by carl wilson

Geeks in Love


I linked to the Cat & Girl art-geek versus science-geek strip a couple of months back - it's good subcultural fun, but there's a lot of truth to it. I've long imagined a TV or radio show made up of those conversations that smart but scientifically subliterate arts types get into, arguing about some matter of scientific fact, often after a couple of beers, where nobody really knows the most basic terms of what they're talking about. Artists Talk About Science would be the lowest-rated program ever, but it would get big laughs at MIT. (The only function of this joke is to refer to it when these conversations happen: "Welcome to the latest episode of Artists Talk About Science.")

While I'm as guilty of scientific obtuseness as the next art geek, I'm excited whenever someone tries to bridge the two geekitudes. It's why Boing Boing is such a success, for example. It's part of why I love Matmos. Or Brian Eno. Or Blackalicious rapping about the periodic table in Chemical Calisthenics. And it's the driving impulse behind two performance events this week in Toronto: This year's Scream festival of poetry and literary performance has a scientific theme (I should have posted this in advance of last night's panel discussion on the subject, but ah well), and Small Wooden Shoe is presenting the latest installment of its "Dedicated to the Revolutions" series of theatrical explorations of scientific revolutions as part of this week's Fringe festival: I Keep Dropping Shit, a show about the Newtonian revolution. (The title's a gravity joke, obvs.) To show they're not just taking science as a cheap supplier of metaphor (though science is great for that), SWS is presenting the show at the MaRS Institute of research and innovation on the University of Toronto campus, which has showed its soft spot for art geeks in the past by serving as a venue for Nuit Blanche, not to mention somebody up there's obvious concern about architecture. The MaRS folk have an enjoyable interview with Dropping Shit director Jacob Zimmer up on their blog today. Let's increase the geek love.

I should also mention that I'm in a panel discussion at the Scream on Sunday afternoon which has nothing to do with science except in its title: "Under the Microscope: The State of Poetry Criticism." The writeup follows, but it's at 3 pm at Tinto coffeeshop at 89 Roncesvalles, and it's free. I am on the panel as the designated outsider - the organizers made the argument that they think music criticism gets right what poetry criticism gets wrong, and while I'm not sure I agree (I guess I have three days to decide!), it's fruitful ground for discussion. Come on out and get into it. I'm going to try to make sure there's plenty of time for audience contribution, in a scientific spirit of free and open inquiry.

Even with a microscope, it's (almost) too small to see: where's the discussion of poetry among non-poets? The media carries criticism of all kinds of arts, from architecture to audio installations, but no one seems to talk about poetry. We'll examine why. Panelists include David Orr, poetry critic for the The New York Times Book Review; Carl Wilson, music critic and proprietor of the website; Damian Rogers, arts editor at eye weekly; and Elizabeth Bachinsky, a poet whose latest collection was nominated for a 2006 Governor General's Award. The lab director for this discussion will be Toronto writer Marianne Apostolides.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, July 05 at 1:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)



Thanks for the corrections, Cathy. Now we know my real problem with science: Clearly I suck at the Truth.

Posted by zoilus on July 13, 2007 1:42 PM



Thanks SO much for your nice words about MaRS. However, I have some corrections.

You wrote:
“...SWS is presenting the show at the MaRS Institute of research and innovation on the University of Toronto campus...”

MaRS is often called the MaRS Centre (when referring to the building/facility) or MaRS Discovery District (or just MaRS) when referring to the company, but we’re not an institute; just a not-for-profit corporation.

Our location is actually on land that was once part of the Toronto General Hospital, but is now owned by MaRS. We are in close proximity to the university, and our CEO happens to be married to the president of UofT, so people make that mistake all the time. But we’re not on the UofT campus.

Loved the Observer Review article; an outstanding read. May have to cover this on the MaRS Blog.

I would also have to say that, in my experience with researchers (and there are many who work in the MaRS building), they also have a tendency to ignore other disciplines. They are very focussed on their own work, on their own expertise.

Part of what we're trying to do at MaRS is improve the collaboration of varying disciplines, resulting in convergent technologies (such as nanotech and diagnostics). And, further than that, we're also trying to get scientists more knowledgeable about business. Much science never sees the light of day because of ignorance of the needs of the marketplace. It is difficult to bridge the gap between any discipline; it is the same with art. We believe, however, that art and creativity go hand in hand with innovation. We believe that they're not on the opposite side of the fence afterall.

Now, if we can just get everyone ELSE on board with this idea...

Posted by WebGoddessCathy on July 12, 2007 4:23 PM



It's funny, I suppose, that I'm rejecting the untraditional spin on traditionalist grounds. The Laureateship, as you know, is a British institution, and its function is to celebrate the State. If America is going to adopt this Royalist institution, but put it to democratic purposes, I'd prefer that the government use a different name -- Ambassador of Poetry, maybe. Just to, you know, avoid confusion for those people who have a British conception of the Laureateship.

When New Jersey made Amiri Baraka its State Laureate, well, he pissed a lot of people off by writing a poem as Laureate in which he called Condoleeza Rice "Skeeza" and repeated the libel that 4,000 Jews got tipped off before the atrocity of September 11 and called in sick to the WTC.

But I guess the title "Laureate" only added to the irony, not the ugliness or outrage of the situation. "New Jersey Ambassador of Poetry" Baraka still would have made news -- bad news that stays bad news.

Posted by john on July 11, 2007 8:24 PM



I like the idea of poets laureate, though I think that one of the pleasures of them is that they get people shouting "down with the poet laureate!"

Writing poems for state occasions is fine but I'm also fine if they just go around celebrating the place of poetry in national culture a la Robert Pinsky. I thought what he did was great. It was totally uncool and un-high-culture and democratic and useful.

Posted by zoilus on July 11, 2007 4:21 PM



Down with poets laureate! Unless they're going to go whole hog and write poems for the deaths of heads of state, and birthdays of heads of state, and births of descendants of heads of state, forget it.

Then again, I love it when anybody goes whole hog.

Posted by john on July 11, 2007 2:02 AM



Everything you say is fair, Guy. I think fewer art-geeks are "proud" of our ignorance than you claim, though probably more than I'd like to think. I tend to see people being more defensive/jokingly self-deprecating/etc.

Jordan, hard for me to recap the panel - I can say that mainly we were addressing the moderator's suggestion that the mainstream media are responsible for not bringing poetry to a broader public, and the panelists were generally agreed that low media coverage is more effect than cause of poetry's scarcity in public life/popular culture. We talked some about the blogs and other online approaches to getting the discussion out there. We talked about cultural conditions and historical conditions and poet laureates and poetry as opposition culture and/or "high" art versus popular, public poetry. And so on. There wasn't a lot of fur flying, but it felt like a pretty productive chat.

Posted by zoilus on July 9, 2007 4:31 PM




This is a sore point. Not only are art geeks profoundly ignorant or basic scientific knowledge that affects their daily lives, they are terrificly proud of being this much in the dark.

I have a better idea how about all the art geeks open a book and read and science. Educate themselves the same way many many scientists I know have educated themselves in the art.

Here is my offer. Ill teach anyone who wants the basics of genetics.


Posted by guy tanentzapf on July 9, 2007 2:05 PM



So what transpired at the poetry criticism panel?

Posted by Jordan on July 9, 2007 10:39 AM



there's a good recap of the science and poetry panel here: .

Posted by stop14 on July 8, 2007 12:11 PM



Look! It's my show!

It's notable that even the scientists aren't quite as quick on these questions as you'd expect. But humbling, indeed.

Posted by zoilus on July 5, 2007 2:54 PM,,2115569,00.html

Posted by DW. on July 5, 2007 2:41 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson