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Big Think Interview With Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novelist who in 2006 won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is the author of novels including The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, My Name Is Red, Snow, The Museum of Innocence, and A Strangeness in My Mind.\r\n
He is the Robert Yik-Fong Tam Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, where he teaches writing and comparative literature. Pamuk holds honorary doctorates from the Free University of Berlin, Tilburg University, Boğaziçi University, and Georgetown, and his books have been translated into more than fifty languages.\r\n
Question: How do you plan out your novel?
Orhan Pamuk: Okay. Novel -- I -- compared to other novelists I know as friends, or I know because of autobiographies or biographies of them, I am a relatively -- I make plans. I'm a relatively disciplined writer who composes the whole book before beginning to execute and write it. Of course you can't hold -- you cannot imagine a whole novel before you write it; there are limits to human memory and imagination. Lots of things come to your mind as you write a book, but again, I make a plan, chapter, know the plot. Characters never take over. I am controlling everything. And when I'm stuck at some chapter, I skip to a chapter that I want to write. I know what will be the thirteenth chapter or seventeenth chapter. Sometimes chapters get longer, sometimes digressions. But I try to control and enjoy writing like that. I am a sailor who knows where he's sailing, rather than lost in some fog, but it's so much fun -- and some authors are also like that. Then they don't know what the book is about.
Question: Do you write these plans out?
Orhan Pamuk: Yes, I put down in writing, a chapter, in fact. I also then write chapter headings: this will happen, that will happen, some details, some lines, some things; take notes as the novel progresses about the future chapters, about what I will write. Yes. And of course, if there's some research to be made, I do that research.
Question: What is your writing schedule?
Orhan Pamuk: I'm a disciplined writer. I think novelists should be disciplined and self-imposedworking hours. I work a lot, but I don't feel that I'm working. I always feel that there is a child in me, healthy, and I'm playing. So when I say I work a lot, I don't say it in a negative sense; in fact, I say it stressing that I enjoy life a lot when I write, and I like it. So till the age of late thirties, when my daughter was born, I worked till 4 a.m. in the morning and woke up noontime, more or less like Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Then when she was five I began to take my daughter to school early in the morning and switched almost around. Now I was waking up at 5 a.m., working for two hours, waking up my daughter and taking to her school. And then I work and work, go to the office -- I have an office; I need a separate place between the family or the crowd -- and I write and write and write and write, very disciplined.
Question: Is the pleasure of writing different from that of painting?
Orhan Pamuk: Yes, I'm distinctly aware of it. Perhaps because I am raised, almost brainwashed, in that way, I have a strong opinion that I have real talent for painting, while for writing I'm troubled that I use my intellect. When I paint, I feel that I'm painting with talent. When I write, I feel that I'm writing with my intellect. When I paint, I think it's some other force making me paint. I -- as I wrote in my novel My Name is Red -- watch with amazement what my hand is doing on the paper, what kind of line, what kind of strange, beautiful thing it's doing in spite of my will, so to speak. I look at my hand as if it's some other person's hand, while as I write, I know that I'm writing. I'm thinking this and executing this on the paper. There is a difference. But then it's that when I paint I'm naïve, but when I write, I'm contrived, I'm calculating. But on the other hand, its -- well, of course, you can't write a novel without inspiration, those moments when you think someone else is whispering you what you write. I also have these moments when I write novels. But then I revisit those sections, organize, plan, see the text through the eyes of the reader, calculate its effect. Writing a novel is a combination of both inspiration and composition, a heartfelt feeling that, oh, I have talent; something is coming to me, and then calculating what will be the whole effect; being an editor of yourself, perhaps
Question: What is your advice to aspiring novelists?
Orhan Pamuk: The strongest advice would be, don't ever listen to either my advice or anyone else's advice. You find your own -- follow your own humors, you will find them. Just work hard and read hard.
Question: What insights into love does “The Museum of Innocence” draw upon?
Orhan Pamuk: See the visible that I -- and make people identify with the lovers' point of view. That my aim in this novel was not to put love on a pedestal and say, what a sweet thing it is; what a great thing it is. On the other hand, I look at it as almost a bad thing -- or not bad thing -- something that happens to us, to all of us. Then let's try to analyze it, see through it, and see how human mind and hearts -- if you make a distinction between them -- reacts to life. My -- I can also simplify my point of view is that lots of things are operating in our minds, in our spirit, in our blood, so to speak, when we are in love. And one thing that is important is that one part of our mind is seeing things clearly, knows that we are in love, that what we are doing in fact will not serve our love, but it will be in fact not good for getting or impressing the beloved. But we do those things. And when we are in love -- and this is the essential point about my novel too -- that we do things; one part of our minds observes with a bit of sadness and melancholy, thinking that this will not make us happy. This is one thing. The second thing that I focus on in the novel is to see analytically all the things that lovers do; that is, waiting for the phone to ring, resentment and anger, jealousy, finding yourself stupid or over-anxiety, angers, expectations, and a lot of illusions, delusions, and how we cheat or how we misguide ourselves when we are in love. My character Kamal in “Museum of Innocence” thinks that actually he is going to win over his beloved in two weeks, at most in two months, while he spends eight years running after her.
Question: How is love connected to the objects of everyday life?
Orhan Pamuk: The book -- at one point in the book, when my character is infatuated by love and feels what we popularly call love pain, he realizes that objects, things that are associated with his beloved -- objects that they shared together in their happy times -- have the power of consoling him, perhaps because they bring back the memories, the joyful memories they shared together. This we all know, more or less, from Proust's Madeleine. Or I'll give you an example of a movie ticket. Let's imagine that we have found a movie ticket in an old jacket pocket. We have already forgotten that we've been to that movie; we don't even remember we've been seeing that. But as soon as we have the ticket, we begin thinking, well, not only that we've seen the movie, but we remember scenes from the movie, because we have an object associated with those sensations and memories. All objects have that power, and when my character is badly in love and is not happy with his unrequited love, he begins to collect, or gather around, the objects that he had shared with his beloved. Later, after some time, he makes a museum of these objects. And my novel is in a way an annotated museum catalog. If you put the objects together and tell the story of each object, we have a novel. That was more or less the idea, how I composed this book. Then I'm also doing that; I'm also doing the museum. Maybe I should talk about it later more when I -- my museum is also about objects that these lover share, but also it's a city museum because they share the culture of Istanbul between 1975 until the end of the 20th century. It has also qualities of a city museum.
Question: Are museums a Western concept?
Orhan Pamuk: I argue that collecting things is related to -getting attached to things is a universal human reaction to some trouble, trauma, whatever you may call it. In my novel it is of course love, and my infatuated lover is so troubled that he gets attached to things for various reasons. This is more or less the common passion in all collectors. But it is only the Western civilization that put a collector's mania onto a pedestal, because museums were invented in the West.
First there were in the seventh and eighteenth centuries what they called Wunderkammer or cabinets of curiosities to exhibit the power and taste of the princes or the elites or the rich people. Then when the Louvre was converted from a royal palace to a public sphere, a museum, then again it was a place for showing the power and sophistication of the ruling elites. But museums are also places for learning: you put together things, then you categorize and you produce information. Human information is in fact contained in things and the theory about their relationships. Once you put two or three, five objects in an exhibit in a museum, these objects tell a story. You ask yourself if you visit it, what's the relationship between them? And that's a story; that's a theory.
Museums put collectors on pedestal, and making collections, getting attached to things, is not an embarrassing thing once museums legitimize your habit of collecting. But if there are no museums, then your habit of collecting, and also your collections, exhibits only your personal wounds. So I made this distinction towards the end of my "Museum of Innocence," when my character -- after my character decides to exhibits his immense collections that are related to his love. And my character also visits small museums of the world, five thousand of them, perhaps because he likes them. He like the empty, melancholic old museums where no one goes. And I've been to so many of them all over the world just because I like the atmosphere inside, the melancholy atmosphere, the **** of the parquet floor, the museum guides **** how sleepy; even they're also impressed that you're here and looking at these objects no one comes for. There you feel the venture of a prince, a rich guy, a sad guy, a poor collector who thought that he would transcend history by his collection, by his objects. But then it's how successful -- no one comes.
You feel that outside there is a time, modern times, that's going on, while inside the museum it's timelessness. These sensations I like. In fact, in the end we write novels because we just like these sensations; we want to immerse ourselves in these images. I like to -- in fact, a part of the novel, or one part of the novel, is that I like, I very much like, to go out to forgotten, neglected museums of the world. And one of the reasons I wrote this novel was just to revisit them, to see them, to talk about them.
Question: What are some of the world’s most neglected museums?
Orhan Pamuk: Okay, I'll mention them. For example, Bagatti Valsecchi in Milano, one of the sources of my museum. In fact, when the book was published in Italy, I went there, had a reading there, trying to highlight the museum because this was a museum done in the mid-19th century by two Italian aristocrats to represent fifteen-and-fourteenth-century Renaissance life in Italy. They had bought all the things, Renaissance things, from flea markets because they were cheap and available at that time, and converted their own homes into a museum. But then they were using these museum objects, old objects, real objects from the Renaissance, as their daily life objects. And I like museums where people think about their life after death, and slowly and slowly, before they ****, convert their homes into museums. There are places like that -- for example Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. Gustave Moreau, I think, is a classicistic, a bit kitschy painter, but a great painter. But an interesting figure. Proust mentioned so many writers. André Malraux -- surrealists were influenced by him. Why? Not because of the quality of his paintings, I think, but because of the idea of his museums. He comes from a well-to-do family, and towards the end of his life he converted his studio, the house his family lived in all along for years, into a museum, calculating that after his death his studio and house will be a museum. And he was successful in that. Just because his museum was successful, we still know the name Gustave Moreau.
Question: Can you sense a culture clash in everyday life in Istanbul?
Orhan Pamuk: It plays out most in cultural politics and politics in general. There have always been conservative parties in Turkey who stress their Islamic identity, and there have always been secularist parties who stress occidentalist aspirations of the nation. These clash. First, they are more visible in the political, public sphere than in daily life. In daily life I live in Istanbul, which is based -- has space both in Asia and Europe. Then you can cross every day from Asia. All the tourists pay attention to -- it's like going from Manhattan to Brooklyn. And now no one says I'm going from Asia to Europe; it's just everyday life. People do not pay attention, really, in their daily lives to where things come from. In fact, I argue in all my books -- yes, I dramatize East-West -- you may call it clash, or I will say a harmony -- you don’t pay attention; it's just there. And things come from different sources to form a new thing. That is Istanbul; that is my culture. I don't underline the clash part of East-West; I underline how harmoniously, with a lack of self-consciousness, things come together. It's the politicians or journalists who impose East-West and say clash. Not necessary; civilizations don't necessarily clash; most of the time they come together, and people who promote the idea of clash then pave the way for real clash and human suffering.
Question: As a now American-based author, what do you miss most about Istanbul?
Orhan Pamuk: Probably I -- it's a feeling of being at the periphery, not under Western eyes in our own way of life. But that is also changing. When I started writing thirty years ago, no one cared about Turkish culture or Turkish writers. But now Turkey is getting on the agenda. I like being out of the scene; the feeling of not living at the center of the world is a nice feeling. I perhaps complaint about Turkey's being provincial, but I also, I confess, like being provincial, enjoy being out of the drama, enjoy being non-Western, et cetera.
Question: Is there any tension in your writing about Istanbul from the U.S.?
Orhan Pamuk: No. And in fact, there is joy about that. Don't forget that the greatest book about any city -- a novel, “Ulysses” -- was written by James Joyce in Trieste. In fact, you love it. You like that there is a sweet taste of longing when you write when you're away. And my Black Book, which is the book that I found my voice, I wrote more than half of it in New York, dreaming of Istanbul, just like I've always identified with James Joyce living in Trieste, dreaming of Dublin. That's no problem.
Question: Is it possible to be a global writer?
Orhan Pamuk: Well, it may be. Maybe I am like that, perhaps, but I don't identify myself with that concept. That we should address all humanity, that writers should transcend their national audience, I agree with. In fact, it is a moral obligation not to write for the national audience, and it also makes you shift your point of view. But on the other hand, global writer is not, you know, esthetically something I like, and I don't want to refer to myself as such
Question: Has the relationship between Turkey and the West been in decline?
Orhan Pamuk: I think you're correct when you say that it's declining after 2005. The reasons for this are various, but if you want to blame parties, you have to blame conservatives of Europe and conservatives and nations of Turkey, that these parties didn't want to see Turkey in the European Union, especially in France and Germany conservatives. And in Turkey secularist conservatives and some Islamists did not want to see Turkey join Europe, and they tried to block it and successfully blocked it. The situation is not as sunny as it was in 2005. In fact, at that time some optimistic Turkish newspapers predicted that Turkey would be joining Europe in ten years. Nothing of the sort happened; in fact, there was no development, and the idea faded away. I'm sad away about it, but I'm not going to cry about it either. In the end, I'm a novelist; I continue writing my novels.
Question: What are conditions like in Turkey today for a novelist?
Orhan Pamuk: Good. The Turkish book industry is booming. No one -- you would not be intimidated by free speech problems if you write a novel. Don't forget that Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy wrote their novels when government was reading and censoring. Most of the time you won't get in trouble for writing a novel. But political commentary, journalistic writing, outspoken Kurds, radicals, they're always in trouble. But what -- free speech is -- novels will not put you in trouble of free speech. But yes, political commentary criticizing radically army, criticizing religion -- so many things will still put you in trouble in Turkey. Sometimes legal trouble; sometimes maybe a campaigns, death threats kind of trouble
Question: Who are your heroes?
Orhan Pamuk: Look, I don’t want to see heroes around. I believe in a world where there are no heroes, and I've read and know humanity a lot. There are moments that I admire in a person courage, intellect, hard work. These are the qualities I admire in an intellectual, in a writer, and there are so many people who have these things. Say I admire Noam Chomsky, or say I used to admire, when I was a teenager, Jean-Paul Sartre. I like outspoken public intellectuals, but on the other hand, then I also see their failures, their vanities. They're all human beings. My policy of looking at intellectuals -- and they are most of the time people I admire -- is to pay attention to what they did best and ignore their failures, because they all fail. We are -- intellectuals, writers, in the end say something interesting. And pay attention to what they say. Then there are also uninteresting things they say, or just their failures. I don't care about that.
Question: What keeps you up at night?
Orhan Pamuk: That -- is it beautiful? Is it good enough? Is that chapter good? Now, unfortunately, will the museum be good enough? Is it good? It's always the idea that -- it's self-criticism worries me. Most of the time, and I mean... is it good enough? Is it interesting enough? Am I addressing -- am I telling the truth? Am I authentic, or am I posing? This kind of thing upsets me. I'm very worried about being pretentious or inauthentic, or just writing for the sake of writing. So I am also a dreadful maniac; I write all the time. Whenever I have a nervousness or tension, I pull out a notebook and write some things in it. I like that, and it calms me down. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I write, and that makes me happy.
Recorded on: November 11, 2009
A conversation with the Nobel Prize-winning author of "The Museum of Innocence."
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.
- An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
- According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
- Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.
Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
- Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
- Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
- The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.
- J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy and too Eurocentric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian Tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers, and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world," and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b50c57cb3b8a3a1cc8a4696c89ad954" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Tian-shan, the Himalayas, and the Pamirs" />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "[It] was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21c3d38b14503ba8edac18c0ef1cceb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Indus river" />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands [that] could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e87f1af97902201abc042640255606b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Marine Corps helicopter flying over Tarbela Dam" />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and '40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="548bafc6042cc7515e07f77657aa161c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Kutch" />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Cambridge and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff9aace7fc7c111df3639a276cedf63c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform" />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of Tolkienography—if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination—which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
The proposal calls for the American public to draft two candidates to lead the executive branch: one from the center-left, the other from the center-right.
- The #Unity2020 plan was recently outlined by Bret Weinstein, a former biology professor, on the Joe Rogan Experience.
- Weinstein suggested an independent ticket for the 2020 presidential election: Andrew Yang and former U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven.
- Although details of the proposal are sparse, surveys suggest that many Americans are cynical and frustrated with the two-party system.