People who study other cultures sometimes note that they benefit twice: first by learning about the other culture and second by realizing that certain assumptions of their own are arbitrary. In reading Colin McGinn’s fine recent piece, “Groping Toward the Mind,” in The New York Review, I was reminded of a question I had pondered in my 2013 book Anatomy of Chinese: whether some of the struggles in Western philosophy over the concept of mind—especially over what kind of “thing” it is—might be rooted in Western language. The puzzles are less puzzling in Chinese.
Two hundred years ago, describing someone as ‘devouring’ a book would have been an act of moral censure. The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of ‘devouring’ idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished.
On the face of it, Sphinx tells an entirely conventional love story. Garétta traces the relationship of an unnamed narrator, "I", a young Parisian who drops out of seminary school to become a DJ at a posh nightclub, for A***, an older cabaret dancer from Harlem, through all of the classic phases: friendship, courtship, obsession, consummation, contentment, jealousy, estrangement, death, and mourning. What distinguishes Sphinxis its constraint. At no point is the gender of "I" or A*** ever revealed.
The reasons to come to “Seinfeldia” are its carefully marshaled history lesson, and Ms. Armstrong’s way of laying out her produce as if she were operating a particularly good stall at a farmer’s market.
She reminds us that Stanley Kubrick was such a fan of the show that he had tapes sent to him in England. About why the name Kramer worked best for Michael Richards’s character, she writes, “That plosive consonant K sound is known to be among the English language’s funniest phonemes.”
The hot dog, that quintessential American food, has been associated with Coney Island, America’s most storied amusement resort, since frankfurter first met bun. But Nathan’s century-old triumph of entrepreneurship is only part of the Ellis-Island-meets-Coney-Island story. Thanks to immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe alike, the name “Coney Island hot dog” means one thing in New York, another in the Midwest and beyond.
I miss a lot of things about my wild meat-eating days, but I miss hot dogs most of all. To hell with smoked salmon or roasted chicken or filet mignon. I miss those delicious little meat tubes so much that it hurts. And now that we’re in the middle of barbecue season, my longing is more intense than ever.