Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Hedgehog’s Array: July 31, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Terry Castle: The Anti-Paglia,” Helen Andrews
“Like Paglia, Castle’s entrée into the literary tradition of sexual inversion was a teenage fascination with Oscar Wilde—she dreamed of being ‘male, dandified, and in some sort of filial relationship to various 1890s Decadents.’ Unlike Paglia, her grown-up persona is less flamboyant, more Jamesian.”

“Bedeviled by Books in Translation,” Michael Robbins
“As most translators’ prefaces attest, every translation, unless it’s a crib, negotiates in its own way the problem of how to achieve two contradictory desiderata: to be faithful to the original, and to create a work of art in the new language.”

“Masks,” Jake Orbison
“But looking back years later on the word’s full legacy, confessional’s greatest shortcoming is in its implication not for the poets of the past but for those to come. If all of us have taken our clothes off, where do we go from here?”

“Saigon Summer,” Sarah Mansfield Taber
“One summer evening in Saigon in 1974, we were invited to dinner at the home of another U.S. embassy employee, probably a covert operative like my father.”

“Mutually Assured Content,” John Herrman
“But for everyone else—the papers and magazines that became sites, the sites that became blogs, the blogs that became generalist news organizations—accepting the platform bargain is accepting that most of what they did before is legacy and burden. Most magazines never truly figured out the web, and never will.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Uber and the Lawlessness of ‘Sharing Economy’ Corporates,” Frank Pasquale and Siva Vaidhyanathan
“One could make a strong argument that France would benefit from more taxi drivers and more competition. But that’s for the people of France to decide through their elected representatives. The spirit of Silicon Valley should not dictate policy for the rest of the world.”

“Checked Out,” Siva Vaidhyanathan
“The Library of Congress, like all the majestic libraries that connect our nation to its history and future, is a temple to the Enlightenment. But it’s more than that.”

Our intern recommends:

“Fitted,” Moira Weigel
“Like confession and therapy, activity trackers promise to improve us by confronting us with who we are when we are not paying attention. The difference is that they produce clarity constantly, in real time.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: July 24, 2014

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Duties of Care in the Study of Literature,” Alex Wong
“How can anyone choose, except at random, what to take for representative? The judgement, the recommendations, the selectiveness of past readers can become, in this matter, a practical aid; ‘can become’, and in reality always do, like it or not. We might as well like it.”

“Indulgences: Counted & Forfeited,” Maureen Mullarkey
“Like any childhood game, my variant of double-entry bookkeeping was played in earnest. Saturday afternoon confession took care of the debit side. My little ledger memorialized the credit side.”

“Caved-in and Chopfallen,” Brett Busang
“It is Witkin’s capacity to both reflect and transform that is his greatest gift. For those of us who look for America in its facades and factories, Witkin’s apocalyptic vision is not reassuring. The old gods have been toppled, but not replaced.”

“John Craske’s Embroidered Life,” Alexandra Harris
“It is hard to tell whether this is a simple or a complicated book: its power lies in its being both.”

“In Praise of Boredom,” Claire Messud
“The need for art, film, and literature to entertain becomes disturbingly pressing: that is its purpose. It’s the reason why we bother with it, and without a reason, who would bother?”

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What We’re Reading This Summer

Hedgehogs have scattered far and wide for the summer—but we’re determined to get through that stack of books. Here are some of the things we’re reading. What about you?

Joseph Davis (Publisher, The Hedgehog Review)

duncesMy twenty-year effort to become a wine snob has been a failure, but I have learned one thing. The size and shape of the glass you use to drink the wine matters. An old friend, John Weiser, first surprised me with this idea, and sure enough, even I could taste the difference. Apparently this is a chemical thing having to do with how the aroma and the liquid reach your senses. I thought of this recently as I was rereading John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, the tragicomic story of one Ignatius J. Reilly—a failure to launch 30-year-old with, once you warm to him, a delightfully “medieval” (his word) way of seeing modern life—and his wacky encounters in the New Orleans of the early 1960s. I first read this best seller and Pulitzer Prize winner in a mass market paperback version. Recently, the local library sold me (for $1) a first edition of the hardcover, published by the Louisiana State University Press in 1980. Now it has been a few years, but somehow the hardcover, despite the same words as the paperback, reads—I almost want to say “tastes”—better. What to make of this odd sensation? Perhaps it is the tactile difference, a point often made about the disparity between paper and screen reading. The hardcover, of course, feels, smells, and handles differently from the paperback. Or maybe there is a placebo effect at work—I expect more from a first edition, feeling closer to the author. Probably, though, this marvelously absurd book is simply working its magic on me, now as befuddled as the loopy characters Toole brings to life.


Jay Tolson (Editor, The Hedgehog Review)
follow Jay on Twitter: @jaytolson1

spool of blue threadWhen summer arrives, and thoughts turn toward the pleasures of life, my novel-seeking mind always goes sniffing for something by Anne Tyler. Happily, this summer A Spool of Blue Thread lay waiting. It did not disappoint. Tyler’s work never does. My deep attachment to Tyler goes even beyond the pleasures of her texts. In fact, I don’t know whether I love Baltimore so much because I love Anne Tyler, or that I love Anne Tyler so much because I love Baltimore, although I suspect it’s much of both: a mutually reinforced love. Tyler’s imaginative ownership of Baltimore is so complete that I can’t visit its neighborhoods (Hampden or Roland Park, for example) or its stores (Eddie’s Grocery, for one) without thinking of her—or, more exactly, of the wonderful Tyler characters, all existing as such odd angles to each other and to the world, who have inhabited and shopped in those very same places. Perhaps it was because I lived so long in the unreal metroplex of Washington, DC, with its single-industry obsessions, that I came to need Baltimore and Tyler. Both, or both combined, were powerful antidotes to the abstractedness that comes with living in that feverishly political place, Baltimore being, among other things, a palpably real city where many kinds of people work at many kinds of jobs, where classes, ethnic groups, and races mingle, not ideally, to be sure, but at least vividly. Tyler’s complex and subtle family dramas are usually rooted in this one dear, perpetual place, to borrow Yeats’s adjectives. And when I read Tyler, I always feel that I’m in that place as well.


Johann Neem (IASC Visiting Faculty Fellow)
follow Johann on Twitter: @JohannNeem

imaginationWhy read fiction? Azar Nafisi, who read and taught novels to college students in Iran as moral oppression and fire squads terrorized her birthplace (described in her 2003 bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran), expresses just how vital fiction is to a democratic society in her recent book The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books. Literature, riveting, complex and at times upsetting, is far from “aspirin for the soul,” and “sugarcoated stories with happy endings,” says Nafisi but rather a way to face trauma and see national character. Layering memoir and polemic with close readings of American hallmarks—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Babbitt by Sinclair Lewisand The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullersamong others—Nafisi reminds America of its connection to and need for humanities and book culture.

Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: July 10, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]
Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Serious Bill-Paying Skillage,” Laura Hudson
Armada is for everyone who wants…a book-length love letter of cultural hyperlinks that refer you elsewhere but contain no meaningful content themselves.”

“College Ratings and the Idea of the Liberal Arts,” Nicholas Tampio
“Is there a purpose to college other than making money? Can one make this argument without sounding like a dreamer?”

“Sacred Inwardness,” Marilynne Robinson
“Perhaps the real lack of faith in modern society comes down to a lack of reverence for humankind, for those around us, about whom we might consider it providential that we can know nothing—in these great matters that sometimes involve feigning or concealment, that are beyond ordinary thought and conventional experience, and that can in any case be minutely incremental, since God really does have all the time in the world.”

“The Man Who Saw America,” Nicholas Dawidoff
“Sixty years ago, at the height of his powers, Frank left New York in a secondhand Ford and began the epic yearlong road trip that would become ‘The Americans,’ a photographic survey of the inner life of the country that Peter Schjeldahl, art critic at The New Yorker, considers ‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’”

“Who, What, Where, When, Weird,” Daniel Engber
“For at least a century, the genre of weird news has been driven by a pair of rival spirits—two theories of weirdness that co-exist but never jibe. First there are the satirists, the weirdness hunters who put their quarry in a circus cage: They point us at the characters they’ve nabbed so we can laugh at them together. Then there are the weirdness conservationists, the ones who see their subjects as members of a beautiful exotic species.”

“Why Murder Philosophers?,” Costica Bradatan and Richard Marshall
“Failure reveals just how close we always are to not being at all. When you experience failure, should you pay enough attention, you can see the cracks in the fabric of being. And how, from behind, nothingness itself stares at you.”

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Pope Francis and Humane Ecology


Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro (2013). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Pope Francis’s new encyclical calls for a holistic ethic, an “integral ecology” that insists on the dignity of both human and nonhuman nature and on the shared roots of ecological and social problems. This ethic holds that “everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” Many responses to Laudato Si’ have focused on Francis’s treatment of particular issues, such as air conditioning or carbon credits. Yet the call for an integral ecology is what makes the encyclical truly distinctive.

In an interview for Vatican Radio, Patrick Deneen claimed that Laudato Si’ develops “a Thomistic and Aristotelian theme: ‘how human beings live in and with and through nature, in ways that do not fall into what Pope Francis calls, again and again, the twin temptations of, on the one hand, viewing human beings as separate from nature in our capacity to dominate nature, [and] on the other side, a kind of anti-humanism which regards human beings as equally foreign to nature, but now as a kind of virus that has to—in some ways—be eliminated.”

Francis’s integral ecology thus challenges some tendencies on both the right and the left. It does so by staying resolutely focused on the poor. The encyclical recognizes that among those most affected by climate change in coming decades will be the poorest populations in developing countries. Yet some approaches to development and climate change policy, it warns, might ultimately aggravate these populations’ trials rather than solving them. Therefore, it claims, “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Continue reading

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Cheering for Thanatos

Sarpedon carried away by Sleep and Death, by Henry Fuseli, 1803; public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sarpedon carried away by Sleep and Death, by Henry Fuseli, 1803; public domain, Wikimedia Commons

As if there weren’t enough mighty causes, age-defining campaigns, momentous movements coming to a head last week. As if the public square were not already deafened by the cacophony of acrimony, war cries, whoops of delight. As if health care, gun control, and gay marriage were a light load for the news cycles, yet another issue strode into the limelight, an issue the importance of which it is impossible to overstate.

At the end of that crowded week, The Economist took its stand on euthanasia. Its front page pictured a snuffed candle. “The right to die—Why assisted suicide should be legal,”  the headline read. Just a few days before, The New Yorker had run a devastating in-depth “Letter From Belgium,” which reported on the escalating number of cases of assisted suicide for people with non-terminal illnesses in that Benelux bastion of social liberalism.

What has prompted the sudden prominence of the issue?

Sheer momentum, claimed The Economist: “Campaigns to let doctors help the suffering and terminally ill to die are gathering momentum across the West.” Currently only four U.S. states exempt doctors from prosecution if they administer life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients (Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont). But last year a twenty-nine-year-old Californian, Brittany Maynard, moved to Oregon to die. She became the new face of the pro-euthanasia movement when she videoed an appeal to California’s lawmakers to legalize assisted dying. Since Maynard, bills and cases have been proposed in twenty new American states. Wider afield, legislation is being proposed in Canada, Germany, and South Africa. In the United Kingdom, Parliament will debate the issue once again in September. Add to that the fact that the number of euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands has doubled in the past five years, and increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent in Belgium, and it’s amply clear that changes are afoot.

For the editors of The Economist, euthanasia is “an idea whose time has come.” And their case is made in such a way that anyone who dares to disagree with the authoritative anonymity of the magazine’s pronouncements is clearly on the wrong side of history. Arguments against are neutralized by being depicted as simply old-fashioned. Euthanasia remains illegal around most of the globe for reasons that The Economist declares are already antiquated. The editors summon us, in the words of Matthew Arnold, to stop and hear the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the tide of opposition as it goes out over the “naked shingles of the world.”

The fatuously self-assured British publication projects itself as the unerring voice of common sense. It brims with briefings for busy businessmen, its prose pithy and pragmatic. It tells you what you need to know and not a jot more. But if it pretends to be above the fray, be not mistaken: This libertarian weekly is as ideologically loaded as The Daily Worker.

The New Yorker, by contrast, and perhaps surprisingly, is far more critical, far more cautious. Reporter Rachel Aviv has clearly spent enough time in Belgium to understand the issues surrounding euthanasia, and to detect what is driving the escalating number of assisted suicides. She familiarized herself with cases, got to know family members left behind, and interviewed the major players in both policy and the medical profession—people such as Wim Distelmans, the government-backed advocate for and practitioner of euthanasia, who supports the practice not only for the terminally-ill but also for men, women, and children who are depressed, bipolar, anorexic, or just plain lonely. Aviv’s research is expansive and humane. It takes the time that is needed to tell the real stories of real people, the kind of time The Economist never has.

One story is that of Godelieva De Troyer. Following estrangement from her son and daughter, and then a break-up with the partner she had met in her fifties, Godelieva suffered a major bout of clinical depression in 2010. Two years later, her son received a letter. It was from his mother, written in the past tense. Her lethal injection, she related, had been carried out the day before at the hospital of the Free University of Brussels.

Tom was flabbergasted that a doctor would do this without first speaking to the patient’s family, even if they had been estranged. He angrily accused the friends who had driven Godelieva to the hospital of aiding and abetting a suicide. And then he toured his mother’s house. Photograph frames of family members hung on the walls. Drafts of letters to friends sat in desk-drawers. “I have nothing to look forward,” the letters read. “I will not see my grandchildren grow up and that causes me pain.”

One central issue in the euthanasia debate is that of the “slippery slope.” Opponents fear a number of slopes. One is that legalizing euthanasia will lead to more and more people choosing to die. Another is that legalizing euthanasia for those who are terminally ill will lead to euthanasia in the cases of those who are not.

The Economist boldly denies the second slope. “Evidence from places that have allowed assisted dying suggests that there is no slippery slope towards widespread [emphasis added] euthanasia.” The New Yorker exposes this lie. Since Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002, the all-important “incurable illness” box that has to be ticked before a lethal injection is administered has proven increasingly elastic. Now, it covers not only, for example, Godelieva’s depression but also, more recently, a transgender person desperately disappointed with his sex change.

The Economist even manages to slide down that slope in the course of its own 1,200 word leader. By the end, the editors complain that “Oregon’s law covers only conditions that are terminal. That is too rigid…doctor-assisted dying on grounds of mental suffering should [also] be allowed.”

The specter of such a development is horrifying. In a world that has seen amazing progress in so many areas of social life, euthanasia would be a huge step backwards. Why? Because in an increasingly ageist culture, many older people perceive themselves to be a burden. They might not say so. They definitely haven’t been sat down and told so. But their sense of superannuation is a societal norm that has been, in the way Michel Foucault demonstrated over and over again, thoroughly internalized. Is it not more than imaginable that this sense of being a burden will lead, in many sad and tragic cases, to euthanasia?

Author and essayist James Mumford is the Postdoctoral Wolterstorff Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

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The Body In Question: The Summer Issue Appears


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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