The Threepenny Review has fallen in love with the Spanish writer Javier Marias. Every issue for the last year has included an essay of his; this summer's issue begins with his startling piece on egoists.
Here's his conclusion. Note that he seems to consider all writers to be egoists:
...the great virtue and advantage of the egoist [is] his capacity to observe without experiencing any obligation to feel pity. It is said of generous, altruistic people that they are capable of putting themselves in other people's shoes and of understanding their needs, but this can inevitably give rise to a high degree of confusion: the altruist -- who is, deep down, a stickler for the rules -- ends up believing that everyone's desires and needs are the same, and thus performs a kind of leveling process, the effect of which is to make these individuals replace their possible previous desires with others that the altruist considers universal. Now, that is precisely what no one wants, since our most authentic desires are unique and untransferable and, often, unconfessable. The egoist, on the other hand, tends to know himself through and through and is never likely to confuse himself with someone else, still less usurp antoher's personality. And because he is not equipped to place himself in that other person's shoes, he will never cease to see other people as individuals with their own interests and desires, which he deems to be as worthy or respect as his own. The egoist will be able to discriminate because he doesn't compare or involve himself with others. The egoist weighs his words, his actions, and his power, and when he does so, even though his objective is always his own best interest, and although one might say that, as a whole, he lacks scruples, the advantage is that he will behave with urbanity, civility, and tact, and can at least calim to be free of the two gravest and most widespread sins of our age: proselyetism and messianism. This egoist is one of the few people who is not trying to convert or save someone, and is, therefore, one of the few capable of seeing the truth.
(Don't know if I agree: Don't some egoists -- say, Bill Clinton -- want to convert or save people? But it's certainly thought provoking. Wonder who Marias is really thinking of...himself?)
From the master of climate 'tooning, a recent sketch:
The sketch reflects the recent news from Colorado (where fires have been burning for weeks now, and could go on all summer, not to mention Utah, and New Mexico) and California and the West Coast, where sea level rise is accelerating, and is expected to reach five feet this century.
Does the humor come from the exaggeration, or from the reality?.
This is not a new story, but it's new to me, and its logic compells: Molecular research shows that the receptor that governs what we think of as depression has deep mammalian roots, which means it must have been selected for by evolution. So why would depression be useful?
Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerousstudieshave also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.
This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable. Indeed, when you are faced with a difficult problem, such as a math problem, feeling depressed is often a useful response that may help you analyze and solve it. For instance, in some of our research, we have found evidence that people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test.
I can attest recently to feeling depressed in just this way, while trying to write a difficult story over a weekend. Just as authors of this study, Paul Andrews and J. Anderson Thompson Jr, said, this depressed mood led to intense concentration and disinterest in food, sex, or pleasure, or anything but the problem, in fact, and the non-stop thinking did lead to a solution. (Sez me.)
But is there any evidence that depression is useful in analyzing complex problems? For one thing, if depressive rumination were harmful, as most clinicians and researchers assume, then bouts of depression should be slower to resolve when people are given interventions that encourage rumination, such as having them write about their strongest thoughts and feelings. However, the opposite appears to be true. Severalstudieshave found that expressive writing promotes quicker resolution of depression, and they suggest that this is because depressed people gain insight into their problems.
Would we be less troubled by depression if we thought of it as a form of problem-solving? Guess it depends on whether or not the problem can be solved by rumination.
In a dance review yesterday, Claudia La Rocco in the inevitable New York Timestells a shocking story that apparently is well-known in the dance world, but certainly is new to moi. To wit:
I was reminded of a destined-to-become-infamous incident from 1984, when the choreographer Mark Morris rose from the audience during a performance of Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” yelled “No more rape!” and exited the theater.
Mr. Morris’s response to the stylized violence (in “That’s Life,” a woman in evening wear is flung about and manhandled by her tux-wearing companion) sounded over the top when I first read about it. But since then I have watched far too many performances that have featured the brutal handling of women — always artfully cloaked, of course.
Unfortunately, this ugly phenomenon hasn’t subsided, and there it was again on Wednesday, during the American premiere of the Mimulus Dance Theater's “Por um Fio” (“By a Thread”). The four women in the nine-member ensemble are repeatedly in chokeholds, their muscular male partners handling them by their necks as they move through athletic combinations infused by social dance traditions.
The men almost always are leading throughout this hourlong dance, manipulating their willing partners like so many pieces of virtuosic clay. They grasp the women’s faces at times, with palms and fingers settling like masks. As the men sling and hoist their partners about, the women’s bodies go to extremes: either appearing rigid, or limp as rag dolls. At other times they respond by kicking and struggling, but never with real resistance.
Mark Morris, once a bad boy banned from American Dance Festival for his "no more rape" outburst, is now perhaps the world's leading choreographer (and, according to Wendy Lesser of Threepenny Review, the leading provocateur, too). But Nine Sinatra Songs, although cleverly composed and elegant in Tharp's slinky way, did often turn women into objects, sometimes to be desired, but seemingly more often to be used, tossed around, stepped over,. Dramatic but troubling, and, natch, Tharp's most popular ballet (according ot the Miami City Ballet).
Why must our culture must rely on the sensitivity of a gay man to protest the rape of women? Because if a woman was to protest, that would be a lack of objectivity?
Of course it's true that Emerson wrote this down on a piece of paper:
Men cease to interest us as soon as we find their limitations. As soon as you come up with a man's limitations, it is all over with him. Has he talents? Has he enterprise? Has he knowledge? It boots not. Infinitely alluring and attractive was he to you yesterday, a great hope, a sea to swim in; now, you have found his shores, found it a pond, and you care not if you never see it again.
And published it in one of his lesser-known essays, Circles, in 1841. But he wrote in the present, off the cuff, from his journals, and he remains prescient today, on this subject and countless others, on the web, in tweets, in books and libraries and talks and god only knows what other forms.
I bring this up to introduce a new talent from an old friend. Sylvia Plath, a remarkable novelist, a great poet, a continuing controversy; and well, she also turns out to be a first-rate pen and ink artist.
To wit, in just one of many examples from the most recent Paris Review:
It's not just men who we dismiss too readily for their perceived limitations.
Here's a story in the Reporter I wrote on local fav Julie Christensen, who just brought out an excellent new record, despite not having the backing or the money. No small feat.
It's a triumph, sez me, and I knew I wanted to write about Julie and her new record when I heard her sing "Weeds Like us" last summer, with his unforgettable chorus: Every day is an act of will/Weeds like us are hard to kill.