KIOSK

28 July 2020

Same as It Ever Was

In heaven with St. Augustine and the Talking Heads

Becca Rothfeld

According to medieval Jewish commentaries on the Torah, heaven will be dazzling and dramatic. It will contain chambers “built of silver and gold, ornamented with pearls.” New arrivals will pass through gates guarded by 600,000 angels and bathed in “248 rivulets of balsam and attar.” The righteous will attend elaborate feasts and lounge in lavish gardens. As a rule, paintings of heaven are more vague and more amorphous than paintings of hell, but avuncular artists still stuff them with cherry-cheeked cherubs. ...

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9 July 2020

The Devil’s Chord or a Tap on the Shoulder?

Recomposing the soundscape of the intensive care unit

Sally O’Reilly

Official Soviet press releases announcing the launch of the Sputnik satellite on 4 October 1957 pointedly publicized its radio signal frequency of 20–40 MHz—well within the range of amateur radio enthusiasts. Newspapers published timetables of its passage, and TV and radio stations and hams around the world lay in wait for Sputnik’s crackly beep, produced by a spherical body weighing 83.5 kilograms and flinging through near-space at 18,000 miles per hour. ...

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18 June 2020

This Head, This Body

Viktor Orbán's dance with modern politics

Ana Isabel Keilson

Once, all our bodies were the body of the king. Six hundred years ago, kings had two bodies, one natural and one politic, and the corpus mysticum of their lands was made of “organological aspects: a body composed of head and members.” Louis XIV, the Sun King, inherited two bodies, but he made them different—he made them dance. ...

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10 June 2020

Hell Is for White People

A painting from 1515 turns a mirror on its viewers

Alexander Nagel

Naked people are tumbling into the picture through a circular opening at top right, their features immediately blurred by rising heat and smoke. Below, various bodies are being put to the flames, a traditional punishment for those consumed by lust in their lifetimes. ...

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28 May 2020

Kafka Swims

The champion of the impossible

Aaron Schuster

There is a passage from Franz Kafka’s notebooks that reads:

I can swim just like the others. Only I have a better memory than the others. I have not forgotten the former inability to swim. But since I have not forgotten it, being able to swim is of no help to me; and so, after all, I cannot swim.

By all accounts, Kafka was a good swimmer. ...

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21 May 2020

What Machu Picchu can tell us about COVID-19

The coronavirus arrives in Peru, with historic irony

Adam Herring

Madre de piedra, espuma de los cóndores (mother of stone, semen of condors): that was Pablo Neruda’s impression of Machu Picchu, the hot literary take of 1950. Machu Picchu has inspired poetic, philosophical, and patriotic works over the years. More recently, however, it has also invited fears of catastrophe, as reports and opinion pieces from around the world have denounced Peru’s shortsighted and venal plan to build a new airport near the site. President Martín Vizcarra of Peru “is determined to destroy this sacred place,” read an op-ed in the New York Times this past year. That project would, the author wrote, “irreparably damage the heartland of the Inca civilization.” ...

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8 May 2020

The Interior’s Frontier

A voyage along the supply chain of my room

Boaz Levin

The last decades of the eighteenth century saw a rush to conquer new altitudes. In June 1783, the first successful hot-air balloon flight took place in Versailles, attended by the royal family and an audience of sixty thousand, as the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier set afloat a balloon carrying a sheep, a cock, and a duck. A piloted flight quickly followed in October that year, with Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a chemist, on board. The flight was a success, hailed by the press as “a spectacle, the like of which was never shewn since the world began.” ...

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30 April 2020

Distantiated Communities

A social history of social distancing

Lily Scherlis

The term “social distancing” trickled into the US news at the end of January, and by mid-March had become the governing creed of interpersonal relations for the time being. It surfaced in the midst of early doubts about the efficacy and ethics of the quarantine in China. The media began to recite it, wrapping it in scare quotes. ...

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24 March 2020

Modern Heroes with No Poets to Tell of Their Courage

Dedicated to nurses and doctors across the world

Jeff Dolven, Maureen N. McLane, and Geoffrey Nutter

On 13 March, or roughly a century ago, some newspapers published the photograph below of a banner placed outside the Maria Nuova hospital in Florence. The bilingual sign, which according to the news sources was made by four Chinese boys, reads: “Doctors and nurses, modern heroes with no poets to tell of your courage. Thank you from the heart.” ...

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25 February 2020

On the Market

Taking stock of one’s soul

Justin E. H. Smith

At the museum, I am standing with my spouse in front of a Flemish vanitas scene. There is an old man hunched over his accounting books, surrounded by gold coins and jewels; a skull sits on his desk, and Death himself perches undetected above his shoulder. What, I ask her, is the “takeaway” of such scenes supposed to be? That one would do well to start thinking of one’s soul, she says. ...

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