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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Is It Better To Beat Temptation Or Never Feel Tempted At All?, by Christina Starmans, Aeon

When was the last time you were tempted, even briefly, to do something a little immoral? To lie, betray a friend’s confidence, cut in line, or take a little more than your share? I’m willing to bet it was today. Maybe in the past hour. Larger temptations hound us too, especially those involving sex or money. And yet, perhaps to a shocking extent, we often rise above these temptations and act morally nonetheless. But how does the inner struggle with temptation affect how our actions are viewed by others? Who is the better person: the one who acts morally while tempted or the one who is never tempted at all?

Is The Chinese Language A Superstition Machine?, by Julie Sedivy, Nautilus

English speakers can relish a good pun, and messing around with homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings) is a staple of many a clever ad. But Chinese practices take punning to a whole new level—one that reaches deep into a culture where good fortune is persistently courted through positive words and deeds, and misfortune repelled by banishing the negative. The number four is tainted because of its homophony with the word for “death”—many Chinese people would never consider buying a house whose address contained that number. In visual designs, fish and bats figure prominently because they are sound twins of the words for “surplus” and “fortune.” Gift-giving is fraught with homophonic taboos; it is all right to give apples, because their name sounds like “peace” but not pears, whose name overlaps with “separation.” Questions about why certain objects or numbers are considered lucky or unlucky are often met with matter-of-fact statements about their sound-alikes.

With Mysteries, Knut Hamsun Rewrote The Novel's Rules, by Jonathan McAloon, The Guardian

Hamsun was making formal jokes about stream of consciousness, parodying it, when it was still in prototype, 30 years before James Joyce or Virginia Woolf had perfected it. He was defying forms that had yet to be invented.

Mysteries is one of my favourite books and I can’t figure out how it works. I read it in Gerry Bothmer’s 1973 translation which I suspect adds additional oddness to Hamsun’s strange mix. The characters feel simultaneously strange and familiar. Hamsun isn’t the father of the modern novel, but rather its difficult, lonely uncle. His heritage, which began in Russia with Pushkin, Lermontov and Dostoevsky, was widely abandoned for high modernism, a decade or so after Hamsun’s best work. Because of this he still feels advanced and new. He isn’t in our blood the same way, though he has high-profile disciples: among them Beckett, Céline and Lawrence.

Dishing It Out: Why Americans Eat The Way We Do, by Corby Kummer, New York Times

If every generation rewrites history, then our current food historians are only beginning to claim large tracts. These three new books about America’s culinary past explore less-trodden territory with an eye to concerns that seem surprisingly contemporary: the need of workers for a higher minimum wage and better conditions; the need for women to gain equality with men; and the need for immigrants to be treated fairly and with respect.

Stop Punching Me, Darth Vader, by Joyce Wadler, New York Times

The movie begins. On the screen, we’re moving through space. Off screen, my chair rumbles and the leg rest vibrates. Are we this close to the subway? This theater is two stories up. [...]

What’s weird here is that as the spacecraft banks to the right, it feels as if my chair is tilting to the right; as it banks left, it feels as if my chair is tilting left.