Columbia University

The Pale King By David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown, 548 pp., $27.99) Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will By David Foster Wallace (Columbia University Press, 252 pp., $19.95) Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace By David Lipsky (Broadway Books, 320 pp., $16.99) I. Today we think of the 1920s as a golden age of American fiction. But to Edmund Wilson, looking back in 1944, the most striking thing about this modern generation, which he did more than any critic to foster, was its failure to reach full development.

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Flannery O’Connor once described the contradictory desires that afflict all of us with characteristic simplicity. “Free will does not mean one will,” she wrote, “but many wills conflicting in one man.” The existence of appealing alternatives, after all, is what makes free will free: What would choice be without inner debate? We’re torn between staying faithful and that alluring man or woman across the room. We can’t resist the red velvet cake despite having sworn to keep our calories down. We buy a leather jacket on impulse, even though we know we’ll need the money for other things.

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As the Anthony Weiner Twitter whodunit trundles on into almost a full week, it remains unclear where the now-infamous photo came from. To help shed some light on this, I contacted Hany Farid, a renowned expert in forensic photographic image analysis.

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In the Margins

In the latest installment of its occasional series on how technology is ruining our lives, The New York Times reports on a conference about to be held by the Caxton Club, a group of Chicago bibliophiles, on how annotating books “enhance[s] the reading experience.” Alongside some entertaining literary tidbits (Nelson Mandela wrote his own name in the margin of Julius Caesar next to the line “Cowards die many times before their deaths”), we find in the article the usual doomsday musings on the fate of marginalia in the digital age. The Caxtonites, needless to say, are not into the Kindle.

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Political Education

The October launch of Columbia University’s Center for Palestine Studies (CPS), the first institution at an American university specifically dedicated to the study of Palestinian Arabs, received surprisingly little notice. Middle East–related brawls on Columbia’s campus have often captured national attention, featuring accusations of anti-Semitism lobbed at professors (recall the alleged bullying of Jewish and pro-Israel students in 2004 by Professor Joseph Massad) and controversial speaking engagements (for example, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejadin September of 2007).

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My Novel, My Novel

Mourning Diary By Roland Barthes Translated by Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 261 pp., $25) The Preparation of the Novel By Roland Barthes Translated by Kate Briggs (Columbia University Press, 463 pp., $29.50)   I. In retrospect, Roland Barthes once observed, his career as an intellectual began with the modest aim of revolution: It seemed to me (around 1954) that a science of signs might stimulate social criticism, and that Sartre, Brecht, and Saussure could concur in this project.

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The Global Imam

The leader of what is arguably the world’s most successful Islamic movement lives in a tiny Pennsylvania town called Saylorsburg, at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, otherwise known as “the Camp.” The Camp consists of a series of houses, a community center, a pond, and some tranquil, woodsy space for strolling.

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The PICTURE: Nerd Rules

(Click here to see a slideshow of these stunning tools and charts.) When material culture really matters, there is something dematerialized about its materiality. Most people will agree that a beautifully designed chair—or a beautifully designed pair of scissors—has an aura about it. The truth is that no purely utilitarian analysis can describe the cultural significance of a man-made object, even the most blandly utilitarian one. Poets and painters understand this.

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The case of the “Ground Zero Mosque”—that is, for those who’ve been on Mars for the last few weeks, the Islamic Cordoba House that is to include a mosque, along with an auditorium, a swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, and restaurants, though it is not to be built at Ground Zero, but rather, two blocks away—continues to prove highly teachable, as the academy likes to describe topics amenable to Socratic or other instructive dispute. But the dispute hasn’t yet finished granting its gifts.

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It's Alive

In 1997, Justice Antonin Scalia released a slender volume setting forth his judicial vision. In addition to defending originalism, Scalia sought to disparage what he viewed as the then-dominant mode of interpreting the Constitution. “The ascendant school of constitutional interpretation affirms the existence of what is called The Living Constitution, a body of law that ... grows and changes from age to age, in order to meet the needs of a changing society,” Scalia wrote.

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