About: Below, you'll find my latest Diary entries. I also have a couple of blogs (for social networking purposes). One is called The Angler / Reads and is primarily about books and thoughts about what I happen to be reading. The other blog is called Without Observers and that's where I post comments about and reviews of the scientific papers I'm reading related to quantum theory and condensed matter physics. Here are a few of the recent posts:
My most current Diary entry is about how we view our changing climate: climate matters. If you want to leave comments, just send me a tweet on Twitter and reference the title of the post. I'm @theangler.
In translation: This is not even a study of failure. It’s a study of not even trying. The invisible man has no need to disappear. See my most current notes on Docteur Pasavento by Enrique Vila-Matas: II.1 Naples
Footnotes: Soccer, beer, and literature are various lenses which a phaneroscopist employs to understand variations of local cultures around the globe. Read some notes about Nigeria.
Friday, 17 January 2014. The Challenge of Reading? At first I was skeptical of Goodreads (the social networking site for readers), but when I learned a few of my “real life” friends were cataloging their reading experiences on Goodreads, I softened up and gave it a try. Why not chatter about the books I’m reading and find out what other books are out there that my friends are reading?
For the last two years I’ve been participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Basically, the idea is to set a goal for the number of books you intend to read in the calendar year. You keep track of the books read, and Goodreads tells you whether you are on track or not. Sounds harmless, right? Well, yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Richard Lea who said, “All this talk of pledging, of targets, of tracking your progress, is just another step in the marketisation of the reading experience, another stage in the commodification of literary culture.”
Up until reading Lea’s blog post, I imagined that my taking the Goodreads Challenge was “mostly harmless.” In fact, the Challenge has helped me carve out more time in my life for reading the books that I want to read. Lea’s choice to view the Challenge in a negative way is his personal choice and has very little to do with the intrinsic evil of goal-setting. Reading is an enjoyable activity and it shouldn’t be a chore or an obligation. While it’s tempting to imagine that the Reading Challenge is a stage on the road to reading Hell (and I think Lea cautions us rightly not to view reading badly), I believe it’s possible to say on January 1st, that you plan to read 52 books in the coming year without being a killjoy or an agent of creeping capitalist commodification.
I entered a number for my Reading Challenge this year. That number is a reminder to myself not to get lazy. Books and reading are important parts of my life, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and end up reading less that you wanted. Because each of us has a lot of demands on our attention, and reading is comparatively more effort than watching TV, it’s easy to get distracted from one’s true love, reading. A goal and a “challenge” helps me make the choices I want to make about how to spend my leisure time.
Idea maps and madness. A year ago, perhaps two, I drew something on a sheet of ruled notebook paper that resembled a flow chart. This chart or idea map was a representation of the connections between various books and films I’d been reading at the time together with words that signaled recurring themes in my own thinking and work as a writer.
It was the summer of 2012 that I first read Enrique Vila-Matas’ Dublinesque and found therein an invented author by the name of Vilém Vok who had written a book length essay called The Center about New York City and how all New York stories become universal stories. Riba, the protagonist of Dublinesque, is drawn to New York. Perhaps he wants to transform his story into a universal one. Or he wishes to recover that feeling of being young and kicking a soccer ball on the porch of the house where he grew up. The image (or memory) is of a dream. The house or apartment is in New York.
The invented author, Vilém Vok, and his book that exists only as an imagined fiction, I wondered what form the book would take if it did exist. I even joked with a friend that I was thinking of writing Vilém Vok’s The Center and publishing it. In the text I would incorporate the few quotes that appear in Dublinesque. As I contemplated what the contents of this imagined book might be, I thought about New York as the center of a giant literary map, a map of the Republic of Letters. Paris is the old capital. And perhaps Paris can still claim to be the capital, but New York, whether it be the second city in the Republic of Letters, it is undoubtedly the center. It was a simple step — not a leap at all — to arrive at the idea of a series of books on the subject of literary cities. Such a series exists; it’s called Cities of the Imagination, available from Signal Books. (Is there a volume in this series for Paris?)
Why just cities? Writers don’t only live and work in cities. Some of us reside in the suburbs or in the country side. Literary landscapes.
I’ve expanded on my original flow-chart-like idea map. Each day I add more details to my maps centered around New York, Paris, London, Cambridge, Berlin, etc. And as I draw these connections between names and books and places and themes, I wonder if this isn’t a project bordering on madness. Making connections is simple. Connecting one idea with another is the rice and beans of literary work. But drawing these maps... To see spread out on large sheets the contents of your mind — a patchwork of ideas.
The covers of books are doorways through which one can step into the literary landscape. These idea maps are just that, maps. Records of possible journeys over the literary landscape. What’s rich about the writing of Vila-Matas is the doors within doors. Embedded on almost every page of each of his books are portals, links, bridges to other works, other writers, other worlds. The Many Worlds.
Thursday, 13 February 2014. Climate matters. When asked about the reason why global climate change has become a political issue with camps divided along ideological lines (“conservatives” denying the evidence of science and “liberals” pushing for alternative energy), the expert cited the belief in the freedom of the market as a stumbling block for the political “right.” He said nothing about the fundamentalist, religious conservatism of many on the far right of the political spectrum. These fundamentalists hold that God created the world for man and what ever happens is God’s will and there’s nothing that mere man can do about it. Or perhaps, some believe that God wouldn’t let the Earth become uninhabitable due to an extreme shift in the climate. What ever their thinking is (assuming there’s any thinking at all) they are prepared to continue with business as usual and accept our collective fate.
I was thinking over such matters as I shoveled the snow from my driveway, a weekly labor this winter. Apart from concerns about global warming and extreme climate change, I’ve these “snow days” in which I’m holed up in the house with Alice and Patrick while the Earth layers itself in glittering white. We read, listen to music, put together puzzles, play games, bake cookies, pop popcorn, and treat ourselves to a glass of beer when after the obligatory shoveling and clearing of the drive and walkways.
Intellectual pursuits. After ten years of devoting myself to the literary life, reading and writing fiction (novels mostly), I’ve returned to some of my past intellectual pursuits. When I was in graduate school I carried on a sideline of research which could be classified as philosophy. My principle points of departure were the logical categories of C.S. Peirce and the holism of David Bohm. Despite presenting a single paper on Bohmian mechanics at a philosophy conference at the University of Texas in 1995 or 1996 and two symposia on the logic of Peirce, I never did make the crossover from condensed matter physics to philosophy. After finishing my Ph.D. in 1997, my professional life became more focused on physics and my sideline pursuits were set aside for more pressing matters.
My literary interests are what brought me back to reading David Bohm. There is a chapter in his Wholeness and the Implicate Order which presents a language experiment where verbs are given priority over nouns for carried the weight of meaning in expressions. Contemplating Bohm’s logical language structure led me to resume my study of Wittgenstein. Not that there is any explicit connection, but I couldn’t help but creatively associate Bohm’s rheomode with Wittgenstein’s idea of language games.
Reading Bohm again led me to ask what was the present state of his causal or ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics. Has it been forgotten? Or have a handful of enthusiasts taken up the challenge to extend and develop the de Broglie-Bohm theory, working through its formalism, and applying it to the solution of problems of particle motion at the quantum level. As it turns out, the literature on the de Broglie-Bohm theory is vast and continues to grow. And I admit that I was not just a little bit excited to see that Bohm’s work has found some advocates and has spawned an active community of researchers and thinkers.
Science criticism. In the literary world, the role of the critic is well-known. Literary criticism is as essential to the literary life as the writing of new books. Criticism too is an art. The literary critic is a figure to be hated or admired, but certainly not ignored. But what of science critics? Can anyone be said to be a critic of science? Or perhaps the mechanisms of criticism are built into the literature of science. Science could be self-critiquing. Each scientist must play the role of critic when he evaluates the work of others.
Most of what appears in the popular press about science, or the science that is packaged for popular consumption, appears to be part of a booster campaign, that is a campaign to convince the general public that science is interesting and good for them. I suppose some of the writing about literature certainly falls into that category as well. But is there anyone doing science criticism for popular consumption?