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Philosophers and YouTube

Today’s post, an essay by philosopher Alain de Botton, is from LARB Channel Marginalia. It was published last week – if you missed it, we’ve reproduced it here in full. The above photo is a screenshot of one of The School of Life’s new YouTube videos. The video is included in the below post. 

By Alain de Botton

Traditionally, philosophy has been nervous around the idea of communication. Reaching out has not been high on the agenda. Academic philosophers have frequently erected barriers to wider participation: abstruse vocabulary and hypercomplex arguments have seemed to guarantee intelligence — all of which is a great pity.

Philosophy is simply the pursuit of wisdom. And though it’s a rather abstract term, the concept of “wisdom” isn’t mysterious. Being wise means attempting to live and die well, leading as good a life as possible within the troubled conditions of existence. The goal of wisdom is fulfilment. So a philosopher or “person devoted to wisdom” is someone who strives for systematic expertise at working out how one may best find individual and collective fulfillment. Continue reading

larb blog nature boom

Nature’s Haunted House

Today’s post is from LARB Channel Boom.

By D.J. Waldie

View from Bixby Hill. Sometimes I go up on a hill that overlooks the concrete box of the San Gabriel River where the river flows into Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. From there, you see nature. Wetlands drained for oil production lie below, as do tracts of houses and the congested asphalt ribbon of the Pacific Coast Highway. Most of what I see had been owned by the Bixby family of Long Beach. The Bixbys farmed, grazed sheep and cattle, and raised draft horses from 1878 until the suburban boom of the 1950s. In the 1920s, the Bixbys began pumping oil from their wetlands and hired renowned landscape architects—Florence Yoch and the Olmsted brothers, as well as Paul J. Howard, William Hertrich, and Allen Chickering among them—to lay out four acres of sophisticated gardens surrounding the Bixby homestead. Continue reading

larb blog han han

On the Road in Chinese History

By Austin Dean

Han Han—author, blogger, high-school drop out, racecar driver, provocateur, and spokesperson for a car-seat manufacturer—recently branched out into movies, directing The Continent. The film follows the story of three young men from an island off the east coast of China as they travel together to take one of their ranks to his new teaching position in the far west of China. Along the way, they meet up with old friends and come across new acquaintances of dubious character; hijinks and reflections on life, love, and friendship, ensue. The film has drawn a good deal of criticism. There have been accusations that Han Han is stealing ideas from others in the film, and commentaries on what he symbolizes in the current Chinese cultural moment. In other words, it was a pretty normal news cycle for anything involving Han Han. Overlooked in these larger debates, however, is a subtler point: that the road trip is now a part of the Chinese as well as the American imagination. Continue reading

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Reading Jeter’s Joy

Today’s post is from LARB Channel Avidly.

By Pete Coviello

I am not a sports fan.

It’s true, I watch a little, and have some bits of gear – my Italia jersey that I wear when the World Cup comes around, my Yankee hat – and in a vague way I keep up. But having a stake in the fluctuating fortunes of the New York Yankees has never felt to me like, say, a devotional practice, in the way that listening to bands and reading books and fighting about them so plainly has been. I’ve liked the Yankees fine. But the truth is I have not loved Mariano Rivera with anything like the life-traversing ardor with which I’ve loved Emily Dickinson, or Carson McCullers, or Prince, or Mac and Laura from Superchunk.

SO imagine my surprise as, in these last weeks, I found myself planted night after idle night on my couch here in Chicago, watching the last season of one of those Yankees unfold, one mediocre outing into the next. When people I know express surprise that I watch baseball at all – I evidently do not give off the convincing vibe of someone who gives a lot of fucks about baseball – I have this stock line prepared for them: Some people meditate; some people do yoga; I watch baseball. And it’s true. It chills me out. Continue reading

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The Odysseys of Homer

Photo: Monica Neuwens

This essay was commissioned for The L.A. Odyssey Project, a month-long, city-wide exploration of Homer’s epic poem presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library. For more information, visit http://lfla.org/odyssey/.

By James Porter

The two poems attributed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are among the finest treasures in the world. They are also among the most puzzling and mysterious. Sprung full-grown like Athena in full armor from the head of Zeus, the poems miraculously appear sometime around 750-650 BCE, each the size of a hefty novel (nearly 16,000 verses for the Iliad and 12,000 for the Odyssey), each perfectly self-contained and of the greatest narrative sophistication, and neither one overlapping with the other, as if obeying some silent convention or territorial prerogative. Continue reading

larb blog ishi

Stop Hunting Ishi

Photo: Portrait of Ishi by E.H. Kemp, July 1912. Courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California.

Today’s post is from LARB Channel Boom.

By William Bauer

Ishi must be tired. For 160 years, people have hunted him and other California Indians. In the mid-nineteenth century, settlers, miners, and ranchers tracked Ishi and his family in revenge for the killing of livestock. In the early twentieth century, anthropologists trailed after Ishi, searching for North America’s “last wild Indian.” In 2000, Maidu and Pit River tribal members tracked down his brain, which Dr. Saxton Pope had removed at Ishi’s autopsy and Professor Alfred Kroeber had sent to the Smithsonian. In 2012, photographers Byron Wolfe and Troy Jollimore continued the quest to capture Ishi, visiting Deer Creek in search of his wilderness. Settlers, anthropologists, and indigenous people have hounded Ishi for different purposes. Understanding why people hunt Ishi tells us much about how Californians envision Indians and their past, present, and future. Continue reading

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The Generalissimo’s Ghost

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

“In Taiwan, Teens Protest Statues Honoring Former Ruler Chiang Kai-shek,”

Los Angeles Times headline, August 11, 2014

Like other historians of modern China, I give a fair number of class lectures that deal with Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), aka “The Generalissimo,” who was the most powerful man on the Chinese mainland from the late 1920s until 1949 and held that position in Taiwan from that point until his death.  Not many of us, though, really warm to him.  I know I never have.  He comes across in most accounts as stiff and autocratic, and even sympathetic biographers seem impatient to switch from talking about him to telling stories about his glamorous Wellesley-educated wife, Soong Mei-ling.  I’ve always been left cold by his speeches and writings, feeling they awkwardly tried to fuse two things that don’t really go together: adulation of Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary vision, on the one hand, and veneration of traditional values and orderliness a la Confucius, on the other.  And yet, seeing that Los Angeles Times headline last month, I almost felt sorry for the Generalissimo.

Continue reading

larb blog cecil

Introduction to Young Adult Week, From YA Editor Cecil Castellucci

Photo: Cecil Castellucci, our Young Adult Fiction Editor. 

School’s started. In just a few hours (10:29 p.m. EDT) it will officially be fall.

Right about now classrooms across the world are settling into their routine. Students have figured out where their second- period class is. Which teachers they love and hate. Who they are going to call friend for the rest of their life. Everything is still fresh. The year is full of potential.

We know that every single one of you fell in love with reading when you were young. And this most lasting of love affairs was probably sparked around this time of year, when you went back to school. Continue reading

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Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Art and Essay Contest Winners

Photo: J. Soto-Gonzalez, first prize art contest winner ages 14–18

Let us congratulate Lizeth and Zulema for the impossible trek they have conquered.

Lizeth speaks of the extremes of heat, self-reliance at an early age, the round the clock labor universe of farm worker (“plant — pick and pack”) and the all encompassing knowing that all this is to sustain all life. It is incredible to know that a 10 to 13-year-old wrote this with such wisdom and compassion — a hard earned essay.

Zulema charts the long cycle of migrant generations, the year-long calendar — from Asparagus to Apples — crushing through school schedules and towns. She wants to break the cycle of poverty — the same one my father dreamed of dismantling in the 1950’s. Zulema has succeeded.

So we congratulate these chroniclers of migrant struggle and continuity, these wisdom-word writers for a just Now.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Poet Laureate Continue reading

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Right to Raft

Photo: Nadine Cordial

By Elizabeth Lauren Winkler

There’s a quality to youthful American summers that sets those childhoods apart. I’ve sped far enough forward now from that time that my memories have condensed into a series of vivid, if fractured, images: my parents parked on their canvas beach chairs (Dad slack-jawed in a heat-induced nap); crabs strewn like the bodies of a defeated army across a long brown-papered table; the sea of Fourth of July patchwork quilts; fireworks, post-explosion, dripping color through the night; heat throbbing on the courts at tennis camp; melting popsicles; tangled, sunburned limbs; and the cool, chemical blue waters of the country club pool. Continue reading