Friday, March 23, 2012

pa pa pa PAAAAAAAAA pa

n+1 held a panel discussion at Fordham back in late October last year, a reprise of an earlier discussion of "What we wish we'd known."  Moderated by Keith Gessen.  Participants, HDW and J.D. Daniels.

(An edited transcript of the event is now available on the n+1 blog, here.)

One thing I will say is that if you ever have the chance to hear J.D. Daniels talk about anything you should go.  You live in Seattle?  He's giving a talk in the inconveniently located Portland?  Expedia is your friend. This will sound crazy only to those who have not heard J.D. Daniels. You may feel like an idiot when you book the flight; when the lights go down you'll be pitying all the friends who stayed sensibly in Seattle.  Click.  Walk out the door. 

Another thing I will say is that Keith Gessen is a saint.

In the discussion a few years back people had talked about what they wished they'd read. I thought I should draw up an annotated reading list, preferably as a hand-out. Halfway through the afternoon I was scrambling to finish my reading list when I got a call from Keith on my cellphone.  I mentioned that I was preparing notes. Keith said sternly that I must not talk from notes. I turned up, chastened, at Fordham. The three of us sat at a long table with microphones. Keith asked a question; I tackled it as best I could without my notes. J.D. Daniels began to talk compellingly, charismatically; it was immediately clear that this was a man who had no need of notes. It was also clear that he disagreed with the whole enterprise and had come only as a favor to Keith. Who was he to tell people what to read? Did he have regrets over books he might have discovered earlier and hadn't? No. (If missing out on books at a formative age had given me J.D. Daniels' gift for public speaking I would probably have no regrets either, not that this was the tenor of the argument.) He talked about Bill Evans and Miles Davies and Debussy; he quoted Dante. He explained his connection with n+1: he had read Mark Greif's piece on exercise in an early issue, which described the gym as the place we turn to now that we no longer work in factories. JDD thought: We? And wrote to Mark Greif. Who was a gentleman: he invited JDD to meet for a coffee. Keith did not so much moderate as offer support for  his claim to canonification.

I felt wrongfooted somehow.

I discover books by accident and think: This is brilliant! And the accident was the result of being in a particular place in a particular time - being in Oxford, working on a doctorate, happening to discover A C Danto's The Transfiguration of the Commonplace at the Philosophy Subfaculty Library in Merton Street.  (Surely I should not have needed to get a Senior Scholarship and do a doctorate to find the book, which is, after all in the public domain. Surely everyone should know about it!!!!)

Or I am lazy and don't urge books on people when I should. My ex-husband David Levene, now Professor of Classics at NYU, specializes in historiography.  At some point, looking through my books, he discovered a translation of Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah.  He picked it up and was agog. So clearly this was very bad of me, not to have brought the book to his attention, when it was directly relevant to his research.

Or I am even lazier. I think that David, who is fluent in Hebrew, would love Arabic; I suspect that he is put off by the script, which to the untutored eye looks like a lot of squiggles.  For fifteen years or so I do nothing about this.  One day I agree to meet David for lunch at Covent Garden; I draw up a few sheets of exercises introducing 8 letters (n,t,th,b,y, the 5 that look like our cursive dotted i but with different numbers and placement of dots; alif, kaf and lam). He tears through the exercises in the 10 minutes before our food arrives; after the meal we go charging up Charing Cross Road in search of a grammar.  Later, he is able to clarify a point by consulting an Arabic translation of Theocritus.  The 15 years of sloth are a source of shame.

And also, on the other hand, I think of the things I would have missed if I had not known David: Dawkins' The Selfish Gene; Amartya Sen's Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation; Zaller's The Nature and Origin of Mass Opinion; Sergio Leone, Kurosawa, Mel Brooks, Dennis Potter, Twin Peaks; Wagner, Strauss (R), Schoenberg, Webern. Keres & Kotov's The Middle Game.  Bridge! (The multi-colored two diamond!!!!) Poker! Go! Statistics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Surely these life-changing discoveries should not be confined to a social unit of two. A social unit that came into being only because both parties got Senior Scholarships at Brasenose College, Oxford. Given that Senior Scholarships are a scarce commodity, whereas the books, films, music, games, mathematics are in the public domain.

I never did turn my notes into a proper hand-out.  So I am not really in a position to ease my conscience. I append them on the off-chance that something may be useful to somebody.

Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death. 
Erving Goffman, Asylums. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  Stigma. 
Marcel Mauss, The Gift. 
Polanyi, The Great Transformation
Yardley, Education of a Poker Player. 
Omar Sharif, Ma vie au bridge. 
Michel Crozier, Le phénomène bureaucratique. 
Seligman, Learned Helplessness. 
Michael Lewis, Moneyball.
Zaller, The Nature and Origin of Mass Opinion.
John Hicks, A Market Theory of Money
Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information. The Visual Presentation of Quantitative Information. Visual Explanations. Beautiful Evidence.
Bourdieu, Distinction; Homo Academicus
Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
A.C. Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace
Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Wayne Booth: Rhetoric of Irony, Rhetoric of Fiction
Adorno, Minima moralia
Laffont, Incentives (principal-agent problem)
Tukey & Mosteller, Exploratory Data Analysis
Ken Garland, Mr Beck’s Subway Map
Barthes (in French): Mythologies; S/Z; Le mort de l’auteur; L’effet du reel
Pierre Moron, Le suicide
Gordon, Structures: Why Things Don’t Fall Down
Gigerenzer, Reckoning with Risk; Empire of Chance
Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods (history of risk)
Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation
[wish had existed (blogs):
Marginal Revolution; Language Log; Ezra Klein’s Wonkbook.]

[read at university, glad I did]
[Edward Wilson, To the Finland Station]
[Jasper Griffin, Homer on Life and Death]
[E R Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational]
[Bernard Knox, The Heroic Temper]
[George Forrest, Athenian Democracy]
[Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution]
[L D Reynolds, Scribes & Scholars]

[wish I had studied properly rather than just read:
Rawls, Theory of Justice

Faulkner, As I lay dying
Melville, Moby Dick

Homer, Iliad; Odyssey (in Greek)
Plato, Symposium (in Greek: accusative infinitive construction to set narrative at a distance, within quotations)
Thucydides, History of Peloponnesian War: esp. Melian Dialogue, Stasis at Corcyra (in Greek to see grammar and vocabulary mangled by political force)

Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu
Borges, La loteria de Babylon
Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler; Invisible cities
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker
Peter Ackroyd, Hawksmoor
Margaret Kennedy, Troy Chimneys
Evelyn Waugh, Scoop
Austen, S&S; P&P (for the savagery)
Sterne, Tristram Shandy
Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître
Queneau, Zazie dans le métro
Stefan Zweig, Schachnovelle
DeLillo White Noise &c
Cormac McCarthy All the Pretty Horses

Sergio Leone; Kurosawa; Mizoguchi; Mel Brooks (The Producers, first version); Sweet Smell of Success.  Dennis Potter, Pennies from Heaven; Singing Detective.  Yes, Minister; Yes, Prime Minister.  The Wire. 

Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Blue & Brown Books

Steiner, Chemistry Maths Book
Korner, Pleasures of Counting
Lang, Astrophysical Formulae

Paul Nation, Vocabulary Acquisition

Russell, History of Western Philosophy

Aristotle, Poetics; Rhetoric; Nicomachean Ethics

Chase & Phillips, A New Introduction to Greek
Lambdon, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew
Cowan, Introduction to Modern Literary Arabic

Possibility to attend all university lectures for £30 a term (now £300) without matriculation

Headhunting: select university / courses after research to find out who’s interesting.

[Don Fowler]
Nigel Nicolson (Reed)
D S Levene (NYU)
Denis Feeney
Malcolm Heath (Leeds)

Fundraising: volunteer org., grassroots org. [distribution as activism]

[wish I played: Go]

[important not only to play but to read a variety of guides: impt to understanding, in different contexts, strength of position. That is, how a good player understands the game.  Range of possibilities: games of full information v. partial information; games of cooperation, shared information v. pure competition.]

[important not just intellectually, conceptually; ways to extend circles of people you know; sometimes, win money]

Chainsaw skills; lockpicking course; bicycle maintenance; wiring, carpentry, plumbing; forex.  Barista, waitress, short-order cook.  [portability]

Python, Perl, Ruby

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