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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Racy radical reasons



Jolly gee gosh, I am dumbfounded.  You guys are too intellectual for me.  I don’t know half these writers and I feel totally dumb.  I’m still trying to get through Mother Goose.


A reader from New Orleans, June 28, 2014



To minimize giving rise to such dumbfoundedness, the physicist Brian Greene announced in the preface to The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011):


“In writing The Hidden Reality, I’ve presumed no expertise in physics or mathematics on the part of the reader.  Instead, as in my previous books, I’ve used metaphor and analogy, interspersed with historical episodes, to give a broadly accessible account of some of the strangest and should they prove correct, most revealing insights of modern physics” (ix).


Mother Goose can get the drift.


Greene uses affective/effective prose to explain why “for braneworlds the distinction between loops and snippets is crucial” (116) and why “reality…may be akin to a hologram.  Or, really, a holographic movie” (238).  Admired for his work in superstring theory, Greene belongs to the minority in the general population of American scientists. He is not dependent on the mediation of writers for newspapers and magazines to ensure that laypersons might understand his fascinating work.  It might be argued that the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and the psychologist Steven Pinker belong to the same minority. It is often more pleasant to read and to learn from these scientists than to meander in the prose labyrinths that proliferate in the mindscapes of humanists, literary theorists, and critics of culture.


Pick at random a sentence from the works of Julia Kristeva, Stuart Moulthrop, or Homi Bhabha for comparison with one by Lewis Thomas, Tyson, or Greene. Eureka!


Yes, extraordinarily difficult ideas may require symbolic representation in equally difficult texts. Readers who put aside Mother Goose and fairytales when they left puberty may find genuine enlightenment in decoding convoluted expressions.  On the other hand, some writers who do work in the domains of literature, theory, and culture have the option of learning from Brian Greene what the bump, the grind, and the hidden reality of clarity might be. It is possible that clarity can sponsor empowering critical thought. Dumbfoundedness is not a disease for which we have yet to discover a cure.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

July 5, 2014

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