The Sunday Post for September 10, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Voynich manuscript: the solution

This week, a credible solution to the most mysterious manuscript of all has been put forth. Is the Voynich manuscript a private home-remedies manual for a well-to-do woman? Nicholas Gibbs certainly thinks so. I think Maria Dahvana Headley said it best:

For medievalists or anyone with more than a passing interest, the most unusual element of the Voynich manuscript – Beinecke Ms. 408, known to many as “the most mysterious manuscript in the world” – is its handwritten text. Although several of its symbols (especially the ligatures) are recognizable, adopted for the sake of economy by the medieval scribes, the words formed by its neatly grouped characters do not appear to correspond to any known language. It was long believed that the text was a form of code – one which repeated attempts by crypt­o­graphers and linguists failed to penetrate. As someone with long experience of interpreting the Latin inscriptions on classical monuments and the tombs and brasses in English parish churches, I recognized in the Voynich script tell-tale signs of an abbreviated Latin format. But interpretation of such abbreviations depends largely on the context in which they are used. I needed to understand the copious illustrations that accompany the text.
Twenty-Six Notes on Cannibalism

Seattle writer, and Seattle Review of Books contributor, Anca Szilágyi walks a numbered path for the Los Angeles Review of Books, detailing her observations of Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, and in doing so recalls Sontag, Berger, and others. She explores how a painting evokes both a method to the artist, and an evocation of historical moments foretold.

4. Saturno devorando a su hijo is different from Francisco Goya’s other works, such as early portraits of royalty or even later etchings sharply critical of the atrocities of war. It is one of the Black Paintings affixed to the walls of his home, Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man), which he bought in 1819 at age 72. These paintings were not commissioned. They were not for sale. No one saw them until after his death. The artist’s fear is in Saturn’s eyes.
The Department of Justice Is Overseeing the Resegregation of American Schools

Thought it was gonna be all medieval ciphers today and explorations of dark paintings today? Sorry, and welcome to the nightmare of our modern backslide into mid-century unexceptionalism, racism, and horribleness. Turns out, white parents will segragate their schools again. Because reasons. Emmanuel Felton reports on this very thing for the Nation.

See, also, the New York Times Magazine take on the same issue.

Speaker after speaker complained about how the city had been portrayed. This wasn’t about race, they insisted, but about doing what was best for “our” children. But Williams knew that her children weren’t included in that “our.” Just the night before, at a meeting in her own neighborhood, Jefferson County’s superintendent presented Williams and the other parents with a list of schools their kids could choose if Gardendale left the district. All of the schools served more black and poor students than Gardendale’s, and all had far worse test scores. At the Gardendale meeting, Williams stood by quietly until she couldn’t take it anymore.

As she headed to the front of the packed hearing room, Williams felt glad that she had dressed up. “I’m a product of the schools they don’t want my children to be at,” she said later. “I wanted to be a perfect example of why they should include them.”

You Are the Product

John Lanchester writes about Facebook for the London Review of Books. He is decidedly not a Millennial digital native, but as Facebook switches from being a successful startup to a world-dominating force, holding them to a high standard becomes absolutely critical.

Zuckerberg’s news about Facebook’s size came with an announcement which may or may not prove to be significant. He said that the company was changing its ‘mission statement’, its version of the canting pieties beloved of corporate America. Facebook’s mission used to be ‘making the world more open and connected’. A non-Facebooker reading that is likely to ask: why? Connection is presented as an end in itself, an inherently and automatically good thing. Is it, though? Flaubert was sceptical about trains because he thought (in Julian Barnes’s paraphrase) that ‘the railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.’ You don’t have to be as misanthropic as Flaubert to wonder if something similar isn’t true about connecting people on Facebook. For instance, Facebook is generally agreed to have played a big, perhaps even a crucial, role in the election of Donald Trump. The benefit to humanity is not clear. This thought, or something like it, seems to have occurred to Zuckerberg, because the new mission statement spells out a reason for all this connectedness. It says that the new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.