Does art produce empathy? Namwali Serpell argues it doesn’t and writes that we should stop concerning ourselves with this supposed “ethical” characteristic of art: “This idea is particularly prevalent when it comes to those works of art described as ‘narrative’: stories, novels, TV shows, movies, comics. We assume that works that depict characters in action over time must make us empathize with them, or as the saying goes, ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’ And we assume that this is a good thing. Why?”

It’s time to be scientific about climate science, says Judith Curry: “Curry is a true climatologist. She once headed the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, until she gave up on the academy so that she could express herself independently. ‘Independence of mind and climatology have become incompatible,’ she says. Do you mean that global warming isn’t real? I ask. ‘There is warming, but we don’t really understand its causes,’ she says. ‘The human factor and carbon dioxide, in particular, contribute to warming, but how much is the subject of intense scientific debate.’” 

How opium became a commodity: “Although Milk of Paradise is presented as a ‘history of opium’ in its subtitle, there is more to it than just the history of the latex of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Rather, as Inglis makes clear, opium has long been a substance of deep social, political, religious, and economic significance. It appears, Gump-like, throughout the highs and lows of civilization. In this story, the drugs have always had a dual nature. Opioids are essential to both modern medicine and modern criminal empires; they save lives and destroy them. This paradoxical nature, as both poison and cure, is at the center of Inglis’s history.”

Reconsidering Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus: “In From Bauhaus to Our House (1981), Tom Wolfe dismissed Gropius as a ‘Silver Prince’ whose socialist rhetoric masked an elitist world-view and a cold, impersonal aesthetic that had left a malign mark on America. Without fetishising his buildings, MacCarthy makes a compelling case for the architect as an impassioned idealist and romantic”

Hunter S. Thompson is good, but not great: “Discovering Thompson’s journalistic feats was a thrill. Decades after it was first committed to print, the hard-drinking, gun-toting ‘gonzo’ journalist’s jagged, violent prose couldn’t fail to excite. Hell’s Angels (1967) was a gory close-up of America’s most notorious bicycle gang. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) was a novelistic account of a drug-fuelled journey to Las Vegas in search of the American dream. His coverage of the 1972 presidential election for Rolling Stone was published as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. In these books and scores of articles, Thompson brought scenes to life in an instantly recognisable style that was exaggerated, eccentric, breakneck and captivating. His work captured the mood and made him famous. That celebrity eventually evolved into a mythology that elevated the author of a clutch of very good books to the status of literary deity. And that change had less to do with the art than it did with the artist. His irascible nature, his ability to consume death-defying quantities of drink and drugs, his props—yellow-lensed aviators and a plastic cigarette-holder—became a persona that grew like a parasite on his work. Eventually it reached a size that the host body could not sustain.”

Sam Leith writes in praise of Mister Miracle, “the cheesiest of all superheroes.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New Criterion, Gary Saul Morson praises Tolstoy’s complexity and realism:

“Tolstoy’s amazing talent to see complexity and irregularities overlooked by others not only explains his astonishing realism but also serves as a counterargument to all the ‘simplifiers.’ Readers of Russian literature appreciate its psychological depth, but they are usually unaware that for Tolstoy, as for Dostoevsky and Chekhov, psychology served as an ideological weapon against prevailing ideology. Let me mention a few remarkable instances of how Tolstoy shows that our minds are much more complex than we imagine.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lake Como and Alps

Poem: Amit Majmudar, “The Weathervanes”

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