recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : cpsnow   7

Reverting to Type: A Reader’s Story |
"It did become my thing. I transferred to what we thought of as the University of Alabama, the one in Tuscaloosa, largely because it had a better English department. I double-majored in English and history, and at some point decided — what considerations went into the decision I no longer remember — that I wanted to go to graduate school to study more literature. So I attended the University of Virginia. I developed a historical sense — my love for Browne’s prose led me to spend most of my time in the seventeenth century, until a relatively late encounter with the poetry of W. H. Auden made a modernist of me — amassed a repertoire of critical gestures, learned to invoke the names and terms of High Theory in the proper ways and at the proper times. I was initiated into the academic guild; I became a professor.

It wasn’t always easy, of course. In my last weeks as an undergraduate one of my professors had taken me aside and whispered to me the sacred names of Barthes and Derrida, and told me I should make fuller acquaintance with them. I dutifully wrote down the names and immediately forgot about them. Since none of this Theory stuff had previously been mentioned to me in my undergraduate career, how important could it be? So when I plunged into my first graduate classes — including a theoretical survey in which we read Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Gramsci, Georg Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno, Husserl, Heidegger, Ricoeur, Jakobson, Althusser, Brooks, Frye, de Beauvoir, Kenneth Burke, and, yes, Barthes and Derrida, among others — I was immediately transformed from a confident critic-in-the-making to a lost lamb, baahing reproachfully, petulantly.

Ten weeks or so into my first semester I decided that I just couldn’t cut it and needed to drop out. But I was a newlywed, and had carried my bride hundreds of miles from her family, set her down in a strange town, and effectively forced her to hunt for compartatively menial jobs, all to support this great academic endeavor of mine. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how miserable and incompetent and just plain lost I was.

Our apartment in Charlottesville had a small windowless room that I used for a study. One evening after dinner I went in and closed the door and tried to sort through the vast pile of photocopied theoretical essays I had bought at Kinko’s on the first day of class. (We could violate copyright in those days, too.) But it was useless. I could scarcely bear even to look at the stuff. My professor had copied from his own well-used books, and every essay was full of confident underlinings and annotations that seemed by their very presence to judge me and find me wanting. I couldn’t bring myself to read another word.

My eyes wandered to a nearby bookshelf, and were caught for a moment by the glit of a gold cardboard box: it contained the three volumes of the Ballantine mass-market version of The Lord of the Rings. I had never read Tolkien: I was a science-fiction guy, not a fantasy guy. But of course I knew that The Trilogy (as I thought of it) was important, and that someday I ought to get to it. Almost thoughtlessly, I picked up the first volume and began to read.

When bedtime rolled around I set the book down and emerged from the sanctuary. “How’d it go tonight?” Teri asked.

I said, “It went well.”

The next evening I re-entered the study, under the pretense of continuing my academic labors with all due seriousness, and picked up where I had left off in the story. For the next week or so, though during the days I went to classes and did generally what I was supposed to do, I did none of the reading or writing I was assigned. I got further and further behind. I didn’t care; I was somewhere else and glad to be somewhere else. Teri seemed pleased with my scholarly discipline, as each evening I washed the dishes, gave her a kiss, and closed the study door behind me.

When I finished The Lord of the Rings I drew a deep breath. I felt more sound and whole than I had felt in weeks, maybe months. But, to my own surprise, I did not conclude that all that academic crap was a waste of time and I should do something else with my life, something that gave me time to read lots of fantasy novels. Instead, I experienced a strange refreshment, almost an exhilaration. My confusion and frustration seemed like small afflictions, conquerable adversaries. Barthes and Derrida weren’t so fearsome after all. I could do this.

I don’t believe that I was thinking, “Literary theory is as nothing in comparison to the power of Mordor!” Or, “If Frodo can carry that Ring to the Cracks of Doom I can write this paper on Paul Ricoeur!” Rather, I was just benefiting from spending some time away from my anxieties. We had been too intimate and needed separation. So I resumed my studies in a far better frame of mind; as a result, I did better work. I completed my doctorate and began my career as a teacher, but I didn’t forget the debt I owed to that week I spent in Tolkien’s world."



"In a sense I am only talking here about expanding my repertoire of analogies, my ability to make illuminating and meaningful comparisons. For many years now Douglas Hofstadter, drawing on the work of the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, has been convinced that the secret to creating artificial intelligence lies in teaching machines to recognize analogies. (Ulam says somewhere that it’s all about “as”: we see marks on a piece of wood pulp as a portrait of a beloved child, a cairn of stones as a monument to a dead chieftain.) Similar principles underlie the methods of Google Translate, which collects an enormous corpus of sentences and then tries to match your input to something in that corpus, and Apple’s “digital personal assistant,” Siri. Siri can’t parse what you say to her unless she can connect to the network, which undertakes a comparison of your utterance to other utterances on record. All this might be called brute-force analogizing, but it seems to me that my own understanding develops as I pursue the same method, though with far less force and (I hope) less brutishness.

In one of his most beautiful poems, Richard Wilbur writes, “Odd that a thing is most itself when likened.” And this is true no matter the thing: a book becomes more fully itself when we see both how it resembles and how is differs from other books; one discipline of study takes on its proper hues only when we see its relations to other disciplines that stand close to it or very far away. My repertoire of analogies is my toolbox, or my console of instruments, by which I comprehend and navigate the world. It can’t be too large; every addition helps, at least a bit. And that’s why I’m thankful for my gradual recovery of the books I adored, and thoughts I lovingly entertained, when I was forty years younger."
alanjacobs  howweread  reading  2015  analogies  metaphor  text  pleasurereading  richardwilbur  harukimurukami  jrrtolkein  thelordoftherings  stainslawulam  loreneisley  sciencefiction  understanding  literarycriticism  genrefiction  fiction  literature  academia  writing  howwewrite  howwelearn  books  jacquesderrida  rolandbarthes  whauden  sirthomasbrowne  williamfaulkner  nealstephenson  joycecaroloates  twocultures  cpsnow  jamesgleick  linux  learning  canon  digressions  amateurism  dabbling  listening  communication  howweteach  teaching  education  silos 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Metafoundry 30: Confusion Matrices
"WE ARE THE DOOM SQUAD: In this fantastic interview for Rawr Denim, William Gibson talks about clothing and fashion: “There’s an idea called “gray man”, in the security business, that I find interesting. They teach people to dress unobtrusively. Chinos instead of combat pants, and if you really need the extra pockets, a better design conceals them. ...[T]here’s something appealingly “low-drag” about gray man theory: reduced friction with one’s environment.” That made me wonder: “What does a 'grey woman' look like?”, which made me think about how Deborah Tannen used the linguistics terms marked and unmarked to describe gender and clothing. Just as many English words are default male (unmarked), with a changed ending to connote female (marked; think 'actor' vs 'actress'), she argued that men's dress can be unmarked but women's dress is always marked. That is, there are decisions that men make about what they wear that are defaults, that aren’t even seen as a decision. In contrast, every decision that a woman makes about what she wears—heels vs, flats, pants vs, skirts, the length of a skirt and the height of a neckline, haircuts, jewelry—is freighted with cultural baggage. Take makeup. Especially in professional settings, for a woman, not wearing makeup is a noticeable, and notable, decision: marked. But for a man, not wearing makeup is not a decision—nobody notices when men aren't wearing makeup: unmarked. (Of course, a man wearing makeup is very marked indeed.)

Since I was a tween, I've been mostly wearing black clothes (with a bit of grey), no branding, minimal ornamentation, and simple lines. Right now, my wardrobe mostly consists of black jeans and trousers and a few skirts and dresses, t-shirts, hoodies, jackets (worn according to the formality of the event). Given the historically snowy weather in Boston this winter, some of my more technical outerwear and other clothing was folded into my regular wardrobe by necessity, which resulted in an aesthetic that a friend described as ‘cyberpunk Winter Soldier’. Contra Gibson’s description of Cayce Pollard Units, I’m not sure there are any women’s clothes that could have been unremarkably worn between 1945 and 2000; for a start, that my clothes are monochrome has been remarked on regularly since I was a teenager, not least because black has a long history of cultural connotations of its own.

The aesthetic choice to wear black that I made when my parents were still buying my clothes was cemented when I was an undergraduate and graduate student (almost all of my teens and twenties), because black clothes are an intensely practical choice when the phrase ‘disposable income’ is an oxymoron. I remember this Glenn O’Brien article in SPIN from 1985, in which (once you get past the casual homophobia and the implicit assumption that women are not reading it, and possibly not even sentient beings) he makes the case for that practicality—how black clothes don’t show dirt or damage much (useful when you can't easily afford to replace something if you spill coffee on it), and how they’re appropriate for a wide range of social settings. And all shades of black match, which is more than you can say for other colours. But what wearing black mostly meant to me was that I could make decisions about purchasing clothes and accessories on just one axis—functionality—without worrying about colour. When I gave talks at research conferences or went off to interviews for a postdoctoral position, I had exactly one purse and one pair of good dress shoes and one briefcase and I could still be guaranteed that I had a coordinated outfit.

The roots of the ‘Grey Man’ lie in the Great Male Renunciation: the period around the end of the 17th century, in the middle of the Enlightenment, when society collectively decided that men’s clothing, previously as colourful and ornamented as women’s, was to be dark, sober and serious. What’s kind of astonishing is how we've never really gone back—a quick scroll through red-carpet photos makes that clear—and how we mostly just accept this sexual dimorphism as the norm. Just why men's clothing has never returned to pre-GMR levels of finery is something I’ll leave to historians and sociologists, but it’s almost certainly related to the harsh enforcement of gender norms—while women can wear colours and clothing styles indistinguishable from men’s (as I write this, I’m wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt, and Camper high-tops), the slightest hint of femininity in men’s self-presentation elicits verbal abuse at best, and the worst is far worse.

I have more money to spend on clothes than I did as a grad student, so the quality of what I wear has gone up markedly (Fluevog Derby Swirls instead of steel-toed police boots from the surplus store), but what passes for my personal aesthetic has been pretty constant for two decades. Gibson talks about ‘reduced friction with one’s environment’, and that’s an element of how I dress: wearing a de facto uniform means that I spend very little time getting dressed in the morning, and makes it infinitely easier to pack for the frequent travel I do. Fran Lebowitz (who herself wears a gender-bending daily uniform) defends this move in a recent interview with Elle: “[T]here's nothing wrong in not caring. A man who doesn't care about what he looks like, he's applauded. We say, 'Oh, he's not superficial!'” My own personal Great Female Renunciation is tolerated in my professional environment of academic engineering. But, if you’re a woman, it’s almost impossible to eliminate the social friction around what you’re wearing: as Tannen noted, the way you dress is always perceived (and judged) by others, no matter how much you try to be unremarkable. You can turn this to your advantage: as Lebowitz puts it, “What's so great thing [sic] about clothes is that they're artificial—you can lie, you can choose the way you look, which is not true of natural beauty.” So while there isn't really a 'grey woman', you have more options for active camouflage. But, of course, most of us aren't super-sekrit agents, and this social scrutiny is always in action. It infuriates me when my female students are routinely asked if they have a date when they wear something other than a t-shirt and jeans, are told they are ‘too pretty’ to be engineers, or when my female academic colleagues are presumed, implicitly or explicitly to be less ‘serious’ if they are ‘too’ well put together.

I mostly think about the semiotics of what I wear in the same way that C.P. Snow is said to have described the three laws of thermodynamics: "You can’t win. You can’t break even. You can’t quit the game." There’s a reason why women care deeply about fashion—because it matters. Because it affects how literally everyone you encounter treats you. Given this, the depth of feeling in stories about wardrobes like those recounted in Sheila Heti’s Women in Clothes make more sense. I am acutely aware of the social and professional privilege that means I can opt-out of ‘dressing for success’ (I already have the job I want), although I’m certainly cognizant of what I’m leaving on the table by not paying much attention to style (for me, spending my time and money on other things is a fair trade; the value proposition is different for every woman) and that the specific way that I don't care about fashion is also a statement ('you can't quit the game'). It's common for men to demonstrate mild (or strong) disdain for how much women care about fashion or how much money women spend on clothes. But they are mostly just demonstrating a complete lack of awareness of a semiotic system that women are required to participate in, in order to accrue both economic and social benefits, which men are largely exempt from. "
debchachra  2015  uniforms  uniformproject  glvo  gender  clothing  howwedress  semiotics  williamgibson  caycepollard  color  daborahtannen  greyman  glenno'brien  franlebowitz  cpsnow  sheilaheti  womeninclothes  privilege  presentationofself  identity  freedom  signaling  pesonaluniforms 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Beyond Pong: why digital art matters | Artanddesign | The Guardian
"When critical thinking is at its strongest, it often comes from exactly the sort of fluidity of practice that does run through Digital Revolution. The London-based architect and artist Usman Haque has been creating innovative software products alongside interactive artworks for more than 15 years. In 2007, he founded Pachube, a global data-sharing network that anticipated by years the current buzz around big data and the internet of things. In 2011, Pachube enabled hundreds of Japanese civilians to quickly and easily share weather and radiation data in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, boosting monitoring and relief efforts. Haque's Umbrellium team has produced a new artwork for Digital Revolution, which takes up the entirety of The Pit, the Barbican's subterranean theatre space. Called Assemblance, the piece allows about 25 people at a time to physically shape beams of light with their hands, pushing and pulling them around the space – while also bumping into and potentially messing up the shapes created by other people.

Haque calls it "a virtual reality", but not in the sense of a purely digital realm: "It's there, it's responding to you, you can see it, but as you try and approach it you can't actually feel it. For me, the idea is to question this distinction between the physical and the virtual." The process is akin to building a sandcastle on the beach, where you are building a structure that anyone else, or the elements, can destroy in a moment.

Assemblance attempts to answer the question: "How do we create things together in a shared environment, where we can't always trust each other, but we need to act together regardless?" This, indeed, is the situation we find ourselves in now. In the modern digital world, the question of participation is crucial as our various networks – social, media, national – require us to constantly mediate between acting as individuals and acting as a group. For Haque, the digital has given us "the capacity to have an effect on the other side of the world almost instantaneously", from news events and economic flows to disaster response and warfare. "We can do things to other people in distant lands, and so the question of our responsibility, and our culpability, is thrown up in ways that it hasn't been before. On the other hand, we now have the capacity to connect with each other, and develop new ways to work together, rather than against each other."

Assemblance asks the audience to see itself as part of a networked whole, where actions have consequences. It also points towards the fact that "the digital" is not a medium, but a context, in which new social, political and artistic forms arise. After 50 years, at least, of digital practice, institutions are still trying to work out its relevance, and how to display and communicate it – a marker, perhaps, that it is indeed a form of art."
jamesbridle  2014  digital  digitalart  art  usmanhaque  dotsasmen  umbrellium  assemblance  criticalthinking  pachube  collaboration  internet  web  online  audience  participatory  networks  context  social  socialnetworks  digitalarchaeology  olialialina  susankare  timberners-lee  liamyoung  dronestagram  jamesgeorge  jonathanminard  christophernolan  pong  raspberrypi  minecraft  geocities  martinbircher  chrismilk  aaronkoblin  wecreate  conradbodman  gta  cpsnow  eniac  grandtheftauto 
june 2014 by robertogreco
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson - review | Books | The Guardian
"Henderson's project: a spellbinding book that seeks to astonish us with the sheer intricacy, diversity and multiplicity of life forms that share our planet. In what he modestly calls a "stab" at a 21st-century bestiary, he fuses zoology, literature, mythology, history, paleontology, anecdote and art through 27 brilliantly executed essays…"

"These are essays in the original, Montaignesque sense of the word, and range freely over whatever topic takes the author's fancy."

"In 1959 CP Snow delivered his famous Rede lecture on "The Two Cultures", in which he lamented the gulf between intellectual elites fluent either in the sciences or in the humanities, but all too rarely in both. Fifty years on, the landscape seems as divided as it was in Snow's day. It's a gulf of which the likes of Leonardo could not have conceived, and one that Henderson – an English graduate turned science writer – seeks to bridge. We have a great deal that we can learn from one another…"
gavinfrancis  anniedillard  toread  books  laurencesterne  sirthomasbrown  enlightenment  philosophy  art  anecdote  paleontology  history  mythology  literature  zoology  julesverne  darwin  italocalvino  robertburton  wgsebald  cv  essays  micheldemontaigne  writing  borges  multid  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  leonardodavinci  bestiary  casparhenderson  2012  cpsnow  animals  montaigne  charlesdarwin 
december 2012 by robertogreco
THE THIRD CULTURE
"The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

"Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time."

"The role of the intellectual includes communicating. Intellectuals are not just people who know things but people who shape the thoughts of their generation. An intellectual is a synthesizer, a publicist, a communicator. In his 1987 book The Last Intellectuals, the cultural historian Russell Jacoby bemoaned the passing of a generation of public thinkers and their replacement by bloodless academicians. He was right, but also wrong. The third-culture thinkers are the new public intellectuals."
1959  1991  communication  publicintellectuals  intellectuals  russelljacoby  thinking  literature  technology  research  philosophy  science  culture  thirdculture  johnbrockman  cpsnow 
november 2012 by robertogreco
Purity
"The enemy of rigour and purity is the ad hoc approach, an approach that fits solutions to a particular purpose. Ad hoc explanations and solutions are sound and often highly effective in their own contexts, but make no claims to generality. As such, they attract only the sneers of scientific purists. Pure science, like the kitschiest art, aspires to be generic and timeless and universal. Pure science rejects all worldly purpose.

Scientific purists are right to be suspicious of purpose. Applied research is politicised research, openly co-opted to some political agenda, which, given present-day sources of funding, is more often than not a reactionary one. The aim of such research is to to produce work that will advance corporate or national interests in controlled, predictable ways: to produce patented techniques that give a competitive edge, or to produce concrete (and desirable) policy recommendations to be mulled over by think-tanks."
practical  practice  theory  celibacy  purpose  learning  scientificpurity  ghhardy  cpsnow  mathematics  m  math  romanticism  randallmunroe  academia  elitism  skepticism  stephenbond  xkcd  science  purity 
september 2012 by robertogreco
The Two Cultures - Wikipedia
"The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow.[1][2] Its thesis was that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems."
via:charlieloyd  polarization  twocultures  multi  multidisciplinary  crosspollination  crossdisciplinary  departmentalization  departments  thoughtsegregation  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  1959  theory  engineers  science  humanities  thetwocultures  cpsnow 
may 2012 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read