While listening to a philosophy podcast, I heard Massimo Pigliucci, the philosopher behind the interesting webzine http://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/, mention that Max Planck did not resort to complicated theories of how new scientific understandings replace old ones. No, like many other areas of human endeavor, ideas meet their expiration date when those who hold them meet theirs:
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Lot easier than wading through Thomas Kuhn, huh? Wait, he’s dead? Oh, never mind.
Reading Poetry Daily, a nice habit I’m restarting, has a dazzler today from Poetry London. Here are the first few lines of Angie Estes “Deep Field,”
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them
all by their names: tutti-frutti, Cimabue, bracelets
of Cartier, chock full o’Giotto spilled
onto a black sky like Jujubes
during a matinee. Anna-Eva Bergman…
In other poetry news, I happened upon the Podcasts for the Scottish Poetry Library recently and, through them, got introduced to Caroline Bird, worth listening to if you are a poetry fan, particularly somebody fond of writers like Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay or, from an earlier generation, Frank O’Hara. Bird has a fresh, gentle/sharp way, and her poems are often disarmingly funny.
Part of it is acknowledging that not all things are for all people, particularly when it comes to cultural activities. A few years back, English National Opera did a campaign called Everybody Needs Opera (playing on their acronym). God knows I’m an opera evangelist, and during that campaign I worked for a trade and educational organization that promoted opera, so I was sympathetic to the sentiment. But it was a silly campaign; being open to giving everything a chance is one thing. But my life or yours is not necessarily impoverished by the lack of a specific enthusiasm, nor is your life less enriched by my inability to connect with all of your passions and interests.
Savoring Adam Fould’s 2009 novel about John Clare, rural poet, sort of a 19th century outsider artist, who spent time in at High Beach, an asylum near London run by Matthew Allen. A young Alfred Tennyson is there to care for his ailing brother, as is a cast of other family members and inmates, drawn sensitively but with sharp lines.
Such fictional filling out of literary lives can be a rocky path for a contemporary novel: if it succeeds, you may just want to put down the new novel and read the protagonists’ own work instead. Fould’s book certainly does make me want to return to Clare and Tennyson, but the quiet smiles in Fould’s writing keep you hooked, as does the rest of the production–narrative drive, character, and gorgeous descriptive writing.
A taste from early on: Matthew Allen is speaking about his therapeutic method with the newly arrived Alfred Tennyson.
‘Yes, the disclosure of personal fears and unhappinesses. Often I find encouraging patients through a conversational, what shall we call it, memoir is terribly useful.’
Tennyson huffed out a big mouthful of uninhaled smoke. ‘So you’ll be hearing all about my family.’
‘Probably. But I make no certain inferences from the testimony of unhappy individuals. That really isn’t the point. At any rate, families, well…’ He smiled. ‘Nowhere more productive of mental difficulty. I attach no shame to coming from one. It is not a matter in which we generally have a choice.’
‘You’ll see. You’ll be mired in it. The black blood of the Tennysons.’
‘So there is a predisposition – to melancholy, or other disturbances? Very often …’
‘There are quieter barnyards. Somehow we don’t take life easily.’
Trying to catch up on posting…a lot in the backlog.
But for now, two videos from the week’s surfing that stayed with me.
The first comes from the Hay Festival of Literature & the Arts, where Sherlock, er, I mean, Benedict Cumberbatch, among others, was on hand to read a group of inspiring letters. There were many wonderful readings apparently, but the finale, Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the Drake School Board–the famous “I am very real” letter–was something special.
The other inspiration is in the form of good advice from mezzo Joyce DiDonato, delivered during her commencement speech to this year’s graduating class at Julliard, which she disarmingly admits she wouldn’t have been admitted to.
The text of the speech is on this page, with video embedded at the end.
“[You are] now servants to the ear that needs quiet solace, and the eye that needs the consolation of beauty, servants to the mind that needs desperate repose or pointed inquiry, to the heart that needs invitation to flight or silent understanding, and to the soul that needs safe landing, or fearless, relentless enlightenment.”
I certainly find safe landing in this, her gorgeous singing of “Ombra mai fu,” one of those Handel arias of unearthly beauty. (There are so many!)
Professor Christensen did something “truly disruptive” in 2011, when he found himself in a room with a panoramic view of Boston Harbor. About to begin his lecture, he noticed something about the students before him. They were beautiful, he later recalled. Really beautiful.
“Oh, we’re not students,” one of them explained. “We’re models.”
They were there to look as if they were learning: to appear slightly puzzled when Professor Christensen introduced a complex concept, to nod when he clarified it, or to look fascinated if he grew a tad boring. The cameras in the classroom — actually, a rented space downtown — would capture it all for the real audience: roughly 130,000 business students at the University of Phoenix, which hired Professor Christensen to deliver lectures online.
A minor bit in a fascinating piece: HBS is living out in real time the question of just what kind of innovation MOOCs embody? A Clay Christensen style disruption (something I heard him foretell in a commencement speech in 1999 at Marlboro College for their online MAT), or something that can be folded into a more incremental strategy (a la Michael Porter’s view of sticking to your core differentiation)?
A later bit in the piece describes what happens when your core differentiation gets dissolved: the “unbundling” potential of online ed (perhaps this era will be known as the “great unbundling of media.” Format, content, and platform are now all just a digital stew.)
“François Ortalo-Magné, dean of the University of Wisconsin’s business school, says fissures have already appeared. Recently, a rival school offered one of his faculty members not just a job, but also shares in an online learning start-up created especially for him. “We’re talking about millions of dollars,” Mr. Ortalo-Magné said. “My best teachers are going to find platforms so they can teach to the world for free. The market is finding a way to unbundle us. My job is to hold this platform together.”
Christensen’s bet? He, and many others like him, won’t be able to do it: Christensen’s on the record as saying, “half of the United States’ universities could face bankruptcy within 15 years.”