Saturday, July 31, 2010

Brains, Heart and Courage - my holiday's reading

There is a book, the book that belongs to the realm of great literature, that shows and leads us in our striving for more knowledge and understanding, for deeper love and emotions and for stronger braveness in our life.

Its author tells a good story, fascinating for some us, naive for the rest, but the story that shows, without ostentation and cheap morality how we can find these virtues. They lie inside us — always in the depths of our souls, and no one can truly give them us, if we don’t start believing we can get them.

And he teaches that there are people and situation that can ignite, even if by a substitute, the fire of brains, heart and courage. However — they can ignite ONLY , never truly GIVE them to us.

The book makes also a case about humbugs and posers, and says, that sometimes they can have some merit. Contrary to the traditional thinking, and somehow against the common sense — the merit of some humbugs is in promoting good and welfare. Of course only if good is the essence of their humbuggery, not the evil...

And the book says much more; how a pauper can truly become the leader, a coward — the headman, and how a strong desire to live a normal real life among close family and friends and the resignation from splendours is, at the end, rewarded ....


This author is Lyman Frank Baum. This book is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900....

Some used to say that the book was politically motivated, and that its characters ridicule some political figures. I don’t buy such interpretations.

The story for our children and grandchildren but not a childish fairy tale at all....

It was my holiday reading this year...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Close Listening by Sven Birkerts — What is the problem with audio books ?

I was so deeply moved by a chapter of Sven's Birkerts „The Gutenberg Elegies” named „Close Listening” that I decided to commit a post — just about this chapter. As for the book itself, I hope to finish and comment on it during holidays, i.e. next week.

It is apparent, from the first sentences of the chapter, that Birkerts is against audio books. He gives a number of strong arguments. Let's see them here....

Passivity of audio books:


„Books, for me, have always been about covers and pages and grappling with the syntactical rigors of stationary prose. The passivity of listening seemed to me on a par with the passivity of television watching. How could it fail to reduce any work of merit to, at best, a companionable blur, a string of easy cadences in the ear?”

Confusion of experience.

He criticises the special effects that are sometimes added to the recordings (calls them tacky effects); but was is more important criticism is the confusion of our physical experience during listening, experience of driving, walking, commuting with the imaginative world of the story we listen to.

Limitation of the medium.

Sven maintains that certain literature is well perceived only through text:


„Our more serious literature incorporates levels of difficulty — in narrative sequence, referentiality, syntax, and linguistic density — and presupposes a reader who is free to hover over a phrase, reach for a dictionary, and dart back.”

Irrelevance of the recording pace to the text.

Sven gives examples, where the pace of narrator reading, being regular and uniform, was completely irrelevant to the meaning of the text. Descriptions, dialogues are usually fine, but when a book turns into some philosophical conjectures — the same pace is just unbearable:


„We don't just speed a thought through our neural network — we inhale it, hold it, wait for it to send ripples through the whole of our being. Rewinding the tape is no solution.”


Difficulty with deep reading.


„Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms. We are free to indulge our subjective associative impulses; the term I coin for this is
deep reading: the slow and meditative possession of a book. We don't just read the words, we dream our lives in their vicinity. (...) Deep listening to words is rarely an option. Our ear, and with it our whole imaginative apparatus, marches in lockstep to the speaker's baton”

Powerlessness of the listener.

Sven claims that when we hear a book we are deeply silenced by the vocal tyranny of the narrator:


„The listener is powerless against the taped voice, not at all in the position of my five-year-old daughter, who admonishes me continually, "Don't read it like that, Dad." With the audio book, everything — pace, timber, inflection — is determined for the captive listener. The collaborative component is gone; one simply receives.”

Sexless voicing.

The books read by male narrator lose the female character, if it is of importance and conversely, the manly dialogs read by a woman sound strange:


„Cheever's prose is as imprinted with his gender as Virginia Woolf's is with hers. Nor could I get past the bright vigor of the performing voice; I missed the dark notes, the sense of pooling shadows that has always accompanied my readings of the man.”

Abridgement of books kills their message.

Svens notices that too many of audio books are just bad abridgements. The arbitrary selection what to include what to leave out is usually killing the perception of the book. He gives an example of „Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry:

„Lowry had meant his novel to turn like a wheel; everything in it is keyed to the concept of circularity, making chapter one absolutely indispensable . No amount of civilized gnashing by reader Christopher Cazanove could make up the
deficit.”

Multitrack sensibilities required.

Listening to audio book, requires a good deal of multitracking sensibility. This is in opposition to „single-track tasks demanded by the silent page”. What is more, it can create a shift or change in the way authors write today: „... is is not farfetched to suppose that a good part of future of literature will be bound up with the audio process.”

Despite all these remarks, the chapter ends with some positive remarks.

Sven recalls listening to James Joyce „The Dead” which he found great in the audio format. Basically he values the rendering of some short stories (by authors like Updike, Welty and Carver) in audio. He also notices that sometimes the good reader opens the deeper understanding:

„An evocative reading can capture the shifting tension that exists between sound and sense; it can unearth the overlooked sentence rhythm and whet the blade of irony. Reading is different from listening, yes, but in listening's limitations I have found unexpected pleasures.”

He ends it with these words:


„In the beginning was the Word — not the written or printed or processed word, but the spoken word. And though it changes its aspect faster than any Proteus, hiding now in letter shapes and now in magnetic emulsion, it remains. It still has the power to lay us bare.”

What do you think?

I'm passionate audio book listener, so this chapter requires me to comment and, more specifically to argue. But I will do it at some later time, maybe after your opinions...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reading before holidays ...

I am particularly tired and exhausted before these, 2010 holidays. This is why I'm less active on my blog...

But to tell you what's going on, here it is, shortly: after enchanting „Les Miserables” I returned to Lakoff's „Political Mind” and, in paper, to Birkerts „The Gutenberg Elegies”. Both deserve posts, and I promise to deliver them when I settle in my little cottage on the shore of Baltic sea, i.e. next week.

I will also post my recollections and records from 2010 Literary Festival in Paris.

Despite the exhaustion, I was able to create a few play lists on YouTube related to this Festival. The one worth seeing features Philip Pullman and another one David Hare.

So... Keep visiting me ...

Cheers
Mirek

Sunday, July 11, 2010

End of Seven Weeks in an another world - Les Miserables

I was reading, or to be precise, was listening to Victor's HugoLes Miserables” for the last 7 weeks. More than 1500 pages of text, rendered to more than 70 hours of fantastic story-telling (in a literal sense) by David Case (aka Frederick Davidson).

I will not write my review tonight. I'm still in the mood, despite the fact that during this reading I was also reading other books, listen to music, visited exhibitions.


I must think what and how to write. Les Miserables has caused hundreds of thousands of other reviews — so why I must write my own ? But I will wait, will wait until the incredible world created by Victor Hugo start to fade a bit, and my emotions start to sediment in the basin of forgetfulness ....


Les Miserables is so important that we almost forget it is a great book.
Who of us have not wept when little Gavroche died as a hero on a Parisian barricade of the Spring of Nations, who of us was not mesmerized when Susan Boyle sang Fantine's song... Who have never thought about a power of the qualms of conscience which had driven Jean Valjean to silent and troubled heroism; who did not imagine how beautfull was Cosetta and her mother Fantine...


That's all for tonight. If you haven't read it yet — do it please — it is more important than 1000 TV shows, more than hundreds football matches ...


I will write my regular review when the time will come....




Social Platforms for Enterprise - Enterprise 2.0 by Andrew McAfee

No one can dismiss the importance of Social Networks for the global culture. The simple saying goes: "Web connected documents — Facebook connected people". Although I'm not in favor of the role that FaceBook plays today, I cannot ignore its utmost importance for our civilisation. (For good discussion about it see here) .

When Internet brought Web to life, corporations started to use it internally and INTRANETs were born. So is today, with ESSPs - Emergent Social Software Platforms to follow Web 2.0 trends. These solutions bring a completely new setting for Knowledge Management in a corporate world. And they are the subject of the Andrew McAfee book „Enterprise 2.0. New collaborative tools for your organization's toughest challenges”.


The book is not technical at all. The author does not even try to list the software packages that deliver ESSP functionalities for today's corporations. Instead it starts from the analysis of the opportunities, often missed opportunities of the group work, goes through the definitions of Enterprise 2.0 to the concrete recommendations for corporations which would consider implementing ESSP.


On the surface we feel what the ESSPs are. We could pronounce the names of most important Web 2.0 solutions, from Wikis (Wikipedia), through social tagging (Delicious) to Social Networks (Twitter, FaceBook). But we sometimes do not notice their "free form" features like being optional, free of imposed structures, egalitarian and data format neutral. They share the important features that are best described through the acronym of SLATES: Search, Links, Authoring, Tags, Extensions and Signals. It is easy to map specific solutions available today to any of these features.

One of the bast parts of the book has the title "New Approach to Old Problems" where he applies the concept of SWT — The Strength of Weak Ties (1973 - Mark Granovetter - American Journal of Sociology) to understand better why social networks inside corporation do matter.

The concept of SWT helps to formulate the Bull's Eye theory of the importance of Social Systems. In this theory we use SN systems to maintain Strong Ties, but we also maintain Weak and Potential Ties:



These interesting considerations form Part I of the Book. In Part II McAfee considers the difficulties related to implementation of ESSPs today.

The first paradox related to their introduction is a typical Red Herring case: "I've noticed that concerns around Enterprise 2.0 fall into two broad categories: fears that people won't use the newly available ESSPs, and fears that they will". This diverting, usually "committed" by management, masks the fears of the same management. Sometimes, the fears are justified. Corporations have their secrets, they protect their information from free leaking. However, as many bright examples show (European investment bank DrKW or US Directorate of National Intelligence) there are ways to protect what is to be protected while using all benefits of ESSPs !


The second problem is that everybody wants to implement ESSPs quick, but in fact it is a task for a long period of time — true Long Haul project! McAfee lists certain qualifications that can impact the adoption, like the ability to make quick relative evaluations, understanding of the status quo and deep understanding that people are loss-averse. He concludes with the words of Gourville: „ ... to be successful companies must anticipate a long, drawn-out adoption process and manage it accordingly”


The book concludes with two great chapters. „Going Mainstream" contains a true Road Map for implementation of ESSP in a corporation. It stresses the role of early adopters (believers), and the most important challenge for management: "Communicate, Educate & Evangelize”. It also puts stress on measuring real progress rather than on calculation of ROI...


„Looking Ahead” tries to predict a future of Enterprise 2.0. The most interesting forecast the author makes is the shift from „Model 1 behavior” to „Model 2 behavior”. The concepts come from Harvard professor Chris Argyris, who in 1996 book „Organizational Learning II: Theory, Method and Practice” (with Donald A. Schön) layed out a framework for successful strategies of large organisations. „Model 1” strategy relies on the unilateral design and management of the work environment, on protection of one's position and protection of others and on grasp and control of organizational tasks. In contrast, „Model 2” strategies assume high participation and joint task control, bilateral protection of others and orientation toward growth.

Using these concepts McAfee makes the conclusive remark, that is worth to quote:


„I am deeply interested in Enterprise 2.0 not because its component technologies are novel, innovative, and powerful (although they are) and not because I believe that ESSPs will fundamentally transform how enterprises are designed, rendering hierarchy obsolete (I do not believe this will be the case).
I'm most interested in the use of ESSPs because they can help organizations move from a Model 1 to Model 2 theory-in-use. These tools can change the nature of collaboration and discussion within an enterprise, giving people the ability both to contribute their perspective to a dialogue and to inform themselves by incorporating multiple perspectives. In short, they can help organizations move from defensive to productive reasoning.”



And this quote is the best climax of the book and of my review...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Crime and Punishment in Musée d'Orsay


Books and music are not all acts of culture that I admire ...

During one of my last trips to Paris I visited Musée d'Orsay. This museum is one of the best art museum in Europe, and its collections of impressionists are just superb.

However, that time I was able to see the special exhibition „Crime and punishment”. It was an incredible collection of mostly paintings that addressed the theme of crime, death and penalties.


Starting with depiction of the forefather of all criminals —Cain, we go through the history of art with the focus on the dark side of human race. We can witness how the reaction of artists varied in time of Enlightenment, Romanticism, Positivism and Surrealism.

We could witness how the nascent press devoted it columns to crime (Le Petit Journal) , we could see the modern ideas for prisons (Panopticon), and contemplate upon artistic debate over death penalty...

One of the objects on the display was the real guillotine, dressed in a vail ...




The exhibition was depressing ... but it was still worth to see.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The untold story of Jesus/Christ by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman is very well known storyteller. His „His Dark Materials” trilogy has become a great success — so far I only have read the short, enchanting prequel to it: „Once upon a time in the North”.

His latest novel „The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ” is probably one of his most important works. Despite a controversial title the book is a remarkable modern retelling of the Gospels.

Pullman makes the split between Jesus and Christ real — they become two real people — the brothers. Jesus is passionate, good, unorthodox in his teaching, yet Jewish Rabbi (he certainly was), whose message is directed to Jews, not to Gentiles.

Christ is on a mission. The mission to build the church. Instigated by an unknown stranger, whom he called the Angel, he takes notes of Jesus teachings, first on tablets, then on Scrolls.

He participates in Jesus' arrest and witnesses his crucifixion to take the important role in building a myth of his resurrection. When the myth has been built and started to spread he vanishes from history, to live so called normal life....

I relate the story shortly, as I do not want to spoil it to future readers. On the layer of the plot, the novel is just excellent — you will not regret the time spent on it.

The title itself annoys me a bit — not for any sense of anti-church insults it might awake, but for the fact that Christ is portrayed there as a tragic figure, and the way he ends his story is far from that of a scoundrel...

The essence of the novel is in different dimension. It shows how the certain narration, created in right time and with right means, can become a big movement, a new religion, a new civilization...

Jesus, the real, knows about the attempt to create the story out of his deeds. Called „The Truth” shaping „The History” is recorded by Christ — and it is obvious from the beginning that it is not the true relation of The Events. Jesus rejects it. Christ indulges in it, until the very end of the plot.

The story Christ helps to create leads to the creation of Church:

„ 'I am ready, sir.
' You and I know that for the Kingdom to flourish, it needs a body of men, and women too, both Jews and Gentiles, faithful followers under the guidance of men of authority and wisdom. And this church — we can call it church — will need men of formidable organisational powers and deep intellectual penetration, both to conceive and develop the structure of the body and to formulate the doctrines that will hold it together.”
Jesus despises the idea during his prayers in the Garden at Gethsemane:

„Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That is should wield no authority except that of love. That is should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive....”

This long prayer is one of the most remarkable parts of the novel, full of humility and full of doubts reaching far into modern culture discussions about G-d, his existence and his nature ...

My channel on YouTube features several films of Pullman's talk I recorded during Literary Festival in Paris, organised by Shakespeare and Co. There is more about his motives of the book.

There is an interesting review about the novel in Guardian.



Friday, July 02, 2010

Why silence ?

For those of my readers who are surprised that I'm not publishing new posts recently: I'm deeply in Victor's HugoLes Misérables”.

In parallel, after a meeting with Philip Pullman during my last visit to Paris, I'm reading his latest novel...

I also owe you my account on Literary Festival in Paris I attended two weeks ago.
There are few films on my YouTube account, more to come soon....