Sunday, December 1, 1996

Q&A: James Gleick: Baud Rate

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.

James Gleick is the author of "Chaos: Making a New Science," and "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman." His new book is "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything".

We have learned a visual language made up of images and movements instead of words and syllables. It has its own grammar, abbreviations, cliches, lies, puns, and famous quotations. Masters of this language are the artists and technicians, Muybridge descendants, who create trailers for movies and thirty-second commercials and promotional montages of film clippings. And we in their audiences are masters, too, understanding the most convoluted syntax at a speed that would formerly have been blinding.
     "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything"

 HB: What do you think someone from an earlier generation, even an earlier television generation, would see if they saw, say, an MTV video or a rapid fire ad?

JG: I think they would see a sort of blur. They would see something that's just not quite comprehensible to them. As the great film director Barry Levinson points out, in the past, television commercials were like sagas, like epics, compared to the commercials of today. There would be one shot and someone talking into a camera for 60 seconds. Now, it's a thirty second spot with twenty or thirty images, or forty images less than a second long. It's right at the edge of comprehension. In a way, the makers of those commercials are involved in the science of perception. Their stuff has to work or they're dead. They know when we understand and they know when we get bored.

Tuesday, September 17, 1996

Erika Marquardt and Susan Erony: The Same Canvas

Erika Marquardt and Susan Erony:
The Same Canvas

for a Zeitgesit journal

Erika Marquardt and Susan Erony have been working on canvases together for a year, after deliberating on the best way to collaborate. Their work will show at the Zeitgeist Gallery in the fall of 1996

HB: You, Susan, are a Jewish artist; you, Erika, a German. What brings you together incollaboration?

SE: We had both started working in 1989 on themes of World War II, the Holocaust, and the Third Reich. Charles Guliano, the art critic, brought us together to show our work.

EM: It wasn't as if we had been friends who paint more or less the same; that the was the first time we ever met.

Sunday, September 1, 1996

Q&A Pico Iyer: Closet Japanese

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.

     "Someone's got to go out there, and give up the easy chair and the two cars  in the  garage,  and actually bring back reports from the world. Otherwise, there'd be no  artists, no newspapers, no  explorers.  Some people are made to stay at home; some are made to wander."
     "And you're one of the ones who are made to wander?"
     "Yeah, I think so. And now  I'm on the  course, it's harder to get out than to just keep going."
     Cuba and the Night

HB: How do you feel about the fact that your books are sometimes listed as fiction, sometimes as nonfiction?

PI: After taking great pains to write a book that does justice to the truth of an occasion, it's distressing to go into a bookstore and find it classified as fiction. But more and more travel writing is dancing on the borders. I noticed, for example, that VS. Naipul's last book came out as nonfiction in England and as fiction in this country. And one never knows how to categorize Bruce Chatwin's books.

HB: Could be the whole classification system is cracking up.

PI: Just at a time when other boundaries are dissolving, too, in a new post-national world where there are no barriers. The same is happening in writing. All post-national writing is so ventriloqual, whether it's Ishiguru or Caryl Phillips or even Rushdie. People with many homes can write in many voices and see through many different kinds of eyes. It's a new literary form affecting a new kind of person, I think. Look at Mukerjee: Every one of her stories is from a different nationality.

Q&A Tony Hillerman

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
Tony Hillerman: Sheep Camp Navajo

He was beginning to suspect that she didn’t really want to marry him. Or, at least he wasn’t sure she was willing to marry Jim Chee as he currently existed — a just-plain cop and a genuine sheep-camp Navajo as opposed to the more romantic and politically correct indigenous Person.
     The Fallen Man

TH: I see that The Boston Book Review  is a literary magazine. You want to talk about creativity and all that stuff?

HB: Sure, I’m interested in that. But I was thinking of asking you first of all about place. Your work is so rooted in place, in the American West.

TH: It is indeed. I have two neckties, one striped, the other not. If you go west, you leave your necktie home. But if you go east, well, the further east you go, the more likely you are to bring a necktie.

Q&A Stephen Jay Gould: Basically Bacteria

We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.
     Full House: The Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin

HB:  Full House  can be described is a book about the nature of narrative.

SJG: That’s fair.

HB:  I had never thought before about statistics or trends as narratives in disguise. I’ve always thought of information as inherently anti-narrative.

SJG: Certain kinds of information are. I don’t think trends are.

Wednesday, August 7, 1996

Q&A: Elaine Pagels: The Literature of War

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date Approximate.)

     Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy -- one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother.
     The Origin of Satan (1995)

HB: The period of time discussed in The Gnostic Gospels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, and your new book, The Origin of Satan -- the period of early Christianity -- obviously has a lot of appeal for you. What keeps drawing you back?

EP: There’s a tremendous convergence of different cultures, just as there is today. Nothing is set. It is fluid to this point, particularly with regard to the religious traditions of the West. The Christian movement comes in as sort of an upstart new religion, an oriental religion if you like. Judaism is known as an important minority position.

Saturday, June 1, 1996

Q&A Vivian Gornick: The Hardened Heart

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review

Vivian Gornick: The Hardened Heart

I have loved these people . . . and all for the same reason. I am hungry for the sentence structure in their heads. It’s the conversation between us that makes me love them. Responding to the shape of their sentences, my own grow full and free: thought becomes expressive, emotions clarify, and I am happy, happier than at any other time. Nothing makes me feel more alive, and in the world, than the sound of my own mind working in the presence of one that’s responsive.
     Approaching Eye Level

HB: In Approaching Eye Level you wrote, “I love my hardened heart — I have loved it all these years — but the loss of romantic love can still tear at it.”

How do you harden your heart?

VG: I meant to say hardened against romantic self-deception, against sentimentalizing, against being blinded. Women like me who became feminists decided, however great the pull of romantic love, however necessary it is to love, not to push ourselves out of shape, not to put ourselves into exile. If that is what threatens, I will harden my heart against it.

Sunday, May 5, 1996

Q&A Bill Bradley: “a small forward, a senator”

Originally appeared in The Boston Book Review

Q&A Bill Bradley: “a small forward, a senator”

How can a people that wages war on nature reflect God? How can a society with grating poverty amidst great wealth remain just? What is it that guides one through life. What is it that one yearns and strives for? Politics shrinks from even acknowledging these basic questions. It is easier to give a response based on a poll than one that flows from your heart.
          Time Present, Time Past

HB: The title of your book comes from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Why did you pick this phrase from the Four Quartets?

BB: I thought it captured what I was trying to create in the book. It’s a memoir on the one hand; it’s also about the moment; it’s also about the future. Will we be able to preserve the American dream? What is our relationship to the land? Will we be able to deal with ethnicity and diversity as we move into the twenty-first century?

HB: Do you read poetry?

BB: My wife is a literature professor. She reads poetry from the standpoint of the skill of poets. I read poetry like you read a novel, like you read lyrics to a song, like you feel in a day. I’m always struck by how words well done can have a real impact. My wife and I went to the National Poetry Reading down in Washington to hear poets from all over the country. Rita Dove was there. The economy of their language as compared to the power of what they were saying was just mind-boggling to me. Poetry is a form that at age 52 I’m just beginning to understand.

HB: There are moments in the book when the prose is piquant. One of my favorite sentences occurs when you are writing about genealogy and say: “If you look, you never know what you will find in the past — a scoundrel, a thief, a murderer, a religious fanatic, a bore, a small forward, a senator.”

BB: I’m so glad you saw that.

HB: What other kinds of writing do you like?

BB: I like history. That’s probably what I read more than anything else. If I were going to pick the writers that have meant something to me in terms of literary work, I’d pick Tolstoy. I’d pick Conrad. I’d pick Mark Twain.

HB: Anything recent?

Wednesday, May 1, 1996

Q&A Temple Grandin: The Wiring

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate.)

One autistic child may love the vacuum cleaner, and another will fear it. Some are attracted to the sound of flowing, splashing water and will spend hours flushing the toilet, while others may wet their pants in panic because the flush sounds like the roar of Niagara falls.

I know what it is like to feel my heart race when a car horn honks in the middle of the night. I have hyperacute senses and fear response that may be more like those a prey-species animal than of most humans.

I have observed that there is a great similarity between certain chanting and praying rituals and the rocking of an autistic child.
     Temple Grandin, "Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism"

HB: Given all the variations, what would you put forward as a definition of autism?

TG: Autism is a neurological disorder. A child is born with it. It's caused by immature development of the brain -- that's been verified by brain autopsies studies -- and not by bad parenting or the environment.

Thursday, February 1, 1996

Q&A Deborah Tannen: A Writer First

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date Approximate)

HB: What got you interested in the subject of communications between genders?

DT: After graduating from college in 1966, I lived in Greece for two years where I became involved in issues of cross-cultural communication. I was teaching English as a foreign language; a lot of the people who do that are trained in linguistics. That’s how I first discovered that there was such a thing.

Back in the States, I got a Master’s Degree in English, taught remedial writing and English for foreign students, then decided to get a Ph.D. in linguistics. I attended a linguistics institute in 1973. Luckily the institute was devoted to language in social context that summer. Had I gone another summer it’s quite likely I would have concluded linguistics was not for me.

HB: How were you affected by the politics of the sixties and seventies, particularly feminist politics?