1. Opinion

The Reading File: Excerpts from interesting articles

Published Oct. 27, 2017

The economics of consent

In the Atlantic, Brit Marling describes "the way economics complicate the notion of consent." Read "Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent" in full at Here's an excerpt.

Straight, white men tend to tell stories from their perspective, as one naturally does, which means the women are generally underwritten (in scripts). They don't necessarily even need names; "Bikini Babe 2" and "Blonde 4" are parts I auditioned for. If the female characters are lucky enough to have names, they are usually designed only to ask the questions that prompt the lead male monologue, or they are quickly killed in service to advancing the plot.

Once, when I was standing in line for some open-call audition for a horror film, I remember catching my reflection in the mirror and realizing that I was dressed like a sex object. Every woman in line to audition for Nurse was, it seemed. We had all internalized on some level the idea that if we were going to be cast we'd better sell what was desired — not our artistry, not our imaginations — but our bodies.

It was around this time that I remember sitting in a casual gathering where a straight, white male activist said, "Our gender and race has all the power. So when you want to have sex with a woman you have to ask and get her verbal consent." He continued, "If that woman is a person of color, she is oppressed by both her gender and her race and then you should really ask twice." The literalism of his ratio was ridiculously reductive, and his declarative tone off-putting, but I appreciated that he was trying to articulate how complicated it is to negotiate the invisible forces of privilege and power inside sexual encounters.

Where the humanities fit

In the New York Review of Books, Marilynne Robinson, to understand the humanities today, revisits the old scholars at the rise of humanism: "I think about what it would have been like to read by the light of an oil lamp, to write with a goose quill. It used to seem to me that an unimaginable self-discipline must account for their meticulous learnedness." Read "What Are We Doing Here?" in full at Here's an excerpt.

Nativism is always aligned with an impulse or strategy to shape the culture with which it claims to have this privileged intimacy. It is urgently intent on identifying enemies and confronting them, and it is hostile to the point of loathing toward aspects of the society that are taken to show their influence. In other words, these lovers of country, these patriots, are wildly unhappy with the country they claim to love, and are bent on remaking it to suit their own preferences, which they feel no need to justify or even fully articulate. Neither do they feel any need to answer the objections of those who see their shaping and their disciplining as mutilation.

What is at stake now, in this rather inchoate cluster of anxieties that animates so many of us, is the body of learning and thought we call the humanities. Their transformative emergence has historically specifiable origins in the English and European Renaissance, greatly expedited by the emergence of the printing press. At the time and for centuries afterward it amounted to very much more than the spread of knowledge, because it was understood as a powerful testimony to human capacities, human grandeur, the divine in the human. And it had the effect of awakening human capacities that would not otherwise have been imagined.

The origins of Mata Hari

In National Geographic, Pat Shipman writes the origin story of Mata Hari: "Executed 100 years ago, the exotic dancer broke the rules in the early 20th Century. But did that cost her her life?" Read "Why Mata Hari Wasn't a Cunning Spy After All" in full at Here's an excerpt.

Colored by her travels and sorrows in the Indies, Margaretha Zelle reinvented herself as something startling and new: an exotic dancer called Mata Hari. In 1905 Mata Hari — a Malay term for "sunrise" or the "eye of the day" — broke onto the social scene with a performance in the Musée Guimet, an Asian art museum in Paris. Invitations were issued to 600 of the capital's wealthy elite. Mata Hari presented utterly novel dances in transparent, revealing costumes, a jeweled bra, and an extraordinary headpiece.

Under any other circumstances, she could have been arrested for indecency, but Margaretha Zelle had very carefully thought through her position. At each performance, she took the time to explain carefully that these were sacred temple dances from the Indies. Mata Hari was sensuous, beautiful, erotic and emotional; she told tales of lust, jealousy, passion and vengeance through her dancing, and the public lapped it up.

In an age when every rich and influential man wanted a beautiful mistress on his arm, Mata Hari was acknowledged as the most glamorous, fascinating, and desirable woman in Paris.

Russia's Czar Vladimir

The Economist marks the 100th anniversary of Russia's October Revolution by pointing out that "Russia is once again under the rule of the czar," one named Vladimir Putin. Read "A Tsar Is Born" in full at Here's an excerpt.

Like a czar, Mr Putin surmounts a pyramid of patronage. Since he moved against the oligarchs in 2001, taking control first of the media and then of the oil and gas giants, all access to power and money has been through him. These days the boyars serve at his pleasure, just as those beneath them serve at their pleasure and so on all the way down. He wraps his power in legal procedure, but everyone knows that the prosecutors and courts answer to him. He enjoys an approval rating of over 80 percent partly because he has persuaded Russians that, as an aide says, "If there is no Putin, there is no Russia."

Like a czar, too, he has faced the question that has plagued Russia's rulers since Peter the Great — and which acutely confronted Alexander III and Nicholas II in the run-up to the revolution. Should Russia modernize by following the Western path towards civil rights and representative government, or should it try to lock in stability by holding fast against them?