Tag Archives: links

Links: Eating animals, Vitruvian man’s hernia, etc.

1. A small-scale livestock farmer says he’ll keep raising animals to counter industrial-scale livestock production, but he wonders if we humans shouldn’t outgrow eating animals.

2. A possible hernia in Da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man starts a biology lesson in how our human bodies have weaknesses because of evolutionary adaptation from earlier, non-vertical-walking creatures.

3. A commenter at The Dish makes a point about “epistemological” Original Sin — that is, examining one’s own ideas, actions, with the idea that these may be in error, that people are prone to error.

In other words – if I may be permitted briefly to mix religion and politics – Original Sin is a concept that liberals can embrace, from an epistemological if not a theological perspective. Perhaps after all it’s not something that should be “laundered out of our culture” … We need Original Sin as a restraint against our arrogant – and possibly evil – self-certainty.

4. Norwegians like watching unedited TV — boat trips, train trips in real time. I’m having a similar inclination these days: I like movies that have no plot, and PBS shows that have no interruptions (and also have lightly accented English by people cooking outdoors in windy locations).

5. The Misfortune of Knowing blog has a welcome fact-check on George Packer’s recent New Yorker article about Amazon’s influence in the book-publishing industry.

Link: Rhythmic novelty and repetition in Brubeck jazz, poetry

An article at Salon.com discusses how the unique rhythms in some of jazz musician Dave Brubeck’s work engage listeners:

“[Professor of music at Carleton College in Minnesota Justin]London says that Brubeck’s rhythms can play with the listener’s innate toe-tapping ability—the technical term is entrainment. “Whenever you start doing anything in rhythm the whole motor center of the brain starts lighting up.” He notes that musicians and nonmusicians do equally well on tests of this ability. It appears to be an innate skill, part of the way we interact socially. Asymmetrical meters may be appealing because they test people’s native entrainment ability and keep the brain more active while listening and performing. “The asymmetrical meters do make you work a little harder to make you stay along with them, and that’s part of their appeal, attraction and charm,” London says.

And this:

David Huron, a music professor at The Ohio State University, researches a variety of topics in music cognition, including the emotional effects of music and what makes tunes memorable. He says that musicologists tend to focus on novelty when discussing musical appeal, but in reality, “people prefer things that are familiar.” He says that in order to make songs such as “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” compelling, Brubeck had to balance the novelty of the rhythm with familiarity, particularly through repetition. “If you want to make things accessible to listeners, repetition is key. If he had just done a more Stravinsky-esque thing, playing around with these rhythms and not repeating them, then what we know from the research is that would be much less appealing to the listeners.”

Reading this article, I thought about how this rhythm interpretation could also apply to poetry: how the rhythm activates our brain (including the “motor center,” as it says above — we feel rhythm in our bodies, with poetry as well as music, I’d assert) and how much we like repetition — why else would there be so much rhyme (defined as repetition of word sounds) in poems?

And I’ve been wondering lately if the writing of poems — from a sound-sense — is mainly about repetitions. Regular repetitions of meter, of rhyme patterns — of course, free verse subverts this, but as the second quote above says, we like patterns. Patterns stick with us, they are often picked out by our brains even without us consciously noticing these patterns, and these patterns are often what stays in our memory. Yet as an artist, I’m skeptical of this hegemony of patterns. I’d like to question this, consider it a little, even if I’m not sure what I’d replace it with.

Links, nonfic: Writers beyond the pale

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This essay sorta exhausted me, in its exhortations to write all the time. As someone who’s somewhat obsessive in his thinking anyway, I don’t need to hear the command to pay yet more attention to my writing and my thinking. But as I read this, and also looked at this essay about writers’ spaces (and how it’s all too easy to romanticize and even worship a writer’s physical things, when we would be understanding an author much more, it seems to me, when we actually do what they did and sit down and write), these two posts got me thinking about where the words come from. I’ve written about this before, but it’s so fascinating to think about how writing fits into one’s life, how in a way, writing is more of a way or mode of living than it is a hobby. I’m also reminded of the Annie Dillard quote: “Society places the writer so far beyond the pale that society does not regard the writer at all.”

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing down on my pocket notes some of the funny, strange, or otherwise unique things my students say in class. (I’d post an example but I’m afraid that actually sharing these things publicly might make my students too self-conscious.) My students seemed to think it weird at first that I’d record what they say, but today, some students seemed pleased to have their words recorded. I’ve turned their unpremeditated utterances into long-lasting symbols on paper, and now their recorded words can be read back to them (or to third parties) at my whim. (There’s also the issue that I may not have heard their words perfectly, but how I write them is how the statements get recorded.)

I’m not recording dialogue for any particular purpose (as if it were research) — there’s just something fascinating for me both in the recording of real-life speech, in the easily taken-for-granted turning of sound into symbol, and also I really enjoy some of the funny things kids say, the particular ways they use language. It seems really simple to write down things people say, and yet, maybe it does put me beyond the pale. These aren’t the words of interview subjects who want to present themselves in certain ways, although of course we all want our speech to make us appear witty, charming, etc. The statements I write down are just glimpses, with minimal context, of the behavior of real people — and yet, somehow, some little aspect of this behavior has become more substantial — how fleeting, how unreal, is most of our experience unless and until it is written.

Our experience, of course, remains fleeting; what we write down of our experience is less a reflection of reality or of real experience, and more a record of what words and ideas about real experience came through my mind, my mind-voice, and got onto the paper. I don’t narrate my life — well, I seldom tell myself what is going on at the moment — I know what’s going on, I know what I think is happening now and what I think I should do next. But I do tend to think — a lot — during my conscious hours, and this thinking takes place mostly as words. There are images and feelings as well, but it’s a wordstream that would appear if there were some way to transcribe my … what’s even a good term for this? It’s all metaphors of course — the stage of my mind’s attention? “Interior monologue” is often used but it already implies language. The mind’s TV of words and images?  It’s funny how hard it is to describe what it’s like to be conscious, to have a mind, to communicate how that mind feels and works.

How when I’m actively doing things, I forget I have some locus directing my actions (many of which may be “muscle memories” and thus not arising to conscious thought at all). When I’m feeling a certain mood, these don’t seem to be controllable, though, like the weather, they’re frequently changing. My thinking that arises to the level of self-awareness that I am thinking (and becoming aware of my own thinking, that’s something I think I’ve gotten better at, through the practice of writing, of taking notes when a discrete idea forms) often comes when I’m driving or showering or otherwise doing things that don’t really engage the conscious mind in a way that teaching, conversing, or reading do.

This is a mess of words here, perhaps not conveying much, perhaps giving rise to some sense of identification in some readers. Perhaps not. But this post has been an attempt to describe what it’s like to be a writer. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to not live as a writer. I don’t even know why I live as a writer — perhaps being a writer has made me a more thoughtful person towards others, or perhaps my thinking separates me from others socially. Perhaps I have shaped, through repetition, my mind to become that of a writer’s; perhaps my biology and my upbringing conditioned me at least part of the way to becoming who I am.

In a way, this aspect of being a writer — the Daily Being a Writer — is certainly not about getting published, and it’s not even mainly about connecting with others (with this rambling post as Exhibit A), or maybe it is about that, a little. And I don’t think this Daily Being a Writer is what we admire or appreciate about our favorite authors, so many of whom were jerks to be around. But Daily Being a Writer — maybe let’s call it, A Writer’s Being? — is not even what the friends and family of Hemingway and Kerouac would have known. Only the writer him/herself can know this. This Writer’s Being is natural to me, and it is obviously one way to be a human alive on this planet, and it is obviously not the only or even necessarily best way of living a human life. This way of living, this Writer’s Being, just seems so fundamental that questions of “am I a real writer?” or questions about how to create more suspense in a novel don’t even make sense in this context. I am, so I write. I exist, and how I exist is by thinking and writing. It’s not even noble or praiseworthy or pitiable or describable by any adjective. It just sorta is. And for some reason, putting words on paper feels good.

Links: Broken-art museum, Vonnegut, et al

1. A museum of art works that have been “totaled” — broken but insured. An interesting way to think about what art is.

2. More Vonnegut letters’ discussion.

3. Photos and memory.

Thanks again to The Dish.

Links: Funny, philosophical sports writing

I’m not a huge sports fan, but I do like this funny piece detailing abysmal quarterbacking performances, and I did enjoy this thoughtful piece by Chuck Klosterman (I’ve also enjoyed his essays in “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs”  and “Eating the Dinosaur”).

Links: A golden age of writing, etc.

Some sites I’m linking to, partly so I can read them (again) later:

1.Via The Dish, an essay on the current “golden age for writers and writing”

2. NYTimes’ The Stone blog post, on philosophy and poetry

3. Audio-editing software recommended by a profilee of NYTimes Biz section.

4. An interesting set of quotations from philosophy & psych. books.

Links: Art, voice, reading, etc.

Some links on art and whatnot, most of which are from The Dish’s weekend art coverage.

1. The human voice.

2. Cliches.

3. On art and on not-trying.

4. Food as art.

5. On God as “imperfect.”

6. Virginia Woolf and the love of reading.

7. Joan Acocella on novels’ endings.

8. On randomness in computer code and art.

Links: Wither diaries?

The New York Times Room for Debate feature discusses the role/value of diaries in the age of social media. I don’t personally use the word “diary,” for some reason, though my journals contain diary-stuff sometimes. Through there, I also enjoyed this link to a Morgan library diary exhibit overview.

Other links, via The Dish: death, memory, and writers as not-regular-people.