his toes to the daisies? No touching that. Seat of the affections. Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up and there you are. Lots of them lying around here: lungs, hearts, livers. Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all up out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. Get up! Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning. Pennyweight of powder in a skull. Twelve grammes one pennyweight. Troy measure.

A long read, for sure. But worth it.

Chart of the Day

Source: Quartz, which adds the comment:

The findings go against the grain of reports of an ongoing “techlash”—a wave of hostility to technology, its numerous breaches of privacy and security, and its disconcerting pace of disruptive change. Edelman’s newest numbers suggest that tech has perhaps benefited from an overall cross-sector rise in trust. But it also follows a period in which technology has proven even more indispensable to our lives during the pandemic.


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