Thankfully, my high school English teacher decided we’d skip the technical chapters on how to behead a whale. But Mark Beauregard explains why Melville’s Moby Dick as a whole is still relevant 165 years later.
To be an American in 2016 is to feel threatened from within and without. We have anxiety about our role in the world and our responsibilities to other Americans, which some people want to solve by electing a monomaniacal Captain Ahab (Trump) to take the helm and some people want to solve by electing a radical populist Ishmael (Sanders). The whole symbolic architecture of Moby-Dick, with its unresolved, polarized conflicts perfectly suits our moment.
Ceridwen Dovey, like many, has felt the oppressive, heavy panic upon realizing how many books there are in this world and how little time there is to read them. This woe remains a big challenge in Susan Elderkin’s and Ella Berthoud’s project as bibliotherapists. Berthoud sent Dovey a questionnaire, asked questions about her personal life, and at last sent a “reading prescription.” They’ve also compiled a medical book with reading suggestions for all kinds of ailments.
I worked my way through the books on the list over the next couple of years, at my own pace — interspersed with my own “discoveries” — and while I am fortunate enough to have my ability to withstand terrible grief untested, thus far, some of the insights I gleaned from these books helped me through something entirely different, when, over several months, I endured acute physical pain. The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is — but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union” with another mind.
One of the appealing aspects of art is its accessibility: anyone can paint, write, create. But maybe not, as Pankaj Mishra and Rivka Galchen suggest. Galchen points out that art takes time and time is luxury. Mishra throws in the effect of anti-intellectual governments and threats to take away funding if artists don’t prove loyal to the state.
The angriest artist-rebel of course was Wagner, who identified the comfortable opera-going philistines of the bourgeoisie as the cause of all evil. “I desire to shatter,” he declared, “the power of the mighty, of the law, and of property.” During the 1848 revolutions, Wagner was accused of setting fire to his own opera house in Dresden. Flaubert, the poet among novelists, transmuted disgust with the bourgeoisie into a monastic dedication to his austere art. Thomas Mann worked up a stern vision of the artist’s necessary isolation: “He is mistaken,” he wrote in “Tonio Kröger,” one of his many fictions about tormented composers and writers, “who believes he may pluck a single leaf from the laurel tree of art without paying for it with his life.”
The entire Argentina — and Messi — supporting part of the population collectively cringed when he missed the penalty kick against Chile last Sunday. Shocked headlines, crying emoticons, and Lionel Messi’s announcement of his resignation filled the internet. What psychologists call the “ironic error” — doing exactly what you’re focusing on not doing — is pretty common, as Recep Gorgulu and Tim Woodman explain.
When the brain seeks to make the body perform in a particular desirable way, it relies on two processes — an operating process and a monitoring process.
The operating process is responsible for identifying all the steps that will allow us to achieve a desired outcome. If you are going to take a penalty, this would include taking the usual number of steps back, thinking of the spot where you want to hit the ball, running up, planting your non-striking foot next to the ball, and scoring where you were aiming. Simple, right?
At the same time, a monitoring process is subconsciously at work. It is like a radar sweep searching for information on what could go wrong, in this case hitting the post. Once it has identified such risks, it informs the operating process to try harder to find information that will make things go to plan so you can still score the penalty.