Tag Archives: Harper’s

Some Say Poetry

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

I originally set out to preserve here, for future reference, a poetry review that I liked. A remark on being a student had drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

I shall try to say more about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics, after quoting the review in its entirety. It constitutes the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017.

Continue reading

Ahtamar Island

During a mathematics conference, I visit the ruins of a monastery on a remote island in an inland sea. I am moved to consider the relation between introversion and, if not mathematics, then monasticism. On the origins of Christian monasticism, I look at several sources, notably Gibbon (see the References); and Maugham, on a hermit on an island of the Torres Strait. Since the monastery on the island was Armenian, in what is now Turkey, one should consider also the treatment of minority populations in Turkey. I acknowledge the issue only here, suggesting Wikipedia pages (linked to presently) as a starting point for research. Old books on my shelves are not much help; my own experience, not much more, at least not in a way that lends itself to being written of here, though I know for example that Turkish politicians will openly treat imputations of their own Armenian ancestry as an insult.

We visited Ahtamar Island for a second time on Wednesday, August 23, 2017. Thus we saw again the remains of the Church of the Holy Cross. This Armenian church was consecrated in 921 and presumably desecrated in 1915, if not earlier; now, since our last visit, though officially a museum, the church would seem to have been reconsecrated, to judge by the new altarpiece, featuring an icon of the Madonna and Child.


Altarpiece, Church of the Holy Cross, Ahtamar Island

Continue reading

War and Talk

This is a foray into the mystery of how things happen, based the 164th of the 361 chapters of War and Peace. This chapter contains, in a one-sentence paragraph, a summary of Tolstoy’s theory of history:

Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance.

Continue reading

The Private, Unskilled One

I went into Istanbul’s Pandora Bookshop a month ago, looking for an English translation of War and Peace, since the Garnett translation I had read at college was falling apart. I was told the Oxford World’s Classics edition (with the Maude translation) was coming the next week, and it did come.

Elif Batuman, The Idiot, in Nesin Matematik Köyü, Kayser Dağı Mevkii, Şirince, Selçuk, İzmir, Turkey, 2017.05.18

Continue reading

Duty to Nature

Index to this series

This is a synthesis of some ideas from a recent spate of posts in this blog. A theme is the question of why we do what we do, and whether what we do to Nature in particular—how we think of Nature—can change.

Farhang Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition, cover with image of Zarathustra Continue reading

Thinking & Feeling

This essay is written as a distraction from current events, though I make some reference to them. I am prompted by questions of analogy provoked by

  1. the similes of Homer, and
  2. a recent theater review in Harper’s that mentions the parables of Jesus.

DSC06654 (2)
Continue reading

Rock & Roll

The May 2016 Harper’s features a review of some books about the rock band called Guns N‘ Roses. I find this a bit odd, though perhaps reassuring, since I think I am too old for Guns N’ Roses, and yet Harper’s seems pitched at people who are at least as old as I. During the former editorship of Lewis Lapham, the magazine ran cigarette ads; now it runs ads for retirement communities, hearing aids, and mobile phones with large buttons.

Guns N’ Roses performing at the Los Angeles Street Scene, September 28, 1985 © Marc Canter

Guns N’ Roses performing at the Los Angeles Street Scene, September 28, 1985 © Marc Canter

Continue reading

On trial for pacifism

This is about the 1918 trial of American radical political cartoonist Art Young and others for conspiracy and interfering with enlistment. Most of the article is a quotation of Young’s own words. The words provide some perspective on today’s struggle for freedom of speech.

<img src="https://polytropy.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/young-capitalism.png?w=239" alt="Capitalism, Art Young, private collection (reproduced in Harper’s, Jan 2016, p. 64)” width=”239″ height=”300″ class=”size-medium wp-image-2507″ /> Capitalism, Art Young, private collection (reproduced in Harper’s, Jan 2016, p. 64)
Continue reading

Body and Mind

Does consciousness have a “physical basis” or “material basis”? I am provoked by the suggestion that it does; for the question itself is misleading, if not simply meaningless.

In the September, 2014, issue of Harper’s magazine, Edward O. Wilson begins an essay called “On Free Will” with the following paragraph. Continue reading