Category: The Arts
Contemporary art had taught them [young Iranian artists] that there is always a different way of seeing.
That is from The Dawn of Eurasia, by Bruno Maçães, and it is worth more than the last ten essays you read dumping on contemporary art.
Studio Drift had a great exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam featuring drifter, a monolithic block that levitates, rotates and moves around and in space.
Drifter personifies Arthur C. Clarke’s adage that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Seeing it is magical. I can tell you that it’s 3-dimensional not a projection. You can see under, above and around it. There are no strings. You can see a video here. Music plays as the block moves. I’m pretty sure that isn’t an accident. I can guess how it was done but really the point is that this was an art work that fulfilled it’s promise
Drifter calls on the viewer to reconsider our relationship with our living environment, which is often accepted as static and lifeless. It creates a sense of disbelief and displacement, creating tension between humanity versus nature and chaos versus order. Disconnected from our expectations, it floats between the possible and impossible.
Drifter will be at the Stedelijk until August 26. Look for it elsewhere.
I was very happy with how this turned out, here is the audio and transcript. Here is how the CWTeam summarized it:
Michael Pollan has long been fascinated by nature and the ways we connect and clash with it, with decades of writing covering food, farming, cooking, and architecture. Pollan’s latest fascination? Our widespread and ancient desire to use nature to change our consciousness.
He joins Tyler to discuss his research and experience with psychedelics, including what kinds of people most benefit from them, what it can teach us about profundity, how it can change your personality and political views, the importance of culture in shaping the experience, the proper way to integrate it into mainstream practice, and — most importantly of all — whether it’s any fun.
He argues that LSD is underrated, I think it may be good for depression but for casual use it is rapidly becoming overrated. Here is one exchange of relevance:
COWEN: Let me try a very philosophical question. Let’s say I could take a pill or a substance, and it would make everything seem profound. My receptivity to finding things profound would go up greatly. I could do very small events, and it would seem profound to me.
Is that, in fact, real profundity that I’m experiencing? Doesn’t real profundity somehow require excavating or experiencing things from actual society? Are psychedelics like taking this pill? They don’t give you real profundity. You just feel that many things are profound, but at the end of the experience, you don’t really have . . .
POLLAN: It depends. If you define profundity or the profound as exceptional, you have a point.
One of the things that’s very interesting about psychedelics is that our brains are tuned for novelty, and for good reason. It’s very adaptive to respond to new things in the environment, changes in your environment, threats in your environment. We’re tuned to disregard the familiar or take it for granted, which is indeed what most of us do.
One of the things that happens on psychedelics, and on cannabis interestingly enough — and there’s some science on it in the case of cannabis; I don’t think we’ve done the science yet with psychedelics — is that the familiar suddenly takes on greater weight, and there’s an appreciation of the familiar. I think a lot of familiar things are profound if looked at in the proper way.
The feelings of love I have for people in my family are profound, but I don’t always feel that profundity. Psychedelics change that balance. I talk in the book about having emotions that could be on Hallmark cards. We don’t think of Hallmark cards as being profound, but in fact, a lot of those sentiments are, properly regarded.
Yes, there are those moments you’ve smoked cannabis, and you’re looking at your hand, and you go, “Man, hands, they’re f — ing incredible.” You’re just taken with this. Is that profound or not? It sounds really goofy, but I think the line between profundity and banality is a lot finer than we think.
COWEN: I’ve never myself tried psychedelics. But I’ve asked the question, if I were to try, how would I think about what is the stopping point?
For my own life, I like, actually, to do the same things over and over again. Read books. Eat food. Spend time with friends. You can just keep on doing them, basically, till you die. I feel I’m in a very good groove on all of those.
If you take it once, and say you find it entrancing or interesting or attractive, what’s the thought process? How do you model what happens next?
POLLAN: That’s one of the really interesting things about them. You have this big experience, often positive, not always though. I had, on balance . . . all the experiences I described in the book, with one notable exception, were very positive experiences.
But I did not have a powerful desire to do it again. It doesn’t have that self-reinforcing quality, the dopamine release, I don’t know what it is, that comes with things that we like doing: eating and sex and sleep, all this kind of stuff. Your first thought after a big psychedelic experience is not “When can I do it again?” It’s like, “Do I ever have to do it again?”
COWEN: It doesn’t sound fun, though. What am I missing?
POLLAN: It’s not fun. For me, it’s not fun. I think there are doses where that might apply — low dose, so-called recreational dose, when people take some mushrooms and go to a concert, and they’re high essentially.
But the kind of experience I’m describing is a lot more — I won’t use the word profound because we’ve charged that one — that is a very internal and difficult journey that has moments of incredible beauty and lucidity, but also has dark moments, moments of contemplating death. Nothing you would describe as recreational except in the actual meaning of the word, which is never used. It’s not addictive, and I think that’s one of the reasons.
I did just talk to someone, though, who came up to me at a book signing, a guy probably in his 70s. He said, “I’ve got to tell you about the time I took LSD 16 days in a row.” That was striking. You can meet plenty of people who have marijuana or a drink 16 days in a row. But that was extraordinary. I don’t know why he did it. I’m curious to find out exactly what he got out of it.
In general, there’s a lot of space that passes. For the Grateful Dead, I don’t know. Maybe it was a nightly thing for them. But for most people, it doesn’t seem to be.
COWEN: Say I tried it, and I found it fascinating but not fun. Shouldn’t I then think there’s something wrong with me that the fascinating is not fun? Shouldn’t I downgrade my curiosity?
POLLAN: [laughs] Aren’t there many fascinating things that aren’t fun?
COWEN: All the ones I know, I find fun. This is what’s striking to me about your answer. It’s very surprising.
W even talk about LSD and sex, and why a writer’s second book is the key book for understanding that writer. Toward the end we cover the economics of food, and, of course, the Michael Pollan production function:
COWEN: What skill do you tell them to invest in?
POLLAN: I tell them to read a lot. I’m amazed how many writing students don’t read. It’s criminal. Also, read better writers than you are. In other words, read great fiction. Cultivate your ear. Writing is a form of music, and we don’t pay enough attention to that.
When I’m drafting, there’s a period where I’m reading lots of research, and scientific articles, and history, and undistinguished prose, but as soon as I’m done with that and I’ve started drafting a chapter or an article, I stop reading that kind of stuff.
Before I go to bed, I read a novel every night. I read several pages of really good fiction. That’s because you do a lot of work in your sleep, and I want my brain to be in a rhythm of good prose.
Defininitely recommended, as is Michael’s latest book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
The city has some of the best Soviet war memorials, noting that the text at the main Babi Yar monument does not in fact refer to “Jews.” The museums are much better than expected, with at least five worthy of a visit, including the National Museum, the folk art museum, Scythian gold museum, and Russian art museum, and the Khanenko museum.
I am underwhelmed by the economy here, and Kiev is one of the least bustling national capitals I have seen, especially for a country of its size. The distribution of stores and commercial ventures is so thin as to remind me of some parts of San Francisco. Yes, this is August but still the streets feel empty, even in the center of town. Maybe especially in the center of town. The earlier Soviet infrastructure has not been built over, and the basic outline of the city does not yet feel “post-reform.”
Poland and Ukraine had about the same per capita gdp in 1992, but now Poland’s is three times higher. Even Russian wages are twice as high. The Ukrainian economy has shrunk 17.8% since 2008, and that is not even counting the loss of territory, which still counts statistically as part of Ukrainian gdp.
Markers of the new, post-2014 Ukrainian nationalism are seen frequently, and the use of the Russian language is actively discouraged.
There is a brand or chain of Karaoke parlors called “MAFIA Karaoke.”
Unlike some parts of Moscow, there are few signs of a rip-off culture here with respect to tourists. The citizenry is unfailingly helpful when possible, though short answers are hard to come by. People in random encounters seem quite willing to give all sorts of (wordy) advice as to what you should be doing and why.
Japanese restaurants are more common than Chinese. After Italian, there is not much culinary diversity to be seen, but the Georgian restaurants are among the best in the city. As for a single recommendation, Kanapa [Kanape] for “nouvelle Ukraine” would be my clear first pick, and it is on a picturesque street with many folk art stalls.
If two people each order bottles of mineral water, they will not open one bottle for each person. Instead, they induce you to first share the first bottle, and then the second, in sequence. Thus the water is not efficiently conserved.
It is remarkable how many different restaurants serve their chocolate ice cream with a basil leaf on top.
I am just arriving, and for the first time Here are my favorites:
1. Pianist: Emil Gilels, most of all for Beethoven and Chopin. Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev, he was often best in unusual pieces, such as Scriabin, Prokofiev, and John Philip Sousa. But there is also Cherkassy, Pachmann, Moiseiwitsch, Lhevinne, and others. Simon Barere was one of the greatest Liszt pianists. So we are into A++ territory here. But wait…Richter was born in Ukraine! My head is exploding now.
1b. Violinists: You’ve got Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman, Isaac Stern, Leonid Kogan, the Oistrakhs, among others, with Milstein’s Bach recordings as my favorite.
2. Composer: Prokofiev was born in eastern Ukraine (or is it now Russia again?), but somehow I don’t feel he counts. Valentin Sylvestrov would be an alternative.
3. Novelist: One choice would be Nikolai Gogol, then Mikhail Bulgakov, born in Kiev but ethnically Russian. But I can’t say I love Master and Margarita; it is probably much better and funnier in the original Russian. His The White Guard is a more directly Ukrainian novel, and it should be better known. A Country Doctor’s Notebook is perhaps my favorite by him. For short stories there is Isaac Babel. Joseph Conrad was born in modern-day Ukraine, though I don’t feel he counts as Ukrainian, same with Stanislaw Lem. Vassily Grossman is a toss-up in terms of origin. The Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, now very much in fashion, was born in Ukraine.
4. Movie: Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth, a 1930 take on agricultural collectivization. With Dovshenko as my favorite director.
5. Movie, set in: Man With a Movie Camera. It is remarkable how fresh and innovative this 1929 silent film still is.
6. Painter: David Burliuk, leader of the Ukrainian avant-garde and later member of the Blue Rider group. Ilya Repin was born in modern-day Ukraine, though he feels “Russian” to me in the historical sense.
7. Sculptor: Alexander Archipenko was born in Ukraine, though he ended up in America.
8. Economist: Ludwig von Mises. He was born on territory near current-day Lviv, part of Ukraine.
9. Actress: Milla Jovovich is pretty good in The Fifth Element and Resident Evil.
10. Tech entrepreneur: Max Levchin.
11. Israeli: There is Golda Meir, Natan Sharansky, and Simon Wiesenthal, among others.
Other: Wilhelm Reich deserves mention, though I’m not really a fan. The region produced a few good chess players too.
Overall, this is a stunningly impressive list, though there are legitimate questions as to who and what exactly counts as Ukrainian. They’re still trying to sort that one out, which is part of the problem.
A NEW GENERATION of celebrities is selling out concerts, starring in commercials, and amassing huge Instagramfollowings. But none of them exist—corporeally, anyway. In recent years, and starting in Japan, technology and social media have spawned a digital demimonde of computer-generated stars, ranging from fake musicians and models to company mascots who appear as holograms (like Betty Crocker, with AI). When they’re not entertaining you, they’re trying to convince you of their humanity, and even the more cartoonish among them have fleshed-out personalities. In a way, it’s the purest expression of celebrity, which has always been an elaborate illusion. CGI starlets, though, “are much easier to control,” says Ryan Detert, CEO of the branding firm Influential. Except when they misbehave.
I was surprised by the consistent level of quality in the production. It runs for about 2 hours, 20 minutes, with hardly any slow musical moments — how many pop or rap albums can say the same?
I do not agree with those who see it as too authoritarian or too glorifying of raw ambition and war. In my read of the piece, it is “crazy” King George III who speaks the truth about politics. The main plot of course has non-white characters in the roles of Founding Fathers. I view this as an imaginary history, to be compared against what actually happened, to illustrate just how far America is from having an actual emancipatory history. At the same time, America is the country where people tell such imaginary stories about emancipatory histories, a sign that we are not entirely hopeless. Yet when it comes to “who is in the room,” and “who gets to tell the story” — two recurring themes — the outcomes have been less than ideal. I saw Hamilton as a piece about shattered dreams and yet picking up the pieces yet again.
It is striking how good a job Hamilton does at appealing to viewers of all different levels of education and information.
Here is a review from David Brooks (NYT).
Due to the asymmetry of fame I feel that I know you quite well so I am just going to bombard you with random questions and hope that you see fit to answer some of them.
You seem to value journalism very highly. Is it just out of necessity as a generalist, or does popular writing on a topic have important information that can’t be learned from the academic/scholarly side?
Journalists have to try to explain things that actually happened to other human beings, often educated ones but not specialists either. It is hard to overrate the importance of that process to developing one’s thoughts and self, no matter what you may think of particular journalists in today’s MSM.
Related: Which elite profession or slice of society is most opaque to journalists and “book-learning” in general? (Oddly some of the categories that come to mind are those which are some of the most written-about – food, sex, friends, law, politics. But it’s probably maths.)
Making things. Archaeology. These days, tech. Maths. Journalism.
How much less interesting would it be to read Shakespeare if no-one else ever had? Does the answer differ much across top-tier “great” artists?
It would not be less interesting at all, maybe more interesting, because the shock of discovery would be all the greater. Admittedly, many artists require lots of discussion with other people, maybe rock and roll most of all? But not Shakespeare.
Overrated vs underrated: The New Yorker. How about Samin Nosrat?
The New Yorker has had a consistent voice and remarkable brand for more decades than I can remember (I recall Patrick Collison making a similar point, perhaps in a podcast?). Since I am now above the median age for the United States, that makes them underrated. The literariness of the historical New York and Northeast and the integration of American and European culture also have become underrated topic areas, and The New Yorker still does them, so that too makes the magazine underrated.
And who is Samin Nosrat? She must therefore be underrated.
Does the world have too many writers, or not enough? What about comparative literature professors? How should we think about the future of literary culture when the written word is becoming so much more culturally dominant at the same time as books and journalism are falling apart?
What variable are we changing at the margin? If people watch less TV and write more, that is probably a plus. I also would favor fewer photographs and more writing. But I wouldn’t cut back on charity to increase the quantity of writing. If only comparative literature professors were people who simply loved books — at the margin a bit more like used book store owners and somewhat less like professors — and would compare them to each other…then I would want more of them. Until then, I don’t know how to keep the extra ones busy.
Why does the USA not have open borders with Canada?
I believe America should have open borders with any nation that has a more generous welfare state than we do. That covers Canada, even though Canadian insurance coverage for mental health and dentistry isn’t nearly as good as you might think. As to why we don’t have open borders with Canada, I don’t think American voters would see that as solving any concrete problem (can’t we get many of the best Canadians anyway?), and it would feel a bit like giving up control, so why do it?
To what extent are Trump, Brexit, Orban, Erdogan, rising murder rates and stalling trade growth worldwide part of the same phenomenon? If they aren’t completely separate, which way does the contagion run?
Yes, no, and maybe so, get back to me in a few years’ time.
Have a great day…
Shane emails me:
What have you found to be the best books on small, innovative, productive groups?
These could be in-depth looks at specific groups – such as The Idea Factory, about Bell Labs – or they could be larger studies of institutions, guilds, etc.
I suggest reading about musical groups and sports teams and revolutions in the visual arts, as I have mentioned before, taking care you are familiar with and indeed care passionately about the underlying area in question. Navy Seals are another possible option for a topic area. In sociology there is network theory, but…I don’t know. In any case, the key is to pick an area you care about, and read in clusters, rather than hoping to find “the very best book.” The very theory of small groups predicts this is how you should read about small groups!
But if you must start somewhere, Randall Collins’s The Sociology of Philosophies is probably the most intensive and detailed place to start, too much for some in fact and arguably the book strains too hard at its target.
I have a few observations on what I call “small group theory”:
1. If you are seeking to understand a person you meet, or might be hiring, ask what was the dominant small group that shaped the thinking and ideas of that person, typically (but not always) at a young age. Step #1 is often “what kind of regional thinker is he/she?” and step #2 is this.
2. If you are seeking to foment change, take care to bring together people who have a relatively good chance of forming a small group together. Perhaps small groups of this kind are the fundamental units of social change, noting that often the small groups will be found within larger organizations. The returns to “person A meeting person B” arguably are underrated, and perhaps more philanthropy should be aimed toward this end.
3. Small groups (potentially) have the speed and power to learn from members and to iterate quickly and improve their ideas and base all of those processes upon trust. These groups also have low overhead and low communications overhead. Small groups also insulate their members sufficiently from a possibly stifling mainstream consensus, while the multiplicity of group members simultaneously boosts the chances of drawing in potential ideas and corrections from the broader social milieu.
4. The bizarre and the offensive have a chance to flourish in small groups. In a sense, the logic behind an “in joke” resembles the logic behind social change through small groups. The “in joke” creates something new, and the small group can create something additionally new and in a broader and socially more significant context, but based on the same logic as what is standing behind the in joke.
5. How large is a small group anyway? (How many people can “get” an inside joke?) Has the internet made “small groups” larger? Or possibly smaller? (If there are more common memes shared by a few thousand people, perhaps the small group needs to be organized around something truly exclusive and thus somewhat narrower than in times past?)
6. Can a spousal or spouse-like couple be such a small group? A family (Bach, Euler)?
7. What are the negative social externalities of such small groups, compared to alternative ways of generating and evaluating ideas? And how often in life should you attempt to switch your small groups?
8. What else should we be asking about small groups and the small groups theory of social change?
9. What does your small group have to say about this?
I thank an anonymous correspondent — who adheres to the small group theory — for contributions to this post.
Here is the audio and transcript, Elisa is a Professor of English at Harvard, with a specialty in poetry, and also star and driving force behind the new PBS show Poetry in America. Most of all we talked about poetry! Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Let me express a concern, and see if you can talk me out of it. I’m going to use the word best, which I know many literary critics do not like, but I believe in the concept nonetheless.
In my view, the two best American poets are Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, and they were both a long, long time ago. They were quite early in the literary history of this nation.
Is that a statement about the fame-generating process, a statement about somehow their era was better at generating the best poets because we had a much smaller population, or am I simply wrong in thinking they’re the best American poets?
NEW: I don’t know what to say to you. I revere them. They are the most important poets for me. They invent two ways of being a poet, and two of the ways that so many poets who have followed them also acknowledge.
Would there be Susan Howe, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath? All in different ways, would we have them without Emily Dickinson? I don’t know. I’m not sure I can enter . . . Is it that we’ve lost it? I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think we’ve lost it.
COWEN: I turn to European history, again using the “best” word, but it’s plausible to think Homer and Dante are the two best European poets ever in some regards, and they, too, are each quite early in a particular stage of history. What is it about poetry that seems to generate so many people as at least plausible bests who come at the very beginnings of eras?
NEW: Well, isn’t it that poetry is cumulative, and canons are cumulative, and those who are there first, they’re never superseded — unlike, say, for economists who would say, “Adam Smith is a really smart guy, but it’s not like we go to Adam Smith to understand Bitcoin.” They would say, “No. That knowledge has been superseded.”
In literary knowledge, we continue to learn from our predecessors and also continue to feel awe before the persistence of certain phenomena that they . . . Shakespeare saw that Iago was a slippery-mouthed conniver of a kind we still recognize.
We recognize ourselves. We recognize something enduringly human in these oldest of poets, and then, maybe, we elevate them even more.
COWEN: Is it possible that American English isn’t rich enough? I find if I go to Ireland, or especially to Trinidad, I envy the language they have there. They’re both speaking English. If you think of America today, there’s texting, now a long history of television.
Our language is great for quick communication, number one in the world for science. Now there’s social media. Nineteenth-century American English has longer sentences. It’s arguably more like British English. Isn’t the problem just the language we grow up with around us isn’t somehow good enough to sustain first-rate poets?
NEW: It is. It’s so rich. I love the way it evolves, the way my kids don’t say “whatever” anymore. “Whatever” had such incredible potency. “Epic.” When they started to say “epic” had such potency. When hip-hop artists say, “That’s really ill.”
I love the fertility of slang. I love the way mass culture, and its technological limitations, and then its new breaths does funny things to language. I tell my students about this. I say, “You know the way how in ’30s movies, the women are always sweeping around going, ‘Oh, darling,’ in The Thin Man, and there’s this ‘Hi, honey . . .’” [laughs]
If you watch a ’30s movie, and then you watch a ’50s movie, and you see the plasticity and the ingenuity that human beings put into . . . We don’t say, “Hey, kid.” We don’t call anyone a kid anymore. It sounds really archaic and corny.
Definitely recommended, interesting throughout. We talked about Shaq too. After the conversation ended, Elisa said something striking to me, something like: “I liked this conversation because you didn’t ask me about “the humanities,” you asked me about poetry.”
A correspondent writes to me:
Isn’t it weird that the best ideas we have just…. pop into your head? I have no idea how to trace them. They just show up.
@Tyler any research into this area?
Dean Keith Simonton springs readily to mind, noting he has a new book coming out this year on genius. Here are some overview pieces on simultaneous discovery, and of course those tend to stress environmental factors. Here are some approaches to the multiplicative model of creative achievement. I am a fan of that one. What else?
Is this article evidence that we (I?) are living in a simulation? Or did the editors of The Economist place it as an Easter Egg for me?:
The building, which was once called a “vertical slum” by a Singaporean legislator, is a densely packed mix of residential and commercial units. Along with People’s Park in Chinatown (pictured), which has been praised by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, it is among a handful of Brutalist buildings that were built in a surge of architectural confidence after the country became independent in 1965. They are particularly adored by those who love concrete, as well as bold and wacky colours.
Modernist buffs have started to fret that many of these Brutalist buildings will soon be gone. In February one of them, Pearl Bank, once the highest residential tower in Singapore, was sold for S$728m ($544m) to CapitaLand, one of Asia’s largest real-estate developers. The company plans to demolish the yellow horseshoe structure and build a “high-rise residential development” of 800 flats in its place.
David was in top form, and I feel this exchange reflected his core style very well, here is the audio and transcript.
We covered why people stay so lonely, whether the Amish are happy, life in Italy, the Whig tradition, the secularization thesis, the importance of covenants, whether Judaism or Christianity has a deeper reading of The Book of Exodus, whether Americans undervalue privacy, Bruce Springsteen vs. Bob Dylan, whether our next president will be a boring manager, and last but not least the David Brooks production function.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Walt Whitman, not only as a poet, but as a foundational thinker for America. Overrated or underrated?
BROOKS: I’d have to say slightly overrated.
COWEN: Tell us why.
BROOKS: I think his spirit and his energy sort of define America. His essay “Democratic Vistas” is one of my favorite essays. It captures both the vulgarity of America, but the energy and especially the business energy of America. But if we think the rise of narcissism is a problem in our society, Walt Whitman is sort of the holy spring there.
COWEN: Socrates, overrated or underrated?
BROOKS: [laughs] This is so absurd.
BROOKS: With everybody else it’s like Breaking Bad, overrated or underrated? I got Socrates.
BROOKS: I will say Socrates is overrated for this reason. We call them dialogues. But really, if you read them, they’re like Socrates making a long speech and some other schmo saying, “Oh yes. It must surely be so, Socrates.”
BROOKS: So it’s not really a dialogue, it’s just him speaking with somebody else affirming.
COWEN: And it’s Plato reporting Socrates. So it’s Plato’s monologue about a supposed dialogue, which may itself be a monologue.
BROOKS: Yeah. It was all probably the writers.
And on Milton Friedman:
BROOKS: I was a student at the University of Chicago, and they did an audition, and I was socialist back then. It was a TV show PBS put on, called Tyranny of the Status Quo, which was “Milton talks to the young.” So I studied up on my left-wing economics, and I went out there to Stanford. I would make my argument, and then he would destroy it in six seconds or so. And then the camera would linger on my face for 19 or 20 seconds, as I tried to think of what to say.
And it was like, he was the best arguer in human history, and I was a 22-year-old. It was my TV debut — you can go on YouTube. I have a lot of hair and big glasses. But I will say, I had never met a libertarian before. And every night — we taped for five days — every night he took me and my colleagues out to dinner in San Francisco and really taught us about economics.
Later, he stayed close to me. I called him a mentor. I didn’t become a libertarian, never quite like him, but a truly great teacher and a truly important influence on my life and so many others. He was a model of what an academic economist should be like.
Recommended. (And I actually thought David did just fine in that early exchange with Friedman.)
Gonder was at the height of its prosperity at the turn of the eighteenth century, when it may have had a population of seventy thousand. Emperor Fasilidades, who founded the new capital around 1635, obviously hoped to create a strong center around which the remnants of the Christian north could rally. He picked a beautiful site, a flat volcanic ridge at seven thousand feet surrounded by mountains on three sides, but with easy access to Lake Tana in the south. Gonder’s climate is warm during the day, cool at night, its two streams afforded plentiful water supplies and its hinterland abundant wood and produce.
Enough of an urban economy arose to sustain architecture, music, poetry, literature, painting, calligraphy, and educational, religious, and social institutions. The emperors appeared in considerable state, surrounded by courtiers, clergy, and soldiers…
The aristocracy and the monarchy supported the artists and artisans who put up buildings, illuminated manuscripts, decorates the interior of churches and palaces, and worked stone, wood, or pottery. The town’s castles and other monuments were built of hewn brown basalt blocks and contained features that derived from Axumite and Zagwe times as well as Portuguese models. They were concentrated in the center of the town, and provided a sharp contrast with the traditional round, thatched, mud wattled homes of the people.
That is all from the excellent Harold G. Marcus, A History of Ethiopia.
Bentham…appraised the trophies — dismissively dubbed “baked heads” — as technical innovations and recognized their potential for his own plans. He enthusiastically praised the “savage ingenuity.” An 1824 draft of his will was the first to contain the score of his wishes: first, to see the corpse as an inheritance…
According to legend, Behtam carried around the glass eyes intended for the Auto-Icon in his pocket in his final years. (Supposed) attempts to dehydrating body parts in his home oven are said to have yielded satisfactory results. Bentham believed the [Maori] mokomokai process would discolor facial traits and produce a parchment- or mummy-like appearance (which could be corrected with paint), while maintaining the physiognomy.
But Southwood Smith botched the job. He sprinkled sulfuric acid onto the head, and in doing so docked Bentham’s nose. He used an air pump to aid dehydration, which caused the skin to shrivel. Bentham’s face appeared melted, the physiognomy destroyed. In spring 1833, Smith commissioned a replacement head of wax…
That is from the new, excellent, and short The Radical Fool of Capitalism: On Jeremy Bentham, The Panopticon, and the Auto-Icon, by Christian Welzbacher.