Transfiguring desire

The idea of ‘transfiguring desire’ has been playing on my mind since reading Amia Srinivasan’s Right to Sex piece in the LRB (which I talked about here before). Srinivasan is making a moral argument about romantic and sexual attraction, asking whether we have a duty to attempt to change our desires. Thinking about this I butted up against a common block: intellectually I agree with this, but emotionally I don’t know how to put theory into action.

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thik oon and theäs oon

One of the interviewees on the most recent episode of Helen Zaltzman’s excellent podcast The Allusionist said something that reminded me of my grandmother. The episode was about the Scots language; the guest Ishbel McFarlane, said “So for example ‘thae’ is Scots word for ‘those’, T H A E, and that’s often seen as ‘wrong English’ by people.”

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This month the book club I started with some pals from work discussed H(A)PPY, the latest novel from Nicola Barker. It’s set in a post-post-apocalyptic world, among a people known as The Young. This world and The Young are never really described, physically. Bodies are rarely mentioned. I read this as suggesting that The Young are consciousnesses living in silicon, though this is never sad outright (and other members of the book club disagreed). The Young experience their thoughts, and everybody else’s and their reactions and emotions via The Stream, an always-present communication network, whose modes of information beyond text are cleverly communicated in the book by unusual typography1. The Young’s society is utopian; they are free from need and police themselves to free from desire, the root of unhappiness. The Young are happy. But Mira A is h(a)ppy.

  1. The variously-coloured words and bizarre runes that fill the book go along way to explaining its high price-tag and are absolutely essential for a fidelitous reading: don’t buy the kindle version. ↩︎

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North Rhine-Westphalia

At the beginning of this month I spent a week travelling around Northwest Germany work. There is a concentration of good maths departments in North Rhine-Westphalia and I did a tour of some of them. I couldn’t get to as many places as i would have liked because Tuesday was a public holiday—May Day is always on the 1st on the continent—but still a lot of places that were new to me.

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My job

While I was in Southampton earlier this year I was asked to write a short post on my job for the maths postgraduate students’ blog. I’m posting it here as well, in case anyone else is interested in what I actually do all day.

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© Tom Harris 2015–2018.

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