Monthly Archives: October 2016

More Spooky Stories for Halloween

Ben Weger via Flickr.

Ben Weger via Flickr.

Season of mists and yellow fruitfulness…and, of course, of ghosts and stories for long cold evenings. We asked some Hedgehog Review editors, contributors, and friends to send in their recommendations for their favorite Halloween stories for this weekend. Enjoy!

Ghosts, Edith Wharton

According to Edith Wharton, we don’t so much believe in ghosts as feel them, “in the warm darkness of the pre-natal fluid far below our conscious reason” where “the faculty dwells with which we apprehend the ghosts we may not be endowed with the gift of seeing.” Not long before her death in 1937, she worried that this “ghost-instinct” might be gradually atrophying. Ghosts, she wrote, don’t need “echoing passages and hidden doors behind tapestry” to “make themselves manifest,” but two conditions diminishing in a noisy and fast-paced world. Silence, of course, for a ghost “obviously prefers the silent hours,” and also continuity: “For where a ghost has once appeared it seems to hanker to appear again.”

Happily, Wharton’s Ghosts, an omnibus of her own ghost stories, ably stimulates that faculty required for their enjoyment. Her tales are exquisitely sensitive, with subtle premonitions and invariably tragic endings. They induce chills that run down the spine. From “The Triumph of Night,” one of her lesser known:

Faxon’s first impulse was to look away, to look anywhere else, to resort again to the champagne glass the watchful butler had already brimmed; but some fatal attraction, at war in him with an overwhelmingly physical resistance, held his eyes upon the spot they feared.

The figure was still standing, more distinctly, and therefore more resemblingly, at Mr. Lavington’s back; and while the latter continued to gaze affectionately at his nephew, his counterpart, as before, fixed young Rainer with eyes of deadly menace.

—Joseph E. Davis is publisher of The Hedgehog Review.

Continue reading

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Why Not to Despair When the Barbarians Are at the Gate

Relief of Roman fighting a barbarian, Musée du Louvre

Relief of Roman fighting a barbarian, Musée du Louvre

Things got a little intense at pilates the other day.

My classmates were lamenting the state of the world. Global terrorism. Coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. Donald Trump.

I piped up during my plank routine. Perhaps it’s all a positive, a character test of some type that should be heeded and understood, rather than dismissed unthinkingly in the grip of crisis or despair.

Julie on the neighboring “reformer” machine was quick to oblige: “What, don’t you have children—don’t you care about the future?!” Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: October 21, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week (or so):

“Agnes Martin: The Essentials of a Minimalist Master,” Peter Plagens
“Martin achieved an artistic style that fused universal order and symmetry with a profoundly beautiful, subjective, oscillating human touch. Plato wouldn’t have believed his eyes.”

“Romancing the Romanovs,” Gary Saul Morson
“As any student of Russia from Peter to Stalin knows, Russian modernization, for all its embrace of Western technology, somehow missed something essential about being civilized.”

“Six Cups: A Wedding Present, a Family History, and Ukraine’s Dark Twentieth Century, 75 Years After Babi Yar,” Natalia A. Feduschak
“‘And then one day, the Jewish children were all gone,’ [my aunt] said in another phone call many years after she shared the story of the wedding cups.”

“From Attica to Harvard Law Students: A Message from Behind the Wall,” John J. Lennon
“Ignorance is ugly, particularly in prison. It’s loud and obnoxious and violent. It tumbles into my cell right now as I write this. But for some, education can quell that.”

“How John Berger Taught Us to See,” Colin MacCabe
“Berger was always committed to both criticism and creation: to the production of painting and fiction. ”

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What Attica Prisoners Want Harvard Law Students to Know

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The last great book I read made me cry and grind my teeth and pace my cell. It was written by a Harvard Law School graduate. It was Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. With the best education in America, Mr. Stevenson chose to “get close to,” defend and ultimately save the lives of people on death row. People on these kind of missions—playing a bigger game in life—make murderers like me melt.

My name is John J. Lennon and I am a thirty-nine-year-old prisoner serving twenty-eight years to life at Attica Correctional Facility in western upstate New York. I was convicted of selling drugs and shooting a man to death on a Brooklyn street in 2001. I’m sorry for killing him, I’m sorry for it all.

That said, I’m not just a murderer. Today I’m also a journalist. Years ago, I fell into a couple of opportunities at Attica. In a privately funded pilot college program, I learned how to think better. In a creative writing workshop, I learned how to write clearly. Since then, my words have appeared in publications that make them matter. Continue reading

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A Philosopher Who Matters

Detail from The Death of Socrates, 1787, Jacques Louis David, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

In the moments before Socrates’ execution, he made a plea to his accusers: “This much I ask from them: When my sons grow up, avenge yourselves by causing them the same kind of grief that I caused you, if you think they care for money or anything else more than they care for virtue, or if they think they are somebody when they are nobody.”  You can’t seek Sophia and Mammon, Socrates warned. Fortunately, most philosophers don’t have to worry about this temptation. Trust me: Nobody’s getting rich dissecting syllogisms or parsing Hegel.

Unless you’re Charles Taylor. This week the Canadian philosopher was awarded the inaugural million-dollar Berggruen Prize for “ideas that shape the world”—what people are describing as the Nobel in philosophy.  (In fact, this is Taylor’s second million-dollar prize, having been awarded the Templeton Prize in religion in 2007.)

The award is well-deserved. Taylor is almost without peer (although I could imagine Jürgen Habermas also receiving this prize), and his work certainly exemplifies what the prize seeks to recognize: that ideas do indeed shape the world. So what is it that distinguishes Taylor’s work and has attracted this kind of attention? I think there are several features of his ongoing contribution that stand out. Continue reading

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

Donald Trump  and Hillary Clinton at the second 2016 presidential debate. Screencap from NBC’s debate livestream.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the second 2016 presidential debate. Screencap from NBC’s debate livestream.

Early into last night’s debate, Donald Trump found himself in an awkward position. No, I am not talking about the question first asked about the Access Hollywood tape on which he boasts of sexual assault. I am talking about a more subtle moment: early on Donald Trump found himself calling himself a “politician,” incredulously admitting, “I can’t believe I am saying that about myself.”

Almost one hundred years ago, the German social theorist Max Weber gave a lecture in Munich called “Politics as Vocation” in which he argued that there was a big difference between the “occasional” politician and the “professional” politician. We are all, he claimed, occasional politicians, in as much as we all may vote, circulate a pamphlet or petition, or give a stump speech. But professional politicians are a different breed: For them politics is a vocation, a calling, and with the vocation comes certain burdens and responsibilities.

The biggest problem with Donald Trump in this election cycle is that he is, in fact, no politician, at least not in a vocational sense. And contrary to popular belief, that is a very bad thing for a person running for president. Continue reading

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Running the Country Like a Business

 

Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Arizona. Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Arizona. Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Like many wealthy Republican donors, Dallas businessmen Doug and Darwin Deason preferred just about every candidate in the primary over Donald Trump. But when their other options were eliminated, the Deasons broke from their political mentors and avowed NeverTrumpers the Koch brothers, to meet with the party’s nominee in search of common ground. Doug went into the room with a list of questions, but he didn’t get to any of them—not the ones about corporate cronyism, social security, or farm subsidies. Still, by the end of the day the Deasons planned to donate millions of dollars to the effort to elect Trump president. Why? Because, as Doug told Zoe Chace of This American Life, they agreed that “this country needs to be run like a business.”

Trump charmed the Deasons by suggesting that businessmen are the heroes our world is waiting for. But free market conservatives are not the only ones who believe that business has special powers that can be a force for good in many areas of our lives. In Oprah’s recent roundup of the best new self-help books, seven out of fifteen books on the list were written by authors with a corporate background or framed their advice using business concepts. The extent to which business has coopted our country’s imagination is one reason why so few people—conservative or liberal—are asking a fundamental question raised by the Trump candidacy: Does being a successful businessman qualify you to be president? Continue reading

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Counting Deplorables

Juan de Zurbarán, Apples in a wicker basket, an opened pomegranate on a silver plate and roses, irises and other flowers in a glass vase, on a stone ledge. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Juan de Zurbarán, Apples in a wicker basket, an opened pomegranate on a silver plate and roses, irises and other flowers in a glass vase, on a stone ledge. Via Wikimedia Commons.

If Hillary Clinton’s remarks about “deplorables” were a blunder, as even many of her supporters believe, the fault may lie less with her choice of adjective than with her carelessness about the numbers.

How did she calculate that half of Donald J. Trump’s supporters are deplorable, or did she calculate at all? Apparently not, since she walked the calculation back after the uproar that ensued. But this only raises a question: If not half, how many? What percentage actually falls into the “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” basket to which Clinton was referring?

The Survey of American Political Culture, soon to be released from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, may offer some answers.

First, a general profile. Even though four out of five Trump supporters believe that Americans lived more moral and ethical lives fifty years ago, about three-quarters (74 percent) nonetheless hold that we should be more tolerant of people who adopt alternate lifestyles. And even though Trump supporters are overwhelmingly white (91 percent), the study finds, about two-thirds say their beliefs and values are similar to those of African Americans (62 percent) and Hispanics (68 percent). In fact, Trump supporters generally perceive greater cultural distance from the non-religious or the American cultural elite than they do from other American ethnic groups. Continue reading

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