Some things I’ve enjoyed recently.

  • Amia Srinivasan’s incredible LRB piece Does anyone have the right to sex? which she described on twitter as a being about “what a political critique of sexual desire can and should look like—one that avoids authoritarian moralism, but nonetheless takes seriously that who and what we sexually desire is often shaped by oppression”. I underlined so much of it that I might as well have not bothered.

    Suppose your child came home from primary school and told you that the other children share their sandwiches with each other, but not with her. And suppose further that your child is brown, or fat, or disabled, or doesn’t speak English very well, and you suspect that this is the reason for her exclusion from the sandwich-sharing. Suddenly it hardly seems sufficient to say that none of the other children is obligated to share with your child, true as that might be. […] Sex isn’t a sandwich, and it isn’t really like anything else either. There is nothing else so riven with politics and yet so inviolably personal.

    The question posed by radical self-love movements is not whether there is a right to sex (there isn’t), but whether there is a duty to transfigure, as best we can, our desires.

    I hadn’t realised Srinivasan is also the author of “the immortal piece about octopuses” and a whole bunch of other pieces I’ve enjoyed in the last few years. That’s a good feeling, finding one person behind several things you like—a confirmation of the reality of taste. When she publishes a collected essays I’ll buy it immediately.

  • Two good recent maths popularisation videos: first a visual solution of the Basel problem 1 + \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{9} + ... + \frac{1}{n^2} + ... = \frac{\pi^2}{6} (which can be made rigorous); second a recent episode of PBS Infinite Series that sets up a toy moduli space problem for the viewer to solve. I’ve not always enjoyed the direction Infinite Series has taken since Kelsey Houston-Edwards left, but more like this would be fantastic.

  • More maths, rather less accessible. After Maryna Viazovska’s dramatic solution two years ago of the sphere packing density problem in dimensions 8 and 24, sphere packings are back in the news again: Serge Vlăduţ has proved that there are lattices with exponentially large kissing numbers. Given a packing of unit spheres on a lattice in n-dimensional space, the kissing number counts how many other spheres each sphere touches. Vlăduţ’s theorem says, roughly, that we can find a lattice sphere packing in n-dminesional space for each n such that their kissing numbers grow exponentially as a function of n.1

  • The paintings of Anders Zorn. Emma Zorn Emelie from masto posted some of Zorn’s work on Instagram. I have never seen any Zorn paintings before but they are exactly the kind of art I like.

  • Emily Berry, a fantastic modern poet. I read some of her work in the first volume in Penguin’s new Modern Poets series on the train back to Cambridge from Southampton. The wholes of the poems mostly eluded me, but nearly every one of her poems has a line that is absolutely pyrotechnic:
    • “Dear knee bones”
    • “this shaft of light lying like a plank across the floor”
    • “the Californian sun ripened a crop of tomatoes to such a pitch you could hear them screaming”
    • “the things a cut tomato knows about light”
    • “(all elbows being unfamiliar, even one’s own)”
    • “today it’s hot water bottles and austerity breakfast and my toast burns in protest”
  • The Good Place. Yeah, it’s good. And even though the turn isn’t as important as you might think, I didn’t spoil it for myself and that was good too. Adam has some good words on it here. Good.

  • A couple of pieces on Frasier. (John Mahoney, R.I.P.)

  • Josef’s Eleanor Rigby Battle Theme and the accompanying tweet that did frighteningly big numbers.2
  1. The proof of Vlăduţ’s’ result (or Viazovska’s) is beyond me but it uses the theory of error-correcting codes, an eminently applicable bit of maths that’s usually pointed to as a counterexample to the uselessness of agonising over esoterica such as the ways one can fit n-dimensional balls into n-dimensional spaces. ↩︎

  2. I got a bit bummed out browsing the replies to this and the comments on reddit: it was pretty depressing to see so many people make the same “Beatles used Harmony. It’s super effective!!!” comments. It made me wonder, what’s the point of microblogging/posting on forums if you’re not in the (max) 5% of people who can be consistently funny or interesting? I’ve definitely been guilty of this tired replying-to-be-involved routine before and it rarely feels good. On the other hand Josef’s attempt to personally thank everybody who told him they liked it was really heartwarming, that cheered me up. ↩︎

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