Archive for December, 2022

Two million lights celebrate the season in NYC!

Monday, December 19th, 2022

Zygmunt Malinowski, the Book Haven’s New York-based roving photographer, reports on Christmas in the Big Apple:

“Hudson Yards is the new go-to place in NYC The main attraction is ‘the Vessel,’ an impressive spiral sculpture situated in the main square. Adjacent is a super modern high-rise residence which offers “exquisite service, unique shopping and dining with the city’s most breathtaking views,” and a new separate center for the innovative arts. This year the holiday decor is radiant with two million lights – and documented in ‘The Most Instagrammable Moments.‘ Here is one spot overlooking hot air-balloon with flying Christmas trees on Levels 3 and 4. You can see ‘the Vessel’ outside. Grab a hot chocolate or coffee in one of the cafés and celebrate the season.

‘To get the city’s fuller Christmas experience, visit the celebrated Rockefeller Christmas tree, walk 5th Ave to  see window displays and at Herald Square, Macy’s widow displays are always popular with children.’

You can see a few hundred of the two million lights below.

(Photos copyright Zygmunt Malinowski – see more of his work here and here and here and here.)

“Bah Humbug!” Was Ebenezer Scrooge neurodivergent? Maybe…

Friday, December 16th, 2022

Ebenezer Scrooge is a nasty misanthropic miser, unworthy of our sympathy. He’s cruel to everyone around him, right? Not so fast. One Notre Dame professor is turning the tables on who may be the victim in Charles Dickens‘s A Christmas Carol. “Is Scrooge experiencing his behavioral traits negatively, or is he experiencing the effects of the social stigma of these traits?” asks Essaka Joshua, associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.

But was this encounter *consensual*?

From Notre Dame’s Medical Xpress:

In a new analysis of Scrooge … Joshua offers an unexpected perspective, by asking a simple question: What if we were wrong about Scrooge? What if it is, in fact, the characters who surround him who may need more empathy for their fellow man—particularly if that man is neurodivergent?

Joshua, whose research and teaching focus on disability studies, is now researching how the reading of A Christmas Carol changes if Scrooge is seen in this way. 

“It does not matter what condition Scrooge may or may not have. These diagnoses change over time,” she said. “But what happens if we think of Scrooge’s lack of sympathy and other traits as a legitimate part of his personality? Does Scrooge cause harm to himself or others? And is his ‘cure’ consensual or desired?”

Scrooge’s personality is characterized by his lack of compassion, his solitariness, his reluctance to spend money and his frustration with the expectation that he should conform to societal behavioral norms. Examining which of those behaviors actually need correcting helps the reader understand how Dickens presents normative personality types and how non-normative behavior is stigmatized, Joshua said.

“In places, the text is quite explicitly nasty about his negative behavior, but in other places, there is more ambiguity,” she said. “He eats the same melancholy meal each day at the same melancholy tavern—and we have to join the dots on that one and say ‘because he’s mean.’ But it may well be that we shouldn’t infer that at all, and we should just say ‘because he has to, because that’s his routine and that’s what he needs.’  … In fact, Joshua argues, many of Scrooge’s behaviors can be seen as cognitive and behavioral coping strategies commonly used by neurodivergent individuals to reduce anxiety, by avoiding social interactions, sticking to routines and using verification rituals to calm himself.

Read the whole thing here. And Merry Christmas, Uncle Ebenezer! There’s a little bit of him in us all!

Another reason to visit NYPL: See the ONLY piece of writing in Mary Wollstonecraft’s hand!

Saturday, December 10th, 2022
Martha Reineke: visiting NYPL for us.

A few weeks ago we gave Reason #1 to visit the New York Public LibraryCharles Dickens‘s desk. Now here’s Reason #2 to visit the NYPL: This is the only piece of writing in Mary Wollstonecraft’s original hand that still exists. And the NYPL has it! says Prof. Martha Reineke of the University of Northern Iowa. She writes:

“I received an excellent education in philosophy in college; however, due to the era, I never learned about Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). She is not only considered a founding feminist philosopher but also she was a major scholar of the French Revolution. Fortunately, college students today can learn about her contributions to philosophy and the study of history.

“Wollstonecraft’s life was profoundly altered by her father, who spent the funds that would have provided her with a dowry; as a consequence, she was ineligible for marriage. She would have to become a governess, which is what young women of a certain class and education did if they were precluded from marrying due to an absence of a dowry. In fact, even in the early 20th century these circumstances held: Wollstonecraft was the founder of modern feminism; Simone de Beauvoir was the founder of contemporary feminism–and, in the absence of a dowry, Beauvoir, like Wollstonecraft, had to make her own way in the world. Beauvoir started out as a teacher but went on to become one of the first generation of women in France to obtain an advanced education and the 4th in France to earn a doctorate. In the absence of dowries, these two women became legends!!!

So here’s a brief bio on Wollstonecraft:

“Wollstonecraft had access to education, largely through the support of her best friend’s father and, after a few years as a governess, she determined that she would make her own way in the world. She moved to London with a plan to support herself through writing and translating books. In pursuit of that career, she moved to Paris and had a first-hand view of the revolution. She grounded her writings on the revolution, which have long been neglected, with the tools of modern historiography: She used primary sources and she addressed with sophisticated arguments the complex political, social, and economic conditions that led to revolution. She also offered a nuanced account of the role of gender in the revolution. In multiple respects, she was 200 years ahead of her time!

Wollstonecroft, painted by John Opie

“While in Paris, Wollstonecraft also developed a relationship with Gilbert Imley, with whom she had a child. Rejected by Imlay, she returned to England and her life there as an author, writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman for which she is best known (this is the book that students should read in courses in the history of political philosophy!). Wollstonecraft became involved with William Godwin, with whom she had the child Mary who would become Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. She died from an infection shortly after Mary was born. Inexplicably, Godwin published a memoir of her life in which he revealed that Wollstonecraft had never been married to Imley, was pregnant with Mary before she married Godwin, had had other love affairs, and had attempted to take her own life after Imley left her. These revelations tainted her reputation, but not only in her own time. It took well over a century for the name “Mary Wollstonecraft” not to be associated with sex and scandal. As a consequence, her brilliance as a philosopher and the contributions she made to philosophy in her lifetime were all but lost forever. 19th century advocates of women’s suffrage began her rehabilitation. She gradually came to prominence during the women’s movement in the 1970s; however, women lacked a critical mass as scholars in history and philosophy during the 1970s-80s that was required for her work to be viewed as important to scholarship in these fields. Only now is she getting the recognition she has long deserved.

It was truly amazing to be able to look into a display case and see 6 inches from me the only piece of writing that still exists from the hand of Mary Wollstonecraft!

Legendary Ukrainian poet Lina Kostensko: “Look for the censor within you.”

Tuesday, December 6th, 2022
The poet in 1948

The legendary Ukrainian lyric poet Lina Kostenko is 92 and still going strong. “We truly only value our life if we have something far more important, far more precious than the life itself,” she has said. Clearly her time is now.

Recently, she shared a few of her poems with the gifted Russian-American poet, essayist, publisher, and translator Boris Dralyuk.

According to Boris, Kostenko is known “not only for her immense lyrical gift but also for her refusal to bow to political pressure.” You can see that in the first poem below, “Look for the censor within you,” excellently translated by Boris. Never was it more timely, wherever you are in the world.

Kostenko is not only a poet, but also a novelist, and something of an aphorist, too. In 2005, an attempt was made by then-President Viktor Yushchenko to decorate Kostenko as a Hero of Ukraine,  the highest state honor. However, Kostenko refused the prize, declaring, “I will not wear political jewelry.”

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, she criticized the use of obscene language and publicly opposed its legalization. She wrote on the social media, “There is, perhaps, no other such thing [as the Ukrainian language] in the whole world. The language is a nightingale, while the devil is blabbering on.”

The second poem strikes a more natural note, prompting Boris to tweet (along with his translation): “May both the landscape of Ukraine, now scarred, and the beautiful names of its rivers and valleys, towns and villages, arise and flourish!” We couldn’t agree more.

The verdict? “This is genius,” said Peter Pomerantsev on Twitter, where you can follow Lina Kostenko here: @L_Kostenko