David Kline (kline) Wed 20 Feb 08 14:45
Ellen, I'm really interested to hear how the complexity ideas resonated for you, precisely because of your self-professed ignorance of the topic. Can you say more about that?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 20 Feb 08 16:25
Meryl Streep as Judith Greenwood. From your mouth to God's ear, Maxine! And yes, Ellen, I'd love to hear more about the new way you see things.
I am of course married to the Berlin Wall (katecat) Wed 20 Feb 08 19:39
the cave/art installation place where Molloy and Nola have thta memorable scene near the end of the book--is that a real place? I loved that space you described.
Paula Span (pspan) Wed 20 Feb 08 22:10
Aside from disappointment about Benito being fictional, how are friends and acquaintances in Santa Fe reacting? Do they recognize people, or themselves, as the basis for characters?
David Kline (kline) Thu 21 Feb 08 07:13
I wondered that too.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Thu 21 Feb 08 07:51
The cave is real. I described it very literally. It's on private land, not too far from Georgia O'Keeffe's Abiquiu, and the owners ask you for $5 to visit it, mainly to make sure the key comes back to them (it's locked up as a rule). It's an extraordinary installation, real outsider art. I think the guy who did it is a construction worker. As Nola remarks, he did another such cave on public land, then worried that without guards, people would trash it, or he'd be sued or something. So the owners of this land, which is part of the grounds of Rancho de San Juan, a Relais et Chateau hotel, invited him to do one in a remote part of their grounds. Do people recognize themselves? No one has accused me of illicitly capturing his soul--yet. The main characters are my own creation (though it felt more like discovery) so that's not surprising. For example, Ron is based on a man I knew (just as the character Judith did) in high school. He had the horrible misfortune of growing up gay in the most white-bread straitlaced 1950s suburban milieu. He gave every indication of being extremely unhappy. I've never heard from him since high school, but I decided to give him a happy life. Very God-like! Some real people are mentioned by name, and they've just been tickled to find themselves in a work of fiction (in any case, very polite about it). Murray Gell-Mann still gives me a big kiss every time he sees me; Doyne Farmer has a great sense of humor and he and his wife have been our friends for a long time. David Shaw, who is also mentioned briefly as a financier in the mold of Farmer, which Molloy envies and knows he cannot be, is coming to a NYC book party.
Ellen Dubrowin (ellen) Thu 21 Feb 08 08:40
I'm still thinking of how to answer your questions in 26-27, but have to leave for work....
John Ross (johnross) Thu 21 Feb 08 10:35
Is there any interaction (either in your book or in the real Santa Fe) between the Santa Fe Institute folks and St. John's College?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Thu 21 Feb 08 15:03
Yes, in real life, they sometimes co-sponsor lectures, and the Santa Fe Institute Summer School has been held at St. John's for a number of years. I don't know if that's the case just now, but it was so for a decade or more. In my book, St. John's figured a bit. I'd sent the manuscript to an early reader, and he said: Well, this is a spiritual quest, and you ought to make that more explicit. And I thought, WHAT? Yet at some level I knew he was right. Still, I couldn't figure out how to get that across without hitting the reader crudely over the head with it. Then, two summers ago, I took a summer course at St. John's called "Encounters with Divine Lovers," which explored the erotic as an earthly counterpart, if you will, for the experience of the divine. That theme appears in most of the world's major religions, notably in Hinduism, but there's a strong tradition in Judaism and Christianity too. With a sentence and a half, I was able to focus on that, and bring it to the fore. I owe thanks to the splendid tutors at St. John's for that one.
Ellen Dubrowin (ellen) Thu 21 Feb 08 20:17
if you find the real Benito.... ok, the "edge" phenomenon... there are lots of edges in our everyday life, but the recurrence of the borders of old (and newer) lava flows kept grabbing my attention in Hawaii. what happens at the edge? there are places where hot lava hit living wet trees and congealed before the tree burned up, so there are tubes with bark imprints in them. there are lush islands of vegetation surrounded by miles of lunar devastation, perhaps because of a glitch in the landscape that caused the lava to cool just enough to flow around rather than over. and there are places where the vegetation is crawling through the cracks in the lava to take back the land, in tiny increments. I found myself seeking out examples. about the social/cultural/historical/economic mixing and mingling... Hawaii has been a rich petri dish for looking at these things for hundreds of years, so most of my observations aren't much more sophisticated than the ones I picked up in anthro 101. but some of the things that resonated for me this trip were, I think, enhanced by the Edge of Chaos experience. for example, "kama'aina." it's usually interpreted as "child of the land," or longtime local, but not necessarily of Hawaiian ancestry. to some it means born in Hawaii, or of an "old" Hawaiian family, but it can also mean just having a local address. (there are lots of kama'aina discounts available.) the term "local," as used to us as mainland tourists, was quite different, and usually meant someone of Hawaiian ancestry. there were veiled (and not so veiled) warnings about avoiding certain beaches/parks on weekends because the "locals" didn't like tourists there. still, there was some clear resentment expressed by would be kama'ainas that there are some definite perks that only "locals" had access to, like very good schools and land rights established in the late 19th century. in an interesting (to me, anyway) twist, we learned that the several scientific outposts on the Mauna Kea summit overlay an area of immense sacred and cultural importance. it seems that, to counter resentment of the growth of the various observatory projects, the University of Hawaii has established a quite fabulous astronomy education center in Hilo in which all of the "didactic" information (display labels and such) is in both English and Hawaiian. (see http://imiloahawaii.org/ for more.) anyway, I loved the book, and appreciate how it guided my subsequent perceptions.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 22 Feb 08 07:22
Ellen, that's really interesting. That sense of insider/outsider/local/nonlocal is very strong in Santa Fe too, though the excluding and including is a bit odd by any rational standard. Judith often mentions being on the borders of things, the edge: for her it means not only frontier science, but also how marginalized she always feels in the world. Molloy, who'd seem to have everything, is at home neither in the U.S. or in Germany, though he's been apparently successful in each place. Benito, Nola, Ernie, Ron and Gabe: each of them is on the edge of something.
David Kline (kline) Fri 22 Feb 08 10:08
Edges are interesting, and have many rich associations for people, as ellen amply illustrates. The concept "edge of chaos," though, has a special meaning, and one that I would have liked to see brought out even more. In a very rough paraphrase, It's one of those "Goldilocks" ideas: when the environment is too ordered, nothing ever changes so there's nothing interesting going on. When it's too chaotic, there aren't any patterns, there's no discernible order. The edge of chaos is the "just right" spot, where all the interesting action is: There's enough randomness to enable things to evolve (and create order!), but not so much chaos that they get ripped apart as soon as they organize themselves. Judith could have included that idea in her email complexity seminar for Molloy, but maybe you think that would have been too heavy-handed.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Fri 22 Feb 08 14:15
I hadn't thought of it as a "Goldilocks" idea, but you're altogether right. Judith does say something like that in her email tutorial of Molloy, but it's true, I didn't make a big deal of it. She says (p. 70) "life exists on the edge of chaos, the compromise between order and surprise." Again, on p. 83: "The key area is what we like to call the edge of chaos. At the edge of chaos, a system is open to new input, to learning. It can't learn anything at all if it's in frozen order, or at the other extreme, in chaos."
Cynthia D-B (peoples) Sat 23 Feb 08 11:20
Pamela, though this isn't your first novel, it's been a long time since you wrote one. Your non-fiction work is what you've been known for for many years. What made you want to return to novel-writing?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sat 23 Feb 08 12:31
Cynthia, I wish I had a nice, tidy answer to that one. In a nutshell, the impulse just came on me to tell a story, and this was the story that emerged. Of course non-fiction is story-telling too--that is, you need a strong narrative--but why fictional characters? Why make-believe? I'm not hiding anything roman a clef style. I know I was eager to channel the effects that Santa Fe and its landscape had on me, so that was part of it. I was strongly influenced by the Institute. But none of these really answers your question, so I guess my answer is, damned if I know!
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sat 23 Feb 08 15:15
I went away and thought about it for a while. In fiction, you can address topics that at the least, don't lend themselves to nonfiction--deep passions of every kind, the inexplicable irrationalities of people, the way they play off on each other. Much of this book is about those things--irrationality, missed connections, deep passions. But why did I feel the urge to write about such things now? I'll need more mulling time for that, but the boxtop answer is, they're eternal for humans.
David Kline (kline) Sat 23 Feb 08 15:59
Have you any idea where your writing will go next?
John Payne (satyr) Sat 23 Feb 08 16:01
> <5> The sciences of complexity are devoted to finding out general rules > about systems that hold across disciplines and systems, whether they're > natural or artificial (e.g., whether ecosystems or economics; biological > evolution or the evolution of technology). This sounds very much like what I began calling "General Systems Theory" (or, in application, "the systems approach") twenty-some years ago, mostly thanks to Fritjof Capra's book The Turning Point, which I read a few years after completing a bachelor's degree in biology. Shortly after reading that book I became fascinated with the potential of computing, and have been on that ride ever since. Biology was good preparation for understanding the principles of systems theory (higher math not included), but it was my encounter with systems theory that made what I'd learned about biology coherent, and which was responsible for getting my feet on the ground, intellectually (to the extent that they are ;-).
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Sat 23 Feb 08 17:24
Does Gregory Bateson figure in this pursuit? Do I recall his name correctly?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sat 23 Feb 08 18:06
I suspect some of the people involved in complexity will have heard of and even feel affinity with Gregory Bateson. I also suspect the idea of finding universals that hold across different fields is a very old idea. What's different now is that the people associated with the Santa Fe Institute and their colleagues around the world have begun to make science out of that very seductive idea. Where my own writing will go next? Looking back over the strange zigs and zags my career has taken, it would be folly to predict.
David Kline (kline) Sun 24 Feb 08 08:15
I suspected as much :-). >make a science out of that very seductive idea If you've become intrigued by Judith's little introductory seminar on complexity, there are getting to be better and more detailed descriptions of some of that work that are quite approachable by the general public. One of the best ones I've seen is _Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order_ by Steven Strogatz. Another is _Emergence_ by Steven Johnson. IIRC there's not a single equation in either one, which is remarkable given that mathematical models are at the center of the efforts that both books describe.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 24 Feb 08 10:27
I think you can enjoy this novel whether you're interested in the sciences of complexity or not. If it leads you to explore them more, great; if not, no problem. For me, it was a book about character--in particular the main characters. I've run across men something like Molloy: self-made men who, with the right breaks, could've been terrific at anything, being blessed as he is with great native intelligence and great energy. But born in a given time and place, his path took him a certain way. Molloy is an extremely successful financier; ruthless at times. He's hauled himself up from a pretty blighted childhood; had a bad time with his first wife; as a single father, tried to bring his kids up the best way he could. He's self-educated, and has spent much of his life trading off between his own needs and those of others. He's earned his wisdom (and at times he's very wise) the hard way. His battle in this novel is to get himself someplace he'd rather be.
David Kline (kline) Sun 24 Feb 08 10:51
You beat me to it, Pamela. I was just coming back to steer the conversation in that direction (with perhaps a slight apology for the diversion away from what your book is about in my last post.) Absolutely this is a novel and it's about the characters. You might think of the complexity ideas as a light that you shine on the interplay between the characters. But the characters stand on their own by virtue of what they actually do and think in the book. Judith's email seminar on complexity, for example, is far from just an excuse to bring those ideas into the book explicitly. It's part of the dance between Judith and Molloy and that's really its function in the book.
butch up, little missy (reva) Sun 24 Feb 08 11:39
It felt like intellectual foreplay, for sure. So, Pamela, will you ever eat lunch in that town again?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 24 Feb 08 12:05
Har! So far so good, Reva, but then I'm safely in New York City right now. Yes, the email, the tutorial, is a flirtation. The unsaid is more important than the said. It's much more so for him than for her at that point--he's patently unhappy that it's by email and not face to face. Judith, on the other hand, has persuaded herself that this guy could have some leverage over her institutional home, so she'd better make nice no matter how much of a drag it might seem. But she's not nice enough to do it face to face.
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