February 27, 2012
Colin McGinn on consciousness and the brain, in The New Statesman:
"Try to imagine a world with no consciousness in it, just clashing quanta in the void and clumps of dead, insensate matter (the way our universe used to be); now add consciousness to it. What difference do you make to things, what is the point of the addition and how can you add consciousness to a world without it? Do you somehow reassemble the material particles? I predict it will seem to you that you have made an enormous difference to your imagined world but you will not understand how the unconscious world and the conscious world fit intelligibly together. It will seem to you that you have performed a miracle (contrast adding planets to a world containing only gaseous clouds). But does our world really consist of miracles?"
"I have come to think that mystery is quite pervasive, even in the hardest of sciences. Physics is a hotbed of mystery: space, time, matter and motion - none of it is free of mysterious elements. The puzzles of quantum theory are just a symptom of this widespread lack of understanding... The human intellect grasps the natural world obliquely and glancingly, using mathematics to construct abstract representations of concrete phenomena, but what the ultimate nature of things really is remains obscure and hidden. How everything fits together is particularly elusive, perhaps reflecting the disparate cognitive faculties we bring to bear on the world (the senses, introspection, mathematical description). We are far from obtaining a unified theory of all being and there is no guarantee that such a theory is accessible by finite human intelligence."
I've always known this: There is MUCH more here than meets the eye. Or mind. Or brain.
You can read the whole article here: http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2012/02/consciousness-mind-brain
February 24, 2012
anatomy n [LL anatomia dissection, fr. GK anatomē, fr. Anatemnein to dissect, fr. ana- + temnein to cut – more at TOME] 1 : a branch of morphology that deals with the structure of organisms 2 : a treatise on anatomic science or art 3 : the art of separating the parts of an animal or plant in order to ascertain theirposition, relations, structure, and function : DISSECTION 4 obs : a body dissected or to be dissected 5 : structural makeup esp. of an organism or any of its parts 6 : a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination : ANALYSIS 7 a (1) : SKELETON (2) : MUMMY b : the human body
…I asked myself – “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death – was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” … the answer, here also, is obvious – “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world …” –Edgar Allan Poe, The Philosophy of Composition
See the whole story here: http://www.whathappenedtopaula.com/
February 23, 2012
Okay, this makes me crazy. Or excited? Oh, the possibilities...
From the NYTimes:
"Patricia O’Brien had five novels to her name when her agent, Esther Newberg, set out last year to shop her sixth one, a work of historical fiction called 'The Dressmaker.' A cascade of painful rejections began. Ms. O’Brien’s longtime editor at Simon & Schuster passed on it, saying that her previous novel, 'Harriet and Isabella,' hadn’t sold well enough. One by one, 12 more publishing houses saw the novel. They all said no. Just when Ms. O’Brien began to fear that 'The Dressmaker' would be relegated to a bottom desk drawer like so many rejected novels, Ms. Newberg came up with a different proposal: Try to sell it under a pen name. Written by Kate Alcott, the pseudonym Ms. O’Brien dreamed up, it sold in three days."
Read the whole story here: http://tinyurl.com/83n5pp3
And then keep an eye out for Kathryn Dow...
February 22, 2012
Roger Kimball in The Weekly Standard...
"[W]henever I mention the contemporary novel to friends, the reaction tends to alternate between bemusement and distaste. The bemusement comes from those who are at a loss to think of any current American novels I might wish to talk about. 'I’ll check my bookshelves when I get home,' one well-read wag with a large private library wrote me,' to see if I have any contemporary American novels.' Those expressing distaste, on the other hand, do have the novels on their shelves, but they have made the mistake of having read them, or at least read in them."
"It’s not just contemporary fiction that is suffering from this form of existential depreciation: The same thing, I believe, is happening, perhaps to a lesser extent, with the fiction of the past. The novel plays a different and a diminished role in our cultural life as compared with even the quite recent past."
Time to up the game. How about, let's go transmedia with the novel and see what happens?
Read the whole article here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/great-american-novel_630022.html?nopager=1
February 16, 2012
Read more here: http://tinyurl.com/6wwmfzv
February 15, 2012
"Might model worlds enable us to see beneath the surface to how emotions work? And might not this idea allow us to understand how fiction works, how it really works?"
"The world-reflecting idea of art is that there is correspondence between elements of a work of art and elements of the ordinary world."
"But... the dream world does not depend on detailed correspondences between a thing in the model and a thing in the ordinary world. The second idea of mimesis--the idea of 'world-simulating' or 'world-creating'--works with larger structures. It depends more on coherence among its elements than on correspondences between specific elements of the model and elements of the ordinary world. It works because certain relationships among things in the model world correspond to certain relationships among things in the ordinary world... It works because a certain relational structure is made salient in the model world so that we can see its correspondence to a relational structure of the real world. The relation between people when they are in love in the dream world points to a possible relation between people in love in the ordinary world."
Keith Oatley in Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction (which I am still reading...)
February 14, 2012
"Not just a few things, but everything about the book and the book business is transformed by the end of paper. Those that would prefer to deny this obvious truth are going to find the business they love disappear over the next five years."
Take heed, and read more here: http://www.thedominoproject.com/
February 13, 2012
This is a must-read essay by Kenneth Goldsmith that appeared in the Chronicle Review on 9/11/11 (of all times). So much of it I'd like to quote--in fact, I'd like to just re-post the whole thing here. Which turns out to be exactly the point.
"The prominent literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term 'unoriginal genius' to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of the genius—a romantic, isolated figure—is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one's mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined another term, 'moving information,' to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today's writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine."
"Over the past five years, we have seen a retyping of Jack Kerouac's On the Road in its entirety, a page a day, every day, on a blog for a year; an appropriation of the complete text of a day's copy of The New York Times published as a 900-page book; a list poem that is nothing more than reframing a listing of stores from a shopping-mall directory into a poetic form; an impoverished writer who has taken every credit-card application sent to him and bound them into an 800-page print-on-demand book so costly that he can't afford a copy; a poet who has parsed the text of an entire 19th-century book on grammar according to its own methods, even down to the book's index; a lawyer who re-presents the legal briefs of her day job as poetry in their entirety without changing a word; another writer who spends her days at the British Library copying down the first verse of Dante's Inferno from every English translation that the library possesses, one after another, page after page, until she exhausts the library's supply; a writing team that scoops status updates off social-networking sites and assigns them to the names of deceased writers ('Jonathan Swift has got tix to the Wranglers game tonight'), creating an epic, never-ending work of poetry that rewrites itself as frequently as Facebook pages are updated; and an entire movement of writing, called Flarf, that is based on grabbing the worst of Google search results: the more offensive, the more ridiculous, the more outrageous, the better."
"In 1959 the poet and artist Brion Gysin claimed that writing was 50 years behind painting. He might still be right: In the art world, since Impressionism, the avant-garde has been the mainstream. Innovation and risk taking have been consistently rewarded. But, in spite of the successes of modernism, literature has remained on two parallel tracks, the mainstream and the avant-garde, with the two rarely intersecting. Now the conditions of digital culture have unexpectedly forced a collision, scrambling the once-sure footing of both camps. Suddenly we all find ourselves in the same boat, grappling with new questions concerning authorship, originality, and the way meaning is forged."
There's a lot more, but I won't copy it all here. I guess I'm old-fashioned that way...
You can read the whole thing for yourself here: http://chronicle.com/article/Uncreative-Writing/128908/
February 10, 2012
Gary Lachman reviews Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World in the Los Angeles Review of Books
"Although each hemisphere is involved in virtually everything the brain does, each has its own take on the world, or attitude toward it, we might say, that is radically opposed to that of the other half. For McGilchrist, the right hemisphere, far from minor, is fundamental — it is, as he calls it, 'the Master' — and its task is to present reality as a unified whole. It gives us the big picture of a living, breathing 'Other' — whatever it is that exists outside our minds — with which it is in a reciprocal relationship, bringing that Other into being (at least for our experience) while it is itself altered by the encounter. The left hemisphere, although not dominant as previously supposed, is geared toward manipulating that Other, on developing means of controlling it and fashioning it in its own likeness. We can say that the right side presents a world for us to live in, while the left gives us the means of surviving in it. Although both hemispheres are necessary to be fully alive and fully human (not merely fully 'functioning': a left brain notion), their different perspectives on the outside world often clash. It’s like looking through a microscope and at a panorama simultaneously. The right needs the left because its picture, while of the whole, is fuzzy and lacks precision. So it’s the job of the left brain, as 'the Emissary,' to unpack the gestalt the right presents and then return it, increasing the quality and depth of that whole picture. The left needs the right because while it can focus on minute particulars, in doing so it loses touch with everything else and can easily find itself adrift. One gives context, the other details. One sees the forest, the other the trees."
To me this sounds a bit like what it feels like to write a novel...
(I'm a big fan of Lachman's own work: Secret History of Consciousness, A Dark Muse, Jung the Mystic, Rudolph Steiner, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius... and X Offender.)
Read the whole review here: http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/17318998371/oppositional-thinking
February 9, 2012
"Monsters demonstrate, monsters alert us: whether or not the etymologies relating the word to both 'monstro' (I show) and 'moneo' (I warn), are correct, monsters act as a moral compass. The physical prodigy becomes a test of ethics and, in the move between literal and figurative, displays the crucial role fictions play in the establishment of value and the common sense. Or, one might say in the era when the Humanities are under such stress, thinking with monsters shows how an understanding of Nature, and of medicine, law and custom is impossible without cultural expression."
Oh, I want this book! But... $110? (Oxford University Press , 344pp) What, lots of expensive photographs? No ebook edition?
Read more about it here: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article869724.ece
February 7, 2012
"Let’s be clear: blurbs are not a distinguished genre. In 1936 George Orwell described them as 'disgusting tripe,' quoting a particularly odious example from the Sunday Times: 'If you can read this book and not shriek with delight, your soul is dead.' He admitted the impossibility of banning reviews, and proposed instead the adoption of a system for grading novels according to classes, 'perhaps quite a rigid one,' to assist hapless readers in choosing among countless life-changing masterpieces. More recently Camille Paglia called for an end to the 'corrupt practice of advance blurbs,' plagued by 'shameless cronyism and grotesque hyperbole.' Even Stephen King, a staunch supporter of blurbs, winces at their 'hyperbolic ecstasies' and calls for sincerity on the part of blurbers."
Read more here: http://www.themillions.com/2012/02/i-greet-you-in-the-middle-of-a-great-career-a-brief-history-of-blurbs.html