Monday, April 06, 2009

Live Blogging the Conference on World Affairs: Reading Fiction Helps Me Live in the Real World

1:52 pm
All right -- the panel is still going full force, but I have to get to class. Hope you enjoyed the live blogging. More to come soon!

1:52 pm
Peterson heard one poet say, "don't presume that what I write about is my life." He takes this to mean that poetry is as much storytelling as anything else. It doesn't have to be personal reality. It can be fiction too.

"If I knew what the end was going to be, I should be working from diagrams," says Peterson. He sees the same thing -- spontaneous discovery -- in the creation of fiction.

1:50 pm
Winsor asks how they got into visual from being writers. Jordan has to say it in Peterson's ear. He came the other way -- came to writing out of visual art.

Peterson discovered Ezra Pound when he was in art school, and "I suddenly though this is exactly the kind of thing I should be I began writing in my own cryptic way."

"There's something about poetry that is so rock hard, can go right to the heart of the matter," says Peterson. Ever since then, he's done visual art and poetry. They are different forms that come from the same place. "I never had to choose whether to do one or the other, I could do them both."

1:46 pm
Peterson talks about technology and the availability and affordability of information. Refers to Hegel quote about when a cultural form becomes obsolete, it becomes art. With books, the content may become less important than the production of the book itself. They will become objects, not words. So where will the words live? On the web -- but how does this change the form of them? How does this change how people read?

McNally adds that there's the fiction/non-fiction debate, then the narrative/non-narrative debate. He finds narrative writing of any form the most compelling (even if it is telling facts/news). When he interviews on the radio an environmentalist, economist, his first question is always about their personal path. "If I can get them to go back to why they first started doing what they are's amazing what happens to them." He says, "that changes the quality fo the rest of the interview because I've gotten them out of their rote track into themselves." Even if they end up talking about the same things, they are coming from a different place.

Peterson: I was just gonna say that.

1:44 pm
Jordan points out that Rand's book sales have seen a spike recently: is this because people see it as the end of the world, or a need to return to the free market principles?

McNally asks, "Bernie Madoff: Ayn Rand yes, or Ayn Rand no." Jordan says she would see him as a looter, McNally says he would see himself as a creator.

1:40 pm
McNally to Teresa Jordan, "Tell him [Peterson] that I said exactly what he said."

McNally asks Jordan if she noticed little cracks in Rand's work in addition to the big areas where it broke down. She thinks people at first find Rand liberating, but that's a stage in their development -- not a final destination. People generally move beyond the "dead ends" in Rand's philosophy, but her father didn't. With any belief that is presented as THE answer to the problems world, versus AN answer to the problems of the world, there will be problems.

1:38 pm
Peterson thinks maybe fiction is answering the question of, "the unexamined life is not worth living."

Where can you draw a line between prose and poetry? Peterson, himself a poet, thinks this is a pointless argument, thinks barriers between fields are unnecessary.

1:33 pm
Allan Peterson has two defecits: an ear infection that renders him almost deaf, and he's heard almost nothing about his fellow panelists.

Considers the implication that fiction is in fact not the real world (as the name of the panel suggests). He thinks this isn't necessary the case. Fiction has the unique pleasure of delivering you to a parallel and simultaneous world, it's "like a dream while you are awake."

1:31 pm
After Jordan's mother died, her father cut himself off from the world and created a place for himself where he would never encounter love again.

When people invented tablets, Peterson speculates, people thought, "well there goes the world" -- people thought we would lose the power of memory. He doesn't want to see the Kindle succeed, he savors the joy of a book. In Jackson County Oregon, they decided to close down the libraries to save money. The public rose up and found funding. He says whether you are reading stone tablets or computer screens that shouldn't happen.

Peterson is interested in the process of how writers put things together. The writing often seems to take on a life of its own. "Things happen during the writing itself that tells the writer what might happen next, what could happen next, what should happen next. Characters seem to find themselves and their own futures."

He wants to see that mind at work when he reads fiction. He wants to both live the dream and keep one eye on the reality of the author.

Great loves in fiction: James Joyce, John Barth -- but "for some reason, fiction didn't choose me, I'm not as attuned to it."

Is also interested at the point before poetry and storytelling diverged. "You stare at the world long enough until you begin to intuit how it might be working. That intuition is the substance of the writing."

Some texts help Jordan make sense of life: Louis Hyde's, "The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World", Stephen Levine's work on spirituality and compassion, Jeanette Haien, "The All of It" and "Matters of Chance".

1:27 pm
Jordan's brother was someone who was happy-go-lucky, had learning disabilities, wasn't the archetype of an Ayn Rand hero. Her father couldn't understand it, and rejected it. There was nothing in Rand's words to help him deal with this situation, which could only be explained by unconditional love.

1:24 pm
By the time she was 12 or 13, Jordan had read the complete works of Ayn Rand and started to realize that some of it didn't work for her. She wrote her notes on "soft touch stationary" and wrote this comment about her father: the problem with finding an ultimate truth is that then your task becomes only to find evidence for it.

Her father only saw things that fit into his world view. Once she started asking questions that couldn't be answered easily, she was "expelled from Eden."

For her father, the world was black or white, but Jordan wondered, "what about the love part?" Her father came from a painful childhood with parents who hated each other, and split up but never divorced, "out of the fear that one of them might re-marry and be happy." Her father was comforted by the idea that love could be earned and created, but saw unconditional love as blasphemy -- a very dangerous idea because it is love that isn't traded like a commodity.

1:20 pm
Jordan describes Rand's philosophy: you live for the self; the self is the highest purpose. The world is composed of heros (makers) and looters/moochers/parasites.

Growing up in a family that embraced these ideas gave her the idea that her life was her own, and she could pursue her dreams without apology. She had a conversation with her parents about whether she should aspire to be an executive secretary or a CEO. "This is not the conversation of a typical ranch girl."

1:16 pm
Jordan tells stories of "Western orphan," an archetype for independence and doing it all on ones own -- that distinguishes West from East.

Some stories don't help her live in the real world. The sacred text that shaped her family was Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." Oh man. I can relate. It was her father's bible. Not quite the same for my dad, but close...

1:14 pm
Teresa Jordan starts with the metaphor of the brain as a sort of computer. Stories give meaning to an otherwise confusing world.

1:12 pm
Gatsby evoked a feeling of subtle sadness.

In fiction, the fact that you consciously acknowledge the presence of a narrator makes it more true than non-fiction. You know it is perception, and that validates it.

1:10 pm
McNally read a book of fiction yesterday, in preparation for this panel. What did he choose? F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."

1:06 pm
McNally: "I tell them no one ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart."

"There is no such thing as rational decision the time we consider it, it's probably already got a little tag: 'good, matters to me, I'll consider it,'..."

Looks for three things in stories:
  1. Flesh and blood characters
  2. Do you have scenes? Do you slow down the story to commit to a narrative, exchange of dialoge, action..."We listen to it differently, we relate to it differently, we allow it to affect our emotions."

"If you match a great piece of data to a compelling story, that's the way to move people."

1:04 pm
McNally: said that when he looks out on a crowd like this, of people who are so committed to the topic, they should be up here on the panel. He realizes that he mostly reads non-fiction, but feels nostalgic for elementary school when he would go through a novel a day instead of paying attention to class.

He makes a side-handed jab at the death of newspapers...

He teaches storytelling to non-profit organizations. "They all have powerful stories," he says, "but very often, like me, they've gotten out of the habit of telling them."

1:02 pm
This is a flustered first attempt at live blogging.

1513 Reading Fiction Helps Me Live in the Real World

1:00-2:20 on Monday April 6, 2009
Old Main Chapel
o Teresa Jordan
o Terrence McNally
o Allan Peterson

o Moderator: Tish Winsor

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