What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: When did you first know that you wanted to study literature professionally?

Bill Brown:  I think I probably recognized that I was going to be something like a literary critic when I started to be conscious of the fact that I read very slowly, you know?  Which is really to say that if I'm reading narrative prose fiction, I tend to read it more like poetry, so I read a sentence and think about a sentence.  And which is, I have to tell you, a huge handicap if you end up being a literary critic, because you have to read lots and lots.  But I think it was probably that, a certain sense of being interested in the lines of prose that made me think that, you know, there was really something to explore, whether it had to do with the rhythm, the symbolism, the tropology, something along those lines.  And I also have to say that I imagine even when I was a kid I was pretty convinced I would be an English teacher.

Question: On which areas of literature are you currently focused?

Bill Brown:  Mostly I work on 19th and 20th century American literature.  Sometimes I do English literature, I have an essay on Virginia Woolf, for instance.  Sometimes a little bit of French literature and increasingly, I also attend to the visual arts.

Question: What does your everyday work as a critic consist of?

Bill Brown: I think it's trying to explain how, both what and how a given text, either discursive or visual, means and by the, what it means and the how it means, I could very well be asking questions that are eventually going to be historically grounded, or with a historical context, which makes a given poem make sense, right?  Or geographical context, how is it that this should, you know, German artist in 1950 was using these materials, that, you know, happened to be outside of Berlin, that kind of thing.

And I would say, a lot of it would relate to the very idea of slowing down.  That is, I think if you read something, something famous, say The Great Gatsby, well, it's not hard to understand, you know?  It's not complicated, it's not like a tough poem, but I think in fact if you slow down and you start to see what it is that Fitzgerald is doing, constructing certain metaphors and deploying and redeploying certain themes as you go through that book, that's how, I think, you realize that in, you know, 100-and-some pages, a very, very short novel, you feel as though you've had a very, very big experience.

Recorded on March 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

More from the Big Idea for Friday, April 02 2010

 

Literary Criticism: The Art...

Newsletter: Share: