Harper’s Notes (3/25)

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: revolution, radiation, readership, and more.

The editors

March 25, 2024

Revolution never: For many, activism conjures up an ideal of resistance to the status quo and the complacency it engenders. But such high-minded ideals are a thing of the past. In the inaugural essay of The Harper Review’s spring 2024 issue, Carina Kane argues that activism has become a shallow semblance of its former self. Instead of provoking meaningful change, today’s activism depends on empty discourse and ideological outrage as ends in themselves. With protest movements “emphasizing discursive activity over action,” activism may sink further into complacency and nihilism. Instead of muddled interruption, Kane argues, we need brave disruption.

Know thyself: What does gratitude require? Can one mourn and flourish? Jonathan Lear, a renowned philosopher and professor at the University of Chicago, will address these questions—and more—at this year’s Ryerson Lecture entitled “Gratitude, Mourning, Hope and Other Forms of Thought.” Lear plans to build off the wide-ranging research of his career, employing psychoanalysis, ancient Greek thought, and studies of colonialism. Uniting these disparate approaches is a single end: the desire to understand oneself. The lecture will take place in Friedman Hall at the David Rubenstein Forum on April 2 at 5 p.m., with a reception to follow. Make sure to register by March 25 at this link.

Stop the presses: Mainstream journalism is in trouble. As thousands of disaffected subscribers turn to alternative news sources, many newspapers of record and prestigious periodicals are suffering sharp declines in readership. Why the sudden downturn? Have readers simply been seduced by demagogues and the news outlets that serve them? Or have American news outlets brought decline upon themselves by abandoning fair and objective reportage? In an essay for Persuasion, freelance journalist and former Yale University professor William Deresiewicz argues the latter. According to Deresiewicz, journalism has been severed from its working-class roots and therefore lost touch with its commitment to facticity. Now, Deresiewicz claims, media outlets simply promote the political objectives of their elite-educated staff. Will journalists change course in hopes of reclaiming their old readerships? Or will they double down on their editorial agendas? See what Deresiewicz has to say on the matter in his essay at the link.

Grand conspiracy: Stop by the Tea Room on the second floor of the Social Science Research Building on Monday, March 25, to celebrate the publication of Conspiracy/Theory, a book that aims to explore methodological connections between conspiracy theory and critical theory. Coedited by Joseph Masco and Lisa Weeden of the University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Critical Theory, the book will be of interest to readers interested in the rise and significance of misinformation and speculation in US politics. Between 5 and 6:30 p.m., Masco and Weeden will lead a roundtable discussion, joined by UChicago professors Hussein Ali Agrama and Demetra Kasimis, both of whom contributed to the book. Together, the four will build on the themes of the book and explore the role conspiratorial thinking plays in political engagement in the past and future.

The atomic age: Are you a film buff? Do you worry about nuclear proliferation? Do you wonder how uranium is mined? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be interested in the International Uranium Film Festival. On Friday, March 30, International House will host the IUFF from 12 to 8 p.m. as they show a number of new full-length and short films on topics related to all aspects of nuclear production, from waste disposal and reactor accidents to uranium mining and the rise of nuclear weapons. Also known as the Atomic Age Cinema Festival, the IUFF is the brainchild of German environmental journalist Norbert G. Suchanek and Brazilian social scientist Márcia Gomes de Oliveira. The pair hope to raise awareness about the risks of radiation and nuclear weapons.