Wednesday Round Up #30

Dylan Thomas reads “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
This reading makes the poem come even more alive, to hear its rhythms in the voice of its creator

Romantic Regimes

Sitting in the American school library, I stared at my dozens of handwritten notes and saw an abyss opening up: a gulf between the ideals of love that I had grown up with and the exotic stuff I was now encountering. Where I came from, boys and girls were ‘falling in love’ and ‘seeing each other’; the rest was a mystery. The teen film drama that my generation of Russians grew up with – a socialist replica of Romeo and Juliet set in a Moscow commuter neighbourhood – was deliciously unspecific when it came to declarations of love. To express his feelings for the heroine, the protagonist recited the multiplication tables: ‘Two times two is four. It is as certain as my love. Three times three is nine. That means you are mine. And two times nine is 18, and that’s my favourite number because at 18 we will get married.’

What else was there to say? Not even our 1,000-page Russian novels could match the complexity of Seventeen’s romantic system. When engaging in love affairs, the countesses and officers were not exactly eloquent; they acted before they spoke, and afterwards, if they weren’t dead as a result of their hasty undertakings, they gazed around speechless and scratched their heads in search of explanations.

Although I did not yet have a PhD in sociology, it turned out that what I had been doing with the copies of Seventeen was exactly the kind of work that sociologists of emotion perform in order to understand how we conceptualise love…

But perhaps the greatest problem with the Regime of Choice stems from its misconception of maturity as absolute self-sufficiency. Attachment is infantilised. The desire for recognition is rendered as ‘neediness’. Intimacy must never challenge ‘personal boundaries’. While incessantly scolded to take responsibility for our own selves, we are strongly discouraged from taking any for our loved ones: after all, our interference in their lives, in the form of unsolicited advice or suggestions for change, might prevent their growth and self-discovery. Caught between too many optimisation scenarios and failure options, we are faced with the worst affliction of the Regime of Choice: self-absorption without self-sacrifice…

Having analysed discussions in various TV talk shows, conducted interviews and done content analysis of the Russian press, she established that, to Russians, love remains ‘a destiny, a moral act and a value; it is irresistible, it requires sacrifice and implies suffering and pain.’ Indeed, whereas the concept of maturity that lies at the heart of the Regime of Choice regards romantic pain as an aberration and a sign of poor decision-making, the Russians consider maturity to be the capacity to bear that very pain, sometimes to an absurd degree.

Michel Henry – Philosopher of Phenomenology

Since the publication of the Essence of Manifestation in 1963, Henry’s entire oeuvre was devoted to the systematic development of a phenomenology that, while constituting itself within the phenomenological tradition, criticizes substantially not only classical Husserlian phenomenology but also the works of some of Husserl’s most famous successors: Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. The originality of Henry’s phenomenology lies in the fact that it considers intentionality to be only one of two modes of appearing. In other words, Henry argues that the way in which phenomena appear to us cannot be restricted to the “consciousness of something” as classical phenomenology would suggest. On the contrary, for Henry, intentional consciousness must be founded in a more fundamental mode of appearing that is precisely non- and even pre-intentional and that therefore essentially differs from intentionality. It is this fundamental mode of appearing that Henry designates as “affectivity”, “pathos” or “life”.

A ‘Self-Aware’ Fish Raises Doubts About a Cognitive Test

A little blue-and-black fish swims up to a mirror. It maneuvers its body vertically to reflect its belly, along with a brown mark that researchers have placed on its throat. The fish then pivots and dives to strike its throat against the sandy bottom of its tank with a glancing blow. Then it returns to the mirror. Depending on which scientists you ask, this moment represents either a revolution or a red herring.

Alex Jordan, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, thinks this fish — a cleaner wrasse — has just passed a classic test of self-recognition. Scientists have long thought that being able to recognize oneself in a mirror reveals some sort of self-awareness, and perhaps an awareness of others’ perspectives, too. For almost 50 years, they have been using mirrors to test animals for that capacity. After letting an animal get familiar with a mirror, they put a mark someplace on the animal’s body that it can see only in its reflection. If the animal looks in the mirror and then touches or examines the mark on its body, it passes the test.

Humans don’t usually reach this milestone until we’re toddlers. Very few other species ever pass the test; those that do are mostly or entirely big-brained mammals such as chimpanzees. And yet as reported in a 2018 study that appeared on bioRxiv.org and that is due for publication in PLOS Biology, Jordan and his co-authors observed this seemingly self-aware behavior in a tiny fish.

Covid-19 has shown us that good health is not just down to biology

Of all the lessons we’ve learned from this pandemic, the most significant is how unequal its effects have been. Wealth, it turns out, is the best shielding strategy from Covid-19. As poorer people crowded together in cramped housing, the rich escaped to their country retreats. Two of the largest risk factors for dying from Covid-19 are being from a deprived background and being from a minority-ethnic background, pointing to the underlying role of social inequalities, housing conditions and occupation.

Our society’s recovery from this disease should be centred on building more equal, resilient societies, where people in all parts of the world have access to both protection from the disease and access to research developments.

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