Friday, February 28, 2014

What is Education?

“Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”

- Mark Twain

Like most Mark Twain quotes, I love it while the optimist in me cringes. He certainly was a cynical bastard, but it's hard to argue with what he has to say.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sitting in the Darkness with Open Eyes

“Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It's like the tide going out, revealing whatever's been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future.”
- Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye, along with books like Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Chekov's short stories, taught me about the true power of literature. It's that good. And even if you don't like the story you get lots of gems of perception like the one above. "Nibbled fishbodies" indeed.

Stretched by a New Idea

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Updike's "Perfection Wasted"

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

- John Updike, "Perfection Wasted"

Can't say I like everything that Updike writes but damn when the guy is on, he's on.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Restless Aquatic Organism

"For not having slept in twenty-four hours, I felt surprisingly awake. My body was hazed to the core, but my mind kept swimming swiftly around through the convoluted waterways of my consciousness, like a restless aquatic organism."

- Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase, page 23

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Tab Dump

The Guardian's George Monbiot has a great rant about what's behind the incredible flooding in Britain this season. After detailing what's happening, he concludes:
It's hard to get your head round this. The crop which causes most floods and does most damage to soils is the only one which is completely unregulated.
So why did government policy change? I've tried asking the environment department: they're as much use as a paper sandbag. But I've found a clue. The farm regulation task force demanded a specific change: all soil protection rules attached to farm subsidies should become voluntary. They should be downgraded from a legal condition to an "advisory feature". Even if farmers do nothing to protect their soil, they should still be eligible for public money.
You might have entertained the naive belief that in handing out billions to wealthy landowners we would get something in return. Something other than endless whining from the National Farmers' Union. But so successfully has policy been captured in this country that Defra – which used to stand for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – now means Doing Everything Farmers' Representatives Ask. We pay £3.6bn a year for the privilege of having our wildlife exterminated, our hills grazed bare, our rivers polluted and our sitting rooms flooded.
The Guardian keeps the optimism flowing with an interview with the prescient James Lovelock who predicts that climate change has already reached the tipping point:
It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do." ...
What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."
Weird magna short horror stories! Just some creepy stuff. I can testify to how powerfully macabre Junji Ito's Uzumaki is. Shudder.

This seems interesting. I know nothing about Bartók, and my library has none of his music. Any suggestions to what I should listen to first?

Dorthe Nors muses on solitude being a condition for art:
Solitude, I think, heightens artistic receptivity in a way that can be challenging and painful. When you sit there, alone and working, you get thrown back on yourself. Your life and your emotions, what you think and what you feel, are constantly being thrown back on you. And then the “too much humanity” feeling is even stronger: you can't run away from yourself. You can't run away from your emotions and your memory and the material you're working on. Artistic solitude is a decision to turn and face these feelings, to sit with them for long periods of time.
It takes the courage to be there. You run into your own pettiness. Your own cowardice. You run into all kinds of ugly sides of yourself. But the things that you've experienced in your life become the writing that you do. And there's no easy way to get to it, if you want to write literary fiction. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Off Balance with Awe

Cayte Bosler, while examining the benefits of awe in The Atlantic, quotes Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota:
"The experience of awe is one where you are temporarily off-kilter in terms of your understanding of the world," explains Vohs. "People mostly walk around with a sense of knowing what is going on in the world. They have hypotheses about the way people behave and what might happen; those are pretty air-tight. It is hard to get people to shake from those because that’s just how the brain works. We are always walking around trying to confirm the things we already think. When you are in a state of awe, it puts you off balance and as a consequence, we think people might be ready to learn new things and have some of their assumptions questioned."
It's one of the reason that I like space so much. The scale is so huge that it puts your mind a perspective that its hard to achieve on an everyday basis.