Richard Rorty on the use of Deconstruction in the arts

“One issue that is raised by Peter Eisenman’s writings, and especially by his exchanges with Jacques Derrida, is that of the relation of philosophy to the rest of culture. I am more suspicious of attempts to use philosophical ideas outside of philosophy than Eisenman is. In particular, I am not sure that the criticism of what Derrida has called “the metaphysics of presence” has much relevance to the work of architects, painters and poets. The first paper I ever wrote on Derrida’s work and influence was read to an audience of literary theorists and was called “Now that we have deconstructed metaphysics, do we have to deconstruct literature too?” That title expressed my skepticism about the attempt to turn what seemed to me a specifically philosophical movement, a commentary on specifically philosophical texts, into something larger and more pervasive. As I see it, the attempt to make philosophy useful to the arts is OK if philosophy is used as a source of inspiration but dubious if it is used as a source of instruction.”

This is from remarks delivered by Rorty at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in October, 2000. And here is an interview with Rorty conducted by Joshua Knobe.

The Bright Stuff

“The time has come for us brights to come out of the closet. What is a bright? A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny — or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic — and life after death. The term ‘bright’ is a recent coinage by two brights in Sacramento, Calif., who thought our social group — which has a history stretching back to the Enlightenment, if not before — could stand an image-buffing and that a fresh name might help. Don’t confuse the noun with the adjective: ‘I’m a bright’ is not a boast but a proud avowal of an inquisitive world view.”

Interesting article about the social standing of atheists by Daniel Dennett for the New York Times.

Short History of Cellular Telephony

“Scientists at AT&T’s Bell Labs first came up with the cellular concept in 1947—back when black-and-white TV was considered a hot technology. The researchers realized that a radio signal could be reused and handed off between service areas, or ‘cells.’ But scientists were way ahead of their time—or at least ahead of the Federal Communications Commission.” More here from Fortune.

Review of Edelman’s Wider than the Sky

In the online journal Metapsychology is this review of Gerald Edelman’s Wider than the Sky:The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness.

“The title of Edelman’s book comes from a poem by Emily Dickenson that celebrates the brain (‘The brain – is wider than the Sky – ‘), from which the reader who is new to Edelman’s work will correctly infer that he is not a Cartesian dualist. The Preface relates that his books and articles on consciousness over the past twenty-five years prompt him ‘to present an account of consciousness to the general reader’.”

The Great War Revisited

“One of the things that twentieth-century philosophy learned, in the wake of the war, is that big words are empty uniforms without men to live out their meanings, and that high moral purposes have no value outside a context of consequences. As the new century begins, the First World War seems as present, and just as great a pity, as it ever did.”
Adam Gopnik on new scholarship of the Big One.

Distributed Computing, Marshalling Volunteers for Science and Mathematics

Years ago, I participated in SETI@home, a massively distributed computing project by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program. Millions of ordinary people contributed their idle computing power to process the vast amounts of data that SETI collects. Distributed computing has expanded since then.

This site tracks many distributed computing projects–past, current, and upcoming.

Some examples:

Evolution@home “is the first public global distributed computing project targeting evolutionary questions by distributing the work to many PCs like the SETI@home and other similar projects . A central server distributes the work to those computers who want to participate in their idle time. So, while you are sleeping at night, your computer will simulate the effects of various evolutionary factors. . .on the survival of populations of endangered species and. . .on the evolution of novel functional adaptations.” (For the more technically minded, see the paper here.)

The Virtual Laboratory project is engaged in research, design, and development of Grid technologies that help in solving large-scale compute and data intensive science applications in the area of molecular biology. . . This helps in examining/screening millions of chemical compounds (molecules) in the Chemical Data Bank (CDB) to identify those having potential use in drug design. “

ZetaGrid aims to verify Riemann’s hypothesis which states that “all non-trivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function are on the critical line (1/2+it where tis a real number).” (This is for those who don’t care if they really understand what they’re trying to help.)

Similarly but easier to understand, this project takes a stab at the Goldbach conjecture, which states that ever even number larger than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two primes.

Here’s a good two part article on distributed computing and the technical issues involved with implementing it.

Julia Child, 1912-2004

Continuing with obituaries, here’s one death that’s had extensive news coverage: Julia Child’s. But having been a fan for so long, I thought that I’d add my voice to the choir, or to the auidience pointing to the choir, by linking to the New York Times‘ extensive coverage of Julia Child. My fondness for Child comes from something best expressed by Sara Dickerman in Slate.

“In many ways, Julia’s greatest contribution to cooking was not bringing French food to America. . .but in freeing Americans from the necessity of cooking for a purpose other than pleasure.”

Food became more thoughtful, in the sense that that adjective can apply to the senses, with Julia Child.

And while it’s old news, the blog of the Julie/Julia project, in which Julie Powell . . . well in her own word:

Mastering the Art of French Cooking. First edition, 1961. Louisette Berthole. Simone Beck. And, of course, Julia Child. The book that launched a thousand celebrity chefs. Julia Child taught America to cook, and to eat. It’s forty years later. Today we think we live in the world Alice Waters made, but beneath it all is Julia, 90 if she’s a day, and no one can touch her.

The Contender [Julie Powell]:

Government drone by day, renegade foodie by night. Too old for theatre, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else, Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. And in the Julie/Julia project she found it. Risking her marriage, her job, and her cats’ well-being, she has signed on for a deranged assignment.

365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.”

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Future Dictionary of America. McSweeney’s, 208 pp., $28.

The Future Dictionary of America enters the pantheon of satirical dictionaries like Flaubert’s and Bierce’s with a notable distinction: It is jam-packed with winningly offbeat suggestions for making the world a better place. Its jaundiced eye is interconnected to both a brain and a heart, not to mention a first aid kit, a hammer and a tiny vial of fingernail polish in a color called Burnt Icicle… In a world in which everyone has an opinion but no one has any advice, this book is manna.” More of Henry Alford’s review here in Newsday.

Critic with a Cause

In his new incarnation as defender of the realm, Christopher Hitchens predictably cannot help vilifying Edward Said toward the end of his review of Said’s posthumous book, From Oslo to Iraq. This, despite the fact the he and Said were longtime friends (Hitchens even offended Saul Bellow at a dinner party once with his vigorous defense of Said and his views), and despite his still-obvious admiration for Said, both as an intellectual polymath, as well as a man of rare moral character. The review is here in yesterday’s Washington Post. (More worth reading as part of our continuing effort to comprehend what happened to Christopher Hitchens, than for any insight into Said or his work. See my earlier posts about the Hitch here and here.)

Evolvability is a selectable trait

“Concomitant with the evolution of biological diversity must have been the evolution of mechanisms that facilitate evolution, because of the essentially infinite complexity of protein sequence space. We describe how evolvability can be an object of Darwinian selection, emphasizing the collective nature of the process. We quantify our theory with computer simulations of protein evolution. These simulations demonstrate that rapid or dramatic environmental change leads to selection for greater evolvability. The selective pressure for large-scale genetic moves such as DNA exchange becomes increasingly strong as the environmental conditions become more uncertain. Our results demonstrate that evolvability is a selectable trait and allow for the explanation of a large body of experimental results.” Paper by David J. Earl and Michael W. Deem here in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pollutants cause huge rise in brain diseases

“The numbers of sufferers of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease, have soared across the West in less than 20 years, scientists have discovered. The alarming rise, which includes figures showing rates of dementia have trebled in men, has been linked to rises in levels of pesticides, industrial effluents, domestic waste, car exhausts and other pollutants, says a report in the journal Public Health.” There is more here in The Observer.

Some more on Milosz, Herbert and the Experience of Art and Conscience in the East Bloc

Thinking about Milosz’s death, I remembered a poem written by Zbigniew Herbert and translated by Milosz, allegedly dedicated to Czeslaw Milosz, with Herbert in the role of Fortinbras to Milosz’s Hamlet, and also on the problem of surviving–a trope worth considering now, 15 years after the collapse of the experiment, folly, nightmare, tragedy, what have you, in Eastern Europe.

Elegy of Fortinbras

for C.M.

Now that we’re alone we can talk prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see no more than a dead ant
nothing but black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenceless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies apart The head apart
and the knight’s feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier’s funeral without having been a soldier
the only ritual I am acquainted with a little
there will be no candles no singing only cannon-fuses and bursts
crepe dragged on the pavement helmets boots artillery horses drums drums I know nothing exquisite those will be my manoeuvres before I start to rule
one has to take the city by the neck and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you crunched the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but belongs to me
you chose the easier part an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared with eternal watching
with a cold apple in one’s hand on a narrow chair
with a view of the ant-hill and the clock’s dial

Adieu prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do prince

(translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz)

Czeslaw Milosz, 1911-2004

Czeslaw Milosz died Saturday in Krakow, Poland. Milosz, a Polish exile, was the recipient of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. His words captured the effort to survive and salvage decency in a world ruined by war and totalitarianism. His fellow East bloc-exiled poet and Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky once said of him, “I have no hesitation whatsoever in stating that Czeslaw Milosz is one of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest.”

I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, especially of this one, which captures so much . . .

To Raja Rao

Raja, I wish I knew
the cause of that malady.

For years I could not accept
the place I was in.
I felt I should be somewhere else.

A city, trees, human voices
lacked the quality of presence.
I would live by the hope of moving on.

Somewhere else there was a city of real presence,
of real trees and voices and friendship and love.

Link, if you wish, my peculiar case
(on the border of schizophrenia)
to the messianic hope
of my civilization.

Ill at ease in the tyranny, ill at ease in the republic,
in the one I longed for freedom, in the other for the end of corruption.
Building in my mind a permanent polis
forever deprived of aimless bustle.

I learned at last to say: this is my home,
here, before the glowing coal of ocean sunsets,
on the shore which faces the shores of your Asia,
in a great republic, moderately corrupt.

Raja, this did not cure me
of my guilt and shame.
A shame of failing to be
what I should have been.

The image of myself
grows gigantic on the wall
and against it
my miserable shadow.

That’s how I came to believe
in Original Sin
which is nothing but the first
victory of the ego.

Tormented by my ego, deluded by it
I give you, as you see, a ready argument.

I hear you saying that liberation is possible
and that Socratic wisdom
is identical with your guru’s.

No, Raja, I must start from what I am.
I am those monsters which visit my dreams
and reveal to me my hidden essence.

If I am sick, there is no proof whatsoever
that man is a healthy creature.

Greece had to lose, her pure consciousness
had to make our agony only more acute.

We needed God loving us in our weakness
and not in the glory of beatitude.

No help, Raja, my part is agony,
struggle, abjection, self-love, and self-hate,
prayer for the Kingdom
and reading Pascal.

(Berkeley, 1969)

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Visualizing the Blogosphere

Recently, I mentioned to Abbas that a topology of the blogosphere would be useful. I had in mind a visual representation that would show the traffic between blogs. This kind of visualization would, for example, help us to see whether and to what extent the blogosphere is segmented according to like-mindedness. I haven’t found one which has that information, but I have come across some other representations of the blogosphere.

My favorite: “a map of the city that shows where the bloggers are, organized by subway stop. Find out who’s blogging in your neighborhood!” A similar site, the location of bloggers in DC, can be found here. The one here shows bloggers in the UK.

I personally like this one, “3D Artists Around the World. . . a geo-coded database of 3D artists, dynamically displayed on world map. Individual points are overlaid on the map every few seconds. Mouse over a point to obtain the artist’s name and location. Click on the point to visit their site.”

A brief article in e-zine about visualization of the blogosphere has more links.