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Rebecca Solnit on Skipping High School and California Culture | Literary Hub
"Paul Holdengraber: I had the pleasure, a bittersweet pleasure, of speaking with John Berger two years ago (about two months before he died) and I was so amazed by his extraordinary freedom of thinking. I was wondering, though I was never able to ask him, how much of it came to him from not having been forced into a certain school, or not having gone to all the schools people feel they need to go to in order to think.

It strikes me that you have that same appetite, that same appetite that comes from not having had to follow a certain regime, but rather following what really interests you, what really fills you with passion. I wonder how much of that is true, and how much of that is true to the place you’ve committed yourself to live in.

Rebecca Solnit: I didn’t go to high school and I feel that was one of the great strategic victories of my life. In the 1970s everything was very nebulous and wide open, and I just managed by going to an alternative junior high school through tenth grade, which was a very kind place compared to the place I went to for seventh and eighth grade. Then I took the GED test and started college at 16, to avoid high school altogether.

I remember thinking the GED—which is supposed to test you on everything you’re supposed to know when you graduate from high school—and thinking, “I’ve basically goofed off for two years. I’m 15 and I’m apparently able to acquire all the knowledge you need to get out of high school—what are you doing for those other three or four years?” I’ve always felt that a lot of what people are taught to do is conform and obey a set of instructions about hierarchy. It’s really destructive of the people who succeed in that system, as well as the ones who fail. I know you didn’t grow up in this country—

PH: I’m not sure I grew up. I’m still trying.

RS: Well that too. There’s the people who feel damaged by being unpopular in high school, but there’s a different kind of tragedy of people who were so popular in high school—the homecoming queens, the football captains—who feel as though they’ve arrived at the end of the journey without ever having set out for it, who feel like now they can rest on the laurels, which aren’t the laurels that will matter for the next 50 or 60 years.

It’s a very destructive system of values. You look at schools in other countries and they don’t have proms and homecoming queens and team spirit—this kind of elaborate sports culture that is very heteronormative as well as hierarchical. It also creates monsters out of the boys who are able to get away with bullying and sexual assault because they’re good at sports.

PH: You were mentioning my own upbringing. I grew up, in part, in many different countries in Europe, but one of the countries I lived was Belgium. In the mid-70s they introduced something they called Le Test Américain, “the American test.” You know what that was: multiple choice. I was terrible at it because I always felt ambivalent. I always felt, if you look at it from this perspective, that would be the answer; but if you look at it from that perspective, this would be the answer. And of course that didn’t bode well for school.

I know now that teaching has become so much that—so much about getting the supposed right answer to a question, which really means the right answer to a question if you look at it only from one vantage point. Which is exactly the contrary of what literature teaches, or for that matter, what life teaches us to think and do.

RS: When I was young, in the 80s, I read a wonderful report on why we should teach art in schools, and one of the arguments was that there is no right answer in art. There might be good ways to do things, but there’s no simple one right answer. Two plus two might be four, but the way a bird flies can be represented in innumerable ways.

PH: I wonder also, in your escape from high school, how much California and your interest in California has had to do with the way you think.

RS: One of the things about being deinstitutionalized—because not only did I not go to high school, I did sort of sprint through college and then get a journalism degree that was training to be a writer in a practical sense rather than becoming an academic—was the freedom to be synthetic, to move through what’s considered to be many fields. In fact in Wanderlust, early on, I said that if the fields of study could be considered real fields, then the the history of walking trespasses through many of them on its trajectory. And my life has been kind of like that. There’s a curious thing in academia in which authority is demonstrated by specialization and that you have to color within the lines and stick within the lines of your discipline, which I know a lot of people feel fretful about.

California wasn’t inherently an interest in mine. It was just where my father was born and where I grew up and have lived most of my life. When I was young and working at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and going to the journalism school at UC Berkeley, I did my thesis on the artist Wallace Berman and I began the process of writing the history that wasn’t available to me to read. When I was growing up in California we were regarded, almost universally, as almost a barbarian hinterland that had gone, as I often say, from wilderness to shopping mall in a single bound. And there was a lot of sneering on the East Coast about us as a place without culture, as a place of yahoos and bimbos and babes and surfer dudes, as lacking the high seriousness.

I have a friend whose East Coast cousin once said to him, “people in California don’t read.” And it was just amazing having someone dismiss the state with the UC system and Stanford and some remarkable intellectuals, from Angela Davis to Garry Snyder.

So I really didn’t grow up here with it being treated as an interesting place, though I loved the landscape, wondered about the Native history, and actually went to Europe because of that yearning for a sense of deep past and time in history. And then came back and had to find a way to locate it in this landscape.

Of course a lot of things have changed. A lot of California history has been written by Mike Davis and many other people since then. But it really was treated as a blank and trivial place when I was younger. There were some California historians, but the public mainstream attitude was very dismissive.

PH: I remember a conversation I had with Werner Herzog who said that in New York they consume culture, and in Los Angeles they actually make it. And it struck me as very interesting because there is such an assumption in New York that everything emanates from here.

RS: I’ve noticed.

PH: That’s a fantastic response, Rebecca. We’ll leave it at that for now."
rebeccasolnit  unschooling  deschooling  2018  interviews  education  california  history  culture  nyc  johnberger  paulholdengraber  values  hierarchy  teaching  art  arteducation  pedagogy  mikedavis  journalism  wallaceberman  eastcoast  angeladavis  garysnyder  conformity 
may 2018 by robertogreco
A 90-Year-Old John Berger is Not Surprised By President Trump | Literary Hub
[audio: https://soundcloud.com/lithub/apcfp-e27-john-berger ]

"John Berger talks with Paul Holdengraber about President Donald Trump, the emptiness of American political commentary, desire, place, and how the hell to keep going.

John Berger on Trump’s win…
In such a climate, somebody who is actually saying something, who seems to suggest that there may be a connection between what he said and what he will do, such a person is a way out of a vacuous nightmare—even if the way out is dangerous or vicious… The less hot air you make and the more tangible you are the better chance you have at this moment.

John Berger on the American electorate’s anger towards the elite…
They are angry at the elite not because it’s the elite in the old fashion way—the elites have always been criticizable or suspected—but because it’s the elite that talks and talks and talks and there is no connection between his talk and his actions and what is really happening in the world. So it’s a kind of elitism which is an abstraction.

John Berger on what keeps him going…
The next job, the next task. Because I’m always so involved and also collaborating in many, many ways with many different people on many different levels. So what keeps me going is the next page.

John Berger on desire…
I think that all desire, including sexual, is the desire to be in a certain place, if only a place consumes us and gives us energy. But when I say place I don’t mean a geographical place… It’s where your finger fits or where your foot rests."



[Paul Holdengraber reads Berger this poem.]

"The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.?"
johnberger  paulholdengraber  2016  donaldtrump  elections  desire  place  elitism  emptiness  politics  pabloneruda  maryoliver  poems  poetry  poets  sorrow 
january 2017 by robertogreco
William Gibson: On Phones, Fiction, and the End of the World | Literary Hub
"In this episode [https://soundcloud.com/lithub/william-gibson-part-one/s-0Jwns ] of a A Phone Call From Paul, Paul Holdengraber talks to William Gibson about the end of the world, writing fiction, and how crazy it is that people can make little marks on a page to represent and share their thoughts with other people.

William Gibson on writing through the world…

It isn’t that I would want to particularly be working in a better time, but I suspect that the nature of what I do in fiction has something to do with taking some sort of measurement of the zeitgeist at the time of writing, and writing somehow slightly to the side of that. And there is some way I have, but I don’t really understand it, of finding at least for myself a place of resonance around my most generalized sense of how the world is. I need to find that in order to function, and the current situation seems to have an element of goofy incoherence to it that makes it more than usually difficult to find this complementary resonance.

William Gibson on the competing urges of fiction…

Because I’m writing, I’m in the middle of my writing process now, and when I’m doing that, I’m able to read very little fiction. So whether it’s new fiction for me or old favorites, the enjoyment and the creation of it seem to me to take place in the same part of the mind, so that if the part of the day in which I’m not writing fiction has anything else going on, it’s probably not going to be reading fiction. When I’m writing fiction I tend to read nonfiction.

William Gibson on predicting the future…

I’m ever reluctant to take our predictive narratives totally seriously because I think that in spite of our best efforts at prediction, I think that our self-regard defeats us in the end. That we tend to—we imagine relatively heroic outcomes, and no one wants a prophet standing on the corner saying that everything is going to be hideously stupid and banal. Utterly atrocious, and that’s just the nature of things. It lacks even the—well, the appeal of the apocalypse is closure and a sort of clarity. Yes! The world is ending. And yeah it’s kind of a banner one can get behind, in a way. Its opposite is this kind of willy-nilly nihilistic absurdist narrative that one can feel one is living in.

William Gibson on phonecalls…

You’re reaching me through one of a number of post-urban constructs that humanity’s erected in the past hundred or so years, so we are in a common city with San Bernardino. It’s a virtual space. Even then, one could live in a rural setting and arrange one’s life in such a way that one was completely plugged in to every major city in the world and have no idea that there were trees and birds on the other side of the wall. That wasn’t previously possible, you know? That’s relatively—that’s the last century or so."

[Part 2: http://lithub.com/williams-gibson-on-technophobia-and-the-power-of-film/
and https://soundcloud.com/lithub/william-gibson-part-two/s-my54E ]
williamgibson  interviews  paulholdengraber  future  phones  fiction  telephones  internet  web  online  virtualspace 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Williams Gibson: On Technophobia and the Power of Film | Literary Hub
"In part one [http://lithub.com/william-gibson-on-phones-fiction-and-the-end-of-the-world/ + https://soundcloud.com/lithub/william-gibson-part-one/s-0Jwns ] of Paul Holdengraber’s phone call with William Gibson, topics included dystopias, the universal screenwriter, and the disruption of the telephone. In part two,

[https://soundcloud.com/lithub/william-gibson-part-two/s-my54E ]

William Gibson on the availability of culture…

If you had never heard recorded music and you didn’t have it as a category of experience—if it simply never existed for you—I think that your concept of what music is would be fantastically different. Something that’s happened, a change that’s occurred over the course of my own life that I think somewhat puts this vague claim I’m making into perspective, is the way in which seeing a film used to be something that was so dependent on so many factors that it made it largely unrepeatable. You could see the film on its theatrical release, but unless you lived in, say, New York, there were no repertory cinemas. So people saw a film once and then lived with it in memory, there was no television, there were no videotapes of films. Film existed primarily in memory, and the experience of actually seeing it was very intense.

William Gibson on Chris Marker…

I first saw Chris Marker’s La Jetée in a film history course when I was an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia. I had been vaguely aware of it earlier because it is, you know, technically a science fiction film even though it’s a short avant-garde French film. I had had in my life no opportunity to see any avant-garde French film, so I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t really expecting very much. It had this extraordinarily profound effect on me, and it’s very, very brief. I actually left the lecture hall feeling uneasily that I had somehow—that something had happened, that I’d experienced some sort of transformation, and I didn’t know what it was.

William Gibson on technophobia…

I’m dubious about ranking… I’m not sure about ranking. I’ve long suspected that what our descendants will find quaintest about us it that we made distinctions of that sort. That they’ll be looking back and they’ll be going, So strange they didn’t think Facebook was “real.” There’s a wonderful, weird book, the title of which I will probably be unable to remember, but it’s a collection of first-person accounts of Victorians encountering new technologies. It’s taken from diaries and letters—it’s not famous people, just ordinary people. The one that always struck me was an Anglican clergyman who went to a garden party, heard an Edison phonograph talking, and went home and wrote this completely terrifying description of this demonic, satanic, mechanical voice speaking to the children in the garden, and how this probably presaged the end of the world. He was just writing for himself, so he wasn’t exaggerating, and I thought, Oh, wow. He had this absolutely intense experience, but I don’t think I could say that what it caused him to fear came to pass."
williamgibson  technophobia  film  chrismarker  lajetee  culture  2016  television  tv  paulholdengraber  interviews  experience  memory  recordings  music  audio  listening  nostalgia  lajetée 
january 2016 by robertogreco

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