At the time my personal motivation in doing a whole suite of works was the aesthetic superseding the political. I was captivated by the sensuous images of darkness and colour shades that I tried to capture in these paintings and drawings. Multitudes of people wearing a loose uniform of greenish yellow starkly contrasted with the burning embers of street fires, and thick black smoke from various car chemicals and building materials being immolated, darkening the sky. So many monuments to France’s history are contrasted by a new revolutionary fervour. I was attempting to create a sort of protest impressionism, colour swatches in the darkness of smoke and the light of fire.
But perhaps this is too a sort of romanticism, an aesthetic expression of a yearning for political possibilities outside of the confines of Globo-liberalism, because the political-aesthetic picture of current times produced by Globo-liberalism is so bland, Kitschy, its regime-approved protest art so vulgar and dehumanising, from flat design humans to Banksy. In other words, it sells you empty left-liberal sentimentalism. But my paintings are not meant to create a new counter political-aesthetic. In hindsight, these works are merely cartographic, depictions of a historical moment done as faithfully as I could. Art as a dramatic record of events, a window into vivid scenes that didn’t quite seem real.
Since the petering out of the Yellow Vests, and the periodic riots and public demonstrations in France, over everything from climate change to changes in pension law, there seems to be a jadedness and morose character to the “active politics” of the French. Each one seems to devolve into a public dance party, a more spectacle-driven and violent form of the same cynical and exhausted symbolic politics that lurches forth in most of the Western world. The same people smashing windows and lighting cars on fire went right back and voted for Macron again.
This calls into question the nature of a true syncretism between fringe left and right political coalitions that meet in the middle of society through public political rituals of demonstration and protest. Perhaps it is true that these sorts of protests and public events are merely vanities, and real politics in globalised liberalism is far away and above the direct means of resistance ordinary citizens have. In other words, managerialism, more than tyranny and ideological millenarianism could ever dream of, did away with the concerns and whims of the crowd.
But in the end, the Yellow Vests provided striking images, and for a time, provided an aesthetic politics which could provide a template for further populist movements which cross-cuts ideological and cultural boundaries. The Yellow Vests were very much of the times we are living in now, because it is the image, the aesthetic more than anything, especially in the online world, which informs and contorts the political.
This is an excerpt from “Blast!”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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By Dustin Lovell — 10 months ago
Among the first plays I often assign to my teenage tutorial students is Much Ado About Nothing. Written somewhere in 1598-1599 and within a year of Henry V, Julius Caesar, and As You Like It, the play shows Shakespeare as by then a master of Comedy and features several tropes that exemplify the genre. The would-be disastrous elements that might threaten tragedy—the plot to deceive Claudio by soiling Hero’s name, the apparent death by grief of the heroine, the turning of brothers-in-arms against each other—are kept safely within the realm of Comedy via ironic backstops—the fact that the miscreants are already captured before the terrible wedding scene, the dramatic irony that the whole mess might have been cleared up if Leonato had stopped to listen to the constables’ report or if Dogberry knew the words he was using, &c.
Much Ado’s consistently exemplifying the upside-down nature of Comedy—a masquerade allowing characters to speak honestly, a pair of fake wooing scenes that leads to confessions of real love, a misunderstanding on the constables’ part that leads to correct apprehension of the villains—all make it my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies. Just as I use it as my students’ inaugural Shakespeare, I usually recommend Much Ado to people who want a decent entry into Shakespeare outside of the classroom, especially if they can find a good production of it.
In addition to Shakespeare’s reworking of familiar tropes in new ways, readers and audiences will find in Much Ado another staple of Elizabethan Comedy: bawdy jokes. Within the first few lines, banter of a specific strain is introduced that underscores and arguably provokes the main conflict surrounding Claudio and Hero: that of cuckoldry. After some initial exposition of the recent battles by a messenger to the local governor Leonato (as well as a bit too much protesting on Beatrice’s part about a Signior Benedick), the soldiers show up, and the preeminent Don Pedro notes Leonato’s daughter, provoking the lewd joke and theme:
I think this is your daughter.
Her mother hath many times told me so.
Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?
Signior Benedick, no; for then were you a child.
You have it full, Benedick; we may guess by this what you are, being a man.—Truly, the lady fathers herself.—Be happy, lady; for you are like an honorable father.
Along with the casual bombast that unites the men (in which Beatrice soon partakes with as much alacrity as they), there is a suggestion of Benedick’s reputation as a supposed worrier of husbands. Whether or not this actually is his reputation and character (doubtful, as we’ll see) or whether it is merely a ribald compliment by a man too old to have participated in the recent action, it establishes Benedick as synonymous with the play’s one-up-manship and humorous outrage, often at the expense of women—here, the joker’s dead wife.
And there’s the rub, at least for modern readers: can we enjoy a play that is built, from incidental banter to entire plot structure, on a suspicion of women? Furthermore, are we allowed to compass—and, God forfend, enjoy—a man like Signior Benedick?
No less than Shakespeare’s Globe has taken up the first question in an examination of the play by Dr. Miranda Fay Thomas, whose treatment is well done. Using Beatrice’s cry of “O God, that I were a man!” as a jumping-off point, Thomas explores the recourses available to men and not women through the play, from the initial male bonding to “the ability to take personal revenge on offenders like Claudio, openly defy father-figures like Leonato, or even simply to fall in love with a person of her choosing and for her affection not to be seen as weakness, nor her sexual desires be used as evidence of her inconstant character.” The article continues through an examination of possible reasons for the play’s focus on the men’s apparent insecurity; “the very fact that women can hurt them emotionally,” Thomas argues, “is a chink in their armour that they do not want to be exposed.” This theme, of course, can be found throughout the play, a fact of which Thomas argues Shakespeare, whom she demarcates from his characters, was conscious, using as he does the imbalance of female characters (notably played by men at the time) “to his advantage by allowing us to see how vulnerable women like Hero and Beatrice could be in Elizabethan society.”
Though I don’t share all her interpretations of either the play itself or of today’s society, I believe Dr. Thomas’s argument worth the read, and one that, unlike some takes, does constructively add to the discourse. The broader critique of Much Ado along these lines, if undertaken to add to rather than subtract from our enjoyment of the play and if one avoids substituting mere criticizing for literary criticism, is a legitimate and fruitful one—and, in fact, jejune to the text.
The play, itself, examines the “battle of the sexes” tropes of Comedy, though I think ultimately to edify and expand the genre. While I don’t believe for a second that Shakespeare’s primary goal as a writer was social critique, the entire structure and tension of several of his comedies rest on some kind of imbalance between men and women that must be resolved by play’s end, and he milks the dramatic potential of said imbalances for all they’re worth. Much Ado would be boring if Beatrice weren’t more than equal to Benedick—who, we should note, is usually the butt rather than head of the play’s jokes—and much of the play’s ado could have been spared had the men simply listened to the women (a common theme in comedy that venerates both sexes and their respective complement). So, if there is what we’d today call sexism in the play, it does not necessitate that we vilify the whole thing, itself, as sexist. Indeed, the way Much Ado works out undercuts the soldiers’ suspicion of women; such insecurity as is veiled in the above joke and the broader plot ends up doing more harm than good to the men, and is eventually chastised—a formula Shakespeare reused again more seriously in The Winter’s Tale, among others.
However, we are left with the question of what to do with Benedick. To first-time audiences, Benedick would be the obvious source of the play’s supposed misogyny. Besides the low-hanging fruit of his name (full pun intended—as Shakespeare meant such things to be!), his persona of being too good for most women and living proudly as a bachelor lends him to modern castigation.
In Act II, Scene 3, Benedick soliloquizes:
I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love…May I be so converted and see with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not…One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise, or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her; fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what colour it please God.
One’s initial response, nowadays (to our absolute peril), might have to be an at least prudent, defensive cringe on Benedick’s behalf against his own words. With the speech’s objectification, impossible beauty standards, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, ableism, &c, one can imagine the modern response. Yet, to the student or prospective audience member who would question whether we should laud such a chauvinistic, misogynistic, ableist, probably racist character, I’d say yes—because I don’t think he’s any of those things.
One general piece of wisdom is that when Shakespeare hands us a foil, be it a sword or a character dichotomy, we should pick it up. Benedick’s words—indeed, his entire character throughout the play—must be measured against Claudio. Before the metaphysical battle in 19th-century art and literature between Romanticism and Realism, Shakespeare had already staged the fight in several of his plays and poems; in Much Ado, it can be seen in Benedick and Claudio’s contrasting approaches to love.
Like many other romantics in Shakespeare, the inexperienced Claudio is taken away by his passion for Hero. While he arguably has the flimsy excuse of being new to this sort of thing, several aspects of his behavior point to the shallowness of his passion. Besides the fact that much of his language regarding Hero is that of commodity and trade, Claudio is just as easily led out of love as he was into it—a function of his romance’s being, from start to finish, based on externals. If we didn’t already know it, the play, itself, shows us such things can mislead for both negative and positive effects; in lieu of a play-within-a-play we are even treated to a masquerade that serves as a microcosm of the play and concretizes several of its core themes. Although the blame for Claudio’s rejection at the wedding ceremony explicitly and legally belongs more to Don John and Boracchio’s deception than to Claudio, the young romantic who leaves himself most vulnerable to passionate love nonetheless causes much harm by it.
This is a far cry from the supposedly woman-hating Benedick. For all his defensiveness against romance—and I do believe it is a defensiveness, a control and limit around an existing vulnerability, as Dr. Thomas suggests above, though one I think constructed as much to protect women from his own actions as himself from theirs—Benedick causes very little anguish in the play. Not until his conflict, the quintessential questioning of that venerable dictum “Bros before hoes,” is concretized by Beatrice’s requirement that loving her means killing Claudio, is there any real possibility of Benedick’s causing pain to a woman. Even then, the bashful man who declares his love for Beatrice is very different from the one who previously enumerated the terms of his proud but stagnant bachelorhood (the embarrassing, quickening changes brought by love being another core trope of Comedy).
Examined again with his later humility in mind, the speech reveals that he is not as sure against love as he might wish to seem; leaving room for the scene’s humorous extemporizing, he has his list of traits ready. Furthermore, anyone who knows the blindness of love qua comic trope and has been paying attention can see that he is describing, for the most part, Beatrice, herself. “Fair…wise…virtuous…mild [(eh, can’t win ’em all)]…noble…of good discourse…” He has already admitted most of these about the woman before his notorious monologue. If he doesn’t have her consciously in mind, his subconscious is at least primed for the scene’s later ploy by the rest of the men to have him overhear words of Beatrice’s affection.
To the modern reader or student, I would submit that far from hating women Benedick actually respects both them and himself enough not to mislead them. Further, I don’t believe he is as uninterested in them as he makes out—for consider how quickly he is directed towards Beatrice. One cannot turn an engine empty of fuel. However, his shortsightedness aside, he apparently knows himself and what it will take to make him genuinely committed, not just in name like Claudio. I’d even read his high standards as a confession of a knowledge of his own passion, which he has wisely and philogynically kept controlled behind an off-putting mask of bravado and bachelorhood—a veritable Elizabethan St. Christopher! Perhaps that’s a bit far. Nonetheless, brash and arrogant he may be, but he’s not the one who ruins Leonato’s daughter’s wedding day (I write this as a new father of a daughter far prettier than I was prepared for).
It may seem contradictory to hide a respect and love for women behind a mask of brash misogyny; yet, it is not the only time Shakespeare uses the ploy. The oft-maligned Petruccio, with a more blatant misogyny than Benedick’s, mimics and turns the tables on Kate’s shrewish misandry and, in Dr. Peter Saccio’s words in his excellent lecture series on Shakespeare, thereby releases her from said misandry and “teaches her to play.” Or, consider Hamlet’s much more vicious and tragic rejection of Ophelia, which he, as prince, must arguably do for her own good (though, in my opinion and his mask of madness aside, Hamlet is more a Claudio than a Benedick, and, at the risk of channeling Polonius, I wouldn’t want him near my daughter). Finally, for a dramatized examination of Prince Hal’s mask, read the Prologue to my novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light.
In a time where even the mention of certain words, concepts, or perspectives can lead to the extirpation of an artist or his or her work, the lesson of Benedick bears stating explicitly: yes, characters do not equal the author, but neither may our shallow interpretations of characters equal the actual character. Forgive my being anachronistic and offering yet more unasked-for wisdom for reading his writing, but if Shakespeare sets up a Chekov’s gun (or a Leonato’s joke, as it were), it will go off—or be undercut and nuanced—by play’s end. The outrage in Much Ado should not be read as misogyny for its own sake, nor should masks of things like misogyny, conscious or unconscious, be taken for the real thing; rather, the low view of women sets up for the comic treatment of masculine bravado—which, in the form of Benedick and the revealed depths of his character, bashfully wants to respect, protect, and be loved by the very femininity it warily eschews.
The remedy, to further take something from Nothing, is to trust that Shakespeare (and, dare I say, other authors of the canon) and his characters have more depth than we can initially see. Beatrice and Benedick cure each other of their respective shrewishness and bachelorhood; may it not be that learning to enjoy characters such as they and works such as Much Ado, would cure modern interpretations of their own mask of love and philanthropy, which, like that of Claudio or of Don John, may very well hide a much deeper misogyny?
This is not to say we should avoid legitimate criticism (though, again, literary criticism =/= merely criticizing the perceived faults of a work), but such examination, in addition to seeking to build our knowledge for present and future readers, should approach works directly yet humbly. As I have noted in previous pieces, authors like Shakespeare already contain in their works and answer many of the critiques we might make.
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By Samuel Martin — 11 months ago
Writing this article makes me feel guilty. Like a manic scientist hunched over a microscope, I am hunched over a keyboard, conducting research into pinpointing the unpinpointable. For decades, conservatives have disapprovingly commented on the widespread adoption of once-alternative socially liberal concepts and arrangements, lamenting the desacralization and deprivileging of more “traditional” outlooks. This is very much in step with classic political dynamics: Liberals will tell you “Yes”, Leftists will tell you “Yes, and more!”, and a conservative will tell you “No”. Whilst I generally agree with such disapproving commentary, I will not be contributing to it. Instead, I shall be addressing that which animates the conservative’s disapproval; stating what love is, rather than what is not, all while resisting its substitution with other concepts (pleasure, happiness, etc.) as has been done before. Consequently, I hope to form a fragment of a “moral-social vision” to which a conservative can forcefully say: “Yes”. Moreover, it should be prefaced that I do not care for contemporary fads, such as “making sense”.
Underpinning all human relationships lies an implicit and relative distinction between what is familiar and strange. Courtesy of the innate biological, geographical, and psychological limits of (for lack of a better term) the self, from birth to death most of humanity is a stranger; their existence is affirmed without personal interaction and their initial relation to the self is ambiguous. As proximity to the self transforms, so does the nature of the relationship – strangeness gradually fades away and familiarity increasingly emerges. However, whilst technically specific, the self is a mosaic; it is downstream from various approximations which give identity and demand obligation: the family, the local community, and the nation, all exist as approximations to what is familiar, stretching out towards the stranger.
In the most irremovable fundamental and primordial sense, the family and the self are the same, thus describing the family as a realm of the self, as opposed to what the self is, does not make sense. As such, the first approximation which exists beyond the self, the one more intimate and more familiar than the much wider community, as if it was Venus slotted between Mercury and Earth, is that of the Particular.
The Individual and The Particular are not totally distinct. Whilst technically different, a Particular cannot deny its necessary origins as an Individual, that is to say: certain residual characteristics of an Individual will remain within the Particular even when an Individual becomes Particular. The key commonality between the Individual and the Particular is that both are necessarily unique and singular; they both refer to one. The fundamental difference between the Individual and the Particular is therefore twofold: the nature of [the] reference, and the nature of [the] one.
The Individual One is strictly numerical, it concerns isolated quantity amid implied greater quantity. Conversely, The Particular One is non-quantifiable. It is not perceived mathematically, but in a qualitative and subjective manner; the self-realised reality that there can be no concept of greater quantity when concerned with the existence of something radically specific. However, bound up in the nature of [the] One is how it is referred to. Unlike the Individual, the Particular is realised by a person; it emerges, rising above individualised mass. In this regard, whilst the Individual is an impersonal concept, the Particular is deeply personal.
Facts are the unbending exoskeleton of reality. Hardly negative, they are nevertheless mere matters of being, they are acknowledged by all for the sake of all; they are granted and therefore taken for granted. On the other hand, Fortunes emerge from an incomprehensible conglomerate of probabilities. More than simply being, the total feasibility of Fortune’s non-existence gives it subjective value; to exist as it does makes it remarkable, as if it were a roaring fire in a field of snow. As such, the “impersonally perceived quantifiable” Individual constitutes an existential Fact, whilst the “personally perceived non-quantifiable” Particular constitutes an existential Fortune.
Like every conceivable Fortune, it is discovered through action. Ways colliding through distinct affirmations of life as part of civilised existence, the Particular incrementally emerges into view. The glamourous unthinking of the animal, lurking beneath such civilised folk, smoothens rough edges into idiosyncrasies. It is only during this way-splicing journey that one is eventually obstructed by the wretched bluntness of Fact. The Particular is particular. Made radically specific by intersections of time and space, The Particular is temporary. Mortality, granted and therefore taken for granted, is never acknowledged for its wretchedness until compared to the shining novelty of Fortune. Icarus, made ecstatic by the heights to which his wings could take him, is blighted by the unmissable sun and is reacquainted with reality. Realisation of temporality is the highest realisation of the Particular and thus the undoing of the Self’s tranquillity. It is because of this that all love is bittersweet. A volatile spirit, it wrestles to be total, to be free of its own contradictions; it is humanity’s purest extremity.
Unfortunately, contemporary notions of love have come to be dominated by material transaction, in which material things are exchanged for something in return all while being divorced from direction, tailored only to generalised individual mass rather than the Particular, Regardless of whether material transaction is a consciously cynical effort or just well-meaning naivete, it should be considered a perversion of the material’s true role of expression: the act of turning the immaterial into something material, internal motion into an external display. Even if both are in want, the former deals in expectations whilst the latter deals in hope. Consequently, given the ritualistic importance, just as one who wants to receive must be prepared to give, where one does not wish to give, one must refuse.
Far from pedanticism, there must be immovable details, actions, and sentiments which are confined to the realm of The Particular. If it lacks these, there is no such thing as a distinct romantic approximation; the Particular would cease to be particular at all. Hence why a private realm, knitted together by a veneer of secrecy and the consequent warding off transgressions is not only required, but the very essence of love. The contradiction of this private realm is that it can only be fully secured through public recognition; signifying that there are boundaries which those inside and outside cannot bend if the realm is to exist at all. It is the inability to reconcile this private realm with the world that lies beyond, especially the family and community, that produces the Romeo and Juliet tragedies we all intuitively understand.
At bottom level, these perversions stem from having been confronted by temporality which afflicts us all. Like madmen, they hurry to evade the inevitable. Impending fates, they make frenzied decisions, no sober consideration of what would do them better. Attempting to hoard the whole of humanity in your heart, being subject to the neurotic clamouring for more, made unawares that all will have so much less; you less of them, and them less of you. Just as a nation that attempts to contain the world within its borders does not enrich itself, and consequently makes a world in which the nation no longer exists.
Nobody makes a conscious decision to love, they simply do (on its own, it is Fact which precedes the Fortune of the Particular). It is those deluded folks who choose to act against love that engage in a conscious decision. Like building a dam to obstruct a coursing stream, it is a crude denial of motion. It is because of this motion that the emergence of the Particular cannot be reduced to a meticulous list of preferences. The mechanised procedure of romance has been attacked as a neutralising reconfiguration of love, implying it to be an organic development instead – which it is. If an organic something has stagnated it is either dead or on the verge of death – making compatibility the project, rather than the immediate gratification of love. Just as a flower’s idea of itself animates the contortions of its growth, giving clear form to lofty substance, the idea of two-minded unity is the grand project to which love draws its form and loyally commits its efforts. Unlike the machine which facilitates fleeting relations and heavy-handed intimacy, the Becoming force of love, that which sought to forge beyond the self and in the direction of the Particular, if found to be requited by life’s chances, necessarily reorients itself to go beyond life itself.
The afterlife exists as a Fact. Calling this afterlife “death” makes no difference. There are two certainties: our certain uncertainty of the exact nature of the afterlife and our absolute certainty of our heading there. Whether it’s the minds of men, eternal darkness, or literal new life, it matters not; there is a flipside to this state which gives this life so much meaning. The totality of the Particular and the fullness of heart it provides, ever-driving the two-minded unity, ushers the secret realm into existence, giving us a place not only within explicit life, but within implicit afterlife. Two radically specific souls, becoming one radically specific unit, find themselves undivided by death.
The first approximation, the most intimate and warmest flame, with correspondence to be earnestly followed up or to be dutifully waited on, mends the disjointed nature of life and afterlife. By forging a chain that can never be broken, mere existence is transformed into terrain traversing adventure. The ability to stare into the reaper’s eyes as if they were the eyes of the Particular; that is the essence of love. Never will the strange feel so familiar.
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By Nathan Wilson — 4 months ago
Barbie or Oppenheimer? Two words you would have never considered putting together in a sentence. For the biggest summer blockbuster showdown in decades, the memes write themselves.
In recent months (and years!), we’ve seen flop after flop, such as the new Indiana Jones and Flash films, with endless CGI superheroes and the merciless rehashing of recognised brands. The inability for film studies to recognise and attempt anything new has only led to the continued damage of established and respected franchises.
This in part is due a decline in film studios being willing to take risks over new pieces of intellectual property (something the Studio A24 has excelled in), and a retreat into a ‘culturally bureaucratic’ system that neither rewards art nor generates anything vaguely new, preferring to reward conscientious proceduralism.
Given this, there has been widespread speculation that films like Oppenheimer will ‘save’ cinema, with Christopher Nolan’s biographical adventure, based on the book ‘American Prometheus’ (would highly recommend), being highly awaited and regarded.
Although, I suspect cinema is too far gone from saving in its current format. I do believe that Oppenheimer will have long term cultural effects, which should be recognised and welcomed by everyone.
In the past, there have been many films that, when made and consumed, have directly changed how we view topics and issues. Jaws gave generations of people a newfound fear of sharks, while the Shawshank Redemption provided many with the Platonic form of hope and salvation. I hope that Oppenheimer can and will become a film like this, because of what Robert Oppenheimer’s life (and by extension the Manhattan Project itself) represented.
As such, two things should come out of this film and re-enter the cultural sphere, filtering back down into our collective fears and dreams. Firstly, is it that of existential fear from nuclear war (very pressing considering the Russo-Ukrainian War) and what this means for us as species.
Secondly, is that of Blue-Sky Research (BSR) and the power of problem solving. Although the Manhattan project was not a ‘true’ example of BSR, it helped set the benchmark for science going forward.
Both factors should return to our collective consciousness, in our professional and private lives; they can only benefit us going forward.
I would encourage everyone to go out tonight and look at the night sky and say to yourself while looking at the stars: “this goes on for forever”. In the same breath, look to the horizon and think to yourself: “This can end at any moment. We have the power to do all of this”.
Before watching Oppenheimer, I would highly encourage you to watch the ‘Charlie Dean Archives’ and the footage of atomic bombs from 1959. Not only is the footage astounding, multiple generations have lived in fear of the invention; the idea and the consequences of the bomb have disturbed humans as long as it has existed.
Films like Threads in Britain played a similar role, which entered the unconscious, and films like Barefoot Gen for Japan (this film is quite notorious and controversial, but a must watch) did the same, presenting the real-world effects of nuclear war through the eyes of young children and the fear it invokes.
In recent years, we have seemingly lost this fear. Indeed, we continue to overlook the fact this could all be over so quickly. We have forgotten or chosen to ignore the simple fact that we are closer than ever before to the end of the world.
The pro-war lobby within the West have continually played fast and loose with this fact, to the point we find ourselves playing Russian roulette with an ever-decreasing number of chambers in our guns.
In the past, we have narrowly avoided nuclear conflict several times, and it has been mostly a question of luck as to whether we avoid the apocalypse. The downside of all this is that any usage of the word ‘nuclear’ is now filled with images of death and destruction, which is a shame because nuclear energy could be our salvation in so many ways.
Additionally, we need to remember what fear is as a civilisation; fear in its most existential form. We have become too indebted to the belief that civilisation is permanent. We assume that this world and our society will always be here, when the reality is that all of it could be wiped out within a generation.
As dark as this sounds, we need bad things to happen, so that we can understand and appreciate the good that we do have, and so that good things might occur in the future. Car crashes need to happen, so we can learn to appreciate why we have seatbelts. We need people to remember why we fear things to ensure we do everything in our power to avoid such things from ever happening again.
Oppenheimer knew and understood this. Contrary to the memes, he knew what he had created and it haunted him till the end of his days. Oppenheimer mirrors Alfred Nobel and his invention of dynamite, albeit burdened with a far greater sense of dread.
I hope that with the release of Oppenheimer, we can truly begin to go back to understanding what nuclear weapons (and nuclear war) mean for us as a species. The fear that everything that has ever been built and conceived could be annihilated in one act.
We have become the gods of old; we can cause the earth to quake and great floods to occur and we must accept the responsibility that comes with this power now. We need to fear this power once more, especially our pathetic excuse for leadership.
In addition to fear, Oppenheimer will (hopefully) reintroduce BSR into our cultural zeitgeist – the noble quest of discovery and research. BSR can be defined as research without a clearly defined goal or immediately apparent real-world applications.
As I mentioned earlier, whilst the Manhattan project was not a pure example of BSR, it gave scientists more freedom to pursue long-term “high risk, high reward” research, leading to a very significant breakthrough.
We need to understand the power of BSR. Moving forward, we must utilise its benefits to craft solutions to our major problems.
In both pieces, he makes a good argument for re-examining how we understand scientific development and research and calls for governmental support in such research. Ultimately, Bush’s work led to the creation of the National Science Foundation.
For research and development, government support played a vital role in managing to successfully create nuclear weapons before either the Germans or Japanese and their respective programs.
I believe it was Eric Weinstein who stated that the Manhattan project was not really a physics but rather an engineering achievement. Without taking away from the work of the theorists who worked on the project. I would argue that Weinstein is largely correct. However, I argue that it was a governmental (or ‘human’ achievement), alongside the phenomenal work of various government-supported experimentalists.
The success of the Manhattan Project was built on several core conditions. Firstly, there was a major drive by a small group of highly intelligent and functional people that launched the project (a start-up mentality). Secondly, full government support, to achieve a particular goal. Thirdly, the near-unlimited resources afforded to the project by the government. Fourthly, complete concentration of the best minds onto a singular project.
These conditions mirror a lot of the tenets of BSR: placing great emphasis on government support, unlimited resources and manpower and complete concentration on achieving a specific target. Under these conditions, we can see what great science looks like and how we can possibly go back to achieving it.
Christopher Nolan has slightly over three hours to see if he can continue to make his mark on cinema and leave more than a respectable filmography in its wake. If he does, let’s hope it redirects our culture away from merely good science, and back towards the pursuit of great civilisational achievements – something always involved, as a man with a blog once said: “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”.
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