Posts

On reading "In Search of Lost Time" (series: notes to myself)

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For a long time now, I’ve been going to sleep late, thinking about reading Proust.   A paraphrasis, of course. But the enterprise has begun. Thanks to a birthday, and a wonderful present from Kia. It takes courage to read In Search of Lost Time . Not for the length of the journey. Admittedly, it is long. The edition I choose is the Italian translation by Giovanni Raboni, probably the best available, with some occasional glimpses of the original French, when I am more curious than lazy. It consists of 1174k words, but no, this is not the problem. The audiobook says that it takes 97-107 hours to read. About 5 seasons of 20 episodes each on Netflix. Totally doable.  What is daunting is the diving into a world so distant in time and yet so intimately, so closely familiar. The relentless, merciless, tireless pursuit of the nuances of human experience, chased at ever more profound levels of scrutiny. Recollections unveiling more recollections, understanding the understanding, showing further

On thinking (series: notes to myself)

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The only drug I know. The most powerful of all. It’s thinking.  The rite begins with the search for silence. Not the absence of sounds. No. Mental silence. That powerful quietude that silences the world. On an airplane or at a meeting, it does not matter. If you know how to create that mental silence, the world may be screaming  at you, and you would still not hear it.  Once open, your mental silence is where ideas can overcome their shyness and begin to whisper, ever so gently. You left sweet readings to attract them, tempting conversations to make them feel at home, comfortable bits of learning so that they can rest. They may accept your invitation, if you are gentle. The sharp ear must be patient. Whitish lights appear in the grey area prepared to welcome them. You have to let the fragile points become luminous lines of significance and consequence. They may leave at the smallest sign of impatience. No abrupt movement of reason, no logical shouting.  You may invite ideas, but you ca

On the fatigue (not the treachery) of images (series: notes to myself)

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A pipe and its identity. A naked man, sitting on an uncomfortable rock. Another naked man, whose hand God seems desperate to reach. Another man, also naked, watching you, arms and legs spread like a gigantic X. Still another man, this time dressed, turned, watching a foggy landscape. And now many men, dressed like it’s a toga party, all together in an impossible meeting of fine minds. Just one more, of invisible people, probably men, probably dressed, on tiny boats, being crushed by a gigantic wave. The list goes on. Famous images, which even a few, clumsy words cannot fail to sketch, recalling them in anyone's mind. These images, and the countless others that have been cheaped by the digital revolution of high resolution and copyright-free downloads, are tired. Not tired of being themselves. Of course not. For they are proud of their lineage, of the depth of their meaningfulness, of the richness of their cultural references, of the thickness of their historical relations. No. They

On academic writing and its mannerisms (series: notes to myself)

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Academic writing is a linguistic genre. And each academic discipline has its own style of writing. Just browse any decent, peer-reviewed journal. You will notice that the structure, the syntax, the words, the phrases all belong to a canon. Graduate students pick it up as they write their essays, and chapters, and theses. By the time one is out of the last stage of education one thinks it is natural to write in that way, that it is the only way to write scientifically, that everybody in the scholarly or scientific business of producing some text writes that way. Of course, that is not true. Each discipline has its own sedimented ways of conveying its contents.  Sometimes, a genius realises this and starts alerting the world that scientific articles are just texts like any other. It is just language, and not even that, it is someone's hegemonic language, whose intentions need to be deconstructed, psychoanalysed, socio-politically challenged. It is tyring to explain to the genius that

On the crucial importance of "still" and its value (series: notes to myself)

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It is never clear when you change age. Not the birthday, silly. But the big transition from one block to the next. The stepping stones, that's what I'm talking about: child, teenager, young grown-up, adult, middle-aged, old... that sort of huge steps. All fuzzy and quite relative. Like crossing a border between two countries but realising it only hundreds of miles later, when the surroundings have finally, visibly changed. Not easy. And yet, there is a little word that I notice can help. Still . Not the adjective, as in "the night was still", but the adverb, as in "he still takes stairs two at a time" like Giovanni Drogo . How appropriate. An adverb that modifies a verb. A second-order reflection on a first-order event, or action, or behaviour. And it tells you what has happened to that modified referent, as you crossed the border. You are (if you ever were) still  this or that. You are still in love or still passionate about your job. You still like to t

On choosing a new book for the nights (series: notes to myself)

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The work of an academic: read, write, speak. By oneself. With others. Privately or in public.  Three kinds of actions, no different from any other job today. But as life progresses, some success leads one to read less and write more, and then speak more than one writes. The successful academic becomes a speaker, perhaps a keynote speaker. From being an academic to being a dubious guru of some sort, blathering about anything, opinionating on everything, the escalation is quick, the risk of repetitive emptiness becomes a reality.  So, you know that you have to withstand the current, resist the temptation, avoid the easy path. Speak less, write less, read more.   Read more, but not of what must be read: the report, the thesis, the article to review, the draft to correct, the data analysis needed for the next piece of work, the text of some regulation, the commentary of an expert, an excellent op-ed unmissable, the dailies and the weeklies, the peer-reviewed paper, the academic monograph,

On those on top of the Gaussian (series: notes to myself)

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This is a Gaussian curve . It is an elegant, bell-shaped curve that shows a normal distribution. The equation that generates it can be a bit off-putting. But when you look at it, you can immediately see that there are fewer things on the left, fewer things on the right, and many things in the middle. Take, for example, people and their moral lives. Very bad and very good people are rare, and that’s why the curve starts and ends so low: devils on the left and saints on the right. In the middle, you find most of us, just poor devils and decent sinners, who sometimes err and sometimes do the right thing. We are legions, and we are in the bulk of the Gaussian. Because virtue is in the middle – in medio stat virtus , as they say – only when left and right of the Gaussian are extreme excesses, not when it comes to how many people exercise virtues successfully. Shift from moral to intellectual achievements, and the story is not very different, but with a twist. Many so-called meritocratic sys