Stumbled upon a fascinating TED talk this morning, by Yuval Noah Harari, entitled What explains the rise of humans? In a nutshell, his thesis is that we alone, among all the species on earth, are capable of flexible cooperation in large numbers, and that the chief galvanizing force behind this is our ability to create and believe in fictions.
His recent book is now on my must-read list: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. From the author’s website:
Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.
Starting from this provocative idea, Sapiens goes on to retell the history of our species from a completely fresh perspective. It explains that money is the most pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised;
Recently finished a truly excellent novel, Turn, Magic Wheel (1936), by Dawn Powell. A formerly neglected master, she was “rediscovered” in the 1990s, thanks to the efforts of critics and writers like Gore Vidal and Tim Page. Today, she is seen by some as at least the equal, if not the superior, to Dorothy Parker as satirist of the first rank — especially of the New York literary scene. That scene is the main subject matter for the novel in question, and it struck this reader as dead on, with elements of post-modernism thrown in, before it supposedly existed.
Post-modern in the sense of it self-referentiality, its meta context, its story within a story and mirrors facing one another. In the following excerpt, Dennis Orphen, a young writer, imagines writing about the people and surroundings in his immediate path and circle, and one can’t help but think this is likely Dawn Powell’s meta commentary about the process … Click to continue . . .
I love seeing and hearing a big old blues voice emerging from unexpected faces. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, a New York-based, seven-piece band, gives us that and more. The lead singer, Arleigh Kincheloe, looks anything but the vessel for the raspy, gutsy, powerful voice we encounter, and defying stereotypes seems a regular part of the band’s art.
The video below was released earlier this year, and demonstrates Kicheloe’s unique combination of grit and emotional power. Looking forward to the continuing evolution of this band and its lead singer/songwriter.
Kristin Ross’s excellent, but all too short Communal Luxury is a much needed refresher course on the tragedy that was the Paris Commune of 1871. In a very short space, she supplies the essential philosophical antecedents and tells of the key personnel involved in its formation and ex-pat extension after the slaughter. Along the way, the reader can’t help but be reminded of recent political formations such as Occupy, and to note the same patterns of popular rebellions met with overwhelming force by various ruling classes. Running alongside that overwhelming force, establishment propaganda is generally successful in limiting the story to its own version of events, which seldom comes close to the truth.
Ross concentrates the most on three figures: William Morris, Élisée Reclus and Petr Kropotkin, spending most of her time on their works and thoughts after the Paris Commune. In previous books she has spent time … Click to continue . . .
In the last several years, there has been a long over due spate of films with women as heroes. Two recent movies have told the tale of women, based on their memoirs, testing themselves against the harshest of elements, against nature, striving to go beyond their previously known levels of endurance. This has long been the staple of hero stories for men. But it seems that finally women are getting a chance to show what they can do, what they’ve always been able to do. Tracks, a fine film, directed by John Curran and starring Mia Wasikowska, tells the true story of Robyn Davidson’s (1977) journey, 1700 miles across Australian deserts, with camels and a dog, to reach the Indian Ocean.
This is no Hallmark movie, with the usual pre-packaged displays of all too conventional wisdom and supposed discoveries of inner truth. Wasikowska’s Davidson is far too understated for that, and she probably likes her dog and her camels … Click to continue . . .