W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it. I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew.
On Feb. 2, one hundred thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Paris, galvanized by a danger looming over the Republic. A new specter was haunting France—the specter of gender theory. In the United States, gender theory—embodied most notably by the work of Judith Butler at UC Berkeley—argues that gender is less a biological fact than a social fiction. It has become a familiar part of liberal arts curricula, but hardly draws mainstream protest. The French scandal is a particularly bemusing example of the way certain kinds of intellectual goods get lost in translation: Not since their embrace of Jerry Lewis have the French responded so passionately to an American export we ourselves have never fully appreciated.
To study it has been called “academic suicide,” but the Voynich manuscript, a book of mysterious handwritten script and illustrations, has drawn obsessive scholars ever since its discovery in an Italian monastery by a Lithuanian bookseller named Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. Its combination of an uncrackable script, which may be either a coded language, an unknown written language, or a hoax, plus its strange illustrations of women and botanical and astronomical phenomena, has drawn linguists, physicists, statisticians, historians, botanists, and more. Two new papers on the Voynich prompt a look at the document that continues to bedevil scholars--and, regardless of its true identity, clearly has a highly unusual power to bring experts from many corners of the academic universe into conversation around a single object.