Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Is That True?

I once worked for a CEO who would, when someone made a declarative statement such as, “Toothpaste is made with formaldehyde and detergent,” frequently ask, “Is that true?”

It always surprised me how disarmed I felt when he would ask me that question, for, frankly, it inevitably made me realize how infrequently I asked that question myself. In some cases, of course, the question would have been superfluous because the case in point was so commonsensical.

In other cases, admittedly, I was simply naive or embarrassingly uncritical.

Still, I have found that this question, when I pose it myself, almost inevitably makes people uncomfortable. This may be because, once posed, it causes people to reflect on their unconscious assumptions and unreflected credulity, and they are perhaps thereby a bit chagrined.

It could also be because, when someone asks you, “Is that true?,” they aren’t really asking you to back up your claims, they are, instead calling you either an idiot or a liar.


I tend to get lost in labyrinths of anxiety-fueled or vaguely apocalyptic thought.

When I’m far down the rabbit-hole these days, though, I’ll catch myself and start focusing on my breath.

As soon as I do, my posture improves (I was always inevitably hunching over), my shoulders drop and I become calm (or, at least, less anxious).

Does this work for you?

Academic Time

If you have never attended the MLA or any other conference in the humanities, then you may not be aware that the traditional mode of presentations at these affairs is “slow reading.” That is, people sit at a skirted table and slowly read their papers to the audience.

Towards the end of my own academic career, I became frustrated with this mannered and boring format and vowed never again to read a paper at a conference (a vow I have kept, opting to “present,” rather than read).

With the MLA Convention in town, a friend on Facebook was lamenting the persistence of this practice and wrote, “I only wonder sometimes if the slow-motion paper reading isn’t analogous to the glacial change we’re enacting for the students.”

What connects this stilted method of recitation and the glacial pace of institutional change, particularly in the humanities, is a shared temporal horizon. Academic time is cyclical, seasonal and mythic. It’s a pastoral time, following the rhythm of the harvest, on the one hand, but also a timeless, monastic time in which scholars toil insulated from the hectic pace of the secular world.

Scholarly work relying on immersion in texts, contemplative reflection and artful writing seems to require solitude and a remove from the world. The academic institution, however, needs to engage with the world in order to maintain itself and thus enable and support such remove.

The challenge faced by the humanities lies in reconciling this circular time, this time beyond time, with the restless, linear time of the outside world—for that time, is the time of change.

The Bad News

The Finnish eco-fascist Pennti Linkola once said that, “The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth.”

Along the same lines, he also opined, “”Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent [a] dictator, that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. [The] best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and government would prevent any economical growth.”

While I’m on the fence about the rolling heads, I share Linkola’s skepticism around growth and have always wondered why anyone would advocate bringing the “American Dream,” for example, to the whole world when, just from a resource allocation perspective, we could not have even half of the Earth’s current population living the way Americans, who represent about 4% of the Earth’s population, do.

Turns out the skepticism is justified and there are mounting problems with the faith harbored by politicians and economists, a faith most visibly at work in the notion that our debt woes will be brought in hand as soon as our economy “starts growing again” or “returns to the growth we saw X years ago.”

The bad news is that the growth the West in particular has enjoyed for the last 200+ years may be an historical anomaly and a chapter in human history gradually, and even precipitously, drawing to a close. If I follow the arguments of the doomsayers, the idea is that said growth, especially in the US, arose out of the confluence of a large, undeveloped (albeit indigenously inhabited) continent ripe for the plucking by the technologically advanced hand of Europe, ongoing technical innovation, and cheap energy (in the form of oil).

The continent having been plucked, technical innovation now tending to increase productivity while decreasing employment, and cheap oil peaked or peaking, the drivers of growth are on the ropes.

And that means things are probably going to get grim (or grimmer, depending on where you are at now).

If you want to read the bad news for yourself, I encourage you to check out: “Forecast 2013: Contraction, Contagion and Contradiction,” by James Howard Kunstler,  “No More Industrial Revolutions, No More Growth?” by Charles Hugh Smith, and “Is US Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds,” by Robert J. Gordon.

I guess the good news is that we may, as a species, be on the road back to the feudal days, rather than all the way back to the stone age.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s good news.

Reconstruction of a Talk Given on Walter Benjamin and Twitter (Part 2)

This is the second part of a textual reconstruction of a talk I gave on Benjamin at SUNY Albany.

After setting things up in the first part of my presentation on Benjamin and Twitter, and demonstrating how the cyberflâneur was alive and well on “the street” of Twitter, I went looking for Walter Benjamin there as well.

As it turns out, several people have set up accounts such as this, which intermittently posts Benjamin quotes, but someone also went to the trouble of setting up this short-lived parody account:

Aside from the comedic value of this account’s first tweet—”…the character of the age, distilled into the 140-character aphorism, explodes the character of the here-and-now…—I was struck by Twitter’s characterization, as you will note in the lower left-hand corner, of the Dalai Lama as “similar” to Benjamin.

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Trouble With Length

A friend pointed out that the most effective posts on this blog are the shortest.