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Racist jokes may be worse than racist statements

Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse tells her father, “Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me, you know—in a joke—it is all a joke.” Mr. Knightley isn’t joking, as he and Emma know; he presents his criticisms without a hint of jocularity. But if Emma persuades Mr. Woodhouse to believe Mr. Knightley is joking, he “would not suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by everyone.” A little over 200 years after Emma was published, the comedian Roseanne Barr defended a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s former adviser, in a further tweet, “It’s a joke—”.

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In America, trees symbolize both freedom and unfreedom

Extralegal violence committed by white men in the name of patriotism is a founding tradition of the United States. It is unbearably fitting that the original Patriot landmark, the Liberty Tree in Boston, sported a noose, and inspired earliest use of the metaphor “strange fruit.” The history of the Liberty Tree and a related symbol, […]

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Why Robinson Crusoe is really an urban tale

Robinson Crusoe (1719) was Daniel Defoe’s first novel and remains his most famous: a powerful narrative of isolation and endurance that’s sometimes compared to Faust, Don Quixote or Don Juan for its elemental, mythic quality.

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Celebrate National Poetry Month with Bernard O’Donoghue

For National Poetry Month, we sat down with Bernard O’Donoghue, author of Poetry: A Very Short Introduction. O’Donoghue discusses the importance of poetry, the influence social media has, and his own process when it comes to writing. Eleanor Chilvers: Why is poetry important? Bernard O’Donoghue: Poetry seems to have been thought important in all known societies, […]

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Notre-Dame, a work in progress

At dusk on Monday, April 15th, just in time for the evening news, the world was treated to the horrendous spectacle of uncontrollable flames licking the roof of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. The fire spread from a scaffold that had been installed six months earlier for restorations.

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Explaining Freud’s concept of the uncanny

According to his friend and biographer Ernest Jones Sigmund Freud was fond regaling him with “strange or uncanny experiences with patients.” Freud had a “particular relish” for such stories. 2019 marks the centenary of the publication of Freud’s essay, “The ‘Uncanny.’” Although much has been written on the essay during that time, Freud’s concept of the uncanny is often not well understood.

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At least in Green Book, jazz is high art

I’m anxiously awaiting the release of Bolden, a film about the New Orleans cornettist Buddy Bolden (1888 – 1933) who may actually have invented jazz. But since Bolden will not be released until May, and since April is Jazz Appreciation Month, now is a good time to talk about the cultural capital that jazz has recently acquired, at least in that […]

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12 of the most important books for women in philosophy

To celebrate women’s enormous contributions to philosophy, here is a reading list of books that explore recent feminist philosophy and women philosophers. Despite their apparent invisibility in the field in the past, women have been practising philosophers for centuries.

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Is it right to use intuition as evidence?

Dr. Smith is a wartime medic. Five injured soldiers are in critical need of organ transplants: one needs a heart, two need kidneys, and two need lungs. A sixth soldier has come in complaining of a toothache. Reasoning that it’s better that five people should live than one, Smith knocks out the sixth soldier with […]

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National Women’s History Month: A Brief History

Every year, I teach a course on U.S. women’s history. Every year, I poll my students to find out how many of them encountered any kind of women’s history in their pre-college educations. They invariably say that they didn’t learn enough about women (this is a self-selecting group after all), but they also easily recite key components of U.S. women’s history: the Salem witch trials, Sojourner Truth, the nineteenth amendment, Rosie the Riveter, second-wave feminism, among others.

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What makes arrogant people so angry?

Arrogant people are often intolerant of questioning or criticism. They respond to genuine and even polite challenges with anger. They are bullies that attempt to humiliate and intimidate those who do not agree with, or explicitly defer to, their opinions. The arrogant feel superior to other people and arrogate for themselves special privileges. This sense of entitlement […]

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What can we learn from meme culture?

If you go on-line, the chances are that you have encountered memes. What exactly is a meme? Some people take memes to be simply images with added text. The artist Barbara Kruger is often cited as a pre-internet forerunner of this practice.

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