Against Identity, the Search for Nazi Map Data, and Bowling with Melville
Good morning, everyone. The Australian journalist Stan Grant—a man of the left—takes issue with identity: “Grant sees himself as an exile, an outsider to those seeking an identity, be they white or black. The anthem he wants to sing is of love. Love and freedom. When identity is abandoned, he says, love and freedom can flower, and the soul can survive any assault and persecution. In support of this thesis, Grant cites a considerable number of writers and philosophers decrying the bounds of identity and declaring their aspirations and efforts to abandon it. Not surprisingly, many of them are what Colin Wilson called ‘outsiders’ in his seminal 1956 book The Outsiders.” I suspect—or I hope—that more people will begin pushing back against the obsession with identity as the tendency to view all of reality via its misty categories increases.
Andrew Roberts reviews a new biography of Prince Clemens von Metternich: “Was he, as Henry Kissinger and others believe, the infinitely subtle conservative master of realpolitik who brought down Napoleon and saved the peace of Europe for the next four decades? Or was he, as more progressive souls contest, a cynical arch-manipulator and reactionary who held back liberal reforms in Europe and whose sole achievement was to have been a progenitor of today’s European Union?”
Is the finely wrought Mindhunter, a Netflix show on the FBI’s search for serial killers, too cool? Stephen Daisley reviews: “The encomia are not unearned. It is executive produced by David Fincher, director of classy-macabre thrillers Se7en and Zodiac, and skulks in the gloaming of human depravity with crawling camerawork and a wispy, disorienting score of simple keys and strings. Groff pulls off a socially maladjusted square with methodic cool, while McCallany’s husky everyman provides an entry point for viewers, his weary, nicotine-stained face creased by a career spent seeking out the grotesque and finding it. In the end, though, and there’s really no comely way of saying this, Mindhunter is a show for fans of serial killers . . . Mindhunter is not callous but it may be too clever to realize when it is being cruel.”
Bowling with Melville: “During the summer of 1843, when he was twenty-three and had not yet published a word, Herman Melville worked as a pinsetter in a bowling alley in Honolulu and, according to the Melville authority Hershel Parker, “at quiet times picked up some skill as a bowler.”
In search of Shakespeare’s library: “In an autumn in which scholars have unearthed Milton’s copy of Shakespeare in Philadelphia and parchment fragments from the 13th-century epic Le Roman de la Rose in Worcester, Stuart Kells, author of the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Library, would like to be clear: he has not uncovered the Bard’s book collection, despite what the title might suggest. ‘But I have confirmed its existence, clarified its scale and scope, and documented what happened to it,’ says the author, who has spent 20 years on the trail of Shakespeare’s personal library, and lays out his search in his new book.”
Hedgehogs and us: “Throughout history we have turned to the hedgehog: we have used them in our fables, and demanded that they cure us of our pains. In 1693 the physician William Salmon published a cure for baldness that involved mixing the fat of a hedgehog with that of a bear and applying it to the scalp. Failing that, he suggested optimistically that hedgehog dung might have a similar effect. He was not the first to have that thought: the Ebers Papyrus, dating from around 1550 bce, suggested that an amulet in the shape of a hedgehog would stop hair thinning. Its skin and spines have been thought to help with toothache, kidney stones, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, deafness, cystitis, leprosy, elephantiasis and impotence. In Latvian folklore, the hedgehog is a symbol of regeneration and fertility; Latvian wedding songs dub the bride ‘she-hedgehog’, and married women ‘mothers of hedgehogs’.”
Essay of the Day:
In Smithsonian Magazine, Greg Miller tells the previously untold story of a US mission to seize Nazi map data:
“The fighting for Aachen was fierce. American planes and artillery pounded the Nazi defenses for days. Tanks then rolled into the narrow streets of the ancient city, the imperial seat of Charlemagne, which Hitler had ordered defended at all costs. Bloody building-to-building combat ensued until, finally, on October 21, 1944, Aachen became the first German city to fall into Allied hands.
“Rubble still clogged the streets when U.S. Army Maj. Floyd W. Hough and two of his men arrived in early November. ‘The city appears to be 98% destroyed,’ Hough wrote in a memo to Washington. A short, serious man of 46 with receding red hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Hough had a degree in civil engineering from Cornell, and before the war he led surveying expeditions in the American West for the U.S. government and charted the rainforests of South America for oil companies. Now he was the leader of a military intelligence team wielding special blue passes, issued by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, that allowed Hough and his team to move freely in the combat zone. Their mission was such a closely guarded secret that one member later recalled he was told not to open the envelope containing his orders until two hours after his plane departed for Europe. In Aachen, their target was a library.”
Poem: Erin O’Luanaigh, “The Swing”
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