While this system produces culture, no one is paid enough, and the rent climbs ever upward. I once worked an art fair with a kindly but grizzled art handler who told me that he’d been making the same rate per hour for the last 15 years. The art world runs on freelance workers, and few have employer-provided health care. On most days, the system, overpowered on oligarchic-level wealth, feels as if it is on the brink of spinning apart. This is not exceptional: Art workers are but a slice of the art world, which itself is a portion of the wider culture industry that is verging on collapse. Many creative people today are swimming barely above the poverty line. The walls are caving in everywhere: Book publishing is contracting and consolidating; the music industry is taking huge blows in the transition to streaming; and journalism, as The Observer reported recently, shed 260,000 jobs between 2000 and 2018 (far outstripping the losses in coal mining, it adds).
R&P: If the papyrus wasn’t authentic, then it would most likely be a finely crafted forgery. Are these common? Is there a market for forgeries of ancient texts?
AS: From the dawn of archeology, and even the dawn of treasure-hunting, there have been people searching the world for important artifacts, and that has created an incentive for other people to fabricate them. Whether it’s a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, a part from a famous sunken ship, or an artwork that went missing hundreds of years ago—as long as there are people who are willing to pay for these items, there will be others who are willing to produce and sell them. If you’re good at forgery, you can make a lot of money. And in some cases, forgers are after something else—a chance to rewrite history, a chance to embarrass the experts, or even just a chance to have a chuckle at having fooled someone. This sort of thing has been around forever.
One thing that is relatively new, however, is the practice of using papyrus as a medium for forgery. In this particular case, the experts found the piece compelling in part because there hadn’t really been a history of papyrus forgery. Papyrus was the throwaway paper of the ancient world. It was seen as so ephemeral, and the languages it contained were often so obscure, that such a forgery would be really difficult to do. It was hard to imagine that anyone would have the classical education, the artistic skill, the motivation, and the nerve to produce something like that.
But in recent years the market for ancient papyri has grown considerably, largely thanks to some wealthy evangelical Christians, especially the Green family of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain. They’ve spent millions of dollars acquiring biblical artifacts for their Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and among these have been a bunch of fake Dead Sea Scrolls and thousands of looted antiquities from Egypt and Iraq, which they are now being forced to return. When they entered the marketplace in about 2009, there was suddenly a brand new demand for ancient manuscripts.
Yet when Struble asks us to imagine a more concretely localized image of San Diego, one more connected to the land, she presents us with more detailed images of an almost imagined place. Notice the detail in Distance Signals, Soar/Shift/Shelter, and Ocotillo Sunset (below). Thus when Struble moves toward the ideal — inviting us to construct new images of space and self — her method flips: the imagery becomes more concrete, more localized (detailed ocotillos, leaves, birds) and the medium more abstract, more shareable (digital print, reproducible photography, public murals). In constructing a new image of San Diego, Struble asks us to strip away the old one and distribute the ideal.
It is time for a new image of the Chinese internet to complement that of the Great Firewall: the Great Shopping Mall. As a recent Economist special report on the future of Chinese e-commerce has argued, the distinction between social media, entertainment and e-commerce has become quite blurry on the Chinese internet, likely more so than on the American internet. While others have long pointed to the salience of the shopping mall analogy for China’s economic landscape, the analogy comes with consequences for civic tech and governance. The Chinese vision of the internet, which has aimed to grow economic activity while tamping down political dissent, has seemed to be the exact opposite of Silicon Valley’s techno-libertarian vision. And yet today, as nation states the world over put pressure on technology companies on issues like content moderation, trade and user privacy, the dynamics between the state and private internet companies in China presaged a global era of tension between market forces and governments where private and public interests negotiate influence over internet governance and user rights. In this way, Chinese social media logic follows a double bottom line: the market and the state, which, as David Graeber describes in his book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, are two flanks of the same animal.
But like New Roads, Harvard classrooms have also brought a share of adversity. In one poetry class, Gorman says she faced criticism from white male classmates for being unable to understand Latin. In a panel discussion after her L.A. poetry reading, Gorman spoke of another troubling experience in that same seminar. A white male classmate accused her of being “too strong and too self-assured,” she says.
“What frustrates me to no end is that when a woman of color dares to speak up, she’s framed as emotional or too domineering, and I’ve been called that,” she explains. “Basically what he was voicing was that he felt threatened by me and by me being a self-assured black woman. And I told him that, and he was like, ‘Well, when you put it that way’— but I said, ‘You put it that way.’”
What Mr. Lain didn’t mention was that in predominantly Black neighborhoods, street numbers sometimes didn’t even exist. Maps of the Black community of Weeksville, for example, showed “No official numbers” for important thoroughfares like Hunterfly Road, and the areas often weren’t included in city directories. All in all, by the 1860s, Brooklyn residents were at a breaking point.
It’s just a boys club, people would say. You have to learn to fit in. So I did. I adapted. I’d had my fair share of working with demanding editors. I was one of a handful of people alone in a room with Anna Wintour on a daily basis. I knew how to adapt. I learned to listen outside of doorways to figure out what meetings were being scheduled so I could make sure I’d be on the invite. I’d drink the bourbon. I’d miss the bedtime.
My performance reviews were all excellent. I was really good at my job.
But my boss had a rage problem. And it was largely directed at women. He hated his assistant. It became so bad he literally stopped speaking to her. If she was walking his way, he’d turn the corner. He refused to acknowledge his own assistant in any way shape or form, except to yell at her in front of everyone. I spoke with him multiple times about the situation as it was untenable. He wasn’t capable of managing his own schedule or workload so having an assistant he couldn’t work with was a disaster. He refused to fire her or allow me to do it for him. He tortured her until she quit. The day she left we had coffee and she told me her stomach never stopped hurting.
For years, in articles in Yes! magazine, in op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, in his book “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution,” on social media, Peter had been pleading, begging for people to pay attention to the global emergency. “Is this my personal hell?” he tweeted this past fall. “That I have to spend my entire life desperately trying to convince everyone NOT TO DESTROY THE FUCKING EARTH?”
His pain was transfixing, a case study in a fundamental climate riddle: How do you confront the truth of climate change when the very act of letting it in risked toppling your sanity? There is too much grief, too much suffering to bear. So we intellectualize. We rationalize. And too often, without even allowing ourselves to know we’re doing it, we turn away. At virtually every level — personal, political, policy, corporate — we repeat this pattern. We fail, or don’t even try, to rise to the challenge. Yes, there are the behemoth forces of power and money reinforcing the status quo. But even those of us who firmly believe we care very often fail to translate that caring into much action. We make polite, perhaps even impassioned conversation. We say smart climate things in the boardroom or classroom or kitchen or on the campaign trail. And then … there’s a gap, a great nothingness and inertia. What happens if a human — or to be precise, a climate scientist, both privileged and cursed to understand the depth of the problem — lets the full catastrophe in?
- This interview with Noam Chomsky with the South African podcast Radio New Frame is quite excellent. I agree with his assessment on why Trump didn’t win, and what he thinks will happen next is quite scary.
- Here we are:
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