‘hystopia’, by david means

9780865479135Anthony Domestico with David Means at Commonweal:

David Means, a recognized master of the short story, is the author of four collections of fiction, most recently The Spot (2010). Means’s stories display the compressed intensity of poetry, throwing off little lyrical flares every few sentences, as in his description of a car “roar[ing] off in a rooster tail of dust.” Like Alice Munro, he manipulates time in surprising ways—dilating and contracting, telescoping an entire life, with all its dramas and regrets, into a single paragraph. This effect is especially acute when he writes, as he often does, about events of dramatic import and limited temporal scope: a bank heist, a murder, a police standoff. He reminds us of how flexible the apparently rigid form of the short story can be.

Means was born in 1961 in working-class Kalamazoo, Michigan. As he told the New Yorker, “Our neighbor was a paper-mill worker, and a drunk, and I remember feeling that Bruce Springsteen was making songs about the people in my world.” Most of his stories are grounded in a world of closed factories and desperate crimes, and they are peopled by outsiders: tramps and criminals, prostitutes and war veterans, “these stupid sinning willful men who were dying by their own clock.” Means describes himself as a “problematic Christian,” and he finds in such outcast figures—and, more specifically, in the violence they inflict on one another—a space for thinking about grace and redemption.

more here.

A Puzzle about Metaphilosophy

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

ApollocutoutEnduring movements in the history of philosophy often owe their influence not to their core doctrines, but rather to the distinctive vision of philosophy they embody. Indeed, one might say of such movements – think of the traditions associated with the Stoics, Descartes, Hegel, the existentialists, and beyond – that they are primarily conceptions of what philosophy is. A conception of what philosophy is – a metaphilosophy – coordinates ideas about philosophical method, the nature of philosophical problems, and the limits of philosophy. In other words, a metaphilosophy tells us not only how to do philosophy, but also what philosophy can do, what we can expect from philosophy. A metaphilosophy hence often distinguishes genuine philosophical problems from pseudo-problems and nonsense; it also typically demarcates genuine philosophical problems from those genuine problems that reside within the purview of some other kind of inquiry, such a natural science, psychology, and history. It is tempting to conclude that although we tend to think of the history of philosophy as a series of debates concerning truth, goodness, knowledge, being, meaning, and beauty, it is actually an ongoing clash among metaphilosophies.

Though tempting, this conclusion should be resisted. This is because it is as yet unclear how metaphilosophical clashes are to be resolved, or even addressed. Which area of inquiry is suited to adjudicate conflicts over what philosophy is? Must there be a meta-metaphilosophy? But then wouldn't we also require a fourth tier to address conflicts at the meta-meta level? Then a fifth, sixth, and seventh? This proliferation of “meta” discourses about philosophy looks well worth avoiding. A further cause for resistance lies in the fact that the very idea of a clash among metaphilosophies is opaque. Why regard, say, the phenomenologist and the ordinary language philosopher as embroiled in a metaphilosophical clash at all? Why not say instead that they are engaged in entirely different enterprises and be done with it? Why posit something over which (philosophy and its proper methods) they are in dispute? The fact that it is not clear how there could be an adjudication of metaphilosophical clashes may be marshalled as a consideration in favor of the idea that opposing schools normally identified as philosophical do not promote different conceptions of philosophy, but instead embrace distinctive concepts that each calls “philosophy,” and so ultimately do not even clash at all, but only speak past each other. It certainly seems to capture what it is like to witness such clashes.

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How weird is quantum mechanics, really?

by Daniel Ranard

NASA stellar swarm M80, NGC 6093

Nearly anyone who tells you about quantum mechanics is quick to tell you how weird it is. And perhaps any science that ventures outside the realm of the visible or the human is bound to be strange. Our universe is a strange place, filled with exotic objects whose undeniable strangeness is blunted only by familiarity: the double helix, rippling force fields, supernovae. But physicists will tell you that quantum mechanics is even stranger. They explain that distant photons may be intimately entangled, or that an electron may exist in a superposition of two places at once. They describe a world not only strange in its particulars but strange in its way of being. According to quantum theory, particles may lack definite properties until measured, and the outcomes of quantum experiments are fundamentally uncertain.

What should we make of these claims? Perhaps we should be deeply impressed. After all, quantum mechanics is not some niche of modern physics; physicists expect that the rules of quantum theory underlie all physical phenomena. And if taken seriously, these claims about quantum weirdness are claims about the nature of knowledge or existence itself. Philosophers and thinkers should take note.

But even though we might be impressed, we should also be suspicious. No definite properties, fundamental uncertainty… what could it all mean? It's hard to imagine how scientific experiments (or any line of investigation, really) might yield such bold claims. You worry that the physicists have taken their equations and their metaphors too seriously. Here it's helpful to borrow a perspective from operationalism, a school of thought in the philosophy of science. A staunch operationalist might say the real content of a physical theory lies only in the list of experimental predictions it makes: “If you build an experiment in this way, you will see result X; if you build an experiment in that way, you will see that result Y,” and so on. Any talk about invisible particles or fields then serves only to package and describe these predictions. Most philosophers agree this view is too simple, but it contains a point of truth: the language and concepts we use to describe our predictions are often a matter of taste and historical contingency. In fact, we expect that our most fundamental physical theories will be revealed as only useful approximations, undergirded by new theories with new descriptions.

Before we take claims of quantum weirdness seriously, we must ask whether the weirdness is a property of nature itself or only of our current description. This question is rarely broached in popular explanations of physics, or even in most physics classes. But the question stands: how do we know quantum theory will never be rephrased or replaced, that quantum weirdness is not just a figment of our odd descriptions?

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On Muslims, Terrorism, and Bigotry

by Ahmed Humayun

Minar_e_Pakistan

Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore

Terrorist attacks of the sort we have seen in Lahore, Brussels, Ankara, Paris, and in so many other cities around the world, are serious atrocities against innocents. These attacks are also a cunning attempt by strange cult-like groups to provoke large scale conflict – between Muslims and Westerners, and between different types of Muslims. These groups are utterly opposed to those of us who hold multiple identities at the intersection of different cultures, and do so comfortably or even proudly.

People become members of terrorist organizations for different reasons. Some are fanatics and true believers; some are looking for adventure; some are commonplace thugs and criminals; some are sadists; some are deceived and some know exactly what they are doing. Whatever the case may be, the leadership of these groups is investing an enormous amount of time and energy in finding young Muslims who have real or imagined grievances, and channeling this sentiment into a destructive path. A vast infrastructure of extremism and propaganda is designed to incite and recruit people to the ranks of these groups.

It's true that terrorist recruitment mostly fails: the number of terrorists are a tiny portion of the global Muslim community. Yes, that matters. Most people are not attracted to spectacular terror as a way of life.

But this is small comfort. Terrorist groups may comprise a tiny minority of Muslims but they have an outsized impact – on the politics of Muslim majority societies, and on the state of Muslim communities in the West.

Consider what has happened to the Muslim world so far. There are now tens of thousands of members of these types of militias, maybe more, depending on how you count. Many of these people are from the middle class – people who have lots of options in life. Thousands have migrated from Western societies to join the wars in places like Syria and Iraq. (Though, we are overly naïve when we ask, how do people with choices fall for this murderous nonsense? The people with choices – the rich Bin Laden's, the middle class Zawahiri's – are at the vanguard of these types of groups. The use of terror to advance utopian ideas has deep precedent in modern history).

Tally the lives lost and maimed, the treasure expended to confront these groups. And when you factor in the devastation of Islam's intellectual and cultural heritage, the serious setbacks to democratization, scientific progress, and moral advancement, the costs start becoming incalculable.

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Old King in the New World: Restraint and Art in ‘Madame X’

by Olivia Zhu

MadamexThe pale neck of John Singer Sargent’s most notorious portrait subject graces the cover of William Logan’s latest book, a collection of poetry that pays homage to the artist in its themes and style. Madame X, named after the painting, opens with two epigraphs that establish the themes of the work: the first explicitly links Herman Melville’s Ahab to “that wild Logan of the woods,” in reference to a Native American chief who literary historian Jonathan Elmer calls “a melancholic relic,” of the same lonesome breed as both captain and poet (119). The last of his kind, fanatically in search of a poetic white whale: this is how Logan announces himself.1 The second epigraph, a quote from Roman Holiday, reveals the object of his pursuit. Gregory Peck’s expat character, attempting to resist an undressing, Shelley-reciting Audrey Hepburn, advises her to “Keep [her] mind off the poetry and on the pajamas and everything will be all right.” Taken together, the two inscriptions position the poet as an old king, yearning for the classicality of the Old World, its elegant poetry, and its restrained sexuality. Madame X, with all its recurring images of ancient soldiers and overexposed young women, is a testament to Logan’s self-assigned role as a guardian of taste and timelessness.

Like Logan, Sargent might have also been called an “old king.” Toward the end of his career, Sargent’s devotion to his brand of “realism was viewed increasingly as anachronistic and facile,” paralleling Logan’s fidelity to “a certain sense of tradition that was antipathetic to the traditions that most of the poets [his] age were following” (Churchwell; qtd. in Jalon, 16). Nevertheless, the artist and poet soldiered on. Both have defended their relatively traditionalist work, and the very first poem of Madame X hints at the poet’s artistic loneliness in doing so. “The Hedgehog in His Element” indicates that Logan, oft-maligned for his “miserable” and “bullying” criticism, is the titular creature, very much at home in his attitude and medium (1). During a phone interview, Logan admitted he “was attracted to the sense of a hedgehog as a masochistic figure—it looked as if he had been shot full of arrows.” Is Logan’s tenth work a vindication of how he has suffered for his formal style? Its introductory poem suggests so, for “like a Sherman tank forced out of the brush,” the poet is made to emerge and set up a defense in whatever prickly way he might choose (“Hedgehog” 2). The image of a self-sacrificing soldier is driven home by the poem’s concluding image of “St. Sebastian bristling with arrows,” with the patron saint of warriors—and a martyr twice over—shown as angry and defiant even when wounded (“Hedgehog” 3).

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Here is Waldo: Anonymity in the Age of Big Data

by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

Data_fingerprint_sqaureThe television series Person of Interest posits the existence of a machine that can monitor every person’s daily activities and can then use this information to predict crimes before they happen. While such a system may be way off in the future, a system that can at least identify the identity of any person may not be that far off. Annonymity used to be private affair, if one wished to remain anonymous then all that one had to do was to lay low and limit one’s interactions with outsiders. It was easier to adopt pseudo-identities, the nature of the internet even facilitated this to a greater extent. I should know this because I have been blogging as a Chinese Muslim for almost 10 years now. New waves of technologies aided by Big Data however are changing nature of anonymity with evermore levels of sophistication needed to be truly anonymous.

Even in the ideal case where John Doe disengages from the digital world i.e., does not own a smart phone, only carries cash, does not use any online service etc, others can still leak information about John e.g., pictures that his friends might put up on social media platforms, post something on Facebook, geo-tag one another etc. Locating a person, determining their likes or dislikes would really depend upon how much information their family and friends are leaking about them. In short you are only as anonymous as your most chatty friend.

In cases where we think that we are not giving away any explicit information about ourselves, much can be inferred from the digital traces that we leave. The manner in which we shop online, respond to messages, play video games etc can reveal a lot about ourselves even when we do not want to reveal anything. In our previous work we have observed that it is possible to predict a person’s gender, age, personality, marital status and even political affiliation by just studying at how they play video games. This is just the top of the iceberg; a case in point is the case where Target’s data analytics were able to infer that a girl is pregnant even though she was able to hide this from her parents.

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Take Me To Church

by Tamuira Reid

ScreenHunter_1887 Apr. 25 17.31Part of being a parent is being prepared for anything. Natural disasters. Snake bites. Broken limbs. Tiny fingers getting slammed into heavy drawers. Occasionally, though, I find myself caught off-guard. That moment when I realize my Survival Guide for Mothers is missing an important chapter.

Case in point: Last week. The walk home from school. Ollie, my five year-old stops suddenly, squints up at the sky, then at me.

I want to know God, mama.

Ok.

Text him. Lets have pizza with him. God like pizza?

I don't know.

But you know everything.

Except this. This is not really in my wheelhouse. I go to church for weddings or funerals and not much in-between. I was raised in a family that half-followed Christian Science, a religion that favors unwavering faith in God and self-healing over traditional medical intervention. Even as a child, I could never understand why someone would suffer through a pounding headache or horrible menstrual cramps or a hellish fever instead of simply popping a Tylenol like the rest of the world. My father was bitten by a black widow one Easter, and instead of going to the doctor, he decided to heat a needle and systematically cut the infected tissue from his arm. While this obviously made him superhuman to me, you are so fucking cool, dad, I was also confused by it.

Being a Christian Scientist meant going to Sunday school, but only if Taco Bell was a solid reward for good behavior. It meant knowing a few commandments, part of the Lord's Prayer. It meant the annual clearing out the medicine cabinets before the “real ones” came over on Christmas Eve, those relatives so devout that our aspirin or Rite Aid cough syrup might actually make them sad.

Later in my life, Christian Science meant losing people. A grandma. An aunt I adored. A cousin who took me roller-skating for the first time. Women who believed their cancers could be treatable only by miracle, not by chemo. Women who died long before they should have.

So when Ollie asks to know God, my immediate reaction is no, baby boy, not you, too.

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Sorting Burnt Pancakes: or, how Bill Gates Became a Billionaire

by Jonathan Kujawa

In 1894 Benjamin Finkel, a teacher at the Kidder Institute in Missouri, founded the American Mathematical Monthly. Its purpose was and is to provide inspiration and stimulation for teachers of mathematics. As Finkel later described the founding of the Monthly,

Knowing that the status of the mathematical teaching in our high schools and academies was very deplorable and even worse in the rural schools, I had the ambition to publish a journal devoted solely to mathematics and suitable to the needs of teachers of mathematics in these schools. — B. Finkel

Apparently decrying the state of mathematics education was as popular then as now. But rather than fume and write an op-ed for the New York Times, Finkel created the Monthly. It still appears every month and contains a variety of mathematics for teachers and students at the high school and college level. The favorite pages for most, though, is the Problem section. In it you can find puzzles of all kinds, most of which don't require anything more than high school math.

A good example of a Monthly problem is this one proposed by Harry Dweighter [1] in 1975:

The chef in our place is sloppy, and when he prepares a stack of pancakes they come out all different sizes. Therefore, when I deliver them to a customer, on the way to the table I rearrange them (so that the smallest winds up on top, and so on, to the largest on the bottom) by grabbing several from the top and flipping them over, repeating this (varying the number as I flip) as many times as necessary. If there are n pancakes, what is the maximum number of flips (as a function of n) that I will ever have to use to rearrange them?

PancakekidThat is, imagine you have a spatula and a stack of pancakes of all different sizes which you'd like to put into order from biggest to smallest. In the worst case how many times would you have to stick the spatula between two pancakes and flip over the part of the stack sitting on your spatula? For example, if there are two pancakes, either they are in order or they are out of order. If out of order, then slipping your spatula under the stack and doing a single flip is all that's needed. If there are three pancakes, then the worst case is when the stack of pancakes from top to bottom is smallest, largest, medium. This requires three flips. In general, let's write f(n) for the number flips required in the worst case stack of n pancakes (so f(1)=0, f(2)=1, f(3)=3, etc.). Harry Dweighter is asking us to determine a formula, rule, or algorithm which computes f(n).

This is a classic Monthly problem. No fancy math, just a nifty puzzle which came to mind over breakfast. There is no expectation that this will lead to deep new math or cure cancer, just a little recreational math with your morning coffee. Amazingly enough, despite its simplicity, forty years later we still don't know how to answer Dweighter's question! Some progress has been made, though.

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Art and Artification: The Case of Gastronomy

by Dwight Furrow

Atelier crenn

In grasping the role of art in contemporary life, one noteworthy theme is the process of artification. “Artification” occurs when something not traditionally regarded as art is transformed into art or at least something art-like. As far as I know, the term was first used in a Finnish publication by Levanto, Naukkarinen, and Vihma in 2005 but has found its way into the wider discussion of aesthetics. It is a useful concept for addressing the boundaries between art and non-art that are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated in contemporary society.

The general issue I want to address is whether artification is a confused and superficial misappropriation of art, a kind of “making pretty” of ordinary objects which we normally associate with kitsch. Or should we welcome artification as an enhancement of both art and life?

Since at least the 18th Century we have had a fine arts tradition that included painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, classical music, and the performing arts of dance and theatre. But over the last century cultural phenomena from architecture, film, jazz, rock music, and hip-hop to graffiti, video games, and even some natural objects have aspired to, and to some degree succeeded in, being included in the extension of the concept of art. The world in which “art” refers to a specific kind of object is long past

Furthermore, many cultural practices including advertising, science, and education are being mixed with art in order to introduce creativity, imagination, and emotional engagement. Among this group of artified objects and practices, many people would include gastronomy, which I want to use in this essay to test assumptions about art and artification. What does this process of artification mean in the context of gastronomy?

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Welcome To Alphaville

by Misha Lepetic

“The secret of my influence has always been
that it remained secret.”
~ Salvador Dalí

Alphaville_0Last month I looked at the short and ignominious career of @TayandYou, Microsoft's attempt to introduce an artificial intelligence agent to the spider's parlor otherwise known as Twitter. Hovering over this event is the larger question of how best to think about human-computer interaction. Drawing on the suggestion of computer scientist and entrepreneur Stephen Wolfram, I put forward the concept of 'purpose' as such a framework. So what was Tay's purpose? Ostensibly, it was to 'learn from humans'. But releasing an AI into the wild leads to unexpected consequences. In Tay's case, interacting with humans was so debilitating that not only could it not achieve its stated purpose, but neither could it achieve its real, unstated goal, which was to create a massive database of marketing preferences of the 18-24 demographic. (As a brief update, Microsoft relaunched Tay and it promptly went into a tailspin of spamming everyone, replying to itself, and other spasmodic behaviors more appropriate to a less-interesting version of Max Headroom).

People have been releasing programs into the digital wild for decades now. The most famous example of the earlier, pre-World Wide Web internet was the so-called Morris worm. In 1988, Robert Tappan Morris, then a graduate student at Cornell University, was trying to estimate the size of the Internet (it's more likely that he was bored). Morris's program would write itself into the operating system of a target computer using known vulnerabilities. It didn't do anything malicious but it did take up valuable memory and processing power. Morris's code also included instructions for replication: specifically, every seventh copy of the worm would instantiate a new copy. More importantly, there was no command-and-control system in place. Once launched, the worm was completely autonomous, with no way to change its behavior. Within hours, the fledgling network of about 100,000 machines had nearly crashed, and it took several days of work for the affected institutions – mostly universities and research institutes – to figure out how to expunge the worm and undo the damage.

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The Road not Taken

Axel-Leijonhufvud-3

Arjun Jayadev over at INET:

Can we theorize the economy as an entity that is growing, evolving, never in equilibrium? An economy passes through periods of intense instability and groping towards an uncertain future as a matter of course? How might one begin?

The pretense that we know the future probabilistically as a given set of probability distributions of every damn thing is, I think, a pretty dangerous delusion, but it’s also a comforting one to some people.

The year was 1967. Young Axel Leijonhufvud sat in front of a pile of papers, full of unfinished notes, half-worked through arguments and intellectual dead-ends that he had been at for nearly four years. Two years into a tenure track position in the economics department at the University of California Los Angeles, he seemed unable to fashion a coherent dissertation from the morass of ideas in the sprawl. This year was his last chance to do so if he wanted to remain in academic employment.

The Swedish émigré had rather immodestly and perhaps unwisely decided that his doctoral work should be on some of the deepest problems of macroeconomics: why was it that the capitalist economy sometimes fails calamitously, and why was it that the Great Depression (still very much in the public memory in the 1960s) had been so very different from ordinary recessions? In trying to understand that defining period of the 1930s he had undertaken a wide range of reading of earlier economists, including a closer reading of the ur-text of the discipline –the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes.

One day, following yet another dead-end, and feeling like he was ready to give up and leave academic life, he began to look in desperation at his footnotes. For the first time, he began to see something in his scribblings — an electrifying theme emerged that laid the ground for what was to be a set of ideas that aimed directly at the heart of academic macroeconomics.

More here.

A Forum on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family

Unfinished-business-cover

Over at Signs's Short Takes, a forum on Slaughter's new book with Heather Boushey, Kimberly Freeman Brown, Stephanie Coontz, Nancy Folbre, Kathleen Geier, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Premilla Nadasen, Ai-jen Poo, and Joan C. Williams, with a response by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Nancy Folbre:

When the suit sitting next to me on an airplane saw me reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’sUnfinished Business (the subtitle, Women, Men, Work, Family, is not so easy to see), he cheerfully asked me what line of business I was in. When I said, “I’m in the feminist business,” he did a double take. “Yes,” I added, “and it’s expanding like mad.”

Fortunately he did not ask me about its profit margins.

Pondering the book’s title in the aftermath of this brief exchange, I registered the hidden pun. This is largely a book about busyness—tyrannical over-busyness. In this it succeeds as a thoughtful and therapeutic treatment.

Slaughter challenges the “women can do it all” norm that gives women so little permission to disappoint anyone’s expectations. She also sharply deplores the antifamily pressures of the modern workplace and the inadequacies of our public care infrastructure.

In some ways, she reverses Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (subtitled Women, Work, and the Will to Lead) by arguing that women need to lead men, as well as themselves, away from psychological subordination to paid employment. Lean in to your family, your friends, and your community, Slaughter urges. Lean in to make political change.

Unlike Sandberg, Slaughter almost manages to transform her privileged standpoint (as an academic and political superstar rather than an entrepreneur) into a political asset rather than a liability. After all, if a woman who can afford a full-time housekeeper still needs to take time out from the job of her dreams, the rest of us should not succumb to feelings of inadequacy when we do the same.

Unfortunately, her book, despite its attentiveness to economic differences among women, doesn’t quite preempt the “privilege” critique. In its cheerful exhortation to everyone to fight for changes that would, in principle, benefit everyone, it glosses over larger issues of income inequality.

More here.

Life lessons from ancient Greece: the growing popularity of stoicism

Rowland Manthorpe in More Intelligent Life:

After Helen Rudd sustained traumatic injuries in a traffic accident, she lay in a coma for three weeks. “I had to learn everything again. I had to learn to read and write,” says Rudd. Her life had changed completely and she needed a different outlook. When she heard about an event in which people attempted to live like ancient stoics for a week, the idea struck a chord. In 2014, Rudd was one of almost 2,000 people to take part in Stoic Week. “Stoicism has helped me concentrate on the good things,” she says. Over two millennia after it first came to prominence, stoicism is having a moment. It’s on the internet, of course: the stoicism subreddit, the largest meeting place for stoics online, has over 28,000 subscribers, many times the number of erstwhile rival Epicureanism (around 4,000). But it is also infiltrating real life, even in its toughest forms. The Navy Seals teach stoic insights to new recruits; throughout the NFL, players and coaches are devouring Ryan Holiday’s guide to stoicism, “The Obstacle Is the Way”. Tim Ferriss, a start-up guru, extols the benefits of Stoicism at firms such as Google. “For entrepreneurs,” says Ferriss, “it’s a godsend.”

Even in antiquity, stoicism was noted for its practicality. Ancient Greek and Roman stoics wrote about theology, logic and metaphysics, but their focus was on the “hic et nunc”, the here and now. “Stoicism tells you what in life is worth having and gives you a way to get there,” says William Irvine, the author of the stoic handbook, “A Guide to the Good Life”. The key is learning to be satisfied with what you’ve got. “Some things are up to us and others are not,” taught Epictetus. “Up to us are opinion, impulse, desire…Not up to us are body, property, reputation, office, in a word, whatever is not our own action.” This indifference to everyday comforts has left stoicism with a reputation for coldness. In reality, its defenders argue, it is simply a rational approach to managing expectations. The central insight of stoicism is that life is tough and changeable, so prepare for difficulty.

More here.

MEET THE ARTISTS: PLAYWRIGHT AYAD AKHTAR

Linda Lombardi in the Arena Stage Blog:

The most-produced play of the 2015/2016 theater season, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Disgraced, is inspiring a national dialogue about everything from cultural appropriation to identity politics to what it means to be an American. I met with Ayad recently to discuss his body of work, the themes in Disgraced, and his love of theater. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

How did you come to theater? How did you start playwriting?

ScreenHunter_1884 Apr. 24 21.54My parents came over from Pakistan in 1968 and 1969. They were the first to leave Pakistan and come to America. My dad was the only son on his side of the family and my mom was the eldest. I was the first-born son. They were both doctors so, of course, I was going to be a doctor, right? My mom trained me — when the teacher asks what you want to do when you grow up, to say I want to be a neurologist. My kindergarten teachers were very impressed. I didn’t quite know what a neurologist was.

When I was fifteen I had a literature teacher who changed my life. She made me want to become a writer. It was certainly a great — perhaps the great —encounter in my life. Everything I do is an homage to her. I had her for class two hours a day, both semesters, junior and senior year. She introduced me to the theater via text. I was reading everything under the sun. She was really obsessed with European continental modernism, so I was reading a lot of very obscure modernist writers. I went to college to become a writer and my second year there a friend was directing David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and he thought I’d be good in it. I don’t know why he thought I’d be good in that play. But I loved acting, and I started to do more and more theater. When I graduated from Brown, I worked with Jerzy Grotowski for a year in Italy, and ended up as his assistant. I spent a lot of time with him towards the end of his life. Then I came to New York and worked with Andre Gregory and taught acting with him for many years. I had this weird, avant-garde training that was all about process. And now I write these overtly audience oriented, well-made, traditional plays. It’s really weird how life is.

More here.