Tag Archives: Mark Edmundson

Introducing the Summer Issue: The Meaning of Cities

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The Block II, 1972, by Romare Bearden (1921–1988), The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA, New York.

Whenever it pops up these days, and it does very often, the phrase smart city conjures up visions of a bright, bold urban future—a future that, to some extent, has already arrived. We are assured that through the mobilization of Big Data, the Internet of Things, robotics, and a host of other technological wonders, this “sweeping change” is not only inevitable but all to the good.

But are we reassured?

The answer depends on what we think is good not just for cities but about them—about what we expect of them as sites and incubators of commerce, creativity, and community, and, even more crucially, as places that form the minds and souls of their inhabitants. And yet, in this epoch of “the city”—when more than half of the world’s population inhabits cities, when so much thought and study have been devoted to the challenges of city life, and when so many expectations have been placed upon the city as the solution to a range of pressing national and global problems—surprisingly little attention is paid to the crucial purpose of cities.

As the pace of urbanization accelerates worldwide—with some projections putting 70 percent of humanity in cities by 2050—there is good cause to see our fate inextricably bound up with the forms our cities take. For that reason among others, the question of  the meaning of cities, the theme of this issue, has never been more urgent. We invite you to join our authors as they consider different aspects of that question.

We will be releasing a select number of essays and reviews from this issue on a rolling basis during the coming weeks, starting with the following two:

Here’s what subscribers can already read: Noah J. Toly’s “The New Urban Agenda and the Limits of Cities,” Marc J. Dunkelman’s “Next-Door Strangers: The Crisis of Urban Anonymity,” and Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein’s “Cosmopolitanism vs. Provincialism: How the Politics of Place Hurts America.” Other contributions include essays by Mark Edmundson, Donald Dewey, and Jackson Lears.

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The Body In Question: The Summer Issue Appears

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The Dancer (1913), Egon Schiele; Leopold Museum, Vienna; HIP/Art Resource, NY.

Our bodies, ourselves? In one sense, of course. But the things we now do to our bodies, whether through tattooing, piercing, or sculpting, and the ways we attempt to perfect or transcend them, whether through extreme fitness regimes, self-tracking, or artificial enhancements, suggest new, if not fully articulated, conceptions of the human person and the ends and purposes of human existence.

These conceptions have a history, of course. They derive in part from a centuries-old confidence in the power of science to fix, extend, and possibly even “immortalize” our physical selves. They resonate with the American dream of self-remaking and the New Adam. And they recast the Protestant concern with the born-again experience in secular and material terms. But these ideas have been transformed and popularized through association with assorted projects reflecting our highly individualistic and commodified culture, from identity politics and transhumanism to the Quantified Self movement to assorted cults of body modification.

Despite the various attentions we now lavish on the body, the body itself may be losing its true magisterium. No longer a source of wisdom about human limits and potential, it is now seen as a means of self-transformation, an instrument in the pursuit of perfection—or an equally elusive immortality.

These questions are all explored in the newest issue of The Hedgehog Review, “The Body in Question.” As always, we’ve put some essays and book reviews up in full for you to sample:

For subscribers, we have Christine Rosen on tattoos and transgression, Gordon Marino on boxing, Chad Wellmon on the multiversity, Ronald Osborn on the Christian origins of human rights, Johann Neem on the Common Core, and more! If you aren’t a subscriber, it’s an easy problem to fix: click here and subscribe today.

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Are We Losing the Attention War?

“Like everyone else, I am losing the attention war,” writes columnist David Brooks in today’s New York Times. He goes on to cite a study reporting that 66 percent of American workers are unable to focus on one thing.

Is there any way to confront this growing epidemic of distraction and distractedness? Brooks points to the ideas of child psychologist Adam Phillips, who believes that we should encourage children to develop their innate capacity for obsession, in the best sense. And for that to happen, Phillips argues, children must feel they are in a safe environment:

“There’s something deeply important about the early experience of being in the presence of somebody without being impinged upon by their demands, and without them needing you to make a demand on them. And that this creates a space internally into which one can be absorbed. In order to be absorbed one has to feel sufficiently safe, as though there is some shield, or somebody guarding you against dangers such that you can ‘forget yourself’ and absorb yourself, in a book, say.”

16.2 cover FINAL_loPhillips’ ideas resonate strongly with the arguments that will be presented in the upcoming summer issue of The Hedgehog Review. The five essays that make up this issue’s theme—”Minding Our Minds”—take on many of the key questions associated with the current attention crisis: Have we lost our ability to focus? What do we mean by attention? Is there a breaking point in the seemingly ceaseless deluge of data, tweets, texts, and emails? Is there any connection between America’s epidemic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and our deepest cultural assumptions and expectations, notably a relentless emphasis on performance in all aspects of life? How is this deeper deficit affecting our humanity? Are there antidotes, cures, solutions—or are we simply in the middle of adjusting to technological upgrades, a transition masquerading as a problem? If drowning in information overload is indeed a problem, as nefarious as pollution, should we consider regulating it—and how?

To grapple with these questions, we have invited several scholars, including Matthew Crawford, Mark Edmundson, and Thomas Pfau, to examine aspects of our attention disorder that seldom receive careful consideration. As they show in various ways, attention may be far less a technological or neurobiological problem than a cultural, ethical, and philosophical one, bound up with our deepest ideas about the human person and the goals or purposes of our lives.

The summer issue will arrive in subscribers’ mailboxes (or inboxes, for those who choose the digital version) in July. To subscribe or renew, click here. 

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