Joyce Carol Oates:’ People believe I write quickly, but I actually don’t’

11 days ago

The volumes interview: The prolific author on the unreality of romance, the fickle memory of Americans and how tweeting has got her into trouble

When Joyce Carol Oates, the 77 -year-old author of well over 100 volumes, told the New Yorker last year that she thought of herself as transparent, before adding Im not sure I genuinely have a personality, the admission felt scandalous. We live in a day when the concept of personhood has been enshrined, in the monetising parlance of late capitalism, as my own personal brand. To posit its non-existence is a kind of taboo. Especially if you happen to be someone often was regarded as Americas foremost woman of letters.

Oates, a five-time Pulitzer finalist, might be very intensely interested in a portrait of America, but clearly she has no truck with the ego-vaunting, personality driven paradigm of contemporary celebrity. She appears more to belong to some other, long-passed era, with a pronounced gothic streak colouring much of her fiction, which tends to be peopled by powerful men and introverted women who often experience sex shame. In the afterword to her 1994 collecting Haunted: Narratives of the Grotesque , she seems to find a human truth within horror: We should sense immediately, in the presence of the grotesque, that it is both real and unreal simultaneously, as states of mind are real enough feelings, moods, shifting obsessions, beliefs though immeasurable. The subjectivity that is the essence of the human is also the mystery that divides us irrevocably from one another.

At her home in rural New Jersey she serves mugs of herbal tea and when her bengal kitten, Cleopatra, settles against my leg, Oates tells: I see you have quite a conquest there. She presumes youre here to gratifies her.

I am here, of course, to talk to Oates about herself and her work, but Im not so interested in myself she tells. I remember someone saying that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton loved to go bar-hopping in New York, and the last thing they wanted to talk about was themselves they were more interested in these characters in the bars. Thats the route I think many novelists are. I was of the view that way. And its often said about Shakespeare that he was transparent, and Keats that he had this negative capability to be interested in other things.

Specifically, Im here to speak to her about her new novel The Human Without a Shadow, her 44 th under her own name to go alongside her many collectings of tales, essays and plays, her memoirs and her novels written under pseudonym. It concerns the relationship between an amnesiac, Elihu Hoopes, and a neuroscientist, Margot Sharpe, for whom Hoopes is both enduring scientific topic and lifelong love object. She is a woman who cant bear herself except as a vessel of work. She is also a person who wonders, What if I have no person what will I do then?

Oates is straightforward about the personal parallels. I very much identify with Margot. And not just for her workaholic tendencies and personality doubt. I suppose, she ventures, were continually devising narrations and filling in blanks and misremembering in ways that bolster our interpretation of something. So I wanted to write about this relationship between two people engaged in different memories.

Since his memory widens no further than 70 seconds, Elihu experiences every meeting with Margot as a first. Accordingly, the novel is written wholly in the present tense, the state in which Elihu lives. In one sense then, their love is literally without foundation: how can you form any meaningful connection in a little over a minute? Yet theres also something pure about their relationship: each encounter has the wonder of the eternally new.

Joyce

Joyce Carol Oates and her first husband Raymond Smith. Photograph: Eva Haggdahl/ PR

The relationship between them is always sort of unreal, she says, but Im wondering if many relationships that are based on love and romance are not fairly highly charged with unreality. When youre actually living with someone over a period of time you do get to know the person in a very complex and detailed way. But the romantic ideal is very much fraught with the possibility of conditioning people. Presenting your best ego. Telling things to the other that will elicits a certain response.

Oates was marriage for 47 years to Raymond J Smith, a professor and editor of the Ontario Review, which he and Oates founded together in 1974. After he died in 2008 from complications arising from pneumonia, Oates detailed her heartbreak in an acclaimed memoir, A Widows Story . Soon after, she met and married Charlie Gross, a neuroscientist. Gross has been a particularly enthusiastic reader of the latest fiction, which has come about, she tells, directly as a consequence of writing A Widows Story and having to deal so rigorously with her own memory. Oates usually works on several projects at once, but it was only after shed finished the memoir that she was able to return to writing novels and narratives. Writing fiction is hard to do when real life seems so much more important, she explains.

Nevertheless: I dont have any anxiety about writing. Not truly. Its such a pleasure, and our lives are so relatively easy compared to people who are really out there in the world working hard and suffering. The art goes much subsequently in civilisation, when youve dealt with other things like poverty and strife. People think that I write speedily, but I actually dont. I recollect guessing to myself, Am I still working on this novel? Its such a slow evolution. The phase of anxiety is lost in all that. You cant be anxious every minute of every day for eight months.

Oatess extraordinary work ethic she writes eight hours a day is such that we now have a virtual sub-genre of literature that we might call where to start with Joyce Carol Oates. Its a phenomenon she mocks wryly in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 19731982 : The list of my books … is overwhelming. So many volumes! So many!

Her very first was By the North Gate , a short story collection published in 1963, but it was her fifth volume, them , a 1969 novel, that won her a National book award and confirmed Oates as a major writer. Blonde , her 2000 fictionalisation of Marilyn Monroes inner life, is often regarded as her best fiction( it was nominated for both a Pulitzer and a National book award) although many readers first encounter her through the repeatedly anthologised Where Are You Going Where Have You Been, a nuanced story of a young girls rape, in which every sentence is taut with something lethal.

And then theres her criticism: lengthy, dispassionate and thorough pieces for the New York Review of Books for which she reads each writer exhaustively. She recalls, for example, sitting in Dallas airport with all these volumes of Cormac McCarthy literal volumes, I wasnt reading on a Kindle and I guessed Im dragging all these books around, and theyre so depressing! But hes such a good writer … This is where I confess to her that, in this case, I failed to adhere to my usual rule of reading a writers entire backlist before an interview. Well, you cant perhaps she murmurs. Maybe that was asking too much of yourself, only in general.

The JCO completists in this world is necessary few. Theres a man named Greg Johnson whos written a biography of me, she tells. And then maybe a few other people.

I ask whether JM Coetzees job description of a novelist as a secretary of the invisible resonates with her.( Coincidentally, Johnsons 1999 biography is titled Invisible Writer .) Im plainly making, she counters. Coetzee is somewhat coy … A secretary is someone who takes notes, but a novelist has a strong will, and is generating narrative situations, bringing people together, telling a narrative. Its a very wilful thing, and Coetzee is a very wilful person as an artist. Theres a will; it should be invisible. No one should really know about it.

Then I broach the subject of another form of writing. Oates, who has nearly 140,000 Twitter followers, has become notorious for missives met with derision or collective huh? s. When she asked, All we hear of ISIS is puritanical& punitive; is there nothing celebratory& joyous? Or is query naive? it inspired the actor Molly Ringwald to react, Okay, who got Grandma stoned?

Most egregious was a tweet that seemed to conflate violence against women with Islam. Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed& rape is epidemic Egypt natural to inquire: whats the predominant religion? I venture that this was Islamophobic. Well, some of the reactions are sympathetic … Its all sort of political. But my fundamental focus is the rights of women and girls and patriarchal religion , no matter what it is, Im not sympathetic to. I have confessed that often on Twitter, that I dont believes in patriarchal religion to me its delusional, so if thats Islamophobic, I suppose that could be true. Its more like religion-phobic, or patriarchal religion-phobic. What I had to say was actually much, much longer than could be said in a tweet. But nobody makes anybody write tweets, so the negative answer that one get is basically, in a way you deserve it. Ive tweeted other things that Ive entailed sincerely, but sometimes people misinterpret it.

She adds, wearily: I dont really care that much. I write something nice about Homeland , but a bunch of people write back to say Oh, we dislike Homeland , its Islamophobic. I literally dont care. I dont even read them. Theyre sort of attacking a tweet, then its gone. The fickle memory of Americans is something you can rely on. The literary world is very different, and Im much more serious about the literary world. I write these reviews which are quite long and nuanced for the New York Review of Books thats really like my real life.

When Ive thanked her and weve both stood up theres a moment of mutual uncertainty. Oates surely wants to get back to work, but the car Ive yet to summon will probably take 20 minutes to arrive. I gesture at a small floral lounge by the front door and indicate Ill just wait there. Upstairs, I can hear the voice of Oatess contented humming receding as she moves towards her desk.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘ All my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake’

11 days ago

At five months pregnant, Ariel Levy lost her newborn. After four more years of IVF, had she left motherhood too late?

I first fulfilled Ariel Levy in 2009, soon after moving from London to New York, but I had been a fan for more than a decade. Her frank articles about pop culture and sex, which she wrote in her first task at New York magazine from the late 1990 s, the template of what I wanted to write one day. Her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, a blister look at how young woman were being sold the lie that emulating pole dancers and Paris Hilton was empowering, became one of the defining feminist statements of that decade. At the New Yorker, where she has been a personnel writer since 2008, she breaks up the publications occasional aridity with vivid articles about sexuality and gender.( She got her job when she told editor David Remnick that, If foreigners had only the New Yorker to go by, they would conclude that human beings didnt care that much about sexuality, which they actually do .)

Heroes rarely live up to your fictions, but Levy outstripped them. Usually marriage used to go for drinkings cocktails that knocked me sideways, but scarcely seemed to touch her sides and from the start she struck me as being just like her penning: laid-back, wise, curious, kind. Sometimes Levys wife, Lucy, would join us. Isnt she hilarious? Levy would say after Lucy had said something that wasnt, actually, all that funny, but I jealousy them their mutual love after almost a decade together. I, by contrast, was lonely and, like generations of single women in their mid-3 0s before me, starting to panic. But like a lot of women of my particular generation, I felt ashamed of this. Panicking about not having a newborn? How retrograde. So I never admitted any of it to Levy, who seemed more likely to eat her own hair than indulge in such uncool, unfeminist thoughts.

I left New York in 2012 and, despite my doomy fears, had twins when I was 37. Levy and I stayed in touch by email, and although her messages became shorter and more distant, I presumed everything was fine, because she was Ari. But in 2013, I opened the New Yorker and learned that it was not.

***

When we meet for brunch on a cold Saturday in February, it has been five years since we last comprehend each other. Its a typical New York scene: weary and winter-pale mothers eating scrambled eggs in a trendy restaurant while their sugar-rushed toddlers play on iPads. Levy, by contrast, looks calm, happy and healthy, and not only because she has a tan from a recent five-week stay in South Africa.

If we had this conversation five months ago, I would have been in a bad way, she says, in a lilting voice that are typically sets an unspoken Oh my God! and Can you believe it? behind her terms. But Im so much less miserable Im not even miserable at all. So what the frack are we going to eat?

We are just around the corner from Levys flat, where she has expended the past year writing a memoir. This in itself is something of a surprise, because she is not usually a first-person novelist. But Levy, after negotiating her order with the waiter( Ooh, the cheddar scramble is that good? But do we have to have the creme fraiche with it? I mean, lets not ), shrugs off any concerns about self-exposure: Im pretty open book-y, you know? I never understood what the big deal is about privacy. The hardest part was realising that Id better entail what I say. The whole schtick of the book is acceptance and surrender. So after I finished writing it, I believed, Wow, I guess Id better follow my own advice now.

In 2012, Levy conceived a newborn with sperm from a friend, having overcome the reservations shed long had about parenthood. She was about to turn 38: It felt like attaining it on to a plane the moment before the gate shuts you cant help but thrill, she wrote in her 2013 New Yorker article, Thanksgiving In Mongolia.

When she was five months pregnant, she flew to Ulaanbaatar for run. Her friends were concerned but, she wrote, I liked the idea of being the kind of woman whod go to the Gobi desert pregnant. After two days of abdominal discomfort, she ran into the hotel bathroom, squatted on the floor and blacked out from the ache. When she came to, her newborn was on the floor next to her. I heard myself say out loud, This cant is all very well. But it looked good. My newborn was as fairly as a seashell, she wrote. She gazed in awe at his mouth, opening and closing, opening and closing, swallowing the new world.

She had suffered a severe placental abruption, a rare complication in which the placenta detaches from the uterus. In shock, Levy held the 19 -week foetus while blood spread across the tiles. She eventually called for help, taking a photograph of her son before the ambulance turned up. She was taken to a clinic where a kind South African doctor tended to her while she hemorrhaged and sobbed. And I knew, as surely as I now knew that I wanted small children, that this change in fortune was my fault. I had boarded a plane out of vanity and selfishness, and the dark Mongolian sky had punished me, she wrote.

Levy flew back to New York and, within two weeks, her relationship with Lucy came to an objective. For months afterwards, Levy continued to bleed and lactate: It seemed to me sorrow was leaking out of me through every orifice. She appeared obsessively at the photograph of her newborn, and tried to make others appear, too, so they could see what “shes seen” and they did not: that she was a mother who had lost her child.

Her article, which won a National Magazine Award in 2014, aims at that point, and I assumed that the end of Lucy and Levys marriage was tied to the loss of their child. In fact, that was a whole other shitshow, Levy tells now. When she returned from Mongolia, she realised through her cloud of grief that Lucy, who had struggled with alcoholism before, needed to go to rehab, poorly. The girls, still in love but too broken to support one another, separated. Today, they are in touch, but, Levy tells, There are times when one of us says, I gotta stop talking to you for a while because this is too painful. Because we are get divorced, you dont magically stop caring about each other.

The breakup is one of merely several shitshows recounted in Levys memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, which looks, in self-lacerating detail, at events in her life before she went to Mongolia, and hints at some that came as. It is not the book that many expected would follow Female Chauvinist Pigs , not least because it could be spun as a warning to women about the perils of waiting too long to have a newborn. Placental abruption, Levy writes, usually befalls women who are heavy cocaine users or who have high blood pressure. But sometimes it only happens because youre old. She doesnt go into this in the book, but Levy, who is now 42, has not been able to conceive again, despite having undergone a ridiculous amount of IVF over the past four years.

The alternative way of looking at Levys memoir is that she is dealing with a subject that feminism has never been able to resolve: the immovable boulder of fertility, butting up against female progress. Levy says she had always wanted to be a writer, so I construct my life with that as my priority; by the time she realised she also wanted to be a mom, she was in her late 30 s. She writes that she and her generation were given the lavish gift of agency by feminism, coupled with a middle-class, western sense of entitlement that resulted them to believe that anything seemed possible if you had ingenuity, money and persistence. But the body doesnt play by those rules.

Of course, this is partly about class, she says now. I dont hear women who are less privileged supposing theyre entitled to everything, whenever they want it. Thats a privilege phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon. It constructs me laugh when people say, Why dont you simply do surrogacy, or merely adopt? Believe me, there is no just about them. Surrogacy expenses $100,000 – $150,000 in the US, while adoption expenses are on average between $ 20,000 and $45,000( costs in the UK are much lower ). After the money Levy spent on IVF( A plenty. A plenty, a lot, a lot ), those options are less possible than ever.

Doomy warnings that women need to stop shillyshallying and sprog up are published in the Daily Mail every day. They are far less common from prominent feminist novelists, and Levy concurs there is no point in lecturing young lady, because it doesnt do anything, and they know it already. Theyre like, Eff you: Im busy trying to earn money and figure myself out. Its just a design flaw that, at the exact moment so many of us ultimately feel mature enough to take care of someone beside ourselves, the bodys like: Im out.

Writer
At home in New York: I was a mess for a very long time. Read an excerpt from her new memoir below. Photo: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

In the UK and US, the average age of first-time mothers has climbed consistently for the past 40 years, partly because of the decline in teen pregnancies, but also because feminism has given women alternatives beyond marriage and motherhood in their 20 s. This, Levy tells, is a seismic rejiggering, and the cost can be epic. While not all women want children, many do eventually, and it doesnt matter how many articles you read about women who are childfree and fabulous when the desire makes, it grabs by the root. That much has not changed, even if the age at which it comes has.

It feels virtually treacherous to say this, I say, devoted how hard our moms fought to give us more alternatives than they had.

I was never any good at maintaining secrets, Levy says. I entail, we ensure their own problems all around us. All of my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake, but it wasnt fairly for anyone.

In the book, Levy indicates it was being a writer that encouraged her to believe she could prefer motherhood when she wanted:[ Writers] are accustomed to the power of authorship you control how the narrative unfolds. But I tell her I ensure the writer side of her more in her self-recrimination, the idea that she was to blame for the loss of her child because she waited too long to conceive. Although it is above the average age for first-time motherhood( in the US, this is 26; in the UK, 29 ), 37 is not insanely old to get pregnant. According to the NHS, 82 % of women aged between 35 and 39 will conceive within a year if they are having regular unprotected sex. Levy was in a different situation, because she was relying on IVF. Is it easier to ascribe self-blame, or even societal blame, than say she simply suffered terrible luck in tricky circumstances?

Well, its not just bad luck, because you are more likely to suffer from bad luck if youre older, she tells. But who knows? This might have happened to me if Id got pregnant when I was younger. I just would have had more hour afterwards to get pregnant again.

***

Levy grew up think the rules existed to be defied. As a child in pretty Larchmont, New York country, her mothers special friend, a large African-American named Marcus, would frequently come to stay with Levy and her mothers, a pair of diminutive Jews. Sometimes Levys mother would go to visit him. Marcus had the power to change my mother from a stern regulator of all food containing sugar into a giggling nymph pouring giant glasses of 7Up, as carefree as if it were carrot juice. It was frightening to watch her so happy, Levy writes. Eventually, her parents divorced.

They came out of the 60 s, where people were experimenting with all kinds of things, she tells. And they were going to reinvent marriage, and everything that was established was bullshit. So my mom was like, Im going to have everything. Ill have this thing and Ill have my domestic life, and neither will affect the other. She feels really bad about it. You know, it destroyed their own families. But its not like I think, Therefore convention is great and traditional families are perfect.

Because neither the traditional nor the less conventional approach insures happiness?

Exactly.

As she grew up, Levy occasionally experimented with women, but it wasnt until she was 26 and fell in love with her first girlfriend, Debs, that she realised this was, in her words, a definite thing. The narrative around[ came to see you] is that everything that preceded it was a lie. But thats not true for me I actually dug my boyfriends. But when I was with Debs, I believed, Oh, Im wholly a lesbian. Then I thought, Oh, wait. You dont have to choose no ones going to make you sign anything.

She satisfied Lucy when she was 28 and Lucy 41, at a friends party, and fell for her instantaneously. They had a wedding in 2006 and were legally married the following year in San Francisco. A few years after, Levy, then 35, embarked on an affair.

Even as affairs go, this one truly broke the rules. Levy had got back in touch with an ex-girlfriend, Jen, only to find that she had since transitioned and was now a trans man named Jim. The sexuality was as good as Levy recollected, but on a personal level Jim infuriated her: he indicated the two of them have a baby together employing his eggs and Levys uterus, a theory she found repellent in its blithe presumption: It was his sense of entitlement his belief that you could just keep choosing whatever you wanted in life, without ever sacrificing a single thing, Levy writes.

But this was really a kind of self-reproach: she wanted to be married, but also to have an affair; she had tried to forge her own path, but objective up replaying her childhood; she wanted to delay motherhood, but not reject it entirely.

Levy eventually cut Jim off, and she and Lucy repaired their relationship. Soon after, Lucys alcoholism overwhelmed her, and she attempted suicide. But the two of them went through it; I satisfied them soon after, when they couldnt have seemed more together. They decided to have a newborn. This, Levy believed, would be their happy story.

But happy tales come in unexpected shapes. Soon after Levy returned to New York from Mongolia, suddenly with neither a spouse nor a newborn, she got an email from John Gasson, the South African doctor who had looked after her in Ulaanbaatar. He sent her her medical report, which stated unequivocally that flying to Mongolia had played no part in the loss of the baby, just in case you have any lingering doubt or feelings of remorse, which she did. The two began to coincide, and that was a lifesaver, because he was the only one who saw me with the newborn, and that was the only thing that felt real to me then, Levy tells. Emailing turned into visits. Visits turned into something more, and they are getting married next year. This relationship feels less conventional than my relationship with Lucy: we dont live in the same country, we have different lives. My straight relationship is a lot less straight-out than my gay one was, she says.

Levy only hints at this relationship in her book, and I tell her I was astonished that she defied concluding with this better-than-Hollywood happy aiming. Well, I didnt want the books message to be, Someday, my prince will come, because it wasnt like that. I was a mess for a long time. Theres no such thing as a happy aiming. And this isnt an ending I mean, Im not dead.

The real lesson of Levys story isnt that women are having children subsequently and that this is a problem, but that womens lives are now an entirely different shape, with happiness no longer dependent on the old markers. A female can marriage other women in her 30 s, and then a human in her 40 s; a woman can run for president in her 60 s. And even if they dont get the original intended prize the baby, the presidency the forging of that new route still feels in itself like a victory. But I suspect it will be some time before Levy will be able to tell that story.

She has always loved to garden; her roof terrace was always bordered by shrubbery, and these days she has vegetable and flower beds. If I had my way, its the only thing Id ever do, she tells. In South Africa, she has learned to pony ride along the beach: I like how it feels like flying. When we satisfy, she is just finishing up a New Yorker profile of the artist Catherine Opie, whom Levy describes as a feminist and visual poet on gender.

As for herself, Levy remains first and foremost a feminist, but one who has moved on from Female Chauvinist Pigs: I still agree with myself that reducing females to tits and ass isnt this liberating thing. But Im just not that interested in talking about porn and whatnot at this moment in time. I dont know if its because Im older, or because the world has changed and were in a genuine crisis about womens rights with Trump.

Last summer, Levy chose, after four long years, to stop the fertility therapies. I merely need my life not to be about what I dont have, or consistently failing to get it in the most painful style. And its great. I mean, you cant spend the month of January in South Africa riding horses on a beach and is just like, my life sucks. All options entail not choice something else, and if the kid thing doesnt work up, John and I can travel when we like, and that has its charms.

I feel like were not supposed to admit to regret about our lives, but I do have unhappiness, and thats fine. That doesnt entail I cant live with them, or that somethings wrong. And its pretty great when I can hand my friends children back when they start having a tantrum. Simply as you wont lie to me and say theres nothing fulfilling about motherhood.

A decade ago, Levy profiled the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and asked her if she regretted not having had children. Everybody doesnt get everything, Dowd replied.

That sounded so depressing to me at the time, Levy tells. Now it just seems like a relief to know I dont have control over everything. Its a part of growing up.

Another part is learning that the rules are mutable: you can be divorced and still love your former spouse; sadness is part of a happy life; and feminism doesnt entail getting everything. It entails giving women choices and thats a good thing even if sometimes those options are taken away.

Dr John wished to know how I am feeling. I tell him that I am in hell: an exclusive extract from Ariel Levys new book

An email arrives from Dr John Gasson, medical director, SOS International Clinic, Ulaanbaatar. As promised, he has sent my medical report, which I need to submit to my insurance company. He has also attached a study on preterm birth that he mentioned when we were in the clinic.

I ask him if it is normal that Im lactating. He explains that the oxytocin that brings on contractions also signals the body to lactate. He adds that the milk letdown reflex after a miscarriage is one of natures less kind tricks, which I think is an elegant and apt style of putting it.

Dr John asks how I am feeling. I tell him that I am in hell. But the very fact of him asking, of is available on communication with the person who was there that night, is a balm beyond any other.

I thank him for being so kind to me at the clinic. I ask if its gets even colder in UB. He says that it has, but that the real problem is the pollution: the colder it gets, the more garbage and coal people burn in the street for warmth, and the harder it becomes to breathe.

He explains that for six months of the year, he lives on the other side of the world, in South Africa, in a bungalow he constructed himself. There is a stable there that he put up for his ponies, and next door, his two adolescents live with their mom and her second spouse. I do miss my children and horses when I am away, and that can be difficult, he writes. The kids will be leaving school soon and off to university. Then I will only have the ponies to miss.

I tell him about the time I spent in Cape Town. I describe my meeting with the track squad out in the wind in Limpopo, my encounter in Pretoria with Caster Semenya.

Actually, he knows that story: he has been reading some of my articles online. He says he likes the way I write.

I like the route he writes, too: One of my fathers better narratives involved being woken up in the early hours of the morning and leaving in some haste as the house was burning. He remembers himself and his younger friend peering through the back window of the motorcar, still in their Victorian nightdress, as the night sky lit up over the rapidly receding town of Barberton. The veracity of his account is suspect, but what is fact is that some very incriminating documents conveniently disappeared in the fire. His sentences are so jaunty! And so foreign. They sound like the latter are written in not just another place, but another time. His narratives transport me.

Dr John tells me about his childhood in Zambia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia, to him, at the time. Growing up, he didnt question why, if the latter are Englishmen, as the person or persons they socialised with considered themselves to be, they lived in a country where everyone else spoke Shona and Ndebele. He did not really contemplate what it meant that his father also a doctor and his grandpa before him were colonialists, until many years later when he began to question everything hed been taught about blackness, whiteness and where he belonged.

His brother, Greg, was his best friend; they were only two years apart in age. Their mother died when they were toddlers. Greg died, too, in a motorcycle accident when he was 21. I can feel how haunted Dr John Gasson was is by that loss from 6,000 miles away. His mom, two brothers, his father, his country no longer exist, are part of the past.

When we converse in writing, everything feelings complete, discrete. I dont have to explain what just happened; he was there. Within the confines of our epistolary friendship, I am not missing pieces of my life except the one that came from my own body, the one that Dr John alone has ensure. Not a picture of the piece, the person.

I wonder sometimes if my grief is disproportionate, inappropriate. I insured my father fall apart after my brother got killed, Dr John tells me. But he had the consolation of knowing the adult that my brother briefly became. You dont even know what your son would have been like as a little boy. I feel desperately sorry for you.

Only Dr John insured him, and merely Dr John insured me with him. Merely Dr John insured what feels so violently true to me, I cant stand that it is invisible to everybody else on Earth: here is a mother with her newborn who has died.

And so, in one style, our friendship is a kind of fiction.

We are two people on opposite objectives of the Earth, who do not know each other, who write one another emails as if we are aware.( At first, we just exchange a few, here and there. But soon we are writing regularly. And the first thing I do when I wake up after I stop crying is check to see if he has sent me an email full of narratives about places I have never seen, in a voice that is swashbuckling but somehow intimate .) In another way, these emails and that picture are the only things that are real to me.

This is an edited extract from The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy, published under 16 March by Little, Brown at 16.99. To order a copy for 12.74, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.

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Our daughter succumbed. Now she lives in the pages of a romantic fiction

1 month, 18 days ago

In 2003, Alice Martineau was on the brink of a successful pops career when she died, aged 30, of cystic fibrosis. Now their own families have given permission for her inspiring life story to be fictionalised

In November 2014, an email pinged into Luke Martineaus inbox from Alice Peterson, person he had never heard of. Peterson explained that she was a novelist and had been inspired by the life of Lukes sister, also called Alice, who had died in 2003. She wanted to construct Alice the subject of her next novel, to recreate her in fictional kind although, obviously, she couldnt touch this without the bles of Alices family. Would they be prepared to meet?

Naturally, the Martineaus were a little wary. I wasnt sure. I couldnt imagine it, admits Liz, Luke and Alices mother. My first thought was: Would I like it?

Luke says: I did need to know who this Alice Peterson was and what her volumes were like, but chiefly I guessed: Wouldnt that be wonderful?

Alice Martineau was bear in 1972 with cystic fibrosis her parents, Liz and David, were told that her life expectancy was about 10 years.

Cystic fibrosis causes a build up of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and have contributed to lung infections and reduced lung function as well as a long list of other debilitating conditions. Its inherited if both parents carry the gene, as Liz and David did, their children have a 25% opportunity of having the condition.( Luke, born two years earlier, does not have it .) Although Alice enjoyed a happy and relatively normal childhood in west London albeit with vast quantities of drug, a special diet and daily physiotherapy by her late teens and early 20 s, her illness was escalating, encroaching, fighting for space.

Despite her regime of nebulisers, intravenous antibiotics and physio, as well as regular remains at the Brompton hospital, Alice powered on, refusing to give her condition a minute more than she had to. She was unable to live independently, but her parents converted the cellar into a separate flat. She examined English literature at Kings College London, graduated with a first, then pursued a singer-songwriter career, finally landing a record deal with Sony in 2002. By then, she was on the waiting list for a triple transplant heart, lungs and liver. Alice succumbed the following year, aged 30, shortly after the release of her album Daydreams.

Back then, Peterson, only two years younger than Alice Martineau, had followed her narrative, bought her album and been saddened by her death. Fast-forward 11 years, and she was an established novelist searching for a topic when the name Alice Martineau had abruptly re-entered her head.

Alices
Alices parents, Liz and David, and her brother, Luke. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

After meeting Peterson and reading some of her volumes, the family agreed to share their daughters life. We had many happy hours chatting around the table. Entire mornings would go by, says Liz. Taking my mind back all those years almost brought back things I had forgotten. David, a retired judge, tells: Thats why we supported it so strongly. We could bring Alice back into our lives again.

Parts were painful. The household devoted Peterson old photo albums, scrapbooks and camcorder footage they had not looked at for years. There was one scene on the camcorder thats recreated in the book, where Alice spent a few days in Claridges to celebrate her record contract, partying like a stone star, tells Liz. She really was very poorly by then. Goodness knows what Claridges guessed when she arrived with her entourage her boyfriend, her wheelchair, her oxygen cylinders and full-time physiotherapist paid for by Sony.

Luke tells: The illness is so gradual, like your children growing up. You get used to it, its almost normalised. Seeming at the footage now, you cannot fail to be struck by how ill she was. That was hard to see.

The family also handed Peterson Alices lyric book handwritten, almost like a diary. That was very raw, tells Luke. All Alices anthems were quite personal about not being able to breathe, or being worried about death, or feeling alone. Music was her way of conveying some very dark believes because, generally, Alice was positive, funny, upbeat, even though this horrible illness was dragging her down physically all the time.

The next stage was to put Peterson in touch with everyone else from Alices world her friends, her consultant at the Brompton, her physiotherapist, her nurse, her voice coach and, key to the book, her boyfriend, Al. They were together for the last four years of Alices life and their relationship forms the beating heart of the book.

Alice
Alice and her mum.

Al Tom in the novel had fallen in love with someone with a very uncertain future when both of them were in their 20 s. Their friends were getting engaged and beginning their adult lives. Tom had a dream of living by the sea and one day being a dad, but the couple lives in the shadow of cystic fibrosis. On top of that were the regular nearly routine life-and-death dashes to hospital and, on a good day, the sheer hour and endeavour it took before Alice could leave the house.

They did divide for a while and thats in the book, tells Liz. Alice was absolutely devastated but I really appreciate how hard it was for Al imagine taking on all that. Gradually, he realised he couldnt be without her.

Happily, Al has since marriage( and lives by the sea) but remains close to the Martineaus Luke is godfather to one of his children. Through the whole process of this volume, Ive been most anxious about Al, tells Luke. For us, the book is a lovely way of remembering Alice because our relations with her hasnt changed. Al has a different life, a family, and weve tried to be sensitive to the fact that he might not want to bang on about Alice in the way we do. He has been so generous and so has his wife and Im very pleased he did agree to it. Its a love story more about Al than any of us.

Peterson worked on the project for 18 months, weaving her research into a narrative, before presenting the family with a manuscript.

I was nervous, tells Luke. Im an artist and paint portraits among other things for a living. Its a slightly strange moment when its time for the subject to see themselves as handled by someone else. You always fret. Its a paint in the end its not the person.

I knew there would be things that Alice would never have said, there are composite characters, and parts that are entirely fiction. But the main body was completely true. I wanted to know it was recognisable of us and of Alice and it was. She got the tenderness of my relationship with her, and our closeness as a family. The novel kind makes it readable, more involving than a factual biography. Its emotionally gripping.

A Song for Tomorrow is packed with real details from Alices family moniker( Leech ), to her favourite foods, real dialogues and remembered scenes.

Whats striking, though, is her sheer lifeforce. Although the reader can sense day running out, cystic fibrosis is in the background. Alice doesnt dwell on it. Theres no self-pity, just forging forward.

That was Alice, says Luke. She was feisty people with cystic fibrosis have to fight for breath from the beginning, so its absolutely ingrained. She didnt talk about death or the end, there were no big conversations and she detested being called brave. The only route you can live in those conditions is to maintain the sense of life going on. For us, the book is another way to help keep her alive. But if simply one person with cystic fibrosis reads it and thinks: Im going to bloody well be an actress or do my thing, whatever it is then it has made a difference.

In A Song for Tomorrow, Alices death is sudden. Theres no build up its one March morning like any other. Tom has stayed the night and gone to work. The builders are in, her mum has brought breakfast on a tray, Alices mind is on a publication interview scheduled for afterward that day. Abruptly, shes coughing up blood, losing sensation, fighting for breath. The aim is very quick.

It was like that, says Luke. A shock but not a surprise. The demise bit of the book was the component I was most anxious about. But I have to say, reading it was the only period I cried.

David tells: I think its the best bit of the book actually. Its the most emotional, quite poetic.

Peterson ends with an incident from Alice and Lukes childhood as a metaphor a bird being set free. It happened on holiday in Portugal, remembers Liz. Luke was eight, Alice six, and this sobbing Luke came into our room in the night and said: Mummy, theres an eagle in our bedroom! I ran in and it was quite a big owl above the door Luke could just see its claws. Alice wasnt frightened at all! Somehow I got this poor thing wrapped in a towel, we went to the balcony and I released it. We watched it sail off down the valley.

Luke tells: Im so glad it was included because that image has always bided with me. It showed how good Mum was at handling a difficult situation and in my mind, it was very connected to a lovely letter a friend wrote to Mum after Alice died.

She wrote: The most amazing thing you did for Alice was to allow her her liberty. It must have been so instinctive to want to protect her and keep her wrapped up in cottonwool, but you really allowed her to fly. And how she flew.

A Song for Tomorrow by Alice Peterson is published by Simon& Schuster, 7.99.

Cystic Fibrosis Trust helplines: 0300 373 1000 or 020 3795 2184

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Scrumdiddlyumptious! My Roald Dahl top 10

1 month, 25 days ago

Whose glass eye ended up in a brew mug? And how did Mrs Twit get the shrinks? Find out as our writer picks her favourite stories

Matilda

Matilda Illustration: Quentin Blake

At 14, I was technically too old for this book when it came out in 1988, but I still swallowed it whole. I loved the set pieces( Miss Trunchbull hammer-throwing infants by their plaits through windows) and Matildas thrilling combination of intelligence, coolness under pressure and flair for the dramatic. So much power concentrated in one tiny mind.

It was the last full-length childrens book Dahl wrote and he seems to have given himself granted permission to put a little bit more heart in it than he had done in anything since The BFG and for that alone it has mine.

The Enormous Crocodile

The enormous crocodile has but one suppose on its mind: to feed as many children as he can via the adoption of various , not-quite-impenetrable disguises. One for the very youngest readers, and I can say no more without making newborn spoilers, a low to which I will not stoop.

Fantastic Mr Fox

When children are a very little bit older, they can move on to this immensely fulfilling narrative of Boggis, Bunce, Bean, a host of fat chickens and a display of reynardian deception as old as time.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Born of Dahls famous and enduring love of chocolate, this is an unfairytale for our times. Its elemental simplicity a poor but honest hero and four ambulant essences of the greatest adolescent vices who are justly rewarded and penalise during their chocolate mill odyssey constructed it a bestseller from the moment it was published, over 50 years ago.

The BFGs scrumdiddlyumptious may just have built it into the OED, but a Golden Ticket has long been a byword for any access-all-areas pass, while Willy Wonka is shorthand for any mercurial, mesmeric figure or inventor of some scarcely believable breakthrough.

Charlie is many childrens first introduction to Dahl. He takes you by the hand and leads you as securely as Willy Wonka does Charlie into an edifice of delights.

Danny, the Champion of the World

Often overlooked, perhaps because it is the book decide most firmly in the real world with less explosively Dahlesque moments. The plot to poach the local landowners pheasants is pleasingly intricate and painstakingly worked out, but without magic potions, bottom burps or anyone being sent for slicing in the fudge room. Still, this is a lovely volume about the relationship between a son and his father and about how truly, really stupid pheasants are.

James and the Giant Peach

Dahls first volume for children. He had already made a name as a writer of macabre short narratives for adults but his astute agent Sheila St Lawrence felt there was something shifting around in there for children and kepts encouraging him to find it. She was right. Jamess parents are eaten by an escaped rhinoceros( in full daylight, intellect you, and on a crowded street) on the second page and were away.

Dahl Another edifice of pleasures Dahl outside the shed where he wrote. Photograph: Ian Cook/ Time Life Pictures/ Getty Images

The Witches

A favourite with Dahls critics because it offers the most fertile ground in which to plant the charges of misogyny that sporadically came his route.( Well argue about their legitimacy some non-centenary celebrate day. For what its worth, I think of him as an alpha-male misanthrope and love him for it .)

This is a favourite with children because its the perfect narrative of right in the form of a hero( was transformed into a mouse by bald, blue-spittled witches) and his beloved grandmother winning out over might. It also contains the quintessential Dahl happy aiming. The hero is well aware that as a mouse he has a much less lifespan than he would as a boy and thus his grandmother and he are likely to die together. An altogether bracing read.

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The BFG

Its fast, funny and furiously charming. If Willy Wonka was Dahls younger, harder secret self, the BFG is his older, more avuncular avatar. He is a maker of dreamings who spirits the heroine Sophie( named after his granddaughter – the book is dedicated to her, too) away when she spies him at his nightly work and together they save the worlds children from human bean-eating giants.

When Quentin Blake came to illustrate the book, he couldnt work up what the BFG should wear on his feet. He consulted Dahl. Through the post a few weeks later arrived one of Dahls own huge, battered Norwegian leather sandals. And those are what the BFG wears.

The Twits

Like all novelists, Dahl had an ideas notebook. One of the scribbled lines in it operated: Beer stealing. An old boy fell his glass eye into the tankard. He then insured it looking up at him.

From such tiny acorns do fabulously diseased oak trees grow. This time, it gave us the glorious grotesquerie that is The Twits. I remember vividly the narrative being read to us in primary school. The spaghetti worms! The Hugtight glue on the Big Dead Tree! And consequently bird tart every week and one quartet of sons slipping out of their arbour-adhering trousers and running away with their naked bottoms winking at the sun! The penny-sized pieces of wood being added to Mrs Twits walking stick to construct her gues shed got the shrink!

You believe I had to look any of this up to refresh my memory? You underestimate the power of Dahl. The glass eye, of course, is Mrs Twits and turns up at the lower end of her unbeloved spouses beer mug. Nice.

Its a pure shot of happiness/ abhorrence for younger readers who dont yet feel the need for a little sunlight and tint in their stories – and indeed for older readers who occasionally feel life and literature is wholly too full of grey areas and would like to drill back down to basics.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

A collection of short stories for what would now be called a YA audience, and a fine bridge between Dahls kids volumes and his adult work. The Swan still hurts my heart, The Mildenhall Treasure still has me writhing in exquisite agony, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar itself still has me sighing in complete satisfaction.

It also contains Dahls first ever published narrative, about crashlanding in Libya during the war, and an essay Lucky Break – about how he came to write it. CS Forester( Dahl was moving in quite glamorous circles during and after the war) had been commissioned to write a tale for the Saturday Evening Post about Dahls experience and Dahl offered to send him some notes, which turned out to be publishable in their own right. A lucky break for us all.

Buy Lucy Mangans book Inside Charlies Chocolate Factory at the Guardian Bookshop.

Is sugar the world’s most popular narcotic? | Gary Taubes

1 month, 26 days ago

The Long Read: It eases ache, seems to be addictive and demonstrates every sign of causing long-term health problems. Is it time to quit sugar for good?

Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy and can be taken by mouth. It doesnt have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to newborns it elicits a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Could the savour of sugar on the tongue be a kind of poisoning? What about the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Overconsumption of this drug may have long-term side-effects, but there are none in the short term no staggering or dizziness , no slurring of speech , no passing out or drifting away , no heart palpitations or respiratory distress. When it is given to children, its effects may be only most extreme fluctuations on the apparently natural emotional rollercoaster of childhood, from the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining of what may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, it constructs infants happy, at least for the period during which theyre eating it. It soothed their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention and leaves them excited and full of elation until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dosage, perhaps to demand it, on a regular basis.

How long would it be before parents took to using our imaginary drug to pacify their children when necessary, to alleviate inconvenience, to prevent outbursts of unhappiness or to distract attention? And once the narcotic became identified with pleasure, how long before it was used to celebrate birthdays, a football game, good grades at school? How long before no collect of family and friends was complete without it, before major vacations and celebrations were defined in part by the use of this medication to assure pleasure? How long would it be before the underprivileged of the world would happily spend what little money they had on this drug rather than on nutritious dinners for their families?

There is something about the experience of consuming sugar and sweets, particularly during childhood, that readily invokes the comparison to a drug. I have infants, still relatively young, and I believe creating them would be a far easier chore if sugar and sweets were not an option, if managing their sugar intake did not seem to be a constant topic in our parental responsibilities. Even those who vigorously defend the place of sugar and sweets in modern diets an innocent moment of pleasure, a salve amid the stress of life, as the journalist Tim Richardson has written acknowledge that this does not include permitting children to eat as many sweets as they want, at any time, and that most mothers will want to ration their childrens sweets.

But why is this rationing necessary? Children crave many things Pokmon cards, Star Wars paraphernalia, Dora the Explorer knapsacks and many foods savor good to them. What is it about sweets that makes them so uniquely in need of rationing?

This is of more than academic interest, because the response of entire populations to sugar has been effectively identical to that of children: once people are exposed, they eat as much sugar as they can easily procure. The primary roadblock to more consumption up to the phase where populations become obese and diabetic has tended to be availability and cost. As the price of a pound of sugar has fallen over the centuries, the amount of sugar consumed has steadily, inexorably climbed.

In 1934, while sales of sweets continued to increase during the course of its Great Depression, the New York Times commented: The Depression[ has] proved that people wanted candy, and that as long as they had any fund at all, they would buy it. During those brief periods of day during which sugar production outdid our ability to devour it, the sugar industry and purveyors of sugar-rich products have worked diligently to increase demand and, at least until recently, have succeeded.

The critical question, as the journalist and historian Charles C Mann has elegantly put it, is whether[ sugar] is actually an addictive substance, or if people simply act like it is. This topic is not easy to answer. Surely, people and populations have acted as though sugar is addictive, but science offer no definitive evidence. Until lately, nutritionists analyse sugar did so from the natural perspective of viewing it as a nutrient a carbohydrate and nothing more. They occasionally argued about whether or not it might play a role in diabetes or heart disease, but not about whether it triggered a reaction in the brain or body that induced us wishes to consume it in excess. That was not their area of interest.

The few neurologists and psychologists interested in probing the sweet-tooth phenomenon, or why we might need to ration our sugar consumption so as not to eat too much of it, did so typically from the perspective of how these sugars compared with other medications of abuse, in which existing mechanisms of craving is now relatively well understood. Lately, this comparing has received more attention as the public-health community has looked to ration our sugar intake as its own population, and has thus considered the issue that one style to regulate these sugars as with cigarettes is to establish that they are, indeed, addictive. These sugars are very probably unique in that they are both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics.

Historians have often considers the sugar-as-a-drug metaphor to be an apt one. That sugars, particularly highly refined sucrose, render peculiar physiological impacts is well known, wrote Sidney Mintz, whose 1985 book Sweetness and Power is one of two seminal English-language histories of sugar. But these effects are neither as visible nor as long-lasting as those of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, the first use of who are capable of trigger rapid changes in respiration, heartbeat, skin colour and so on.

Mintz has argued that a primary reason sugar has escaped social disapproval is that, whatever conspicuous behavioural changes may occur when infants eat sugar, it did not cause the kind of flushing, staggering, dizziness, euphoria, changes in the pitch of the voice, slurring of speech, visibly intensified physical activity or any of the other cues associated with the ingestion of other medications. Sugar appears to cause pleasure with a price that is difficult to discern immediately and paid in full only years or decades later. With no visible, immediately noticeable consequences, as Mintz says, questions of long-term nutritive or medical consequences went unasked and unanswered. Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar, because well never run long enough without it to find out.


Sugar historians consider the narcotic comparing to be fitting in part because sugar is one of a handful of medication foods, to use Mintzs term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the 16 th century onward the others being tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.

Its history is intimately linked to that of these other narcotics. Rum is distilled, of course, from sugar cane. In the 17 th century, once sugar was added as a sweetener to tea, coffee and chocolate, and costs allowed it, the intake of these substances in Europe explosion. Sugar was used to sweeten spirits and wine in Europe as early as the 14 th century; even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups contained sugar.

As for tobacco, sugar was, and still is, a critical ingredient in the American blended-tobacco cigarette, the first of which was Camel. Its this marriage of tobacco and sugar, as a sugar-industry report described it in 1950, that builds for the mild experience of smoking cigarettes as compared with cigars and, perhaps more important, makes it possible for most of us to inhale cigarette smoke and draw it deep into our lungs.

Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the old world until they arrived, sugar, nicotine and caffeine had at least some stimulating properties, and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conducive to the labour of everyday life. These were the 18 th-century equivalent of uppers, writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. The empire, it might be said, building on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine hurry a rush nearly everyone could experience.

Sugar, more than anything, seems to have attained life worth living( as it still does) for so many, particularly those whose lives lacked the kind of pleasures that relative wealth and daily hours of leisure might otherwise offer. Sugar was an ideal substance, says Mintz. It served to make a busy life seem less so; it eased, or seemed to ease, the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness or satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined with many other foods No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.

What Oscar Wilde wrote about a cigarette in 1891 might also be said about sugar: It is the perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?

Children surely respond to sugar instantaneously. Give newborns a option of sugar water or plain, wrote the British physician Frederick Slare 300 years ago, and they will greedily suck down the one, and make Faces at the other: Nor will they be pleasd with Cows Milk, unless that be blessd with a little Sugar, to bring it up to the Sweetness of Breast-Milk.

Sugar
Sugar induces the same replies in the region of the brain known as the reward centre as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol Photo: Alamy

One proposition commonly invoked to explain why the English would become the worlds greatest sugar consumers and remain so through the early 20 th century alongside the fact that the English had the worlds most productive network of sugar-producing colonies is that they lacked any succulent native fruit, and so had little previous opportunity to accustom themselves to sweet things, as Mediterranean populations did. The sweet savor was more of a novelty to the English, and their first exposure to sugar occasioned a population-wide astonishment.

This is speculation, however, as is the notion that the taste of sugar will soothe distress and stop infants crying, or that consuming sugar will enable adults to work through pain and exhaustion and to assuage starvation aches. If sugar, though, is merely a distraction to the baby and not actively a pain reliever or a psychoactive inducer of pleasure that overcomes any ache, we have to explain why, in clinical trials, it is more effective in allaying the distress of infants than the mothers breast and breast milk itself.


Research literature on the question of whether sugar is addictive and thus a nutritional variant on a drug of abuse is surprisingly sparse. Until the 1970 s, and for the most part since then, mainstream authorities have not considered this question to be particularly relevant to human health. The very limited research allows us to describe what happens when rats and monkeys consume sugar, but were not them and theyre not us. The critical experiments are rarely if ever done on humans, and surely not children, for the obvious ethical reasons: we cant compare how they respond to sugar, cocaine and heroin, for example, to decide which is more addictive.

Sugar does induce the same answers in the region of the brain known as the reward centre as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Craving researchers have come to believe that behaviours required for the survival of a species specifically, eating and sexuality are experienced as pleasurable in this part of the brain, and so we do them again and again. Sugar induces the release of the same neurotransmitters dopamine including with regard to through which the potent effects of these other drugs are mediated. Because the narcotics work this route, humans have learned how to refine their essence into concentrated kinds that heighten the rushed. Coca leaves, for example, are mildly inducing when chewed, but powerfully addictive when refined into cocaine; even more so taken immediately into the lungs when smoked as crack cocaine. Sugar, too, has been refined from its original kind to heighten its rushing and concentrate its effects.

The more we use these substances, the less dopamine we create naturally in the brain. The outcome is that we need more of the medication to get the same pleasurable reaction, while natural pleasures, such as sexuality and eating, please us less and less.

There is little doubt that sugar can allay the physical craving for alcohol, the neurologist James Leonard Corning observed over a century ago. The 12 -step bible of Alcoholics Anonymous recommends the intake of sweets and chocolate in lieu of alcohol when the cravings for drinking originate. Indeed, the per capita consumption of sweets in the US doubled with the beginning of proscription in 1919, as Americans apparently turned en masse from alcohol to sweets.

Sugar and sweets inexorably came to saturate our diets as the annual global production of sugar increased exponentially. By the early 20 th century, sugar had assimilated itself into all aspects of our eating experience, and was being eaten during breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Nutritional authorities were already suggesting what appeared to be obvious: that this increased intake was a product of at least a kind of craving the development of the sugar appetite, which, like any other appetite for instance, the alcohol appetite grows by gratification.

A century subsequently still, sugar has become an ingredient in prepared and packaged foods so ubiquitous it can only be avoided by concerted and decided endeavour. There is sugar not just in the obvious sweet foods cookies, ice creams, chocolates, fizzy beverages, sodas, sports and energy beverages, sweetened iced tea, jams, gelatins and breakfast cereals but also in peanut butter, salad dressing, ketchup, barbecue sauces, canned soups, processed meats, bacon, hot dogs, crisps, roasted peanuts, pasta sauces, tinned tomatoes and breads.

From the 1980 s onwards, manufacturers of products advertised as uniquely healthy because they were low in fat, or specifically in saturated fat, took to replacing those fat calories with sugar to construct them equally, if not more, palatable often disguising the sugar under one or more of the 50 names by which the combination of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup might be found. Fat was removed from candy bars so that they became health-food bars, in spite of added sugar. Fat was removed from yoghurts and sugars added, and these became heart-healthy snacks. It was as though the food industry had decided en masse that, if a product wasnt sweetened at least a little, our modern palates would reject it and we would buy instead a challengers version that was.

For those of us who dont reward our existence with a beverage( and for many of us who do ), its a chocolate bar, a dessert, an ice-cream cone or a Coke( or Pepsi) that makes our day. For those of us who are mothers, sugar and sweets have become the tools we exert to reward our childrens accomplishments, to demonstrate our love and our pride in them, to motivate them, to entice them.

For
For those of us who dont reward our existence with a beverage, its a chocolate bar, a dessert, an ice-cream cone or a Coke( or Pepsi) that induces our day. Photograph: Christopher Stevenson/ Getty Images

The common propensity is, again, to think of this transformation as driven by the mere fact that sugars and sweets savor good. The alternative style to think about this is that sugar took over our diets because the first taste, whether for an infant today or for an adult centuries ago, is a kind of intoxication; its the kindle of a lifelong craving , not identical but analogous of the implications of other medications of abuse.

Because it is a nutrient, and because the conspicuous ills connected to its consumption are benign compared with those of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol at least in the short term and in small doses sugar remained nearly invulnerable to moral, ethical or religion assaults. It also remained invulnerable to assaults on grounds of damage to health.

Nutritionists have found it in themselves to blame our chronic ailments on virtually any part of the diet or surrounding on fats and cholesterol, on protein and meat, on gluten and glycoproteins, growth hormones and oestrogens and antibiotics, on the absence of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and surely on the presence of salt, on processed foods in general, on over-consumption and sedentary behaviour before theyll concede that its even possible that sugar has played a unique role in any way other than merely getting us all to eat too damn much. And so, when a few informed authorities over the years did indeed risk their credibility by suggesting sugar was to blame, their words had little impact on the beliefs of their colleagues or on the eating habits of a population that had come to rely on sugar and sweets as the rewards for the sufferings of daily life.


So how do we establish a safe level of sugar consumption? In 1986, the US Food and Drug Administration( FDA) concluded that most experts considered sugar safe. And when the relevant research communities settled on caloric imbalance as the cause of obesity and saturated fat as the dietary cause of heart disease, the clinical trials necessary to begin to answer this question was ever pursued.

The traditional response to the how-little-is-too-much question is that we should feed sugar in moderation not eat too much of it. But we only know were devouring too much when were get fatter or showing other symptoms of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

Insulin resistance is the fundamental defect present in type 2 diabetes, and perhaps obesity too. Those who are obese and diabetic also tend to be hypertensive; they have a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes, and perhaps dementia and even Alzheimers as well. If sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are the cause of obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance, then theyre also the most likely dietary trigger of these other diseases. Set simply: without these sugars in our diets, the cluster of related illnesses would be far less common than it is today.

Metabolic syndrome ties together a host of disorders that the medical community typically thought of as unrelated, or at least having separate and distinct causes including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and inflammation as products of insulin resistance and high circulating insulin levels. Regulatory systems throughout the body started to misbehave, with slow, chronic, pathological outcomes everywhere.

Once we have observed the symptoms of consuming too much sugar, the hypothesi is that we can dial it back a little and be fine drink one or two sugary liquors a day instead of three; or, if were parenting, allow most children ice cream on weekends merely, tell, rather than as a daily treat. But if it takes years or decades, or even generations, for us to get to the phase which is something we display symptoms of metabolic disorder, its quite possible that even these apparently moderate sums of sugar will turn out to be too much for us to be able to reverse the situation and return us to health. And if the symptom that shows first is something other than get fatter cancer, for instance were truly out of luck.

The authorities who argue for moderation in our eating habits tend to be individuals who are relatively lean and healthy; they define moderation as what works for them. This assumes that the same approach and amount will have the same beneficial impact on all of us. If it doesnt, of course, if we fail to remain lean and healthy or our children fail to do so, the premise is that weve failed we ate too much sugar, or most children did.

If it takes 20 years of devouring sugar for the consequences to appear, how can we know whether weve devoured too much before its too late? Isnt it more reasonable to decide early in life( or early in parenting) that not too much is as little as possible?

Sugar
Sugar and sweets have become the tools we wield to reward our childrens accomplishments, to demonstrate our love and our pride in their own homes, to motivate them, to seduce them. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Any discussion of how little sugar is too much also has to account for the possibility that sugar is a drug and perhaps addictive. Trying to ingest sugar in moderation, however its defined, in a world in which substantial sugar intake is the norm and virtually unavoidable, is likely to be no more successful for some of us than trying to smoking cigarettes in moderation merely a few a day, rather than a whole pack. Even if we can avoid any meaningful chronic impacts by cutting down, we may not be capable of managing our habits, or managing our habits might become the dominant theme in our lives. Some of us certainly find it easier to ingest no sugar than to eat a little no dessert at all, rather than a spoonful or two before pushing the plate to the side.

If sugar consumption is a slippery slope, then advocating moderation is not a meaningful concept.


In my own mind, I maintain returning to a few observations unscientific as they may be that induce me topic the validity of any definition of moderation in the context of sugar consumption.

The roots of the modern discussion on sugar and illnes can be traced to the early 1670 s. Thomas Willis, medical consultant to the duke of York and King Charles II , noted an increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the affluent patients of his practise. The pissing evil, he called it, and became the first European physician to diagnose the sweet savour of diabetic urine wonderfully sweet like sugar or hon[ e] y. Williss identification of diabetes and the sweetness of the urine happens to coincide with both the first flowing of sugar into England from its Caribbean colonies, and the first employ of sugar to sweeten tea.

Other observations that resonate with me when I wrestle with the concept of moderation include one of Frederick Slares commentaries in 1715, in his article Vindication of Sugars Against the Charges of Dr Willis. At a period when sugar was just beginning to be more widely eaten in England, Slare noted that women who cared about their figures but were inclining are far too fat might want to avoid sugar, because it may dispose them to be fatter than they desire to be. When Slare made his observation, the English were ingesting, on average, perhaps 5lb of sugar a year. The US FDA research indicates we now ingest 42 lb a year.

We have to acknowledge that the evidence against sugar is not definitive, obliging though I personally find it to be. Lets tell we haphazardly designated someones in our population to eat a modern diet with or without sugar in it. Since virtually all processed foods have sugar added or, like most bread, are hit with sugar, the population that is asked to avoid sugar would simultaneously be avoiding nearly all processed foods as well. They would dramatically reduce their intake of what journalist Michael Pollan, writer of books on food, agriculture and drugs, has memorably called food-like substances, and if they were healthier, there would now be a host of possible reasons set out above. Perhaps they feed fewer refined grains of any kind, less gluten, fewer trans fats, preservatives or artificial spices? We would have no practical way to know for sure.

We could try to reformulate all these foods so that they are made without sugar, but then they wont savour the same unless, of course, we replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners. Our population randomised to ingest as little sugar as is practicable is likely to lose weight, but we wont know if it happened since they are consume less sugar, or fewer calories of all sorts. Indeed, virtually all dietary advice suffers from this same complication: whether youre trying to avoid gluten, trans fats, saturated fats or refined carbohydrates of all types, or just trying to cut calories feed less and feed healthily an objective outcome of this advice is that youre often avoiding processed foods containing sugar and a host of other ingredients.

Artificial sweeteners as a replacing for sugar muddy these waters even more. Much of the anxiety about these sweeteners was generated in the 60 s and 70 s by the research, partly funded by the sugar industry, that led to the banning of the artificial sweetener cyclamate as a possible carcinogen, and the suggestion that saccharin could cause cancer( at least in rats, at extraordinarily high dosages ). Though this particular nervousnes has faded with period, it has been replaced by the suggestion that maybe these artificial sweeteners can cause metabolic disorder, and thus obesity and diabetes.

This suggestion comes primarily from epidemiological studies that show an association between the use of artificial sweeteners and obesity and diabetes. But it is likely that people who are predisposed to gain weight and become diabetic are alsoes the people who use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.

As Philip Handler, then head of the US National Academies of Sciences, described in 1975, what we want to know is whether employing artificial sweeteners over a lifetime or even a few years or decades is better or worse for us than however much sugar we would have ingested instead. Its hard for me to imagine that sugar would have been the healthier selection. If the goal is to get down sugar, then replacing it with artificial sweeteners is one route to do it.

The research community can definitely do a much better task than it has in the past of testing all these questions. But we may have a very long wait before the public-health authorities money such studies and devote us the definitive answers we attempt. What do we do until then?

Ultimately, the question of how much is too much becomes a personal decision, just as we all choose as adults what level of alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes well ingest. Enough proof exists for us to consider sugar very likely to be a toxic substance, and to make an informed decision about how best to balance the likely risks with the benefits. To know what those benefits are, though, it helps to see how life feelings without sugar. Former cigarette smokers( of which I am one) will tell you that it was not feasible for them to comprehend intellectually or emotionally what life would be like without cigarettes until they cease; that through weeks or months or even years, it was a constant conflict. Then, one day, they reached a phase at which they couldnt imagine smoking a cigarette and couldnt imagine why they had ever smoked, let alone saw it desirable.

A similar experience is likely to be true of sugar but until we try to live without it, until we try to sustain that endeavor for more than days, or just a few weeks, well never know.

This is an edited extract from The Case Against Sugar, published by Portobello Books( 14.99 ). To order a copy for 12.29 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846 .

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‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about day

2 months, 2 days ago

Carlo Rovelli tells Charlotte Higgins about his days as a student revolutionary and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip

What do we are all familiar with hour? Language tells us that it ” passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, cleans us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Day flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or sneaks or slackens or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or sceneries. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, day passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins of the Sun’s chariot, since he would whip up the horses and” bring in cloudy night immediately “. When we wake from a vivid dreaming we are dimly recognizing also that the feeling of day we have just experienced is illusory.

Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field. His volume Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, with its concise, sparkling essays on topics such as black holes and quantum, has sold 1.3 m copies worldwide. Now arrives The Order of Time, a dizzying, poetic work in which I received myself abandoning everything I believed I knew about time- surely the idea that it “flows”, and even that it exists at all, in any profound sense.

We meet outside the church of San Petronio in Bologna, where Rovelli studied. (” I like to say that, just like Copernicus, I was an undergraduate at Bologna and a graduate at Padua ,” he jokes .) A cheery, compact fellow in his early 60 s, Rovelli is in nostalgic mood. He lives in Marseille, where, since 2010, he has run the quantum gravitation group at the Centre de physique theorique. Before that, he was in the US, at the University of Pittsburgh, for a decade.

Carlo Carlo Rovelli in Bologna. Photo: Roberto Serra/ Iguana Press/ G/ Iguana Press/ Getty Images

He rarely visits Bologna, and “hes having” been catching up with old friends. We wander towards the university area. Piazza Verdi is flocked with a lively mob of students. There are flags and graffiti and banners, too- anti-fascist slogans, something in support of the Kurds, a sign enjoining passers-by not to forget Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge PhD student killed in Egypt in 2016.

” In my day it was roadblocks and police ,” he tells. He was a passionate student activist, back then. What did he and his pals want?” Small things! We wanted a world without borders, without nation, without war, without religion, without family, without school, without private property .”

He was, he says now, too radical, and it was hard, trying to share possessions, trying to live without resentment. And then there was the LSD. He took it a few times. And it turned out to be the seed of his interest in physics generally, and in the question of day specifically.” It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually ,” he recollects.” Among the strange phenomena was the sense of hour stopping. Things were happening in my intellect but the clock was not plan ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality. He had hallucinations of misshapen objects, of bright and dazzling colours- but also remembers supposing during the experience, actually asking himself what was going on.

” And I supposed:’ Well, it’s a chemical that is changing things in my brain. But how do I know that the usual perception is right, and this is wrong? If these two ways of perceiving are so different, what does it mean that one is the correct one ?'” The way he talks about LSD is, in fact, quite similar to his description of reading Einstein as a student, on a sun-baked Calabrian beach, and appearing up from his volume imagining the world not as it appeared to him every day, but as the wild and undulating spacetime that the great physicist described. Reality, to quote the title of one of his volumes, is not what it seems.

He dedicated his conservative, Veronese parents a bit of a fright, he tells. His father , now in his 90 s, was surprised when young Carlo’s lecturers said he was actually doing all right, despite the long hair and revolutionary politics and the occasional brush with the police. It was after the optimistic sense of student revolution in Italy came to an abrupt end with the kidnapping and murder of the former prime minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978 that Rovelli began to take physics severely. But his route to his big academic career was circuitous and unconventional.” Nowadays everyone is worried because there is no work. When I was young, the problem was how to avoid work. I did not want to become part of the’ productive system ‘,” he says.

Academia, then, seemed like a way of avoiding the world of a conventional undertaking, and for some years he followed his curiosity without a sense of careerist aspiration. He went to Trento in northern Italy to join a research group he was interested in, sleeping in his auto for a few months (” I’d get a rain in government departments to be decent “). He went to London, because he was interested in the work of Chris Isham, and then to the US, to be near physicists such as Abhay Ashtekar and Lee Smolin.” My first paper was horrendously late compared to what a young person would have to do now. And this was a privilege- I knew more things, there was more day .”

Albert Albert Einstein ran at the Swiss patent office for seven years:’ That worldly cloister where I hatched my most wonderful ideas .’ Photograph: Keystone/ Getty Images

The popular volumes, too, have come relatively late, after his academic analyze of quantum gravitation, published in 2004. If Seven Brief Lessons was a lucid primer, The Order of Time takes things further; it deals with” what I really do in science, what I really think in depth, what is important for me “.

Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words,” quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quantum “.

Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work. Rovelli’s field of loop hypothesi, or loop quantum gravitation, offers a possible answer to the problem, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops.

String theory offers another, different road towards is solved. When I ask him what he thinks about the possibility that his loop quantum gravitation work may be wrong, he gently explains that being wrong isn’t the phase; being part of the conversation is the purpose. And anyway,” If you ask who had the longest and most striking list of results it’s Einstein without any doubt. But if you ask who is the scientist who constructed most mistakes, it’s still Einstein .”

How does hour fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago depicted, is relative- hour passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s terms,” part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space “.

For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception. We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of hour is inextricably linked to the way hot behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know merely the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flowing of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics.

String String theory offers an alternative to Rovelli’s work in loop quantum gravity.

Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy- the measure of the disordering of things. Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future- there is more ailment, there are more potentials. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, hot, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it.” If I find the microscopic nation of things ,” writes Rovelli,” then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between’ cause’ and’ effect ‘.”

To understand this properly, I can indicate merely that you read Rovelli’s books, and pass swiftly over this approximation by someone who gave up school physics lessons joyfully at the first possible possibility. However, it turns out that I am precisely Rovelli’s perfect reader, or one of them, and he seems quite delighted when I check my freshly acquired understanding of the concept of entropy with him. (” You passed the quiz ,” he tells .)

” I try to write at several levels ,” he explains.” I think about the person who not only doesn’t know anything about physics but is also not interested. So I guess I am talking to my grandmother, who was a housekeeper. I also think some young students of physics are reading it, and I also think some of my colleagues are reading it. So I try to talk at different levels, but I keep the person who knows nothing in my mind .”

His biggest fans are the blank slates, like me, and his colleagues at universities- he gets most criticism from people in the middle,” those who know a bit of physics “. He is also pretty down on school physics. (” Calculating the speed at which a ball falls- who cares? In another life, I’d like to write a school physics volume ,” he tells .) And he believes the division of the world into the” two cultures” of natural sciences and human sciences is” stupid. It’s like taking England and dividing the children into groups, and you tell one group about music, and one group about literature, and the one who gets music is not allowed to read novels and the one who does literature is not allowed to listen to music .”

The joy of his writing is its broad culture compass. Historicism dedicates an initial hand-hold on the material.( He teaches a course on history of science, where he likes to bring science and humanities students together .) And then there’s the fact that alongside Einstein, Ludwig Boltzmann and Roger Penrose appear figures such as Proust, Dante, Beethoven, and, especially, Horace– each chapter begins with an epigraph from the Roman poet- as if to ground us in human sentiment and feeling before departing for the vertiginous world of black holes and spinfoam and cloud of probabilities.

” He has a side that is intimate, lyrical and highly intense; and he is the great singer of the pas of hour ,” Rovelli says.” There’s a feeling of nostalgia – it’s not anguish, it’s not regret – it’s a feeling of’ Let’s live life intensely ‘. A good friend of mine, Ernesto, who died quite young, gave me a little volume of Horace, and I have carried it around with me all my life .”

Rovelli’s view is that there is no contradiction between a vision of the universe that builds human life seem small and irrelevant, and our everyday regrets and elations. Or indeed between” cold science” and our inner, spiritual lives.” We are part of nature, and so joy and sorrow are aspects of nature itself- nature is much richer than just decides of atoms ,” he tells me. There’s a moment in Seven Lessons when he compares physics and poetry: both try to describe the unseen. It might be added that physics, when departing from its native language of mathematical equations, relies strongly on metaphor and analogy. Rovelli has a gift for memorable comparings. He tells us, for example, when explaining that the smooth “flow” of day is an illusion, that” The events of the world do not form an orderly queue like the English, they crowd around chaotically like the Italians .” The conception of period, he tells,” has lost layers one after another, piece by piece “. We are left with” an empty windswept scenery virtually devoid of all trace of temporality … a world stripped to its essence, glittering with an arid and troubling beauty “.

More than anything else I’ve ever read, Rovelli reminds me of Lucretius, the first-century BCE Roman author of the epic-length poem, On the Nature of Things. Perhaps not so odd, since Rovelli is a fan. Lucretius correctly hypothesised the existence of atoms, a hypothesi that would remain unproven until Einstein demonstrated it in 1905, and even as late as the 1890 s was being written off as absurd.

What Rovelli shares with Lucretius is not only a magnificence of language, but also a sense of humankind’s place in nature- at once a part of the fabric of the universe, and in a specific position to marvel at its great beauty. It’s a rationalist opinion: one that holds that by better understanding the universe, by disposing false belief and superstition, one might be able to enjoy a kind of serenity. Though Rovelli the man also acknowledges that the stuff of humanity is love, and dread, and desire, and passion: all made meaningful by our brief lives; our tiny span of allotted time.

The Order of Time is published by Allen Lane. To order a copy for PS9. 75( RRP PS1 2.99) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Telephone orders min p& p of PS1. 99.

Jonathan Safran Foer: technology is decreasing us

2 months, 20 days ago

Have you procured yourself checking email at dinner, or skipping from book to screen, unable to focus? The closer the world gets to our fingertips, the more we stand to lose

The first time my father looked at me was on a screen, utilizing technology developed to detect flaws in the hulls of ships. His father, my grandfather, could only remainder his hand on my grandmothers belly and imagine his infant in his intellect. But by the time I was conceived, my fathers imagination was provide guidance to technology that dedicated shape to sound waves rippling off my body.

The Glasgow-based Anglican obstetrician Ian Donald, who in the 1950 s helped bring ultrasound technology from shipyard to doctors office, had devoted himself to the task out of a belief that the images would increase empathy for the unborn, and attain girls less likely to choose abortions. The technology has furthermore been used, though, to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because of deformity, because the mother wants a child of a certain sexuality. Whatever the intended and actual effects, it is clear that the now iconic black and white images of our bodies before we are born mediate life and death. But what prepares us to stimulate life-and-death decisions?

My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first infant before birth. I created the questions with my uncle, a gynaecologist “whos been” delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly , not to find out. He said, If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.

I dont believe in miracles, but I followed his advice, and he was right. One neednt believes in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them.

Jonathan
One neednt believe in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them Jonathan Safran Foer Photograph: Emily Berl/ Getty Images Portrait

Psychologists who examine empathy and compassion are finding that, unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to see the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. Simply put, the more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the cost of depth redefining text from what fills the hundreds of pages of a fiction, to a line of words and emoticons on a phones screen the less likely and able we are to care. Thats not even a statement about the relative worth of the contents of a fiction and a text, only about the time we spend with each.

We know that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. You wont risk killing anyone if you use your phone while eating a snack, or having a dialogue, or waiting on a bench, which means you will allow yourself to be distracted. Everyone wants his parents, or friends, or partners undivided attention even if many of us , especially children, are get are applied to far less. Simone Weil wrote that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

Novels demand many things of readers, but the most obvious is attention. I can do any number of other activities while watching a TV reveal or listening to music, and I can carry on a conversation with a friend while at an art gallery, but reading a novel demands putting everything else aside. To read a book is to devote oneself to the book. Novels always trafficking in human empathy, always bringing the other closer, always ask us to transcend our perspectives, but isnt that attention, itself, a generous act? Generous toward ourselves?

*

My father was not present for his childrens births it was customary, then, for men to be in the waiting room. I witnessed my sons being born. My experience was richer, deeper, more memorable and fulfilling than my fathers. Being physically present allowed me to be emotionally present.

We think of technologies as wielders of information and manipulators of matter. Google, we all know, is in the business as they put it of organising and making accessible the worlds info. Other technologies are more earthy the car propels us over land at speeds our legs cannot reach, and the bomb allows us to kill many adversaries in ways our bare hands cannot.

But technologies are not only effective at attaining or thwarting the aims of those who encounter them, but are affective. Technology is not strictly technological. I love you the same I love you issuing from the same person with the same honesty and depth will resonate differently over the phone than in a handwritten letter, than in a text message. The tone and rhythm of voice craft the words, as does the texture and colour of stationery, as does the glowing typeface of the text chosen by our mobile phone manufacturer. We love our Macs more than our PCs because Apple was more interested in harnessing and inflecting the affective resonances of its technology and in restricting a smaller coterie of upper-class to guard and guide these affects so as to create a distinctive ecosystem. We find ourselves played with smartphones in a manner that is we never did with the functional handle of a traditional landline phone because, whereas the first telephone devised by engineers supposing in functional terms, the phones in our pockets nowadays are always built in dialogue with marketers who have carefully noted how colour and curve, brightness and texture, heft and size make us feel.

We consumers forget that technology always plugs into and creates certain affects, the building blocks of emotions, as well as full-blown emotional experiences. We forget this, but successful companies do not. They remember and profit staggeringly. We forget at the expense of who we are.

Most of our communication technologies began as substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldnt always watch one another face to face, so the phone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a message possible without the person or persons being near their phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster and more mobile messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements on face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if lessened, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: we began to opt the diminished replaces. Its easier to make a phone call than to stimulate the effort to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someones machine is easier than having a phone conversation you can say what you need to say without a answer; its easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up. Shooting off an email is easier still, because one can further conceal behind the is a lack of vocal intonation, and of course theres no chance of accidentally catching person. With texting, the high expectations for articulateness is further reduced, and the other shell is offered to hide in. Each step forward has constructed it easier simply a little to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey datum rather than humanity.

The problem with accepting with preferring lessened replaces is that, over day, we too become diminished replaces. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little. Or simply feeling whats been designed and sold to us to feel.

The novel has never stood in such stark opposition to the culture that surrounds it. A book is the opposite of Facebook: it requires us to be less connected. It is the opposite of Google: not only inefficient, but at its best, useless. Screens offer a apparently endless supply of information, but the true value of the page is not what it allows us to know, but how it allows us to be known.

*

Like so many people I know, Ive been concerned that telephones and the internet have, in subtle ways, attained life less rich, provided bright pleasures at the expense of deep ones, have distracted me, made concentration more difficult, led me to be elsewhere far too often. Ive received myself checking email while giving my children a bath, jumping over to the internet when a sentence or notion doesnt gone effortlessly in my write, searching for tint on a beautiful springtime day so I can see the screen of my phone. Have you?

Have you found yourself putting loved ones on hold so you could click over to a call from an unidentified number? Have you found yourself conflating aloneness with loneliness? Have you find your relationship to distraction reversing: what was once a annoyance is now attempted?

Do you want to click over to the other call, want to have an email to have to respond to, want even crave the ping of an incoming, inconsequential message?

Isnt it possible that technology, in the forms in which it has entered our everyday lives, has decreased us? And isnt it possible that its getting worse? Almost all new technology causes alarm in its early days, and humen generally adapt to it. So perhaps no resistance is necessary. But if it were, where would it come from, and what would it look like?

With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and starvation, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving? Merely someone with no imagination, and no anchor in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. Its possible that many reading these terms will never die.

Lets assume, though, that we all have a defined number of days to indent the world with our faiths, to find and generate the beauty that merely a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers. We often use technology to save period, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or builds the saved period less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. Its not an either/ or situation being anti-technology is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly pro-technology but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

One day, nanomachines will see weaknesses in our hearts long before any symptoms would bring us to a doctor. And other nanomachines will repair our hearts without our feeling any pain, losing any time or spending any fund. But it will only feel like a miracle if we are still capable of feeling miracles which is to say, if our hearts are worth saving.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is published by Hamish Hamilton. To order a copy for 16( RRP 20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.

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Isis is as much an offshoot of our global civilisation as Google

3 months, 2 days ago

In the wake of terror attacks, and as Europe unravels, it feels as if we live in divided periods. But civilisation is more united than ever. The challenges facing the future climate change, AI, biotechnology will only bring us closer

Recent events in the Middle East and Europe seem to breathe fresh life into the conflict of civilisations thesis. Western incursions into the Middle East have triggered an Islamic backlash that has driven millions of Muslim refugees westwards and inspired terrorist attacks from Orlando to Nice; now the EU is unravelling as European voters abandon multicultural dreams in favour of xenophobic local identities. Allegedly, this has happened because the west has chosen to ignore the deep logic of history. According to the clash of civilisations thesis, humankind has always been is split into diverse civilisations whose members view the world in different and often irreconcilable styles. These incompatible world view stimulate conflicts between civilisations inevitable, and these conflicts in turn fuel long-term historical processes. Just as in nature different species fight for survival, so throughout history civilisations are systematically clashed, and merely the fittest have survived. Those who overlook this grim fact do so at their peril.

The clash of civilisations thesis has far-reaching political implications. Its supporters contend that any endeavor at reconciliation among the west and the Muslim world is doomed to failure. They further maintain that the EU can work only if it renounces the multicultural fallacy in favour of an unabashed western identity. In the long run, only one culture can survive the unforgiving tests of natural selection, and if the EU refuses to save western civilization from Islamic State and its ilk, Britain had better go it alone.

Though widely held, this thesis is mislead. Isis may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the civilisation it challenges is a global civilisation rather than a uniquely western phenomenon. Not for nothing has Isis managed to unite Iran with the United States, and to make rare common ground between Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. And even Isis, for all its medieval rhetoric, is grounded in contemporary global culture far more than in seventh-century Arabia; it caters to the fears and hopes of alienated, postmodern youth rather than to those of medieval shepherds and merchants. In pure organisational words, Isis has more in common with a large corporation like Google than with the Umayyad caliphate. The surest sign of a real clash of civilisations is reciprocal incomprehension. Isis, in contrast, sees its enemies only too well otherwise, its propaganda would not have been so effective. It is better, hence, to see Isis as an errant outgrowth of the global culture we all share, rather than as a branch of some mysterious alien tree.

Crucially, the analogy between history and biology that underpins the conflict of civilisations thesis is false. Human groups including human civilisations are basically different from animal species, and historic conflicts differ greatly from natural selection processes. Animal species have objective identities that suffer for thousands of generations. Whether you are a chimpanzee or a gorilla depends on your genes rather than your notions, and different genes dictate diverse social behaviour. Chimpanzees live in mixed groups of males and females. They compete for power by building coalitions of supporters among both sexualities. Among gorillas, in contrast, a single dominant male establishes a harem of females, and usually expels any adult male that might challenge his position. As far as we know, the same social systems have characterised chimps and gorillas not only in recent decades, but for hundreds of thousands of years.

You find nothing like that among humans. Yes, human groups may have distinct social systems, but these are not genetically ascertained, and they seldom endure for more than a few centuries. Think of 20th-century Germans, for example. In fewer than 100 years, the Germans organised themselves into six most varied systems: the Hohenzollern empire, the Weimar republic, the Third Reich, Communist East Germany, the federal republic of West Germany, and finally democratic reunited Germany. Of course they kept their language and love of beer. But is there some unique German essence that recognise their country from all other nations, and that has remained unchanged from Wilhelm II to Angela Merkel? And if you do come up with something, was it also there back in the working day of Goethe, of Martin Luther and of Frederick Barbarossa?

Alex
What will happen when computers replace people in an increasing number of jobs? Alex Proyass I, Robot from 2004 Photo: Allstar

The Preamble of the European Constitution( 2004) begins by stating that it describes inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law. This may easily give one the impression that European civilisation is defined by these values. Countless speeches and documents depict a direct line from ancient Athenian democracy to the present-day EU, celebrating 2,500 years of European freedom and republic. This is reminiscent of the proverbial blind man taking hold of an elephants tail and concluding that an elephant is a kind of brush. Athenian democracy was a half-hearted experiment that survived for scarcely 200 years in a small corner of the Balkans. If European civilisation for the last 25 centuries has been defined by republic and human rights, what are we to build of Sparta and Julius Caesar, the Crusaders and Conquistadores, the Inquisition and the slave trade, Louis XIV and Goebbels, Lenin and Mussolini?

European civilisation is anything Europeans stimulate of it, just as Christianity is anything Christians make of it. And they have made remarkably different things of it over the centuries. Human groups are defined more by the changes they undergo than by any continuity, but they nevertheless manage to create for themselves ancient identities thanks to their storytelling abilities. No matter what revolutions they survive, they can weave old and new into a single yarn. Even an individual may knit revolutionary personal changes into a coherent life story: I am that person who was once a socialist, but became a capitalist; I was born in Senegal, and now live in France; I wedded, then got divorced; I had cancer, and then got well again.

Similarly, a human group such as the Germans may come to define itself by the very changes it has lived through: Once “were in” Nazis, but we have learned our lesson, and now we are peaceful democrats. You dont need to look for some unique German essence that showed itself first in Hitler and then in Merkel: this revolutionary transformation itself constructs the Germans who they are.

Isis, too, may uphold an allegedly unchanging Muslim identity, but their story of Islam is a brand new tale. Yes, they used some venerable Muslim texts and traditions to concoct it, but if I bake a cake from flour, oil and sugar that have been sitting in my pantry for the past two months, does it mean the cake itself is two months old? Conversely, those who dismiss Isis as un-Islamic or even anti-Islamic are equally mistaken: Islam has no DNA. Just as with Christianity, Islam is whatever Muslims make of it.

Palmyra
Isis wrecked the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/ Tass

Yet there is an even deeper change distinguishing human groups from animal species. Species often split, but never merge. About seven million years ago, chimpanzees and gorillas had common ancestors. This single ancestral species split into two populations that eventually ran their separate, evolutionary styles. Once this happened, there was no going back. Since individuals belonging to different species cannot make fertile offspring together, species can never merge. Gorillas cant merge with chimps, giraffes cant merge with elephants, and puppies cant merge with cats.

Human tribes, in contrast, tend to coalesce over time into larger and larger groups. Modern Germans were created from the merger of Saxons, Prussians, Swabians and Bavarians, which not so long ago wasted little love on one another.The French were created from the merger of Franks, Normans, Bretons, Gascons and Provencals. Meanwhile across the Channel, English, Scots, Welsh and Irish gradually came together( willingly or not) to form Britons. In the not too distant future, Germans, French and Britons might yet merge into Europeans.

Mergers dont always last, as people in London, Edinburgh and Brussels are well aware these days. Brexit may well initiate the simultaneous unravel of both the EU and the UK. But in the long run, historys direction is clear-cut. Ten thousand years ago humankind was divided into countless isolated tribes. With each passing millennium, these merged into larger and larger groups, making fewer and fewer distinct civilisations. In recent generations the few remaining civilisations have been merging into a single global community. Political and ethnic divisions suffer, but they do not undermine the fundamental unity. Indeed, some divisions are attained possible merely by an over-arching common structure.

***

The process of human unification has taken two distinct sorts: weak heterogeneous unification and strong homogeneous unification. The weaker heterogeneous sort involves creating ties between previously unrelated groups. The groups may continue to have different beliefs and practices, but are no longer independent of one another. From this perspective, even war is a bond perhaps the strongest bond of all. Ten thousand years ago , no tribe in America had any quarrel with Middle Eastern foes, and no African clan bore grudges towards any European. In contrast, during the second world war, people born on the coast of the Mississippi went to their demises on Pacific islands and European grasslands, while recruits from the heart of Africa fell opposing among French vineyards and Alpine snows.

Historians often argue that globalisation reached a first peak in 1913, then went into a long deterioration during the era of the world wars and the cold war, and recuperated merely after 1989. They fear that new conflicts may again set globalisation into reverse gear. This may be true of economic globalisation, but it ignores the different but equally important dynamics of military globalisation. War spreads notions, technologies and people far more quickly than commerce. War also makes people far more interested in one another.Never had the US been more closely in touch with Russia than during the cold war, when every cough in a Moscow corridor send people scrambling up and down Washington staircases. People care far more about their foes than about their trade partners. For every US film about Thailand, there are probably 20 about Vietnam. The global war on terror simply continues the process of military globalisation.

A
Photograph: Benoit Tessier/ Reuters

Nowadays, the global unity of conflict is perhaps most apparent on the internet, where Isis and the drug cartels are scratching shoulders with Google and Facebook, and YouTube offers funny cat videos alongside instructions on how to build bombs. Islamic fanatics, murderous drug dealers and geeky hackers dont exist on unrelated planets; they share the same global cyberspace. All are thrilled by the blockchain technology that gave us the bitcoin; all count on easy accessibility via ubiquitous smartphones, and all are antagonised by national governments attempting to wrest control of the net.

Yet the world of the early 21 st century has gone way beyond the heterogeneous unity of conflict. People across the globe are not only influenced by each other, they increasingly share identical beliefs and practices. A thousand years ago, planet Earth was home to dozens of different political models. In Europe you could find feudal principalities vying with independent city states and minuscule theocracies. The Muslim world had its caliphate, claiming universal sovereignty, but also experimented with kingdoms, emirates and sultanates. The Chinese empire believed itself to be the sole legitimate political entity, while to its north and west tribal confederacies fought each other with mirth. India and south-east Asia contained a kaleidoscope of regimes, whereas polities in America, Africa and Australasia ranged from tiny hunter-gatherer bands to sprawling empires. No wonder even neighbouring human groups had difficulty agreeing on diplomatic practices , not to mention international laws. Each society had its own political paradigm, and saw it difficult to understand let alone respect alien political concepts.

Today, in contrast, a single political paradigm is accepted everywhere. The planet is divided between nearly 200 sovereign countries, which generally agree on the same diplomatic protocols and on common international laws. Sweden, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Paraguay are all marked on our world maps as the same kind of colourful shapes; they are all members of the UN; and despite myriad differences they are all recognised as monarch states enjoying similar rights and privileges. Indeed, they share many more political ideas and practices, including at least a token belief in representative bodies, universal suffrage and human rights. When Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Ukrainians, or Kurds and Turks court global public opinion, they all use the same discourse of human rights, state sovereignty and international law.

The world may be peppered with various types of failed countries, but it knows merely one paradigm for a successful country. Global politics follows the Anna Karenina principle: healthy nations are all alike, but every failed nation fails “in ones own” way, by missing this or that ingredient of the dominant political package. Isis stands out in its complete rejection of this package, and its attempt to establish an entirely different kind of political entity a universal caliphate. But it is unlikely to succeed precisely for this reason. Numerous guerrilla forces and terror organisations have managed to establish new countries or subdue existing ones, but they have always done so by accepting the fundamental principles of the global political order. Even the Taliban sought international recognition as the legitimate government of the sovereign country of Afghanistan. No group rejecting the principles set out in global politics has so far gained lasting control of a significant territory.

***

In pre-modern times, humen experimented not only with diverse political blueprints, but with a mind-boggling variety of economic models. Russian boyars , Hindu maharajas, Chinese mandarins and Amerindian tribal chiefs had very different ideas about fund and taxation, and none was even well informed the existence of such a thing as the economy. Nowadays, in contrast, almost everybody believes in somewhat different differences on the same capitalist topic, and we are all cogs within a single global production line. Whether you live in Mongolia, New Zealand or Bolivia, your daily routines and economic fortunes depend on the same economic hypothesis, the same corporations and banks, and the same currents of capital. When ministers of finance or bank directors from China, Russia, Brazil and India meet, they have a common language, and can easily understand and sympathise with their equivalents woes.

When Isis subdued large parts of Syria and Iraq, it murdered tens of thousands of people, demolished archaeological sites, toppled statues and systematically destroyed the emblems of previous regimes and of western culture influence. Yet when Isis fighters entered the banks and discovered hoards of US dollars covered with the faces of American presidents and English slogans praising American political and religion ideals, they did not burn these dollars. For the dollar bill is universally venerated across all political and religion divides. Though it has no intrinsic value you cannot eat or drink a dollar bill trust in the dollar and in the wisdom of the Federal Reserve is so firm it is shared even by Islamic fundamentalists, Mexican drug lords and North Korean tyrants.

Doctors
Doctor all over the word will dispense similar medicines made by the same narcotic companies Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Yet the homogeneity of contemporary humanity is most apparent when it comes to our view of the natural environment and of the human body. If you fell sick in 1016, it mattered a great deal where you lived. In Europe, the resident clergyman would probably tell you that you had made God angry, and that in order to regain your health, you should donate something to the church, make a pilgrimage to a sacred site, and pray fervently for Gods forgiveness. Alternatively, the village witch might explain that a demon had possessed you, and that she could cast the demon out employing song, dance and the blood of a black cockerel. In the Countries of the middle east, doctors brought up on classical traditions might explain that your four bodily humours were out of balance, and you could harmonise them anew with a proper diet and foul-smelling potions. In India, Ayurvedic experts would offer their own theories concerning the balance between the three bodily components known as doshas , and recommend a therapy of herbs, massages and exercisings. Chinese physicians, Siberian shamans, African witch doctors, Amerindian medication humen every empire, kingdom and tribe had its own traditions and experts, each espousing different opinions about the human body and the nature of sickness, and each offering its own cornucopia of rituals, concoctions and remedies. Some of them worked astonishingly well; others were little short of a death penalty. The one thing that united European, Chinese, African and American medical conditions was that everywhere at least a third of people was dead before adulthood, and nowhere did median life expectancy outstrip 40.

Today, if you are taken ill, it builds far less change where you live. In Toronto, Tokyo, Tehran or Tel Aviv, you will be taken to similar-looking hospitals, where you will satisfy doctors who learned the same scientific hypothesis in not-too-different medical colleges. They will follow identical protocols and use identical exams to reach very similar diagnosis. They will then dispense similar medicines made by the same drug companies. There are still some minor culture changes, but Canadian, Japanese, Iranian and Israeli physicians hold much the same views about the human body and human illness. After Isis captured Raqqa and Mosul, it did not tear down the hospitals; instead, it launched an appeal to Muslim doctors and nurses throughout the world to volunteer their services there. Presumably, even Isis doctors and nurses believe that the body is made of cells, that diseases are caused by pathogens, and that antibiotics kill bacteria.

And what builds up these cells and bacteria? Indeed, what makes up the entire world? Back in 1016, every culture had its own narrative about the universe, and about the fundamental ingredients of the cosmic soup. Today, learned people throughout the world believe exactly the same things about matter, energy, period and space. Take, for example, Irans nuclear programme. The whole problem with it is that the Iranians is precisely the same view of physics as the Israelis and Americans. If the Iranians believed that E= mc, Israel would not care an iota about their nuclear programme.

People still claim to believe in different things. But when it comes to the really important stuff how to build a country, an economy, a hospital, or a weapon almost all of us belong to the same civilisation. There are disagreements , no doubt, but then all civilisations have their internal disagreements indeed, they are defined by these disagreements. When trying to outline their identity, people often make a grocery list of common traits. They would fare much better if they made a listing of common conflicts and dilemmas instead. In 1940, Britain and Germany had most varied traits, yet they were both part and parcel of western civilisation. Churchill wasnt more western than Hitler; instead, the struggle between them defined what it meant to be western at that particular moment in history. In contrast, a ! Kung hunter-gatherer in 1940 wasnt western, because the internal western conflict about race and empire would have constructed little sense to him.

The people we oppose most often are our own family members. Identity is defined by conflicts and dilemmas more than by agreements. What does it mean to be European in 2016? It doesnt mean to have white scalp, to believe in Jesus Christ, or to uphold autonomy. Instead, it means to argue vehemently about immigration, about the EU, and about the limits of capitalism. It also means to obsessively ask yourself What defines my identity? and to worry about an ageing population, about rampant consumerism and about global warming without actually knowing what to do about it. In their conflicts and dilemmas, 21 st-century Europeans are very different from their early-modern and medieval ancestors, but are increasingly similar to their Chinese and Indian contemporaries.

Whatever changes waiting for us, they are likely to involve a fraternal struggle within a single civilisation rather than a confrontation between alien civilisations. The big challenges of the 21 st century will be global in nature. What will happen when pollution triggers global climate changes? What will happen when computers replace people in an increasing number of jobs? When biotechnology enables us to upgrade humans, widen lifespans, and perhaps divide humankind into different biological castes? No doubt, we will have huge debates and bitter conflicts over these questions. But these arguments and conflicts are unlikely to drive us apart. Just the opposite. They will construct us ever more interdependent, as members of a single, rowdy, global civilisation.

Yuval Noah Hararis Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is published by Harvill Secker. ynharari.com

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘He took sex to the point of oblivion’: Tracey Emin on her hero Egon Schiele

3 months, 9 days ago

His work was once rejected as porn. But the ache, anger and sex frustration in Egon Schieles writhing nudes electrified Tracey Emins adolescence and devoted her special purposes that has never waned. She talks our novelist through his stormiest work

Thats quite rude, says Tracey Emin as we look through the drawings of Egon Schiele. Shes laying on her elbows with her mouth on her arm, almost like shes got to bite her limb to keep her mouth shut, and shes got her arse in the air and her legs are open. Shes got her dress falling down over her breast, her hairs tousled … Having sexuality to the point of oblivion, so theres no return. Thats what that looks like. And thats what makes it really good.

This is a tale of two artists. One is an Austrian expressionist in Sigmund Freuds Vienna at the start of the 20 th century, who have succeeded in shock even its refined erotic sensibilities with the stark sensuality of his images. The other is a adolescent in 1970 s Margate, whose first encounter with said artist, Schiele, was one of the most inspiring events of her life.

It was so clear what he was trying to say, recalls Emin as we sit in her studio in Spitalfields, east London, surrounded by her visceral paints. “Its about” sex frustration, this is about anger, “its about” being fucked up, “its about” being confused. So, in a manner that is, it was probably quite adolescent, you know? Its a little bit like Sylvia Plath, or anything that a moody 14 -year-old would grab hold of. I was looking for something to identify with, because I knew that I was different from other people.

The previous year, as she records in her memoir Strangeland , she had stopped going to school, instead floating between cafes and bars, drinking cider and lying on the beach. In this wayward adolescence in a rundown English seaside town, Schiele gave her direction, the objectives and a sense of who she might become. He was my idea of an artist, she says.

Dirtied
Dirtied by love and life Tracey Emin with her most well known run, 1998 s My Bed. Photograph: Rob Stothard/ Getty Images

It was through her love of David Bowie that Emin found Schiele. On the encompas of his 1977 album Heroes, the singer is photographed with one hand against his chest, the other created vertically. Emins boyfriend explained that Bowie had borrowed his pose from the artist. I bought a volume about expressionism. There was one tiny Schiele painting and suddenly my whole world opened, because, before that, I was only aware of Picasso, Lichtenstein and Warhol, she says. I related to it, because it was about indicating emotion. You could see the anguish he was going through: I am in pain. I am drawing this, but I am depicting this in a different way, because I see it differently from other people. I see it through the eyes of pain.

Bowie
Bowie channels Schiele Photograph: Publicity image

Who, then, was this artist who could inspire a young person across a century? A new book by Taschen offers a sumptuous tour of his desperate life. Born in 1890, Schiele was part of an Austrian generation for whom the subjective was all. The outside world was false, absurd, mad. They merely trusted their own fictions and fears. In the composer and artist Arnold Schoenbergs 1910 painting The Red Gaze, a face becomes a ghostly mask, the eyes of which blaze with pain. In Oskar Kokoschkas 1914 run The Bride of the Wind, a man and woman are locked together by love at the heart of a storm.

Schiele shared these artists sense of isolation and disclocation. All his angst constructed sense, because he didnt live very long, says Emin. He died when he was 28. Most artists get their MA when theyre 28 now. Egon Schiele he was dead, his wife was dead, most of his friends were dead. If they didnt get syphilis, they died of TB, they died of the flu, they died in the first world war. The AustroHungarian Empire … all of that, its pretty scary periods. The fact that he remained focused on his personal perspective is pretty incredible: the strength in being able to do that at such a young age.

I
I learned a lot Seated Girl with Legs Spread( 1918) by Egon Schiele. Photo: Politenes of Taschen

As if he could see his own death, which came during the course of its flu pandemic of 1918, Schiele portrayed himself as a suffering Saint Sebastian, penetrated by arrows, or huddled with his wife in a cave. Yet there was one notable discrepancies between Schiele and his fellow expressionists such as Schoenberg. In the 1900 s, he was encouraged by the grand Viennese dream painter Gustav Klimt, whose delight in desire he shared. For a long time, he was considered an erotic artist, says Emin. You could find Schiele at flea market, because it was just considered to be porno junk.

Emin has been conducting a creative the negotiations with the Austrian artist since her teenage discovery. I was so influenced by him it was ridiculous. I was doing my own little versions of Egon Schiele, really and I learned a lot. Some might presume she set this infatuation behind her when she became famous as a conceptual artist in the 1990 s, but you cant get much more expressionist than My Bed, with its sheets dirtied by love and life, its empty bottles and pungent aura of bohemian days and nights. When it was first shown in 1998, it had a noose hanging above it.

Emin always drew, and her depicts are intensely raw from her 1995 image of desperation, Sad Shower in New York, to the new works that surround us today, including a brilliantly dark series featuring an alter ego called The Black Cat Woman. Her affinity for Schiele has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, a joint exhibition of the artists run was held at the Leopold Museum in Vienna. The blue lines of her drawing Crying( 2014 ), shown in that exhibition, crumple into a blotted figure of sorrow that speaks of ache just as clearly as Schieles selfportraits and nudes. Above all, both artists portray the human body in a way that is simultaneously sex and agonised.

More
More Of You, a work by Emin from 2014. Photo: Ben Westoby/ The artist, courtesy White Cube

Emin and I look at some of Schieles nudes that, until recently, were dismissed as porn. Complied with in a Dream( 1911) is a watercolour of a woman with bright pink teats, black pubic hair and a red vagina. Shes pulling her labia apart and saying: Look at my clitoris. Theres nothing sexist about that. Shes pretty formidable and shes got an attitude and shes saying: Yeah, come near then. Shes altogether in control: shes saying: Do you want it or dont you want it? Its mine. Theres a voyeurism, but shes the person in control.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Keep Calm and Carry On- the sinister message behind the slogan that seduced the nation

3 months, 15 days ago

It is on posters, mugs, tea towels and in headlines. Harking back to a blitz spirit and an age of public service, Keep Calm and Carry On has become ubiquitous. How did a cosy, middle-class joke assume darker connotations?

To get some sense of just what a ogre it has become, try counting the number of days in a week you see some permutation of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. In the last few days Ive watched it twice as a poster advertising a pub New Years Eve party, several times in souvenir shops, in a photograph accompanying a Guardian article on the imminent doctors ten-strike( Keep Calm and Save the NHS ) and as the subject of too many internet memes to count. Some were related to the floods a flagrantly opportunistic Liberal Democrat poster, with Keep Calm and Survive Floods, and the somewhat more mordant Keep Calm and Make a Photo of Floods. Then there were those related to Islamic State: Keep Calm and Fight Isis on the standard red background with the crown above; and Keep Calm and Support Isis on a black background, with the crown replaced by the Isis logo. Around eight years after it started to appear, it has become quite possibly the most successful meme in history. And, unlike most memes, it has been astonishingly enduring, a canvas on to which practically anything can be projected while retaining a sense of ironic reassurance. It is the ruling insignium of an era that is increasingly defined by austerity nostalgia.

I can pinpoint the precise moment at which I realised that what had seemed a typically, somewhat insufferably, English phenomenon had gone completely and inescapably global. I was going into the flagship Warsaw branch of the Polish department store Empik and there, just past the revolving doors, was a collecting of notebooks, mouse pads, diaries and the like, featuring a familiar English sans serif font, white on red, topped with the crown, in English 😛 TAGEND

KEEP CALM

AND

CARRY ON

It felt like confirmation that the image had entered the pantheon of truly global design icons. As an image, it was now up there alongside Rosie the Riveter, the muscular female munitions employee in the US second world war propaganda image; as easily identifiable as the headscarved Lily Brik bellowing BOOKS! on Rodchenkos famous poster. As a logo, it was nearly as recognisable as Coca-Cola or Apple. How had this happened? What was it that attained the image so popular? How did it manage to grow from a minor English middle-class cult object into an international brand, and what exactly was meant by carry on? My hypothesi had been that the combination of message and design were inextricably tied up with a plethora of English obsessions, from the blitz spirit, through to the cults of the BBC, the NHS and the 1945 postwar consensus. Also contained in this bundle of signifiers was the enduring pretension of an extremely rich( if shoddy and dilapidated) country, the sadomasochistic Toryism imposed by the coalition government of 201015, and its presentation of austerity in a manner so brutal and moralistic that it almost seemed to luxuriate in its own parsimony. Some or none of these believes may have been in the heads of the customers at Empik buying their published tea towels, or they may have just thought it was funny. However, few images of the last decade are quite so riddled with ideology, and few historical documents are quite so spectacularly false.

Imperial

Imperial War Museum handout of a Dig for Victory poster by Mary Tunbridge. Photo: Mary Tunbridge/ PA

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was not mass-produced until 2008. It is a historical object of a very peculiar sort. By 2009, when it had first become tremendously popular, it seemed to respond to a particularly English malaise connected immediately with the way Britain reacted to the credit crunch and the banking accident. From this moment of crisis, it tapped into an already established narrative about Britains finest hour the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940 -4 1 when it was the only country left fighting the Third Reich. This was a moment of entirely indisputable and apparently uncomplicated national valour, one that Britain has clung to through thick and thin. Even during the high levels of the boom, as the critical theorist Paul Gilroy flags up in his 2004 volume, After Empire , the blitz and the victory were frequently invoked, constructed necessary by the need to get back to the place or moment before the country lost its moral and cultural bearings. The years 1940 and 1945 were obsessive repeatings, anxious and melancholic, morbid fetishes, clung to as a means of not thinking about other aspects of recent British history most obviously, its empire. This has only intensified since the financial crisis began.

The blitz spirit has been exploited by politicians largely since 1979. When Thatcherites and Blairites spoke of hard selections and muddling through, they often elicited the memories of 1941. It served to legitimate regimes that constantly was contended that, despite appearances to the contrary, resources were scarce and there wasnt enough money to go around; the most persuasive way of explaining why someone( else) was inevitably going to suffer. Ironically, however, this rhetoric of sacrifice was oftens combined with a demand that consumers enrich themselves buy their house, get a new automobile, stimulate something of themselves, aspire. Thus, by 200708, when the no return to boom and bust promised by Gordon Brown appeared to be abortive( despite the success of his very 1940 s alternative of nationalising the banks and thus saving capitalism ), the image started to become popular. It is worth noting that soon after this point, a brief series of protests were being policed in increasingly ferocious ways. The authorities were allowed to make use of the apparatus of security and surveillance, and the proliferation of prevention of terrorism statutes set up under the New Labour governments of 19972010, to combat any sign of disagreement. In this context the poster became ever more ubiquitous, and, peculiarly, after 2011, it began to be used in what few protests remained, in an only mildly subverted form.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster seemed to represent all the contradictions produced by a intake economy attempting to adapt itself to thrift, and to normalise surveillance and security through an ironic, depoliticised aesthetic. Out of apparently nowhere, this image blending bare, faintly modernist typography with the consoling logo of the crown and a similarly reassuring message spread everywhere. I first noticed its ubiquity in the winter of 2009, when the poster appeared in dozens of windows in affluent London districts such as Blackheath during the prolonged snowy period and the attendant breakdown of National Rail; the implied message about hardiness in the face of adversity and the blitz spirit looked rather absurd in the context of a dusting of snow crippling the railway system. The poster seemed to exemplify a design phenomenon that had slowly crept up on us to the point where it became unavoidable. It is best described as austerity nostalgia. This aesthetic took the form of a yearning for the various kinds of public modernism that, rightly or incorrectly, was ensure to have characterised the period from the 1930 s to the early 1970 s; it could just as easily exemplify a more straightforwardly conservative longing for security and stability in hard times.

Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience. Most of those who have bought this poster, or worn the various pouches, T-shirts and other memorabilia based on it, were probably born in the 1970 s or 1980 s. They have no memory whatsoever of the various kinds of benevolent statism the slogan purports to exemplify. In that sense, the poster is an example of the phenomenon given a capsule definition by Douglas Coupland in 1991: legislated nostalgia, that is, to force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess. However, there is more to it than that. No one who was around at the time, unless they had worked at government departments of the Ministry of Information, for which the poster was designed, would have watched it. In fact, before 2008, few had ever seen the words Keep Calm and Carry On displayed in a public place.

The poster was designed in 1939, but its official website, which sells a variety of Keep Calm and Carry On merchandise, states that it never became an official propaganda poster; instead, a handful were printed on a test basis. The specific purpose of the poster was to stiffen resolve in the event of a Nazi intrusion, and it was one in a set of three. The two others, which followed the same design principles, were 😛 TAGEND

YOUR COURAGE
YOUR CHEERFULNESS
YOUR RESOLUTION
WILL BRING
US VICTORY

and 😛 TAGEND

FREEDOM IS
IN PERIL
DEFEND IT
WITH ALL
YOUR MIGHT

Both of these were published up, and YOUR COURAGE was widely displayed during the course of its blitz, given that the feared intrusion did not take place after the German defeat in the Battle of Britain. You can see one on a billboard in the background of the last scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburgers 1943 film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , when the ageing, reactionary but charming soldier detects his home in Belgravia bombed. Of the three proposals, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON was discarded after the test print. Perhaps, this was because it was considered less appropriate to the conditions of the blitz than to the mass panic expected in the event of a German ground invasion. The other posters were heavily criticised. The social research project Mass Observation recorded many furious reactions to the patronising tone of YOUR COURAGE and its implied distinction between YOU, the common person, and US, the state to be defended. Anthony Burgess later claimed it was rage at posters like this that helped Labour win such an enormous landslide in the 1945 election. We can be fairly sure that if KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON had been mass-produced, it would have infuriated those who were being implored to be pacify. Wrenched out of this context and exhumed in the 21 st century, however, the poster appears to flatter, rather than hector, the public it is aimed at.

One of the few test printings of the poster was found in a consignment of secondhand books bought at auction by Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, which then generated the first reproductions. First sold in London by the shop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it became a middlebrow staple when the recession, initially merely the somewhat euphemistic credit crunch, hit. Through this poster, the way to display ones commitment to the new austerity regime was to buy more consumer goods, albeit with a less garish aesthetic than was customary during the course of its boom. This was similar to the Keep calm and carry on shopping commanded by George W Bush both after September 11 and when the sub-prime crisis hit America. The wartime utilize of this rhetoric escalated during the economic commotion in the UK; witness the motto of the 2010 -1 5 coalition government, Were all in this together. The power of Keep Calm and Carry On comes from a yearning for an actual or imaginary English patrician attitude of stiff upper lips and muddling through. This is, however, something that largely survives merely in the popular imagination, in a country devoted to services and intake, where elections are decided on the basis of house-price value, and given to sudden, mawkish outpourings of sentiment. The poster isnt just a occurrence of the return of the repressed, it is rather the return of repression itself. It is a nostalgia for the state of being repressed solid, stoic, public spirited, as opposed to the depoliticised, hysterical and privatised reality of Britain over the last 30 years.

At the same time as it evokes a sense of loss over the decline of an idea of Britain and the British, it is both reassuring and flattering, connoting a virtuous( if highly self-aware) customer stoicism. Of course, in the end, it is a bit of a gag: you dont genuinely think your pay cut or your childrens inability to buy a home, or the fact that someone somewhere else has been stimulated homeless because of the bedroom taxation, or lost their benefit, or worked on a zero-hours contract, is truly comparable to life during the blitz but its all a little bit of fun, isnt it?

Unlike

Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster is merely the tip of an iceberg of austerity nostalgia. Although early examples of the mood can be seen as a reaction to the threat of terrorism and the allegedly attendant blitz spirit, it has become an increasingly prevalent response to the uncertainties of economic collapse. Interestingly, one of the first areas in which this happened was the consumption of food, an activity closely connected with the immediate gratification of longings. Along with the blitz came rationing, which was not fully abolished until the mid-1 950 s. Accounts of this vary; its egalitarianism meant that while the middle classes experienced a drastic decline in the quality and sum of their diet, for many of the poor it was a minor improvement. Either way, it was a grim regime, aided by the emergence of various types of byproducts and replaces Spam, corned beef which stuck around in the already famously dismal British diet for some time, before mass immigration gradually attained feeing in Britain a less awful experience. In the process, entire aspects of British cuisine the sort of thing listed by George Orwell in his essay In Defence of English Cooking such as suet dumplings, Lancashire hotpot, Yorkshire pudding, roast dinners, faggots, spotted dick and toad in the hole began to disappear, at the least from the metropoles.

The figure of importance here is the Essex-born multimillionaire chef and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver. Clearly as decent and sincere a person as youll discover on the Sunday Times Rich List, his various crusades for good food, and the manner in which he marketplaces them, are inadvertently telling. After his initial reputation as a New Labourera star, a relatively young and Beckham-coiffed celebrity chef, his main concern( aside from a massive chain-restaurant empire that stretches from Greenwich Market in London to the Hotel Moskva in Belgrade) has been to take good food locally sourced, cooked from scratch from being a preserve of the middle classes and bring it to the disadvantaged and socially omitted of inner-city London, ex-industrial towns, mining villages and other places slashed and burned by 30 -plus years of Thatcherism. The first version of this was the TV series Jamies School Dinners , in which a camera crew documented him trying to influence the school meals choices of a comprehensive in Kidbrooke, a poor, and lately almost totally demolished, district in south-east London. Notoriously, this campaign was virtually thwarted by moms bringing their kids fizzy drinkings and burgers that they pushed through the fencings so that they wouldnt “re going to have to” suffer that healthy eating muck.

Essex-born

Essex-born multimillionaire cook and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver

The second phase was the book, TV series and chain of shops branded as the Ministry of Food. The name is taken immediately from the wartime ministry charged with managing the rationed food economy of war-torn Britain. Use the assistance of a few public bodies, setting up a charity, pouring in some coalfield regeneration fund and some money of his own, Oliver planned to teach the proletariat to make itself real food with real ingredients. One could argue that he was the latest in a long line of people lecturing the lower orders on their choice of nutrition, part of an immense building of grotesque neo-Victorian arrogance that has included former Channel 4 displays How Clean Is Your House ?, Benefits Street and Immigration Street , exercises in Lets laugh at picturesque prole scum. But Oliver get in there, and got his hands dirty.

However, the tale ended in a predictable manner: attempts to build this charitable action into something permanent and institutional foundered on the disinclination of any plausible British government to antagonise the supermarkets and sundry manufacturers who funnel fund to the two main political parties. The appeal to a time when things such as food and information were apparently dispensed by a benign paternalist bureaucracy, before customer choice carried all before it, can only be translated into the infrastructure of charity and PR, which is something we learn what happens over a few weeks during a Tv indicate and then keep forgetting it. A permanent network of Ministry of Food stores pop-ups that taught cooking skills and had a mostly voluntary staff were set up in the north of England in Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle and Rotherham, though the latter was forced to temporarily close following health and safety concerns in June 2013, reopening in September 2014.

Much more influential than this up by your bootstraps attempt to do a TV/ charity version of the welfare nation was the ministrys aesthetics. On the cover-up of the tie-in cookbook, Oliver sits at a table lay with a 1940 s utility tablecloth in front of some bleakly cute postwar wallpaper, and MINISTRY OF FOOD is declared in that same derivative of Gill Sans typeface used on the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. This is familiar territory. There is a whole micro-industry of austerity nostalgia aimed straight-out at the stomach. There is Olivers own chain of Jamies restaurants, which allows you order pork scratchings for PS4( they come with a side of English mustard) and enjoy neo-Victorian lavatories. Beyond Olivers empire, middle-class operations such as the caterers Peyton and Byrne blend the sort of retro food common across the western world( lots of cupcakes) with elaborated versions of simple English grub including sausage and mash. Some of the interiors of their cafe( such as the one in Mends on Tottenham Court Road in central London) were designed by architects FAT in a pop spin on the faintly lavatorial institutional design common to the surviving fragments of genuine 1940 s Britain that can still be found scattered around the UK pie and mash shops in Deptford in south-east London, ice-cream parlors in Worthing in Sussex, Glasgows dingier tavern, all featuring lots of wipe-clean tiles.

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Make Do And Mend Photograph: Make Do And Mend

Other versions of this are more luxurious, such as Dinner, where Heston Blumenthal provides typically quirky English food as part of the attractions of One Hyde Park, the most expensive housing development on Earth. Something similar is offered at Canteen, which has branches in Londons Royal Festival Hall, Canary Wharf and after its scorched-earth gentrification courtesy of the Corporation of London and Norman Foster Spitalfields Market. Canteen serves Great British Food, brews, ciders and perrys[ that] represent our countrys brewing history and cocktails the hell is British-led. The interior design is clearly part of the appeal, offering a strange, luxurious version of a work canteen, with benches, trays and sans serif signs that aim to be both modernist and nostalgic. It presents the incongruous sight of the very comfortable eating and imagining themselves in the dining hall of a branch of Tyrrell& Green circa 1960. Still more bizarre is Albion, a greengrocer for oligarchs, selling traditional English make to the denizens of Neo Bankside, the Richard Rogers-designed towers alongside Tate Modern. Built into the ground floor of one of the towers, it sells its unpretentious fruit and veg next to posters advertising flats that start at the knock-down price of PS2m.

Closer to reality as lived by most people is a mobile app called the Ration Book. On its website, it gives you a crash course on rationing, when the government made assured that in the face of deficit and blockade the population could still get lifes essentials in the form of the famous volume, with its postages to get X amount of dried egg, flour, pollock and Spam. It is an app that aggregates discounts on various brands via voucher codes for those facing the crunch the people the unfortunate Ed Miliband tried to reach out to as the squeezed middle. The website countries: Our squad of Ministers broker the best deals with the biggest brands, to give you the best value. Is there any better way of describing the UK in the second decade of the 21 st century than as the sort of country that produces apps to simulate state rationing of basic goods, simply to shave a little bit off the price of high street brands?

This food-based austerity nostalgia is one way in which peoples peculiar longing for the 1940 s is conveyed; much more can be found in music and design. Stroll into the shops at the Royal Festival Hall or the Imperial War Museum in London, and you will find an avalanche of it. Posters from the 1940 s, playthings and bangles , none of them later than around 1965, have been resurrected from the dustbin of history and to be laid down for you to buy, along with austerity cookbooks, the Design series of volumes on pre-1 960 s iconic graphic artists such as Abram Game, David Gentleman and Eric Ravilious, plus a whole cornucopia of Keep Calm-related accoutrements. A particularly established example is the use of the 1930 s Penguin book encompasses as a logo for all manner of goods, purposely calling to intellect Penguins mid-century role as a substantially educative publisher. Then there are all those prints of modernist buildings, “re ready for” Londoners to frame and place in their ex-council flats in zone 2 or 3: reduced, stark blow-ups of the outlines of modernist architecture, whether demolished( the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead seen in Get Carter ) or protected( Londons National Theatre ). The plate-making company, People Will Always Need Plates, has made a name for itself with its towels, mugs, plates and badges emblazoned with different British modernist houses from the 1930 s to the 1960 s, elegantly redrawn in a bold, schematic sort that sidesteps the often rather shabby reality of the buildings. By recreating the image of the historically untainted build, it manages to precisely reverse the original modernist ethos. If for Adolf Loos and generations of modernist designers adornment was crime, here modernist builds are built into ornaments. Still, the choice of buildings is politically interesting. Blocks of 1930 s collective housing, 1960 s council flats, interwar London Underground stations precisely the sort of architectural projects now considered obsolete in favour of retail and property speculation.

Many of the buildings immortalised in these plates have been the subject of direct transfers of assets from the public sector into the private. The reclamation of postwar modernist architecture by the intelligentsia has been a contributory factor in the privatisation of social housing. An early instance of this was the sell-off of Keeling House, Denys Lasduns east London Cluster Block, to a private developer, who promptly marketed the flats to creatives. A series of gentrifications of modernist social housing followed, from the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury( turned from a rotting brutalist megastructure into the home of one of the largest branches of Waitrose in London ), to Park Hill, an architecturally extraordinary council estate in Sheffield, given away free to the Mancunian developer Urban Splash, whose own favouring of compact flats has long been an example of austerity sold as luxury although after the boom, its privatisation scheme had to be bailed out by millions of pounds in public fund. Another favourite on mugs and tea towels is Balfron Tower, a council tower block about to be sold to wealthy investors for its iconic quality. It is here, where the rage for 21 st-century austerity chic meets the results of austerity as practised in the 1940 s and 1950 s, that a mildly creepy fad spills over into much darker territory. In aiding the sell-off of one of the greatest achievements of that era the housing built by a universal welfare state the revival of austerity chic is the literal extermination of the thing it claims to love.

The Ministry of Nostalgia by Owen Hatherley is published by Verso( PS14. 99 ). To order a copy for PS11. 99, going to see bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Telephone orders min. p& p of PS1. 99.

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