It is thought there is five times more dark matter than normal matter in the universe, although it has yet to be detected directly. Finding it would solve one of science’s most baffling mysteries and explain why galaxies are not ripped apart by stars flying off into deep space.
However, many scientists believe time is running out for the hunt, which has lasted 30 years, cost millions of pounds and produced no positive results. The LZ project – which is halfway through construction – should be science’s last throw of the dice, they say. “This generation of detectors should be the last,” said astronomer Stacy McGaugh at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “If we don’t find anything we should accept we are stuck and need to find a different explanation, perhaps by modifying our theories of gravity, to explain the phenomena we attribute to dark matter.”
John D’Agata has accomplished an impressive feat. In three thick volumes, over 13 years, he has published a series of anthologies—of the contemporary American essay, of the world essay, and now of the historical American essay—that misrepresents what the essay is and does, that falsifies its history, and that contains, among its numerous selections, very little one would reasonably classify within the genre. And all of this to wide attention and substantial acclaim (D’Agata is the director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, the most prestigious name in creative writing)—because effrontery, as everybody knows, will get you very far in American culture, and persistence in perverse opinion, further still.
Witt set out to explore the sexual landscape of the present more fully, wanting to find out how her experiences related to the zeitgeist and how her own sexuality might be enriched by learning about the practices of others. Her quest lasted for five years and took her to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, to orgasmic meditation workshops and extreme porn film shoots in San Francisco and to the darker reaches of her computer. At the end of this, her life had externally changed very little but she had changed internally in learning to see sex – “the pure force of sexual desire” – as disconnected from the stories we tell ourselves about love and marriage.
The book that results is fascinating, both because it’s always interesting to hear about the sex lives of others and because it opens up an historical context that allows us to understand how the free love of the past did and didn’t lead to our internet-driven sexual present. Witt sees herself as learning about “free love”, but also believes that the term itself has been too discredited by the failed experiments of the 1960s and 70s to be used easily now. She quotes the American radical Ellen Willis stating that though freedom was inherently risky, her generation had felt confident enough to reject security but had then found that “sex has never been safe” and that the losses were as real as the risks: “the deaths, breakdowns, burnouts, addictions”.
In the future, Americans — assuming there are any left — will look back at 2016 and remark: “What the HELL?”
They will have a point. Over the past few decades, we here at the Year in Review have reviewed some pretty disturbing years. For example, there was 2000, when the outcome of a presidential election was decided by a tiny group of deeply confused Florida residents who had apparently attempted to vote by chewing on their ballots.
Then there was 2003, when a person named “Paris Hilton” suddenly became a major international superstar, despite possessing a level of discernible talent so low as to make the Kardashians look like the Jackson 5.
There was 2006, when the vice president of the United States — who claimed he was attempting to bring down a suspected quail — shot a 78-year-old man in the face, only to be exonerated after an investigation revealed that the victim was an attorney.
And — perhaps most inexplicable of all — there was 2007, when millions of people voluntarily installed Windows Vista.
Yes, we’ve seen some weird years. But we’ve never seen one as weird as 2016. This was the Al Yankovic of years. If years were movies, 2016 would be “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” If years were relatives, 2016 would be the uncle who shows up at your Thanksgiving dinner wearing his underpants on the outside.