Monday, November 28, 2011

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

…is an interesting read, that requires, among others, patience  to deal with what appear to be superfluous repetitions at times, after key concepts have been advanced.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNB, as the author likes to refer to himself in some instances)  has prefaced each of the chapters in the book with intriguing summaries that mimic techniques employed by French writers.

The preamble of Chapter One, "The Apprenticeship of an empirical skeptic" reads:

 "Anatomy of a Black Swan - The triplet of capacity - Reading books backwards - The rear view mirror - Everything becomes explainable - Always talk to the driver (with caution) - History doesn't crawl, it jumps - "it was so unexpected" - Sleeping for twelve hours."

The Prologue of the book introduces us to the Black Swan - an event with three main attributes:
  • "it is an outlier"  (an event "outside of the realm of regular expectations")
  • "it carries an extreme impact"
  • " in spite of its outlier status human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact."
To the writer of these notes, the book's intent is, apart from dwelling in the realm of black swans, to invite the reader into a journey in which preconceived ideas and mannerisms are tossed aside in favor of doubt, humility and creative thinking. 

It's an area where the author both succeeds and - at times - fails. The few low points appear to stem from an overdose of irony which feels out of place with the out-of-the-box thinking suggested by the author:

"Traditionally, bankers of the lending variety have been pear-shaped, clean-shaven, and dress in possibly the most comforting and boring manner."

The wealth of information to be found in the book fortunately masks some of the faux-pas that may grate at our sensitivities.

Here are some of my take-aways from this book. 
I enjoyed these lines on my first go-around of the chapters and felt compelled to go back to them later:

"There are two varieties of rare events: a) the narrated Black Swans, those that are present in the current discourse, and b) those that nobody talks about since they escape models. "

"Some blindness to the odds… is necessary for entrepreneurs to function."

"To be able to focus is a great virtue if you are a watch repairman, a brain surgeon or a chess player. But the last thing you need to do when you deal with uncertainty is to "focus"…"
"Prediction, not narration is the real test of our understanding of the world."

"Just as we tend to generalize some matters but not others, so there seem to be "basins of attraction" directing us to certain beliefs. Some ideas will prove contagious, but not others..."

And - at the end of this post -  the question of whether the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable may become such a "basin of attraction", should perhaps be posed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Esi Edugyan - 2011 Giller Prize winner

Canadian writer Esi Edugyan, 33, wins the 2011 Giller Prize with her second novel Half-Blood Blues, a book described at as "an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art."

Articles in the Globe and Mail about Esi Edugyan and her book and the other 2011 Giller Prize finalists.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Robin Robertson – Three Poetic Themes in "The Wrecking Light"

Robin Robertson’s most recent poetry book The Wrecking Light, (Anansi Press, 2010) was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot poetry prize and the Costa Book Awards for Poetry . 

The sonata-like structure of the book (made of three sections I- Silvered Water, II- Broken Water,  III- Unspoken Water and the Notes and Acknowledgements ) provides some disparate clues as to how the poetic matter appears to be orchestrated inside this volume. 

I would suggest that reading thorough the
Notes and Acknowledgements first may be a good way to pick up on some of the threads of the book. 

Silvered Water
, notes the author, hints at a Scottish tradition: “placing a silver coin in a bowl of water or throwing it into a well is a traditional Scottish blessing, or preparation for a wish.”

This first section of the book renders a point of equilibrium – a glittery yet stifling surface caught under the magnifying glass of a second, from which an unraveling is about to begin:

"The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
has woken the sealed lake,
leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
just curved plates of air
re-shaping under the trap-ice,
straining to give; the groans and rumbles
like someone shifting heavy tables far below.”

From Signs on a White Field
The long prose-like poem Leaving St. Kilda ends the first part of The Wrecking Light with a haunting scenery, reminiscent of  John Glenday’s poems:

“all eyes hold the gaze of the rocks
as the boat turns east – as if
to look away would break the spell –“

From Leaving St. Kilda

And the breaking of the spell does indeed happen in part two of the book, Broken Water

This section of
The Wrecking Light, includes poetry whose goal appears to be the piercing of the harmonious shield painstakingly constructed in Silvered Light. It is a section that includes a few poems rewritten by Robin Robertson based on texts from Ovid, Baudelaire and Neruda. 

Robin Robertson’s rendition of Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market is overflowing with images and rhythm:

“Only you:
dark bullet
from the depths
carrying only
your one wound
but renewed
always resurgent”

From Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market

Past the turbulence of Broken Water, we enter the calming fjords of the last section in the book: Unspoken Water, whose title is, once more, explained in
Notes and Acknowledgements: “In Scotland, this is traditionally regarded as a powerful charm against the Evil Eye and for healing the sick."

Thus we find ourselves in the redeeming territory of half-uttered spells, full circle from where we have started off – an invisible concept of a home (as in the poems The Wood of Lost Things and Landfall.)

“…nothing but the names
of the places I came from, years ago;
and you pull me from the waves,
drawing me out like a skelf,
as I would say:
a splinter.”

From Landfall

There is, of course, no  conclusion to a poetry book, especially a well-written one, such as
The Wrecking Light.

But there is perhaps a quote from one of Robin Robertson's interviews that might be borrowed  in lieu of a conclusion to this post: ‘Writers write for the void.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Art Toronto 2011

 The international art fair Art Toronto 2011 was held between October 28th and October 31st, 2011 at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. 

Canadian and international galleries brought to the show contemporary art that simply dazzled through its variety and accomplishments. 

It was an opportunity to view up close and personal the seminal work of established artists such as Jeremy Annear and David Andrew  (Messum’s Gallery), Soíle Ylí-Mäyry (Walter Wikiser Gallery), Keld Moseholm (Bruno Dahl Gallery) and to discover new artists such as Rámon Urbán, Jenaki Lennie, Calum McClure and Nicole Katsuras through other vibrant gallery exhibits.  
Here are some images from Art Toronto 2011:



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