Harper’s Notes (4/29)

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: Parmenides, politics, polyphony, and more.

The editors

May 3, 2024

Infinite truth: In yet another installment in The Harper Review’s spring debate, assistant digital editor Brady Santoro enters the ring. Citing Parmenides, he argues that we cannot run from the truth in its perfection and completion; we must instead embrace it. Truth is without end, and its contrast with false visions of the world is grave. Purposefully obscuring reality from children only leads to uncomfortable revelations later in their lives. Santoro writes that we ought to do them the courtesy of telling the truth from the beginning.

Operatic explosions: Composer John Adams’ opera-oratorio El Niño is playing at the Metropolitan Opera until May 17. The opera revisits the tale of the Nativity and references both traditional religious and secular texts in English, Spanish, and Latin in an attempt to make the opera “more universal.” This creative choice is meant to emphasize parallels between contemporary migrants and the flight of Mary and Joseph to Egypt. The musical style itself is described by the composer as being akin to oratorios of Bach and Handel. In his review of the production for The New Criterion, Jay Nordlinger describes it as “an explosion of color—but an intelligent explosion, an explosion with a purpose.” Buy tickets at the link above.

Homo politicus: In the Politics, Aristotle writes that human beings are political animals by nature, as they possess the capacity for logos, the ancient Greek word for “reason” or “speech.” But, according to philosopher Jacob Howland, man’s capacity for politics is being withered away by multiple facets of contemporary life. What we call politics today, Howland explains in his essay for the online magazine UnHerd, falls far short of the Aristotelian standard. Public life now involves less reflection and discussion than it does emotion. Digital media, the “tyranny of public opinion,” and the unserious nature of politicians and commentators surely deserve part of the blame for the so-called extinction of the political animal. But could there be an even deeper reason for the disappearance of political logos? Read Howland’s piece to find out.

A new speed: The American public perceives methamphetamine use as a rural phenomenon: the drug of trailer parks and motorcycle gangs. However, “Home Cooked,” a new podcast released by the rural American news website Daily Yonder, looks to update the narrative. Much has changed, the show points out, since the days when meth lab raids in sleepy small towns routinely made headlines. Today, the situation on the ground more closely resembles the global heroin and fentanyl trades than the DIY “kitchens” of Breaking Bad. Likewise, users are increasingly likely to come from Boston or New York rather than the backwoods of Missouri. With overdose death rates increasing nearly fifty-fold throughout the last couple of decades, “Home Cooked” argues, a change in understanding is needed.

Game theory: What are games? Answers vary: some people condemn them as frivolous pastimes, while others valorize them as tools for learning to navigate and succeed in the world. In his new book, The Beauty of Games, New York University professor Frank Lantz offers a different perspective. Brushing aside simplistic characterizations, Lantz argues that games are aesthetic representations of human thought—the reification of logic itself. As such, games take on an infinite variety of forms that range from the simple to the complex, and from the highly logical to the ludicrous. Insightful and witty, Lantz’s book is a must-read for anyone interested in games, aesthetics, and the link between thought and expression.