Tim Parks is Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University in Milan. He is the author of many novels, translations, and works of nonfiction, the latest being Life and Work: Writers, Readers, and the Conversations Between Them and the novel In Extremis. (June 2017)
by Ramon Saizarbitoria, translated from the Basque by Aritz Branton, and edited by Cecilia Ross
A middle-aged married mother flying from Heathrow to Bilbao becomes fascinated by a bearded man boarding the same plane. When a bag he’s holding breaks, spilling books into the aisle, she gives him a good strong Harrods bag and helps gather the books up. Grateful, and despite the crowd of …
Remarking on a painter he had hired to decorate his house, a man whose habit was to fill in the empty spaces around his central painting with “odd fantastic figures without any grace but what they derive from their variety,” Montaigne draws a comparison with his own writing. “And in …
Is it right for a single mother spending a cold night outside so as to be among the first for a job handout at her town’s government center to bring her croupy baby along with her? Isn’t that irresponsible? But what if she can’t find anyone to babysit, and couldn’t …
What is going on when a book simply makes no sense to you? Perhaps a classic that everyone praises. Or something new you’re being asked to review. I don’t mean that you find the style tiresome, or the going slow; simply that the characters, their reflections, their priorities, the way they interact, do not really add up.
Parks: You can’t prove, scientifically, this idea of experience being buffered or delayed in neural eddies.
Manzotti: At this stage, no. Neuroscientists can’t disprove it, or prove that the experience is “generated” in the head. But let’s remember, we do science by forming a hypothesis, making predictions in line with that hypothesis, and inventing experiments that prove or disprove the hypothesis.
Parks: Where does that leave the concept of free will?
Manzotti: We often confuse freedom with arbitrariness, as though freedom were tantamount to doing something in a random way. But we are only really free, or rather we savor our freedom, when what we do is the necessary expression of what we are.
Modern society, as a whole, tends toward a sort of institutional optimism, espousing Hegelian notions of history as progress and encouraging us to believe happiness is at least potentially available for all, if only we would pull together in a reasonable manner. Hence the kind of truth pessimists tell us will always be a subversive truth.