8.29.2010 New York Times Digest

1. “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?”

“If different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.”

2. “Peace and War”

“Franzen grasps that the central paradox of modern American liberalism inheres not in its doctrines but in the unstated presumptions that govern its daily habits. Liberals, no less than conservatives — and for that matter revolutionaries and reactionaries; in other words, all of us — believe some modes of existence are superior to others. But only the liberal, committed to a vision of harmonious communal pluralism, is unsettled by this truth.”

3. “Her Darkest Places”

“A lot of writers, both in and out of the horror genre, know how to create a sense of dread. What makes Jackson’s sensibility so distinctive is that her brand of dread tends to be self-aware and even, at times, self-amused. There’s often a tinge of embarrassment to her characters’ fear, simply because it’s so tenuous, so apparently sourceless: they can’t tell if what’s troubling them is something or nothing.”

4. “I Get Around”

“By his mid-20s he had sexually serviced Rudolph Valentino and become an intimate of Gertrude Stein. Visiting Europe and hoping to feel one step closer (figuratively) to Oscar Wilde, he seduces 67-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas. From London, he hops a boat train over to Paris to meet André Gide, then moves on to Zurich, where he falls under the sway and, at least once, into the bed of Thornton Wilder. Shortly after that, when he strikes up a friendship with Thomas Mann, I found myself fleeing to the Internet, wondering if perhaps this was all an elaborate literary hoax with Steward a kind of priapic Zelig as re imagined by Jean Genet.”

5. “Steam-Driven Dreams”

“We need more technology, not less, he insists. ‘There may be no way to put the genie of sustained invention back in the bottle,’ he writes, ‘but we can put the genie to work.'”

6. “Seattle’s Alt-Rock Hub, Purring With Jazz”

“Seattle, a city synonymous with alternative rock, has long sustained a provincial jazz culture, without much fuss or a signature sound. To outside jazz partisans the city is known as an incubator for high school talent that usually flies the coop, heading East for conservatory training and professional careers.”

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