At the same time I see that the academy has its ways of inuring too many of its chosen ones against a compulsion to apply their research and writing to contemporary issues that ought to demand all of our attention. Perhaps it’s that American campuses are so leafy and idyllic, allowing us to pretend that this utopic vision is but the world on a micro-scale. Or maybe it’s something more sinister, something a little closer to what O’Donnell describes: “Rigorous challenging of ideas and robust debate are essential to academia, but I believe that this battle prevents creativity and big thinking. When you know your idea will be attacked, you put forward the smallest, most defendable idea you can.”
Excerpts and curios from around the web:
Franz Kafka’s workout regimen, the linguistic history of ‘garbage person,’ classic fairy tales re-imagined by the NRA, and a chance to rip open your shirt and cry ‘STELLLAAA!’ to a throng of cheering spectators in the French Quarter.
Early in the hour-long film, “The Judicial Murder of Jakub Mohr,” the central protagonist, a patient in a psychiatric ward, shouts in Czech, “My words are not my own!” [“Moje slova nejsou moje!”]. He is on Kafka-esque trial for saying out loud what is visibly true: a series of wires—“Threads!” rebukes the prosecutor—extend from his back and connect to an ominous box, which is held by a man who in turn dictates in whispers what the patient says. At one point, Mohr lists to the jury in indignation what he has become: a gramophone, a radio, an instrument. He is something between human self and machine, a cyborg, his agency mediated by the state and psychiatric institution.
Traveling around Europe in the midst of all this, conducting dissertation research on the Czech interwar avant-garde and its relationship to other major artistic centers of that period, I could not but think about renewed border controls in the EU territory within the context of, and in comparison to, travel in the period between the two World Wars. At that time, Europeans (as well as travelers from further afield) enjoyed a newly open, post-war terrain. The physical movement of bodies, facilitated also by new and faster modes of travel, helped to open up an unprecedented level of exchange between artists and intellectuals of diverse backgrounds and languages. In that brief window of freedom of movement between the two World Wars, Paris was a hub of such traffic, and many visitors came from Prague.
“The problem I have with contemporary culture is that today everything is treated as a product. Culture is a huge and shiny supermarket. As all products are announced as ‘brilliant,’ the risk inherent in buying those product falls entirely to me. In that respect, I often miss ‘my butcher’ and ‘my baker’ and ‘my vegetable lady,’ people I could rely on. These days, shopping and consuming—including consuming culture—have become more difficult. In such a context, I behave like any other cultural consumer: I buy books randomly, because I’ve heard of the author or the title, or I know the publisher’s taste, or a friend recommended something to me.”