Wednesday, May 5, 1999

Q&A Antonio Damasio: Homunculus Phobia

Originally appeared in The Boston Book Review

Q&A Antonio Damasio: Homunculus Phobia

By the time you get "delivery" of consciousness for a given object, things have been ticking away in the machinery of your brain for what would seem like an eternity to a molecule -- if molecules could think. We are always hopelessly late for consciousness and because we all suffer from the tardiness no one notices it.
   "The Feeling of What Happens"

HB: There can't be too many neuroscientists who allude to Derrida, as you do in your writing.

AD: I grew up with the idea that there's really no separation between professional activity in science and culture. I grew up reading a lot that was not professional -- novels, poetry, philosophy. I think that kind of reading is very helpful -- unless you're in some profession where the world of the mind does not count.

HB: Peter Brook blurbed your book. As you know, his last two plays -- "The Man Who," and "I Am a Phenomenon" -- are based on neurology.

AD: He's a brilliant figure and a very good example of a crossover of interest. He is involved in theater and in film-making because he's interested in human behavior and in the human mind, and he's involved in neuroscience because that amplifies his interests in the human mind. This has been long-standing. If you look at "Marat/Sade" he was already interested in mind and in disturbances of mind. Brook is a phenomenal intellect and who has been very interested in our work. We met a few times and helped him with the last play, which is about memory.

HB: Why is there so much interest in neuroscience these days?

Saturday, May 1, 1999

Q&A Hugh Kenner: The Grand Tour

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review
(Date Approximate)

Hugh Kenner is best known for his classic studies of literary modernism, such as "The Pound Era" (1971), and "The Mechanic Muse" (1987), but he has also authored books on technology and media, including "Bucky; A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller" (1973) ,and "Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings" (1994), well before it was fashionable for literary critics to tackle such subjects. His new book, "The Elsewhere Community," is a quasi-autobiographical account of the role of travel -- physical, intellectual, and virtual -- in art.

   A day's work on two sentences? "Yes," Joyce responded, "I had the words. What I was working at was the order of the fifteen words in the sentences. There is an order in every way exact. I think I have found it."
   And with Joyce counting words, compare the story of the great "Bugs Bunny" animator, Chuck Jones, sending the Coyote repeatedly over the cliff as yet one more scheme for trapping the Roadrunner goes awry. Before he hits the bottom, Jones determined, eighteen frames should elapse. More or fewer would be less effective, and Jones claimed that an error of two framed more or less was quite detectable. We're talking about a margin for error of a twelfth of a second. Word-count, frame-count, that is a mode of consciousness peculiar to our century.
   "The Elsewhere Community" (1998)

HB: You are thought of primarily, as a literary critic, a student of modernism, are you not?

HK: Yes, a student of modernism, particularly Irish and American.