It's no secret I love Lapham's Quarterly
. I eagerly await each season's delivery and then pour over it and nibble on it until the next one arrives. It makes me feel smarter than I am.
I always start with Mr. Lapham's editorial notes, and in the Spring 2017issue, Discovery
, what he says in Homo Faber
stopped me still. (I will say though, I've changed and emboldened his reference to "man" to be neutral, just because we can do that now.)
Our technologies produce continuously improved means toward increasingly ill-defined ends. We have acquired a great many new weapons and information systems, but we don’t know at what or at whom to point the digital enhancements. For direction to the “peace and security” of a cosmos that suits us best, we are better advised to look, as did Albert Einstein, to “the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist” than to the economist, the cosmetic surgeon, and the engineer.
Machines can measure blood flow and scan a heartbeat, but they don’t know how it is with people, who we are, and how it is between us. Data streams can number and store the dots in the EKG and the ATM, hook up assignations with Tinder and fix the trades for Goldman Sachs. But they can’t connect the dots to anything other than themselves. Watson and Siri can access the Library of Congress, but they can’t read books. Machines don’t do metaphor. They process words as lifeless objects, not as living subjects, and so they don’t know what the words mean. Not knowing what the words mean, they can’t hack into the civilising heap of human consciousness (of myth and memory and emotion) that is the making of ourselves as human beings.
The internet is maybe the best and brightest machine ever made by [humans], blessed with a near-infinite expanse of miraculous application. Language is not yet one of them. Computers scan everything but hear nothing. Even if they know where to find or how to make a cosmos best suited for human habitation, how would they send word word of the discovery? They know now who they are or what they do.
I also quickly looked up the Einstein reference and found the fuller essay, Principles of Research, from Einstein’s Essays in Science
. I've also done a
basic gender swap this time, because women are also capable of cosmic thought.
A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception an thought; this desire may be compared with the townswoman’s irresistible longing to escape from her noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity. With this negative notice there goes a personal one. Woman tries to make for herself in the fashion that suits her best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; she tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of her for the world of experience, and thus overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher and the natural scientist do, each in her own fashion. She makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of her emotional life, in order to find this way the peace and security which she cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.
I love the idea that a computer doesn't know who to tell when it discovers something. I'm totally going to steal all this, so thank you, Mr. Lapham.
I went on the London Women's March
last week, along with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends, and it felt good to be part of a larger crowd all expressing their fear and solidarity about the state of the world at this inauspicious time. I had to admit to feeling a niggling sense of frustration though, that the march would have little effect on the world leadership, unless we did the same thing the next day, and the next, and the next after that.
There are millions of us who are now wondering how we can act to show our resistance to President Trump and the world leaders who are trying to work with him. I was talking to my friend, Annette, about what possible actions we can take, and how it's difficult to "act local" on this one, except for being kind and generous to the people around you, and especially to strangers, which I have been trying to do much more of instead of being a passive member of the community. I'll keep doing that. She suggested writing to my MP specifically now to urge rejection of Trump's horrible immigration ban on human beings from seven Muslim majority countries
. Because my MP is Jeremy Corbyn, I've changed the tone of my letter to one of support. (And I am not worrying about Brexit in this context.)
You can do the same thing, through They Work For You
, and I heartily urge you to do so.
I have also made two letter templates - Resist & Support
- which you are welcome to use, reuse, rewrite, and share along.
Now is not the time for silence
Dear Mr Corbyn,
It’s clear to me from your recent announcements that you have been closely observing the escalating executive orders President Trump has been making.
As your constituent I offer my support to you and your efforts to publicly condemn the ban barring all immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations.
This is no longer a party political or diplomatic discussion. We must now all act to preserve and live in a respectful humanitarian world where human lives matter, no matter who your parents are, where you were born, if you are a person of faith, who you choose to love, or with which gender you identify.
I am very pleased to see you using your position to counteract this repugnant policy, and fully support your call to ban Trump’s state visit, possibly forever. What the world needs now is love, and resistance to this bizarre, xenophobic leadership.
We all need to be brave and speak up. Keep going!
Here's that link again: They Work for You
. Please, write a note now. It took me ten minutes.
We've started a new job at G,F&S
, and we're at that bit when we're getting to know someone else's data. It's a bit like enjoying going to house viewings and poking in cupboards.
We're joking around the table about 'oh, why can't they be more organised?' and 'why is it all so messy?' without really acknowledging that everything is miscellaneous
(thanks David Weinberger). And then you find a list like this and it's charming and very specific and human and you keep moving.
["artist", nil, "printmaker", "author", "designer", "lithographer", "publisher", "maker", "subject", "printer", "engraver", "owner", "calligrapher", "commissioner", "block cutter", "censor", "etcher", "recipient", "related to", "engraver and publisher", "photographer", "curator", "scribe", "entrepreneur", "named on object", "sculptor", "heraldry on object", "painter", "printmaker and publisher", "intermediary draughtsman", "dedicatee", "excavator", "designer/etcher/publisher", "designer/etcher/engraver/publisher", "designer/etcher", "engraver/publisher", "etcher/engraver", "artist, calligrapher", "reworked", "manufacturer", "retailer", "artist and publisher", "Engraver/Cutter", "(?)", "designer/publisher", "designer and publisher", "calligrapher of title", "carver", "collector of characters", "original calligrapher", "Artist's function", "author of the text", "said to have been owned by", "poet", "publisher (prob.)"]
I've been carrying on a gentle research project lately about people who really hit their stride in their 40s (for obvious reasons). It may also just be a list of people I like, but, whatever. Favourites so far include:
- Peggy Guggenheim - I've probably read the most about Ms Guggenheim, and, even though it feels a little disingenuous to compare myself to her, it's perhaps more that I'm inspired most by her (so far). When she turned forty, she opened her first gallery, in Cork Street in London, called Guggenheim Jeune. I went there one evening when I was nearby. It's not there anymore. It was in her forties that she built most of her fantastic, world-changing modern art collection. I also enjoyed the Lisa Vreeland film about her, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. (And, Mum? I think you look a bit like her. Maybe that's why I like her so much :).)
- Charles and Ray Eames - Late 1940s, early 50s they created work like the Eames House, but moved steadily away from architecture into furniture and other things,
- Barbara Hepworth - Apart from sharing a birthday with me, she found her studio in St Ives when she was in her mid-forties
- Nora Ephron - Finally entered the fray as the brilliant screenwriter she was, with Silkwood, released when she was just 42.
I'm about to take a bit of a leap here in London, taking on a new office space after a good first year in business. I'm nervous about it, but also feel strong about my work and the new network of friends, colleagues, and advisors I've been weaving here. It's also nice to feel committed to building something over the coming years, especially for myself. Maybe that's it. Maybe that's why some people hit their stride in their forties (or another time)... because they work out what they want to do with their time, instead of working for other people on what they want to do.
I was about to write "fingers crossed" but instead I'll write time to knuckle down. It's not about crossing fingers, it's about jumping on chances when they come up after you've given them a good think. The office is a bit of a risk, but I think there will be benefits too, and I'm betting that they will probably outweigh that risk over time.
That's it for now. I haven't really been writing anything down about this research, so the list is a bit short and may or may not be added to.