Posts Tagged ‘Doris Lessing’

That surpasseth all my understanding!

December 9, 2007

Baroque in Hackney finds Lessing’s Nobel lecture

… incredibly moving. In some ways it reminded me of my own desperation for books when I was growing up; it also made me grateful for my riches, reading about the man in Zimbabwe who, trying to start a library and sent a box of books from America, put them away wrapped in plastic saying, “but if they get dirty where will I get more?” whilst facing my own wall of books. It also shamed me as a parent. When did I get so lazy? I suddenly think I should put a password lock on the computer and ration out the MSN on the basis of chapters read. After all, her shelves are groaning with Jane Austen, To Kill a Mockingbird, I Capture the Castle, A Wrinkle in Time. Is it an insane idea?

Take a look!

Now, the rant: As I noted in this blog a couple of times earlier, I love Ms. Baroque’s writing style a lot; and hence, this footnote in her blog post was not only off-putting for me but a bit painful too:

“Shanti” means “the peace that surpasseth all understanding.” Call me a Westerner, but the older I get the more I think that “the peace that surpasseth all understanding” can only usefully be applied as a definition of death – and thus, in my book, is something I’m not very interested in. At the least it sounds pretty damn boring. In any case, there was no peace at all in that place, not even the kind most people would be able to understand, and even appreciate. But that too is another story… and it was the first time we ever heard Mama Baroque say the F word!

First thing: I do not know where from Ms. Baroque gets that meaning for that word. Wiki, for example says it can mean inner peace (among other things); and here is the Sanskrit dictionary entry for the word:

zAnti: f. tranquillity , peace , quiet , peace or calmness of mind , absence of passion , averting of pain (%{zAnti}! %{zAnti}! %{zAnti}! may the three kinds of pain be averted!) , indifference to objects of pleasure or pain Kat2hUp. MBh. &c. ; alleviation (of evil or pain) , cessation , abatement , extinction (of fire &c.) AV. &c. &c. ; a pause , breach , interruption Hcat. ; any expiatory or propitiatory rite for averting evil or calamity Br. &c. (cf. RTL. 346) ; peace , welfare , prosperity , good fortune , ease , comfort , happiness , bliss MBh. R. &c. ; destruction , end , eternal rest , death Ka1v. Katha1s. BhP. ; = %{zAnti-kalpa} BhP. ; Tranquillity &c. personified (as a daughter of S3raddha1 , as the wife of Atharvan , as the daughter of Daksha and wife of Dharma) Hariv. Prab. Pur. ; m. N. of a son of Indra MBh. ; of Indra in the tenth Manv-antara Pur. ; of a Tushita (son of Vishn2u and Dakshin2a1) ib. ; of a son of Kr2ishn2a and Ka1lindi1 ib. ; of a R2ishi MBh. ; of a son of An3giras ib. ; of a disciple of Bhu1ti Ma1rkP. ; of a son of Ni1la and father of Su-s3a1nti VP. ; (with Jainas) of an Arhat and Cakra-vartin L. ; of a teacher (also called %{ratnA7kara-z-}) Buddh.

What is more painful for me is Ms. Baroques invocation of “Westerner”, implying that “Easterners” are the ones who are interested in such boring things. So, here is a classic example of defining “the other” first the way you want or think or imagine the other to be, and then railing against them! To be fair to Ms. Baroque, may be that is what she was told — that Shanti means “the peace that surpasseth all understanding”; however, I would have been happier if she took the time to check before accepting the translation blindly.

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Nobel 2007: Literature and Physics

October 24, 2007

Uma Mahadevan-DasGupta writes about Dorris Lessing, the 2007 Literature Nobel prize winner:

… even as Harold Bloom derides Lessing’s selection for the Nobel as nothing more than “pure political correctness” and describes her recent work as “fourth-rate science fiction”, Lessing’s latest novel, The Cleft (2007), depicts women as lazy and men as adventurous – to the great irritation of literal-minded feminists. Clearly, her irreverence and creativity (“Laughter is by definition healthy,” she has said famously) continue to explore new frontiers, forcing her readers to think things through for themselves. Typical for a writer whose enduring plea to her readers has always been: “Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.”

In another piece in the same issue of Frontline,  R Ramachandran explains how giant magnetoresistance (which won the 2007 Physics Nobel) is exploited in hard disk technologies:

Consider the simplest three-layer structure, consisting of a layer of non-magnetic metal sandwiched between two layers of magnetic metal, in which GMR can arise. The current-carrying electrons with different spins experience different resistances within the first magnetic material and at the first interface (between the magnetic and the non-magnetic metals), with larger resistance for electrons that are not aligned in the direction of magnetisation of the metal. As the current enters the non-magnetic material, the resistance is the same for both types, which is generally negligibly lower than that in the magnetic layer. At the second interface and in the second magnetic material too, electrons that are not aligned will experience more resistance than those that are aligned.

In the case where both magnetic metals are magnetised in the same direction (as would be the case in the presence of an applied external magnetic field), the spins of most electrons will be aligned with the direction of magnetisation and the electrons will, therefore, pass through the entire structure without facing much resistance. However, if the magnetisation of the two magnetic layers is opposed (as can be the case in the absence of an external magnetic field), all the electrons will be oppositely aligned in one of the two layers. This means that no electrons will be able to pass through easily and the electric resistance will be at a maximum. An analogy with polaroids may be helpful in understanding this effect. A pair of crossed polaroids shuts off light completely. Similarly, a pair of magnetic layers with crossed magnetic polarities (or magnetisation) offers high resistance to the flow of electric current.

A structure as described above works as follows in a read-out device of an HDD. The magnetisation of the first layer is held fixed, or “pinned”, and the magnetisation of the third layer is free to move. When a weak magnetic field, such as that from a bit on a hard disk, comes under the structure, the magnetisation of the unpinned layer rotates relative to the pinned layer and because of the GMR effect causes a significant change in the electrical resistance and hence in the current signal leaving the read-out head. A high current may represent a binary “1” and a low current a binary “0”.

An important reason why this discovery would not have been possible before techniques to grow nanoscale layers were known is the following. In order to exhibit the GMR effect, the mean free path length of the conduction electrons – the average distance that an electron traverses before it is scattered – has to exceed greatly the interlayer separation so that the electrons can travel through the magnetic layers and pick up the GMR effect. Without the new techniques, it would not have been possible to meet this requirement, and GMR would not have revealed itself. In this context, it may be pointed out that before the work of Fert and Grünberg, there were experimental observations of enhanced MR (of about a few per cent) but none was recognised as a new effect. Nanometre separation between magnetic layers is also important for an effective mutual magnetic coupling between them via the electrons of the non-magnetic layer so that their relative magnetisation is maintained in the absence of an external field.

Getting the Nobel — either too early or too late

October 15, 2007

Christopher Hitchens, quotes Hemingway while writing about this year’s Literature Nobel for Doris Lessing:

It was Hemingway who first acidly pointed out that authors tend to get the big prize either too early or too late. In his own case, he compared it with swimming ashore under his own steam and then being hit over the head with a life belt.

Hitchens feels that by choosing Lessing, the Nobel committee has redeemed itself:

Almost intoxicating to see the Nobel committee do something honorable and creditable for a change … It’s as though the long, dreary reign of the forgettable and the mediocre and the sinister had been just for once punctuated by a bright flash of talent. And a flash of 88-year-old talent at that, as if the Scandinavians had guiltily remembered that they let Nabokov and Borges die (yes, die) while they doled out so many of their awards to time-servers and second-raters. Had they let this happen to Doris Lessing as well, eternal shame would have covered them. Harold Bloom might conceivably be right (actually, if it matters, I do think he is right) to say that Lessing hasn’t written much of importance for the last 15 or so years. But that’s not to say that she shouldn’t have received the Nobel laurels 20 years ago, if not sooner.

An interesting piece (which also gives some pointers to some of Lessing’s memorable pieces). Take a look!

A love letter prompted by Nobel 2007

October 12, 2007

The Literature Nobel 2007 to Doris Lessing sets Jenny in the  path of writing a love letter to one of the libraries of her childhood. In the process, Jenny also tells her favourite Lessing novel, and how her novels might resonate better with serious and eager teenage readers. The piece, peppered with information about the teacher who sent Jenny in the path of reading, her teenage reading habits, her current reading habits, and the books that influenced her reading, is one of the must-read posts (and, also a great (if personal) response to the Nobel announcement that I have seen so far).

Nobel prize in literature 2007

October 11, 2007

Goes to Doris Lessing, who is,

that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny.

NPR has a nice piece on Lessing, where it calls the decision stunning:

The Swedish academy’s announcement was stunning even by the standards of Nobel judges, who have been known for such surprises as Austria’s Elfriede Jelinek and Italy’s Dario Fo.

Maud Newton links to a recent interview with her in Boston Globe, where the interviewer does mention Nobel prize:

For her devoted fan base, Lessing is unquestionably the greatest living writer never to win a Nobel Prize.

Tune in for update on the reactions!

Update 1: Reactions of Ms. Lessing:

Ms. Lessing learned the news from a group of reporters camped on her doorstep as she returned home from visiting her son in the hospital. She declared herself totally surprised.

“I had forgotten about it, actually,” she said. “My name has been on the short list for such a long time.”

On second thought, she said, perhaps she was not entirely surprised, because “this has been going on for something like 40 years,” a reference to the many years when she had been named as a potential honoree. “You can’t go on getting excited every year about this,” she said. “There are limits to getting excited finally.”

Short, stout and a bit hard of hearing, Ms. Lessing was sharp and straightforward in her comments. After a few moments, she excused herself and went inside.

“Now, I’m going to go in to answer my telephone,” she said. “I swear I’m going upstairs to find some suitable sentences which I will be using from now on.”

Update 2: Ms. Lessing did find some suitable sentences:

Her quote today, in the Guardian, was priceless: “I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one. I’m delighted to win them all, the whole lot. It’s a royal flush.”

Update 3: Complete Review is doing a wonderful job of collecting the Nobel prize related stories (so, I don’t have to keep updating this post any more); via Laila Lalami.