The Future According to Anna Deavere Smith

Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the way the world is headed?

Anna Deavere Smith: Well I will quote Cornell West, who has the best definition of not optimism, but hope. He’s not as interested in optimism and neither am I. And I must point out, to me, that I think your question is an American question that Americans always want to know.

In our country, we always want to know, basically, is it going to be alright? I mean that’s what you’re asking me: Is it going to be alright. I don’t know.

However, given that fact, I’ll quote Cornell who differentiates between optimism and hope by saying that optimism looks out the window and says, “You know, it looks pretty good out there. Based on the evidence, I think it’s alright. It’s alright.” Hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good at all. I’m gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” Cornell has respect for the struggle.

If the limitations of my experience gave anything to my lens, it is a love of the struggle, and a respect for the fact that part of the human condition is that we are struggling the way that a baby struggles from crawling, to standing, to walking. Now that’s a part of the human condition.

So then to embrace not this short kind of idea of optimism. It’s fine. The fact that, “It looks good. Let’s go.” But to actually say, “It looks bad. Let’s go . . .” Because if we go now, even when it’s bad, we might be able to imagine something powerfully enough that we create leadership because people want to go after that vision of the future.

I do think that what art contributes to the whole enterprise is that, as the people who have spent time trying to turn imagination into actions, imagination into objects, that many of us would like to bring – especially to the abuse in the time when people only want to look to see that it looks good, and therefore I’m going on what I can count on – many of us would like to make a suggestion that causes people to try something hard, and to try to go the other way even if it looks bad.

Recorded on: 08/22/2007

Anna Deavere Smith on the nobility of struggle

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.