Category Archives: spywriter

Living in a Screen World

We are spending too much time in front of various screens, instead of reading books, to the detriment of our brains.

“To illustrate the neurological effect of this imbalance, we can adapt Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about “hot” and “cool” media: the screen delivers its communication piping hot, in fully cooked messages. If it’s a tree, it looks like a tree — no decoding required. Moreover, the screen delivers fully formed stories, with actors, sets and all other manner of visual stimuli and narrative embellishments — no imagination required. Reading a book, however, demands all kinds of brain work: decode the words; imagine the look and sound of the story; and be responsive enough that conflict, suspense and climax are made emotionally satisfying without a musical score and well-crafted editing. And might this emotional satisfaction teach our brains that hard work is rewarding?” 

“If de Saussure were alive today, I suspect he’d approve of mashing up semiotic theory and neurobiology, since he argued that it’s in the brain that the signifier (the word) is combined with the signified (what the word represents) and meaning is made. Today, neuroscientists have extended that notion exponentially: because “the neurons that fire together, wire together,” we know this meaning-making process affects the brain’s physical structure and shapes our behaviours and our proclivities. It follows logically that living in a screen-filled world, without the brain-training afforded by habitual reading, is undermining [ our ] ability to accurately decode the details and nuances of the written word”.

From: m.thespec.com/opinion-story/5204679-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-semiotics/

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Does Fiction Open Closed Minds?

“One question tackled in this study is whether reading nonfictional texts such as essays has effects on belief processing that are different from those of reading fictional texts such as short stories. In both cases, a reader tries to understand another’s thinking (and feeling). The difference, though, is that in nonfiction there is a clear delineation between the author’s and the reader’s opinions, such that the reader is either persuaded or not by the author’s arguments and stances. With nonfiction, changing or not changing the content of one’s belief system is still bound by permanence and, in at least some cases, by urgency, because one’s opinion, once settled upon, can have implications for decision making. The content of one’s belief system may change, but meta-cognitive processes may be unaffected. With fiction it was hypothesized that there may be greater flexibility of a meta-cognitive kind. It was previously found that whether a text was nonfiction or fiction made no difference to whether changes occurred in participants’ self perceived personality when they read the text; only the text’s artistic level affected personality (Djikic, Oatley & Carland, 2012). In this article, there is a different, meta-cognitive question in relation to beliefs. Is fiction, specifically, able to open closed minds?”

From, and read more: tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2013.783735#/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2013.783735

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Infinite World Awaits Your Discovery

When we read books our world becomes infinite:

“We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books…. in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” C. S. Lewis, in: An Experiment in Criticism

From: lifehacker.com.au/2014/11/cs-lewis-on-reading-literature-those-who-dont-inhabit-a-tiny-world/

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Modern writers are stylistic clones

American mathematicians … set out to investigate “large-scale” trends in literary style. … they processed 7,733 works from 537 authors written after the year 1550, were looking for the frequency at which 307 “content-free” words – such as “of”, “at” and “by” – appeared. They called these words the “syntactic glue” of language: “words that carry little meaning on their own but form the bridge between words that convey meaning”, and thus “provide a useful stylistic fingerprint” for authorship.

“When we consider content-free word frequencies from a large number of authors and works over a long period of time, we can ask questions related to temporal trends in similarity”, they write in their new paper.

After finding that authors of any given period are stylistically similar to their contemporaries, they also discovered that the stylistic influence of the past is decreasing. While authors in the 18th and 19th centuries are still influenced by previous centuries, authors writing in the late 20th century are instead “strongly influenced” by writers from their own decade. “The so-called ‘anxiety of influence’, whereby authors are understood in terms of their response to canonical precursors, is becoming an ‘anxiety of impotence’, in which the past exerts a diminishing stylistic influence on the present,” they write. This could, they suggest, be explained by the modernist movement, in which authors “reject their immediate stylistic predecessors yet remain a part of a dominant movement that included many of their contemporaries.

From: theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/may/14/writers-no-longer-influenced-by-classics

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Books – The Cumulative Wisdom of Mankind

“People buy books, borrow books from libraries or friends, inherit books from family members across the generations, start their own book collections or receive books as gifts. People also give books as gifts to share and enjoy knowledge and build a kind of knowledge and insight community, looking at the world and its beauty and challenges from different lenses, portals and windows of the mind and heart.” 

“There is a bonding between the giver and receiver of books.  When we receive books as gifts, there is moral and courtesy duty to enjoy the gift, to read and not just display such gifts.” 

“The focused reading of such books, opening new windows of the mind may lead to immediate or longer-term changes in intellectual character, behaviour and even personality. At the very least, reading of such selected gifts hones, sharpens, sensitises cognitive and affective capacities.”

It is through reading that “The various windows of the mind fling open breadth and depths of understanding and nurture intellectual character, as well as the virtues of heart and soul.”

A Reader “is enabled to have access to the received wisdom of mankind. The received wisdom from authors are the cumulative acumen of what all that man knows and understands about reality.”

From: nst.com.my/node/50433?m=1

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The Science and the Art of Arranging a Home Library

A library that is not arranged becomes disarranged…

In practice, every library is ordered starting from a combination of these modes of classification, whose relative weighting, resistance to change, obsolescence, and persistence give every library a unique personality. 

We should first of all distinguish stable classifications from provisional ones. Stable classifications are those which, in principle, you continue to respect; provisional classifications are those supposed to last only a few days, the time it takes for a book to discover, or rediscover, its definitive place. This may be a book recently acquired and not yet read, or else a book recently read that you do not quite know where to place and which you have promised yourself you will put away on the occasion of a forthcoming “great arranging,” or else a book whose reading has been interrupted and that you do not want to classify before taking it up again and finishing it, or else a book you have used constantly over a given period, or else a book you have taken down to look up a piece of information or a reference and which you have not yet put back in its place, or else a book that you cannot put back in its rightful place because it does not belong to you and you have promised several times to give it back, etc. 

More: monumenttotransformation.org/atlas-of-transformation/html/c/classification/brief-notes-on-the-art-and-manner-of-arranging-ones-books-georges-perec.html

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What are we without stories

Stories serve as the foundation of any intelligent society. Stories serve not only to entertain, but also to instruct, to inform and to engage. Stories have substance; they contain characters that we can empathize with, plot lines we can relate to and life lessons we can learn without actually having to make the mistakes ourselves.

When we read we think, we imagine and we dream. Take that away and what would we become as a society? We need books to inspire us, to challenge our way of thinking, to take us to far-away places and give us experiences that we never would have had otherwise.

We need to encourage the importance of stories […] to get people thinking and imagining, anything to get people to form their own opinions in a country where we are still allowed to do so.

From: independentcollegian.com/2014/10/14/opinion/budrevich-we-read-we-imagine-we-dream/

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Read Books to Unleash your Emotions

Have you ever hated a book that kept you awake all night? Has a book you didn’t enjoy ever brought you to tears? An author’s job is to make you cry, make you laugh, and make you late for work.

Fiction writers deliberately encourage us to see the world through someone else’s point of view, or experience characters’ emotions in a visceral way — and that’s the essence of empathy.”

Consider the statement: “I know how you feel.” While separate, our models of the world have to be similar enough for us to agree on pretty much all factual information. Red is red, after all. Maybe what you and I perceive differs, still we agree it’s red. 

But feelings? Theory of mind is a form of internal mimicry that begets empathy and empathy is all-powerful in culture, art, and, ultimately, morality. The sensory excitations we experience from stories, music, paintings, even architecture and engineering, can resonate in our minds in such a way that we respond with visceral intimacy.

From: ww2.kqed.org/arts/2014/10/09/does-literature-make-you-empathic/

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Writers Must be Independent of Institutions

Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work “rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth”. He refused it, citing both personal and objective reasons […]

Assuring the press that his decision was not an “impulsive gesture”, one of the reasons Sartre gave for rejecting the prize stemmed from his habit of refusing all official honours.

Sartre believed every individual is responsible for creating a purpose for their life. By accepting the prize, Sartre would inadvertently associate himself with the institution that honoured him.

His humble conception of the writer’s “enterprise” – as he called it in his explanation – led Sartre to believe that those in political, social or literary positions should only “act with the means that are his own – the written word”.

“The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honourable circumstances, as in the present case,” he said.

More: ibtimes.co.uk/nobel-prize-literature-why-jean-paul-sartre-refused-controversial-award-1964-1469202

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Western Writers Cut Off From Society

“Western literature is being impoverished by financial support for writers and by creative writing programmes, according to a series of blistering comments from Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl, speaking shortly before the winner of the Nobel prize for literature is awarded.”

“In an interview with French paper La Croix, Engdahl said that the “professionalisation” of the job of the writer, via grants and financial support, was having a negative effect on literature. “Even though I understand the temptation, I think it cuts writers off from society, and creates an unhealthy link with institutions,” he told La Croix. “Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard – but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.””

From:  theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/07/creative-writing-killing-western-literature-nobel-judge-horace-engdahl

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