Brain Pickings

Susan Sontag on Censorship & the 3 Steps to Refuting Any Argument

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“A just/ discriminating censorship is impossible.”

As a hopeless worshiper of Susan Sontag, I’ve been ravenously devouring the newly released As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (public library) — an extraordinary look at the inner world of a genius, oscillating between conviction and insecurity in the most beautifully imperfect and human way possible. From detailed notes on her formidable media diet of literature and film to her intense love affairs and infatuations to her meditations on society’s values and vices, the hefty volume is a true cultural treasure.

Among its many highlights is an entry from September 16, 1965, written during a trip to Paris:

The main techniques for refuting an argument:

Find the inconsistency
Find the counter-example
Find a wider context

Instance of (3):  

I am against censorship. In all forms. Not just for the right of masterpieces— high art— to be scandalous.  

But what about pornography (commercial)?
Find the wider context:
notion of voluptuousness à la Bataille?
But what about children? Not even for them? Horror comics, etc.
Why forbid them comics when they can read worse things in the newspapers any day. Napalm bombing in Vietnam, etc.  

A just/ discriminating censorship is impossible.

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh is a follow-up to the 2008 tome Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, also a pricelessly intimate lens on one of modern history’s greatest minds.

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Limbic Revision: How Love Rewires the Brain

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On the capacity for transformation and its prerequisite of letting go.

Last weekend, at a dear friend’s wedding, the groom’s sister read an excerpt from one of my favorite books, A General Theory of Love (public library), which you might recall from pickings past. The passage framed beautifully the remarkable union we had gathered to witness, but also speaks powerfully to love’s greatest, most universal blessing:

In a relationship, one mind revises the other; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural beings is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors [coteries of ingrained information patterns] activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.

Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.

The bride’s vows reinforced and complemented this message with the kind of succinct eloquence that sends shivers of Truth down your spine, then makes your heart explode with warmth:

Real, honest, complete love requires letting go.

A General Theory of Love is one of 5 favorite books on the psychology of love and the kind of read you keep coming back to again and again, finding a new layer of insight into a different stage or aspect of your life each time.

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Alice in Wonderland as a Subway Map

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“‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.”

As a lover of all things Alice in Wonderland and of visual metaphors based on subway maps, I was instantly taken with this transit map of Wonderland, juxtaposing the extreme organizational structure of a subway system with the extreme surreal chaos of the Lewis Carroll classic.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

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