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Yann Martel: ‘Transgression is central to art’
Is it acceptable to write a story from the perspective of someone who is completely unlike you?
Yann Martel is the author of The High Mountains of Portugal and Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author ofThe Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tree planter, dishwasher, security guard—and traveled widely before turning to writing. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.
YANN MARTEL: I think transgression is central to art. In art you cross borders and I've done that constantly in my fiction. So, for example, my first book was a collection of short stories and in it were the main stories about two students, one of whom, as a result of a blood transfusion, gets AIDS and he slowly spirals towards death. And the two encounter each other -- his friend visits him every week in the hospital and they start telling themselves a story set in Finland about this Italian family in Finland. And to give it a backbone they say that each episode in the story of that family must resemble one historical episode of the twentieth century. So in the first episode of this family, the Helsinkis of Roccamatios, it has to imitate 1901. And in 1901 Queen Victoria died. So in the family, in the Helsinki family, Roccamatios, the patriarch, dies. So it creates this parallel. And so right away you have a setting here -- here I am, a Canadian writer, and I'm writing about a fictitious Italian family in Finland and they're using historical parallels that come from all over the world. Right away I'm exploring realities that are different from mine. It's even more obvious with my next book which is my first novel called Self.
In Self you have a boy who's traveling, he's backpacking, he's 17. He's starting very young. And on his 18th birthday he wakes up and he's a girl, he's a young woman. And he's a young woman for seven years. And then he becomes a man again. And his gender orientation starts to vary too. Initially, when he's a young woman, he's thinking as a heterosexual male so he's attracted to women. So sorry, she's attracted to women. And then slowly her orientation starts to shift and she's attracted rather uncomfortably to young men. And the first time she kisses a young man the first thought that pops into her head is 'I'm gay'. Because in her mind, in her thinking, she's still a male and she's kissing a male therefore she's gay. But in fact she has the body of a woman. So conventionally she's heterosexual. And then when she switches back to a man again, once again the slide takes place. And so there I was very obviously exploring a front, a border that I haven't crossed myself. With my mind I went somewhere else. I was interested in exploring what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman; where does sexual orientation come from?
I was exploring the idea that the body is an environment to which we adapt. Just as people adapt to hot climates to cold climates, we adapt to our bodies. So there's a very obvious example of transgression. I went with my mind where I couldn't with my own body. And the point of that is that with the empathetic imagination we can go where nothing else can go, and therefore we can bring back truths that you can't actually bring back factually. And I've continued that with my other books. Life of Pi of course is a story of an Indian boy in a lifeboat with a tiger in the Pacific. None of those are true to me; I'm neither Indian. I've never been a castaway. I've never been in close proximity to a cat, to a big cat, to a tiger. The High Mountains of Portugal set in Portugal in the twentieth century featuring people that I am not. I think most art is a kind of transgression where we explore the other to find out what it means to be the other so that ultimately we find out what it means to be ourselves. Because we are who we are in relation to others. But the key thing is the empathetic imagination and the empathetic imagination is the great traveler. And travelers necessarily cross borders. And not only do they have to but it's a thrill to do so. It's a thrill encountering the other.
- Man Booker Prize-winning writer Yann Martel, a Canadian man, has written from the perspectives of a man with AIDS, a body-switching woman, an Indian boy, and 20th-century Portuguese widowers.
- Is it acceptable to write from the perspective of someone who is completely unlike you? Martel believes these transgressions put empathetic imagination into practice, allowing your mind to go where your body cannot.
- In Martel's case, it's the recipe for great art—books that have been loved and read by millions. "[W]e are who we are in relation to others," says Martel. "But the key thing is the empathetic imagination, and the empathetic imagination is the great traveler. And travelers necessarily cross borders. And not only do they have to but it's a thrill to do so. It's a thrill encountering the other."
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.