What concerns me about the literary apocalypse that everybody now expects — the at least partial elimination of paper books in favor of digital alternatives — is not chiefly the books themselves, but the bookshelf. My fear is for the eclectic, personal collections that we bookish people assemble over the course of our lives, as well as for their grander, public step-siblings. I fear for our memory theaters.

 There was a time when I thought I could do without much of one. As a student in college and graduate school, moving from room to room virtually every year, the desire to keep my possessions down to what could be stuffed into a Toyota Corolla overwhelmed the reptilian instinct to collect. That in itself became a pleasurable asceticism, and it suited my budget. As so often accompanies renunciation, I came to love the forbidden… More…

You might think a 2,300-year-old sex scandal would eventually lose some of its bite. But when it comes to paragons of masculinity such as world conqueror Alexander the Great, it doesn’t. With his 2004 film Alexander, writer-director Oliver Stone outraged stiff-necked military types with his depiction of the macho Macedonian king, history’s most brilliant warrior, flirting with his boyfriends up and down the Khyber Pass. In between gore-splattered battles, Alexander (played by Colin Farrell) flounces about in makeup at drunken Babylonian banquets, shoots suggestive glances to his male entourage, and indulges in a passionate kiss with one of his officers — all the sort of behavior that would be frowned upon in the U.S. military today, for example. But according to Paul Cartledge, professor of Classics at Cambridge University, the film is actually very coy about Alexander’s busy homoerotic life: There is no real doubt that he took a young… More…

 

People find a great deal of satisfaction worrying about attention span, at least for a little while, and especially in the realm of popular culture. Twitter is the latest culprit. It’s recent importance in organizing Iranian street protests notwithstanding, the 140 character posting limit on Twitter makes a certain kind of person nervous. Such persons (such as Baroness Susan Greenfield, a scientist at Oxford University) wonder whether tweeting and other such activities “encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered.” She goes on to say, “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and live for the moment.”

Unfair to the inherent joys of buzzing noises and bright lights, the statement is particularly galling… More…