Diary

Homelooseness

Tom Crewe

I’vebeen home only once since Christmas 2019. Home with a capital ‘H’ is the North-East of England, where I grew up and where my parents still live. The government’s most unambiguous message during Covid – ‘Stay at Home’ – contains, for a lot of people, an ambiguity: staying at home has often meant staying away from Home. In truth, I’m...

 

What is a brain?

Rivka Galchen

We are nearing the point of really understanding the nervous system of the stomach of a crustacean – but we aren’t there yet. At the same time, technologies exist that allow paralysed patients to move robotic arms with their thoughts. It feels at once like the year 1900 and the year 3000.

 

Lucille Clifton

Andrea Brady

Lucille Clifton developed an intensely economic­al style: short lines, sparse punctuation, ordinary language whose modesty is stress­ed by its lack of capitals. Her poems seem simple, but build unpredictably towards flashpoints of revelation. She twists the material of daily life into what Toni Morrison called ‘re-memory’, the clamour of history in the present.

 

Krugman’s Conversion

Adam Tooze

‘If it were announced that we faced a threat from space aliens and needed to build up to defend ourselves,’ Paul Krugman said in 2012, ‘we’d have full employment in a year and a half.’ If 21st-century America needed an enemy, China was one candidate. On foreign policy, Krugman is perhaps best described as a left patriot. Where he had once downplayed the impact of Chinese imports on the US economy, he now declared that China’s currency policy was America’s enemy: by manipulating its exchange rate Beijing was dumping exports on America. But to Krugman’s frustration Obama never turned the pivot towards Asia into a concerted economic strategy. You might argue that in Covid we have found an enemy of precisely the kind Krugman was imagining. As far as Europe is concerned, an alien space invasion isn’t an implausible model for Covid. This novel threat broke down inhibitions in Berlin, and the Eurozone’s response was far more ambitious than it was after 2008. But America isn’t the Eurozone. For all Krugman’s gloom, it didn’t take a new world war to flip the economic policy switch. 

 

When was Hippocrates?

James Romm

The doctor​ who first urged his colleagues to ‘do no harm’, and also instructed them, less memorably, to ‘observe all concretions of excreta’, was a pioneering Greek practitioner of the fifth century BCE. We don’t know much about him, not even his name, but the writings he left behind helped lay the foundations of Greek medical science. He was probably a...

 

Eels on Cocaine

Emily Witt

This morning​ I watched a video of some ducks eating lettuce from an enamel bowl. The text of the newspaper lining their cage indicated the birds were in Japan. They devoured the lettuce ferociously, producing an eerie, rattling sound. The lettuce evaporated in a matter of seconds. Nothing about my description explains why the video is interesting, or why it was shared around the world and...

At Camden Arts Centre

‘The Botanical Mind’

Martha Barratt

At the start​ of the First World War, 12-year-old Tom Harris moved with his family to a semi-derelict mansion on the outskirts of Leicester. Struggling at school and with few friends, he built a world for himself from its garden, a museum of pressed plants and tree samples. He established a fernery – complete with grotto – and spent evenings ‘skeletonising’ dead...

 

Prove your Frenchness

Julian Barnes

In​ 2016, Theresa May told the Conservative Party Conference: ‘If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word “citizenship” means.’ This characterisation was not – rightly not – considered antisemitic, merely an appeal to the autochthonic Brexiter mentality. But it taps...

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