The Occasional Papers record the conversations of eminent scholars, writers, and artists who have been public speakers at UC Berkeley as guests of the Center.
Michael Pollan is a faculty member of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley; a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine; and past executive editor for Harper's magazine. Pollan’s first book, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (1991), and his more recent, The Botany of Desire (2001), are among his many works that examine the intersections between science and culture. In them we see a remarkable power to discern the intertwining ecological, political, and moral valences of problems that are at once contemporary and deeply rooted in Western history and culture. We also see in his books and articles important questions about writing: to whom are we as committed researchers trying to speak, and how can we be both deeply serious about ideas and courses, and yet clear, and even engaging, at the same time?
Shock, bemusement, sorrow, anger-these are some of the looks on the faces in the photographs in Sebastiao Salgado's Migrations. A resident of Paris for the last thirty years, Sebastiao Salgado moves around the world from Bombay to Chimborazo. In conjunction with the universal aspects of the exhibit called Migrations in the University Art Museum at UC Berkeley, the Avenali Lecture asks of a project including forty countries on five continents: in what ways does the Earth on whose basic unity Sebastiao Salgado so forcefully insists interface with the "terra" which in Portuguese also means one's native land?
Eva Hoffman considers the current preoccupation with memory - as opposed to its referents (history, experience) - and particularly with memory of the Holocaust. She proposes that the intense absorption with memory has largely emerged from the "second generation," i.e., from those for whom the Holocaust (or other disturbing pasts) has been a crucially formative event, yet one which they themselves did not experience.
Seeing the Difference brings together the texts of a two-day institute on death and dying, aimed at facilitating an interdisciplinary conversation between artists, humanists, and medical practitioners. It explores the techne of dying, representations of death, and what one might call an ethics of dying. The project proceeds from a doubled sense of "difference": a view of death as separation or "difference," and an acknowledgement that the various disciplines also view death "differently," developing languages that are too often particular to their own fields.
Dying bridges a no man's land where the unfathomed and the unknowable confront the scientific and the humanistic imaginations. While death may be the vanishing point of medical knowledge and representation, it is also a point of mediation. Neither doctors nor humanists, nor artists nor policy makers, can provide answers where death is concerned; any inquiry into its cultural, scientific, and perhaps even spiritual contours must be a plural one. The multiple conceptual frameworks engaged here offer different ways of understanding the dying body: the medical view of the body as literal text for implementing physical and psychological change; the humanist1s view of the body as the site of complex layers of meaning to be explored through a range of interpretive strategies; and the artist1s creation of the body in terms of alternative explanatory systems that may mediate between the physical and the metaphysical, that may confront an "unknowable" or "inexplicable" and give it form.
Traditions of Conversion historicizes and texturizes Descartes' conversion with a vibrant inquiry into early modern European conversion narratives. In the end, Grafton effectively troubles Descartes' self-portrait as the embodiment of disembodied reason with an examination of Descartes' autobiographical notes, which record that the foundations of his new philosophy lay not in reason but in a dream.
Wendy Doniger explores how the concepts of carnal knowledge and carnal ignorance–the result of sexual betrayal, infidelity, and lies about sexual identity–are expressed in the Hebrew Bible, ancient Sanskrit literature, Shakespeare, and contemporary Hollywood film. In particular, she investigates the tension between carnal knowledge and carnal ignorance as it is expressed in the mythology of the bedtrick (that is, sex with someone who pretends to be someone else).
Japanese writer and Nobel laureate Kenzaburô Ôe delivered the first in a series of lectures established at the Center for Japanese Studies to honor political theorist Masao Maruyama. In his Maruyama Lecture, "The Language of Masao Maruyama," he focuses on the problem of political responsibility in the modern world, taking Maruyama’s major work as his point of departure. In a second (unrelated) lecture, "From the Beginning to the Present, and Facing the End: The Case of One Japanese Writer," Kenzaburô Ôe offers an account of his own development as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction.
Sounding Lines captures a vibrant exchange between Nobel poet Seamus Heaney, author of a new translation of Beowulf, and Robert Hass, Poet Laureate and translator of Czeslaw Milosz. In this meandering conversation.
Stephen Katz examines contemporary commercially produced images of aging and associated seniors-oriented marketing strategies, suggesting that, as such images circulate and acquire representational validity, they obscure our view of the material realities of living, aging and dying. He argues that a radical "seniors culture" might go beyond the disciplining bounds of consumer practices and ideals–not to defy aging, but to defy the popular emphasis on agelessness, positivity and activity, and to cultivate an alternative politics of representation, "living in time, rather than against it.
The Novel in Africa is the text of November 1998’s Una’s Lecture, delivered by South African novelist J.M. Coetzee. While a Coetzee text, one critic notes, "typically produces irritation or discomfort," The Novel in Africa produces surprise as well: the lecture is embedded in a fiction, and functions as both a lecture and a segment in a short story.