The Rise of Androgyny, Saul Bellow’s America, and Newman the Novelist
Well, this is interesting: A new experiment proves that giant molecules can exist in two places at once: “Giant molecules can be in two places at once . . . That’s something that scientists have long known is theoretically true based on a few facts: Every particle or group of particles in the universe is also a wave—even large particles, even bacteria, even human beings, even planets and stars. And waves occupy multiple places in space at once. So any chunk of matter can also occupy two places at once. Physicists call this phenomenon ‘quantum superposition,’ and for decades, they have demonstrated it using small particles. But in recent years, physicists have scaled up their experiments, demonstrating quantum superposition using larger and larger particles. Now, in a paper published Sept. 23 in the journal Nature Physics, an international team of researchers has caused molecule made up of up to 2,000 atoms to occupy two places at the same time.”
In other news: What the Twenty-One quiz show scandal teaches us today: “Popular memory considers the ’60s a moment of great disruption, including of the WASP elite, but that disruption began earlier, at the height of WASP popular cultural influence. Today’s elite stands at a similar apex of influence, cooperating with mass media not to spread knowledge of literature, history, and philosophy, but of diversity, inclusivity, and intersectionality. But this cooperation can be risky. There may be no better way to create and spread discontent with reigning elite values than broadcasting them nationally.”
Newman the novelist: “When John Henry Newman is canonized by Pope Francis on October 13, the nineteenth-century cardinal and theologian will become the first new English saint in almost fifty years. He will also become the first novelist to be elevated to sainthood.”
Saul Bellow’s America: “When Augie March appeared in 1953, Jews and Jewish writers, entertainers, and critics were reaching the peak of their popularity in liberal America, as lingering images of the Holocaust still brought American Jews pity while the defenders of Israel gave them pride. This newfound confidence is heralded in Augie’s buoyancy. A new species of Jewish American, Augie is free to chart his own path. Though Bellow himself was not an American Chicago-born, he grants his hero that advantage while freeing him from parental Jewish supervision by making him the fatherless son of a weak mother. Freedom for Augie means not sex and drugs and irresponsibility but the right to try out the newly available options. Augie is the antithesis of John Steinbeck’s Depression victims (The Grapes of Wrath), of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s disenchanted tycoon (The Great Gatsby), and of Ernest Hemingway’s tight-lipped heroes who equate manhood with bullfighting. By contrast, Augie follows to Mexico a girl who is trying to tame a falcon, is schlemiel enough to lose her, ends up a flop at many other things—but is in no way resigned to lead a disappointed life. He leaves us with this thought: ‘Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America.’”
The irritating genius of witzend: “There have been many great stories and personalities in the annals of comics. Few have been as intriguing, irritating, spellbinding, and magical as those in witzend.”
Essay of the Day:
What has led to the increasing international popularity of androgyny? The collapse of the family, Mary Eberstadt argues:
“Following the sexual revolution of the 1960s, sex differences in strength and endurance have been increasingly ignored or minimized, and standards for physical fitness altered, in venues where physical strength matters. These include the armed forces and police and fire departments. As one consequence among many, for the first time in American history, young American women stand a chance of being drafted into combat positions.
“There is also the explosion of gender ambiguity and fluidity in popular culture, beginning, though not only, in the United States. MTV, following the new ideological regimen, in 2017 moved to ‘gender-neutral’ awards for acting (i.e., no more separate awards for ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’). Other vetting boards in the performing arts and related circles are following suit.
“Then comes fashion. Denim jeans became the first sartorial plumage signifying the interchangeability of the sexes. In the 1990s, a handful of designers including Helmut Lang, Giorgio Armani, and Pierre Cardin pioneered what was called “unisex” clothing. Today, it is hard to name a major designer who hasn’t reinforced the trend and gone further.
“Androgyny is also front and center in popular music—and has been, for a while now. Once, David Bowie was a lone, mildly sexually ambiguous figure on the rock scene. Today, stars who flirt with gender bending are assured not only of fan love but also of competing on a field that gets more crowded by the day.
“Androgyny’s rewriting of popular culture isn’t an expression of European or American sexual exceptionalism. In Japan, designers such as Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Kenzo Takada render versions of the same androgynous cool seen in Europe and the United States. As with fashion, the pop-music trend is just as pronounced on the other side of the planet.
“Androgyny is a staple of Korean and Japanese popular genres, from K-pop and J-pop to anime and manga. In society after society, it is androgyny that is most visible across the genres of fashion, music, and other byways of pop culture.
“In short, an increase in androgynous expression is now to be found around the world—specifically, in societies transformed by the postrevolutionary remaking of primordial ties. Plainly, something unprecedented is happening to humanity across the planet, something so hitherto unknown, and operating with such power, that it demands more than passing explanation.
“Here’s one thesis: The new androgyny is not incidental to the collapse of family and community. To the contrary, the new androgyny is being driven by the collapse of family and community.”
Poem: Will Toedtman, “Anniversary Poem”
Joe Posnanski, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini (Simon and Schuster, October 22): “Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.” Available at Amazon.
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