Walt Whitman, “Election Day, November, 1884”

Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:

—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows

This poem is one of the first things I ever posted here, about four years ago today. It’s hard to agree with Whitman, that the heart of the day is not in the chosen, but in the choosing. 

It is hard to agree, though like all hard things that does not mean the poet is wrong. 

Walt Whitman, “Election Day, November, 1884”

Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year


On April 16, 2012, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced that it would award no Pulitzer for fiction in 2012. This was, to say the least, surprising and upsetting to any number of people, prominent among them the three fiction jurors, who’d read over three hundred novels and short-story collections, and finally submitted three finalists, each remarkable (or so we believed) in its own way.

And yet, no prize at all in 2012.

How did that happen? http://nyr.kr/MSxOeh

The delightful dishing of literary dirt, with a cliffhanger to boot. And, a great mini-review of the finalists, the perfect kind, which makes you want to read them immediately …

Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year

Turing Centenary Speech (New Aesthetic) | Beyond The Beyond

My own problem comes when you’re an Artificial Woman Artist. Computation is demanding the aura of artistry that was commonly associated with cognition. That’s tougher, because now we’re back in the Turing Test interrogation cells, and I’m a woman, and you’re a woman, while that other woman there, the machine artist, is claiming to be Yoko Ono or Marina Abramovic.

Bruce Sterling on Turing, including a “What if Turing had been German?” counter-factual. What I am particularly fascinated by, however, is the Turing Test, which I believe says a lot more about the values of the tester, than the intelligence of the tested.

Obviously, this is a problem at the heart of science fiction, from Asimov’s laws of robotics, to Dick’s dreaming androids, to Peter WattsBlindsight. But it is also at the heart of literature more broadly as well, even if it is not so explicitly thematized. From Frankenstein to a nineteenth-century sentimental novel with it’s female protagonist-children, the striving for recognition, the carving out of new forms of life, can be seen as the very function of aesthetics

Sterling points out the way that Turing himself was in many ways, and even in spite of himself, an isolated figure throughout his life; his test for sentience, a good conversation.

He certainly would have understood the draconian length to which a society would go to truncate and exclude a form of life. Whatever its shortcomings, it comes as no surprise that he defines sentience not according to some universal (arbitrary) moral standard, but by the play of mutual recognition, reciprocal interiority, a relation established between two very, very different individuals. 

(h/t BoingBoing)

Turing Centenary Speech (New Aesthetic) | Beyond The Beyond

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction | NYT

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

While I think that the developments in neuroscience are a radical and important breakthrough, I think this article oversells a little bit the novelty of the approach. 

Starting with Nietzsche, whose early work has a striking affinity with chemistry and its chain reactions, and on to Foucault, whose archaeologies unearthed language as an operating system for human consciousness, and not to mention psychoanalysis at all, there has been a long tradition of taking current scientific and cultural insights and mapping human reactions to literature &c onto those insights.

These neuroscientific observations are, of course, new and different, but it’s not as if some of the connections presented here as new are, in fact, new. New-to-science, maybe, but then again, the humanities have always dealt with problems that were as yet too complex for mere science. 

a brainbow

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction | NYT