Friday, November 14, 2003

Edward Said: Obit

The Mystery of Edward Said:
Edward Said 1935-2003
Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Report
Date approximate

When I look back on an interview I did with Edward Said in 1999 (for the Atlantic Unbound), I am struck anew both by what I thought was extraordinary about the scholar and activist, and by what disturbed me about the man. At the time, Said was in remission from leukemia, the disease that finally killed him this past September 25, at the age of 67, but he knew the remission was temporary, and the illness was "insidiously creeping back." The long battle with leukemia, in fact, had prompted him to write his memoir, "Out Of Place," the publication of which was the occasion for my interview.

Sunday, August 3, 2003

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Wrap Artist

First appeared in the Boston Globe.

CAN ART ILLUMINATE medicine? The exhibit “Pulse: Art, Healing, and Transformation,” on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art until Aug. 31, features an installation designed by the Brazilian artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who died of AIDS in 1996. Called “Untitled (Placebo),” the piece consists of a floor strewn with glittering, foil-wrapped candies, which visitors are invited to eat-as they apparently have, since the original 1,000-pound allotment seems much reduced.

Sweet relief: The placebo

First appeared in the Boston Globe.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School are putting the lowly placebo to the test. Can it establish itself as a legitimate remedy?

By Harvey Blume

IN THE 1960s, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins, paralyzed by a degenerative disease that seemed well on the way to killing him, took batches of vitamin C, laughed his head off watching Marx Brothers movies, and experienced complete remission. Cousins gave total credit for his recovery to what he called the “doctor who resides within”-the placebo effect. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

WB On The Treadmill

WB On The Treadmill

"Benjamin thrills me in no small measure because he does not cohere, and beautifully."
R.B. Kitaj, apropos his painting "The Autumn of Central Paris (after Walter Benjamin)"

When, several years ago, I joined the gym I now go to, I kept imagining a short, stout Walter Benjamin in a black suit jacket sweating profusely on the treadmill next to me. This wasn't the WB who had been snatched up and translated into an afterlife of often tortured academic discourse. It wasn't the WB of a dense thesis that flunked him out of graduate school, nor of the incomparable essays. Nor yet was this the WB of hashish writings so lovely they can make you wonder if all his writing, all his thinking, aspired to that state, the state of poetry, and to ask, further, if it wasn't the poetic, not to say stoned, immediacy of WB's best prose that left his censorious buddy, Theodore Adorno, in the dialectical dust.

WB on the treadmill, half soft flesh, half shimmering cartoon mirage, was a WB who had put the pen down, a WB of the very last days, on his last legs, hauling a bulging briefcase over a mountain with the Gestapo on his trail. This was a WB who had come back to burn off calories if he could, and to retroactively repair a cardiac arrhythmia. He had a mountain on his mind, one he had lacked the fortitude to scale more than once in the fall of 1940, so that when guards on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees told him he would have to go back to Nazi occupied France, he chose suicide rather than another climb.

I was drawn to everything pertaining to his last days, not least of all the particulars of Weimer heart ache. It turned out that "soldier's heart" commonly afflicted returnees from World War I who had come close enough to an exploding shell for it to permanently disrupt cardiac rhythm. WB, who never fought in the war, seemed to have contracted a sympathetic version of the complaint, a zeitgeist arrhythmia. And I found improbabilities bordering, to my mind, on wonders about Benjamin's last days, and also moments when his peculiar character, the character of an incessantly hounded, endlessly resolute man, shone through.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

The Culture of Autism

First appeared in the Boston Globe.

Inward-looking autistics often display remarkable artistic gifts: What do their talents tell us about their minds--and the history of Western Art?

WHAT IF THE Rain Man drew or painted? What if an autistic savant, like the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie of that title, was a talented artist, rather than a human computer who could multiply 4,343 by 1,234 almost as fast you can blink?

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Book Review: The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity by Slavoj Žižek

Originally appeared on the WBUR web site.

Slavoj Žižek, "The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity"

By Harvey Blume

Though born in Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) in 1949, Slavoj Zizek belongs to that most slippery school of recent French thought: he's a Lacanian. Jaques Lacan, who died in 1981, was a Parisan psychoanalyst whose tantalizing departures from orthodox Freudianism prompted the English writer Adam Phillips to label him an "inspired" albeit "bizarre analyst." Lacan's work resists simple capsulization, but you can get a taste for the kind of post-Freudian hi-jinks that have made Zizek's high-flying academic reputation just by taking a good look at the front and back covers of "The Puppet and the Dwarf."