Monday, November 1, 1999

Q&A James Gleick: On Speed

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review

James Gleick: On Speed

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.

Q&A Nathan Englander: Torah All Day, TV All Night

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

The response is hidden somewhere in your makeup, building up for a lifetime, waiting with its own biology, its own need to be born. For me, it started with synesthesia. I'm outside walking and it's a bright day. Summer. And I can see the grass. And it's green. And I can smell the grass but it's not grass smell, it's green smell. And I can taste it and hear it and everything, my whole me was green-grass green. It lasted a minute or a second or an hour. But I saw what I could do.
  "The Reunion"

Nathan Englander is author of "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" (1999), a collection of short stories.

HB: A friend made the observation that unlike characters created by earlier Jewish-American writers, your characters don't start from a position of alienation. They're not displaced. They can assume connection to other people