1.23.2011 New York Times Digest

1. “Mad Women”

“Books don’t become best sellers because they are ahead of their time. They become best sellers when they tap into concerns that people are already mulling over.”

2. “Lives of the Philosophers, Warts and All”

“Immanuel Kant, most rational of thinkers, ended his life in an obsessive-compulsive hell, endlessly consulting thermometers and barometers, and stopping dead in his tracks whenever he felt warm on a walk because he was afraid that breaking into a sweat would kill him.”

3. “What It All Means”

“By the time they contemplate an application to graduate school, philosophy students have learned that it isn’t merely tacky to display an interest in questions about the meaning of life; it’s a major professional risk. For many decades, British and American students were urged to turn their attention instead to the meaning of language, while European philosophers were engaged in more portentous-sounding but equally arcane diversions.”

4. “Late Style”

“Why do some artists … mature early and then run out of steam, producing only second-rank work in their last decades, while others gain momentum and occasionally even peak in old age?”

5. “We, Robots”

“We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

6. “The Philosophical Novel”

“Philosophy has historically viewed literature with suspicion, or at least a vague unease. Plato was openly hostile to art, fearful of its ability to produce emotionally beguiling falsehoods that would disrupt the quest for what is real and true. Plato’s view was extreme (he proposed banning dramatists from his model state), but he wasn’t crazy to suggest that the two enterprises have incompatible agendas. Philosophy is written for the few; literature for the many. Philosophy is concerned with the general and abstract; literature with the specific and particular. Philosophy dispels illusions; literature creates them. Most philosophers are wary of the aesthetic urge in themselves. It says something about philosophy that two of its greatest practitioners, Aristotle and Kant, were pretty terrible writers.”

7. “The Greatest”

“One morning in 1971 I arrived at the door of the music building at Yale, on which someone had posted an index card with this simple news: ‘Igor Stravinsky died today.’ It felt as if the floor had dropped out from under the musical world I inhabited.”

8. “Rockabilly Queen Prolongs Her Party”

“She was cool before they had a name for it.”

9. “Making Hollywood Films Was Brutal, Even for Fritz Lang”

“I feel the disappointment and terror of the intellectual worker who sees the product of his labors snatched away and mutilated.”

10. “Samuel Fuller, Eccentric Stylist of Poverty Row”

“The statuesque Ms. Towers returns as the central character in The Naked Kiss, this time playing Kelly, a call girl who, in the justly famous opening scene, is observed beating her pimp into unconsciousness with a telephone receiver, as her blond wig slips to reveal a perfectly bald head.”

11. “What ‘Modern Family’ Says About Modern Families”

“The characters in ‘Modern Family’ are so immersed in technology that nearly every scene is refracted through a digital funhouse: an iPad screen, a cellphone camera, a baby monitor, a YouTube video. Characters spend half their time glancing past one another rather than communicating directly.”

12. “Brains and Brawn”

“Imagine what someone like Einstein might have accomplished if he had occasionally gone to the gym.”

13. “If Your Life Were a Movie”

“In blurring reality and fiction, spectator and performer, high art and commerce, therapy and mass entertainment, V.A.S. offers a pleasurable paranoia familiar from movies like The Game, The Matrix or Inception, which titillate us with the idea that life is an artificial construct controlled by an unseen force.”


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