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Required Reading

‣ There’s a cottage industry for everything:

‣ Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts, and Jeffrey Watumull wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times suggesting that there is “false promise” in ChatGPT and other AI-related systems. They write:

It is at once comic and tragic, as Borges might have noted, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.

The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question. On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations.

‣ In the Boston Review, Alberto Toscano explains that radical Black thinkers have long connected racial slavery to the US’s unique brand of fascism:

Long before Nazi violence came to be conceived of as beyond analogy, Black radical thinkers sought to expand the historical and political imagination of an anti-fascist left. They detailed how what could seem, from a European or white vantage point, to be a radically new form of ideology and violence was, in fact, continuous with the history of colonial dispossession and racial slavery.

Pan-Africanist George Padmore, breaking with the Communist International over its failure to see the likenesses between “democratic” imperialism and fascism, would write in How Britain Rules Africa (1936) of settler-colonial racism as “the breeding-ground for the type of fascist mentality which is being let loose in Europe today.” He would go on to see in South Africa “the world’s classic Fascist state,” grounded on the “unity of race as against class.” Padmore’s “Colonial Fascism” thus anticipated Aimé Césaire’s memorable description of fascism as the boomerang effect of European imperialist violence.

‣ Writing for the Guardian, Hala Aylan pens a moving piece about diasporic witness, and this passage really hits deep:

“Where would history be without the witness?” Robin Wagner-Pacifici writes in Dilemmas of the Witness, and later clarifies: “What will the witness record? Will the witness attend to the scene or will he or she turn away? How will the witness recount and represent the act after its occurrence?” But this is the modern role of the witness. In Greek, the word for witness is martis, as Giorgio Agamben writes, derived from the verb remember: martis becomes martyr. Those “who thus bore witness to their faith”, as Agamben defined them. In Arabic, the word istashid means to have borne witness to God: that is, to have been martyred.


One of my favorite lines by Darwish: I am from there. I am from here. / I am not there and I am not here. Five thousand six hundred miles away, the diasporic witness is witness to their dying, to their bearing witness to God, and witness to their witness. Therefore: a diptych of witnessing. Only one is left to speak on it.


Instagram has become a boneyard: a site of demolition, of howling children, amputations and third-degree burns and heads flattened between slabs of concrete. I watch a boy with half a face let out garbled sounds through rubble. Here’s a hand under a crushed building. Here’s an ambulance wading through flooded water. Here’s a doctor stripped of clothes, his hands held over his head. 

‣ Bosnian-Serbian novelist Lana Bastašić cut ties with her German publisher in protest of its silence on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. LitHub has the story and her letter of response, which includes the following paragraph:

Thank you for uninviting me. I would not want to be part of another institution which not only cancels artists because of their activism, but seems to think silence and censorship is the right answer to genocide. While I am aware of the fact that the funding you receive within the system you inhabit must have made you forgetful of what art really is about, I still want to remind you that (fortunately for precarious writers like myself), you are not Literature. Your money is not Literature. S. Fischer is not Literature. Germany is not Literature. And we, the writers, will remember.

‣ If you don’t know who author Sarah J. Maas is, get ready for a crash course on the queen of the literary genre dubbed “faerie smut,” explained for the Vulture‘s Kathryn VanArendonk:

Now, Maas is leading the pack for “romantasy” — the romance-plus-fantasy genre that is exploding as writers like Jennifer L. Armentrout, Carissa Broadbent, Rebecca Yarros, and many more turn out blockbusters. The majority of the most popular writers are white women. Some of their tales lean more dragon than faerie. Some are inclined toward vampires. These kinds of novels have been around since at least the 1960s, when Anne McCaffrey started writing books about dragons whose ecstatic mating rituals spark similar feelings between their riders. (McCaffrey preferred for her “Dragonriders of Pern” series to be called science fiction, not fantasy; litigating the distinction would require a long tangent about spaceships.) The quality these stories share is an emphasis on a happily-ever-after ending within a fantasy world and as much focus on fantasy plotting as on the romantic arc. The two are twined together, equally crucial to the endgame: a simultaneous orgasm of structural devices.

‣ How did Flacco, the beloved Central Park owl, escape from the zoo? Jake Offenhartz has the story for the Associated Press:

In the year since his dramatic escape, Flaco has become one of the city’s most beloved characters. By day he lounges in Manhattan’s courtyards and parks or perches on fire escapes. He spends his nights hooting atop water towers and preying on the city’s abundant rats.

To the surprise of many experts, Flaco is thriving in the urban wilds. An apex predator with a nearly 6-foot (2-meter) wingspan, he has called on abilities some feared he hadn’t developed during a lifetime in captivity, gamely exploring new neighborhoods and turning up unexpectedly at the windows of New Yorkers.

‣ Are Chinese tourists staying home? Bloomberg Business reports:

‣ Here’s a German festival that does not, umm … align with many contemporary tastes:

‣ The colonial America influencer you didn’t know you needed:

‣ Your laugh for the day about America’s past:

‣ If fonts hung out:

‣ … and what actually happens when film critics hang out:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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