Monday, October 17, 2011


"Musicians Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, married in 1984, are announcing they have separated."

... Via LGM, who do however cheer me up some by reminding me of Louis Menand's takedown of Steven Pinker.
The "intellectuals" in Pinker's book are social scientists, progressive educators, radical feminists, academic Marxists, liberal columnists, avant-garde arts types, government planners, and postmodernist relativists. The good guys are the cognitive scientists and ordinary folks, whose common sense, except when it has been damaged by listening to intellectuals, generally correlates with what cognitive science has discovered. I wish I could say that Pinker's view of the world of ideas is more nuanced than this. * * *

Many impulses are channelled or suppressed, and many talents and feelings are acquired, and have no specific genetic basis or evolutionary logic at all. Music appreciation, for instance, seems to be wired in at about the level of "Hot Cross Buns." But people learn to enjoy Wagner. They even learn to sing Wagner. One suspects that enjoying Wagner, singing Wagner, anything to do with Wagner, is in gross excess of the requirements of natural selection. * * *

In fact, the "universality of basic visual tastes" has been proved, Pinker points out, by the artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who, in 1993, surveyed people's artistic preferences for color, subject matter, style, and so on. They proceeded to make a painting that incorporated all of the top-rated elements: it was a nineteenth-century realist landscape featuring children, deer, and the figure of George Washington. Pinker notes that the painting exemplifies "the kind of landscape that had been characterized as optimal for our species by researchers in evolutionary aesthetics."

Jesus wept.
His tears being an effect of evolutionary selection, no doubt.


  1. I'm glad for the pointer back to the thing about Pinker. I vividly remember the passage about Pinker on evolution and esthetics.

    I had not really paid close attention to Pinker until, over 10 years ago, there was a book club on Slate that read one of his books. I had had great experience participating in a club reading The Sound and the Fury and then leading one on Invisible Man, so I went along with the Pinker one, I think The Language Instinct. And hated the book, which sensitized me to a lot of the falses note in his thinking. I rarely read him since without annoyance, and can't imagine embarking on anything longer he writes than a book review in the Times.

  2. Hear ya. There's this specific, annoying phenomenon of the smart scientist, who understands ONE thing really well - and who thus decides he understands everything else equally well. Because, come on man, how could literature or music be as hard as ____ (chemistry/physics/linguistics/whatever)?

    ... Link us to the Invisible Man group at NMC sometime, will ya? I missed that, and sad to say, I haven't read the book.

    (Speaking of which, did you notice what all the Mississippi authors mentioned in that NYC Oxford story had in common? Hint: no Richard Wright.)

  3. Slate at some point about 2000-2001 took down is discussion thread archives, and someone moved it to another site with permission. I will see if I can find it.

    The writing program is pretty white here, although last year's Grisham chair is the black writer from the coast who is a National Book Award nominee.

    One odd coincidence on the Oxford writer thing-- I was at a party at Larry Wells's house and around the kitchen and dining room table were Tom Franklin, Chris Offut, and Jack Pendarvis (the current Oxford writers namechecked in the story. I won't count Ford, who is only passing through and wasn't there) among others. I looked at my phone at some point and saw a tweet from Dwight Garner that he was at Proud Larrys in Oxford listening (about a block and a half away) and wondered "what is he doing in town? I wonder if he'd be interested in hanging at Faulkner's mom's house with this crowd?"

    People get a weird view of Oxford coming through on a long weekend for football.

  4. They should get Ta-Nehisi Coates from the Atlantic to do a stint at Ole Miss. He probably would get a kick out of it, and maybe a book too.

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