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Showing posts from June 16, 2013

if truth is stranger than fiction, what is a truism stranger than?

“Truth is stranger than fiction” – such is the truism. About truisms, one never says that they are stranger than fiction – on the contrary, a truism banalizes truth. It brings out, so to speak, the truth’s unconscious lie, in bringing out the system in which the truth is placed. However, what I want to know is: why? By what measure is the truth stranger than fiction? In fact, the formalists say that making strange, estrangement, is one of the great devices of art. Skhlovskii defines that strangeness as a form of de-routinization. A part of the world – a tree, say – is given a presence that seems to depart from the routines to which trees in the human world are subject – chopping them down, planting them in groves or along streets, cooling ourselves in their shade, etc. The tree in Tolstoy’s short piece, Three deaths, for instance, is given a more tragic and meaningful death than the two human beings, even though the tree is in no way anthropomorphized. Turning around the phras

negation of the negation

Ah, the bits that are thrown away by writers in passing! I’m reading an essay collection by Mary McCarthy – yes, I’m one of that phantom audience who reads old essay collections -   and in a review of Simone de Beauvoir’s account of her American tour, I come upon this bit of diamond fit for a sceptre that was, as it were, thrown away in a bit of meat for the periodical grinder: “On an American leafing through the pages of an old library copy, the book has a strange effect. It is as though an inhabitant of Lilliput or Brobdingnag, coming upon a copy of Gulliver's Travels, sat down to read, in a foreign tongue, of his own local customs codified by an observer of a different species: everything is at once familiar and distorted. The landmarks are there, and some of the institutions and personages — Eighth Avenue, Broadway, Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, Harvard, Yale, Vas sar, literary celebrities concealed under initials; here are the drugstores and the cafeterias and th

Napoleon the fourth - Chagnon's useful idiots

I've been reading, with maximum amusement, the usual ev psy useful idiots going gaga over Napoleon Chagnon's autobiography. The Dawkins to Pinker line is pretty hilarious - I will grant these people a certain scientific credit in their field, as why not? But they are, to say the least, the most credulous schoolboys on an outing ever when it comes to "primitive people". So I am going to reprint something I wrote in 2001, regarding Robin Fox, another ev psy stooge. I read a rather dismal piece by the anthropologist Robin Fox today, in the London Review of Books. Fox, who is the head of the Anthropology department at Rutgers, reviewed the biography of Colin Turnbull, the man who studied the Ik and the Mbuti Pygmies.   Turnbull's book on the Ik , The Mountain People, became famous in the seventies. It supposedly showed a people who had lost any claim to humanity - a people reduced, by starvation, perhaps, to an appalling, Hobbesian state of man against man (und Gott