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The return of big history: the long past is the

antidote to short-termism
Historians Jo Guldi and David Armitage have created a powerful, ambitious rebuttal to "the spectre of the short
term".

Photo Op (2006) by Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps
“There never has been a time when . . . except in the most general sense, a study of history
provides so little instruction for our present day,” Prime Minister Tony Blair declared in a
speech to the US Congress in July 2003. Nowadays Blair is not exactly deemed a voice of
authority, but the opinions he expressed are still widely shared. In an era when technology
has revolutionised our daily existence – even the nature of life itself – understanding the past
may seem irrelevant when planning the future. But history does matter. And many academics
are anxious to explain why.

A striking contribution comes from the historians Jo Guldi and David Armitage. At a mere
165 pages, their book The History Manifesto is modest in scale but not in ambition: its first
sentence mimics the opening of the Communist Manifesto: “A spectre is haunting our time:
the spectre of the short term.” Guldi, who teaches at Brown, and Armitage, a British-born
professor at Harvard, point to politicians trapped in the electoral cycle, business leaders
fixated on profit returns and bureaucrats obsessed by performance targets. Academics, one
might add, have also been sucked into the vortex, with the rigid six-year cycle of the Research
Excellence Framework deterring big historical projects that take time to mature.
Yet Guldi and Armitage insist that historical writing can provide the answer to short-
termism, if properly conceived and delivered. In the last quarter of the 20th century, they
argue, most historians produced scholarly monographs or doctoral dissertations about
narrow periods and specific topics, or they indulged in microhistories of “exceptionally
normal” episodes from everyday life, such as Robert Darnton’s investigation of a bizarre cat
massacre in 18th-century Paris. There seemed little appetite to explore
the longue durée, a term popularised in the 1950s by Fernand Braudel and other
scholars associated with the French journal Annales.
This obsession with the miniature reflected the increasing professionalisation of historical
writing. In contrast to earlier centuries, when the historian’s craft had been the preserve of
amateurs such as Gibbon and Macaulay, the 20th century was the era when history
professionals emerged – men and women who earned their living from teaching and writing
history as employees of universities. Like other professionals, they sought advancement by
becoming unquestioned masters of a small terrain, fenced off by their command of specialist
archives. The explosion since the 1970s of new subdisciplines – including social history,
women’s history and cultural history – encouraged further balkanisation of the subject.
Academic historians seemed to be saying more and more about less and less.

In consequence, Guldi and Armitage lament, the big debates of our day lack the benefit of
historical perspective. They spotlight a trio of vital contemporary questions – climate change,
international governance and socio-economic inequality – that have been addressed mostly
by economists and other social scientists, often using data and assumptions that are rooted in
the short term. Yet these subjects cry out for a longue durée approach. And Guldi and
Armitage show how historians have started to respond over the past decade, exploiting the

mass of information that can now be marshalled thanks to the digitisation of archives and
other databases, combined with the ubiquity of keyword searching. In the age of IT, social
problems on a scale previously beyond the grasp of a large research group are feasible for a
lone, but digitally smart, scholar. And so, The History Manifesto proclaims, big history is
once again possible, thanks to big data.
Guldi and Armitage write with brio and passion and their ambition should be applauded. Yet
their supposedly universal panacea is in many ways very American. The Manifesto offers a
reworking for historians of a tradition of “big” thinking that has characterised American
intellectual life since the Second World War. “Big science” led the way (in projects such as the
Bomb, mainframe computers and the transistor), followed by big social science (through
foundations such as the Ford and Rockefeller and the RAND Corporation) – all closely
harnessed to the needs of the federal government. Big history, now much in fashion in
leading US history departments such as Harvard’s, is another facet of that academic-
governmental nexus: the cover of the Manifesto proclaims a desire to “speak truth to power”.
And yet, like many programmatic writings, The History Manifesto seems strangely
indifferent to practicalities. It does not make clear how these big historical projects would
grab the attention of people in power. Simply addressing topical issues such as climate
change is not enough: as Guldi and Armitage acknowledge, politicians are creatures of the
short term who prefer to ignore big problems that cannot be solved, or at least visibly
ameliorated, within an electoral cycle. They are also busy people who do not have time for
lengthy reading and reflection. All this shows that big historical truths must be served up in
politically digestible, bite-sized chunks.
A more user-centred approach is exemplified by the work of Richard Neustadt and Ernest
May – Harvard academics, now sadly deceased – who for many years taught a course on the
uses of history to American politicians, officials and senior military. The book that grew out
of it, Thinking in Time, was published way back in 1986, and The History Manifesto makes
no reference to it. Yet Neustadt and May offer an instructive alternative response to the curse
of short-termism in high places.
Their main injunction derives from Avram Goldberg, the chief executive of a New England
grocery chain. Whenever a manager came to him in a flap, he wouldn’t ask, “What’s the
problem?” but say, “Tell me the story.” That way, Goldberg said, “I find out what the problem
really is.” His maxim became the premise of the book by Neustadt and May. Rather than
focus on the crisis at hand (while already straining for a quick-fix solution), one should stand
back and ask, “How did we get into this mess?” That is the first step to seeing a way out.

Telling the story requires identifying critical events and turning points, asking what
happened when. This basic chronology then has to be fleshed out by addressing “who” and
“why” questions about personalities and motivations: what Neustadt and May call
“journalists’ questions”. Digging out this kind of human detail is as much a historical activity
as constructing a chronology. It requires probing into the past of a person or a country, just
the sort of thing that Blair, Bush and their aides did not do properly before the invasion of
Iraq.

Asking “What’s the story?” may seem a strange way to define the practice of history. Our
normal definition is content-based – the names-and-dates regime that destroyed any feel for
the subject among millions of schoolchildren and that still features in the UK citizenship test.
Nor does “What’s the story?” chime with the idea that history provides a stock of useful
analogies, such as the “lessons of appeasement” that have seduced many political leaders,
from Anthony Eden in 1956 to Blair and Bush in 2003. Instead of history as a body of facts
or a toolkit of lessons, Neustadt and May presented it as a way of thinking: thinking in the
stream of time.

Actually, that is not such an alien idea: it’s what we do every evening, constructing a narrative
of what has happened during the day by highlighting some events and downplaying others
within an arc of what seems, with hindsight, to be significant. Thinking in Time essentially
urged policymakers to apply the same narrative mode of thinking more systematically when
making decisions that relate to government.
Neustadt and May’s prescriptions still seem to me apt and perceptive. They are rooted in the
recognition that human beings fundamentally are historical animals and they provide simple,
practical advice about how people in power can be their own historians. But the Achilles heel
of Thinking in Time in 1986 was how would-be practitioners could speedily obtain the
essential historical information to put flesh on the bare bones of their narrative timelines.
Neustadt and May suggested a range of useful books, articles and bibliographies, but it
seemed implausible that most busy policymakers, or even their aides, would have time to do
the necessary research.
Nearly 30 years on, however, the IT-age tools that Guldi and Armitage identify can also help
the policymaker who wants to become historically literate. There is now a profusion of
information out there, available at a few clicks of a mouse. The new problem is quality
control: identifying the information that is reliable and that rises above mere WikiHistory.

One answer comes from History & Policy, a web-based think tank run jointly from
Cambridge and King’s College London. This posts short papers of 2,500 to 3,000 words, each
offering a historically informed view on issues of current concern. To date, nearly 200 papers
have appeared, covering a wide range of issues; recent topics include power-sharing in
Northern Ireland, the London airport debate, treatment of the mentally ill and the Ukraine
crisis. The organisation also runs specialist seminars targeted at specific interests, with the
aim of providing the busy politician, civil servant or business person with a broader
perspective but in succinct, manageable form. Although each paper suggests further reading,
it is assumed that most users won’t have the time for a long academic tutorial. The aim here
is not big history but applied history, useful at the point of decision-making.

For some traditionalist scholars, this search for relevance threatens a core value
of professional history – the recognition of the past as a foreign country. But, as John Tosh
has insisted in his book Why History Matters (2008), what we need is “a critical applied
history”, one that is attentive to both continuity and difference. Neustadt and May developed
the same point: “the future has nowhere to come from but the past”, yet “what matters for the
future in the present is departures from the past” – hence the predictive capacity and also the
potential pitfalls of historical analysis. Those departures may be slight and subtle but
recognising them is essential when trying to anticipate the future.
Public awareness of the interconnection of past, present and future has been particularly
keen at moments of dramatic rupture or transition. The end of the Second World War, with
the total collapse of Hitler’s European empire and the horrific exposure of his “Final
Solution”, constituted one such moment; another was the end of the cold war in 1989-91,
when the “Iron Curtain” disintegrated and the Soviet Union fell apart. Such evidently
“historic” moments have kindled an interest in “contemporary history”, orZeitgeschichte, as
the Germans call it. In this area, too, historical awareness has relevance for political debate,
by helping us to locate our contemporary problems in the longer sweep of events.
Definitions of the appropriate time span for “contemporary history” lack precision: surveying
various writers, Kristina Spohr of the London School of Economics suggests that the term has
generally been employed to signify the history of “one’s own time”. She quotes Geoffrey
Barraclough, an exponent in the 1960s: “Contemporary history begins when the problems
which are actual in the world today first take visible shape.” When exactly that was will vary

from case to case and is a matter of judgement for individual historians, requiring them to
construct narratives on the Neustadt-May model but over the longue durée.
To Eric Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist, his own time was naturally defined by the rise and fall
of the Soviet state and he framed his Age of Extremes around the dates 1914 and 1991.
Hobsbawm’s book has become a classic, but in the 20 years since it first appeared our sense
of the “contemporary” has moved on from the cold war. In an era preoccupied by
globalisation, historians, when trying to discern how today’s problems took visible shape,
have looked back to moments and markers that differ from Hobsbawm’s.
One significant trend is the vogue for “transnational” history, transcending the conventional
western focus on the evolution of nation states: what the Harvard scholar Charles Maier calls
the principle of “territoriality”. One of these new frameworks for understanding
contemporary history is the cultural “clash of civilisations”, attractive to many American
conservatives preoccupied with Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of China. Another
framework is the emergence of supranational structures such as the European Union,
intended to break out of the cycle of ruinous nationalist wars between France and Germany
and to escape the perpetual “bloodlands” of eastern Europe. If European integration is
indeed the trajectory of our own time, it implies a very different way of telling modern history
from the conventional narratives about territorial nation states.

This approach is, of course, unlikely to have much appeal in our dis-United Kingdom. A
political class trapped between the erosion of a once-solid state based on shared Britishness
and a Continental behemoth depicted as the embodiment of alien “European” values does not
seem in any mood to venture beyond territoriality. However, for those who are inclined to
escape the bunker of Britishness, asking “What’s the story?” has utility in this larger sense.
It invites us to interrogate the grand narratives we tell ourselves as a country about where we
have come from and where we might be going.

Big history, thinking in time, applied history, alternative narratives: these are just a few ways
that those who study the past are engaging with the present. That pioneer of “contemporary
history”, Thucydides, writing 24 centuries ago, presented his account of the Peloponnesian
wars as a warning for future decision-makers – for those who, as he put it, “want to
understand clearly the events which happened in the past and (human nature being what it
is) will at some time or other and in much the same ways be repeated in the future”.

He described how an ill-conceived foreign adventure – the disastrous attack on Syracuse –
triggered the climactic phase of a long power struggle that not only destroyed Athenian
democracy but also sapped the power of the Greek city states, laying the peninsula open to
foreign domination. In our own day, after a year of national mourning for the men who
marched away in 1914, we might raise our eyes to take in the bigger historical picture and the
haunting parallels with the lost grandeur of Greece: an international conflict that exploded
out of the blue in 37 days, which was sustained for four blood-soaked years by the
intransigence of national leaders and from whose suicidal destruction Europe never
recovered. We may not share Thucydides’s idea of a universal “human nature”, but his
proclamation that history matters still has resonance today.

David Reynolds is Professor of International History at Cambridge. His latest book is
“The Long Shadow: the Great War and the 20th Century” (Simon & Schuster)

he opened to them the doors of the Enlightenment. who had been the original of Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. who wanted society organized scientifically in the interests of Christian charity: Saint-Simon had made an . There had been concentrated in Karl Marx the blood of several lines of Jewish rabbis. It was calledReflections of a Young Man on Choosing a Profession. Saint-Simon. Living in Trier. our relationships in society have already to some extent been formed before we are in a position to determine them. a young German-Jewish boy. Already our physical nature threateningly bars the way. said Karl Marx at seventeen. no doubt. In the August of 1835. had brought his people into contact with the culture of the outside German world. One reflection — which the examiner has specially noted — comes to limit the flood of aspiration. Ludwig von Westphalen read seven languages. He used to take young Karl Marx for walks among the vineyard-covered hills of the Moselle and tell him about the Frenchman. he had been nourished on Rousseau and Voltaire as well as on the philosophy of the Germans. and it was radiant with those lofty ideals which are in order on such occasions and which in the present case have attracted attention only for the reason that the aspiring young man managed to live up to his aspirations. the traditional body of their culture seemed at once to collapse in dust like a corpse in an unsealed tomb. now so prevalent since Herder. And so we must be on guard against allowing ourselves to fall victims to that most dangerous of all temptations: the fascination of abstract thought. Baron von Westphalen. composed a theme for his final examination. against engaging in agriculture or crafts? Both. Hirschel Marx was a Kantian free-thinker. The German Jews of the eighteenth century were breaking away from the world of the ghetto. through his translation of the Bible into German.Karl Marx: Prometheus and Lucifer 1 . But Mendelssohn. the Jewish philosopher. There had been rabbis in his mother’s family for at least a century back. We shall never be able to fulfill ourselves truly unless we are working for the welfare of our fellows: then only shall our burdens not break us. some of the restrictions on the Jews had been relaxed. he changed his name to Heinrich. In choosing a profession. who had left Judaism and Jewry behind. was evidently the first man of brains in his family decisively to abandon the rabbinate and to make himself a place in the larger community. then only shall our satisfactions not be confined to poor egoistic joys. It was an incident of the liquidation of medieval institutions and ideas. of the molding of human cultures by physical and geographical conditions? Was it the consciousness of the disabilities which still obstructed the development of the Jews: the terrible special taxes. the friend of Winckelmann and Voltaire. and they were already by Karl Marx’s generation beginning to play a role of importance in the literature and thought of the day. with its social isolation and its closed system of religious culture. Moses Mendelssohn. When the Prussians expelled Napoleon and it became illegal again for Jews to hold office. was also a product of eighteenth-century civilization: his father had been confidential secretary to the liberal Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick. and the families of both his father’s parents had produced unbroken successions of rabbis. had his whole family baptized Christians and rose to be Justizrat and head of the Trier bar. and it had been possible for him to study law and to make himself a successful career. one of his uncles was a rabbi there. . loved Shakespeare and knew Homer by heart. and her claims may be mocked by none. Was it the conception.” So for the mind of the young Marx the bondage of social relationships already appeared as an impediment to individual self-realization. Hirschel Marx. You can download a full-text PDF of the book by clicking on the link above. Karl’s father. From Edmund Wilson’s landmark To the Finland Station (1940). the special restrictions on movement. the prohibitions against holding public office. For the young Jews. a student at the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium at Trier on the Moselle. one must be sure that one will not put oneself in the position of acting merely as a servile tool of others: in one’s own sphere one must obtain independence. who were having themselves baptized Protestants and Catholics. Mendelssohn’s daughters already belonged to a group of sophisticated Jewish women with salons and “philosopher” lovers. though a Prussian official. some of them distinguished teachers of the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Under the influence of the French Revolution. produced a result far beyond what he had intended: instead of guiding the Jews as he had hoped to a revivified and purified Judaism. Next door to the Marxes in Trier lived a family named van Westphalen. on the border between Germany and France. one can never be a really great man. and one must make sure that one has a field to serve humanity — for though one may otherwise become famous as a scholar or a poet. and had been ennobled by him. Karl Marx’s paternal grandfather had been a rabbi in Trier. “But we cannot always follow the profession to which we feel ourselves to have been called.

but he disapproved of what seemed to him his uncanalized energies. and a contemporary cartoon on the suppression of the paper he is later to edit is to show him chained to his press with the Prussian eagle preying on his vitals. he cries out continually over Karl’s frequent demands for money: does the young gentleman think his father is made of gold? Etc. For better do I deem it to be bound to this rock than to spend my life as Father Zeus’ faithful messenger”. that are human enough to talk? In one of Karl Marx’s ballads. “Know well I would never be willing to exchange my misfortune for that bondage of yours. but that in his breast the gods preside in their might. Jenny von Westphalen promised to marry him. he spoke German and English equally well. his all-embracing intellectual ambitions. His mother writes him that he must not neglect to keep his rooms clean. Though he. Their children played together in the Westphalens’ large garden. which will strike the beholder livid and against which the thunderbolts will rebound. all the gods. and under their governance no deviation is possible. who think the world is a bag of bones. is usually quite inappropriate to his more numerous romantic ones. all bones. In another ballad. assaulted by the songs of the sirens — very different from the sailors of Heine. sink. contend with the waves and the wind. He recognized that Karl’s abilities were exceptional. keep his course by the changeless stars. a pill would quite easily expel it. who said that his parents had given him nothing but his existence and his mother’s love. Ludwig von Westphalen was half-German. a second skipper. with more advantages than he had had himself.Prometheus is to be Marx’s favorite myth: he is to prefix to his doctor’s dissertation the speech of Aeschylus’ Prometheus to Zeus. The style. In another. for they are cold in heart and mind and feel nothing. feel the joy of all his forces at full strain. whose metaphysics consists of the belief that if it were possible to locate the soul. and let his ship’s sail swell. he will leave behind him the warm and quiet towns. The sirens. the poet must pull down the shade so that they may not scare off his fancies. damned Philistines. She was four years older than Karl and was considered one of the belles of Trier. talked well. though his strength be but a patchwork of weaknesses: out of his pain and horror he will fashion a fortress. which suits his satirical subjects. The Marxes had their international background of Holland. but he swears that he will have his revenge. Karl’s sister and Jenny von Westphalen became one another’s favorite friends. She was intelligent. half-Scotch. a little man with a lean horror of a wife. like Balaam’s. His letters to his son are a mixture of excited admiration and apprehension — lest Karl’s genius miscarry. and most of them transferred to Trier from other provinces — in that old city. is nevertheless not without its power. In the summer of Karl’s eighteenth year. whose psychology is confined to the notion that our dreams are due to noodles and dumplings. would take his place at the Trier bar. that he must scrub himself every week with sponge and soap. that for them in their cold abysses there burns no eternal God. In these poems. had been trained by a remarkable father. will put to sea. iron and cold.impression on Herr von Westphalen. hoped that Karl. They do not count beside the soul’s aspiration. . Old Heinrich reproaches the boy with egoism. blood pounding in his breast at the danger — he will defy and he will conquer the sea. He wrote her bad romantic poetry from college. and they have the insistence of jealous affection. we find a woeful old man. are there not asses. when he was home on his vacation from college. shall the soul remain defiant. whose bones have whitened the rocks — declares to their faces that their charms are specious. but the waves make him dance when the moon is out. with lack of consideration for his parents — Karl rarely seems to have answered his family’s letters. which he himself denounced as rhetorical almost as soon as he had written it. after all. that his Muse must be made to understand that the higher and better things will be promoted through attention to the more humble. and they leave in the mind of the reader certain recurrent symbols. but she waited for Karl seven years. then shall I stride through the wreckage a creator!” Old Heinrich. even vanquished. talks of Karl’s working for the “welfare of humanity. Then Karl fell in love with Jenny. then a bishopric of the Middle Ages. then with contempt shall I fling my glove in the world’s face. a Promethean hero curses a god who has stripped him of his all. and it is of interest in presenting the whole repertoire of his characteristic impulses and emotions before they are harnessed to the pistons of his system. There are also sentimental souls who weep at the idea of a calf being slaughtered: yet. which during the lifetimes of the Westphalens and Marxes had been ruled alternately by the Germans and the French. he proclaims that the grandeurs and splendors of the pygmy-giants of earth are doomed to fall to ruins. was much courted by the sons of officials and landlords and army officers. gives him letters to influential persons who may be of use to him in making his career. once a stronghold of the Romans. This early student poetry of Marx. already harsh and tight-knotted. which is picking the bones of his brother. discouraged. lying at the bottom of the water. There is a man in a yellow house. Karl Marx had conceived for her a devotion which lasted through his whole life. had character. but even the lyrics have something of the hard and dark crystallization which is afterwards to distinguish Marx’s writing.” he is exceedingly anxious for his son to establish good connections. Poland and Italy and so back through the nations and the ages. his mother was of the family of the Dukes of Argyle. Both the Westphalens and the Marxes belonged to a small community of Protestant officials — numbering only a scant three hundred among a population of eleven thousand Catholics. too. a mariner is roused from his bed by the storm: he will go forth. There are doctors. shall still build itself a throne of giant scorn: “Jenny! if we can but weld our souls together. In yet another of Karl Marx’s poems.

which has beep described by a contemporary as a “workhouse” in contrast to the “Bacchanalian” character of the other German universities. He had made his social isolation complete — he was never again to encourage any friends save those who fed his intellectual interests. taken part in a row which had arisen between the plebeian tavern clubs and the aristocratic Korps associations. where he remained till March 30. seem to go back to the great days of Israel and to be unconscious of the miseries between. art and society. they may crash on the cliff — that the soul may crash on the floor of Hell. It reaches a climax in a letter of huge length and tragic emotional force. it was vital for the son to reject much. enormously admired his father and was never tired of talking about him.” become a member of a Poets’ Club suspected of subversive ideas and under the surveillance of the political police. in the century before. God knows not. He was already on his way to becoming the great secular rabbi of his century. But much as he got from his father that was valuable. to which he had gone in the fall of 1835. and Engels put it in his coffin when he was dead. makes translations. Karl Marx. of making those around him happy? Old Marx is impressive in his letters. which give his life its heroic dignity. fights through many battles. shut in with a crazy scholar.In the meantime.” reads gigantically. who is bringing to him all her devotion and sacrificing her social position: in return. got into trouble with the university authorities for “nocturnal drunkenness and riot. Why does he fiddle so madly? asks the speaker. In his own case. in a white gown and with a saber at his side. — It was decided. — But. Karl must learn to present himself to the world in an agreeable and advantageous light. undergoes many agitations both from outward and inward causes. which would disappear with the capitalist system. In one of them a wild violinist appears. 1841. which was at that time in the German universities the great subject of intellectual interest and of which Karl was a born addict and master. with his father’s emphatic approval. 1837 ) five months before the old man’s death — a last desperate effort to save his son from turning into something which the father dreads. who was fond of Jenny and who had done what he could to promote the match. the conviction of moral superiority. and finally — in the summer of 1836 — fought a duel and got a wound over the eye. he tells Karl. with mockery thou tearest thy heart! That art which a bright god has lent thee thou shouldst send to swell the music of the spheres. Above all. he must provide her with a place in actual human society. Now he shuts himself up to think and study. Has Karl more brains and brilliance than heart? Is it a divine or a Faustian daemon that possesses him? Will he ever be capable of domestic happiness. “neglects nature. His son. We shall revert to this aspect of Marx later on: but it may be said here that Karl Marx was too profoundly and completely a Jew to worry much about the Jewish problem in the terms in which it was discussed during his lifetime. Nay. when Karl Marx was eighteen. Yet are they? Two of Marx’s poems he rewrote and finally published in 1841. which had made them unpopular with their neighbors and which to him were more objectionable still. Karl’s daughter tells us. sits up through many nights. not merely in some smoked-up room beside a bad-smelling oil-lamp. but with his head held high under its heavy black helmet of hair and thrown back with a look of brooding fierceness from thick and strong black brows and black eyes. with this blood-black saber I pierce the soul. plans immense labors. he had read through the whole of Hegel and gone on to the works of Hegel’s disciples. he is shown in the background. At Berlin. Why does he cause the blood to leap? Why does he lash his bow to shreds? — Why do the waves roar? the spirit demands in answer. also a teacher in the Jewish tradition but now quite free of the Judaic system and with all the thought of Western Europe at his disposal. written (December 9. contracted considerable debts. was to play an unprecedented role as a leader in the modern world. that he will realize that art is to be acquired only through intercourse with well-bred people. nor honors. he studied law in compliance with his father’s wishes. In a lithograph of the members of his tavern club. made this same year. were simply a special malignant symptom of capitalism. already foresaw the future and felt himself helpless against it. writes poetry. Sent away to the country to recover. at the University of Bonn. and he had worked himself into a decline. Salomon Maimon. philosophy. His father’s letters grow continually more troubled. the pride and independence. That. but neglected it in favor of philosophy. ’Tis the Devil who beats me the time and the Dead March the tune I must play. The old man. For Karl seems already to have shaken from him the barbarian social world of the beer-swilling and saber-brandishing German students and to have returned to the rabbinical world. Karl had joined a convivial tavern club . thundering. He hopes. had tried to reconcile rabbinical philosophy with Kant. that the denying genius may develop into a solid thinker.” as he says. he must be careful of Jenny. musician. . the apparition replies. he must win consideration and affection. he carried a picture of him about all his life. Heinrich’s correspondence with Karl has a certain dramatic interest. that he should be transferred to the University of Berlin. The only opinion he would express on this issue was that the usurious activities of the Jews. Art: it rises from the vapors of Hell — it maddens the brain and it alters the heart. “repulses friendships.

he continued. I can no longer see the light.and shows that he. and through the years of his later life he was to be familiarly known as “Old Nick. Wittgenstein. death in his breast and breath. focusing in the end on what can be elicited from the practice of ordinary language philosophy. But this 'conceptual cartographical' approach (a description I prefer to 'ordinary language') has all but disappeared in Europe. which allegedly accompany our utterances -. What. ISBN 9780226470542. what is said.but instead (in my words) as a shifting series of commitments that are implicitly undertaken as the target expressions are appropriately or correctly employed from one circumstance to another. Laugier reminds us. Marx is described as the “black fellow from Trier.” True: the devil as well as the rebel was one of the conventional masks of the romantic. shine. threatened. as they take on different 'inflections of meaning' or 'elasticities of significance' within the various situations in which they are employed to perform their multitudinous jobs. In a satirical poem by Engels and Edgar Bauer. Daniela Ginsburg (tr. In Quine. Night has fallen. replies the maiden. who stretches his arms toward the heavens as if he would tear down their canopy. Thou hast drunken of the soul: shine. thou lookest so pale. drove this particular schism in the history of analytic philosophy? As early as 'Two Dogmas'. 2013. who clenches his fist and raves as if a thousand devils had him by the hair. Why We Need Ordinary Language Philosophy Sandra Laugier. thou hast drunk of poison. thou must needs depart with me now. Karl Marx was married to Jenny von Westphalen in the June of 1843.” His little son used to call him “Devil. $35.00 (hbk). let us merge our souls in one. never more will she open her eyes. with terrified glance: My dear.. too. and their constituent expressions. says the lover.the erstwhile forefather of philosophical naturalism -. She is pierced by a deeper pain. predicted. but there is something other than romantic perversity in this assumption of a diabolic role. See with what celestial music the worlds pass across the heavens! — My dear. written at about this time. More alarming. Lucifer was to hover behind Prometheus through the whole of Karl Marx’s life: he was the malevolent obverse side of the rebel benefactor of man. In postwar England. thy grief stings thee — thou tremblest beneath my breath. whispering. that is. in their different ways. etc. but rather as irreducible posits or constructs . University of Kent Originally published by Vrin in 2000 under the title Du réel à l'ordinaire: Quelle philosophie du langage aujourd'hui?.). are useful intermediaries conceptually imported not from definition in terms of experience. a criticism of meaning conceived as a 'core common to different languages' or 'the idea of an intermediary entity that would guarantee equivalence or correspondence between them' (16). she asks. Quine described the conceptual scheme of science as a tool with which to predict future experience in the light of past. who creeps not. upon his prey. This involves tracing what Ryle calls the 'logical powers' of the sentences. Physical objects. — Then. But what to my mind is particularly special about Laugier's approach (upon which this review will focus) is that she begins with Quine -. Why We Need Ordinary Language Philosophy. two years after he had graduated at Berlin. promised. this denunciation of 'the myth of meaning' is simultaneously a criticism of referential or denotational theories as well as of a realism that aspires to a 'shared ontology common to different physical theories or conceptual schemes' (16). they pass and they shine — let us. but leaps. expressed.” a savage and sinewy monster. not as Sinn or 'propositional content' construed as an intermediary between expressions that 'mean the same'. Sandra Laugier covers a wealth of authors. this timely English translation joins a welcome list of recent attempts to insist that the neglected insights of Austin. University of Chicago Press. Their work opened up a different way of understanding meaning. as Laugier points out. The second poem is a dialogue between sweethearts: Beloved. 147pp. my jewel — shine. o blood of youth — Darling. speakest so strangely seldom. Reviewed byJulia Tanney. the criticism of the myth was explicit in Ryle (neglected in this book) as early as 1929 as well as in Austin and. argued. and other so-called 'ordinary language philosophers' have a rightful place in the current debate among philosophers of the 'analytic' or 'Anglo-Saxon' tradition. says the lover. most famously. the later Wittgenstein. Heinrich Marx had died in May of 1838. flee away. Austin and Wittgenstein share. it was hardly ever visible in America. explained. — With violence he clasps her to his heart. On this view (still in my words) to learn about meaning is to learn about what is meant.

the question of the reality of the entities postulated by theories to account for experience. with Laugier. in order. which. In particular. there is still a tension with his claim to be a 'robust' realist.' she says (concurring with Putnam) is based on the idea that 'we have "only" experience. Indeed. in the ordinary sense(s) of that word. especially as this has been understood by subsequent generations of metaphysicians. quoted in Laugier. but rather as 'inherent to our common use of language' (22). first. 21). Indeed.'comparable. as Ryle does. as for Hume. for example. For Quine. to shy away from examining our uses of 'true' as Laugier points out that Austin does in order to learn something about truth or. For 'all of American philosophy of language. for example. of organizing system and something waiting to be organized. epistemologically. for example. she adds later. Not as notions immanent to science and conceptual schemes. But she also takes her readers through a journey in which they come to see. though for Quine. in rejecting this dogma and perhaps empiricism tout court. and of the irreducibility of these entities (posits) to sensorial data -. for example of 'about'. the translation of the object theory into the background theory will. Laugier argues. some of the exaggerated reactions against it. But. and about the affirmation.how do we do it?' (25). she continues. Quine is committed to saying that our objects are posits and our ontology is relativized to a choice of background theory. necessarily. There is no reason. For even if Quine and Davidson are right (after Wittgenstein and others) to have renounced representational theories of language. it still inherits the problem of realism. Instead. the very notion of 'fact of the matter'. that language does indeed speak about something' (38). The myth of physical objects is more efficacious than other myths insofar as it provides a structure to the flux of experience. the absurdity or 'spuriousness' of asking about language's adequacy to the world. seems in spite of everything to define something about the relation we establish between language and the world. be indeterminate (including. From a Logical Point of View.are relativized in a way described above. incidentally. to the gods of Homer' (Quine. Rorty.'sensory stimulations' and 'surface irritations' -. With this reclamation we can agree. 'the question of realism is in any case immanent' (24). Instead she proposes to move from Quine's rejection of the myth of meaning qua intermediary (a rejection he has in common with the 'ordinary language' philosophers) and to drop 'once and for all' the empiricist ideal. Even so. . Laugier points out. Davidson himself seems to miss the 'radical' conclusion it suggests: that it is also necessary to give up on what philosophers of language (including Davidson) understand by their subject: namely. Quine's reconstrual of ontology involves a 'triple relativization': one can ask what exists only in terms of what a theory says exists and what a theory says exists can only be understood against a background theory. Laugier says. this is the third dogma of empiricism that Davidson identified in his criticism of 'the very idea of a conceptual scheme': the dualism of scheme and content. . we must renounce the kind of empiricism that 'makes us expect knowledge to come from our "nerve endings"' (22).cannot be met. . to remind her readers that the father of naturalism rejected many of the presuppositions that fund their own projects. The problem according to Laugier is that. it does not follow that there is no project that involves scrutinizing 'what we say' in natural (non-formal) language in order to understand what is meant. and from it we must produce knowledge. is 'internal' to our theory of nature). Although Quine's notion of logic-as-regimentation for the language of science is preferable to the logicist's dream of using formalism to discover the structures of thought and language. goes too far in stating that after Quine's and Davidson's criticisms. But is that all? Is there a deep reason this myth is successful? According to Laugier. What a miracle -. construct our theories. We thus learn what is true or the variety of ways of being 'about' in the senses in which these notions can be reclaimed.is at the very starting point of Quine's philosophy' (21-22). this starting point of Quine's work has fuelled subsequent discussions of realism in metaphysics and epistemology: 'The question of realism -. there is no point in studying language in order to discover anything about reality. as she eventually did. that the irreconcilable demands in Quine -.to affirm realism within an empiricist framework -. to debunk the idea that there is an'aboutness relation'. invent language. our experience gives us neither knowledge nor objects. Laugier insists. claims Laugier. that 'the ordinary notion of true . and though his 'givens' -. including. inherent in our use of language. The interest of Laugier's project is.

. but as simply "given. 2015 Photo . 182. what words we should use in what situations. 67). ibid. 'When we examine what we should say when. 'language as it was first put forward to philosophy [was] not as something made. Philosophical Papers. . we are looking again not merely at words (or 'meanings' whatever they may be) but also at the realities we use the words to talk about' (Austin. §23). but as the place of agreement on what we should say when.' And it is with this thought. To put it Wittgenstein's way. 'the examination of language is not "a way to access" phenomena: it is the examination of facts. as Austin maintains. Language should be construed. Thus to reflect on language is to reflect on what is revealed within and by the multitudinous activities that constitute it." already there' (31). For as Austin and Wittgenstein (and Ryle) show in their arguments. Indeed. cited in Laugier. from 'the inherited experience and acumen of many generations of men. as Laugier maintains. that we can find a resurrected sort of realism. not as a body of statements or words. Or. we do tend to come to agreement. Nonetheless. though it is often a long and difficult process. it is. Language (our language) is not a reflection or form of experience. as Laugier adds on Austin's behalf. 30. . 'the speaking of a language is part of an activity or a form of life' (Philosophical Investigations. part of experience' (63). (Austin. cited in Laugier. it derives. Laugier argues.Instead. as Austin insists. Can Students Have Too Much Tech? By SUSAN PINKERJAN. 66). for Austin.

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many kids used their networked devices not for schoolwork. What’s worse. If anything. especially those from struggling families. adding that license to surf the Internet was also linked to lower grades in younger children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. But there was one thing he got wrong. Impoverished children would thus have the power to go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required. With laptops for poor children initially priced at $400. worldwide. The news was not good. Apps and videos don’t. Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. troll social media and download entertainment. which he announced in his State of the Union address this month. the students’ academic scores dropped and remained depressed for as long as the researchers kept tabs on them. PRESIDENT OBAMA’s domestic agenda. has a lot to like: health care. he vowed to “protect a free and open Internet” and “extend its reach to every classroom and every community. In the early 2000s. why would adding more viewing and clicking to their school days be considered a good idea? An unquestioned belief in the power of gadgetry has already led to educational snafus. but to play games. affordable college. African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest.” the economists wrote. and recorded how they spent their time. And when they did work. Beginning in 2006. For one thing. But mounting evidence shows that showering students. the machines were buggy and often broke down.) The problem is the differential impact on children from poor families. If children who spend more time with electronic devices are also more likely to be out of sync with their peers’ behavior and learning by the fourth grade. the weaker students (boys. (And why not? Given their druthers. We don’t know why this is. As part of his promise to educate American children for an increasingly competitive world. “Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores. but we can speculate. the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project envisioned a digital utopia in which all students over 6 years old. Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story Continue reading the main story But the program didn’t live up to the ballyhoo. When their computers arrived. the Duke University economists Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd tracked the academic progress of nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students against the dates they were given networked computers.” More technology in the classroom has long been a policy-making panacea. It’s drive-by education — adults distribute the laptops and then walk away. In fact. the impoverished students who received free laptops spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before. . The researchers assessed the students’ math and reading skills annually for five years. their reading scores fell off a cliff. it will widen it. most adults would do the same. would own their own laptops. maternity leave. With no adults to supervise them. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. with networked devices will not shrink the class divide in education. according tothe education researchers Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames. donations poured in.

technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific. But as Randy Yerrick. Like so much in philosophy. originally published in 2004. If the original project was paradoxical. At one extreme. about the related concept of meaning) lurches between two unappealing extremes. Translation is not identity of meaning. in science simulations. it is simply impossible. Apter comments (apparently without irony) that “the extent of our translation task became clear only when we realised that a straightforward conversion of the French edition into English simply would not work”. As Jacques Derrida put it: “In a sense. Lisa Hilton’s Good Queen Bess – and much more. A moment’s reflection shows this cannot be right: “castle” can be translated as Schloss. In other words. beautifully packaged and compelling electronic tools. Google Translate does work. Derrida’s point that the two extremes or hyperboles are “fundamentally the same” amounts to this: the only reason for thinking that translation is impossible (the second extreme) is that it must require literal identity of meaning (the first extreme). moving the word “untranslatable” to the beginning of the English title proudly asserts the paradox even more forcefully than the original French title does. But the novelty wears off after a few months. which is available every Thursday in print and via the TLS app. earn a decent salary. She is right. it is easy for me always to hold firm between these two hyperboles which are fundamentally the same. a necessary reappraisal of Mo Yan. Even then. told me. then the present version is doubly so: not just a dictionary of untranslatable words. the public money spent on wiring up classrooms should be matched by training and mentorship programs for teachers. and this is clearly impossible. he or she should get it. we still have no proof that the newly acquired. a new poem by John Ashbery. it is worth the investment only when it’s perfectly suited to the task. In her preface. a professor of education at the University at Buffalo. tech-centric skills that students learn in the classroom transfer to novel problems that they need to solve in other areas. Indeed. To the extent that such a teacher can benefit from classroom technology. However. reached through constantly evolving. live in a good neighborhood and save for retirement. . the editors rejoice in it. It’s true that there is often an initial uptick in students’ engagement with their studies — interactive apps can be fun. and forms what the English-language editor Emily Apter calls “an organising principle of the entire project”. and “Schloss” as château. nothing is untranslatable. helps — not hampers — the progress of children who need help the most. of course: translation is almost never a straightforward conversion. then if A translates B and B translates C. and always translate each other”. Rather than despair at the self-undermining self- referentiality of the whole idea. everything is untranslatable . But only when such teachers are effectively trained to apply a specific application to teaching a particular topic to a particular set of students — only then does classroom technology really work. but in another sense. And. . if translation requires identity of meaning. is a translation of Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles. said Larry Cuban. so that a free and open Internet. This is why it is such a fertile subject for philosophy. then A and C are identical in meaning. but a translation of that dictionary. Derrida was right. highly trained teacher. While we’re waiting to find out. the brainchild of the French philosopher Barbara Cassin. an emeritus education professor at Stanford. theorizing about translation (and. translation is conceived of in terms of literal identity of meaning. of course. This extraordinary book. but the Château de Chenonceau is not a castle in anyone’s book. or to teach students with learning disabilities. of course. Technology does have a role in education. As extensive research shows. One reason why the first extreme (which the editors call the “mapping or isomorphic” conception of translation) is impossible is that identity is transitive. at the other. This week’s issue also features Thomas Pynchon adapted for the big screen. and much more likely that she will go to college. So we do not show that translation is impossible by showing that there is no identity of meaning. just one year with a gifted teacher in middle school makes it far less likely that a student will get pregnant in high school. and translation isn’t. it is important not to exaggerate when we reject the mapping conception of translation. for example. The philosophy of translation TIM CRANE We hope you enjoy this free piece from the TLS. and it is getting better every day thanks to the strength of its algorithms and the sheer brute force of its data- . a huge dictionary of philosophical terms from many languages.

the subjective sense. mistranslation and retranslation. but “Ereignis” (as used by Heidegger) gets a page and a half. ‘Philosophy’ itself remained transcribed rather than translated into languages other than Greek. the second. everyone in contemporary anglophone philosophy uses the word “chance” for objective probability. of course. as when you spend time with friends and family. and these concepts are expressed by different words in other languages. Translation is almost never a straightforward conversion. but what is most fascinating about the book is its partial vision of a fragment of European culture. the struggle is an unnecessary artefact of the original entry’s being about the French wordconscience. but for the English reader. .conciencia in Spanish). Sometimes considering this process in too much detail can give rise to spurious questions. Many other words in the Dictionary are like this. Spanish and Italian words can also be translated into the English “conscience”. Hungarian invented one too – bölcselet – but the basic point remains). and it does this mechanically. calling the first “probability” and the second “chance”. This example illustrates that the Dictionary cannot really be used as a dictionary of philosophy in the usual way – something to which you might direct students. We have “demos” but not “democracy”. it will just take a bit longer to explain. and these French. The best articles – among them those by historians of philosophy of the calibre of Brague or Alain de Libera – tease out the complex relations of meaning and etymology across the languages of Europe. But the choice and relative sizes of entries are eccentric. and then of French. which in ordinary German means existence. Many of the entries are illuminating. she would have found there an extensive discussion of both Bayes anddifferent interpretations of probability (written originally in French. If Chevalley had consulted Jean-Pierre Cléro’s entry on “Chance/Probability”. the very different ideas of “description” and “depiction” get a shared entry. for example. A famous example is Heidegger’s Dasein. There: I’ve told you what it means. “Consciousness” is conscience in French (coscienza in Italian. This distinction is not a trivial one: some see it as connected to the distinction between treating the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics (say) as an irreducible feature of reality. or with the untranslatables of this dictionary. Catherine Chevalley makes the odd comment that “it remains difficult in French to discuss the import of Bayesianism [a dominant contemporary probability-based theory of knowledge. as Rémi Brague points out in his excellent entry on “Europe”. through the dissection of its philosophical vocabulary. Leibniz. Things had changed by the time Heidegger . In an entry on “Epistemology”. “Perception” is paired with “Apperception” (Leibniz’s word for self-consciousness). Cléro distinguishes between objective and subjective interpretations. but whose precise philosophical meaning is the subject of endless debate. as far as philosophy is concerned. In 1. “idea” gets half a page. The Danish are proud of the untranslatability of their word hygge – a word conveying an atmosphere of welcoming cosiness. Brague observes that philosophizing in the vernacular in Europe began with Ramon Llull writing in Catalan in the thirteenth century. the word “philosophy” itself is “the untranslatable par excellence . Google Translate will not get very far with translating a poem. . Heidegger’sDasein is like that. But it took some time for national identities to impose themselves on philosophical discourse. Although “consciousness” and “conscience” are etymologically related. If this is a dictionary. applied to a place or social event. “Imagination” the same. it is closer to those of Pierre Bayle (1697) or Dr Johnson (1755).mining. the probability of a coin landing heads is 50 per cent) or whether it is just an expression of a degree of subjective certainty or ignorance (I am 50 per cent sure that it will land heads). An untranslatable is defined here as either “a term that is left untranslated as it is transferred from language to language”. Only the Dutch language coined a word Wijsbegeerte which was a calque of the etymology of philosophia” (actually. one of the greatest German philosophers. . they have for centuries expressed completely different concepts in English. to help them get clear accounts of complex concepts. “Event” gets a quarter of a page. but it does give word-by-word translations. or different interpretations of the notion of probability”. of course). eating well in a warm room.300 pages it presents a certain conception of some central terms from philosophy and their history and etymology. because of the international intellectual role of Latin. It does not provide identities of meaning. and so is rarely translated (except by clunky hyphenated constructions such as “Being-there”). or one that is “typically subject to mistranslation and retranslation”. One central question in this debate is whether talk about the probability of an event is attributing a property to the event itself (for example. and the unqualified “probability” for both the subjective and the objective (Cléro does not refer to a single work published after 1975). deriving from the eighteenth-century English cleric Thomas Bayes]. This is why it is such a fertile subject for philosophy Other philosophical words have gained their meanings through a creative process of neologism. but the entry should have been called “Perception and Apperception from Leibniz to Fichte”. Étienne Balibar’s entry on “consciousness” struggles with the conceptual and historical connections between consciousness and conscience. and the author Michel Fichant takes the history of the subject only as far as Fichte in the mid-nineteenth century. By these criteria. and treating it as an expression of our ignorance (as in the so-called “hidden variable” theories). The historical material is valuable. Unfortunately. And some of its content is just inaccurate. wrote no philosophical works in German. The first is probability in the objective sense.

and not explicitly discussed by Badiou – has nothing to do with whether Bergson et al were claiming a right to freedom of language. In her preface. . Certainly. she says. a loving celebration of philosophy as conceived by French philosophers The Francocentrism is brought to self-parodic heights. . Australasia and many parts of Continental Europe. maxims and universal principles. . “National ontology”. more than anything. “nothing is harder than to translate a witticism”. more than anything.pronounced that “only our German language has a deep and creative philosophical character to compare with the Greek”. and like it or not. especially given that French is “close to being an Adamic language in Badiou’s ascription”. a remarkable paean to the French language as a language of philosophy. towards Venus rather than Minerva. L. But like it or not. though. it is simply impossible to succeed without writing in English. to write in English. but this is not specific to French. The essence of language may be syntax. ignoring consensus . But this fact – regrettable or not. As Barbara Cassin herself observes. Gilbert Ryle. Brague’s long entry on “Europe” devotes only three sentences to English. from Descartes to the present. the right to freedom of language”. It’s a good question what happened to French philosophical prose between Voltaire and Lacan. Apter discusses Badiou’s entry at length. is “strictly speaking. “Anglo-analytic” philosophy dominates university departments in the United States. and also therefore why the original edition of the Dictionary has been described as “a surprise hit” in France. Sartre. Stanley Cavell. Certainly. Today. for Badiou. . Above all. Bergson. the editors would surely demur. anathema to Badiou”. Badiou claims that philosophical French is “a language of women and the working class rather than of scientists”. moving it as far as possible away from academic or scientific entrenchment”. . as Chomsky has argued. So perhaps it is deliberate. unseating predicates through the play of substitutions and the art of the imperious question”. In fact. But it gets worse. The editors are explicit about this: Apter says that the book is “a direct challenge to the preeminence of Anglo-analytic philosophical traditions . the imperium of English [sic] thought was strategically curtailed”. English-language philosophy (not the same as “English thought”!) is conspicuously absent. This Dictionary is. The so-called “ordinary language” philosophers are here (J. but that its provincialism may mislead those who do not know anything about what the rest of the world thinks. given that no one was stopping any of these people from writing in their native language. perhaps with a little embarrassment. One way to see theDictionary. Philosophy in French is “violently polemical . Despite the amount of attention paid to Heidegger in this book. It’s hard to know what claiming this right consisted in. rests entirely on the belief that theessence of language is syntax”. Austin. and with twentieth-century history more generally. the French language is conducive to the politicisation of expression. the United Kingdom. then. . . and has nothing to do with political freedom. in sum. What can this possibly mean? Apter struggles: “it lends itself to logical formalism. This bizarre association of ideas reaches its climax in Badiou’s claim that Descartes’s dedication of his Principles of Philosophyto Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia “is in reality a basic democratic intention that turns philosophical discourse towards discussion and seduction. in a huge number of academic fields. in an intellectual context where English has become what Apter calls “the singular language of universal knowledge”. Descartes. still opposed to the academy it speaks (politically) to the public and not to colleagues”. Deleuze. is as an extended lament for the decline of French as a “preeminent language of philosophy”. the French approach embodied in Cassin’s book is on the decline worldwide. This “skewed distribution of emphasis” is described as “clearly an important part of the polemical raison d’être of the French original”. all claimed the right to write in their native language. In the natural sciences. For the Dictionary of Untranslatables is. Wittgenstein) but very little else. The fact that “philosophy in French is political” is supposed to be a fact about the language itself: “the latent universalism of any use of French. will understand something of how this came about. could Badiou be making fun of those “Anglo-Saxons” who strive for simplicity and clarity in their philosophical prose and mock the “obscurantism” of the French? Is the joke on the Anglo- Saxons and the “imperium of English thought”? It’s hard to tell. or by anyone else in this Dictionary of Untranslatables. a loving celebration of philosophy as conceived by French philosophers. axioms. Badiou himself is the master of the imperious question. and Lacan. he remarks plaintively that “the major creative figures in philosophy in French. in Alain Badiou’s entry on “French”. Anyone familiar with how philosophy in Europe developed in the twentieth century. Obviously as frustrated as the editors are by the linguistic imperialism of English. but it is not one that is addressed by Badiou. But his remarks about the French language bring to mind Wittgenstein’s joke about the French politician who “wrote that it was a peculiarity of the French language that in it words occur in the order in which one thinks them”. of course. A lot must be contained in that “strictly speaking”. The worry is not so much that it is Francocentric. Tim Crane is Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and the Philosophy editor of the TLS. there is pressure on scholars worldwide. this is all the more odd because Badiou himself has written a book on Wittgenstein.

atheism is on the rise in the United States. and self-righteous condescension in all things religious and political might be tolerable were it not for the fact that he’s on comedic par with cervical cancer. from vaccines to the news items he discusses.Five atheists who ruin it for everyone else Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff. like.” along with philosopher Daniel Dennett.000 (at least) civilian casualties in Iraq is mere fodder for thought experiment apologia. it’s quite another thing to defend torture and racial profiling. Many notable atheists believe in some powerfully stupid stuff—likely owing their prominence to these same benighted beliefs. While it’s fine to ridicule Islam. Harris represents a disturbing anti-Muslim confluence between atheists and neoconservatives in this here post-9/11 ‘Murka. and famine. crop failure. agnostic. Most grating. here’s a list of the five most awful atheists. In other words: The crap always rises to the top. he’s just not amenable to evidence. and this spring roughly 20. evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. But for all Harris’ sometimes lofty rhetoric about science. Disbelief in a supernatural creator. Compounding the unpleasant nature of Maher’s wheat-grass pomposity is that. or that they simply don’t believe in anything in particular. The only difference being: cervical cancer doesn’t blame its victims for failing to laugh. So while we wait around to fully succumb to drought. Bill Maher The “Real Time” host’s thinly veiled misogyny. Sam Harris Dubbed one of the “Four Horsemen” of “new atheism. That godless number was a scant 6 percent in 1990. You’re four times as likely to die of a lightning strike than you are from a terrorist attack. lending an air of scientific credibility to the myths corporate media seeks to highlight. . Will this growing constituency become a formidable political force before global warming decimates civilization? I’m skeptical. poor people just need to. sans wit or the wisdom to waterboard himself. but 100. Harris’ “War on Islam” zealotry is numerically unjustifiable. shop at Whole Foods. especially as the movement becomes more popular or “hep. and the late Christopher Hitchens. And according to security expert Bruce Schneier. so.000 atheists showed up—rain and all—at the first ever Reason Rally in DC. in no way guarantees rationality in matters of foreign policy or economics. Harris’ atheist fame is both wholly undeserved and utterly embarrassing. he failed to notice that torture rarely produces reliable intelligence. yes? Well… The thing about the so-called “rationalist” movement in America is that disbelief in gods seems to be the only qualification to join the club. obtuse notion that fat. and that it’s a wildly counterproductive jihadist recruitment tool. For a guy who purportedly came to be an atheist through his intellect. 1 in 5 of Americans now say they’re either atheist. this newfangled thing called “critical thinking” is poised to better the national discourse. surely. for someone who wrote a book titled The Moral Landscape. the ridiculous story about Muhammad (PB&J) flying to Jerusalem on a Buraq (a winged and inexplicably shame-ridden horse with a dude’s face). or say. and thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists in the long-term. for the oppression of women. despite the protestations of Texas Republicans. By shamelessly trotting out the same “ticking-nuke” fairy tale as every other Jack and Jill Bauer on Fox News. profiling on the basis on ethnicity is useless. Harris is basically a low-rent Hitchens. and yet this constitutes the gravest threat to Western civilization. thereby eroding the credibility of all atheists Like a fresh-baked loaf of sanity resting on the window of human possibility. for example. But according to the Pew Research Center. Harris routinely fails to demonstrate the faintest capacity to reason.” as I’m pretending the kids say. he’s just not very well informed.

I have a “New Rule” that should fix everything: Bill Maher has to either stop booking half-bright libertarians who rhetorically roll his uninformed ass. Mission accomplished. like giant mystified toddlers. no worries. At least Teller has the decency never to speak. the answer is obviously one Sarah Elizabeth Cupp. Americans would have to give roughly 10 times what they do to cover the cost of social welfare programs. the co-host of . they used to carry a dogeared copy of Atlas Shrugged around on tour—to give you some idea. No. However.he had the time to plot a murder. For a better glimpse into Jillette’s intellectual compartmentalization.S. and her ridiculous objectivist spin on this tragedy was nothing short of shameful: “[The killer] was on welfare…. As a devout Randroid and atheist outlier. the smoke and mirrors of economic libertarianism has the two performers completely duped. Unable to call bullshit on Ayn Rand. In the same article. But you know how facts can be. Translation: If the dern gubmint would just stop overtaxing the rich at gunpoint. the documentary which inspired the assassination of its director Theo van Gogh. global warming denial. not knowing things is not a good reason to be an atheist. Facts are all self-righteous and bullying and lazy and objectively accurate and junk. then of course dissent becomes heresy in the minds of many. Hirsi Ali notoriously received death threats for writing the screenplay to Submission. he told America that getting “[a] flu shot is the worst thing you can do. I don’t believe… OK…care to add any Cato Institute canards? It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion.E. Jillette’s profoundly illogical explanation defies deconstruction: What makes me libertarian is what makes me an atheist — I don’t know. Constitution. If I don’t know. so I’m an atheist libertarian. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness. ponytailed half of Penn & Teller arrived at his disbelief via the world of magic.” The consummate over-reactionary. Bill. Ayaan Hirsi Ali While she’s to be commended for her staunch defense of women suffering under Sharia law. Color me disappointed for presuming an American atheist couldn’t possibly be so myopic. Penn Jillette Like many skeptics. But. Maher commits a classic bandwagon fallacy by claiming it’s a “conversation worth having” because so many people believe vaccinations are harmful. the Somali-born former Dutch politician’s few good deeds shouldn’t absolve her for being to Islam what Ayn Rand was to Communism.” He then tried to “clarify” his Luddite remark with a piece on the anti-vax Huffington Post that conflated scientific consensus with…(wait for it)…religion! If one side can say anything and its not challenged. or he needs to start reading books. that’s not how that works. From her call to violently “crush” Islam or convert Muslims to Christianity to her desire to deny Muslims their First Amendment rights under the U. it’s demonstrably wrong to suggest that it’s an apt substitute for a just tax structure. you guys! While private charity is important in America. which in the United States he would not be. consider this article he wrote for CNN called “I don’t know. Hirsi Ali consistently demonstrates both galling hypocrisy and a stupefying lack of self-awareness. she lends an illusion of street cred to all manner of egregious “free-market” worship. the bloviating. then they could have enough money left over for charity.In ’09.” While vast ignorance is a valid reason to be an economic libertarian. As a former Muslim and current fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. which is a super-accurate description of reality. Like Rand. They’re not awesome like Glenn Beck. what could have been an inspiring career based on reason and social justice quickly devolved into one of neoconservative lunacy. she’s traded one form of totalitarian dogma for another—openly contending that reason must be shunted when confronting an irrational enemy. Cupp Pop quiz: Who wrote the book Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity? Although it’s tempting to presume such dreck must be the work of a religious demagogue like Bryan Fischer or John Hagee. and Western aggression. especially because of our highly regressive gunpoint tax code. S. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion.

essentially iconoclastic rather than philosophical. Philosophy at 3:AM: Questions and Answers with 25 Top Philosophers Oxford University Press. Cupp’s self-loathing-token-atheist-in-the-conservative-media routine seems so geared toward delegitimizing atheism. of course—is to spout moronic Americans for Prosperity talking points about the evils of “collectivism. often anti-academia. she doesn’t have a mustache. she’s chummy with Glenn Beck because idiotic atheists and idiotic Mormons have a natural alliance. £20.” because she thinks religion serves as a “check” on presidential power.” like public roads and bridges and so forth. 304pp. she loses to Stalin by a mustache. “I would never vote for an atheist president. ‘Whatever it is. and generally publishing in areas related to fiction and the arts. Where Have All The Philosophers Gone? Richard Marshall. we’re against it’. That’s not hyperbole.MSNBC’s newly minted phony-balance-media-abortion “The Cycle” is more at home bashing atheism than she is defending it—per market demand. ISBN 9780199969531 reviewed by Jeffrey Petts The day I first looked at 3:AM the latest End Times interview by Richard Marshall shared the website’s homepage with a review of Russell Brand’s Revolution. Ever. His series of interviews began as an experiment in the effects of introducing philosophers and their ideas and working methods in the context of 3:AM’s contrastingly broad agenda. She recently said. In an atheist integrity contest.00. . Cupp’s biggest passion—aside from classical dance and NASCAR. that is strains credulity. a juxtaposition worthy of Marshall’s concern: ‘where have all the philosophers gone?’ Marshall describes 3:AM as ‘a self-proclaimed underground mag’. Like Jillette. When not claiming that imaginary things can affect real things. which are ostensibly destroying the American Dream. and selling books to fundie Fox types.

Jean-Paul Sartre. they reveal that most philosophical fields are covered from the inner circle of epistemology. In the course of the interview Gutting gives the by now standard response about philosophy as ‘intellectual maintenance’.’ (His book on what philosophers know is. as such one could say he’s the personification of British analytic philosophy. past and present. His guiding idea remains that philosophers – specifically UK and American philosophers in the analytic tradition – are absent from public debates about issues in the contemporary world that should concern them. is countered as a special case because of Sartre’s literary work. But this is not necessarily a turn to the public – it’s more likely. Applying technical methods in philosophy to our beliefs is grist to Marshall’s mill – it marks the point at which philosophers in the analytic tradition can reasonably be public figures. Gary Gutting. set the subsequent selection criteria – he thought hisVagueness (1994) intriguingly ‘odd. tellingly. although linking the work of ‘understanding implications’ and ‘eliminating internal contradictions’ to ‘defending and modifying fundamental beliefs. Marshall’s example.Marshall has been prolific – this batch of 25 interviews is from 2011-12 and the series continues (well over 100 interviews have been published). with Timothy Williamson. what do they know? What Do Philosophers Know? is the title of a 2009 book by the last interviewee. So why aren’t there more publicly well-known philosophers in the UK and US? Are there methodological reasons perhaps that cut across their varied interests? Williamson holds the prestigious post of Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. Each is prefaced with a biographical sketch. . Williamson. restricted to case studies in the analytic tradition). along with most contemporary analytic philosophers. by his general interests in marriage and morals. and nuclear disarmament. And Bertrand Russell’s public fame in his time is explained by Williamson. that philosophers then turn to psychologists. and Marshall’s interview with him reveals another thematic difference between analytic and Continental philosophy when Fodor’s response to the latter is: ‘as a matter of principle I refuse to read philosophers who write that badly. distances himself from any idea that their work merely ‘rephrases philosophical questions as questions about words and concepts’. This is not to argue that it fails to properly engage matters of fundamental importance. ‘democracy’. for example. engaging in debates wherever terms like ‘freedom’. biologists and physicists to situate and ground their work. economists. Within that context Marshall’s interviews tend to focus on each philosopher’s method and solutions to particular problems. philosophy of mind and language and to ethics and political philosophy. ‘justice’ are used. metaphysics and logic. If that’s what philosophers do qua philosophers. especially by drawing on cognitive science. So for Williamson there’s a clear implication that philosophical analysis per se – his work – is simply not a matter of public interest. out to. Williamson is unconcerned. cultural critics – who aren’t qualified to deal with them with appropriate philosophical rigour. leaving the field to other intellectuals – historians.’ Fodor is perhaps Marshall’s most distinguished interviewee – and here too the daily work of the philosopher is explained as ‘contemplating issues about explanatory adequacy’ (reiterating the seemingly non-public nature of the work of philosophy). Jerry Fodor’s philosophy of mind works in that vein. political scientists. however. similarly. But when asked about the possible neglect of his work in contrast to the supposed high public profiles of Continental philosophers. perverse. notes Williamson. and their relations to other thinkers. Marshall’s first interview. especially. unbelievable’ and Marshall’s interest is in philosophers who address ‘the big questions that pop up in the dead of night’. that would miss the underlying interests we all have in the ‘big questions’.

and the massacre of French cartoonists have forced the democratic world to examine the roots of its commitment to free speech. before becoming a Professor of Philosophy himself at Cornell University. Wittgenstein thought the comment ‘shockingly primitive’ and represented Malcolm’s failure to learn anything from philosophy. In 1939 Wittgenstein fell out with his friend as well as student Malcolm because the latter had remarked that ‘British national characteristics’ made it impossible for any British government to contemplate assassinating Hitler. that right is very much in the news. He notes how impressed he is with their rigour. ethics and aesthetics. exiled leakers.’ Whether that’s also related to the fundamental differences in philosophical approaches – the analytic tradition’s emphasis on common sense and logic rather than Continental transcendence and creativity that Gutting observes – is not explored further. and it also suggests the intellectual maturity required of any political culture embracing philosophical rigour. but that’s all. . but rather that they continue to work the way philosophers do. how they lack a sense of self- importance. Gutting sees the lower public profile of analytic philosophers in historical terms. In 1944. who might be expected to be more publicly engaged than say philosophers of mind? The answer might lie in Marshall’s observation about philosophers in general. and again familiar stories. So where have all the philosophers gone? It’s clear that they’ve not retreated from public arenas. Marshall’s recurring sense of absence is misplaced then for those working at philosophy’s core and in areas where it works closely with the sciences – an intersection of substantial coexistence with analytic philosophy. Campus speech codes. but that politics is still ours to decide. though. Norman Malcolm was a student of Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cambridge. mentioning. he writes to Malcolm: ‘what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic etc and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?’ But trying to rekindle the friendship he adds: ‘I’d very much like to see you again. but if we meet it would be wrong to avoid talking about serious non-philosophical issues’. disinvited commencement speakers. A story from Malcolm’s memoir is illustrative. The lesson seems to be that philosophy teaches rigour and demands that universally. In his 1958 memoir of Wittgenstein he recalls his teacher’s manner as often severe. ruthless and censorious.’ Pushed a little by Marshall. Gutting is keener to end the interview – and the book as it happens – commenting on the progress that’s being made to get philosophers known more widely through Marshall’s own work and by various online forums like The New York Times’ The Store.The interview doesn’t pursue this. So Gutting notes his waning interest in Continental philosophy (with Sartre’s influence noted as an exception) and his barb on Jacques Derrida is typical: ‘I think that his writing often has far less intellectual density than its difficulty suggests. Why free speech is fundamental MORE THAN two centuries after freedom of speech was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. But these qualities are not necessarily politic. But there are now also strong analytic traditions in political philosophy. a blogger condemned to a thousand lashes by one of our closest allies. Perhaps that is the social cost of analytic philosophy. ‘tradition and anti-intellectualism in the US. instead it returns to the analytic-Continental divide. still worried by the incident. Where are these philosophers. how they welcome interrogation and discussion. jailed performance artists.

popes.Is free speech merely a symbolic talisman. Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history — one that is prior to every other discovery — is that our traditional sources of belief are in fact generators of error and should be dismissed as grounds for knowledge. prophesy. depends upon the exercise of free speech. and subjective certainty. Unless you’re willing to discredit yourself by declaring. the traditional understanding of the world was upended. should be abrogated only in carefully circumscribed cases? The answer is that free speech is indeed fundamental. species. if not absolute. A third reason that free speech is foundational to human flourishing is that it is essential to democracy and a bulwark against tyranny. in the words of Nat Hentoff. We’re not settling our disagreement by arm-wrestling or a beauty contest or a pistol duel. science. augury. planet. the workings of the body and brain — came as insults to the sacred dogma of the day. These include faith. you’ve lost it. In talking about free speech (or anything else) we’re talking. of course. like a national flag or motto? Is it just one of many values that we trade off against each other? Was Pope Francis right when he said that “you cannot make fun of the faith of others”? May universities muzzle some students to protect the sensibilities of others? Did the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “cross a line that separates free speech from toxic talk. The first reason is that the very thing we’re doing when we ask whether free speech is fundamental — exchanging and evaluating ideas — presupposes that we have the right to exchange and evaluate ideas. allowing the world to falsify the mistaken ones. (The 1933 election that gave the Nazis a plurality was preceded by years of intimidation. The reason that citizens don’t resist their overlords en masse is that they lackcommon knowledge — the awareness that . and violent mayhem.” as the dean of a school of journalism recently opined? Or is free speech fundamental — a right which. Everything we know about the world — the age of our civilization. One can imagine a world in which oracles. This is also true of the less genocidal but still brutal regimes of today. or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish. prophets. How. Once this realization sank in during the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. which are not about the material world. no regime has the brute force to resist them. It is only by bruiting ideas and seeing which ones withstand attempts to refute them that we acquire knowledge. Self-proclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be mistaken — often comically so — by history. The immiserated subjects of a tyrannical regime are not deluded that they are happy. But the Copernican revolution was just the first event in a cataclysm that would make our current understanding of the world unrecognizable to our ancestors. indeed. charisma. while allowing their powerless subjects to complain all they want. The “conjecture” part of this formula. Why do dictators brook no dissent? One can imagine autocrats who feathered their nests and jailed or killed only those who directly attempted to usurp their privileges. can we know? Other than by proving mathematical theorems. There’s a good reason dictatorships don’t work that way. and to have the reasons at our fingertips when that right is called into question. intuition. and if tens of millions of disaffected citizens act together. the totalitarians criminalized any criticism of the regime. murder. We offer these conjectures without any prior assurance they are correct. and much of the Islamic world. clairvoyance. It’s important to remind ourselves why. conventional wisdom. the stuff we’re made of. to question. visionaries. the answer is the process that the philosopher Karl Popper called conjecture and refutation. African strongman states. “free speech for me but not for thee.) And once in power. then. and universe. revelation. and test them against that reality. the laws that govern matter and energy. criminal. History tells us that this is not the world we live in. We come up with ideas about the nature of reality. soothsayers. Russia. and common sense. imams. such as those in China.” then as soon as you show up to a debate to argue against free speech. authority. doubtless including some we hold today. Everyone knows that the discovery that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice-versa had to overcome fierce resistance from ecclesiastical authority. How did the monstrous regimes of the 20th century gain and hold power? The answer is that groups of armed fanatics silenced their critics and adversaries. dogma. Those who are unimpressed by this logical argument can turn to one based on human experience. We now know that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified.

and Johnson ridiculed the wars. comedians and artists portrayed racists as thick-witted Neanderthals and Vietnam hawks and nuclear cold warriors as amoral psychopaths. the blowhard at the bar. they are not an excuse to treat speech as one fungible good among many. and medical quacks. It’s true that free speech has limits. and the author. In the 1960s. not least by Holmes himself. divulging military secrets. in such a study there is much discussion of curvaceous bosoms and equally . When the little boy shouted that the emperor was naked. I’m not so sure. And that common knowledge emboldened them to challenge the emperor’s authority with their laughter. and cruel practices of their day. Steven Pinker is professor of psychology at Harvard University. The story reminds us why humor is no laughing matter — why satire and ridicule.everyone shares their knowledge and knows they share it. such as a broadcasted statement. Swift. And if you object to these arguments — if you want to expose a flaw in my logic or a lapse in my accuracy — it’s the right of free speech that allows you to do so. Despots in so-called “democratic republics” routinely jail their opponents on charges of treason. Communism is the exact opposite. a clear expression of opinion in a democracy. and incitement to imminent lawless action. let alone the red tops. even when puerile and tasteless. most recently. Satire can stealthily challenge assumptions that are second nature to an audience by forcing them to see that those assumptions lead to consequences that everyone recognizes are absurd. Rarely a day passes without a glamorous female adorning the front pages of all the broadsheet newspapers. he was not telling them anything they didn’t already know.” We use barbed speech to undermine not just political dictators but the petty oppressors of everyday life: the tyrannical boss. and inciting lawlessness. because now everyone knew that everyone else knew that the emperor was naked. That’s why humor so often serves as an accelerant to social progress. the neighborhood enforcer of stifling norms. review: 'strange and sometimes worrying' A study that seeks an evolutionary explanation for the shape of the female body raises as many questions as it answers You might think that the mooted abolition of Page 3 – there may soon be no more pictures of bare-chested women in the print edition of The Sun – marks a real breakthrough in male-female relations. the sanctimonious preacher. are terrifying to autocrats and protected by democracies. of “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. We carve out exceptions for fraud.’’ Curvology: the Origins and Power of Female Body Shape by David Bainbridge. Common knowledge is created by public information. libel. The book sets out to seek “the origins and power of female body shape”. oppressions. The Soviet Union and its satellites had a rich underground current of satire. A new book. He coined the meme in a 1919 Supreme Court case that upheld the conviction of a man who distributed leaflets encouraging men to resist the draft during World War I. But he was changing their knowledge nonetheless. Inevitably. and men’s too. libel. anything they couldn’t see with their own eyes. Curvology. Britain’s lax libel laws have been used to silence critics of political figures. The story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes’’ illustrates the logic. Holocaust deniers. business oligarchs. extortion. as in the common definition of the two Cold War ideologies: “Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Even Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous exception to free speech — falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater — is easily abused. adds to this sense that we’ve gone one step forward and two back in our willingness to change the way we think about women’s roles. People will expose themselves to the risk of reprisal by a despotic regime only if they know that others are exposing themselves to that risk at the same time. But these exceptions must be strictly delineated and individually justified. Eighteenth-century wiseguys like Voltaire.

“and why it has turned out to be the strangest thing in existence. appears to have been written deliberately to infuriate half its readership. How else. give a reduced prison sentence to. Is that true? Bainbridge’s only justification for saying so is that we would never think of describing a she-monkey as “curvaceous” or a female pig as “buxom”. David Bainbridge. . but I’m not sure he does. with surprising and often controversial results. employ. could the human female shape be described? Yet in these supposedly enlightened times it’s odd to find yourself reading a book that talks about women with such blokeish reductionism. Teenage behaviour. But what about for a woman? Why are so many women dissatisfied with their body shape if it’s to their evolutionary advantage to be curvaceous? Bainbridge promises to answer this tricky question by the end of his book. Those curvy breasts and bottoms ensure the future health and intelligence of the next generation. But what does this tell us? He wonders why women spend so much time thinking about their bodies “and to a level of complexity and subtlety which amazes most men”. with a bust and hip size almost the same. Studies. which places visual appearance at the centre of human female life”. then it seems you’re more likely to be successful. That’s why they’ve become the determinants of attraction. which he does not identify. want to be friends with. and perhaps a slightly disheartening picture. Related Articles  Why women keep clothes they never wear 04 Nov 2014  Sexism in language? Don't read too much into it Is it any wonder. in contrast. perhaps. Just what the parents of teenagers want to read. was portrayed not as a social construct. helping us to succeed as individuals. for example. Curvology. His previous books. How reassuring for a man. alluring bottoms. then. But he then tells us that “a picture is emerging. complemented by a tiny waist. have apparently shown that “people are more likely to help.” Bainbridge begins. a product of the wealth and leisure of the late 20th century. which include Teenagers: a Natural History and Middle Age: a Natural History. “This is a book about the female body. that a reported 87 per cent of women attempt to enhance their body shape by dieting? Bainbridge is a victim of our own confused understanding of the relations between the sexes (in spite of equal pay and the proposed scrapping of Page 3). If you’re one of the nine per cent of women blessed with an hourglass figure. is a veterinary surgeon who moved from healing animals into a broader study of animal behaviour and from there into the realms of evolutionary biology. but as a consequence of evolution.” Strange? To whom? He says that one of the reasons he wanted to write the book was to find out why we were the only species in existence “with curvy females”. That long period of rebellion enables brainpower to develop. He wants to believe that his response to the female shape is part of our evolutionary heritage. have investigated human behaviour from the perspective of his zoological training. or admit to university attractive women with high status”. What are we supposed to make of comments like: “You might expect that a few thousand years of sexual selection by men would result in every woman having a body like Beyoncé or Bardot”? The book’s author. and that “the elements which make the female body look so distinctive are not just superficial adornments”.

Adorno describes astrology’s capacity to fulfill “the longings of people who are thoroughly convinced that others (or some unknown agency) ought to know more about themselves and what they should do than they can decide for themselves. worrying book. At the same time.” There’s no explanation for these passages. they just appear at the beginning and end of that section. a response to the cult of thinness that has beset our contemporary world. but now the secret to our identity and our future happiness and success lies not in the stars but in the cloud. “college- educated women who tweet about Scandal and buy shoes online”) similarly forecast individual behavior. Adorno uses the column to demonstrate how the capitalist culture industry in 1950s America sold quasi-scientific posturing to help an audience “excluded from educational privileges” nonetheless feel in the know. which actually makes women more physically efficient. without providing any research basis for this. a non-biologist. For both Adorno and Silver. . Much of this is later converted into breast milk. What a female athlete would make of this I’m not sure. most of which goes on to the buttocks and thighs. but it’s cheering news to those of us of more mature years who’ve discovered fat moving into places we’ve never seen it before. setting out the biological arguments for curves. this fat is lost or moves into the waist area. is top-and-tailed with an imagined scene from our evolutionary past: “In the rust- red light of another dawn the girl gazed down at her thighs. We are presumably meant to take ourselves back into that past. Such confusions beset this strange and.To be fair. This could perhaps explain the almost primeval aggression that anorexics arouse in those who are supposed to be treating them. his initial discussion of the body and explanation of why we women have curves is illuminating to me. Cloudy Logic By ROBIN JAMES Big data doesn’t forecast the future but remakes the present in the image of down-to-earth stereotypes. warning the tribe of impending famine. He claims that during puberty women lay down between 10 and 20 kilograms of extra adipose tissue (fat to you and me). While Theodor Adorno was exiled in Los Angeles. which in turn is used by the suckling babe to build up brainpower (unusually in nature. forecasting is a “down to earth” activity. in which it soon becomes obvious that Bainbridge is uncomfortable with the idea that these might be mental illnesses. in his struggle to find an explanation. visibly shrinking in size.” Data-driven algorithms fulfill a comparable function. Indeed. Yet at the same time he suggests that a genetic basis for the condition might be found in autism. She pinched them… and she felt them sway slightly whenever she walked… She cupped her breasts in her hands. the human brain grows mostly after rather than before birth). Both kinds of forecasting use profiles to explain the past and predict the future choices we will make: Both astrological signs and psychographic categories derived from demographic data (like. his concept of pseudo-rationality still has something to tell us about the “rationality” of contemporary algorithmic culture. As we age and go through the menopause. he wroteThe Stars Down to Earth. They’ve been around for centuries. The pseudo-rationality Adorno identifies in the astrology column shares key features with the data-driven “science” of forecasting that Nate Silver describes in his 2012 book The Signal and the Noise. some might say. But it sits very oddly within a study that intends to work out scientifically why women’s bodies are far more shapely than they really need to be and why women dress to impress other women. social media. The first section. Though the differences between Adorno’s time and ours are vast. and big data. More troubling to me was his chapter on eating disorders. say. he suggests that women who voluntarily denied themselves food. were at one time “like canaries in a coal mine”. a short book about the “pseudo-rationality” of mid-20th century American culture drawing on his study of “Astrological Forecasts. he has to concede that they cannot be thought of as a modern condition.” the Los Angeles Times’s astrology column. a matter of applied knowledge that helps people figure out what to do in their daily lives. rather than the men they hope to attract. to recapture a world in which body fascism was yet to emerge.

As Crawford argues.” The profiles are designed to produce the identity or frame of mind that they supposedly just describe. but the avoidance of noisy dissonances with real life that call the reliability of the underlying ideological framework into doubt. Mills. Adorno argues that astrology rearticulates unfashionable superstitions in the occult. of interactivity. by presenting them in supposedly more advanced and accurate empirical terms.” This both expresses and reinforces anti-black racism.” this treats their inconsistent and unreliable measurement of both what counts as exercise and what counts as a “‘normal’ healthy body” to pass as hard evidence. per se. wishes. unapproachable. The big-data algorithm. big data can rearticulate “unfashionable” beliefs in. That description is equally applicable to big-data methods. and activity into the hardware.” Adorno claims. Similarly. embodiment. and so on.” As Adorno puts it. What makes forecasting pseudo-rational is its offer of a nominally objective. the software.” figuring out “a number of typical situations” that many followers might find themselves in. Its goal isn’t accuracy. etc. as Adorno pointed out. Forecasting repackages old-fashioned ideas as unprecedentedly objective knowledge. and anonymous” and thus more objective than mere fallible human reason. observes patterns (of behavior. “the adage ‘be yourself’ assumes an ironical meaning. Forecasting itself cannot be an exact science. eugenics. unreliable data—over human reporting. means putting power in the hands of an algorithm. and it doesn’t even aspire to be. Astrologers rely on their “knowledge of the most frequently recurring problems prescribed by the set-up of modern life and the characterological patterns [they] had frequent occasion to observe. and demands. big data and social media overcome the limitations of mass media and allow forecasting to fully realize its capacity to tailor categories and output to observed user behavior. now mirrored by the black-box algorithms of the cloud. in Adorno’s account. Crawford points this out: When fitness-tracking devices (like FitBit) are “used to represent objective truth for insurers or courtrooms. “The cult of God has been replaced by the cult of facts. As Cecilia Esther Rabess argues in “Can Big Data Be Racist?. In its current big-data form. in The Racial Contract. big data could be the realization of what Adorno called “the potential danger represented by astrology as a mass phenomenon. Whereas mass media tries to mass-produce standardized audiences. Adorno notes “the mechanics of the astrological system are never divulged and the readers are presented only with the alleged results of astrological reasoning.” “the life of those whom it embraces. Both kinds of forecasts “modulate” (to use scholar John Cheney-- Lippold’s term) themselves to user behavior. a “black- identifying name was 25% more likely to get an ad suggestive of an arrest record. systematic account of the “delusions” (in Adorno’s words) necessary to live in a capitalist society. algorithmic media adapts to users—music- streaming services and Facebook’s Timeline algorithm “learn” what content optimizes individual users’ engagement and “tailor results according to user categorizations based on the observed web habits of ‘typical’ women and men. “Prioritizing data—irregular. As Latanya Sweeny has shown in her study“Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery. ability. Upgrading the medium in which they are expressed. and their inscrutability masquerades as proof of their objectivity. Adorno argues that it crafts the future in the image of “the established ways of life. maintains its reliability by avoiding easily falsifiable concrete details. for example. like the astrologer.” stars appear “entirely abstract. The opacity of the analytic method lends forecasts their appearance of authoritative objectivity.” Google searches for names “racially associated” with black people return promoted results that imply the person you’re searching has an arrest record. by presenting them in empirical rather than supernatural terms—star charts and tables.When personal identity is experienced and understood as a matter of forecasting.” To pass the social system off as an objective artifact . calls the “cognitive dysfunctions” that make white-supremacist society fully functional. Fitness-tracking systems thereby build dominant ideas of health.” One aspect of that danger is the “abstract authority” of astrologers.”Google AdSense “translates cultural clichés and stereotypes into empirically verifiable data sets. “analytics companies aren’t required to reveal which data sets they are using and how they are being analyzed. a newspaper column could only “pretend” to tailor the content of each sign’s horoscope to users’ needs.” Though. wants. Through this feedback loop of observation and adjustment.” The inaccessible logic of their proprietary algorithms is imposed on us. In “Astrological Forecasts”. and the algorithms embedded within them.” “Treated as impersonal and thing- like. Pseudo-rationality obscures the irrationality of social norms and makes what ought to feel outrageous seem completely down-to-earth. obsolete social myths gain new life as apparent fact. Such forecasting doesn’t predict the future.) across populations and ties its forecasts to this input. Astrology. in mysticism.” The apparent objectivity of the stars or the data cloud intensifies forecasters’ existing biases. say. as Kate Crawford pointed out in an essay about fitness trackers for the Atlantic. On one website. in part by sweeping inconsistencies under the rug of “individual responsibility. social media produce the identity categories—like “typical” men and women—it claims to merely observe. it rationalizes what Charles W. Scaled up in size and in processing power. Similarly.” Cheney-Lippold argues. allowing them to be passed off as neutral and matter-of-fact.

As Dilts emphasizes. logical thinking. market-based solutions appear in lieu of collective political solutions. like neoliberal economic theory. as Jason Read explains in “A Genealogy of Homo Economicus.” It reinforces the neoliberal myth of individual responsibility for social problems and misdirects our attention toward dumbed-down superficial solutions to complex social problems. the fault lies not in the prediction methodology but the individual’s failure to adjust to the forecaster’s advice. investment. framing problems of political economy.” Humans are beings who make choices. but also into others. “the operative terms” in this theory of human life “are no longer rights and laws but interest.” The column advises readers. homo economicus. but because one is afraid of the scene she makes if one forgets. in individuals and across populations. “individualized. so I must decide which investments best serve my interests and give me relatively better choices in the future. can be understood ‘economically’ according to a particular calculation of cost for benefit.” “The addressee. from marriage. to expenditures on children.” First. He has to pay for the help and solidarity he expects. Big-data-enabled self-tracking foregrounds this same sort of adjustment and tries to make it seem really easy.determined by (quasi-)scientific processes. or individuals act (drawing directly from Milton Friedman) ‘as if’ they are rational.” Through the column’s pseudoscience.” And this is where big data comes in. to crime. held by neoliberal economists like Gary Becker. and every choice is ultimately a cost-benefit analysis: Everything I might do. For example. Adorno finds this sort of economistic rationality throughout “Astrological Forecasts.” cost-benefit calculus updates old unfashionable beliefs in things like human rights with a supposedly much more objective and effective belief in the market. It can identify patterns of behavior. “to send flowers to one’s wife not because one feels an urge to do so. “instinctual needs contrary to the rule of rational interests appear to be commandeered by rational interests.” Adorno writes. that can then be monitored and managed. If you know enough about someone’s material. in which. forecasting has to scapegoat “irresponsible” individuals for failing to live up to the terms of the forecast.” “Astrological Forecasts. That is so long as they respond to ‘reality’ and adjust their (even . It can provide us with the unprecedented—and supposedly more objective— insight into ourselves and others that we need to solve life’s problems.” self-tracking apps are “a single-serving ‘solution’ to a much larger collective problem”—they encourage individuals to fix themselves rather than collectively address problematic social norms. you ought to be able to predict which future choices they will make.Stars Down to Earth helps us see that neoliberalism’s ideal subject. Astrology’s “basic presumption” is “that everyone has to make up his mind at every moment.” that this cost-benefit calculus itself has a price—it “sacrifice[s] any possibility of being critical. Like neoliberal economic theory. embodies the same pseudo-rationality found in both astrology and big data. exercise). Adorno explains how this can seem empowering but really isn’t: “The idea that the stars. As Whitney Erin Boesel argues in “Data Occupations. and psychological situation.” “everything for which human beings attempt to realize their ends. it stresses the significance and efficacy of individual choice. which alternatives will seem like the most economically “rational” ones from their perspective. “but to make the best of them from the viewpoint of one’s private interests.” When forecasts end up being inaccurate. class. Because. from college education to cosmetic surgery. and competition. particularly into oneself. All that matters is if firms. Adorno writes that “the constant appeal of the column to find fault with oneself rather than with given conditions” is evidence of “the implicit but ubiquitous rule that one has to adjust oneself continuously to commands of the stars at a given time.” Adorno echoes political theorist Andrew Dilts’s claim in “From ‘Entrepreneur of the Self’ to ‘Care of the Self’. that. their past habits and choices. offer some advice mitigates the very same fear of the inexorability of social processes the stargazer himself creates. is an investment of time and resources. households. and race as an “obesity epidemic” assumes both that obesity is a problem and that it is a problem that can be solved by modifying individual behavior (diet. “‘to be rational’ means not questioning irrational conditions. but is perfectly consistent with a wide array of irrational behavior. he doesn’t have to actually behave rationally—his choices don’t have to be the result of well-reasoned. as Read writes. as Read notes. “has to ‘calculate’ very carefully his relationships with his family.” In this example. social. supposedly more objective upgrade to unfashionable superstitions. “Becker insists that economic analysis does not require ‘actual rationality’ at all. as long as we can more or less successfully predict homo economicus’s behavior. in line with a familiar stereotype.” like the fetishized commodification of love or heterosexual marriage.” so the big-picture factors that would call into question why some choices seem better than others are necessarily factored out of this equation.” for example. and that this economic pseudo-rationality is itself a trendy. Homo economicus is the name for the view. Though Adorno wasn’t thinking explicitly in these terms. if only one reads them correctly. “implies that all problems due to objective circumstances … can be solved in terms of private individual behavior or by psychological insight.” Cost-benefit calculus works because everything is reduced to the common denominator of “private interest.

I defend what seems to me to be the commonsense position that while most people are required to give much more than they currently do to charities such as Oxfam. this figure stood at $62. Does that make me one of the bad guys? It is true that my own position is that most people are required to give more than they do. To fail to give as much as you can to charities that save children dying of poverty is every bit as bad as walking past a child drowning in a pond because you don’t want to ruin your new shoes. The job of moral philosophers is to help people to decide what to believe about moral issues on the basis of reasoned reflection. Affluence and Morality” (FAM). political. and economic institutions (white supremacy. behaviors. I’m arguing that Singer and Unger are wrong. All that data up in the cloud opens no new vistas. to produce knowledge and types of sociality that transport us from this unjust world to a better one? That’s hard to predict. big data makes its prosumers in the image of itspseudo-rationality. . from the neoliberal point of view. Homo economicus’s cost-benefit analysis is thus a type of pseudo-rational forecasting. Singer argues that any difference between the child in the pond and the child dying of poverty is morally irrelevant. they are not required to give the extreme proportions suggested by Singer and Unger. 741. Moral philosophers provide arguments and critique the arguments of others. But isn’t there still something morally dubious about arguing for weaker moral requirements to save lives? Singer and Unger’s position is clear and easy to understand. In this way. homo economicus is a microcosm of big data: Both embody the same pseudo-rationality. who talks “as if he knew and as if the constellations of the stars provided him with satisfactory. Living High and Letting Die. I’m arguing against the good guys.”homo economicus makes a prediction about the outcome of an investment.irrational) behavior. 000 more than they usually took in from the phone numbers given in the piece. 848. who developed and refined Singer’s arguments in his 1996 book. Immoral philosophy When it comes to preventing poverty related deaths.” Rationality. I’ve argued that Singer and Unger are wrong: failing to donate to charity is not equivalent to walking past a drowning child. capitalism. For an approachable version of his argument see Peter Unger. hip abodes on more seemingly solid ground. to reflect “an unquestioning common-sense attitude” that pragmatically weighs costs and benefits in line with “accepted values.” Just as Astrological Forecasts makes its readers in the image of its own pseudo-rationality. “The Life You Can Save”. Could we use big data and social media to shoot for the stars. His organisation. from the outside. a type of calculation that brings even the most irrational choices. it is ‘as if’ they had in fact made a rational calculation. Like the forecaster. values. sufficient and unequivocal answers. used to keep a running estimate of total donations generated. Morality does – and must – pay attention to features such as distance. it just repackages tired social. His landmark 1971 article. and patterns “down to earth. so failure to help must be morally equivalent. patriarchy) in new. rational. but also led to millions in donations to famine relief. It offers a strong call to action that seems to actually work – to make people put their hands in their pockets. and as long as that choice appears. Singer and Unger are the good guys when it comes to debates on poverty-related death.” then that choice is. and practices. We won’t be able to do this properly if we shy away from attacking some arguments because it is good for people to believe them. Down-to-earthness is precisely the problem with forecasting: It only ever reproduces society and its most conventional norms. When I last checked the website on 13th February 2012. I don’t think what I do is immoral philosophy. Isn’t it wrong to risk jeopardising that given the possibility that people will focus only on the arguments I give against extreme requirements to aid? On reflection. personal connection and how many other people are in a position to help. not only launched a rich new area of philosophical discussion. UNICEF and OXFAM claimed to have received about $660. for all and intents and purposes. it is almost universally agreed that Peter Singer is one of the good guys. is simply another word for predictability. So. In the month after Singer restated the argument from FAM in a piece in the New York Times. “Famine. Singer argues that the typical person living in an affluent country is morally required to give most of his or her money away to prevent poverty related deaths.

Looked at in this way. the end that is assumed to make the big difference. claimed that “two cultures” had developed and that the chasm between the arts and the sciences was deleterious to our civilisation. The demands of Singer’s morality are so extreme it must sometimes be reasonable to ignore them. simple conclusion about what to do. However. The rise of the medical humanities 22 JANUARY 2015 Belinda Jack examines the growing field and considers the therapeutic effects of poetry I sense quite a lot of hostility to the medical humanities among the still-dominant genes and molecules approach to medicine The cynical account for the rise of the medical humanities – a newish interdisciplinary area that explores the social. Nevertheless. on Singer’s view. in his famous Rede lecture of 1959. Conventional approaches to medicine. were immensely successful. avoids this problem. institutional relationship with medicine. Its demands are reasonable so cannot be reasonably ignored. overall. C. Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805). the Singer/Unger position doesn’t really offer a clear. often fiction. This need to separate moral requirements from overall requirements is a result of the extreme. there is a nice simple answer about what morality requires us to do: keep giving until giving more would cost us something more morally significant than the harm we could prevent. which takes into account the agent’s special concern with what is near and dear to her. this doesn’t translate into a simple answer about what we should do. There are also some important examples of psychiatrists drawing heavily on literature in the construction of their theories. Beckett. dramatist and friend of Goethe. and Keats (1795-1821) turned to poetry in part because of the trauma he suffered by the experience of physically restraining fully conscious patients in order to perform surgery without anaesthesia. and his response was: “I sense quite a lot of hostility among the still-dominant genes and molecules approach to medicine. suggesting both that medicine is an “art” and that there is a crucial association between medicine and the “human” dimension of the humanities. impersonal view of morality espoused by Singer. Sartre and others. It tells us both what is morally and rationally required. keep giving till you have given most of your money away. knives. Laing was profoundly influenced by Blake. What is new is the bringing of writing and the arts more broadly into a formal.” It’s a pity that the adjectives “hard” and “soft” have accrued certain connotations. P. There’s money in medicine and not so much in the humanities. particularly for medical students. All this goes to show that interest in a reciprocity between medical practice and creative writing is not a new phenomenon. The Scottish writer Tobias Smollett (1721-71) graduated from the University of Glasgow’s School of Medicine but his passion was for writing. He is “certainly . But how new is this field or set of fields? The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates claimed that “wherever the art of Medicine is loved. For. Snow. in other words. By the time we get to the 19th century the number of authors combining writing and medical practice further increases. D. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771). In terms of literature. Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) trained as a doctor and wrote the best-selling novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). there is also a love of Humanity”. former chief executive of the Medical Research Council. Blakemore says. For Singer and Unger. R. So what does mainstream medicine think about this? I asked Colin Blakemore. how the medical humanities were generally regarded. we might not be rationally required or overall required to do what we are morally required to. disciplines are under pressure to demonstrate their practical value. as soon as the novel rose to prominence in the 18th century a good many doctors more than dabbled in writing. scientist and novelist. German writer. Drugs. poet. Providing such an answer surely can’t be immoral philosophy. as was his best-known work. professor of neuroscience and philosophy at the School of Advanced Study. including The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748). Dostoevsky. nor indeed the 21st. was an army surgeon before achieving fame as a writer. The medical humanities are instantly deemed to be at the “soft” end of medicine. essayist. At a time of retrenchment in some subjects at some universities. Kafka. “drugs and knives remain the dominant modes of tackling resistant medical problems. among numerous other affiliations. historical and cultural dimensions of medicine – would be an economic one. There is a danger that they prejudice things. my position gives a clearer and simpler answer to the question of what we should do in response to global poverty. This is the “hard” end. however slow progress is”. And there is no let-up in the 20th century. Blakemore is now.In addition. University of London. His picaresque novels. genes and molecules dominate the medical world. Recent research that claims to show that reading novels promotes empathy would be an example of literature’s utility. A more modest understanding of morality.

But poetry can help us to make sense of more mundane experiences too. It is the stories of private lives offered up to doctors. Next came a set of articles variously concerned with literary readings and exploration. which now takes the medical humanities very seriously. we let it go.” In November 2013. poetry can tell us about human experience. Physicians’ notes are in some sense biographies of their patients. that explain why so many doctors are also novelists Reviewing its first seven issues. My discipline is in essence a literary one. And it allows for an individual engagement with the poem. for example. these disciplines can inform the science and practice of medicine. often at times of crisis and vulnerability. It can capture – or cause us to reconstruct – experiences and feelings that we might otherwise not be conscious of. launched its Centre for Personalised Medicine. economics and ethics. the gait of one/Who finds no path where the path should be. As well as providing insights into one of the most basic and universal of human concerns. In 2013. A number of master’s courses are also coming on stream. genomics. history and philosophy to discuss a range of conditions and topics: anorexia nervosa. An initiative at the University of Oxford that aims to produce the world’s largest forum for medical humanities and to provide an unparalleled resource for public and professional engagement describes the area as “a richly diverse field of scholarship which draws on disciplines in the humanities. ageing. Here is an example from Cecil Day Lewis’ poem Walking Away: “I can see/You walking away from me towards the school/With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free/Into a wilderness.” . The journal Medical Humanities is well established and Niall Boyce’s The Lancet Psychiatry has recently been launched. More than a dozen universities in the UK embrace the field and most undergraduate medical programmes offer either mandatory or optional courses in one or more humanities subjects at some point in the degree. Oxford. help young doctors? A further set of articles was made up of historical overviews. often at times of crisis and vulnerability. and television drama’s potential lessons for clinical craft. Poetry offers its language up to us and if we recognise it as true. These are only two of a large number of journals involved in the medical humanities. This is poetry at its most magical and mysterious. the Sherlock Holmes tales. It works by suggestion. and the extent of chaos theory’s relevance to medicine. medical classifications and diagnoses and their relationship to technology. we engage. Over the same period. which will embrace medicine. the grant funding and direct charitable expenditure of the trust was more than £700 million. amuse. These “places” may be real. Like the novel. These included papers on short stories by Kafka and Chekhov. the existential focus of clinical medicine. in his excellent 2013 studyReading and the Reader. as his latest area of research interest testifies: the crossover points between philosophy and neuroscience. Poetry’s use of language is at the furthest extreme from the self-help book. and the Wellcome Foundation Strategic Plan 2010-20 “supports medical humanities research”. but it does this in its own language and not the more straightforward language of prose. but this doesn’t mean that it cannot console. or imagined.Hamlet and depressive illness. The largest included pieces on medicine and the arts. I’d like to consider poetry and its less obvious role within the medical humanities. social sciences and the arts. Often the poem will be one that allows us to reconsider the absolute nature of death. for example of dissection. the UK’s largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research. and I’ve been struck by a good deal of fascinating work on the importance of narrative in medicine. and any lessons they may provide for clinical medicine. disconcert and so much more. Boyce. physical places. Each of us can ponder what the poem conjures for us. describes Wordsworth’s poetry not as providing “ideas”. himself a novelist. medical syndromes in French 19th-century fiction. Can poetry. Blakemore’s vision is shared by the Wellcome Trust. sees the journal in part as a point of focus for debate about the relationship between psychiatry and the humanities. This explains why funeral services so often include poems. mimic. reductive. courses have appeared in universities both in the UK and abroad. no doubt – may come into being. bullying even. in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics. It is the stories of private lives offered up to doctors. St Anne’s College. rather than extracts from novels.keen to encourage interaction between science and the humanities”. Medical Humanities identified various categories into which articles might be grouped. body image and distinguishing patients as persons. illness and healing. bringing something felt into clearer and thus more comforting focus. A combination of a move to electronic patient records and the Freedom of Information Act have militated against doctors’ patient narratives. The last category of any size was in essence cultural studies – drawing on fine art. medicine as an art and as a science. which is often dogmatic. Philip Davis. literature. insistent. at least in part. law. The next category comprised essentially educational enquiries into the medical humanities themselves. that explain. a play by Jules Romain. and these are sometimes equally charged with challenging emotions. aesthetic and ethical considerations in surgery. why so many doctors are also novelists. but rather as providing places from which our own ideas – which were Wordsworth’s too. concepts of disease. and the medical ethics of Erasmus. if it fails to convince us of its truth. with their nuances and insights into the complexities of human illness – and life. Those that are unwell have to be encouraged to find a narrative and the clinician has to tease out the significant lines in their story. enlighten. teach.

And the space the loss has left has been filled – by the poem. “Love is proved in the letting go” – as responsible parents we have to let our children distance themselves from us in order to develop into independent adults. the pain associated with knowing the vulnerability of a child starting school – and our no longer being at the child’s side to moderate life. Great poetry makes us understand the only half-understood. and that could be a useful training for medical students. The experience can be sharply retrospective.We have all been the “you”. If we didn’t love them. the mood at the outset reflects a low mood: “The sun was set. Yet reading the poem we are no longer alone. A good deal of child development psychology is contained in these few lines. not winning or serene. But a great poem also allows us to make sense of feelings that might otherwise be a searing amorphous mass somewhere deep inside us. The poem reminds us of the undertow of mood. rather we are in touch with the poet’s humanity. So much of life – and our responses to death – is in language. The act of recognition of truth fills the space. but it sometimes hurts. One of the undersold features of poetry is its remarkable succinctness. At some point after 1798. in that understanding comes relief. Seeing the coffin disappear is analogous. and it can feel very physical. or setting when I left/Our cottage door. Or hearing that a diagnosis of an illness is terminal. But then Wordsworth manages an extraordinary feat of linguistic conjuring: “While on I walked. This is art acting as a medicine. a comfort seemed to touch/A heart that had not been disconsolate:/Strength came where weakness was not known to be. (All three poems are discussed by Davis in Reading and the Reader. And a corollary of this is that it doesn’t take much time to read a poem. In The Prelude. The mind contemplating a mental dialogue – which is a three-way thing. The poem can also be read as an allegory of other kinds of separation or loss that are part of life./Or thinking still my thoughts might have good end:/If rebel sense would reason’s law receive/Or reason foil’d would not in vain contend…” This is the mind thinking about itself and the degree of control – or lack of control – that it has over its conflicting voices. Doesn’t this give us insights into the mind contemplating the workings of the mind that might even be compared to brain “imaging”? The images of the poem allude to conflict – “rebel” and “foil”.” The pain – there are other emotions too. To fully paraphrase these lines would take pages. Wordsworth had returned to the Lake District with his sister. to become an individual the child has to establish growing physical independence from first its mother. we wouldn’t feel the pain. and evening soon brought on/A sober hour. feeling discouraged after a difficult time in London. These two examples are about poetry and its relationships with psychology. The “truth” of the poem extends to the psychology of bereavement too. and a wonderful lightness replaces the heart that we did not know was heavy. And our feelings of ultimate physical separation from one whom we’ve loved./And love is proved in the letting go. in other words.) These are lines from Philip Sidney’s Certain Sonnet 19. It describes itself as “a community of healers and lovers of words”. This is essentially what the National Association for Poetry Therapy has been doing for the past 30 years. it enacts separation anxiety. it would accept defeat and bring the mental battle to an end. How do we stop thinking thoughts that are uncomfortable (line 1)? Or accept the thoughts but steer them in a better direction (line 2)? If only the “rebel” part of the brain would submit to the “reasonable” part (line 3). So I see the benefits of marrying poetry reading to various aspects of medicine. then its family. can be more therapeutic for those suffering from depression than other therapies. Faced with some of life’s most painful moments poetry can reassure us that we are not alone – other have suffered too. our only partial control of it – and that a brisk walk may be a useful medicine. The same is not always true of textbooks. And we would never wish not to love them. Often we are not fully in touch with our melancholy. . It is the time of day and weather that imply inhospitality. In The Prelude the truth of sudden changes of mood is brilliantly suggested. My final example is somewhat different. and many of us have been the parent. the pain and rage at death. the “I”. in some small but fundamentally important way./At least not felt…” One of the problems in the diagnosis of depression can be the individual’s lack of awareness of low mood. embarking on school. Great poetry makes us understand the only half-understood and in that understanding comes relief and it can feel very physical There is a growing body of research that suggests that regular exercise. are part and parcel of that love. But it does have to be read with a particular attention to detail. The poem is not so much “about” separation anxiety. or at least not until after it has lifted. You can’t race through a poem – as you might a textbook – looking for what you want to find. watching our child “walking away” and have experienced the pain of separation. But the “truth” I fully recognise strikes still more forcibly at the close of the poem: “How selfhood begins with a walking away.” The poet does not describe himself as unhappy or depressed. “Selfhood begins with a walking away”. long walks for example. and unturned./For cool and raw the air was. such as pride – that we experience as our children gain independence is inextricably bound up in our love for them. or if reason has lost out to “rebel sense”. probably written in the 1580s: “If I could think how these my thoughts to leave. where the stability of “reason” and “law” should bring steadiness and what we call “peace of mind”.

or if change is too grand an aspiration. there are various ways in which the humanities are enriched by disciplines within the medical sciences. is. it has failed. or boiled. Disoriented.” Humour can also allow a review of self-perspective. and provokes the very behavior it condemns. roasted. More importantly. the pamphlet claims. Byron knew this: “Always laugh when you can. The worst case is when satire reinforces the state of mind it purports to undercut. After paragraphs of statistics on population and nutrition. the poor can save themselves an expense and guarantee themselves an income. hilarious. or encourage people to think in a more enlightened way. Why so? Crucial to satire is the appeal to supposed “common sense” and a shared moral code. it is cheap medicine. Psychology can certainly play a part in both biography and biographical readings of literary texts. every reader is made aware of a . In particular. a conjunction that is very real in psychiatric patients. Pharmacology can enlighten us in relation to drug-induced creative states of mind. polarizes prejudices. at a year old. has a powerful therapeutic effect too. Reading Dostoevsky under the umbrella of the “medical humanities” we are forcibly struck by the author’s preoccupation with God and madness. say. witty mockery of a political enemy can be hilarious and gratifying and can intensify our sense of being morally superior. in literature as well as in life. This appears to be what happened with Charlie Hebdo’s images of Muhammad. But I’d like to end on a lighter note and propose that humour. in the way. Laughing has been demonstrated to have healing powers. whether stewed. we arrive at the grotesque: I have been assured … that a young healthy child well nursed. whatever his or her private interests. such that we are eager for change. But as satire it has failed. the criteria for assessing it are fairly simple: if it doesn’t point toward positive change. “Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?” The Limits of Satire Tim Parks What does satire do? What should we expect of it? Recent events in Paris inevitably prompt these questions. a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food. thinking about literature from the point of view of readers who may not be as set in their ways encourages the literary reader to read differently. satire alludes to recognizable contemporary circumstances in a skewed and comic way so as to draw attention to their absurdity. perhaps. The satirist presents a situation in such a way that it appears grotesque and the reader who. Swift’s target was Protestant England’s economic policy in Catholic Ireland and the disastrous poverty this had created. and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie. The classic example. By selling their children for food. for example. Since satire has this practical and pragmatic purpose. shares the same cultural background and moral education agrees that it is so. Muhammad with a yellow star in his ass)—essentially different from mainstream satire? Is it crucial to Western culture that we be free to produce such images? Do they actually work as satire? Neither straight journalism nor disengaged art. or even. for some. or a ragoust. is the kind of satire that Charlie Hebdo has made its trademark—explicit. Its raison d’ȇtre over the long term is to bring about change through ridicule. sometimes obscene images of religious figures (God the father. That doesn’t mean it’s not amusing and well-observed. There is mockery but with a noble motive: the desire to bring shame on some person or party behaving wrongly or ignorantly. Son. for example. and Holy Spirit sodomizing each other.At the same time. The American comedian George Carlin asked. baked. is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal of 1729. we might say that it seeks to give us a fresh perspective on the absurdities and evils we live among.

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Muhammad and reprint of the Danish cartoonist Jyllands-Posten’s controversial Muhammad cartoons led to the paper’s selling 400. the Muslim World League. In this case too an issue of cultural blindness was involved. not at Islam itself.000. that some of the same cartoonists were already running. It was a French affair. rather than the normal 60. In 2011Charlie Hebdo noted that while Muslims had sued the paper only once. Hollande and Sarkozy included. The ancient French tradition of satire was creating more heat than light. It grew out of a left-wing magazine. something else in Ireland will have to give. Comix refused to publish. so that lovemaking would be simultaneously an indulgence and a penitence.000 copies. even Irish children. even in cases of rape. Its focus was on French politics and when it was felt to have overstepped the mark the democratically elected French government was in a position to impose a temporary closure. even Catholic children. Islamic organizations didn’t see it that way. Wound down for lack of funds in 1981. the Catholic Church had launched thirteen cases against it. and targets became more complex. used to seeing fierce attacks on all things sacred. later Hebdo Hara Kiri (where Hebdo is simply short forhebdomadaire—weekly). not just the extremists. This appeal to what we all know and share becomes more difficult when satire addresses itself to people from different cultures with different traditions. Popularity and notoriety had arrived through mockery of a target outside French culture but with which an aggrieved minority in France now identified. Charlie Hebdo was resurrected in 1991 when cartoonists wanted to create a platform for political satire about the first Gulf War. In this regard.simple principle we all share: you don’t eat children. or San Sebastian condoms. While President Chirac criticized satire that inflamed divisions between cultures. wrote to the court to defend the cartoonists. that Christian leaders have now grown used to their religion being desecrated and pilloried in every way. With this explicitly international agenda the relationship between satirists. but the targets sometimes lay outside France or at least outside mainstream French culture. In the 1990s. Reacting to yet another Vatican condemnation of abortion. readers. It is said. insisting that their humor was aimed at violent extremists. The readers were the same left-wing French public. It was also uniting French politicians usually opposed to each other against a perceived threat from without. writing satirical pieces for the Italian magazine Comix. the history ofCharlie Hebdo is worth noting. and the Union of French Islamic Organizations. Charlie was Charlie Brown. In 2002 the magazine hosted an article supporting controversial Italian author Oriana Fallaci and her claims that Islam in general. Sarkozy in particular referring to the ancient French tradition of satire. or perhaps even prickly hair-shirt condoms. So. various politicians. Hara Kiri. I suggested that if the Catholic Church really cared about abortion it might perhaps change its position on contraception and actually manufacture condoms with images of the saints. and people would be mindful of their Lord even between the sheets. Charles de Gaulle.Charlie. . was on the march against the West. comically. which was formed in 1960 to address national political issues and subsequently banned on a number of occasions. When it was banned in 1970 over a mocking headline about Charles de Gaulle’s death its editors reopened it under a different name to avoid the ban.000 to 100. but also now. Sued by the Grand Mosque. This is not entirely the case. if those children are not to be left to starve. by contrast. I had my own experience of the difficulties of attacking the church through satire. Eventually the court acquitted the paper and freedom of speech was upheld. the paper’s editors defended themselves. In 2006. But the effect of the cartoons had been to inflame moderate areas of Islam. calling it Charlie Hebdo to distinguish it from a monthly magazine.

They just didn’t think that the idea of people having sex with condoms showing their favorite saint was the right way to go about it. it would not help them to get distance and perspective on the debate. In the Inferno Dante could imagine Muhammad in hell. and eventually the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwacalling for Muslims to kill Rushdie. a question of self-censorship or lack of courage on the magazine’s part.” January 14. For a Muslim reader perhaps the point is lost in the offense of a belittling representation of a figure they hold sacred. Too many of their readers—mostly Catholic by culture if not practice—would be offended. Denial of the Holocaust is a crime in France. The editors of Comix were perfectly ready to attack the Church on issues of abortion and birth control. but certainly nothing that would disturb a Western reader. set no value on the image Muhammad. French for “tank”: a tank with the sign “I am tank” is shown crushing “Gaza. an Algerian newspaper. because they. Salman Rushdie includes a dream sequence where the prostitutes have the names of Muhammad’s wives.” and “Iraq. in short.” “Syria. he says. that same Italian public would have had no problem with the drawings of Muhammad that provoked the massacre at Charlie Hebdo last week.” showing a weeping Muhammad saying. my immediate Internet neighbor. with riots. or do I uphold the ancient tradition of satire at all costs? And again. The Divine Comedy was not intended for publication in India. to draw—as he does to illustrate—a black man falling out of a tree with a banana in his hand. is a culture that takes mortal offense when an image it holds sacred is mocked a second-rate culture that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. In Italy and Germany it is illegal to display certain images that recall Fascism and Nazism. In the United States and Britain. and in fact the novel was on the shortlist for Britain’s Booker Prize for fiction without even a smell of scandal in the air. Knowing Italy and Italians better now. One might be free. our freedom—in practice—to indulge in racist. 2015. however. An anti-Charlie Hebdo cartoon in Echorouk. do I make any concessions at all. at least since the . anti-Semitic. The following questions arise: Now that the whole world is my neighbor. misogynist. my twenty-first-century that is? Do I have the moral authority to decide this? In his response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. like me.This was not. When I see Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon entitled “Muhammad overcome by fundamentalists. Most likely. this mixing of cultures and immediate globalization of so many publications through the Internet that makes satire more problematic as the Swiftian appeal to the values we share becomes more elusive. “It’s tough being loved by assholes. deaths. Only as publication was approaching in India and the paper India Today ran an interview with Rushdie did the controversy begin in earnest. There are also various provocative reinterpretations of Islam.” I smile and take the point. but unlike the vast majority of Muslims. Where we’re coming from and who we’re writing to is important. In The Satanic Verses (1988). playing on char. his body obscenely split open—“from the chin right down to where men fart”—as fit punishment for his crime of religious schism.” “Mali. Needless to say any such representation of Christ would have been unthinkable. the cartoonist Joe Sacco makes the distinction between the right to free expression and the sensible use of it. It was my Protestant background and complete carelessness about images of saints and virgins that made me unaware of the kind of response the piece would have stirred up. It is. Not all readers are the same. I believe. and homophobic insults has been notably limited. I reckon they were right. but of what possible use are these images? And actually of course we’re not free. or a Jew counting money over the entrails of the working class.

and notwithstanding a profound sense of horror for the evil and stupidity of the terrorist attack on the magazine’s offices. not to start riots. It was widely believed at that time that with their death the world (or the country) will turn away from what was viewed as the cause of grievance. Stalinism. rather than remaining fixated on the question of freedom of speech. What’s the specificity of the islamic extremist threat we’re facing today. and toward something better – a more friendly and comfortable condition. The print run was extended to five million copies after a first run of three million sold out. In raising the question of the usefulness or otherwise of a cartoon. In various times. its aim is to produce an enlightened perspective on events. however.000. this up from a standard run of 60. Abraham Lincoln. On 11 September 2001 political assassinations were directed not against specific. However grotesque and provocative its comedy. None of these restrictions have proved a great loss. at least for me. Even Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist for anti-Semitism. Shoah. located at different points of the political spectrum yet all belonging to the category of current or future power holders.” The current edition of the paper shows Muhammad in such a way that his white turban looks like two balls and his long pink face a penis. political murders tended to be aimed at different kinds of victims. He holds a Je suis Charlie placard and announces that all is forgiven. Is it likely this approach will help to isolate violent extremists from mainstream Muslim sentiment? The Charlie Hebdo Attack And What It Reveals About Society by Zygmunt Bauman on 13 January 2015 Zygmunt Bauman You went through the tragedies of the 20th century – two wars. identifiable and named political “personalities” in the political limelight. Aristide Briand. A hundred years or so ago it was targeted mostly against politicians – personalities like Jean Jaures. one has to wonder about Charlie Hebdo’s pride in constantly dubbing themselves a “Journal Irresponsable.late 1980s when notions of “political correctness” became increasingly pervasive. The Prophet is being dubbed a prick. in your view? Political assassination is as old as humanity and the chances that it will be dead before humanity dies are dim. Violence is an un-detachable companion of inter-human antagonisms and conflicts – and those in turn are part and parcel of the human condition. At this point. but against institutions . ideologically varied. Joe Sacco’s take on the tragedy in Paris is smart. Archduke Ferdinand and countless others. or for that matter against people held personally responsible for the wrongdoings the assassins pretended to punish. he reminds us of the essentially pragmatic nature of satire.

how would s/he responds to one’s gambit. a symbolic challenge to Paris as the cradle of Western values. . More importantly yet. Knowingly or not. the armed assault against Charlie Hebdo was also an act of personalized vendetta (going back to the pattern set by Ayatollah Khomeini in his 1989 Fatva imposed on Salman Rushdie). into a next-door neighbour – sharing the street. and the volume of spilt blood). And away from social to individual responsibility. And second: alongside shifting the target to another institutional realm. one cannot – unlike when moving around the securely “online only” world – skip over the all-too-real differences. often jarring and repellent. mode of being. the 7th January barbarity crowns the lengthy process of deregulation – indeed the “de- institutionalisation”. One doesn’t know what to expect from a stranger. What do you think? Each of the causes suggested to have their part in inflaming the christian – muslim antagonism contains a grain of truth but none offers the whole truth.symbolising the economic (in the case of the World Trade Centre) and military (in the case of the Pentagon) power. If the 11 September atrocity chimed in with the then tendency to “depersonalise” political violence (following the pour ainsi dire“democratisation” of violence by mass-media publicity that divided its attention according to the quantity of its – mostly anonymous and incidental – victims. and thus feeling homely. what his or her intentions are. One of them. or passing-by stranger. is the ongoing diasporisation of the world. The close proximity of the stranger always tends to be somewhat unnerving. In our media-dominated information society people employed in constructing and distributing information moved or have been moved to the centre of the scene on which the drama of human coexistence is staged and seen to be played. the murderers endorsed – whether explicitly or obliquely – the widespread and fast gathering public sense of effective power moving away from political rulers and towards the centres viewed as responsible for public mind-setting and opinion-making. A lot has been said about this attack: a prosecution of the holy wars between christians and muslims. as well as the perception of public affairs shifting away from the management of established aggregated bodies to the sphere of individual “life politics”. It was the people engaged in such activities that the assault was meant to point out as culprits to be punished for causing the assassins’ bitterness. There were two aspects of the Charlie Hebdo murders that set them apart from the two previous cases: First: on 7th January 2015 political assassins fixed a highly media-visible specimen of mass media. manifesting at close quarters their incompatibility with one’s habitual. individualization and privatisation of the human condition. Many factors contribute to this profoundly complex phenomenon. rancour and urge of vengeance. an assault on freedom of expression. public facilities. perhaps the most decisive. Notably. which results in transforming the distant stranger. or briefly visiting stranger. a centre of spiritual power was still missing in the combined political operation. cozy and secure. workplace and school. that of public opinion. by design or by default.

How do we react to that situation? The snag is. blatantly failed to realize. in case we are unable or unwilling to change course. let alone to entrench. it would be naïve not to expect that both the outlets and the targets are avidly sought and keenly pinpointed. other genders. invested in democracy. Michel Houllebecq’s second grand dystopia sketching an alternative (to the triumph of individualized consumer) path to disaster.” By the same token. that we’ve failed thus far to develop. humiliation of a jovial and benevolent dismissal of a “you can’t be serious. “does not and cannot take seriously the core values of the culture he tolerates. other races. Boutique multiculturalism is exactly what all this global consumerism nonsense in the Facebook status message means. Purveyors of this superficial brand of multiculturalism appreciate. Explosions occur. We presently live on a minefield of which we know (or at least we should) that it is spattered with explosives. you can’t mean it” kind. Confronted with a demand that it surrender its viewpoint or enlarge it to include the practices of its natural enemies – other religions. Boutique multiculturalism. enjoy. I’d say. The strategy widely seen as progressive is a policy known under the name of “multiculturalism”. Radical islamic ideology or economic “structural” inequalities: what component plays a major role in determining this phenomenon of radicalization and terrorism in Europe and the world? Why do you reduce the issue of “radicalization and terrorism in Europe” to the phenomenon of “radical islamic ideology”? In Soumission. as it does all around increasingly diasporised Europe that the boundaries between humiliating and the humiliated overlap with the boundaries between socially privileged and socially deprived. the offence of disregarding or flatly rejecting what the “stranger” next door holds sacrosanct. weekend festivals. and high-profile flirtations with the Other. It is in the nature of offence and humiliation to seek an outlet through which it can be discharged and a target. In his Trouble with Principle (Harvard University Press 1999) Stanley Fish distinguished two varieties of that strategy: a “boutique” and the “strong” multiculturalism. a satisfactory response. s/he adds offence to the injury: a humiliation to the wound. as Fish defines it. and yet more the trust in democracy as the . is a superficial fascination with the Other: ethnic food. though there is no way to predict when and where. and “recognise the legitimacy” of cultures other than their own. other classes – a beleaguered culture will fight back with everything from discriminatory legislation to violence. Fish wrote: The trouble with stipulating tolerance as your first principle (…) is that you cannot possibly be faithful to it because sooner or later the culture whose core values you are tolerating will reveal itself to be intolerant at that same core. the 2022 French elections are won by Mohammed Ben Abbes following a neck and neck race with Marine Le Pen. Fish suggests. The distinctiveness that marks it as unique and self-defining will resist the appeal of moderation or incorporation into a larger scale. But they always stop short of approving these radically. Prophetic? It could happen like this. Democratic politics. “A boutique multiculturalist”. And when it so happens. Hopes for freedom of self-assertion and for arresting the rise of social inequality. The tandem is anything but accidental. sympathise with.

even in the so-called rich countries. not a “We”. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation. You asserted ethics always needs an “I”. As a consequence. and inequality is increasingly evident. As Pierre Rosanvallon argues. A number of diseases are spreading. often. It is a struggle to live and. but something new. left of social leash capitalism. they merely reap the benefits of distrust of their opponents and predecessors. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression. the affirmation of individual identity. (…) Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life. Pope Francis restored the lost-from view moral dimension to our soumission – surrender – to the licentious. but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Spectacular acts of violence may be seen as reconnaissance sallies into that. to live with precious little dignity. with dire consequences. the spokesman of Allah. (…) Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. the way for ethics to defeat fundamentalism? In his first Esortazione Apostolica. left behind and abandoned. That’s the opposite of fundamentalism. are in crisis. where the powerful feed upon the powerless. Such an economy kills. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. Those in power no longer enjoy the confidence of the voters. dazzled by its lust for gain and blind to human misery. is just one of the banners deployed to rally the humiliated and deprived. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure. All around Europe we witness a rising tide of anti-democratic sentiment – and a massive “secession of plebeians” (in their current reincarnation as precarians) to the camps located on the opposite extremes of the political spectrum though promising in unison to replace the already discredited high- mindedness with yet to be tried high-handedness of autocracy. unbridled. lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise. You won’t find a more profound and comprehensive answer to your question: In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history. Is the “I”. The word of the Prophet. cast-out and excluded. masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work. without any means of escape. without possibilities. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care. angry and vengeance-seething desperadoes. The joy of living frequently fades. today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.best road to the solution of the most haunting social problems. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the . frightened. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. education and communications. as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields.

Sendler hid them under piles of potatoes and loaded them into gunny sacks. ninth-grader Elizabeth Cambers stumbled on an old clipping from US News and World Report. . Nothing to add.500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942-43. While brainstorming ideas. nothing to detract. a history teacher at the Uniontown High School in Kansas. Hemingway disapproved of the photo saying 'I don't work like this'. As word got out. and the Today Show. asked his students to come up with a project for National History Day. Megan could appreciate just how difficult her life-threatening choices must have been. stories have been agents of personal transformation – in part because they change our brains by Elizabeth Svoboda 2. They called itLife in a Jar and performed it at schools and theatres. The story included the line. The power of Sendler’s story had turned the project into something much bigger than the girls expected. Photo by Lloyd Arnold/Hulton Archive/Getty Back in the fall of 1999. She also wrote out lists of the children’s names and buried them in jars. the “leftovers”. and during her free time. She learned about how this unassuming young Polish nurse had created thousands of false identity papers to smuggle Jewish children out of the ghetto. To sneak the children past Nazi guards. October 1939.800 The inspirational power of narrative: American writer Ernest Hemingway in Idaho. The power of story Across time and culture. Megan pored over the story of Irena Sendler. those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. Elizabeth. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast. intending to dig them up again after the war so she could tell them their real identities. NPR. Imagining herself in the young nurse’s position.’ Elizabeth asked her fellow ninth-grader Megan Stewart to help her with her project. ‘Irena Sendler saved 2.society in which we live. She was so moved by Sendler’s gumption and selflessness that she. and two other friends wrote a play about Sendler. the students’ quest to share what Sendler had done appeared on CNN. Norman Conard.

movies. story is an inextricable part of our DNA. those values came embedded in powerful tales that invited readers and listeners to draw their own conclusions. a uniquely human trait. While the Old Testament certainly reflected the values and priorities of the culture from which it emerged. steeped in stories like these. ‘I have walked through many lives. but as agents of personal transformation. who carried out God’s cryptic command to build an ark. and real-life stories can affect the way we think and even. some of them my own. Whether it evolved for a particular purpose or was simply an outgrowth of our explosion in cognitive development. the way we act. poems. written down starting in the seventh century BCE and then revised over the course of hundreds of years. Megan Stewart – now Megan Felt – is programme director for the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes.’ The careers of many great novelists and filmmakers are built on the assumption. but many of the most gripping Old Testament stories do not contain an overtly stated moral. O ne of the earliest narratives to wield such influence was the Old Testament. we tend to recall its long sequences of ‘thou shalt nots’. conscious or not. completely altering its course. survived the great deluge that followed – and personified the rewards in store for one willing to conform to God’s will. bringing God’s punishment upon herself and Adam. the image powerfully illustrated the fate that may await anyone who ignores a divine order. When we think of this first section of the Bible. a non-profit organisation that teaches students about the lives of past luminaries such as Sendler.’ Our storytelling ability. ‘We want young people to be inspired by the stories they hear and realise that they also can change the world. and I am not who I was. has been with us nearly as long as we’ve been able to speak. When Eve ate the fruit from the Garden of Eden’s tree of knowledge. who still marvels at the way a single story cracked her own life wide open. that stories can motivate us to re-evaluate the world and our place in it.Today. . Noah. by extension.’ says Felt. As the late US poet laureate Stanley Kunitz put it in ‘The Layers’. New research is lending texture and credence to what generations of storytellers have known in their bones – that books. stories have proved their worth not just as works of art or entertaining asides. ‘I continue to be inspired by Irena Sendler daily. It was no coincidence that. Across time and across cultures.

Epic heroes rarely conquered their foes with ease. and selflessness. not just because it was old and reverenced. ‘The later Greeks used Homer as an early reading text. especially when young people were exposed to them as a matter of course. over and over again. underscoring the tales’ impact not just on minds. the way we engage with the world. Vermont. But only recently has research begun to shed light on how this transformation takes place from inside. In a 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesstudy. the psychologist Uri Hasson and his Princeton University colleagues had a graduate student tell an unrehearsed story . sacrifice. they faced hardship head-on and persevered against great odds. each storyteller adding tweaks as he saw fit.’ In their quest to lead a good life. The historian J E Lendon points out that the Homeric emphasis on conquering cities by trickery is mirrored in later Greek battle strategy. Like Homer’s Odysseus.’ wrote William Harris.the ancient Hebrews emerged as a unified society of people devoted to God and his commands. Meanwhile. Though the characters in these epics were larger-than-life figures. One reason the epics had such staying power was that they instilled values like grit. but because it outlined with astonishing clarity a way of life. a way of thinking under stress. ‘They knew that it would generate a sense of independence and character. Using modern technology like functional MRI (fMRI) scanning. scientists are tackling age-old questions: What kind of effect do powerful narratives really have on our brains? And how might a story- inspired perspective translate into behavioural change? Our mental response to story begins. but only if it were read carefully. often possessed of superhuman abilities. but on cultural norms and behaviours. a formidable oral storytelling tradition was taking hold – one in which epic stories such as Homer’s Iliad andOdyssey were passed from generation to generation. in turn. we’ve known intuitively that stories alter our thinking and. with mimicry. the late classics professor emeritus at Middlebury College. as many learning processes do. it was still natural for people to identify with them. who endured a painful and protracted journey to return to his homeland. generations of Greeks looked to the epics for inspiration. in ancient Greece. giving rise to ancient hero cults that worshipped the exploits of characters like Achilles and Odysseus. F or thousands of years.

So when we read about a character facing a heart-wrenching situation. People identified similarly with story characters in a 2013 study at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit. What’s more. ‘This one is like there’s a balloon under my sternum inflating and moving up and out. People reported strong waves of emotion as they listened – one story. was about a woman who invented a system of Tibetan Braille and taught it to blind children in Tibet. for instance. such as digestion and heartbeat. even though he was quite hungry. he talked about how it had made him reflect on his relationship with his parents and what they’d given up for him. which helps us imagine other people’s thoughts and emotions.’ Immordino-Yang reported her findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 and in Emotion Review in 2011. where fiction readers who felt emotionally transported into a story scored higher on a scale of empathic concern one week after their reading experience. As the researchers analysed the data. When one participant listened to a story about a Chinese boy giving a warm cake to his mother. the stories we absorb seem to shape our thought processes in much the same way lived experience does. then. The Ohio State University psychologist Lisa Libby studied a group of people who engaged in ‘experience-taking’. their brains revealed that they identified with the stories and characters on a visceral level. which governs basic physical functions. Listeners and speakers also showed parallel activation of the temporoparietal junction. . High levels of experience-taking predicted observable changes in behaviour. The fMRI data showed that emotion-driven responses to stories like these started in the brain stem. As they reacted to the stories. When people identified with a protagonist who voted in the face of challenges. stories help our brains map that of the storyteller.while her brain was being scanned in an fMRI machine. Then they scanned the brains of 11 volunteers listening to a recording of the story. When the University of Southern California neuroscientist Mary Immordino-Yang told subjects a series of moving true stories. Libby and her colleagues found in 2012. too. Just when the speaker’s brain lit up in the area of the insula – a region that governs empathy and moral sensibilities – the listeners’ insulae lit up. it’s perfectly natural for our own hearts to pound. they found some striking similarities. ‘I can almost feel the physical sensations. It’s this kind of gut-level empathetic story response that can inspire people to behave differently in the real world.’ one of Immordino- Yang’s subjects remarked after hearing one of the stories. for instance. they were more likely themselves to vote later on. In certain essential ways. or putting themselves in a character’s place while reading. Which is my sign of something really touching. subjects also reported strong feelings of moral motivation.

Every story is the beginning of a conversation. . with ourselves as well as with others. ‘We’re looking for ways in which kids see that history is connected to their own lives. brings students lessons that feature true stories from historical conflicts. Children who complete the Facing History curriculum show more empathy and concern for others. some with several convictions to their names. are exactly what educators are counting on to unleash story’s change-creating potential. describing how Nazis burned synagogues. recognising how it matters to them. happen when children actively engage – even empathise – with a particular narrative. The men would sit around a table with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professor Robert Waxler and talk about a variety of different books – from Jack London’s Sea-Wolf to James Dickey’sDeliverance. someone who does nothing while someone else gets hurt. but they’re also thinking about similar matters closer to home. The non-profit Facing History and Ourselves. in part because of all theother stories that have changed our perception in the interim. We denounce. their thoughts and choices shift measurably. Those kinds of conversations. internally or out loud.’ One lesson about the 1938 Kristallnacht attacks delves into the historical narrative. This real-life story prompts class discussion that touches on what it means to be a bystander. smashed windows and looted Jewish shops while most ordinary Germans just watched. The biggest transformations. When students explore the significance of stories in this way. and they are more likely than controls to intervene when other students are bullied. We respond to The Diary of Anne Frank differently at age 42 than we do at 12. CLTL began in the early 1990s with a pilot programme that included eight men. ‘We teach specific pieces in history that have a connection to the present. We talk back. We argue with stories. many story messages don’t translate into action as neatly as controlled studies might suggest. active in school districts around the US.Of course. Kids consider how they might have reacted when Jewish people were persecuted under Nazi rule. says Facing History executive Marty Sleeper. internal and external. T he alternative sentencing programme Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) is proving that well-told stories can also re-orient the lives of adult offenders. such as whether they should stand up for a friend who’s being badmouthed.’ Sleeper says. We praise.

After his therapy concluded. an inspiration. ‘I’m often asked. CG reported that he had actually asked a woman on a date and that he’d enjoyed himself the whole time. and convinced others were out to get him. ‘The fictional character was alive for the student at that crucial moment. in itself. It was a watershed moment. withdrawn. he often told Skean. CG began to let Skean in. “What do you hope readers take from your books?” ’ Newbery . In a 2005 case study. Of course. When Skean expressed happiness.’ In a study of 600 participants. a graduate student in his late twenties called CG who was the child of abusive. Living out this narrative had made him lonely. One day. The success of Adolf Hitler’s oratory bid to dominate 1930s Germany should convince us that a narrative’s surface persuasiveness is not. surprising perspectives. One man talked about his identification with Santiago. should do things that brought him pleasure’.’ But little by little. valuable.As they read and discussed the stories. people would always reject him – that were not necessarily true. rates of criminal activity declined by 60 per cent compared to only 16 per cent in a control group. CG believed close relationships with others could only hurt him. In return. he was beginning to see himself as capable. telling her stories from his difficult past. The stories we tell ourselves are integral to our wellbeing. Rutgers University psychologist Karen Riggs Skean describes one of her patients. a stranger become a friend. Skean helped him see how his early struggles had led him to tell himself certain stories – the world was hostile and cold. a virtue.’ Counsellors who practice psychodynamic therapy help clients discard these stagnant inner monologues and substitute fresh ones. too. a glimpse at the evolution of CG’s internal narrative. CG went on to thrive and to take high-ranking positions in his academic field. she recalls. And sensibly enough. ‘It was not an exaggeration to say that a story had caught this student’s attention and perhaps saved his life that day. The man said he sometimes felt an inner pull to go back to his drug habit. some enthralling inner narratives can damage mental horizons. neglectful parents. No longer the abused. At the beginning of treatment.’ or ‘My mother dashes all my most important dreams.’ Waxler writes. Depressed people often cling to long-established internal narratives with refrains like ‘I’m not good enough to achieve much. forgotten child who saw so many forces arrayed against him. and worthy of the good things in life. the beleaguered fisherman in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. many artists bristle at the idea that they tell stories to get people to think or act in any particular way. but that Santiago’s will to persevere motivated him to stay a sober course. the students came away with new. CG ‘began to cry and said that he just realised there had never been anyone in his life who gave him a feeling that he should be happy. ‘I’m not sure how helpful today’s session has been.

outside the circumscribed spaces of what we believe and what we think possible. It is these journeys – sometimes tenuous. he had illustrated a year earlier. Stories allow us to travel.Award winner Shannon Hale wrote on her blog. It’s always up to us whether to turn our backs on a story’s landscape or to step into the fresh possibilities it offers. broaden our mental and moral outlook without demanding that we hew to a certain standard.’ When story is at its best – as yarn-spinners like Hale can testify – its effect is expansive rather than nakedly persuasive. Marx: Mode d’Emploi. In the deep sadness that filled the big room his . ‘I have a hard time answering that question. by contrast. perhaps unexpected. Is Solidarity without Identity Possible? On the Charlie Hebdo attack January 10th. I just hope that a reader takes whatever she needs. The most enduring stories. sometimes exhilarating – that inspire and steel us to navigate uncharted territories in real life. are better described as dictates or propaganda. the day of the crowded commemoration of the French philosopher and activist Daniel Bensaïd at La Mutualité. featuring one of its controversial covers © Valentina Calà | Flickr The time I saw Charb in Paris was January 24. 2010. because I never write toward a purpose or moral. time and again. Waxler’s students. 2015 | 14 responses A vigil in Luxembourg for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. how we should behave. whose book. a meek older woman who shows grit and selflessness after a surprising tragedy (Alison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs). and CG – we emerge as revised. Charb kept drawing and projecting vignettes about his comrade Daniel. Narratives that tell us point-blank who we should be. or a hotel manager who shelters refugees marked out for death (Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda). Whether they describe a young nurse risking her life to smuggle children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. During the speeches. versions of ourselves. they present us with an arresting alternative to the way we see the world. But when we do decide to venture into an unfamiliar story – as did Megan Felt.

that is. The target was politically and carefully chosen. Charb was one of the ten cartoonists and journalists killed. CHpublished a cover with a vignette saying: “Le Coran. of his little malicious smile with which he used to charm us all. Its covers alternate denouncing and criticizing French policies against immigrants and Houellebecq’s Islamophobic paranoia with an endless series of vignettes targeting “les islamistes. ça n’arrête pas les balles” (The Quran is a piece of shit: it doesn’t stop bullets). they are increasingly becoming the scapegoat of the economic crisis. the mirror upon which white Europeans project their deepest nightmares and fears. is over-simplistic. Sadly enough. in the wake of the criticisms and accusations of Islamophobia Charlie Hebdo started to receive. it is hitting the French Left. still had credibility among the French Left.” It further isolates the Muslim population in France (around five million people) and exposes it to a further escalation of the already worrying and rampant Islamophobia. slowly helping us to heal the loss. kept pointing out that its satire was addressed to all religions indiscriminately. as in some sort of mechanical cause-and-effect connection. together with two policemen. shotguns have been fired against two mosques. And. in spite of the controversies about the quite Islamophobic vignettes it published. the distinctively French pride of being free to satirize both God and the King. this answer shows a fundamental misunderstanding about context — that same misunderstanding that led part of the French left to capitulate in favor of an abstract republican secularism on the occasion of the discussions regarding the scarf law. they deliberately chose a magazine that. and above all at the resuscitation of the mantra of “the clash of civilizations. this means that the attack might have been a successful one. and all French political leaders have appealed to national unity in defense of the République. Muslims are not only a largely oppressed and exploited minority in France.” this image features a “responsible journal” that is empty of content © Emiline Broussard | Flickr Charlie Hebdo is an extreme symptom of the troubles of the French Left. In contrast to Charlie Hebdo’s self-description as an “irresponsible journal. moreover. the Muslim French.vignettes constantly reminded us of Bensaïd’s subtle humor. a kebab shop has been bombed. in order not to leave any option of resistance other than radical Islamism to the Muslim population. The strategy behind the attack aims at a polarization of French society. Whether this is true or not (and I think it is not entirely true). The narrative about the direct correspondence between the publication of irreverent vignettes of Muhammad and the attack. the only barrier against an uncontrolled proliferation of Islamophobia in the country. where it hurts the most: in its troubles in dealing with France’s colonial past and legacy and in reformulating universalism in such a way as to give full inclusion to Arab and Muslim people. in the ferocious attack of January 7. 2015. Of all the targets the attackers could choose. a massive manhunt to capture the killers is taking place. enjoying dwelling in the trivial obscenities of the genre. Director of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Every single week in Germany several thousands of people gather in various cities under the organizational denomination of PEGIDA for demonstrations against the “Islamization des Abendlandes” (PEGIDA stands for “Patrotic Europeans against the Islamization . that embodied a distinctively French tradition of secularist irreverence.” Following the killing of a thousand Muslim Brothers in the 2013 Rabaa massacre in Egypt. at an escalation of the conflict. Nor is the narrative about attacks on freedom of speech and of press sufficient to understand what is really happening. Its defenders. It is pushing the white population to gather behind the banners of the national republican unity and identity perceived as under attack from the new French. Since then messages of solidarity stating “Je suis Charlie” — I am Charlie — have been flooding the web and other media. c’est de la merde. A magazine.

directly or indirectly.of the West”). I cannot bring myself to participate in the choir and say that “I am Charlie. and honestly scary. for a solidarity that does not need the affirmation of a common identity to express itself. context. An Italian rightwing newspaper published the photo of the attack on Charlie Hebdo under the title “This is Islam. rather than reinforcing or restating them. the repeated publication of vignettes caricaturizing Islamists by adopting religious symbols and stereotypical representations that by the same token identify five million oppressed people living in France was not an act of courage. willingly or unwillingly. that we deeply loathe the politics. In this worrying. and means of radical Islamists. And we cannot deploy the expected slogan of “We are all French” in this moment in which a specific version of French national identity was mobilized to oppress those French citizens who cannot possibly identify with it.” But here is the problem. as they make it extremely difficult for us to say that we find this act of violence disgusting and unacceptable. This attack and these murders push people like me into a corner. strategy. In spite of my very dear memory of Charb’s sweet. forcing all of us to participate. .” and a large part of the Italian population would be perfectly happy to let Muslim immigrants sink without help in the Mediterranean. This tiny space. is the space that the attack against Charlie Hebdo risks closing. humorous. the space for a solidarity capable of challenging identities. and moving vignettes about Daniel Bensaïd. in the renewed farce of the clash of civilizations. that we are in pain for the people who have been murdered. but that yet we cannot identify ourselves with Charlie Hebdo.