Let’s kick this morning off with a couple of items from the alternate universe desk: In Commentary, Abraham Socher writes about how a liberal arts college like Oberlin has become a place that takes intellectually curious students and teaches “them to rush to judgment, ignore evidence, disdain the legal system, and demonize neighbors who are different.” Also, The Guardian reports that a white professor is being investigated for quoting James Baldwin: “The Pulitzer-nominated poet Laurie Sheck, a professor at the New School in New York City, is being investigated by the university for using the N-word during a discussion about James Baldwin’s use of the racial slur. The investigation has been condemned by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), which is calling on the New School to drop the ‘misguided’ case because it ‘warns faculty and students that good-faith engagement with difficult political, social, and academic questions will result in investigation and possible discipline’.”
Sally Bedell Smith reviews A. N. Wilson’s biography of Prince Albert: “Pity the poor biographer who is a contemporary of A. N. Wilson’s. At age 68, Wilson has written 28 works of nonfiction and 24 novels. He’s unafraid to take on major figures, among them Jesus Christ. Pity the poor biographer even more when her husband comes into her office every year or so with a Cheshire Cat smile and says, ‘Guess who’s published another one!’ My heart sinks, because I know he’s referring to Wilson, whom the tormenting husband calls ‘the Joyce Carol Oates of nonfiction.’ Not content with writing the life of Queen Victoria, Wilson has now produced a biography of her husband, Prince Albert, timed to his 200th birthday. And the poor biographer must admit: It’s superb.”
Robert Indiana lived his last years in squalor: “World-famous millionaire artist Robert Indiana was nearly blind and living in filth and squalor in his final years, as his caretaker siphoned more than $1 million of his fortune while neglecting the artist and his once-opulent Vinalhaven home, according to an explosive new court document filed Wednesday.”
Abandoned sketch found under Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks: “A deep dive into Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks (ca. 1491/2-9 and 1506-8) has revealed unexpected images of now-hidden drawings lying underneath its surface. 15 years ago, it was revealed that the Virgin Mary’s pose had been changed during Leonardo’s process of completing the work. However, this month, London’s National Gallery announced the findings of its even closer look into the famous artwork, depicting a haloed Virgin Mary with an infant Saint John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.”
Let’s bring back paper theatres, shall we? “For ‘one penny plain, two cents colored,’ you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels. The heroes appear over and over again, taking on as many attitudes as the plot requires. Then there are the sets, storybook illustrations of extravagant palaces and howling wildernesses, to be slotted in and out of the back of the theater, behind the cavorting characters. The scripts that came with them were as miniaturized as the stage, heavily abridged and censored for children’s ears and attention spans . . . As another partisan of the miniature stage, G. K. Chesterton, wrote: ‘by reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events…Because it is small it could easily represent the Day of Judgement. Exactly in so far as it is limited, so far it could play easily with falling cities or with falling stars.’”
Francesca Steele reviews Téa Obreht’s Inland: “Téa Obreht’s second novel is an expansive and ambitious subversion of Western tropes, set in fin de siècle America. We have the outlaw, the detached hero, the fainting woman. Yet our outlaw is a camel-rider, our desperado a mother defending her homestead. Everything save the relentlessly harsh Arizona desert — a ‘godforsaken place’ of ‘baking summer hillsides’ — is unreliable: memory, relationships, even the finality of death.”
Essay of the Day:
In Aeon, Daniel Everett revisits the life and work of Charles Sanders Peirce:
“The roll of scientists born in the 19th century is as impressive as any century in history. Names such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, George Washington Carver, Alfred North Whitehead, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce, Leo Szilard, Edwin Hubble, Katharine Blodgett, Thomas Edison, Gerty Cori, Maria Mitchell, Annie Jump Cannon and Norbert Wiener created a legacy of knowledge and scientific method that fuels our modern lives. Which of these, though, was ‘the best’?
“Remarkably, in the brilliant light of these names, there was in fact a scientist who surpassed all others in sheer intellectual virtuosity. Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), pronounced ‘purse’, was a solitary eccentric working in the town of Milford, Pennsylvania, isolated from any intellectual centre. Although many of his contemporaries shared the view that Peirce was a genius of historic proportions, he is little-known today. His current obscurity belies the prediction of the German mathematician Ernst Schröder, who said that Peirce’s ‘fame [will] shine like that of Leibniz or Aristotle into all the thousands of years to come’.”
Photo: Marin County
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