Sunday, April 04, 2010

Dickinson, Darwin, Scorsese and Pigeons

TLS March 19 2010

from Benjamin Markovits' review of Lyndall Gordon's LIVES LIKE LOADED GUNS: Emily Dickinson and her family's feuds:

. . . Henry James's description of the writer's life from The Middle Years: "We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art". Oe John Berryman's Dream Songs: "I am obliged to perform in complete darkness/ operations of great delicacy/ on my self".

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By dressing up such riddles as a kind of Hamlet ploy. Gordon obscures something important about Dickinson: her preciousness, her pretension. In the process, we lose what is moving about her story. For Gordon, Emily's refusal to publish shows a heroic unwillingness to bow to public expectations, rather than the self-defeating stubbornness of a lonely inhibited woman who has become suspicious of the way her passions alienate people. It is true that her first editors tended to pick the worst poems and edit them into something like conventionality. It is also true that any poem whose merit depends on the difference between a comma and a dash would not be worth preserving in the first place.

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TLS March 26 2010

from Samir Okasha's review of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini's WHAT DARWIN GOT WRONG:

The authors are right that there are no strict "laws of selection" in their sense, but wrong to say that evolutionary history is merely a collection of historical narratives. This is a false dichotomy if ever there was one. Neo-Darwinism is replete with much advanced theory, a lot of it highly general; it does not find expression in "laws of selection" but rather in mathematical models. For example, a simple and elegant mathematical model shows that natural selection will generally lead species to have an even sex ratio, half males and half females. This is a paradigm neo-Darwinist explanation, and it applies widely, to a high diverse range of species. . . .

Good to know there are mathematical models between scientific "laws" and "historical narratives."

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from Leo Robson's review of Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island":

Inspired by the example of Hitchcoks, Michael Powell, and others, Scorsese has often employed devices splashier and more expressionistic than the point-of-view shot, the close-up, and the voiceover. . . . Some viewers object to these devives on the grounds that they are obvious and hokey, but their repeated use amounts to a sustained effort to express, even to impart how it feels to be a man--the pain and panic, the nausea and drunken giddiness, the sweat and swagger. Being a man is to have a man's body. . . . A US Marshal, a wealthy aviator, and a Tibetan monk all have cause to wash their hands, for reasons of hygiene and symbolism; shaving is portrayed as a particularly messy business, from the character who reduces his face to a bloody mess in the short The Big Shave (1967) to the priest in The Gangs of New York, who advises his son: "The blood stays on the blade". And Scorsese is unusual in showing how awkward and tedious murder can be, even if you have a gun.

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from Patrick Evans' review of Barbara Allen's PIGEON:

Doves pop up everywhere: they visited King Arthur's Camelot, whispered Allah's truth in Muhammad's ear, and Cairo was founded on a dove's nest. Pigeons have it rougher; in medieval times surgeons cut live pigeons in half and clasped them to the heads of people suffering from melancholia. . . .

Their extraordinary aptitude as messengers made many pigeons heroes, like Winkie, who flew 120 miles across the North Sea to save a bomber crew in the Second World War. Pigeons have magnetite in their beaks, a kind of natural satellite navigation system, and the last pigeon postal service only ceased in 2004.

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