Post scriptum (2022, week 18) — Why collapse won’t reset society, reclaiming relationship in a technological world, and in praise of habits
Post scriptum is a weekly curation of my tweets. It is, in the words of the 16th-century French essayist and philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, “a posy of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.”
In this week’s Post scriptum: What will end it all?; we must begin with a true telling of the technological story; why habits are so much more than mindless reflexes; our misguided obsession with Twitter; the costs of digital utopia; masters of the userverse; barbarism does not necessarily stand in contradiction to culture; food photographer of the year; and, finally, Jhumpa Lahiri and why writing is a calling.
Why collapse won’t reset society
“Collapse enthusiasts tend to share a basic implicit assumption: if society as we know it ceased to exist, they and their ingroup would be better off in some important way,” Adam Van Buskirk writes in Collapse Won’t Reset Society.
However, the history of both natural and man-made disasters suggests that the legal and economic systems that we live under have, in fact, displayed amazing durability. It is very difficult to identify natural disasters or wars that lead to the sudden end of civilization as it existed before — or even to a full collapse of everyday life.
During the Black Death in the mid-14th century, “[t]he English law courts sat with only minimal interruptions even during the brutal first wave […] from 1348 to 1349. The Court of Common Pleas conducted its full end-of-year term in 1348, while the Court of King’s Bench sat uninterrupted at York. In 1349, the Court of Common Pleas continued regular operations at Westminster. The King’s Bench operated at Lincoln, remaining ‘surprisingly busy.’”
Law and governance did not just persist as usual during the Black Death; the power of both the state and the courts actively increased in response to the challenge, much as they have during modern disasters. The Black Death also didn’t bring a great social reset. “[S]urvivors experienced the very opposite. In the chaos of mass death, the state-enforced obligations to work and fulfill debts with increasing stringency. Eventually, laborers did gain financially from their increased bargaining power. But this was a slower process that took a generation or two to fully make itself felt, with no immediate dramatic reordering of society,” Van Buskirk writes.
“Modern states have had no more trouble than premodern ones in keeping up business as usual under adverse conditions. […] Bureaucracies and other large institutions sometimes survive because of sheer inertia. Most people do not actually have better options than showing up to work, even when the paychecks stop. Afghanistan’s civil servants continued showing up for months after the Taliban victory despite not getting paid. But in many cases, they also survive because they are actually performing important functions. Someone has to keep the lights on.”
And if bureaucracy is resilient, then trade is eternal. “Trade has survived the collapse of civilization before, and we can expect it to do so again.”
There is only one collapse scenario without historical precedent: large-scale nuclear exchange, Van Buskirk writes. “But even at a final death toll of 10–20% of the total population, and infrastructure destruction similar to the situation in Germany after the Second World War, the total shock of nuclear war could likely fall within the range historically absorbed by modern economies and governments.”
So what will end it all?
“The real force that reorders society is always human action, driven by political or ideological coordination. Disaster becomes a moment for organized political actors to upset the existing order in a given place, either by foreign conquest or by revolution. Without some human force ready to make use of disaster, neither plague nor destruction are sufficient in themselves to rewrite how society functions. Where these things occur without a strong existing revolutionary ideology, the status quo recovers with amazing speed. On the other hand, revolutions have succeeded repeatedly without requiring major physical disruptions at all, such as those of Cuba and Iran.
In this sense, the apocalyptic cults and radical militias may actually be closer to the truth than the docile pessimist who fantasizes about getting to leave his office job. The former, at least, understand that collapse is only ever an opportunity for motivated actors whose power survives or even increases after a disaster. But such people are rarely found among society’s malcontents. As history shows, those who benefit from collapse are often already among its heights.”
Reclaiming relationship in a technological world
“In thinking about technology, three questions are fundamental. What is technology for? What are we for? And how is our answer to the first question related to our answer to the second?,” Brad East writes in Can We Be Human in Meatspace?, a review of Andy Crouch’s latest book, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World.
“Since the Enlightenment, we have come to take for granted that there really is no relation, because we cannot publicly agree on what humans are for. We can answer that question only privately. But technology is public, not private. We create it for common use, ostensibly in the service of the common good. If we cannot broadly agree on what we are for, then how can we reason together about what our technology is for?
It appears that we cannot. While the question about human purpose is now cordoned off from public debate, the question about the purpose of technology has vanished altogether. We no longer ask why we are making the latest widget. Its existence is self-justifying. Only listen to a Silicon Valley mogul talk about the newest invention or cutting-edge research. It is a dismal menu of options: the fantastical (immortality, uploading your consciousness to the cloud), the terrifying (digital surveillance, sentient robots), the shallow (streaming videos, the metaverse), the banal (smart thermostats, voice assistants), and the meaningless (‘greater connection,’ ‘enhanced creativity’). The last category alone is damning. We are meant to be connected and creative. Connected how? Creative to what end? A terrorist cell is deeply connected and highly creative. So is a local chapter of the Klan. Indeed, such groups are often among tech’s early adopters.”
What we need, according to East, “is a recommitment to public argument about purpose, both ours and that of our tools. What we need, further, is a recoupling of our beliefs about the one to our beliefs about the other. What we need, finally, is the resolve to make hard decisions about our technologies. If an invention does not serve the human good, then we should neither sell it nor use it, and we should make a public case against it. If we can’t do that — if we lack the will or fortitude to say, with Bartleby, We would prefer not to — then it is clear that we are no longer makers or users. We are being used and remade.”
“Crouch employs two striking images that illuminate how our digitally mediated world often diminishes us. One of them he calls ‘the dead zone,’ which is like sitting in an airport. Nothing really happens there; one is stuck in a purgatory of strangers, tired and stressed, eating bad food in uncomfortable seats beneath fluorescent lighting. Screens are everywhere. If the natural world can be seen at all, it is glimpsed only at a great distance, separated by glass enclosures and concrete paving in every direction. Each individual who mills and shuffles around in the airport dead zone is a person — by definition — but no one’s personhood is developed by or in such a place. One merely suffers the interminable wait until the blessed time to depart arrives. It is ‘a place where we are never recognized, where no one knows our names, where no one names our souls.’ Does that sound familiar?
If the airport is a dead zone, the airplane exemplifies the concept of how we most easily escape it: ‘the superpower zone.’ It means power without effort, in this case sitting in a metal tube hurling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour, in effect teleporting us from one place to another. The same goes for social media: friendship at the click of a button. Crouch contrasts this with what psychologists call ‘flow,’ a sense of elevation and joy in the very experience of effort. For example, a bicycle enhances human power at human scale while requiring human effort. Superpowers eliminate friction. Ride a bike for a dozen miles, and you’ll grow all too familiar with friction.
Crouch’s point isn’t that we ought never to use air travel. His point is that technology is about tradeoffs, and more and more of the modern world is suffused with technology offering the superpowers of an airplane without informing us of what we must give up in order to gain those powers. To ride in an airplane is maximally passive by design. It does not demand your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You are a patient, not an agent. By contrast, the bicycle — in its own way an impressive feat of human ingenuity — will not function apart from your total engagement. To ride well entails the activity of one’s whole self. If the technologies we regularly use are to serve human nature, they should wherever possible be on the model of a bicycle, not an airplane.
But they rarely are. Instead of playing an instrument, we turn on Spotify. Instead of cooking, we order DoorDash. Instead of enjoying the outdoors with a friend, we Snap while strolling. Instead of getting to know a person slowly face to face, we swipe right on Tinder.
Our sin is not pride or lust or even greed. It is acedia. We are listless, lethargic, and lonely. Our hearts are anxious, our minds benumbed, our souls alienated, our bodies sick (Crouch calls metabolic syndrome ‘the defining illness of our time’ and ‘the hallmark of an inactive life’). And the technology that has so seamlessly integrated itself into our lives in recent decades is almost always near the nerve center of the problem. If it isn’t the source of our ills, then it is their enabler. We need a cultural shift.
Such a shift must begin with a true telling of the technological story. That story has always in part been a quest, not for the benefit of humans, but for power. It is the story of the sorcerer’s apprentice, in which the desire for magic unleashes spirits that cannot be controlled. Crouch thus describes modern technology in terms of the alchemist’s perennial dream for the kind of power that can remake the world as we see fit. This dream is fulfilled in our day; we have come face to face with awesome power — ‘but it is one that masters us, not the other way around.’
Because the spirit of impersonal power, of the technological superpowers that denude our personhood and deflate our loves, is money. Actually, it’s not just money. Following the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, Crouch ∆ defines money demonically. He calls it Mammon. Mammon is the someone behind and above and suffused within the something of money. It is a power, an agent, with a ‘will of its own.’ Riffing on the title of Kevin Kelly’s 2010 book, What Technology Wants, Crouch writes:
‘What technology wants is really what Mammon wants: a world of context-free, responsibility-free, dependence-free power measured out in fungible, storable units of value. And ultimately what Mammon wants is to turn a world made for and stewarded by persons into a world made of and reduced to things….
God wishes to put all things into the service of persons and ultimately to bring forth the flourishing of creation through the flourishing of persons. Mammon wants to put all persons into the service of things and ultimately to bring about the exploitation of all of creation.’
Crouch never goes quite so far as to say that he is referring to a literal demon who is himself the veiled force at work in our global economic system. He seems to mean something just short of that. But if the spookiness of the suggestion is still a bit much for you, you’re welcome to demythologize it. Just call Mammon by his modern name: Capital.”
‡ “You must change your life” are the final words from Rilke’s poem ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’ (here in a translation by Stephen Mitchell, from Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke):
‘We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.’
∆ “[Andy] Crouch is a Christian, and his book is Christian through and through. But it’s not — or not meant to be — for Christians only. It’s intended to proffer Christian wisdom for common benefit. This conjunction of a particular perspective articulated for the sake of society at large is not unique to religious writers; it’s the nature of all public writing. Nevertheless, it’s worth flagging here lest suspicious readers spy a Trojan horse,” East writes.
In praise of habits
“Habit is the foundation of the routines that comprise the vast bulk of our everyday lives,” Ian Robertson and Katsunori Miyahara write in In praise of habits — so much more than mindless reflexes.
“[P]hilosophers of mind and cognitive scientists alike often conceive of habits as highly mechanistic and near-automatic responses to environmental cues that unfold outside of our deliberative control. This conception of habits as mindless and reflexive might seem intuitive when we recognise that they are often counterproductive to our capacity to pursue our goals and desires. […]
However, even our most mundane habitual routines actually display a great deal of intelligence. Indeed, they are often intelligently context-sensitive and flexible in such a way as can support and structure our goals and projects. Consider the example of driving the same route to work every morning. […] Despite completing this task on something like autopilot, your drive will still be intelligently adjusted to situational intricacies, such as how fast or slow the driver in front of you is going, or when the traffic lights change.
In attempting to account for the intelligent dimension of habit, researchers have moved away from construing habits as unintelligent mechanisms and towards modelling them as a species of belief. The puzzle we face in clarifying the character of habits is to explain their intelligent dimension while also acknowledging that they can often work against our intelligence and lead us astray,” Robertson and Miyahara write.
“Both mechanical and intellectual conceptions of habit encounter significant difficulties in explaining how habits sustain intelligent behaviour. These conceptions have a common root problem, which is a failure to appreciate the pivotal role of perception that philosophers working in the phenomenological and pragmatist traditions have recognised. When we follow them in recognising the crucial role of perception in guiding our habitual doings, we can explain the intelligent aspect of habits while obviating any need to identify them as beliefs.”
For the late philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, who claimed that habits are a part of our ‘everyday coping practices,’ “we are no less experts at our everyday habitual routines than Serena Williams is an expert at tennis (albeit what we accomplish might be substantially less impressive). The consequence of this, for him, is that our everyday habits will be guided by expert-level perception and intuition. For instance, many of us have now cultivated social distancing practices. By that measure, as we incorporate these practices into our everyday lives, we are able to proficiently maintain an appropriate distance automatically. When someone next to you in an elevator stands too close, you immediately perceive them as standing too close, and are provoked or ‘solicited’ to move back and restore appropriate distance.
Dreyfus is correct to highlight the important role of perceptual skill in guiding our habitual doings, but Robertson and Miyahara think his account should be revised in one crucial respect.
“For Dreyfus, as we become experts at completing some everyday routine, the world increasingly draws us to act in one optimal, appropriate way. In other words, we will, as our everyday routines become engrained, come to perceive nothing other than the possibility of pursuing a singular optimal course of action for each situation. To make a long story short, we fear that this renders Dreyfus’s view of habits too close to the mindless, mechanical view of habit that we rejected above.
The pragmatist philosopher John Dewey is instructive here. Dewey, like Dreyfus, construes habits as facilitating intelligent behaviour by shaping perception. However, he denies that, as we become experts at carrying out everyday routines, our habitual responses always become entirely automatic response patterns. Instead, for Dewey, writing in Human Nature and Conduct (1922), the ‘more numerous our habits the wider the field of possible observation and foretelling. The more flexible they are, the more refined is perception in its discrimination and the more delicate the presentation evoked by imagination.’ In other words, our habitual doings are intelligently adjusted to context precisely because we perceive the environment in which they have been cultivated in terms of the vast and discriminating habitual responses we might make to it. Habits, seen through this pragmatist lens, then, far from being blunt reflexes, amount to a treasure trove of possible responses to our situated environment, highly constrained by circumstance, but genuinely open to the world. Nor does Dewey deny that our thoughts will almost always be suffused by habit.
Contemporary philosophy of mind is positively replete with warnings that we ought not to fall into easy dichotomies between intelligent and voluntary processes on the one hand, and unintelligent and automatic processes on the other. Indeed, even psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman who have influentially advocated for dual-processing views on which the brain comprises two distinct ‘systems’ — one habitual, unconscious, and quick, and another slow, conscious, and reflective — have for years conceded that such a picture is far too simplistic. One sure-fire way to cut right through this dichotomy is to note that, while habits can distort our goals, they can also be exquisitely context-sensitive. Accounting for this context-sensitivity will require acknowledging the pivotal role perceptual skills play in guiding our habitual doings. By recognising the flexible aspects of habits, we further distance ourselves from an outmoded view of intelligent action as one that’s always guided by appropriate intellectual apprehension of knowledgeable beliefs.”
In the margins
“It might be tempting […] to leave the hyperbolic partisans sparring on Twitter to their diversions and move on with our lives. The problem with this platform at the moment, though, is that too many people in positions of power remain hypnotized by its stylized violence. Academic and business leaders will enact wild shifts in policy or practices at the slightest hint that these digital combatants are aiming weapons of virality in their direction. Politicians, for their part, seem to increasingly craft their behavior, and sometimes even legislation, to please not their constituents but the platform’s radicalized tastemakers. […] For those who spend so much of their lives gathering and sharing news online, it’s simply human nature to begin considering stories through the lens of what celebrations or condemnations they might generate on the Internet. The journalist Bari Weiss thought Twitter had so much influence on the Times that, in her 2020 resignation letter, she quipped that it had become the paper’s ‘ultimate editor.’
This shift in our perception of Twitter as a digital town square to our understanding of it as an élite spectacle demands a different response. To argue about the details of how Musk might tweak the platform’s rules ignores the larger outrage. Our problem is not how these games are played but the fact that so many people in positions of power keep taking them seriously. There was once a moment when Twitter could provide a useful source of grassroots activism and accountability: early in the Arab Spring, for example, the platform helped topple dictatorships, and it was central to energizing what became the #MeToo movement. But [in Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt] is convincing in his claim that as the platform squeezed out more and more reasonable people, and intensified the moralism and outrage of those who remained, it mutated past its ability to be a consistent source of good. We’ll likely never persuade the narrow bands of Twitter power users to change their frenetic ways, but the time has come to demand that those who remain at the periphery of this scrum, and who still take seriously its ever-shifting landscape of heroes and villains, redirect their attention somewhere more productive.
The good news is that there’s evidence this goal might not be as unobtainable as many fear. Early in April, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, wrote a memo to his reporters encouraging them to spend less time using Twitter. Whereas the paper had previously encouraged use of the service, Baquet now announced a policy ‘reset,’ which emphasizes that a social-media presence is ‘purely optional’ for Times journalists. For those who still use Twitter in their reporting, he asked that they ‘meaningfully reduce’ how much time they spend on the platform, ‘tweeting or scrolling.’ More high-profile institutions and leaders should follow suit. Twitter should be treated as the spectacle that it appears to be: something that entertains a small and privileged subset of our population, not a de facto town square where the value of institutions and individuals is adjudicated.
It’s here that we arrive at the ironic coda to the current uproar around Musk’s bid for the company. A subtext in last week’s news cycles was that many people who are currently transfixed by Twitter also dislike Musk, meaning that his takeover of the service might lead a large subset of its most active users, in an act of protest, to stop tweeting. This is arguably the best possible outcome for our broader society. In the official statement announcing the acquisition, Musk said that he was going to make the digital town square ‘better than ever.’ If he accidentally reduces Twitter’s popularity among those who prop up its significance, he might end up succeeding in accomplishing exactly this goal.”
“One of the secrets to the immense resilience and longevity of the capitalist system is its ability to disown the costs of its operations, shifting them onto others, or setting them up in such a way that they would be paid for by future generations. Some of the early critics (for example one of the fathers of environmental economics, William Kapp) spoke of ‘cost-shifting,’ finding in it one of the primary driving forces of capitalism. When the true costs of its operation are engineered away, to be felt by others or at a much later point, it’s no wonder that capitalism appears as a benevolent system.
Its latest iteration, techno-capitalism, has perfected these methods to a point where many of us do think that this new socio-economic system is truly as frictionless as its proponents advocate. Its legitimacy rests on the ability of big platforms to convert user data into implicit subsidies that cover the non-trivial costs of us using their services. Thus, it appears that the system truly runs on magic: somehow, one can use the services of Facebook and Google without ever paying for them. There’s no cost-shifting, Silicon Valley assures us, because there are no costs.
When the ideological debate is framed this way, it’s no wonder that something like Moore’s law appears highly credible: we have been trained to believe that it’s only benefits — and ‘progress’! — that one is to expect from digital technologies. It’s no wonder that our ability to think about alternatives to this system is greatly constrained; when the costs are presumed not to exist, why should one even bother? This is what is truly at stake in making the costs of techno-capitalism fully visible: it’s a pre-requisite to a genuine techno-politics that would be able to redirect digital technologies towards more emancipatory uses.”
“A userverse provides users with the experience of control as convenience. It is an enclosed space where other people or things are rendered within it only insofar as they are of service to the user. Though the Infinity scenario may seem far-fetched, more of us are passing into userverses than we might realize, whenever we expect to be catered to by people with the push of a button, as an increasing profusion of delivery services promises. Users often believe they’re doing nothing worse than using advanced ‘smart’ technology to meet their needs — smart doorbells and smart speakers; delivery apps and Uber — but in practice they’re really using people, in an asymmetrical, exploitative relationship. You don’t have to don a headset or helmet, but this practice amounts to a kind of virtual reality, an escapist illusion sustained by reductive interfaces and devalued labor.
In a userverse, the desire for convenience and the pleasure of mastery fuel each other. It is especially attractive to individuals who feel a loss of control at work or in their social lives outside the home. It offers a world where individuals can have their position at the center of things confirmed. They can enjoy being served while reassuring themselves when necessary that no one is being harmed, as if their feeling of domination just flows naturally from the technology itself and not the social relations it is masking.
The user in a userverse is encouraged to believe that escaping from the constraints and negotiations of participating in a diverse community is a kind of efficient, labor-saving practice, given that the labor he saves is his own. By reducing complex chores and services to the push of a button, one can entertain the delusion that technology is liberating people from working and that labor disputes have been solved rather than disappeared. Efforts by laborers to question or organize against the consumers’ feeling of mastery are dismissed or explained away, downplayed as adjustment difficulties: Give it time, and the technology will eventually work for everyone. Escape itself can seem synonymous with efficiency, which would make forays into a supposedly separate ‘virtual reality’ appear almost virtuous. Libertarian exodus fantasies in which ‘geniuses’ can live in exile, nurtured by advanced technology and free from the ‘takers’ of ordinary society, are one variant of this. A VR-based userverse geared toward preventing the experience of reciprocity (or replacing it with simulations that the user ultimately manages) is another.
But the gig economy is the userverse’s central operating system. Uber-fied delivery companies like Grubhub and Instacart deploy simple interfaces to normalize the exploitative use of labor, such that getting a grocery delivery can feel just as much a ‘virtual’ experience as a tour through the metaverse: The world is brought to you through a screen. Only in this case, real workers have been subject to real hazards to convey physical items to you.”
“Succumbing to Nazi morality was, in any case, not a matter of ignorance or lack of lofty ideals on the part of the German population. On the contrary, its most ardent and visible proponents were often people of higher education and cultural refinement — writers, film directors, artists, philosophers, musicians — thereby defying the deeply entrenched idea in Western thinking that cultural progress feeds noble values and cultural decay forebodes moral decline. In The Republic, Plato stated that an increasing lawlessness in music and art portends the erosion of law and order in society as a whole: ‘After establishing itself there [in music and the arts], lawlessness quietly flows over into the character and pursuits of men. Then, greatly increased, it steps into private contracts and, from private contracts, it makes its way insolently into laws and the government, until, in the end, it upsets everything public and private.’
What Plato did not foresee was a society where the highest expressions of music and art would be employed in the service of barbarism; where the most heinous acts would literally be committed to the sound of sonatas; where ‘cultivated’ people would enjoy Bach in the morning and the choked murmurs from the gas chambers in the afternoon; where it would be fully possible to celebrate Mozart and outlaw Mendelssohn, to admire Hölderlin and burn Heine. In many Nazi concentration camps, music was used for the purpose of torture and humiliation. In Buchenwald, prisoners to be executed were pulled through the camp on a wagon to the tune of ‘Alle Vöglein sind schon da.’ In Flossenburg, the violinist Zdenek Kolarsky was forced to embellish the beating to death of his camp inmates with the Ave Maria variations for G string by Schubert. Orchestras with the most macabre tasks existed in Mauthausen, Auschwitz, Dachau and other camps. The women’s orchestra in Auschwitz, which became the subject of a book and a movie, had, among its other duties, to be at the permanent disposal of SS personnel. One day, a female SS officer wanted to have a piece by Chopin played for her. After hearing it, she went out of the barrack and kicked an old woman who languished outside. (A thorough documentation of the role of music in the Nazi death and concentration camps can be found in Milan Kuna’s 1993 book, Musik an der Grenze des Lebens.) Adolf Hitler himself attached great importance to the role of art and music in his totalitarian vision of society. At the roots of the Nazi extermination projects lay very outspoken and detailed aesthetic ideals. Society was to be cleansed of all disturbing features, from everything foreign, weak, ugly, Jewish. Lines were to be straightened, human bodies to be perfected, weeds uprooted, degenerate art and music suppressed.
With Nazism, it was proven, if proof was ever needed, that barbarism does not necessarily stand in contradiction to culture and that, under certain conditions, even the most noble artistic expressions can inspire the most barbaric acts.”
From: Civilisation and Auschwitz are not a contradiction in terms, by Göran Rosenberg (Engelsberg Ideas)
A look at some of the winners of the annual Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year 2022. The judging panel included Rein Skullerud, the head of World Food Programme’s Photography Unit, and Fiona Shields, The Guardian’s head of photography.
From: Food photographer of the year 2022 — in pictures (The Guardian)
“I just follow my inspiration. Writing is a calling. I’ve never thought, Is this going to be successful? Is this going to strike a chord? Is this going to please people? Is this going to get me a lot of readers? Is this book going to sell well? My publishers and my agent think about those things, and that’s their job. My job is different. My job isn’t a job. Italian was the language that called to me at a certain point, and then it became — quite surprisingly, but now rather definitively — the language of my creative expression, at least for the moment. I’m writing in Italian because that’s what I need to be doing. It’s not rational.” — Jhumpa Lahiri, from Life’s Work: An Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri. Her new book, Translating Myself and Others, will be published later this month.