Showing posts from September, 2019

"Blackface" and Best Evidence

Why is blackface wrong?Blackface is wrong.  But it's not prima facia, at-face-value wrong.  (The pun is intended and meaningful.)  There is nothing inherently immoral about blackening your face.  It's not like theft or rape or murder.  It is wrong because of its historical context; specifically, within American history and culture, a white actor using the pseudonym Jim Crow performed in minstrel shows in the 1830s portraying "blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice."  That taint of racist intention has remained with the practice for almost two centuries.

Teaching American literatureWhen I taught American literature, I typically invited students to produce a "creative assignment" of their own choosing which reflected the content of the course.  In this context, one of my students--an intelligent, cooperative, engaged, well-intentioned student--surprised me and the class with a one-man performance of a minstr…

Einstein's Brain and the Incomparable Shakespeare

Einstein's physical brain Browsing social media I discovered the claim that there is irrefutable empirical evidence that Einstein's brain was physically different from those of the rest of us.  Seems obvious, unless you have a friend who is a neuropathologist (which I do) who has actually seen a few human brains and can feed you some of the current research on the question.  In an article entitled "Neuromythology of Einstein's Brain" published in Brain and Cognition, Terence Hines does a convincing job of debunking the myths and the various scientific experiments claiming to have proven that Einstein's brain was physically exceptional.

Histology, glial cells, astrocytes, and "Did you know Einstein was dyslexic?" No doubt well-known among brainiacs but news to me, when Einstein died in 1955 at the age of 76, he had requested that his body be cremated.  However, Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy took the incredible liberty of …

Holding a Mirror up to Hamlet

It was the worst of plays; it was the best of plays Hamlet is either the best play ever written or the worst, depending on your perspective. I have, at different times, held both opinions. T.S. Eliot was very critical of the play and of critics of the play. Ultimately he was categorical that “the play is most certainly an artistic failure” (Hamlet and His Problems. T.S. Eliot. 1921. The Sacred Wood; Essays on Poetry and Criticism).
The problem of many Hamlets Eliot reminds us that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a “revised” version of earlier Hamlets, most notably one by Kyd—and Eliot seems convinced that the play is inferior for this among other reasons. Eliot also points out the tendency of “creative critics” (he mentions Coleridge and Goethe) to imagine a Hamlet character rather than the one actually in the play. Hamlet is so vague and inscrutable that the character invites speculation, confabulation and imaginative interpretations of his “true” nature.  Hamlet is a young man's play--…