Tag Archives: literature

The Shake-Speared Brain: A Theatre of Simultaneous Possibilities

Yes.

Philip Davis pleasures his brain with shifting Shakespearean syntax, measures the results on an electroencephalogram, and finds evidence that powerful writing can literally change the ways in which we think …

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From THE READER

  I have always been very interested in how literature affects us. But I don’t really like it when people say, “This book changed my life!” Struggling with ourselves and our seemingly inextricable mixture of strengths and weaknesses, surely we know that change is much more difficult and much less instant than that. It does scant justice to the deep nature of a life to suppose that a book can simply “change” it. Literature is not a one-off remedy. And actually it is the reading of books itself, amongst other things, that has helped me appreciate that deep complex nature. Nonetheless, I do remain convinced that life without reading and the personal thinking it provokes would be a greatly diminished thing. So, with these varying considerations, I know I need to think harder about what literature does. And here’s another thing. In the last few years I have become interested not only in the contents of the thoughts I read—their meaning for me, their mental and emotional effect—but also in the very shapes these thoughts take; a shape inseparable, I feel, from that content. Moreover, I had a specific intuition—about Shakespeare: that the very shapes of Shakespeare’s lines and sentences somehow had a dramatic effect at deep levels in my mind. For example, Macbeth at the end of his tether:

And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have, but in their stead Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not.

I’ll say no more than this: it simply would not be the same, would it, if Shakespeare had written it out more straightforwardly: I must not look to have the honour, love, obedience, troops of friends which should accompany old age. Nor would it be the same if he had not suddenly coined that disgusted phrase “mouth-honour” (now a cliché as “lip-service”).

I took this hypothesis—about grammatical or linear shapes and their mapping onto shapes inside the brain—to a scientist, Professor Neil Roberts who heads MARIARC (the Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre) at the University of Liverpool. In particular I mentioned to him the linguistic phenomenon in Shakespeare which is known as “functional shift” or “word class conversion”. It refers to the way that Shakespeare will often use one part of speech—a noun or an adjective, say—to serve as another, often a verb, shifting its grammatical nature with minimal alteration to its shape. Thus in “Lear” for example, Edgar comparing himself to the king: “He childed as I fathered” (nouns shifted to verbs); in “Troilus and Cressida”, “Kingdomed Achilles in commotion rages” (noun converted to adjective); “Othello”, “To lip a wanton in a secure couch/And to suppose her chaste!”‘ (noun “lip” to verb; adjective “wanton” to noun). The effect is often electric I think, like a lightning-flash in the mind: for this is an economically compressed form of speech, as from an age when the language was at its most dynamically fluid and formatively mobile; an age in which a word could move quickly from one sense to another, in keeping with Shakespeare’s lightning-fast capacity for forging metaphor. It was a small example of sudden change of shape, of concomitant effect upon the brain. Could we make an experiment out of it? We decided to try to see what happens inside us when the brain comes upon sentences like “The dancers foot it with grace”, or “We waited for disclose of news”, or “Strong wines thick my thoughts”, or “I could out-tongue your griefs” or “Fall down and knee/The way into his mercy”. For research suggests that there is one specific part of the brain that processes nouns and another part that processes verbs: but what happens when for a micro-second there is a serious hesitation between whether, in context, this is noun or verb? The main cognitive research done so far on the confusion of verbs and nouns has been to do with mistakes made by those who are brain-damaged and thus on the possible neural correlates of grammatical errors and semantic violations. Hardly anybody appears to have investigated the neural processing of a ‘positive error’ such as functional shift in normal healthy organisms. This truly would be a small instance of inner drama. We decided to experiment using three pieces of kit. First, EEG (electroencephalogram) tests, with electrodes placed on different parts of the scalp to measure brain-events taking place in time; then MEG (magnetoencephalograhy), a helmet-like brain-scanner which measures effects in terms of location in the brain as well as their timing; and finally fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), those tunnel-like brain-scanners which focus even more specifically on brain-activation by location. I knew nothing much of this: I am indebted to Professor Roberts and to Dr Guillaume Thierry of Bangor University who joined us in the enterprise. With the help of my colleague in English language Victorina Gonzalez-Diaz, as well as the scientists, I designed a set of stimuli—40 examples of Shakespeare’s functional shift. At this very early and rather primitive stage, we could not give our student-subjects undiluted lines of Shakespeare because too much in the brain would light up in too many places: that is one of the definitions of what Shakespeare-language does. So, the stimuli we created were simply to do with the noun-to-verb or verb-to-noun shift-words themselves, with more ordinary language around them. It is not Shakespeare taken neat; it is just based on Shakespeare, with water. But around each of those sentences of functional shift we also provided three counter-examples which were shown on screen to the experiment’s subjects in random order: all they had to do was press a button saying whether the sentence roughly made sense or not. Thus, below, A (“accompany”) is a sentence which is conventionally grammatical, makes simple sense, and acts as a control; B (“charcoal”) is grammatically odd, like a functional shift, but it makes no semantic sense in context; C (“incubate”) is grammatically correct but still semantically does not make sense; D (“companion”) is a Shakespearian functional shift from noun to verb, and is grammatically odd but does make sense:


A) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would accompany me. B) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would charcoal me. C) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would incubate me. D) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would companion me.


What happened to our subjects’ brains when they read the critical words on screen in front of them? So far we have just carried out the EEG stage of experimentation under Dr Thierry at Bangor. EEG works as follows in its graph-like measurements. When the brain senses a semantic violation, it automatically registers what is called an N400 effect, a negative wave modulation 400 milliseconds after the onset of the critical word that disrupts the meaning of a sentence. The N400 amplitude is small when little semantic integration effort is needed (e.g., to integrate the word “eat” in the sentence, “The pizza was too hot to eat”), and large when the critical word is unexpected and therefore difficult to integrate (e.g., “The pizza was too hot to sing”). But when the brain senses a syntactic violation there is a P600 effect, a parietal modulation peaking approximately 600 milliseconds after the onset of the word that upsets syntactic integrity. Thus, when a word violates the grammatical structure of a sentence (e.g., “The pizza was too hot to mouth”), a positive going wave is systematically observed. Preliminary results suggest this:


(A) With the simple control sentence (“You said you would accompany me”), NO N400 or P600 effect because it is correct both semantically and syntactically. (B) With “You said you would charcoal me”, BOTH N400 and P600 highs, because it violates both grammar and meaning. (C) With “You said you would incubate me”, NO P600 (it makes grammatical sense) but HIGH N400 (it does not make semantic sense). (D) With the Shakespearian “You said you would companion me”, HIGH P600 (because it feels like a grammatical anomaly) but NO N400 (the brain will tolerate it, almost straightaway, as making sense despite the grammatical difficulty). This is in marked contrast with B above.


So what? First, it was as Guillaume Thierry had predicted. It meant that “functional shift” was a robust phenomenon: that is to say, it had a distinct and unique effect on the brain. Instinctively Shakespeare was right to use it as one of his dramatic tools. Second the P600 surge means the brain was thus primed to look out for more difficulty, to work at a higher level, whilst still accepting that fundamental sense was being made. In other words, while the Shakespearian functional shift was semantically integrated with ease, it triggered a syntactic re-evaluation process likely to raise attention and give more weight to the sentence as a whole. Shakespeare is stretching us; he is opening up the possibility of further peaks, new potential pathways or developments. Our findings show how Shakespeare created dramatic effects by implicitly taking advantage of the relative independence—at the neural level—of semantics and syntax in sentence comprehension. It is as though he is a pianist using one hand to keep the background melody going, whilst simultaneously the other pushes towards ever more complex variations and syncopations. This is a small beginning. But it has some importance in the development of inter-disciplinary studies—the co-operation of arts and sciences in the study of the mind, the brain, and the neural inner processing of language felt as an experience of excitement, never fully explained or exhausted by subsequent explanation or conceptualization. It is that neural excitement that gets to me: those peaks of sudden pre-conscious understanding coming into consciousness itself; those possibilities of shaking ourselves up at deep, momentary levels of being. This, then, is a chance to map something of what Shakespeare does to mind at the level of brain, to catch the flash of lightning that makes for thinking. For my guess, more broadly, remains this: that Shakespeare’s syntax, its shifts and movements, can lock into the existing pathways of the brain and actually move and change them—away from old and aging mental habits and easy long-established sequences. It could be that Shakespeare’s use of language gets so far into our brains that he shifts and new-creates pathways—not unlike the establishment of new biological networks using novel combinations of existing elements (genes/proteins in biology: units of phonology, semantics, syntax , and morphology in language). Then indeed we might be able to see something of the ways literature can cause affect or create change, without resorting to being assertively gushy. I do not think this is reductive. Cognitive science is often to do with the discovery of the precise localization of functions. But suppose that instead we can show the following by neuro-imaging: that for all the localization of noun-processing in one place and the localization of verb-processing in another, when the brain is asked to work at more complex meanings, the localization gives way to the movement between the two static locations. Then the brain is working at a higher level of evolution, at an emergent consciousness paradoxically undetermined by the structures it still works from. And then we might be re-discovering at a demonstrable neural level the experience not merely of specialist “art” but of thinking itself going on not in static terms but in dynamic ones. At present there is of course no brain imaging system that allows the study of continuous thought. But the hope is that, within experimental limitations, we might be able to gain a glimpse within ourselves of a changing neurological configuration of the brain, like the shape of the syntax just ahead of the realization of the semantics. In that case Shakespeare’s art would be no more and no less than the supreme example of a mobile, creative and adaptive human capacity, in deep relation between brain and language. It makes new combinations, creates new networks, with changed circuitry and added levels, layers and overlaps. And all the time it works like the cry of “action” on a film-set, by sudden peaks of activity and excitement dramatically breaking through into consciousness. It makes for what William James said of mind in his “Principles of Psychology”, “a theatre of simultaneous possibilities”. This could be a new beginning to thinking about reading and mental changes.

(Philip Davis is editor of The Reader magazine, and teaches in the School of English at the University of Liverpool. This article first appeared in The Reader, Number 23, pp. 39-43, and was prepared in collaboration with Neil Roberts, Victorina Gonzalez-Diaz, and Guillaume Thierry.)

Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily

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The Most Basic Form of Mind Control is Repetition

By Adam Cosco

The Most Basic form of Mind Control is Repetition on IMDB: imdb.com/title/tt1789950/

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Beautiful David Lynch

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July 21, 2012

Adam Bordow | AT HIS PEAK | David Lynch

THOUGH HE’S OFTEN assumed to be as peculiar as the creepy characters his movies feature, in person director David Lynch seems to have less in common with the Pabst-swilling sadist Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet,” and more with do-gooder Special Agent Dale Cooper, portrayed by Kyle MacLachlan in “Twin Peaks.”

For starters, despite his proclivity for the outer limits, there’s no place like home for the Missoula, Mont.-born maker of such profane films as “Mulholland Drive” and “Lost Highway” and humane ones as “The Straight Story” and “The Elephant Man.”

“What I really like is to be at home, working,” he said one recent sundown from the penthouse suite of the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, near the residence he shares with his

The homebody element had been evident the evening before at Hollywood’s labyrinthine Milk Studios. Guests were feting the 66-year-old filmmaker and painter for the debut of his collaboration with Dom Pérignon—he designed a signature look for a limited-edition run of vintage bottles. Mr. Lynch looked like a deer in the headlights, his grayish-blue eyes wary below his camera-friendly pompadour.

Even though 2001’s “Mulholland Drive” stuck a star on then-newbie Naomi Watts’s forehead, and earned Mr. Lynch his third Oscar nomination for best director, he has made only one feature-length movie since: 2006’s “Inland Empire.” In the meantime, he has focused on other passions—of which there are many.

Mr. Lynch embraced transcendental meditation around the time he made the 1977 curiosity “Eraserhead,” and since 2005 has headed the David Lynch Foundation, a charity he created to fund the teaching of T.M. in schools. It’s become a consuming mission.

He also has written a self-help memoir, “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity”; conceptualized and designed furnishings for a Paris nightclub-arts space called Silencio (named after the fright-house theater in “Mulholland Drive”); and released a solo CD, entitled “Crazy Clown Time.” He and his wife are expecting a baby, who will be his fourth

Colleague Mel Brooks once called him “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.” But despite his dark reputation, the former Eagle Scout is sincere, folksy and ha-ha funny. He uses the word “beautiful” to describe nearly everything.

~.~

The greatest thing my father left me was a love for cutting wood, my love for sawing, especially

The most delicious food is far and away super-crisp, almost snapping-crisp bacon with two scrambled eggs, toasted hash browns, white toast with butter and jam, and coffee.

I have a coffee brand. But I’m not a businessman and I think my line of coffee will die the death this year. It’s very hard to make a profit.

I have deep love for my Swatch watch.

I can’t live without coffee, transcendental meditation, American Spirit cigarettes, a freedom to create ideas that flow and my sweet wife, Emily. And this business of just being able to work and think: It’s really, really beautiful.

You don’t need a special place to meditate. You can transcend anywhere in the world. The unified field is here, and there, and everywhere. Maybe if you sat on a bed of nails to do it…no, not so much comfort. Find a comfy chair, though, close your eyes and away you go!

I don’t paint the town red. But when I do go out, people always want to touch my hair. It happens

I first started buttoning my shirt [all the way to the top] because, for some reason, my collarbone is very sensitive. And I don’t like to feel wind on my

The best cities of all are Los Angeles and Paris. They’re where I feel most comfortable.

Martino/Vintage Los Angeles The Fish Shanty

I used to deliver The Wall Street Journal in Los Angeles. I did it to support myself while making “Eraserhead.” I’d pick up my papers at 11:30 at night. I had throws that were particularly fantastic. There was one where I’d release the paper, which would soar with the speed of the car and slam into the front door of this building, triggering its lobby lights—a fantastic experience. Another one I called “The Big Whale.” There was a place, the Fish Shanty, on La Cienega. A big whale’s mouth was the front door you entered through. I’d throw a block before it, and hit the paper directly into the mouth.

Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal (wine) From left: a Swatch watch, Mr. Lynch’s book and one of his designs for Dom Pérignon

One designer I love is [the late] Raymond Loewy. He redesigned the Coca-Cola bottle that stuck, designed the 1963 Avanti Studebaker…and his locomotives were incredibly beautiful.

I am currently working on some paintings and music. I am also trying to catch ideas for my next feature film. But I haven’t caught the right ones

My advice to finger-painters would be to go with your intuition: it’s action and reaction. I paint with my fingers quite a bit. A brush will do a certain thing…but your finger will do a different thing.

Collection An ‘Eraserhead’ poster

I recently collected a toy telephone. It’s from the 1940s and made of metal.

People say my films are dark. But like lightness, darkness stems from a reflection of the world. The thing is, I get these ideas that I truly fall in love with. And a good movie idea is often like a girl you’re in love with, but you know she’s not the kind of girl you bring home to your parents, because they sometimes hold some dark and troubling things.

Edited from an interview by Steve Garbarino

via The Wall Street Journal

http://on.wsj.com/Qdgh2A

Thank ya, Mark Parker + Roger Ebert @ebertchicago

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Brazenhead Books

The Paris Review blog, which just gets better and better each week, posted Andrew David Watson’s lovely video yesterday about Michael Seidenberg, who moved his shop, Brazenhead Books, into his New York City apartment after his bookshop rent skyrocketed. “It’s a continuation of just me being a bookseller in the way that I want to be… If it’s all about money, there’s just better things to sell. Just sell crack. That’s a much better business.” As for where he’s located, he says “My name is in the phonebook, and anyone can call me… I’m hiding in plain sight. Come find me, visit me, and I’m yours.”

via http://openculture.com

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Texas Town Converts Abandoned Walmart into Award-Winning Public Library

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Texas Town Converts Abandoned Walmart into Award-Winning Public Library

By Neetzan Zimmerman

After Walmart closed up shop in McAllen, they left 124,500 square feet of retail space behind for use by the city.

Rather than bring in another big box corporation to pick up where Walmart left off, the southern Texas city decided to turn the building into its new public library. And not just any public library neither: Upon its completion, the McAllen Public Library became the largest single-story library in the United States.

The project was massively successful: Registration by first-time patrons went up by 23% in the library’s first month of operation, and its “functional, flexible and affordable” interior — constructed by Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. — was recently named winner of the International Interior Design Association’s 2012 Library Interior Design Competition.

“In a city like McAllen, with cartel violence across the river (less than 10 miles away from the library), I think it’s amazing that the city is devoting resources to a) not only saving a large and conspicuous piece of property from decline and vandalism, but b) diverting those resources into youth and the public trust,” McAllen native Adriana Ramirez told the LA Times.

[TM Daily Post via Mother Jones, photo by Lara Swimmer via PSFK]

http://gawker.com/5923608/texas-town-converts-abandoned-walmart-into-award+winning-public-library?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews

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1Q84

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1Q84

“I’m tired of living unable to love anyone. I don’t have a single friend – not one. And, worst of all, I can’t even love myself. Why is that? Why can’t i love myself? It’s because I can’t love anyone else. A person learns how to love himself through the simple acts of loving and being loved by someone else. Do you understand what i am saying? A person who is incapable of loving another cannot properly love himself.”

―Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

IMAGE: Cory Schmitz

http://cargocollective.com/coryschmitz/1Q84

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1Q84

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Letters of Note – John Steinbeck

Letters of Note – It has never got easier
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In March of 1962, acclaimed author John Steinbeck wrote the following letter to Edith Mirrielees — a lady who, as his professor of creative writing at Stanford 40 years previous, had been an enormous influence on his development as a writer and, he later claimed, one of the few things he respected about the university.

His fantastic, insightful letter later featured in the paperback edition of Mirrielees’s book, Story Writing.

(Source: Story Writing; Image: John Steinbeck, via.)

> March 8, 1962
>
> Dear Edith Mirrielees:
>
> I am delighted that your volume Story Writing is going into a paperback edition. It will reach a far larger audience, and that is a good thing. It may not teach the reader how to write a good story, but it will surely help him to recognize one when he reads it.
>
> Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories.
>
> You canceled this illusion very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, you said, was to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, you told us, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.
>
> The basic rule you gave us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from writer to reader and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, you said, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and technique at all—so long as it was effective.
>
> As a subhead to this rule, you maintained that it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of a story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three or six or ten thousand words.
>
> So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that you set us on the desolate lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades you gave my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterwards upheld your side, not mine.
>
> It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done, thanks to your training. Why could I not do it myself? Well, I couldn’t, and maybe it’s because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.
>
> If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.
>
> It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.
>
> I wonder whether you will remember one last piece of advice you gave me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic twenties and I was going out into that world to try to be a writer.
>
> You said, “It’s going to take a long time, and you haven’t any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe.”
>
> “Why?” I asked.
>
> “Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor.”
>
> It wasn’t too long afterwards that the depression came down. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame any more. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely you were right about one thing, Edith. It took a long time—a very long time. And it is still going on and it has never got easier. You told me it wouldn’t.
>
> John Steinbeck
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On the Road to Premiere at Cannes Film Festival

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‘On The Road’ adaptation to play at 65th Cannes Film Festival

 

The highly anticipated first film adaptation of the Jack Kerouac classic, On The Road, is to get its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Starring a roster of famous names, including Lord Of The Rings star Viggo Mortensen, Twilight actress Kristen Stewart and Sam Riley, star of the Joy Division biopic Control, On The Road is directed by Walter Salles, most famous for bringing the Che Guevara story The Motorcycle Diaries to the screen. 

 

via NME

 

On the Road (film) Wiki 

IMDB

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Official Cannes

 

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Allen Ginsberg Inscription to Timothy Leary

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For Timothy & Barbara Leary amid the noise of kisses and chatter in H’wood late evening in March, dining with Agents photographers, poets, reprobate-politicos intelligent wives, beautiful feet & noses, candle light, salad, champagne Rock ‘n roll bands coming out of our mouths all of us complete successful failures.

March 11, 1985 Allen Ginsberg

(1) Refuge name: Lion of Dharma

(2) Bodhisattva name: Heart of Peace

Stephen Gertz at Booktryst posted this & did a perfect job transcribing. He queries why Allen’d capitalized Agents and we do too. Sometimes Allen capitalized randomly, more often not. This was right after Collected Poems 1947-1980 was published, and Allen’s new agent Andrew Wylie hand engineered a huge book deal for Allen with Harper Collins, so quite possibly Wylie was on his mind when signing that book.

This copy of Ginsberg’s Collected Poems 1947-1980 was being offered by Benjamin Spademan, who was asking £5,000 ($7,400)

http://www.allenginsberg.org/index.php?page=inscription-to-timothy-leary

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