Friday, October 09, 2009

Fire & Ink III + Nobel Prizes + Michelle Obama's Ancestry + Nonsense Good for Brain

I'm at the Fire & Ink III Conference in Austin, Texas, so my posting will probably be even lighter than usual. (Don't laugh.) So far it's been wonderful running into so many creative people I admire tremendously, and I want to extend a huge thanks to all of the organizers for pulling this conference off!

I managed to get from Newark to Chicago to Austin without any delays, and was able to make my workshop, one of the first ones on the event schedule, on translating LGBTQ writers from the African Diaspora. Many thanks to all who attended.


So Herta Müller received this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. Who knew? Actually, as I mentioned last night to Reggie H., the bookies at Ladbroke's, to whom I linked in my previous post. She turns up on their list. She's also been published by the university's press. Congratulations to her.

More astonishingly, President Barack Obama was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Peace. When I heard this on NPR in the hotel room this morning I thought the commentators were playing an April Fool's joke many months too early. Congratulations to him and I do support him, though his inaction on many issues drives me up the wall. But with regard to the Nobel Prize, he's only been in office for ten months. It's really like the anti-Bush award. I hope he doesn't let his head get "swoll up" as we used to say growing up, and start believing his own press more than he already might. I imagine he realizes this, and will aim to live up to it from now on. That would include getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan, pushing for a strong bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change, closing Guantánamo, and resisting all neocon positions and actions, especially against Iran and North Korea, as much as possible.


I wanted to link to this series of articles and graphics (this too) in Wednesday's New York Times on First Lady Michelle Obama's ancestry. From the little I've read and seen in the media, save these responses, it's been greeted with surprise. But why in 2009 is this history still surprising? It's a history that millions of Americans, African Americans certainly, but Americans of all colors whose ancestors have been in the Americas--North America, the Caribbean, Central America, South America--and even in Europe. And this is true across the globe. No one is pure. We shouldn't ever forget this.


On another issue, I loved these articles, which suggest that puzzling, difficult or even absurd and nonsensical works of art can improve the intellect. To quote the Boing Boing piece:

New research suggest that exposure to bizarre, surreal storylines such as Kafka's "The Country Doctor" can improve learning. Apparently, when your brain is presented with total absurdity or nonsense, it will work extra hard to find structure elsewhere. In the study by the University of British Columbia psychologists, subjects read The Country Doctor and then took a test where they had to identify patterns in strings of letters. They performed much better than the control group. From Science Daily (Wikimedia Commons image):  Wikipedia Commons Thumb 7 7D Kafka Portrait.Jpg 450Px-Kafka Portrait

"People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings –– clearly they were motivated to find structure," said Proulx. "But what's more important is that they were actually more accurate than those who read the more normal version of the story. They really did learn the pattern better than the other participants did."
But many artists figured this out a long time ago. As José Lezama Lima wrote more than 50 years ago, "only difficulty is stimulating...."

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