Photography, Meaning and Historiography

The Valley of the Shadow of Death by Roger Fenton (1855)

This is fascinating on several levels. First, there is a lot of discussion about the circumstances of the Sebastopol siege. Second, the photos themselves are impressive: those spent cannon balls littering the ground like rocks create, at least for me, a sense of tremendous danger. Finally, the guy who wrote this piece is a pretty good empirical historian and raises interesting questions about the circumstances of the photos and about historiography generally. Also, Susan Sontag comes out of it looking like a dope.

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Telling Stories

Jonathan beat me to one of the core ideas of a post I’ve been working on for a few days – a post about evil, art, and self-delusion. Here goes anyway.

Concerning the New Deal, John Updike is a poet in the Platonic sense. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

The impression of recovery–the impression that a President was bending the old rules and, drawing upon his own courage and flamboyance in adversity and illness, stirring things up on behalf of the down-and-out–mattered more than any miscalculations in the moot mathematics of economics.

To which the great Greg Mankiw replies:

When evaluating political leaders, it is better to trust “the moot mathematics of economics” than “the impression of recovery.”

Wise words, but hardly new ones. In the fourth century B.C.E., Plato is said to have uttered pretty much the same thing:

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