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Showing posts from February 16, 2014

walking, magic, moral failure

Magical realism is, as a term, a real drag. That is, in as much as it is applied to a certain kind of Latin American literature. However, the implied integration of the fantastic into the ordinary does work when you are describing your baby learning how to walk. Because this happens in plain old secular time in which you bump into things, you need a shave, the third drink makes you drunk, and dreamtime, in which you are being chased by robbers again, there is a flood coming, it turns out your dead relatives aren’t dead, etc. Such are the lacunae in the chronicle that I don’t remember when Adam developed his crawl, which was not your traditional four on the floor ambulation, with both legs providing the body motion, but the three wheeler model, viz, tucking one leg up and extending the other leg behind him. It was surprisingly speedy, due to his ability to pivot with that tucked up leg. We worried, though. Was there some reason he seemed to be nursing that front leg? Somehow, though, I


When, in the 1950s, the American military surveyed the incidence of plane accidents and accidents involving all the surrounding equipment necessary to get a bomber or a missile in the air, they came to an alarming conclusion: over ten years time, the chance of some accident setting off a hydrogen bomb was one in five. These are terrible odds. As with all military problems, this one was turned over to various war intellectuals at Rand. One of them, Fred Iklé, completed a secret report that zeroed in on the real problem here: once the accident happened, people might get mad at the Pentagon. In order to ward off the terrible notion that the Public would lose faith in the generals, Iklé spelled out several responses. The responses simply gave voice to what any old-timer could have told the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it was put into print by Iklé. The first and most important thing was to appoint a board of inquiry – not in order to get to the heart of what happened, of course. That way li

routines (part of a larger essay)

1. Imagine a culture without routines. Is this possible? The routine for eating, cooking, harvesting, hunting, traveling, not to mention curing, excreting, making love – don’t these practical matters have to become routines? But as we press the question, the concept of the routine seems to become more indistinct. Imagine a culture without rituals, then. The late nineteenth century anthropologists became obsessed with rituals – rituals and art, rituals and magic, rituals and taboo. The rituals of savages – the people without the law, the non-Western Europeans – and their survivals among the civilized savages of the European zones, among whom are the scientists themselves, the middle class, the peasants and workers - were intensely studied, taxonomized, and generalized. Basing their claims on the huge data base that was presented in The Golden Bough , the anthropologists claimed that there was no culture without ritual. Without, as Jane Ellen Harrison was fond of pointi