paper trail

Dec 22, 2010 @ 9:00:00 am

Alain de Botton

In the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein hired a calligrapher to write out the entire Qur’an in Hussein's blood as a proof of his piety (it took two years, and more than fifty pints of blood extracted by a nurse). Now, authorities in Iraq are wondering what they’re supposed to do with the thing.

News that Julian Assange is publishing a memoir with Knopf in 2011 has been leaked.

For The Awl’s “Best Women Writers that You’ve Maybe Never Read” series, Emily Gould writes about British fiction writer Barbara Comyn, finding that after reading her work “contemporary novels, with their over-deliberate virtuosity and self-referential tricks, are unreadable for a time. Ordinary experience, however, is overlaid with a degree of dazzle.”

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton has long been concerned with the practical application of philosophy, literature, and art. In the Wall Street Journal he writes about the current state of higher education: “To judge by what they do rather than what they airily declaim, universities are in the business of turning out tightly focused professionals and a minority of culturally well-informed but ethically confused arts graduates, who have limited prospects for employment.” As an alternative, de Botton and “a group of similarly disaffected academics” have started the School of Life in London, which teaches humanities courses such as “How to Make Love Last,” (on the syllabus: Anna Karenina and Erich Fromm), “How to Face Death” (Samuel Johnson, Luis Bunuel, Joan Didion), and “How to Fill the God Shaped Hole” (Augustine, Hume, Dickinson). De Botton declaims that “it is time for humanistic education to outgrow its fears of irrelevance and to engage directly with our most pressing personal and spiritual needs.”