Παρασκευή, 14 Οκτωβρίου 2016

Bob Dylan as Nobel laureate

       As discussed yesterday -- hey, it takes a while for the reality of this to sink in -- they named ... Bob Dylan this year's Nobel laureate. 

       A few more observations now that it's (very slowly ...) sinking in: 

        - I think the selection was a misstep for the Swedish Academy. 
       They've made some ... unusual choices before -- but these have tended to be of the relatively obscure literary kind, say a Dario Fo or Elfriede Jelinek: only a very limited audience really has sufficient familiarity with their work to even hold an opinion as to whether or not the choice was good. (Not that that ever stopped everyone else from opining/denouncing .....) Bob Dylan isn't just well-known, he's an international superstar, a celebrity bigger than pretty much any author. The last comparably famous literature laureate was also an odd choice -- Winston Churchill, in 1953 --, but Churchill did have an impressive body of serious writing. Sure, it was almost all non-fiction, and not widely read (outside the UK), but still. 
       Selecting Dylan weakens the brand the Swedish Academy had built up so carefully -- elitist and 'literary' (and, less helpfully, tending towards the male and European -- but that could be rectified by other means). As the media complained every year before a name was even announced: no popular authors if they could help it. It was a brand that was easy to criticize and/or make fun of, but, boy, they owned it. But by selecting someone more popular than pretty much any author, ever -- and someone who isn't a traditional author, but rather struts his stuff on a stage and in recording studios -- they've hopelessly confused and muddled the issue. And the brand. 
       What does this prize now stand for ? Sure, great, they take the large(st) view of what 'literature' is, and can be, now -- where does that leave us, or get us ? Wasn't their (high and mighty) little niche position a better perch ? (And a lot more fun ?) 

        - I can't help but wonder whether or not the somewhat rejuvenated Swedish Academy (a younger generation replacing the old fuddy-duddies who have died off) isn't simply star struck. They all are over-familiar with authors, and unimpressed by literary fame, so giving it to Philip Roth or Adonis or whoever is probably just a big yawn by now. But Dylan ... Dylan is a different kind of star, one they don't often get to mingle with. I have to wonder whether the Swedish Academy fan-boys and -girls weren't moved by nostalgia for days of youth and rock/folk abandon, and the chance to toast (and nervously giggle around) one of their big teen-idols in person (as they will have at the ceremonies in December). 
       (It will be interesting to learn (in fifty years, sigh ...) whether there was a generational divide in what was surely a contentious debate among the Academicians. Though note that Dylan has been on the scene for ages -- folks now in their 70s 'grew up' with him and his music .....) 

        - I could see this being an exciting choice if they had made it in, say, the mid- or late-1970s. But now ? If they just want to shock -- well, they selected a pretty tired old specimen to shock with. Yes, Dylan is a classic and an all-time great. But let's face it, his best years are quite a few decades behind him. 
       (I know this could be said about many of the authors who have received the prize, but it's hard to think of any recent one that got the prize so far post-peak.) 

        - The Swedish Academy can't be blamed alone: candidates have to be nominated by someone, and I really wonder who that person (or people ?) was who wasted their nomination on Dylan year after year -- because he has been rumored to be a candidate for decades. Did they mean it as a joke (which has now spectacularly backfired) ? Were theyserious ? If you could only nominate one or two candidates a year, well, who in their right mind would nominate Bob Dylan above all the other wonderful writers out there ? Someone has a lot to answer for ..... 

        - As to the whole debate about whether a songwriter -- and, despite Tarantula and the memoirs, let's face it, that's what Dylan is -- should be considered for a 'literature' Nobel: generally I'm not thrilled about the expansion of the term in this way. The argument would seem to me to be: if you strip away the music, do the words hold up ? Drama seems to me to qualify: I don't need it to be acted out for me to appreciate it (in fact, personally I'm more of a play-reader than -watcher), but songs ? And specifically Dylan's songs ? I'm not convinced. So that's another problem I have with him getting the prize: I think he's a great artist, but a middling writer. 

        - Finally, I think it's a bit problematic that the Swedish Academy makes this sudden leap into these particular big leagues. Dylan is internationally recognized -- again, more than practically any author: there might be a handful (none of whom would ever be considered Nobel-worthy, by the way) with similar reach and name recognition (Stephen King ? Paulo Coelho ?) -- and this award, which generally goes to writers who might be lucky to sell tens of thousands of copies of their books (and often are selling far, far, far fewer) suddenly goes to an artist who has reportedly sold some 100,000,000 albums (never mind his download- and radio-reach ...). Dylan is simply in a different popularity- and recognizability-league than anyone who has ever gotten the prize (well, arguably, save Churchill -- but his renown was of a different sort (and involved far fewer swooning and/or stoned college kids, etc.)) . 
       It seems a bit (or a lot) of a shame to me, to in a way waste such an opportunity and give the prize to someone who really already couldn't be more famous. (Are there people -- anywhere -- who are hearing about Dylan for the first time because he won the Nobel ? I kind of doubt it. When was the last time we could say that of a literature laureate ? (Yes, yes: 1953.)) I could accept it if Dylan's really was the apogee of art -- if he were a Shakespeare or a Goethe. But he's not. He's very, very good -- but that's about it. And I'd argue there are a ot of writers who are better at their art (even granting they do something different than songwriter Dylan does) -- a lot of them, in fact. 

       So what about other reactions ? 
       Well, there have been some nice multiple-brief-reaction round-ups, such as:
       There are some pro and contra discussions:
       There were a few pieces arguing that it wasn't a good choice:
       Far more, however, were pleased by the choice, and wholeheartedly endorsed it:
       There are also a few pieces that look at this selection and what it signifies for the Nobel Prize, and for literature:
       Finally, Adam Langer offers lists of The Best and Worst Things About Bob Dylan Winning the Nobel Prize at Forward.

The Literary Salon at the Complete Review

 (Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

Πέμπτη, 6 Οκτωβρίου 2016

Το διάβασμα βιβλίων προσθέτει χρόνια στη ζωή μας

For centuries the myth of the Fountain of Youth was continually written about in fables, folktales, and scribed hypotheses. However, according to a new study, it may actually be one’s consumption of writing that acts as a fountain of youth. Yes, among its many other documented benefits, a new study has demonstrated that reading yields a greater lifespan.
The study was published in Social Science & Medicine’s September issue, entitled: “A Chapter A Day: Association of Book Reading with Longevity.” Surveying some 3,635 people — all aged 50 or older — the study found book readers live 23 months (nearly two years) longer than non-readers. The study also found that readers of 3.5 hours or more/week were 23% less likely to die than non-readers. Almost a fourth! However, what really sets this study apart is its distinction in reading material. As the paper’s introduction states:
“While most sedentary behaviors are well-established risk factors for mortality in older individuals, previous studies of a behavior that is often sedentary, reading… have not compared the health benefits of reading-material type.”
In an age that is entirely oversaturated in terms of data, information, and lolcat memes — a huge chunk of which arrives before us in the form of words and blurbs, and less often, sentences and paragraphs — the distinction in reading-material type is a crucial one to make. The study concluded that periodicals did not factor into the survival advantage granted by reading. In essence: books fend off the grim reaper with greater vigor than periodicals. One of the academics who authored the paper, Avni Bavishi, explained this to The Guardian:
“We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more — providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan… we were impressed with the magnitude of the difference of effect between reading books and reading newspapers/magazines.”
According to the paper, the reasoning in the survival difference between periodical-reading and book-reading is double-fold:
“First, it promotes ‘deep reading,’ which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world…Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.”
What should you do with those two extra years? Well, why not use them to read even more books?
“the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them … The robustness of our findings suggests that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading.”
Now, we wait for a study breaking down the life-spans and survival benefits among the passionate readers of particular authors. Do, for example, readers of Toni Morrison live longer than Bukowski devotees? Shakespearean thespians than George Eliot fans? The possibilities are endless (so long as we keep reading).

Παρασκευή, 16 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016

Ενα λεξικό χωρίς τελευταία λέξη


Το λεξικό εμπλουτίζεται συνεχώς και γι’ αυτό θα βρίσκεται αποκλειστικά στο Διαδίκτυο.

Πόσο ενδελεχώς μπορεί να αναλύσει ένα λεξικό το μικρό μονοσύλλαβο «αν»; «Το λήμμα του “αν” ξεκινά στη σελίδα 601 και ολοκληρώνεται στη σελίδα 609», μας λέει ο ιδρυτής και πρόεδρος του εκδοτικού οίκου Πατάκης, Στέφανος Πατάκης, δίνοντάς μας μια γεύση από το μέγεθος του –κυριολεκτικά– Μεγάλου Ηλεκτρονικού Λεξικού Νεοελληνικής Γλώσσας που ετοιμάζεται να βγει στον «αέρα» του Διαδικτύου. Το «αν» ως υποθετικός σύνδεσμος, εναντιωματικός («αν και»), μόριο, εισαγωγικό σε πλάγιες ερωτηματικές προτάσεις και ως ουσιαστικό αναλύεται με τις πιθανές χρήσεις του σε χρόνους του παρόντος, του παρελθόντος και του μέλλοντος, και φανερώνει τα σημασιολογικά και ερμηνευτικά μυστικά του με δεκάδες παραδείγματα στην πιλοτική ιστοσελίδα του λεξικού.

Το ίδιο συμβαίνει με περισσότερα από 70 χιλιάδες λήμματα που έχει καταγράψει η ομάδα που πλαισιώνει τον κ. Πατάκη, η οποία αποτελείται από περίπου 150 εξειδικευμένους επιστημονικούς συνεργάτες, λεξικογράφους, τεχνικούς και επιμελητές.

Και συνεχίζουμε τη συζήτησή μας με το υποθετικό «αν». «Αν αποφασίζαμε να τυπώσουμε το υλικό μας θα είχαμε περίπου επτά μεγάλους τόμους. Σε μια δοκιμαστική εκτύπωση του “Α” βγήκαν δύο τόμοι των 2.000 σελίδων. Και αυτό μόνο φέτος. Την επόμενη χρονιά μπορεί να γίνουν οκτώ. Το λεξικό θα εμπλουτίζεται συνεχώς», σημειώνει ο κ. Πατάκης και γι’ αυτό θα βρίσκεται αποκλειστικά στο Διαδίκτυο με την εξαίρεση ορισμένων μόνο συντομευμένων έντυπων εκδόσεων.

Οι λέξεις στα λήμματα του λεξικού εκκινούν από τη χρονολόγηση της νεοελληνικής γλώσσας τον 10ο αιώνα, αν και υπάρχουν φράσεις αρχαιότερες, όπως π.χ. από τα κείμενα της Καινής Διαθήκης που χρησιμοποιούνται και σήμερα. «Φράσεις από την εκκλησιαστική γλώσσα που είναι παλαιότερες αλλά χρησιμοποιούνται τις λογίζουμε ως φράσεις του νεοελληνικού λόγου. Εχουμε συμπεριλάβει επίσης λέξεις της καθαρεύουσας, αγγλικές όπως το μάρκετινγκ ή το discount, αργκό και σύγχρονες φράσεις, όπως π.χ. τι σημαίνει πρωτογενές πλεόνασμα», σημειώνει. Η ειδοποιός διαφορά του νέου λεξικού, όμως, δεν βρίσκεται μόνο στην ερμηνεία των λέξεων, αλλά και στην ανάπτυξη της σημασίας και της χρήσης τους λαμβάνοντας υπ’ όψιν το πλαίσιο. Ετσι, στα λήμματα του λεξικού οι χρήστες θα βρουν πολλά παραδείγματα από κείμενα της ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας, ποίησης, φιλοσοφίας και επιστήμης για την καλύτερη κατανόηση της κάθε λέξης. «Εχουμε παραδείγματα από κείμενα και φράσεις του Μυριβήλη, του Παπαδιαμάντη, του Βενιζέλου, του Ελύτη, αλλά και νεότερων όπως του Παπαμάρκου και του βιβλίου “Γκιακ”, που είναι γεμάτο ιδιωματισμούς. Πίσω από κάθε λέξη, από κάθε παράδειγμα, από κάθε αποδελτίωση που κάναμε, βρίσκεται μια πολύ μεγάλη πρωτότυπη εργασία ετών», τονίζει ο κ. Πατάκης.

Πράγματι η προσπάθεια για τη συγγραφή ενός λεξικού από τον 77χρονο έμπειρο φιλόλογο ξεκίνησε πριν από 20 χρόνια. «Τότε νόμιζα ότι μέσα σε τρία χρόνια θα τελειώναμε. Δεν ήξερα πού έμπλεκα», μας λέει και μιλάει με πατρική στοργή για τις χιλιάδες λήμματα που αποτελούν μια ιστορική, πολιτιστική και κοινωνική αντανάκλαση της ελληνικής γλώσσας και τις ατελείωτες ώρες που περνάει κοιτάζοντας ξανά και ξανά τα ρήματα τα οποία έχει υπ’ ευθύνη του.

«Η γλώσσα είναι ο καθρέφτης της ύπαρξής μας», σημειώνει. Κάθε πρωί υπογραμμίζει νέες λέξεις και φράσεις από τις εφημερίδες που διαβάζει για να εμπλουτίσουν τις ηλεκτρονικές βάσεις δεδομένων ή να μπουν στο «ψυγείο» για το μελλοντικό λεξιλόγιο του λεξικού. Τις προάλλες, μας λέει, πέρασε μια μέρα με τους συνεργάτες του για να εντοπίσουν τη σωστή ερμηνεία και διαφορά μεταξύ της «αγγειοσυστολής» και της «αγγειοσύσπασης». Στη διαθήκη του, όπως λέει χαριτολογώντας, θα αφήσει την εντολή στα παιδιά του και στους συνεργάτες του να εμπλουτίζουν το λεξικό. Ενα έργο ζωής, που θα μείνει για πάντα ζωντανό.

Η πρόσβαση στο λεξικό γίνεται προς το παρόν κατόπιν αίτησης στο http://lexicon-neohel.patakis.gr/interest.

Τετάρτη, 14 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016


Βιβλία άθικτα στη βιβλιοθήκη


Οι επιστήμονες ανέπτυξαν εφαρμογή που διαβάζει βιβλία δίχως να χρειάζεται ξεφύλλισμα.
Οσοι διεκήρυτταν μετά παρρησίας ότι δεν πρέπει να κρίνουμε ένα βιβλίο από το εξώφυλλό του έρχονται να διαψευστούν από το διάσημο τεχνολογικό ίδρυμα της Μασαχουσέτης ΜΙΤ. Επιστήμονες, λοιπόν, ανέπτυξαν μια εφαρμογή η οποία διαβάζει βιβλία δίχως να χρειάζεται ξεφύλλισμα, μέσω, δηλαδή, του εξωφύλλου τους. Αυτό, βεβαίως, εξυπηρετεί πρωτίστως τους μελετητές και συντηρητές βιβλίων που δημοσιεύθηκαν στο βαθύ παρελθόν και το παραμικρό άγγιγμα μπορεί να προκαλέσει φθορές που όλοι θα ήθελαν να αποφύγουν.

Η εφαρμογή αυτή χρησιμοποιεί ακτινοβολία terahertz, δηλαδή ηλεκτρομαγνητική ακτινοβολία που εντοπίζεται μεταξύ των μικροκυμάτων και του υπέρυθρου φωτός. Το σύστημα αυτό έχει αρκετά πλεονεκτήματα έναντι άλλων τύπων κυμάτων που διαπερνούν επιφάνειες, όπως οι ακτίνες Χ ή τα ηχητικά κύματα. Μάλιστα, σύμφωνα με τους ερευνητές, τα terahertz μπορούν να διακρίνουν το μελάνι από το λευκό χαρτί με τέτοιον τρόπο που οι ακτίνες Χ δεν μπορούν.

Φανταστείτε, λοιπόν, αυτή η εφαρμογή να μπει στα σπίτια μας και οι βιβλιοθήκες μας να κουβαλούν βιβλία, τα οποία θα είναι όλα του κουτιού. Αυτό είναι ό,τι πρέπει για όσους θεωρούν το βιβλίο ιερό αντικείμενο που πρέπει να διατηρείται ατσαλάκωτο, στην αρχική του μορφή. Εμείς οι υπόλοιποι θα συνεχίσουμε κανονικότατα να τσακίζουμε σελίδες, να σημειώνουμε στα περιθώρια, να υπογραμμίζουμε φράσεις και να τσακίζουμε τα άκρα της σελίδας. Επίσης, αν, ας πούμε, το «Πόλεμος και Ειρήνη» παραμένει άθικτο στη βιβλιοθήκη μας, θα μπορούμε να λέμε ότι το διαβάσαμε με αυτή την εφαρμογή, γι’ αυτό και στέκει αγέρωχο στα ράφια. Κι ας μας δίδαξε, από το 2008, ο Πιερ Μπαγιάρ «Πώς να μιλάμε για βιβλία που δεν έχουμε διαβάσει» (μτφρ. Ελπίδα Λουπάκη, εκδ. Πατάκη).

Σάββατο, 20 Αυγούστου 2016

Η "Ζωή μεθόρια" στην Θεσσαλονίκη

«Βαλκανική Πλατεία 2016» από την Δευτέρα 29 Αυγούστου έως Κυριακή 4 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016 
Τη σκυτάλη από τα ΜΕΡΚΟΥΡΕΙΑ παίρνει την αμέσως  επόμενη μέρα  Δευτέρα 29 Αυγούστου, το φεστιβάλ  «Βαλκανική Πλατεία» που θα διαρκέσει μέχρι και την Κυριακή 4 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016.  Για 17η χρονιά, με «ουρανό» τον πολιτισμό και την ελεύθερη έκφραση, αναζητά και παρουσιάζει ακούσματα, γεύσεις, εμπνεύσεις και δημιουργίες, από αυτές που χαρίζουν στα Βαλκάνια τη μοναδικότητά τους.
«Ταξιδεύουμε» και πάλι στα Βαλκάνια, επιμένοντας να δημιουργούμε ψηφίδα-ψηφίδα αυτό το πολύχρωμο μωσαϊκό ανθρώπων, πολιτισμών και ιδεών, να συνεχίζουμε έναν αέναο διάλογο (που άλλοτε με εντάσεις και άλλοτε με ηρεμία) μοιάζει να έχει ριζώσει σε αυτό το κομμάτι της Ευρώπης. Πυξίδα μας η συνεργασία, η αλληλεπίδραση, η διάδραση, το αντάμωμα, ο διάλογος και η επικοινωνία. Μοναδικός και σταθερός στόχος είναι η ενίσχυση της φιλίας και συνεργασίας των λαών, η ειρήνη στην περιοχή μας και η ανάπτυξη σε όλα τα επίπεδα προς όφελος των ανθρώπων και των λαών», τονίζει ο δήμαρχος, Σίμος Δανιηλίδης.
Γιώργος Νταλάρας και Άλκηστις Πρωτοψάλτη είναι δύο μόνο από τους κορυφαίους καλλιτέχνες που φέτος θα εμφανιστούν σε αυτή την Πλατεία του Πολιτισμού των Βαλκανίων, ενώ και αυτή τη χρονιά η παιδική Βαλκανική Πλατεία θα αφήσει τις καλύτερες εντυπώσεις στους λιλιπούτειους επισκέπτες της.
Πρόγραμμα Βαλκανικής Πλατείας 2016
  • Δευτέρα 29 Αυγούστου 2016
    -Χορευτικά συγκροτήματα -Ρολόι
    -Παράσταση καραγκιόζη-πάρκο Αναγεννήσεως
  • Τετάρτη 31 Αυγούστου 2016
    «Ίχνη της απεραντοσύνης» Έκθεση φωτογραφίας των Damir Buzurovic και Bojan Petrovitc
    Εκθεσιακός χώροςπεριοχής Στρεμπενιώτη
    Ανοιχτό Θέατρο Νεάπολης, Περιοχή Στρεμπενιώτη – 9 μ.μ.
  • Πέμπτη 1 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016
    Παρουσίαση βιβλίου («ζωή μεθόρια») του Θεόδωρου Γρηγοριάδη
    Εκθεσιακός χώρος περιοχής Στρεμπενιώτη, 7:30 μ.μ.

    Ανοιχτό Θέατρο Νεάπολης, Περιοχή Στρεμπενιώτη – 9 μ.μ.
  • Σάββατο 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016
    Ανοιχτό Θέατρο Νεάπολης, Περιοχή Στρεμπενιώτη – 9 μ.μ.
  • Κυριακή 4 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016
    Ανοιχτό Θέατρο Νεάπολης, Περιοχή Στρεμπενιώτη
Παιδική Σκηνή (περιοχή Στρεμπενιώτη)
Στην παιδική σκηνή θα λειτουργούν διάφορα εργαστήρια από τις 7 μ.μ.
  • Τετάρτη 31 Αυγούστου 2016
    «Το δώρο» – ΚΘΒΕ
  • Πέμπτη 1 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016
    Παράσταση καραγκιόζη από τον Αγάπιο Αγαπίου
  • Παρασκευή  2 Σεπτεμβρίου
    «Διακοπές στο Χωριό», Μουσικό παραμύθι από το Δημοτικό Ωδείο Νεάπολης-Συκεών
  • Σάββατο 3 Σεπτεμβρίου
    «Τα τρία γουρουνάκια», Κουκλοθέατρο
  • Κυριακή 4 Σεπτεμβρίου
    Παρουσίαση βιβλίου «Τα πρέπει και τα θέλω στου σκιάχτρου το καπέλο» της Ναντίνα Κυριαζή.
    Παράσταση σύγχρονου τσίρκου από τους Muamba show

Σάββατο, 13 Αυγούστου 2016

Teju Cole’s Essays

Teju ColeCreditChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
By Teju Cole
Illustrated. 393 pp. Random House. Paper, $17.
Teju Cole’s captivating and lauded novels, “Open City” and “Every Day Is for the Thief,” reflect his identity as a writer with a global perspective — born in the United States and raised in Nigeria. His international access as an author, art historian and photographer — one who also teaches and is a photography critic for The New York Times Magazine — shapes not only his obsessions but, in a chicken-and-egg sense, determines his gaze. He takes in news from African countries and American cities; but also, by necessity and interest, Asian, European and Latin American culture and history. In short, the world belongs to Cole and is thornily and gloriously allied with his curiosity and his personhood. “Known and Strange Things,” his first collection of nonfiction, journeys through all the landscapes he has access to: international, personal, cultural, technological and emotional. When he feels homesick, he informs us in this book, he “visits” his parents in Nigeria through Google maps — a sweet if distant form of connection.
In “The Anxiety of Influence,” the renowned critic Harold Bloom argued that poets, especially those in the Western tradition since the Renaissance, necessarily negotiate the work of their predecessors as they write. “The precursors flood us,” Bloom wrote, “and our imaginations can die by drowning in them, but no imaginative life is possible if such inundation is wholly evaded.” Cole shares Bloom’s interest in the fraught and burdened relationship writers and artists have to our ancestors, and he seeks to answer yet another question: How does the imagination cross and recross racial and filial boundaries, and what does this crossing mean? With our ever-enlarging global access to the visions and voices and influences of others, Cole attempts to untangle the knot of who or what belongs to us and to whom or what do we belong as artists, thinkers and, finally, human beings.
In this light, “Black Body,” the opening essay in “Known and Strange Things,” engages the “question of filiation” that tormented James Baldwin in his essay “Stranger in the Village.” Baldwin, reflecting on his stay in the white-peopled Swiss village of Leukerbad, was moved to write that “the most illiterate among them is related, in a way I am not, to Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo. . . . Out of their hymns and dances come Beethoven and Bach. Go back a few centuries and they are in their full glory — but I am in Africa, watching the conquerors arrive.”
Cole, revisiting the terrain of Leukerbad, pairs himself with Baldwin (also echoing, in his parenthesis, the poet Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”): “I am black like him; and I am slender; and have a gap in my front teeth and am not especially tall (no, write it: short) . . . and feel myself in all places, from New York City to rural Switzerland, the custodian of a black body, and have to find the language for all of what that means to me and to the people who look at me. The ancestor had briefly taken possession of the descendant.”

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But Cole soon distances himself from Baldwin’s feeling of alienation. He states that Baldwin’s “self-abnegation” prevents him from embracing Bach or Rembrandt, who Cole insists do not belong to one race. He might even care more about these artists “than some white people do,” Cole writes.
The first section of the collection, “Reading Things,” has Cole claiming filiation with a number of authors (all male) who prove important to him. In the case of many of them, influence begets influence. Along with Baldwin comes V.S. Naipaul (“The benevolent rheumy-eyed old soul: so fond of the word ‘nigger,’ so aggressive in his lack of sympathy toward Africa, so brutal in his treatment of woman”); Tomas Transtromer (“It’s a good thing I’m unembarrassable about influence, because I realize now how many of Transtromer’s concepts I have hidden away in my own work”); W.G. Sebald (“This expert mixing of forms owed a great deal to his reading of the 17th-­century melancholics Robert Burton and Thomas Browne”); Derek Walcott (“He names painters as his exemplars more often than he names poets: Pissarro, Veronese, Cézanne, Manet, Gauguin and Millet roll through the ­pages”); and André Aciman (“Aciman’s debt to Proust is deep and freely acknowledged”).
This opening section concludes with “A Conversation With Aleksandar Hemon,” in which Hemon — a writer and critic and self-identified “diasporic person” — questions Cole on what Nigerian history means to him. Cole’s answer catapults him into a global context: “My identity maps onto other things: being a Lagosian (Lagos is like a city-state), being a West African, being African, being a part of the Black Atlantic. I identify strongly with the historical network that connects New York, New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro and Lagos.” Hemon is also interested in what happens when influences are constantly shaping and reshaping the imagination. For Cole, visual artists, especially painters, are least affected by that anxiety of influence and “know that everything is a combination of what’s observed, what’s imagined, what’s overheard and what’s been done before.” He argues that to acknowledge influence is to let go of notions of “literal records of reality” and cultural or racial ownership of content. All Cole wants is to be “dragged down into a space of narrative that I haven’t been in before.”
The stunning second section, “Seeing Things,” is especially captivating and reveals Cole’s voracious appetite for and love of the visual. Taken together, the essays in this section provide a comprehensive look at contemporary photography, placed within a historical framework. This approach brings forward evidence of things unseen, things, as Susan Sontag put it, “least likely to be known.” The artists who have Cole’s attention impose their individual and subjective sense on the material of the world, rejecting the notion, as most photographers do by nature, that it is possible to capture objective “records of reality.” He is drawn toward filmmakers and the visual artists who see with this photographer’s orientation. The collage work of Wangechi Mutu, described as “both easy and difficult to look at, seductive in their patterning, grotesque in their themes,” relies on actual photographic images; Cole’s favorite films by Michael Haneke and Krzysztof Kieslowski bring into view images of life so ordinary they could escape our attention. Cole believes that all of this work allows us to think with the eyes, and though the Australian composer Peter Sculthrope is also included here, his music becomes a passageway into the landscape and history of Australia.
But it’s the essays that focus explicitly on photography, especially, that demand our attention. Cole considers here the work of both well and lesser known photographers such as Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibe, J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere, Joseph Moise Agbodjelou, Zanele Muholi, Henri ­Cartier-Bresson, Sergei Ilnitsky, Sam Abell, Glenna Gordan, Saul Leiter, Richard Renaldi, Thomas Demand, as well as Google-based photographic and filmic practitioners like Doug Rickard, Mishka Henner, Aaron Hobson, Michael Wolf and Dina Kelberman. These photographers, whether reframing “anthropological images of ‘natives’ made by Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries” or applying a curatorial eye to the world around us, are democratizing the history of photography.
When the occasional essay fails to hold interest it’s because the connections Cole draws to some European lineage remain tenuous. This is the case, for example, with Cole’s meditation on death through the woodcuts entitled “Pictures of Death,” by Hans Holbein the Younger, which brings him to the killing of the African-­American Walter Scott by a South Carolina police officer in 2015, which in turn makes him think about the writer Sir Walter Scott and one of his short stories, about a premeditated murder, “The Two Drovers.” This associative style enables Cole to move across disciplines and through time, but in this case seems tendentious.
In the third section, “Being There,” photography’s ability as a discipline to present a unique archive of reality comes most clearly into light. These essays track Cole’s journeys around an explosive world of drones, wars and diseases, including the kidnappings of young girls in Chibok and assassinations of terror suspects by drone warfare. Cole happens to be streets away when the poet Kofi Awoonor is killed in a terrorist massacre in a Nairobi mall. He finds in Awoonor’s work some echoes of T.S. Eliot, but Cole ends his essay with a line from Awoonor, himself quoting “an ancient poet from my tradition”: “I will say it before death comes. And if I don’t say it, let no one say it for me. I will be the one who will say it.” Even as Cole positions Awoonor relative to the European tradition, he also allows Awoonor to have the last word.
One of the most resonant and powerful essays in “Being There” is “The White Savior Industrial Complex,” an expansion of Cole’s seven-part-Twitter-feed response to “Kony 2012,” a video calling for the arrest of the Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. He meditates more fully here on the interconnectivity of American political polices to their outcome. Activist philanthropy that begins in amnesia lacks, in Cole’s words, “constellational thinking.” He lays bear the relationship among sentimentality, ignorance, corruption, pillage and complicity within our global communities. Under Cole’s watchful eye the world shrinks into a network of countries, communities and individuals influenced by, dependent on and affected by other countries, communities and individuals.
This brilliant collection closes with an epilogue, “Blind Spot,” in which Cole recounts the time he first had an episode of papillophlebitis, or “big blind spot syndrome.” If epilogues benefit from hindsight, it’s difficult not to feel the piece is intended by Cole to be read diagnostically, beyond its autobiographical content. In the essay, Cole admits to feeling shame as he worries that a waitress in a Hudson, N.Y., cafe he stumbles into might not interpret his inability to read a menu as eye trouble but assume instead that he was “illiterate.” This use of the word “illiterate” is an echo of the James Baldwin quotation in the first essay in the collection, “Black Body.” Suddenly the essays endeavoring to connect and build lines of influence between the canon of Western and African literature and art tremble as they stand in relation to the strange and surprising feeling of being misread. How quickly the black body can be thrown out of its cosmopolitanism and literacy, as the author’s own anxieties overtake him sitting at a counter in that cafe next to “two blond women and two men, also fair haired.”
Cole’s global perspective hits its limit here. History — literary, political, social or personal — offers us a vast archive of knowledge that both influences and challenges the definitions we construct for ourselves. On every level of engagement and critique, “Known and Strange Things” is an essential and scintillating journey.

Τρίτη, 9 Αυγούστου 2016

Οι αναγνώστες ζούνε περισσότερο

Flaubert had it that “the one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy”. It turns out that reading doesn’t only help us to tolerate existence, but actually prolongs it, after a new study found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day lived longer than those who didn’t read at all.
The study, which is published in the September issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at the reading patterns of 3,635 people who were 50 or older. On average, book readers were found to live for almost two years longer than non-readers.
Respondents were separated into those who read for 3.5 hours or more a week, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week, and those who didn’t read at all, controlling for factors such as gender, race and education. The researchers discovered that up to 12 years on, those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week were 23% less likely to die, while those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17% less likely to die
“When readers were compared to non-readers at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” write the researchers. “Thus, reading books provided a 23 month survival advantage.”Overall, during follow-up, 33% of non-book readers died, compared to 27% of book readers, write the academics Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade and Becca Levy from the Yale University School of Public Health, in their paper A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading With Longevity.
Bavishi said that the more that respondents read, the longer they lived, but that “as little as 30 minutes a day was still beneficial in terms of survival”.
The paper also specifically links the reading of books, rather than periodicals, to a longer life. “We found that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines. We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan,” Bavishi said.
In the paper, the academics write that there are two cognitive processes involved in reading books that could create a “survival advantage”. First, reading books promote the “slow, immersive process” of “deep reading”, a cognitive engagement that “occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content present.
“We had seen some mixed effects in previous literature that seemed to indicate that there may be a survival advantage to general reading; however, we were impressed with the magnitude of the difference of effect between reading books and reading newspapers/magazines,” said Bavishi.“Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books,” they write. Second, books “can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival”, they say.
Although respondents to the survey did not specify the genre of the books they were reading, the paper says it is likely that most of the people they surveyed were reading fiction, pointing to a survey from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009 that found that 87% of book readers choose fiction. They suggest that future analysis could look at “whether there are additional health benefits from book reading, other than extended survival; whether there are similar effects reading ebooks and audiobooks, which may be more likely to be read in a non-sedentary manner; and whether nonfiction vs fiction, as well as various genres, have different effects”.
The academics point to previous research which found that people over 65 spend an average of 4.4 hours a day watching television, and say that “efforts to redirect leisure time into reading books could prove to be beneficial in terms of survival for this population”. The researchers also point out that their study participants spent “considerably” more time reading periodicals than books – on average, 3.92 hours for books and 6.10 hours for periodicals – and suggest they switch to books, because “the survival advantage is significantly stronger for book reading”.
They conclude that “the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them … The robustness of our findings suggests that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading.”