Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Yann Martel's Writing Process

Question: How autobiographical is your work?

Yann\r\n Martel:  In Pi, in his openness to religion, a lot.  In Henry in \r\n"Beatrice and Virgil," actually very little.  I use Henry in the novel \r\njust as a stand-in for the Jews.  So, for example, I don’t play the \r\nclarinet, as Henry does, I’m not an amateur actor, as Henry is, but I am\r\n a writer, as Henry is.  I did that, once again, as I said earlier, \r\nbecause the artist were famous, Jews are famously involved in the arts, \r\nso I wanted a figure who was like that.  Jews of Europe were often \r\nmultilingual speaking, you know, often Hebrew, Yiddish, and another \r\nlanguage at least, Henry is multilingual.  I happen to be multilingual. \r\n But once again, if there are autobiographical elements, I put them in \r\nthere only because they serve my fictional purpose.

Question:\r\n Do you write to get a better understanding of a problem?

Yann\r\n Martel:  Absolutely, that’s exactly why I write.  In writing "Life \r\nof Pi," I came to an understanding of faith and factuality, faith and \r\nreason.  I wrote "Self," my first novel, my obscure first novel, I wrote\r\n "Self," which is about a character who was a boy for 18 years, becomes a\r\n woman for 7 years, and then becomes a man again.  There I was looking \r\nat gender identity, sexual orientation identity, just to work out what \r\nit means to be a man, what it means to be a woman.  I believe art is a \r\ngreat way of exploring the other, any other, sexual other, religious \r\nother, ethnic other, geographical other.  So each one is to explore some\r\n question.

My first book, "The Facts Behind the Helsinki \r\nRoccamatios," I was exploring what stories can mean, how does a story \r\nserve to interpret life?  In "Beatrice and Virgil," I want to see how do\r\n we represent enormous tragedy that tends to shut people out, shut \r\npeople up.  So each one is an attempt to understand some issue, some \r\naspect of life.

Question: What is your writing process \r\nlike?

Yann Martel:  With that little, tiny germ of an \r\nidea, that single idea, and then I think and think and think about it \r\nand it leads me to do a research, that research usually gives me more \r\nideas, those ideas lead me to do further research, and eventually I have\r\n hundreds of pages of notes as a result of research.  So "Beatrice and \r\nVirgil," I went three times to Auschwitz, I went to Yad Vashem, I read \r\ndozens of books on the Holocaust, fiction and non-fiction.  Even though \r\nthe book is not literally about the Holocaust, there are no Holocaust \r\nfacts in it.

"Life of Pi," I did tons of research on animal \r\nbehaviors, zoo biology, religion, shipwrecks.  The next one I’ll do \r\nresearch on, let’s see, chimpanzees, on anatomy, on the Island of Sao \r\nTome, which was a holding station for slaves in a Portuguese colony in \r\nAfrica, I’ll do research on, perhaps I’ll do research on great \r\nteachers.  I’ll likely look as Jesus, because Jesus strikes me—just as \r\nthe Holocaust is the defining, is the defining genocide, Jesus strikes \r\nme as the great teacher.  Regardless if you’re Christian or not, \r\nan archetypal teacher would be Jesus, but it could’ve been Marx, it \r\ncould’ve been, you know, Mr. McNamara, my grade nine math teacher, \r\nwhatever.  I’ll probably look at Jesus in terms of the dynamic of him as\r\n a teacher.  So I already have research in mind to flesh out this story.

So,\r\n you start with a little germ and then you look at it and look at it and\r\n you get other ideas and that leads you on, it’s a wonderful process, \r\nactually.

Question: What does your desk look like?

Yann\r\n Martel:  It’s totally dull.  I think there’s nothing more \r\nuncharismatic than a writer working.  Painters can have glorious \r\nstudies, you know, writers work with words, which are highly \r\nconventionalized things.  The material of the visual artist is not \r\npredetermined, so studios can look astonishing.  Whereas I have, you \r\nknow, it’s a completely, it’s a table with a computer, that’s it.  I \r\nhave little pieces of paper next to me that are my little notes, and \r\nthat’s it.  Otherwise, I could be an accountant for, you know, as far as\r\n my desk, you couldn’t tell that I’m a writer.

Recorded April 13, 2010

A tiny germ of an idea leads to research, which leads to further ideas and then more research. Eventually the writer has hundreds of pages of notes to work from.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
Keep reading Show less

Has science made religion useless?

Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.

Videos
  • Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
  • This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
  • "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."

Signs of Covid-19 may be hidden in speech signals

Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.

Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Coronavirus
It's often easy to tell when colleagues are struggling with a cold — they sound sick.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
  • The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast