A history of alienation

New York, 1955. Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum In the postwar period it was understood to be the fundamental malaise of modern life. Why aren’t we ‘alienated’ any more? by Martin Jay  is the Sidney Hellman Ehrman professor of European history at the University of California, Berkeley. His latest book is Reason After Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory (2016). Edited by Sally Davies The fear of ‘alienation’ from a perceived state of harmony has a long and winding history. Western culture is replete with stories of expulsion from paradise and a yearning to return, from Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden of Eden to … Continue reading A history of alienation

On prejudice

Famille Métisse (1775) by Marius-Pierre le Masurier. Photo courtesy Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac/RMN An 18th-century creole slaveholder invented the idea of ‘racial prejudice’ to defend diversity among a slave-owning elite Blake Smith is a postdoctoral fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. His research, focusing on the French East India Company, has appeared in scholarly journals such as French Cultural Studies and the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, as well as popular media such as The Wire and The Appendix. Edited by Sam Haselby In 1791, Julien Raimond published one of the first critiques of racial prejudice. Raimond was a free man … Continue reading On prejudice

Neither Victims Nor Executioners: Albert Camus on the Antidote to Violence

“If he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” Zadie Smith wrote in her spectacular essay on optimism and despair. Seventy years earlier, just after the close of World War II, another genius of the times addressed this predicament and its attendant question of what reimagining progress looks like as we behold the future from the precarious platform of the present. In November of 1946, … Continue reading Neither Victims Nor Executioners: Albert Camus on the Antidote to Violence

Incredible images of Los Angeles when it was covered in wetlands

A man wades into Ballona Lagoon, Los Angeles, California, circa 1902.Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries by Leanna Garfield Before Los Angeles became the center of the film industry, it was covered in wetlands and farmland.T he Southern California Coastal Water Research Project recently began mapping LA’s lost Ballona Creek watershed, which once spanned thousands of acres and ranged from freshwater ponds to marshes to meadows for several centuries. European colonists later came and formed the city’s first street grid, destroying around a third of these wetlands. Archival photos from the USC Libraries show what LA looked like before it became a modern municipality. Take … Continue reading Incredible images of Los Angeles when it was covered in wetlands

Two’s a crowd

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in France, 1980. Photo by Marc Gantier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Zany and earnest, political yet puckish, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari were philosophy’s most improbable duo by Edward Thornton is a PhD student in the department of philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. Edited by Sally Davies In 1969, at the height of the French summer, a radical psychoanalyst went in search of a well-known philosopher. After driving three hours south to Limousin – a region in central France renowned for its forests and cattle-farms – the man found his quarry at home in bed, convalescing after surgery to remove … Continue reading Two’s a crowd

The Constitution of the Inner Country: Leonard Cohen on Words and the Poetry of Inhabiting Your Presence in Language

Illustration from The Little Golden Book of Words “The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country.” BY MARIA POPOVA “We die. That may be the meaning of life,” Toni Morrison asserted in her spectacular Nobel Prize acceptance speech. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” We do language not merely with our words — which are themselves events — but with the lived and living presence behind them. “Words mean. Words point. They are arrows. Arrows stuck in the rough hide of reality,”Susan Sontag wrote in contemplating the conscience of words. If words are the arrow, we ourselves … Continue reading The Constitution of the Inner Country: Leonard Cohen on Words and the Poetry of Inhabiting Your Presence in Language

Did Homo erectus speak?

Scientists unveil a 1.8 million-year-old ‘Dmanisi’ skull discovered in the Dmanisi caves in modern-day Georgia. Photo by Valerie Kuypers/AFP/Getty Images Early hominins who sailed across oceans left indirect evidence that they might have been the first to use language by Daniel Everett is dean of arts and sciences, professor of global studies and professor of sociology at Bentley University in Massachusetts. His latest book is How Language Began (2017). He lives in the Boston area. Edited by Nigel Warburton What is the greatest human technological innovation? Fire? The wheel? Penicillin? Clothes? Google? None of these come close. As you read this, you are using the … Continue reading Did Homo erectus speak?