1. A breath-taking appreciation of late sci-fi author and savant Philip K. Dick that will make you want to go out and read all the man’s work immediately and/or join the colorfully named ranks of his fans (one guess). Dick’s Christianity even gets a mention, ht CR:
[Author] Jonathan Lethem notes how often, within their flawed and fallen worlds, Dick allowed his characters moments of humane grace. “There are a couple of his books that end with this uncanny expression of sudden, absurd, human connection of love — against the odds of which the entire book may seem to have been stacked.” says Lethem. One example is Now Wait For Last Year. [Spoiler alert from here on out.] At the end of the novel, Dr. Eric Sweetscent finds himself in a taxi with his wife, Lethem says, “I mean, this is a wife as bad as American literature has ever presented, whether in Philip Roth or anywhere else…She’s been destroyed by a drug she’s taken, which is also a drug she’s slipped into his drink at one point, in what is in some ways tantamount to a murder attempt. She’s shattered her own and several other people’s realities as well as their marriage by the end of this novel.”
Now she’s falling apart, giving him the opportunity to discard her, to get away, which he’s tried to do throughout the novel. “And the cab is a mechanical cab; it’s a robot,” Lethem explains “so Dr. Eric Sweetscent, in the way that characters in Dick have to do, is walking this inanimate object through the terms of the human condition: ‘You know, you’re a cab, you’re a robot, you don’t really get this, but she’s horrible and I’m sad and this has all been so terrible and yet here she is, she’s destroyed.’ And the cab is listening to him, basically functioning as Freud would claim a therapist ought to: as a kind of impassive mirror. And the cab says, ‘What I hear you saying is you have no choice.’ And he says, ‘What do you mean? No choice but to leave her?’ And the cab says, ‘No, I hear you saying you have no choice but to love this person.’”
In the retelling he takes a moment here. There’s a hitch in his voice as he looks up and away, blinking a few times before continuing. “And, uh…that’s as good as it gets,” he says, “It’s still as powerful a vision of the uncanny property of connection and love and empathy against the vortex of nihilism and despair and existential bleakness that the universe is. I don’t even want to say it’s hard-won, because I don’t know how it’s won. It’s like claimed without being won. That’s the essence of Dick. He claims love against a backdrop of its impossibility. He claims connection and empathy against a demonstrated nihilism. And that, for whatever reason, is the persuader for me.”
2. “The Gospel According to Pinterest”. No, it’s not an old post (well, not exclusively). It’s the title of an article that was run in The NY Times this past week that looks at the popular site’s ongoing transformation into the online equivalent of embroidered pillows. Not surprisingly, a much more apt title would be “The Law According to Pinterest” as the phenomenon being described–the viral popularity of inspirational quotes/memes–is much more about exhortation than comfort. Or, exhortation in the guise of comfort. Or maybe it’s just a particularly facile version of self-medication. Or maybe it’s just cute. Clearly something’s going on here:
The explosively popular image-sharing site has fallen under the spell of words — that is, quotes from the great minds that offer lessons to live by… It is not a trend that Pinterest executives foresaw. “Pinterest is designed to be a visual experience,” said Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based company, adding, “We were surprised by the popularity of these quotes.”…“The ones that get many repins usually have to do with boosting our self-esteem and self-love,” Ms. Tsang said. Her favorites include “I Think I Like Who I Am Becoming,” which she herself turns to as a pick-me-up when things get tough.
Skeptics may scoff at searching for deeper life lessons among the hair-tutorial photos. But on Pinterest, the pretty graphics can function as the proverbial spoonful of sugar. Advice that might seem hectoring coming from a loved one, like Ms. Taylor’s credo, seems more palatable when rendered as wall decoration.
“It’s one thing for a family member to tell you to get yourself together,” Ms. Martinez said. “It’s quite another when a person you follow on Pinterest presents some sound advice with a great typeface on a pretty background.”
3. In a follow-up to Ethan Richardson’s truly remarkable session at our conference last week, The Wall Street Journal reported on Why We Are So Rude Online. Clue: it has more than a little to do with our troubled relationship with righteousness…
According to soon-to-be-published research from professors at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, browsing Facebook lowers our self control. The effect is most pronounced with people whose Facebook networks were made up of close friends, the researchers say. Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes”—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.
“Think of it as a licensing effect: You feel good about yourself so you feel a sense of entitlement,” says Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “And you want to protect that enhanced view, which might be why people are lashing out so strongly at others who don’t share their opinions.” These types of behavior—poor self control, inflated sense of self—”are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol,” he adds.
4. Also in keeping with Ethan’s session, over at CNN Alan Miller gives a slightly cantankerous but also fairly sympathetic take on why he feels “I’m spiritual but not religious” is a cop-out:
The spiritual but not religious reflect the “me” generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement.
The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world. Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience “nice things” and “feel better.”
5. Did you catch the report in The Economist a couple weeks ago about the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, who took the opportunity in a recent speech to plead with the country’s tiger mothers? Most of his remarks celebrated Singapore’s success, but toward the end he berated parents for coaching their three- or four-year-old children to give them that extra edge over the five-year-old competition, ht CB:
“Please let your children have their childhood…Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It’s good for young children to play, and to learn through play.”
6. In music, it’s finally happening: Axl Rose is sitting down with Jimmy Kimmel on October 24th for his first on-screen interview in more than 20 years! This should be interesting. Next, cult English songwriter Bill Fay put out his first record in 40(!) years in late August, Life Is People. Fay’s hymnlike “Be Not So Fearful” was a staple of Wilco’s live set for a number of years, but the man himself had only ever put out two records in the early 70s before fading into janitorial purgatory. Well, last year a producer/fan tracked him down and convinced him to cut a new set of tunes, and what a set of tunes! Plaintive, honest and very religious (in the best possible sense), think a septugenarian British Jeff Tweedy covering Nick Cave (with a little Leonard Cohen thrown in). I included one of the songs, the ode to Calvary known as “There Is a Valley” on the October playlist. Speaking of religious content in rock, the backlash to the new Mumford & Sons record has been interesting, to say the least. People can’t seem to decide if the band is too Christian, or not enough. We’ll run our own review next week, but in the meantime, NPR’s Ann Powers’ review is probably the fairest and most insightful of all. Over on Patrol, Jonathan Fitzgerald breaks the situation down beautifully:
Here’s the thing about most reviewers who take on Mumford & Sons’ new album “Babel.” You’re either the ultra-hip, irreligious type who is totally annoyed by all the Jesus-y stuff that Marcus Mumford writes about. You want the band to just admit they’re a Christian band and get on with it.
Then, on the other hand, there are all the Christian reviewers. These dudes… take a different tact. You want to like Mumford & Sons. You really do want to like them. But you can’t, not completely. You can’t because of the F-word, which you’re convinced the band uses just to be cool.Mumford & Sons are part of what I (and some others) call the New Sincerity. This is a larger movement that recognizes the artificiality of the separation between sacred and secular. They reject that pressure to fragment ourselves depending on our company. Today, I’m a spiritual person. Tomorrow, I’ll be rational. And so on.
Mumford & Sons are not the first band to do this. And they’re nowhere near the best. But, understood in light of this larger movement, they can’t be dismissed as too Jesus-y or not Jesus-y enough. They can’t be faulted for appropriating a range of themes and a diversity of musical influences into their songs; in the New Sincerity, you’re allowed to let all of your influences show. It’s okay if you don’t fit neatly into a box; you’re allowed to be more fully yourself. And this changes the criteria by which we judge popular culture.
7. Yet another hilarious article from The Onion: “Sensitive Scientists Report 5 in 5 Women Don’t Know How Beautiful They Are.
8. Finally, in TV, a bunch of details about the new season of Arrested Development were released this week! Homina homina homina… Next, a terrific essay by Adam Wilson on LA Review of Books about “Louis C.K. and the Rise of Laptop Loners” (As with everything CK-related, I’d be remiss not to give an obscenity warning). I for one did not know that Spanish was his first language! My favorite of the many insights about the show’s offbeat appeal would have to be:
Cicero said that to be a philosopher is to learn how to die. Flaubert thought an artist must have a religion of despair. Accordingly, [Louis] C.K. may be television’s true first in both categories.
Elsewhere, The Atlantic explores “The Secret to Women-Driven Sitcoms: Relationships, Not Raunch” in which they point out why so many Bridesmaids knock-offs failed (and why the first few episodes of Ben and Kate have been legitimately funny):
“[Bridesmaids] was successful not simply because it celebrated a freer form of female sexuality, but also because it portrayed the loneliness, anxiety, and complicated friendships that come with being a woman today.
Finally, Jerry Seinfeld’s new Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has been pretty hit or miss. But the season finale, in which Jerry goes out with a still-pretty-broken-down Michael Richards, contains some truly touching moments of grace in the final few minutes. Beautiful stuff, ht JD: