Friday High Five: The Art and Science of Criticism, Open Secrets and an Inflating Universe

Literary criticism: art, science or both?

‘Should literary criticism be an art or a science?’, asks Joshua Rothman in his piece for the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. In other words –should criticism be about close, insightful particular readings (art) or should it aim to trace general trends and patterns in literary culture (science)?

As Rothman continues, it’s a question that Franco Moretti is trying to answer definitively: ‘he thinks that literary criticism ought to be a science’. Find out why and explore what this entails in this fascinating profile: ‘An Attempt to Discover the Laws of Literature’.

Say my name

On the topic of criticism –last week, we looked at the debate surrounding anonymous book reviews (in the Saturday Paper and beyond) –and that’s a subject we’ll be exploring further in coming weeks.

But what if it weren’t just books being reviewed anonymously; if it were your personality, your work ethic or your place in an unusually competitive community? The answer is being played out in the real world. From the New York Times:

A five-week old social app, Secret, is testing the limits of just how much sharing Silicon Valley thinks is a good thing. That’s because the sharing is done anonymously. And, as it turns out, much of the chatter is about Silicon Valley itself –offering a rare, unvarnished look at the ambitions, disappointments, rivalries, jealousies and obsessions of the engineers who live and work there.

The app’s website proffers the opportunity to ‘share with your friends, secretly’ and ‘speak freely’. Is anybody else getting the shivers?

A lesson in persistent privilege

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs, for short) have been a hot topic in the world of education for the past couple of years –flagged by many as a democratising revolution in access to quality, specialised learning for anyone with access to the internet.

But while popular sites like Coursera ‘envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education’ – a future which Thomas Friedman has hoped might ‘unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems’ –a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania has revealed a less than revolutionary beginning. From Slate: ‘Who Takes MOOCs? Educated, Employed, First-World Guys.’

Stay classy

Class in Australia: it’s a discussion that’s well and truly on the minds of writers and artists of late, and it’s never escaped the interest of the politically minded. Over the past few weeks, The Conversation has been exploring the topic in detail –covering how your living environment affects your health, whether the way you speak affects your future, how bogans and hipsters are linked to class, and much more.

Aussie battlers finding their place: the cast of *The Castle* (1997).

Aussie battlers finding their place: the cast of The Castle (1997).

Bee eternal, big bang

It’s the sweetness that lasts forever… almost. Smithsonian.com reports that honey has a near-eternal shelf life; archaeologists have often found unspoiled pots of honey, thousands of years old, whilst excavating ancient Egyptian tombs. What’s the secret to honey’s extraordinary staying power? Pretty simple, mostly: keep the lid on.

Of course, we couldn’t let this week pass without making mention of what –if independently confirmed –will be remembered as a monumental discovery in the history of science. The physics world lit up as astronomers announced they had detected a signal from the beginning of time.

If the scientific detail escapes you, check out the moment when an emotional Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde is delivered the news that his inflationary universe theory appears to be true.

Stanford Professor Andrei Linde celebrates physics breakthrough

‘Let’s just hope that it’s not a trick.’

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