Surgery, Interpreters, Catalonia, Wittgenstein, Anthony Burgess


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How Ether Transformed Surgery

Lindsey Fitzharris | Scientific American | 1st October 2017

Gripping account of Robert Liston’s first use of ether to anaesthetise patients during surgery, in 1846. “It took all of 28 seconds for Liston to remove Churchill’s right leg, during which time the patient neither stirred nor cried out. When the man awoke a few minutes later, he reportedly asked when the surgery would begin and was answered by the sight of his elevated stump, much to the amusement of the spectators who sat astounded. The age of agony was nearing its end” (1,900 words)

Our Language, Their Babble

Michael Cronin | Dublin Review Of Books | 1st October 2017

On the role of interpreters in the Nazi death-camps, which might house thirty or forty nationalities. Mutual intelligibility was necessary for efficient domination, and for resistance or survival. “The greater part of the [Auschwitz] prisoners who did not understand German – that is, almost all of the Italians – died during the first ten to fifteen days after their arrival: at first glance, from hunger, cold, fatigue, and disease, but after a more attentive examination, due to insufficient information” (2,100 words)

Spain’s Biggest Problem

Andrew Dowling | History Today | 11th October 2017

Unearthing the historical roots of Catalan identity, dating from the late middle ages when Barcelona was de facto capital of the Crown of Aragon, running from eastern Spain along the Mediterranean down into southern Italy. In the late 15C Catalonia passed to Castile, and thus to rule from Madrid, but remained far more “culturally sophisticated and industrialised” than the rest of “semi-feudal Spain” well into the Franco era. Today’s separatism is a “middle-class revolt” (2,500 words)

The Relentless Honesty Of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ian Ground | TLS | 10th October 2017

In the canon of philosophy Wittgenstein has great authority but little influence. Philosophers recognise him as the model of what a philosopher ought to be; his Philosophical Investigations is a classic; but his ideas are peculiarly self-contained, asserted rather than argued. “Reading Wittgenstein is very like engaging with works of art: it is a process deeply resistant to paraphrase. You have to experience it for yourself. And it not just what, but how you think, that will change” (4,330 words)

The Most Of Anthony Burgess

Dominic Green | New Criterion | 10th October 2017

A century on from his birth, Anthony Burgess is surviving the test of time. Most of his 33 novels are still in print, though most of his 25 non-fiction books are not. He represents a late triumph of modernism, the successful application of Joycean principles to the mass market. “The best of Burgess is, like the worst of Burgess, the most of Burgess. If he was the heir to the vitalists Joyce and Lawrence, and even a usurper of Waugh’s Augustan irony, he was also an entertainer” (2,800 words)

Video of the day: Ruinart

What to expect:

As if M.C. Escher had collaborated with OK Go in the design of a Rube Goldberg machine (1’43”)

Thought for the day

The nature of genius is to provide idiots with ideas twenty years later
Louis Aragon

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