Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

30Sep/11

art + science Guest Riff 01

John Maeda
Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered "useless," will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously.

John Maeda via The universe will fly like a bird

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23Sep/11

On the subject of “new” writers and wordiness: what author Annie Dillard Had to Say

Here is a riff I wrote in graduate school a few years ago - about author Annie Dillard's first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In an afterward to the version of the book I read, Ms. Dillard herself talks about the tendency of mature writers to be more "conservative with word count."

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

(written in 2009) First a confession. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is the last book I am reading for my Master of Fine Arts program in writing at Antioch University. It is a book that probably deserves contemplative quiet reading, and I am in no position to give it either of those forms of attention. I graduate in thirty-eight days, and my mind is way preoccupied with finishing-touch things: preparing my graduate lecture, my graduate reading, making sure that my thesis is properly formatted, worrying if the technology will be there and working when I present the new media book I have begun to create as my thesis project. How ironic that I should pick up this meditation-on-nature during this most hectic month of my life in the last several years. I have read this book thinking throughout: what would my reaction be if this were my first semester, and I had time to devote to this book, could sit on a park bench in Pasadena reading it and thoughtfully digesting its stories and meaning? Instead I read it rushed: annoyed often at all the detail – who cares about all the details of frog mating and starling eradication? Oh, that is so gross anyway, why do I need to know that?

Here is another thing that happens when I read a meditative book in a forced rush: I discover wonderful analogies and metaphors like, “It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself in its own exhaustive tale,” (69) but then I wonder why the author waits so long before wonderful thoughts such as this. Fills up pages and pages about the survival ineptitude of fireflies before saying something profound and meaningful. And then I feel pathetic. Would I not be happy to meander with fireflies if I had more time? Would I not be filled with awe and interest if I were not preoccupied with life things that must be done? This book won a Pulitzer Prize, after all. Students and teachers in my writing program could not believe I had not already read it, and said so; I felt pressured not to finish my program until I had.

I discovered Dillard’s story of the blind people who were given sight when cataract surgery was discovered. Pretty cool. It made me want to go read the book about it that she was referencing: Marius von Senden’s Space and Sight. Not so much because of the blind to seeing thing (although that was very interesting) but because I learned a secret about myself just a few years ago (it was something my mother apprised me of in fact), and I remember thinking at the revelation how I felt like I imagined a blind person would feel when suddenly given sight.

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16Sep/11

check out seasoned guitarist Bob Saxton (in the back)

(media illustration for previous post)

Both great players, but if you concentrate on the actual notes being played . . . Bob Saxton by two heads - minimum. Wait for Bob's (2) solos after Scotty plays his abundance of notes. The brilliance is in Bob's choice of notes and phrases. It's not how many notes you play - but which ones. (give Scotty Anderson a few more decades to catch up)

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11Sep/11

On being a new (youthful) artist, composer, musician or writer

I've just re-read Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, and what came to mind this time was a reflection on what it is to be a young artist. I think it was author John Updike whom I saw quoted once remarking about the abundance of words in his first books. Writers seem to take much greater care to be succinct, to get precisely at the thing, as they mature.

I see this reflected in musicians as well. Several times now, I have had the honor to play and sing with guitarist, Bob Saxton, who performed in the 1950s with country legend Patsy Cline. Often preceding Bob on the bill will be some young players who seem to be attempting to play every note on their guitars, one thousand times each, within their 10 minute set time frame. And often young members of the audience hoot and holler and demonstrate all manner of being impressed by the speed and "notiousness" of these young players. Then Bob gets up on stage.

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5Sep/11

Veering off the Modular Mind and the Self for a Bit

I am going to leave the self and neuroscience and the mind for a bit. But I will return to it soon. I have finished the Kurzban book, Why Everyone (else) is a Hypocrite, and have had a pretty strong reaction to it. Although I find his hypothesis about the modularity of the mind fascinating, I have concerns about some science that preceded his ideas that is not referenced in his book, and further concerns about his application of his ideas to the world and human behavior.

While I am passionate about science, I persist in returning to some familiar themes surrounding my thoughts about it: that over-specialization of scientists is inhibiting many from finding the "truth" due to their limited views; that the disembodiment of science from experience by some scientists is wreaking havoc on their ability to find a reality that is either true or useful; that the unchecked belief in scientists simply because they are scientists and/or have prestigious credentials has always been, and continues to be a danger; that the severing of art and science has left our ability to further (or comprehend) some aspects of science (and reality) stranded.

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