Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Behold: The Power of the Internet!

"The most truthful part of a newspaper is the advertisements." --Thomas Jefferson

Did anyone else stumble across this painfully-ironic story in The New York Times, "A Google Search of a Distinctly Retro Kind"? Apparently Google has decided to expand its Google Books program to include every book, ever published, anywhere. Unfortunately, the Internet conglomerate ran into copyright infringement laws:

"Google, the online giant, had been sued in federal court by a large group of authors and publishers who claimed that its plan to scan all the books in the world violated their copyrights.

"As part of the class-action settlement, Google will pay $125 million to create a system under which customers will be charged for reading a copyrighted book, with the copyright holder and Google both taking percentages; copyright holders will also receive a flat fee for the initial scanning, and can opt out of the whole system if they wish.

"But first they must be found.

"Since the copyright holders can be anywhere and not necessarily online — given how many books are old or out of print — it became obvious that what was needed was a huge push in that relic of the pre-Internet age: print."

Behold: the power of the Internet! It can force even Google to return to a 15th-Century invention to achieve all of its goals. Amazing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Defining Genius

This isn't strictly a "literary" issue, but it relates to ideas I've explored before, mainly the definition of genius. Meet Aelita Andre, an "abstract artist [who] has taken the world by storm." She's two.

While this might not seem to be a problem upon first consideration, it is important to keep in mind what Babble points out: "Her parents are both artists themselves, and they have assumed the role of Aelita’s PR people, titling her works and attributing adult meaning to them." Pictured left is Andre's work, "The Eagle." While the color pallette is beautiful and the image is striking, one can't help but wonder what role her parents played in its creation.

For example, The Sydney Morning Herald shows Andre's work to an expert, who
"said his first impression was of 'redible abstractions, maybe playing on Asian screens with their reds.

"'They're heavily reliant on figure/ground relations.' After learning Aelita's age, Nelson said he was not particularly surprised. 'I have kids and when they were little I used to do lots of painting exercises with them. If it is a child's work it's not a child alone. We're happy to credit the child but it begins with a parental concept.'"
This, then, brings up the questions of what it means to be a "genius" or a "child prodigy." Regardless of what one thinks of abstract art as a means of expression, can a child express anything in the manner of a "genius" when she cannot even form complete sentences? According to Andre's father, yes: "Aelita's dad said as soon as she began drawing in her Montessori play group he could see her creations were different from other children's. 'It immediately leapt out as a defined representation of something in an abstract form.'" Hmm, a defined representation of "something"? What could a two-year-old possibly have to define in an abstract form?

Forgive me, but I think that in order to be a genius, or to be great, one must have something to say, something to express. One must not have merely a beautiful palette and pushy parents to be great. Is Aelita Andre a genius? Hell if I know. I probably know less about art than she does, and she's only in Montessori play group.

Perhaps the confusion comes in, then, when people feel something when they look at her art. Even if she has nothing to say, her art apparently does, to the point that someone is willing to give a two-year-old her own exhibition for her fingerpaints. My question, then, is this: does genius ever have anything to do with the person displaying his or her talents, or is genuis only in the eye of the beholder?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

If Theodore Giesel (aka Dr. Seuss) were alive today, he'd be turning 105 years old. As it is, all we have left is his work--my favorite being The Lorax, which I first came across when I was eleven years old and attending Keystone Science School. This serves, I believe, to remind us that all fields can and should be inter-connected. Literature should be used to explore other fields of thought.

And that is why, twelve years after I first fell in love with "natural science," I will quote the esteemable Dr. Seuss,
But now, says the Once-ler,
Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.

UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It's not.
SO...Catch! calls the Once-ler. He lets something fall.
It's a Truffula Seed. It's the last one of all!

You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.
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