Harvey Blume

Harvey Blume is a writer in Cambridge.

Recent Articles

The Other NYPD Murder

Two months after the fact, New York City Mayor Giuliani, purportedly mellowed by prostate cancer, issued an apology of sorts to the family of Patrick Dorismond, the unarmed Haitian-American man killed by New York police in March. The mayor did not apologize for the killing itself or for having personally unsealed Dorismond's juvenile police record the day after the event in a transparent attempt to defame Dorismond and justify the shooting, but he did say he regretted not having shown "compassion for ... a tragic situation." However meager this apology was, it is more than the mayor has ever extended toward the family of Gary Busch, the 31-year-old Hasidic man killed by police in Brooklyn just a year ago. Gary Busch is the forgotten man on the roster of NYPD killings, a victim not only of 12 bullets fired by four policeman arrayed in a semi-circle around him, but of political and social circumstances that have conspired to make him invisible. Others who have...

Oops, She Did It Again

A year and a half after the headline-making Sensation exhibit, the Brooklyn Museum of Art has sparked yet another controversy involving art, religion, freedom of expression, the role of the museum, and, not least of all, the nature of art criticism--which the philosopher Arthur Danto not long ago characterized as "a form of zealous howling." In the case of both Brooklyn shows, one of the most zealous howlers has been New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. When Sensation opened, he threatened to cut off public funding for the museum, an initiative soon extinguished by the courts. His response to the museum's current show, Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers, has been to call for a "decency panel," an idea that New Yorkers have tended to slough off with comments like "What's he know about decency? He's been cheating on his wife for years." But the award for loudest howling by an art critic would have to go to Camille Paglia, who should get special mention for making big...

Serotonin: From Prozac to Politics

P eter D. Kramer will always be known as the author of Listening to Prozac, his 1993 work that both described a new, psychopharmacologically based "climate of opinion" in our culture and helped bring it about. But if he doesn't become known, too, for Spectacular Happiness, that will not be the fault of this daring first novel. Starting with the fact that it is fiction, Spectacular Happiness defies our expectations of Kramer. It breathes life into a certain kind of radical politics in a way that makes you wish Kramer had tried fiction sooner. None of our more practiced leftish novelists--including Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and E.L. Doctorow--has generated as tantalizing a vision of contemporary radicalism minus dogma. This book establishes imaginative continuity with the sixties--as Bill Ayers's recent memoir Fugitive Days, for example, utterly failed to do--and with older radical traditions. The book also reverses the positions on drugs with which Kramer has famously been...

Neuro-Narratives

R eflecting their status in society at large, neurology and neuroscience have in recent years become major forces in American arts and media, charting new narrative pathways. If noted at all, this development has been written off as only another example of our culture's hunger for varieties of victimhood. But such a judgment trivializes the change. Going from a psychological, especially a Freudian, perspective to a neurological one involves nothing less than a shift in world view. Freudianism, for example, brought a child-centered perspective to the arts: Childhood trauma, whether actual or Oedipal, was considered decisive in shaping the adult. Neurology, on the other hand, takes a brain-centered view, with an emphasis on wiring and neural circuitry that makes for ready links to computer culture. Psychoanalytically inspired literature stressed the importance of the family saga and made ample use of the guilt and blame arising from it. The neurological view makes less of the family and...

Using the Brain

A User's Guide to the Brain: Personality, Behavior and the Four Theaters of the Brain, John Ratey. Pantheon Books, 416 pages, $27.50. John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written several books on neurological disorders. The most incisive and far-reaching of these is Shadow Syndromes, his 1997 work that argues for the newfound centrality of neurology to our view of ourselves. To see why Ratey's new book, A User's Guide to the Brain, is so disappointing a sequel to Shadow Syndromes, it's useful to compare the earlier work to that of Oliver Sacks, our best-known teller of neurological tales. Shadow Syndromes deals with some of the people Sacks profiles--notably Temple Grandin, the high-functioning autistic featured in Sacks's Anthropologist on Mars --but Ratey doesn't give them quite the star billing they get from Sacks. His strategy, instead, is to turn the spotlight on the audience and to show that there...

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