Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quantum Physics and The Art of the Possible

While there isn't much that disturbs me more than a child prodigy who has elevated him/herself unnaturally beyond normal capacities without putting in the time, I am fascinated with accounts of people suddenly explosively excelling in one discipline due to a proficiency in another.

What am I talking about? Well, a word to prodigies - I don't think it's so much the skills themselves that frighten me when I see a two-year old hammer down Chopin's Polonaises in G minor (which Chopin himself wrote while practically still in the womb). What bothers me is Oprah's (or insert alternate venue) adoring crowd. Skill is skill, right? I close my eyes and it's the same music, take the child away and it's the same painting, photograph, surgery, math problem solved.

Really I think it's the crowd itself. The attention lavished, the focus, fetish. Somehow any spotlight on a child--and I don't mean a dance recital filled with parents and camcorders--I mean the pre-pubescent opera singer on Ellen, etc. Any spotlight like this on a child seems precious and pornographic. We the spectator are attracted to the small child performing an adult act.

The exception for me (perhaps strangely) is a child actor. In this the child that acts the best is the child who can forgo/ignore the audience and simply "be." Right? That's what we expect out of good acting. A child actor is doing something childlike, pretending to be someone else. Kids do this all the time. Or I did anyway. I don't know, maybe this is a completely hypocritical division. And perhaps I can't fully explain, except to say it is. That said, I don't like seeing child stars on talk shows on in magazines either. It's the public eye, not the screen itself, that seems voyeuristic and exploitive to me.

This is not where I meant to go with this at all, but two things diverged this week. I started watching Season One of Heroes and I started reading Amir D. Aczel's _The Artist and the Mathematician_. How do these meet? Well, child actor Noah Gray-Cabey from Heroes apparently studies advanced high school math (he's 11) and got his start as a piano prodigy. At age 3 he could watch his father play something, memorize what his hands did, and repeat it correctly the first time. The book talks a lot about the integral link between math and other disciplines. Aczel shows how cultural movements were a direct result of mathematical movements and (occasionally) vice versa, one making the other possible. This interests me. The book focuses on how structuralism in linguistics and mathematics (instituted by Bourbaki) served as a catalyst for structuralism in other fields, most notably anthropology (Levi-Strauss, who is really considered the "father" of structuralism), which doesn't particularly interest me at the moment, as well as literature (making Oulipo possible) and literary theory, to name a few.

This made me think more about quantum physics shaping both photography and painting and allowing for the current (somewhat long-standing) trend for fractured narratives in both writing and film. Quantum physics (which I haven't really read about since junior high school when I wanted to learn how to time travel if at all possible, and haven't thought about since Quantum Leap and Sliders both went off the air) shook up our relationship to time in such a way that cause and effect became severed. Up until then a work of art generally reflected one moment in time, the shakeup allowed for the changes that allowed for cubism to examine movement in painting. Not the implication of movement, but movement itself. As in Duchamp's series of paintings of his brothers playing chess, or the nude descending the staircase (was this Duchamp? I think it was, but I'm not in the mood to fact-check myself). Even in the latter's title we have movement. I'd never thought about the title as such a key to not only the picture itself, but the attempt/statement it was setting out to make. A motion picture in paint, animation of one frame.

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Anyway, my thanks to quantum physics for giving me permission to continue creating a mess when I write instead of making sense.


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