Tag Archives: James McWilliams

The Hedgehog’s Array: April 22, 2016

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Now’s the Time,” Eric Olson
“If I were to die today, my loved ones would be grief-stricken, my son would be orphaned, and my colleagues would have to mark my students’ exams. That would be terrible for them.”

“A groundbreaking artist, Prince astonished right to the end,” Steve Smith
“There was never a time, not even a passing moment, that Prince didn’t matter.”

“Note To Self,” Elaine Blair
“To throw in our lot with the essay — to place it at the center of our literary culture — is to accept the idea of a more or less continuous self that can make its observations, emotions, interpretations, and opinions intelligible to others.”

“On the Road,” James McWilliams
“The trade-off for submitting voluntarily to the pain of a marathon—which really can be otherworldly—is the opportunity to transcend your anger, to step outside normal life and build a unique narrative out of a sanctioned act of rebellion.”

“Still Tilting at Windmills,” Stephen Phelan
“On a recent Saturday morning, I caught The Cervantes Train from Madrid’s Atocha Station. Don Quixote greeted me on the platform.”

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Impossible Wonder: A Reply to McWilliams

Gears from astronomical clock in Copenhagen. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Gears from astronomical clock in Copenhagen. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning
To…blue and yellow skies.
“God Knows I Tried,” Lana Del Rey

One evening, about fifteen years ago, I was waiting at a traffic light and staring absently at the sunset. It was a long light, and after I had stared at the same patch of sky for about a minute, I found myself mentally describing its color: “Yellowish-blue…” I was jolted out of my reverie. “Yellowish-blue? There’s no such thing. I mean green, right?” I stared again at the patch of sky. It was on the periphery of the sunset, where golden-yellow blended into the blue of the sky. I had done some painting. I had taken art lessons. I had a more than passing familiarity with the colors. And I knew that yellow and blue do not combine to make yellowish-blue. But hard as I looked, I could discern no green in the region. It was pure, smooth, yellowish-blue.

The light changed, and I had to drive away from the sight. I knew the experience would stick with me. In fact it did, and not merely in my memory. Over the years, I found I could often see the mysterious yellowish-blue at edges of sunsets. Again and again, I would stare at the color, as if by sheer intensity of attention I might pass through the veil of unintelligibility. But I also savored these experiences—there was something transcendent about them. The luminous golden blue was a holy color. I was seeing the impossible, and it was wondrous.

But I told no one. I knew I had encountered an inexpressible thing, a thing one is not permitted to tell. And I knew how that conversation would inevitably go:

Me: “I need to tell you about something I saw.”
Conversational Victim: “Oh? Um, OK. Was it a crime or something? What did you see?”
Me: “I saw a man eat his own head.”
Conversational Victim: “…???”

You can substitute in any impossibility—”I saw a round square” or “I successfully added two and two and got five” or the genuine “I saw a color that was yellowish-blue without being green”—and the effect would be pretty much the same. “You’re a lunatic,” the concerned-looking interlocutor will think. Continue reading

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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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The Hedgehog’s Array: June 19, 2015

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Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“A Living Landmark,” Jamelle Bouie
“The attack on Emanuel AME sits in a long history of violence against black churches.”

“The Internet Accused Alice Goffman of Faking Details In Her Study of a Black Neighborhood. I Went to Philadelphia to Check,” Jesse Singal
“Alice Goffman conducted some amazing ethnographic research, and her book is almost entirely true, not to mention quite important. Alice Goffman is going to have a really hard time defending herself from her fiercest critics.”

“First Thoughts on Laudato Si’,” Alan Jacobs
“For Maritain, any true humanism must incorporate the ‘vertical dimension’ of our relationship with God; Francis is clearly saying, with a similar logic, that any valid (any whole and healthy) ecology or model of ‘creation care’ must incorporate our relationships with one another and with God. Thus one cannot think of what’s good for the environment without also thinking of what’s good for human culture.”

“Our Failed Food Movement,” James McWilliams
“In so far as the Food Movement’s goal has been to reduce the impact of factory farming, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the reform effort—at least in the way it articulates and pursues its mission—isn’t working.”

“Kid Chocolate,” Brin-Jonathan Butler
“Trejo is one of the oldest boxing gyms in Cuba; it’s outdoor, and every great champion the country has produced has passed through and was forged in the open air. Different sets of the same mildly sinister women who look like the Macbeth witches guard the entrance from tourists and procure a toll for entry, snapshots, or stories.”

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