Having nothing particularly pressing to do today, I spent the afternoon grazing online and stumbled across a few worthwhile reads. Enjoy!
1. They Get to Me by Jessica Love (American Scholar.org)
A very long article on the usage, ambiguities, and idiosyncrasies of pronouns. Yup, pronouns – he, she, it, I, you, etc. Not usually the stuff of captivating reading for those outside of a small group of hard-core psycholinguistic geeks. The author, a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology at Ohio State University, keeps the subject matter light, writes with great humor and poise, and raises some fascinating points about how the human mind processes those simple words we all take for granted. As an English teacher working with Chinese learners of English, I’m constantly focusing on correct pronoun usage. Spoken Mandarin doesn’t distinguish between the masculine and feminine pronouns, he and she. This leads to all sorts of fun sentences such as “He is the most beautiful girl in the world!” and “I like Kobe Bryant, she is a great basketball player.” So, I’m reminded of pronoun usage on a daily basis. Until reading this article, I never really though about how they work and why they can be so tricky.
2. Garbage and Gravitas by Corey Robin (The Nation)
My favorite quotation about Ayn Rand (and the most accurate, so far as I’m concerned) appears on the back of America: The Book put out by Jon Stewart and the creators of The Daily Show. It appears in the guise of a mock endorsement from Ayn Rand herself:
This is similar to my works in that anyone who reads it is sure to be an a**hole for at least a month afterwards. – Ayn Rand
It’s funny because it’s true. While Rand’s greed-is-good philosophy is certainly thought-provoking, it does give some pseudo-intellectual justification to that selfish jerk inside all of us that just wants to be left alone to do whatever he wants. In this blistering attack on Rand, Corey Robin points out what he sees as the gross hypocrisy and intellectual nonsense that underpins Rand’s so-called philosophy. He ends by asking “how could such a mediocrity, not just a second-hander but a second-rater, exert such a continuing influence on the culture at large?” Whether you love Rand or hate her (I’m not sure there’s an in-between), it’s a fascinating read, one that will either confirm your existing opinion or get your blood boiling.
A couple of weeks ago, I read a review by Harold Bloom of Anthony Julius’ Trials of the Diaspora. It got my ire up for a number of reasons. One, I have a visceral dislike of Harold Bloom. Sure, he’s obviously a very bright guy and you have to respect that. But, he’s also a pretentious snob. Secondly, while I haven’t read the book being reviewed, I question a the historical and political interpretations that Bloom makes in his piece. The review, and presumably the book being reviewed, make the case that the intellectual elites of Britain “essentially oppose the right of the state of Israel to exist, while indulging in the humbuggery that its anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.” He stretches back to Shakespeare and Dickens to make his, in my opinion, rather spurious case. Anyway, reading this review when it was published at the beginning of the month, I thought that it was poorly thought out and articulated. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. The Times printed a handful of the letters which they received in response and have posted more on their blog.
“The letters chosen here illustrate the themes that appeared most frequently in the messages we received: disagreement with Bloom’s claim that anti-Zionism is (usually) anti-Semitism, and disagreement with his discussion of “anti-Semitic” characters in works by Shakespeare, Dickens, Fitzgerald and Hemingway.”
The letters offer some great arguments in opposition to Bloom’s review. The whole debate is interesting – I’m hoping for a response to the rebuttals from Bloom. I’d be interested to see how he defends himself.