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Category: zettel

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Another Year of “Too Lateness” for an Out-of-Control Species

Jorie Graham

There’s an extraordinary interview/profile of the poet Jorie Graham in the New Yorker magazine. The publication date is January 1, 2023. Depending upon when you were born, it’s date that has a feeling of a far-off future. And yet, here it is. Another year has come—perhaps this is the year when the feeling of “too lateness” will become palpable to the masses.

Here’s a passage from Graham’s interview. It’s heartening to hear a poet taking on and exposing through words the world lying beneath the simulacrum.

The distractions come in increasingly enticing forms: fantasy facts, conspiracy theories, end-time narratives, V.R. worlds, and the ultimate (albeit also ancient) wish to become utterly other than one is, the fantasy of total escape from one’s self. We see this in situations as starkly clear as young girls addicted to apps which change their faces and bodies, until they are made ill with toxic self-hatred, bafflement, and shame. We know we are in a potential death spiral when so many solutions seem to involve some form of total escape—from one’s flesh, one’s spirit, the planet, the real world of work and love, from the time it takes to learn, from bodily knowledge, friendship, nature, from the uncanny feeling nature gives one of being only one species among other species. That feeling should excite us—it used to. Or mesmerize. Or terrify. The unknown in a life is still a gigantic terra incognita toward which every soul can make its pilgrimage. The unknown is not a “not known”—it is mystery, not a function of information. It is the unknowability embedded in the question that Tolstoy suggests we are to ask of life: What are we to do? You cannot ask Siri for the answer. You cannot take a shortcut to it, as much as our systems, and their new powers, want us short-circuited.

It’s a long interview, so prepare yourself for that. You may need to read it several times to pick up all the threads. It’s a picture in words of the ocean in which we swim.

Jorie Graham Takes the Long View

The poet talks about distraction, ecological devastation, and the future of her medium.

By Katy Waldman, The New Yorker interview, January 1, 2023

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What We See When We Look Back…

This short story, by Arthur Krystal in the January 24th issue of The New Yorker, encapsulates what it’s like to look back on a long life. The story is also a worthy representation of how memory operates in bursts of poetic image. Condensed moments serve as a beacon from times past creating touchstones in the narrative we tell ourselves about ourselves.

What’s the Deal Hummingbird?

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The Ethics of Feeding Wildlife


Animals living in the wild, is it ethical to feed them from the store of food from the human world?

How about manatees? Manatees are starving and people have started feeding them. What if we upset the ecological balance by artificially introducing manatee food into a small section of the biosphere? Could the balance ever be put right?

Before you answer, here’s a little background:

In 2016, about 8,800 manatees lived in the waters of Florida. In 2021, more than 1,000 have died. Manatees eat sea grass. The sea grass has been killed by algae blooms created by fertilizer runoff and human waste from septic systems.

The tipping point has arrived. What do we do? Can the balance ever be put right?

Manatees, Facing a Crisis, Will Get a Bit of Help: Extra Feeding

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Can I Get a Witness?

Since we don’t directly witness the scientific experiment demonstrated in a laboratory, we take on faith that the witnesses who do are a trustworthy jury of scientific peers. We trust they will make their judgements independent of politics and religion.

This era’s attacks on science pinpoint the witnesses as untrustworthy because they are members of the “elite trustworthy community”—the very thing that is meant to give them purchase. In their place, a conspiracy of witnesses is substituted to testify to whatever “alternative facts” that serve their political agenda.

From Bruno Latour’s “We Have Never Been Modern.”

Boyle’s innovation is striking. Against Hobbes’s judgement he takes possession of the old repertoire of penal law and biblical exegesis, but he does so in order to apply them to the testimony of the things put to the test in the laboratory. As Shapin and Schaffer write:

Sprat and Boyle appealed to ‘the practice of our courts of justice here in England” to sustain the moral certainty of their conclusions and to support the argument that the multiplication of witnesses allows “a concurrence of such probabilities.” Boyle used the provision of Clarendon’s 1661 Treason Act, in which, he said, two witnesses were necessary to convict. So the legal and priestly models of authority through witnessing were fundamental resources for the experimenters. Reliable witnesses were ipso facto the members of a trustworthy community: Papists, atheists, and sectaries found their stories challenged, the social status of a witness sustained his credibility, and the concurring voices of many witnesses put the extremists to fight. Hobbes called the basis of this practice: once again, he displayed the form of life that sustained witnessing as an ineffective and subversive enterprise. (Shapin and Schaffer, 1985, p. 327)

At first glance, Boyle’s repertoire does not contribute much that is new. Scholars, monks, jurists and scribes had been developing all those resources for a millennium and more. What is new, however, is their point of application. Earlier, the witnesses had been written by men or inspired by God—never inspired or written by nonhumans. The law courts had seen countless human and divine trials come and go—never affairs that called into question the behavior of nonhumans in a laboratory transformed into a court of justice.

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