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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why Is Academic Jargon So Undecipherable

From www.edge.org (I am obsessed, yes... spend several hours a day here):

JOHN BARGH: The discovery of the pervasiveness of situational priming influences for all of the higher mental processes in humans does say something fundamentally new about human nature (for example, how tightly tied and responsive is our functioning to our particular physical and social surroundings). It removes consciousness or free will as the bottleneck that exclusively generates choices and behavioral impulses, replacing it with the physical and social world itself as the source of these impulses.

The first time I read this passage it reminded me of graduate school, and how we used to sit around during seminars trying to impress one another with obscure phraseology. But to each his or her own madness, and I knew deep inside that this passage really had something to offer. And so I went about deciphering this little jewel. Here's what I think it says:

1-That technology is affecting human behavior at an alarming rate.

2-That even the most basic and simple of tasks and humans' capacity to make critical decisions and choices is being washed away by the maelstrom of information and choices the Internet brings into the every day human consciousness.

3-Choice-making is becoming a loss art.

I am not sure if I am correct, but I had fun trying to make sense of the passage. Please visit edge.org It's a nice place to see what the brightest minds today are middling with. I have to warn you, the site is almost Fundamentally inclined to evolution, and at times, they sound like the very Fundamental Gospel people they some times criticize. Nevertheless, I love reading what these people have to say and watching the interviews and learning. Please let me know if I completely missed the meaning of the the passage above.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Originality of Style--The Eternal Debate

God knows I've been posting entries about originality and development of style for what seems a lifetime. I am not anywhere near coming to an opinion, either concrete or phenomenological. But the ideas for examining these questions often come to us from the most unexpected places. I was raking my front yard the other day in the middle of that day and noticed my neighbors' "For Sale" sign gone. A little later, a truck pulled in backwards into their driveway and they began to fill it up. My dear neighbors are gone, I thought. Their labor continued for most of the day. I spied as little as possible, thinking it rude to simply stare. Frankly, I was just sad. Suddenly, the movers carefully loaded Jack Vettrinano's "The Signing Butler" in the cavity of the large truck. You know the painting; it is available in most furniture stores and also in major department stores such as Target and even Walmart. I don't write this in order to bash Vettrianos' masterpiece; I rather like the work myself. But I remember an overly opinionated art appreciation professor I had in my sophomore year in college (gheez, how many years ago) who considered "The Singing Butler" little more than kitsch art. To my amateurish view, that's just downright an ugly statement. Do a search of Jack Vettriano's art and you'll see that this man had a talent that was not kitsch at all, but rather a beautiful self style that echoed with the style of a Master: Edward Hopper. I am certain that I am not the first, nor will be the last to make this connection. Again, do a search and you will see that there are plenty of people willing to label Vettriano a "Hopper wannabe." To me it is the other way around. I suspect that I am being innocent about this, but I think the parallels between the two artists was more the case of one artist absorbing the style of the older, wiser artist and developing a style of his own by means of incorporation. Certainly, the styles are similar in terms of round lines and soft edging, but there is a quality to Vettriano's art that Hopper simply lacks. I cannot post all of the illustrations here to make my point, but the two examples offered here were chosen for a reason. First, the similarities are clear--I've said that--but one thing absent in Hopper is the fullness of movement; the representation of wind, movement and the angular capturing of nature. To be sure, Hopper couldn't possibly do this while depicting his subjects in urban scenes that often turned desolate and lonely; many consider his subjects prisoners of modernity. There are, to be sure, plenty of Hopper paintings (especially his series of residences in Cape Cod) that incorporate elements of nature, but for the most part we know Hopper for his statements of isolation of the individual; the human subject often trapped in rooms with a single window offering the world outside as if in temptation. Vettriano does the same, but places the subject outside the confines of urbanity and reveals nature.

Going back to the idea of color, angular projection and round lines, Hopper and Vettriano are so similar one could easily confuse one for the other. I believe that whether or not Vettriano aimed to make it so (even if he hadn't ever heard of Edward Hopper), he successfully developed an original style from that of Hopper. The absence of facial expression is also a great difference between the two masters. Nevertheless, the two styles blend so closely one has to consider them both original on their own terms.

Good heavens... I've forgotten to write about finishing up "The Diaries of Christopher Isherwood 1939-1960" and how long it took me to cross the ocean of 900 pages. But I feel I have gained new friends in a way, such a tender and tumultuous artistic life; both his and that of Don Bachardy, his long-time partner. The diaries do not cover the later artistic recognition that Isherwood got in the seventies with the extravagance that was "Cabaret." You may recall on my earlier post about Isherwood that I mentioned Sally Bowles and "Cabaret" are based on stories by Isherwood, very early stories at that. At any rate, despite the fact that I disagree with Isherwood practically on everything, I enjoyed "meeting" him and also Bachardy. Here's a video documentary that talks about their relationship HERE. I really think that anything based on real love is a wonderful thing, and, while I don't follow the same emotional interest as Chris and Don, it is a tender story; one can easily grasp that by reading "The Diaries" or watching the documentary. Anything that is REAL LOVE between two people is a blessing... there's already too much hate in the world and anger and pain.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg

The one question that "Hurry Down Sunshine" indirectly aims to answer is how do humans lose their sanity; where does reason go when madness comes? It is a painfully personal memoir of a father and his daughter's descend into madness. As most memoirs, "Hurry Down Sunshine" is episodic in nature, but whereas in other memoirs I have read this literary device is used to break the monotony of the narrative, Michael Greenberg's mastery renders the episodic style poetic, lyrical and beautifully woven into a story so painful you might want to pack a box of tissues. I mean this in a very positive way. As an instructor at an all-girls preparatory academy, I have seen my share of teenage girls issues--from heartbreaks to sports disappointments to issues of self-esteem and self-view, my last ten years as an all-girls academy instructor has taught me a great deal. Nothing, however, could have prepared me to read this touching and amazing book.

Michael Greenberg's book is as beautiful as it is powerful--a must read for both parents and young teenagers. Think the best and most powerful writing by Kay Redfield Jamison and render it ten times more personal and agonizing in its powerful message. This is a volume that encompasses a difficult topic and a narrative so personal both Greenberg and his daughter Sally come across as good friends--friends one wants to accompany on their journey into an unknown future. One might find one's self praying for both father and daughter. One of the most powerful passages comes early in the book when Greenberg picks up a piece of paper Sally had written one of her many poems in.
"And when everything should be quiet
your fire fights to burn a river of sleep.
Why should the great breath of hell kiss
what you see, my love?"
Again, this makes me think of all of those pieces of paper I some times pick from the floor at the Academy. Most are simply notes from one girl to another, badly written and full of misspellings. But there are times when I come across a jotted line, a broken phrase, a deep thought put down on paper in the middle of a boring class session and I begin to wonder how many of my students are not much different from Sally, how many of them may be crying out for help in some personal frequency not even their parents can decipher. Ten years ago, when I began my labor of love at the Academy, the book to read was "Reviving Ophelia." Today, I have to recommend--without reservation--"Hurry Down Sunshine." It is a must read for parents, students and teachers. The power, passion and revealing emotions in this book will no doubt enlighten anyone who reads it and takes it to heart.

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