Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: CULTs, truthseekers, spokescandies, and more.

The editors

February 13, 2023

Jesting Pilate:  Last week, literary critic and Baylor University literature professor Alan Jacobs wrote a brief meditation on truth for The Hedgehog Review. Jacobs revisits Francis Bacon’s “Of Truth” to consider the dangers of equivocation in the search for truth. In the Gospel of John, Pontius Pilate asks Jesus: “What is truth?” But Pilate doesn’t wait for an answer, Instead, he turns away. Bacon describes the “Jesting Pilate,” a man who asked about the truth only to suggest its absence. Jacobs wonders if our world is now full of jesting Pilates—politicians, journalists, and critics who would rather question the idea of truth than seek it.

M&M meltdown: Tucker Carlson’s viral tirade against the rebooted M&M’s “spokescandies” may have something to it, writes Mary Harrington, a contributing editor of the online magazine UnHerd. Carlson is right, Harrington says, insofar as the changing candies are a canary in today’s cultural coal mine. Harrington argues that the M&M controversy represents an age of stagnating cultural production, in which our creative class merely reuses the same media over and over. This “human centipede culture” derives from the newly digital format of crafts and skills: technology tricks its users into thinking they have more mastery over an ability than they actually do, while kneecapping their real-world mastery. Today’s craftsmen, such as architects, animators, and graphic designers, have become ever more distanced from the material world in which we live. Harrington argues that, even so, there’s hope, as long as artists are willing to return to the material world and work within its constraints.

Does studying religion matter?: A new student organization at the University of Chicago called Critical Understanding of Liturgies and Traditions, or CULT, will host a professor panel that asks the question, “Does studying religion matter?” Environmental ethicist Sarah Fredericks, Sanskrit scholar Charles Preston, and bioethicist Laurie Zoloth will tackle this topic and others on Friday, February 10. Russell Johnson, a scholar of religious ethics and teacher of “Star Wars and Religion,” and Erin Walsh, a scholar of early Christianity, will moderate the conversation. The event will take place from 12:45–2 p.m. in Swift Hall. Lunch will be provided.