I sign up for my Day of DH 2013 website more or less after said day has already begun. And I have another short article I’ve promised to write tomorrow. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to sharing some of my work in progress–there is so much to talk about!
Cross-posted from the Center for Science and the Imagination Blog
This past fall I took part in a fascinating event on the future of education here at Arizona State University. It was organized by theGordon Commission and the Center for Games and Impact, and the instructions I got from Jim Gee were simple. Five minutes to give an experimental talk, with a maximum of two slides.
I decided to talk about a creative tool that has done more to unlock the human imagination than almost anything else: the humble pencil. You can inscribe the world with it, from writing poems and tracing inscriptions to poking holes, making music and holding your hair together. Plus most pencils come with an undo feature, so it’s a tool that teaches both sides of the creative coin: authoring and editing, marking and erasing, sharing and hiding. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the pencil. And I close with a question: how can we imagine the future pencil, the new tool that will change how we learn and share?
Last week saw the start of a new semester at ASU and the start of a new course I’m teaching, Media Literacies and Composition. It’s my first chance to teach our Digital Culture students and I’m excited to meet such a diverse group: musicians, film-makers, designers and artists. Oh, and a few writers to keep me company.
We’ll be looking at the ideas of close reading, composition and narrative in across a number of media old and new. And, since this is a digital culture course, the students will be making a lot of cool stuff as we go along. I’m looking forward to seeing it!
Newly released: American Dreamers, a collection of “dreams from optimists, inventors and mavericks with ideas for a brighter future.” My essay (online here) leads off the book with a look at the combustible, illuminating nature of good ideas and the unique optimism of the American Dream. It’s also a pretty good declaration of principles for what we are trying to accomplish at the Center for Science and the Imagination.
After a few years of slumming it with free hosting I’ve ponied up for an actual (shared) server. Welcome to the new and improved* blog.
*Novelty and improvements forthcoming. Potentially.
The New Yorker just released its first special issue devoted to science fiction, including contributions from genre giants like Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury as well as rising “literary fiction” stars like Junot Díaz and Karen Russell. As writers at Wiredand io9 have noted, the issue marks a new level of mainstream interest in science fiction, giving a whole cadre of New-Yorker-obsessed “serious readers” license to take genre fiction, well, seriously. But what about science fiction in universities? In her contribution to the new issue, Ursula K. Le Guin argues that in the past “quite a few science-fiction writers accepted exile from the Republic of Letters to the ghetto of genre, perhaps because ghettos, like all gated communities, give the illusion of safety.”
In fact, science fiction has been sneaking into all sorts of new neighborhoods. The U.K.-based New Scientist has launched Arc, “a new magazine about the future,” while the venerable MITTechnology Review released a special issue of science fiction featuring Cory Doctorow, Joe Haldeman, and others. Ridley Scott’s television series Prophets of Science Fiction explores the power of fiction to both advance and complicate our ideas about the future, and Stephen Hawking is hosting the Science Channel’s Stephen Hawking’s Sci-Fi Masters.
Last week saw the arrival of The Legacy of David Foster Wallace, a wonderful collection of essays by Wallace critics, friends and colleagues. My piece in the collection, “Becoming Yourself: David Foster Wallace and the Afterlife of Reception,” considered Wallace’s legacy through his communities of readership on Amazon and I feel very lucky to be in such august company. For example, my essay is nestled between Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen!
Here’s the full list of contributors:
Samuel Cohen (co-editor)
Lee Konstantinou (co-editor)
Ira B. Nadel
Thanks very much to Lee and Sam for including me!
I had a chance to interview Scott Z. Burns, screenwriter for Contagion, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Informant (not to mention producer for An Inconvenient Truth) for Slate last week. We talked about his deft ability to smuggle real science into Hollywood movies, the difference between Contagion and Outbreak, and his new comedy about mirror neurons.
Another post up on Slate last week:
What should we expect from science fiction? In a recent Smithsonian article by IO9’s Annalee Newitz, author Neal Stephenson criticized the dystopian cynicism that currently pervades the genre. Instead he calls a more optimistic, realistic approach—fewer zombies and man’s folly-style catastrophes, more creative inventions and solutions. In the spirit of being constructive, he’s also taking action. The first step is an anthology of optimistic, near-term science fiction, forthcoming from William Morrow in 2014, that will tackle this challenge head-on. Smithsonian describes the project, Hieroglyph, as a plan “to rally writers to infuse science fiction with the kind of optimism that could inspire a new generation to, as he puts it, ‘get big stuff done.’”