From the category archives:

Learning

from “Self-Consciousness” by Tony Hoagland:

When a person takes the step toward learning more of craft and its history, more of artifice—when, for example, a person crosses the threshold of an MFA program—she chooses to end a childhood in artlessness. She gives up some of the innocent infatuation, the naïveté, the adolescent grandiosity, maybe even some of the natural grace of the beginner. “They are good poets because they don’t know yet how hard it is to write a poem,” I have heard a teacher say, a bit tartly, of her beginning poetry class.

This initiation into knowledge will infect the learner with the virus of self-consciousness. As a consequence of learning of the existence of the poems of W.H. Auden, or Marianne Moore, or Louise Glück, your writing may suddenly seem horribly simplistic, crude as crayon drawings on Masonite. Now the poem, even as you are making it, seems stiff, clumsy, and obvious. Now your work may become, in compensation, coy and encoded.

Yet that very knowledge, which can inhibit and choke, can also inspire and challenge. Self-consciousness is the necessary border crossing of craft, skill, and even of poetic ambition.”

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Dave Allen:

We live in interesting times. When The Guardian has an article with a headline that asks “Will Radiohead’s The King of Limbs save the music industry?” You have to laugh. Why would they want to do that? And so it is with the iPad apps and the media publishing industry “Will Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily save the newspaper and magazine industry?” Well, that’s no laughing matter.

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Roget Ebert:

As I fell into the rhythm of the words, as I savored the way Dickens was planting his signposts for the development of the plot, as I watched him create unforgettable characters in a page or two, I felt a kind of peace. This wasn’t hectic. I wasn’t skittering around here and there. I wasn’t scanning headlines and skimming pages and tweeting links. I was reading.

What I am going to do, is take some time every day to read. I believe I’ll make it a practice to read in the room without the computer and the Wi-Fi.

I interpret “…the room without” as the rest of the world. My first daily read for the summer: Moby Dick. (It’s my first time.)

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Summarizing a recent study:

…the tactile disadvantage extends to the conceptual domain. That is, we seem to be slower at recognising when a word is tactile in nature than we are at recognising whether words are visual, to do with taste, sound, or smell.

The researchers had dozens of participants look at words on a screen, presented one at a time, and press a button to say if they were related to the tactile modality (e.g. ‘itchy’) or not. Some words were tactile-related whilst others were fillers and related to the other senses.

The same task was then repeated but with participants judging whether the words were visual-related, auditory and so on, with each sense dealt with by a new block of trials. The key finding is that participants were much slower at this task in the tactile condition than for the other senses. This was the case even when words were presented for just 17ms, which is too fast for conscious detection but long enough for accurate responding.

Connell and Lynott say their findings provide further evidence for the tactile sense having a processing disadvantage relative to the other senses. They think this is because there’s little evolutionary advantage to sustaining attention to the tactile modality whereas there are obvious survival advantages with the other senses, for example: ‘…in hunting, where efficacious looking, listening and even smelling for traces of prey could afford an advantage.’ You may think of pain and damage detection as reasons for paying sustained attention to the tactile domain, but remember these are served by spinal reflexes. ‘We do not wait for the burning or stinging sensation to register with the attentional system before responding,’ the researchers said.

I can think of lots of reasons for sustained attention to tactile sensation, but they probably don’t have any evolutionary purpose.

via Bobulate

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Amy Hillman recently tweeted this photo of the dedication in a book from Bob’s Red Mill:

...a simple, sustaining way of life...

...a simple, sustaining way of life...

Not too surprising that someone who cares about his wife, work and values this much gave the company to his employees on his 81st birthday.

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El Perro

El Perro (1819-23)

Robert Hughes:

“Goya was one of those uncommon artists who had the daring, or the folly, to take on the whole scale of human fate. It was a huge scale, and nobody works on it today, because our sense of the possibility of art — what it can do, what it can say, and why it can matter — is so depleted. But it never occurred to Goya that art might not be able to say anything and everything about our nature, our desires and our fears. He just assumed that it could, and he went ahead. And by assuming it, he left us with the difficult task of living up to his peculiar intensity. And if we can’t, as is likely, at least he shows us that. Nearly two hundred years after he died, to meet Goya, is still to meet ourselves. “

Goya and his doctor

Goya and his doctor

At the bottom of the painting:

“Goya agradecido á su amigo Arrieta: por el acierto y esmero con q.e le salvo la vida en su aguda y peligrosa enfermedad, padecida á fines del año 1819, a los setenta y tres años de su edad. Lo pintó en 1820.”

Google’s attempted translation:

“Goya grateful to his friend Arrieta: for the wisdom and care with [...] saved his life in his acute and dangerous illness suffered at the end of 1819, at seventy – three years of age. It was painted in 1820.”

And a reminder:

"I am still learning"

From sometime in the last four years of his life

The translation of Aún aprendo: “I am still learning.”

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Kate Monahan shares her experience with putting Carolyn See’s “charming note” idea into practice.

Quoting See:

“These notes are like paper airplanes sailing around the world, and they accomplish a number of things at once. They salute the writer (or editor or agent) in question. They say to him or her: Your work is good and admirable! You’re not laboring in a vacuum.  There are people out in the world who know what you do and respect it.”

And:

“These are paper airplanes of affection.  They are the glue of human sweetness in literary society.”

Tip of the hat: Mark Levy

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From My Muse, My Self by Hazel Dooney:

“I am still both artist and muse. Because of my feminist upbringing, I used to interpret the role of muse with scepticism. It was, I used to think, related to looks, not intellect, and so inevitably ephemeral and ultimately destroyed by time.

Now I’m not so sure. In the muse that is myself, I am only just beginning to penetrate layers of 20-something years of tightly woven emotional, psychological and intellectual fabric that are enriched, not eroded, by the slow decay of the physical self.”

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I went to a lecture by Kenneth Goldsmith last night about UbuWeb, and it was a great reminder of the riches available there. I scribbled a few fragmentary notes.

(All quotes are 99% accurate, though I have re-ordered them a little bit.)

  • UbuWeb can be construed as the “Robin Hood” of the Avant Garde. Only a handful of artists have given explicit consent to be featured.
  • “If we had to ask permission, UbuWeb wouldn’t exist.”
  • “We don’t really fuck with economies — because there’s no economy for this stuff.” (This stuff meaning, the music of Marcel Duchamp or Jean Dubuffet, for example.)
  • “We respect legitimate economies.”
  • UbuWeb features five terabytes of work from 5,000+ artists.
  • When he was working on his collection of Warhol interviews, Goldsmith went to the offices of the Warhol foundation to get permission, and they “laughed him out of the office.” In their view, Warhol’s words are valueless.
  • “Download everything you possibly can from UbuWeb — it won’t last forever.”
  • “The outsider stuff is becoming the inside.”
  • “There’s so much stuff on UbuWeb that I don’t know what’s there.” (Editors help him by managing different sections.)
  • UbuWeb is not a democracy: The collection is “highly curated, highly selective.” Most submissions don’t make it on the site.
  • UbuWeb has a Facebook page, created by his students, but Kenneth Goldsmith was unequivocal: “I hate Facebook.”
  • “I have problems with the idea of quality in Web 2.0.” And donation buttons make him sick.
  • From time to time, he gets offers — up to US$50,000 — for the domain ubu.com, from companies who want to sell products that “help you be you!” etc. And he takes great pleasure in replying: “Fuck you: This is reserved for poetry.” (I instantly pictured an orange traffic cone with this response, embossed on a metal plate, sticking out of the top. And the entrepreneurial part of my brain thinks it would make a great embroidered fishing hat…or maybe stickers that could be placed wherever logos lurk?)
  • UbuWeb may look institutional, but “it’s made of toothpicks and tissue paper.”
  • “I’m not an art historian…there are holes…it’s a horribly-flawed fanzine…the taxonomy is atrocious…it’s an art historian’s nightmare!”
  • “We’re in the Summer of Love for the web right now, and it’s not going to last…We’re in the midst of a revolution that’s so large we don’t even recognize it.”
  • “Old hippies are the worst in the world” in terms of copyright, control, permissions and sharing. “It’s generational.”

A few gleanings from a look around the site this morning:

  • A film about Poême électronique, the collaboration between Edgard Varêse and Le Corbusier at the 1958 World’s Fair
  • John Cale — Loop (1966) (links directly to mp3)
  • Canntaireachd — “Dating back to the sixteenth century or earlier, canntaireachd developed as the art of “chanting” pibroch (piobaireachd), the classical form of Gaelic bagpipe music.”
  • They have a podcast, in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation.

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But what’s wrong with being didactic every now and then? (Or always, if that’s your thing…)

“…Elephants

are mostly

made of four

Elements…

via Boing Boing

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TED and Reddit recently ran an online poll to select questions for an interview with Ken Robinson. Here are a few snippets of his responses, with my own emphases in bold, for enhanced skimming:

“The basis of my argument is: creativity isn’t a specific activity; it’s a quality of things we do.

“The idea is you have to make the idea of creativity clear and operational. Like we have done with literacy.

On well-roundedness versus specialization:

“Schools and universities are built upon different forms of knowledge, and the way we most commonly think about them is as subjects.

And I think subjects is a poor idea, really, for the kind of work I’m interested to promote, because it suggests that the world is definable into entirely different sorts of content or subject matter.”

“I want, really, to get away from the idea of subjects and I think disciplines is a much better idea. A discipline suggests something which is a kind of an amalgam, a mixture of concepts, of practical skills, of techniques, of ideas, of data. I mean, mathematics isn’t really a subject. It’s a whole series of different sorts of disciplines. And I think that’s true of music. Music isn’t really a subject, but practicing music involves extraordinary levels — different levels — of ideas, of practical skills, of sensibility.”

On the process-view of education:

“The larger argument about this is that when I say public education arose in response to industrialism, it also developed in the image of industrialism. If you look at public education systems in their general shape, they are manufacturing processes. And a lot of it happens — we separate people by age, it’s a very linear process, very focused on certain types of outcome. And standardized testing is, in a way, the grand example of the industrial method of education. It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.”

“I don’t think there’s a kid in America, or anywhere in the world, who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their state’s reading standards. They get out of bed, if they’re motivated, by their own interests and their own development. So I think we should be doing the opposite. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.”

Doing, not just thinking:

“…in our culture, doing practical things is disparaged in education. It’s all about getting into a university and doing theoretical things. But the world turns on people being able to do things, not just think about doing things. And practical skills, like music and design, are intensely demanding.”

On providing feedback:

“So one thing she has to do is to make a dress. Well, it sounds easy, but try doing it. It’s extremely taxing to do it. But what was interesting was that the assessment that came back was very detailed. It referred to very specific things that she was doing about seams and cloth and pockets and buttonholes and the lay of the nap in the cloth. It was broken down into probably 30 very specific comments on the details of what she’d done. And it was a really helpful process of assessment. But if she’s had the thing and then just got a B for it, you’d think, “Well now, what do I do with that information?”

So, if assessment is textured and finely-grained, and is supportive and diagnostic, I’m all for it. If it’s coarse and simplistic and judgmental and uninformative, then it seems to me always to be negative and have the wrong sort of effects in education.”

Protecting personalization from creeping standardization:

“The things I’m talking about are not, it seems to me, eccentric or new. It’s not whimsy and its not a fad. From the beginning of public education, there have been people looking for alternative ways of doing things, better ways of thinking about organizing our institutions. More responsible ways of engaging children in their own learning. Kids are not widgets. Students are living, breathing people who will only learn if they are engaged properly. We have a responsibility to the development of all the students in the system. It’s important for them, the health of our communities and the strength of our economies.”

On engaging curiosity:

“Professional mathematicians have such a cornucopia of fascinating puzzles, questions, proposals and conundrums. A great math teacher really has endless opportunities to stimulate kids minds and get them engaged with things they’d probably never thought about before. Rather than just giving them techniques.

It’s like what’s too often done with music lessons; kids spend too much time learning scales rather than doing anything interesting. But if you get them right away learning the joy of making music, they’ll want to learn how to do it properly after that.”

Idea generation — and the development of taste and discernment:

“…an equally important part for every creative process is to act critically on the ideas you’re coming up with. To evaluate them. That’s why I define creativity, in the TEDTalk, as the process of having original ideas that have value. You have to figure out which ideas are good and bad. Which work and which don’t. Which are worthwhile and which ones are not. Then, of course, it raises the old question of whose criteria you’re using and whose values you’re operating, and that’s a part of the conversation. Being creative isn’t just about blowing off new ideas. It’s about critical judgment, as well.”

Collaboration:

“An awful lot of creative work doesn’t happen individually. It happens with people interacting with other people. The most powerful engines of creative thinking are groups. And the reason that’s true is because a great group models the human mind: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, it’s distinctive. So, knowing how to form groups, how to get groups to work, how long to leave them doing it is a core skill of good teachers.”

Experimentation and contemplation:

“The second is to look outwardly. To try things you may not have tried for a long time, or have never tried but wanted to. Put yourself in the way of things. If you’ve never been to a science museum, go to one. If you’ve never been to an opera, go to one. If you’ve never read certain kinds of books, try them. If you always drive a certain way to work, try another way. If there’s some place you haven’t been yet, go there. Expose yourself to possibilities. See what begins to chime with you. My point about being in the element is some people make a living doing it, and others don’t. Some don’t want to. But it’s about finding your own personal element. And the more people are able to do that, the more enriched their lives become, and the more enriched the lives are of those people who are in contact with them.

It’s something that we all should do, and something that we all can do.”

There’s a should I can get behind!

Read the entire interview here.

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Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

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W.H. Auden, in the essay “Reading” from the collection The Dyer’s Hand:

What is the function of a critic? So far as I am concerned, he can do me one or more of the following services:

  1. Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
  2. Convince me that I have undervalued an author or a work because I had not read them carefully enough.
  3. Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
  4. Give a “reading” of a work which increases my understanding of it.
  5. Throw light upon the process of artistic “Making.”
  6. Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.

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“The things that make you strong, and make you feel as though you’ve accomplished something, are not the easy ones; it’s the things you had to work and struggle through. Those are what give us our depth—that make us not just gray and plain and nothing, but give us depth and texture and longing.”

Dr. Jerri Nielsen, the emergency-room doctor who discovered she had breast cancer while over-wintering in Antarctica in 1999, died June 23rd. She was 57.

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