Samir’s Selection 01/26/2016 (p.m.)

  • tags: MarvinMinsky AI machineintelligence obituary

  • tags: JulianBarnes interview FT LabourParty politics Shostakovich music Stalin death fear parenting

    • In his own benign republic, he says, “The royal family would be put on the Isle of Wight”; Britain would join the euro and public utilities would be owned by the state. One British water company was eventually owned by Enron, he reveals. At least its bankruptcy led to a great West End musical, I joke. He wins the skirmish: “That’s not the function of a business, to turn into a great musical.”
    • Barnes is intrigued by what an artist such as Shostakovich should do when confronted with power. “There’s not enough imagination in trying to put yourself in his position. What’s the alternative to being cowardly? To be a hero meant to stand up to the state. If you stood up to Stalin you got killed or sometimes your family,” he says.

      “Being a hero was in some ways a stupid thing to do and also morally wrong because you thereby killed your family. And there was no answer; there was no way to live in a country without being contaminated.”

    • He shares a separate trait with Shostakovich: brooding on death. In Nothing to be Frightened Of (2008) Barnes quotes Shostakovich approvingly, describing his fear as: “the most intense emotion of all. I sometimes think that there is no deeper feeling.”

      Barnes has been afraid of death since 15. “It was a sudden ability to concept­ualise the notion of eternal annihilation and non-existence, which I found terrifying, and I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t think about it a lot more . . . Now we scatter the dead, so we can’t visit them. We forget them. I want the dead to be remembered.”

    • He adds: “It also goes back to your own relations with your own parents.” He was “irritatedly fond” of his mother, he wrote in Nothing to Be Frightened Of; her certainties about the world, useful in childhood, became “grindingly repetitive in adulthood”.

      Has he softened? “I admired her in her last illness and death. She was brave and un-self-pitying. But, no, I was very fond of my father. He was a very nice man, but I felt that he was swamped by my mother and I never had a relationship with him separately because she would always be there talking.” So it got in the way? “It did get in the way, yes.”

      In “I remember”, a 2013 article for Areté magazine, one buried line about his family stands out: “I remember my father in a heavy wooden casket and my mother in a plastic screw-top jar.”

    • Both parents were French teachers and the family home was in Northwood, a London suburb. “We didn’t really have any friends locally. We were quite enclosed and we didn’t go to stay with people . . . We stayed at home and did our school work and they both marked the homework of other schoolchildren.”
    • He famously fell out with Amis after he ditched Pat as his literary agent. “If someone offends you or damages you or does something to your career, let alone any of those things to someone you like, then I think you should bear a grudge. I’m not a Christian.” He veers into a related anecdote that concludes: “Christian notions of charity and forgiveness don’t always arise in my soul.”

    • The next day I get a courteous email thanking me for lunch. It adds a final confession: “And I did weep at the DVD of Paddington Bear, especially when he puts his duffel coat on.”
  • tags: MarvinMinsky AI machineintelligence obituary

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