Category Archives: English articles

26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence


1. This is the Earth! This is where you live.

This is the Earth! This is where you live.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image / Via visibleearth.nasa.gov

2. And this is where you live in your neighborhood, the solar system.

And this is where you live in your neighborhood, the solar system.

3. Here’s the distance, to scale, between the Earth and the moon. Doesn’t look too far, does it?

Here's the distance, to scale, between the Earth and the moon. Doesn't look too far, does it?

4. THINK AGAIN. Inside that distance you can fit every planet in our solar system, nice and neatly.

THINK AGAIN. Inside that distance you can fit every planet in our solar system, nice and neatly.

PerplexingPotato / Via reddit.com

5. But let’s talk about planets. That little green smudge is North America on Jupiter.

But let's talk about planets. That little green smudge is North America on Jupiter.

NASA / John Brady / Via astronomycentral.co.uk

6. And here’s the size of Earth (well, six Earths) compared with Saturn:

And here's the size of Earth (well, six Earths) compared with Saturn:

NASA / John Brady / Via astronomycentral.co.uk

7. And just for good measure, here’s what Saturn’s rings would look like if they were around Earth:

And just for good measure, here's what Saturn's rings would look like if they were around Earth:

Ron Miller / Via io9.com

8. This right here is a comet. We just landed a probe on one of those bad boys. Here’s what one looks like compared with Los Angeles:

This right here is a comet. We just landed a probe on one of those bad boys. Here's what one looks like compared with Los Angeles:

Matt Wang / Via mentalfloss.com

9. But that’s nothing compared to our sun. Just remember:

But that's nothing compared to our sun. Just remember:

10. Here’s you from the moon:

Here's you from the moon:

NASA

11. Here’s you from Mars:

Here's you from Mars:

NASA

12. Here’s you from just behind Saturn’s rings:

Here's you from just behind Saturn's rings:

NASA

13. And here’s you from just beyond Neptune, 4 billion miles away.

And here's you from just beyond Neptune, 4 billion miles away.

NASA

To paraphrase Carl Sagan, everyone and everything you have ever known exists on that little speck.

14. Let’s step back a bit. Here’s the size of Earth compared with the size of our sun. Terrifying, right?

Let's step back a bit. Here's the size of Earth compared with the size of our sun. Terrifying, right?

John Brady / Via astronomycentral.co.uk

The sun doesn’t even fit in the image.

15. And here’s that same Sun from the surface of Mars:

And here's that same Sun from the surface of Mars:

NASA

16. But that’s nothing. Again, as Carl once mused, there are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth:

But that's nothing. Again, as Carl once mused, there are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth:

17. Which means that there are ones much, much bigger than little wimpy sun. Just look at how tiny and insignificant our sun is:

Which means that there are ones much, much bigger than little wimpy sun. Just look at how tiny and insignificant our sun is:

Our sun probably gets its lunch money stolen.

18. Here’s another look. The biggest star, VY Canis Majoris, is 1,000,000,000 times bigger than our sun:

26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence

19. But none of those compares to the size of a galaxy. In fact, if you shrunk the Sun down to the size of a white blood cell and shrunk the Milky Way Galaxy down using the same scale, the Milky Way would be the size of the United States:

But none of those compares to the size of a galaxy. In fact, if you shrunk the Sun down to the size of a white blood cell and shrunk the Milky Way Galaxy down using the same scale, the Milky Way would be the size of the United States:

20. That’s because the Milky Way Galaxy is huge. This is where you live inside there:

That's because the Milky Way Galaxy is huge. This is where you live inside there:

21. But this is all you ever see:

But this is all you ever see:

(That’s not a picture of the Milky Way, but you get the idea.)

22. But even our galaxy is a little runt compared with some others. Here’s the Milky Way compared to IC 1011, 350 million light years away from Earth:

But even our galaxy is a little runt compared with some others. Here's the Milky Way compared to IC 1011, 350 million light years away from Earth:

Just THINK about all that could be inside there.

23. But let’s think bigger. In JUST this picture taken by the Hubble telescope, there are thousands and thousands of galaxies, each containing millions of stars, each with their own planets.

But let's think bigger. In JUST this picture taken by the Hubble telescope, there are thousands and thousands of galaxies, each containing millions of stars, each with their own planets.

24. Here’s one of the galaxies pictured, UDF 423. This galaxy is 10 BILLION light years away. When you look at this picture, you are looking billions of years into the past.

Here's one of the galaxies pictured, UDF 423. This galaxy is 10 BILLION light years away. When you look at this picture, you are looking billions of years into the past.

Some of the other galaxies are thought to have formed only a few hundred million years AFTER the Big Bang.

25. And just keep this in mind — that’s a picture of a very small, small part of the universe. It’s just an insignificant fraction of the night sky.

And just keep this in mind — that's a picture of a very small, small part of the universe. It's just an insignificant fraction of the night sky.

26. And, you know, it’s pretty safe to assume that there are some black holes out there. Here’s the size of a black hole compared with Earth’s orbit, just to terrify you:

And, you know, it's pretty safe to assume that there are some black holes out there. Here's the size of a black hole compared with Earth's orbit, just to terrify you:

D. Benningfield/K. Gebhardt/StarDate / Via mcdonaldobservatory.org

So if you’re ever feeling upset about your favorite show being canceled or the fact that they play Christmas music way too early — just remember…

This is your home.

This is your home.

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is what happens when you zoom out from your home to your solar system.

This is what happens when you zoom out from your home to your solar system.

And this is what happens when you zoom out farther…

And this is what happens when you zoom out farther...

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

And farther…

And farther...

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

Keep going…

Keep going...

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

Just a little bit farther…

Just a little bit farther...

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

Almost there…

Almost there...

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

And here it is. Here’s everything in the observable universe, and here’s your place in it. Just a tiny little ant in a giant jar.

And here it is. Here's everything in the observable universe, and here's your place in it. Just a tiny little ant in a giant jar.

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (creativecommons.org) or GFDL (gnu.org)], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh man.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Haitian Creole Month


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Haitian Creole Month

Main event Saturday, Oct. 25th, 2014

PLEASE FORWARD AND CIRCULATE AMONG PRESS AND ALL MEDIA CONTACTS. WE URGE ALL MEDIA OUTLETS TO PUBLICIZE AND COVER THIS IMPORTANT EVENT.

We are pleased to invite you to the

First Annual Celebration of Haitian Creole Month in Massachusetts

2014 Conference Theme: “Haitian Creole And Haiti’s National Development”

WHERE: Cambridge Public Library, Main Branch,
449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138

WHEN: Saturday, October 25th, 2014, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM

WHAT: Lectures, discussions, and cultural presentations by Haitian artists, writers, publishers, musicians, and scholars of Haitian culture. Full-length program free and open to the public; Haitian food & refreshments available.

Invited Guests:

(Please see Organizer Contacts, below, for the most up-to-date program details)

• Haitian Creole linguistic specialists Profs. Marky Jean-Pierre, Louise Evers, Yvon Lamour, Merites Abelard; Moderators: Dr. Sophia Cantave, Prof. Lesly René.

• Boston-area author & editor Tontongi (Eddy Toussaint), presenting the latest books from Trilingual Press, vanguard publisher of texts in Haitian Creole: Tontongi’s new collection of politico-literary essays, Sèl Pou Dezonbifye Bouki and the Haitian Creole translation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Nicole Titus (author of the first Haitian Creole translations of Plato).

• Publisher Roosevelt Desronvilles, presenting books in Haitian Creole from Haiti’s JEBCA Editions.

• Writers Jean-Dany Joachim, Charlot Lucien, Fred Edson Lafortune, Ewald Delva, Patrick Sylvain, Nicole Titus, Doumafis Lafontant, Margela Olivier Galette, presenting their published work in various genres, in Haitian Creole or bilingual editions.

• Haitian-Boston musical legend Gifrants ;

• Haitian visual artists

• Representatives of Haitian Creole cuisine

Historical context

The Haitian language, Creole or Kreyòl, also known as Haitian Creole or simply Haitian, was first spoken by the Africans enslaved and transplanted to what is today Haiti or Ayiti in the eighteenth century. In the midst, and in defiance, of the dehumanization imposed on them by a horrific colonial system, these men and women were able to forge a unique language in which syntactic structures of their West African linguistic groups survive with lexical elements of Arawak, French, Spanish, English and other languages spoken by colonial and native peoples.

By the time Haiti gained independence from France on January 1st, 1804, Haitian Creole was already a well constituted language spoken by the vast majority of the new nation, including its first head of state, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, whose inaugural address was given in Haitian Creole. History textbooks mention only the address given in French by his lieutenant Boisrond Tonnerre.

The new Haitian ruling classes and power structure would soon adopt French and French Christian culture – as opposed to Creole and the Haitian Vodou culture – as the official language and culture of the country, to the detriment of the Creole language and Vodou culture, reducing the latter to an inferior status of which people felt ashamed.

Since the 1970s, a new and , a more positive appreciation of the Creole language has slowly been taking shape both in Haiti and in the Haitian Diaspora. Writers started to write in it as a legitimate medium, the air waves openly used it, and linguists have paid attention. Ultimately, though not without struggle, Haitian intellectuals in Haiti founded the Haitian Creole National Academy in 2012, voted into law this past year.

However, despite tremendous progress, Haitian Creole‘s struggle for equal respect and acceptance is still an up-hill battle. The language continues to be treated with scorn by the Haitian elite and the State government’s administration and courts, and devalued by the population at large. Many Haitian families continue to officiate important events in their lives (baptisms, first communions, weddings, school graduations, funerals, etc.) in either French or English although the vast majority of the attendants are monocreolophones. Students in the vast majority of the schools are taught in French, and almost all of the textbooks are in French. Although Haitian Creole was ascended to official status in the 1987 Constitution, the fact remains —too often ignored or obscured by Haitians and non-Haitians in country and abroad — that only 10-15% of Haitians speak or write French, while fully 99.9% speak Haitian. Besides contributing to the country’s high illiteracy rate, the devaluing of the native Creole language does great disservice to the historical and cultural contributions of generations of Haitians.

Fortunately, more and more Haitian nationals, intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike, question the wisdom of the existing linguistic dichotomy, calling for true parity, a real bilingualism in the relation between the country’s two official languages.

This first celebration of Haitian Creole Month in Massachusetts is part of a national movement to reverse this historic destitution and return to Haitian Creole the respectability and acceptance it deserves as an important, legitimate, and indispensable element of Haitian national identity, and socio-economic development

The organizers

(October 2014)

This First Annual Celebration of Haitian Creole Month is sponsored by Trilingual Press, Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts, City Light Poetry, Echo Culture, JEBCA Editions, and the Cambridge Public Library.

For more info, contact Jean-Dany Joachim (tel. 617-827-5017), Charlot Lucien (tel. 617-669-0038), or Eddy Toussaint (617-331=2269).

Fred Lafortune (Biography)


IMG_6249Fred Edson Lafortune is a Haitian author, and poet. He is the founder of Echo Culture . Echo Culture is a non profit organization that promotes Haitian literature, art, and culture. Fred Lafortune is among the best known Haitian poets of the new generation. His work has been featured in prominant European magazines such as Il Convivio (in Italy), Le Manoir des poètes, and Art et Poésie. Fred has had the unique opportunity to be interviewed for his literary contributions by renouned journalist Guillaume Truilhé on channel CT2E ; la Chaine de Télévision Toulousaine et Européenne. Fred’s publications include a collection of poemes called En nulle autre (No One Else), and an anthology comprised of contemporary Haitian writers titled Cahier Haïti.

In 2007, Fred was invited to Paris by the French Society of Poets (SPF) for his literary accomplishments. In March of 2009, Fred Edson Lafortune was reinvited to France as an honerary guest by the « Salon du Livre de Paris » for the signing of his book « En nulle autre » and also for an in depth presentation of his anthology Cahier Haïti. Fred‘s work as a Haitian poet and writer has been explored by students at Lehman College in New York under the direction of the Director of francophone literature, Thomas Spear Phd .

Fred currently resides in Rhode Island (USA ) with his wife Joanne and daughter Grace – Victoria. He is the host of the popular radio show Echo Culture on 87.7 fm every Saturday (6hrs -8hrs, eastern time).

An n al Lazil (Book signing event)

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An n al Lazil


To be released in December 2013, “An n al Lazil” is Fred Edson Lafortune’s next major publication from Trilingual Press. Stay tuned, more information is coming soon

Obama Visits Prison Where Mandela Was Jailed


Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama toured the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was held on Robben Island, South Africa, on Sunday. The prison is now a monument in honor of Mr. Mandela.

By 

CAPE TOWN — In the foreword to Nelson Mandela’s 2010 book of letters, President Obama wrote that “even when little sunlight shined into that Robben Island cell, he could see a better future — one worthy of sacrifice.”

On Sunday, Mr. Obama stood in that same, tiny prison cell — now a monument to Mr. Mandela, South Africa’s first black president — and showed his wife and two daughters the place where Mr. Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years during his long campaign to end the policies of racial apartheid and oppression in his country.

Later, Mr. Obama again invoked the legacy of Mr. Mandela, 94, who remained in critical condition at a Pretoria, South Africa, hospital, during a speech to the African people he delivered from the University of Cape Town.

In the speech, he called Mr. Mandela the ultimate testament to the process of peaceful change and said his daughters now understood his legacy better. “Seeing them stand within the walls that once surrounded Nelson Mandela, I knew this was an experience they would never forget,” Mr. Obama said.

Using the clan name that many people fondly use to refer to Mr. Mandela, the president said his daughters appreciate “the sacrifices that Madiba and others made for freedom.” Mr. Obama also recalled a speech delivered there by Robert F. Kennedy in June 1966. It was delivered even as Mr. Mandela was beginning his prison term, Mr. Kennedy hailed the push for civil rights in the United States, in South Africa and around the world.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance,” Mr. Kennedy said.

The symbolism of Mr. Obama’s visit was impossible to miss: America’s first black president, whose wife is a descendant of African slaves, said this week that he might not have been elected were it not for Mr. Mandela’s ability to endure imprisonment and emerge to take power without bitterness or recrimination.

In a visitor’s book in a prison courtyard, Mr. Obama wrote that his family was “humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield.”

“The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island,” he added, “who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”

For Mr. Obama, the visit to Robben Island, just off Cape Town, was part of an African trip that has been overshadowed to some extent by concerns about Mr. Mandela’s health. Instead of visiting the former leader, Mr. Obama chose to meet instead with Mr. Mandela’s family on Saturday, joining many in this nation who are passing on their prayers for his recovery.

Mr. Obama had been to Robben Island before, as a senator. In his foreword to Mr. Mandela’s book, “Conversations With Myself,” he recalled trying to “transport myself back to those days when President Mandela was still Prisoner 466/64 — a time when the success of his struggle was by no means a certainty.”

He also toured the limestone quarry where Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners were forced to work. Mr. Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, listened as their tour guide, Ahmed Kathrada, a who served prison time with Mr. Mandela, described the area.

Sea birds squawked as Mr. Obama talked to his daughters about the history of the prison island, and of the role it played in the political movement of nonviolence started by Gandhi.

“One thing you guys might not be aware of is that the idea of political nonviolence first took root here in South Africa because Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer here in South Africa,” the president told them. “When he went back to India the principles ultimately led to Indian independence, and what Gandhi did inspired Martin Luther King.”

A few minutes later, Mr. Obama and his family gathered in a small courtyard where Mr. Mandela and other prisoners were forced to work, and where they occasionally played sports. Along one wall stood lattices for grapevines behind which Mr. Mandela, while a prisoner, hid pages of a manuscript that eventually became his first book, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Mr. Kathrada told the president that the pages were smuggled out of the prison. Pointing to a black-and-white photograph of prisoners at work in the courtyard, Mr. Kathrada told the Obamas that guards once took away the prisoners’ hammers and took pictures to show the world that the inmates were only doing light work. The hammers were soon given back, he said.

The Obamas crowded into the tiny cell overlooking the courtyard where Mr. Mandela spent nearly two decades. Inside the sterile, cinder block cell was a toilet, a thin mattress with pillows and a brown blanket. A single window looking into the courtyard has thick, white bars, matching the ones on the door to the cellblock’s hallway.

Mr. Obama lingered in the cell by himself. Photographers captured the moment as he stared out past the bars to the bright blue sky and sun shining down on the courtyard. He made no comments as he joined his family.

In his speech in Cape Town a few hours later, Mr. Obama announced plans to embrace the new sense of optimism about Africa’s future by creating American programs to help its nations develop more sustainable food programs, better health care networks and more reliable power grids.

He said the United States would invest $9 billion to help double the access to reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. “The world will be watching what decisions you make. The world will be watching what you do,” Mr. Obama said. “My bet is on the young people who are the heartbeat of Africa’s story. I’m betting on all of you.”

The president leaves Cape Town on Monday morning for a day in Tanzania before heading home to Washington on Tuesday.

White House officials have declined to comment about whether Mr. Obama’s travel schedule will change in the event of Mr. Mandela’s death. But it is widely expected that the president would return to South Africa for the funeral.

South Africans are preparing themselves for that moment, with impromptu gatherings in front of Mr. Mandela’s home and at the hospital where he is being treated.

At a dinner with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa on Saturday night, Mr. Obama recited from the 19th-century poem “Invictus” that Mr. Mandela would read to other Robben Island prisoners.

“It matters not how strait the gate/How charged with punishments the scroll,” Mr. Obama read. “I am the master of my fate:/I am the captain of my soul.”

South African news media coverage of Mr. Mandela’s illness on Sunday focused on a bitter feud among Mr. Mandela’s family, which has become divided on where the former president should be buried.

On Friday, 16 members of the Mandela family initiated a lawsuit against Mr. Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, accusing him of secretly exhuming the remains of three of Mr. Mandela’s children in 2011 as part of a ruse to shift the family graveyard closer to his home.

Court documents cited in Sunday’s newspapers contained claims that the ancestral spirits of the Mandela family had been disturbed by the bodies’ removal, which was in turn contributing to Mr. Mandela’s suffering.

In a statement released on Sunday morning, Mandla Mandela said he would contest the lawsuit in court.

 

Source: The New York Times

 

 

Learning life in the lab


011013_CHELSEA_605Main

High school students from Chelsea tried their hands at a little genetic engineering last Thursday, in a lab exercise at Harvard’s Science Center that first coaxed bacteria to produce a red fluorescent protein, and then harvested the material.

The group of about 15 students carefully followed steps outlined on the blackboard by research assistant Alia Qatarneh. In the process, they completed the Amgen-Bruce Wallace Biotechnology Lab Program, an eight-lab biotechnology course supported by the Harvard Life Sciences Outreach Program and funded by the Amgen Foundation.

“For over a decade, the Outreach Program has shared the technology of our teaching labs [with area schools] through class visits to campus,” said Robert Lue, outreach program director and professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology. “The Amgen program gives us another way to package technology with curriculum in a manner that brings it to the schools. The bidirectional combination of approaches maximizes the beneficial impact of Harvard’s resources in the life sciences.”

The course is made available to high schools around the state. The Outreach Program provides instructions for eight labs and lends the schools kits that include $20,000 in chemicals and equipment that many schools couldn’t otherwise afford, such as centrifuges, hot water baths, and thermal cyclers (also known as PCR machines, for polymerase chain reaction) that amplify DNA.

“The class would not be happening at Chelsea High School without this program,” said Melissa Puopolo, a science teacher at the school.

“I don’t have a centrifuge,” she said. Having access to “the equipment is huge; the PCR machine is really expensive.”

The biotech outreach effort has proven popular, according to Tara Bennett, the program manager. In its first two years, it has served 5,000 students in 50 schools across the state, from Yarmouth on Cape Cod to Lee along the New York state border. What that means, however, is that the kits can be loaned out for just three weeks at a time. Because Chelsea had to return the kit before finishing the final lab, the students traveled to Harvard to complete it.

“It is a tight schedule,” Bennett said. “These are big-ticket items whose cost is preventing teachers from introducing students to the [biotechnology] equipment.”

The processes used in Thursday’s lab are standard in biotechnology, Bennett said, and can be used to get bacteria to produce biological products such as the red fluorescent protein — which is used to tag other molecules so scientists can track them — or important therapeutic substances such as insulin.

Chelsea High School students Bahiya Nasuuna (left) and Jolena Gonzalez perform lab work with RFP-expressing bacteria inside Harvard’s Science Center.

The students learn that science is sometimes messy and that experiments don’t always turn out as planned. In the labs, Puopolo said, students get hands-on experience that could give them a leg up in college or even help them land a biotech job out of high school.

“They can say … ‘I can work with DNA or pour gels,’ ” Puopolo said. “There are so many jobs in biotech in the area.”

Neris Yanes, a junior at Chelsea High, said she liked the lab work because it allowed her to participate rather than just listen. Bahiya Nasuuna, a senior, enjoyed the clear steps outlined in the lab and said science may be in her future.

“Science is my favorite subject. I definitely want to pursue it in college,” Nasuuna said.

Tony Morrisson: Good, but never simple


120612_Morrison_380

Toni Morrison silenced the audience in Sanders Theatre on Thursday afternoon, not with one of her own stories, but with a tragic tale from real life.

The author, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993, recounted the “mindless horror” of the 2006 murder of five Amish girls in a one-room Pennsylvania schoolhouse by a gunman who then committed suicide, and the shocking reaction to the tragedy. Instead of demanding vengeance, the community comforted the killer’s widow and children.

Their behavior “seemed to me at the time characteristic of genuine goodness, and so I became fascinated, even then, with the term and its definition,” Morrison said. Above all it was the community’s silence, its refusal “to be lionized, televised,” she added, “that caused me to begin to think a little bit differently about goodness as it applies to the work I do.”

Morrison expanded on the theme of goodness for the Harvard Divinity School’s (HDS) 2012 Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality. In a talk titled “Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination,” she explored how authors illuminate concepts of good and evil. She also examined the treatment of goodness in her own novels.

“Expressions of goodness are never trivial in my work, they are never incidental in my writing. In fact, I want them to have life-changing properties and to illuminate decisively the moral questions embedded in the narrative,” she said.

“It was important to me that none of these expressions of goodness be handled as comedy or irony, and they are seldom mute. Allowing goodness its own speech does not annihilate evil, but it does allow me to signify my own understanding of goodness: the acquisition of self-knowledge. A satisfactory or good ending for me is when the protagonist learns something vital and morally insightful and mature that she or he did not know at the beginning.”

A true exploration of goodness demands a thorough examination of its opposite, Morrison argued. The author, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, said that she has never “been impressed by evil,” and that she is “confounded by how attractive it is to others and stunned by the attention given to its every whisper, its every shout.”

“Evil has a blockbuster audience,” she said, “goodness lurks backstage.”

With a few notable exceptions, the 19th-century novel made sure goodness triumphed in the end. Writers such as Dickens, Austen, and Hardy mostly held to a formula that left their readers turning the final page “with the sense of the restoration of order and the triumph of virtue.”

But there was a “rapid, stark” shift away from such endings in the wake of World War I, as writers confronted a catastrophe “too wide, too deep to ignore or to distort with a simplistic gesture of goodness.” In Faulkner’s “A Fable,” which tells of trench warfare between German and American forces, “evil grabs the intellectual platform and all of its energy,” said Morrison.

Goodness hasn’t fared well since. Through portrayals of grief, melancholy, missed chances, and personal happiness, authors depict their versions of evil. “It hogs the stage,” said Morrison. “Goodness sits in the audience and watches, assuming it even has a ticket to the show.

“Many of late and early 20th-century heavyweights – Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth – are masters of exposing the frailties, the pointlessness, and the comedy of goodness,” she added.

But in Morrison’s work virtue is a force, and it takes various forms, including the instinctual form of a mother desperate to save her child.  In “A Mercy” (2008), which revolves around slavery in the United States in the late 1600s, one of the main characters gives her child away to a stranger in order to save her.

The mother’s compelling motive, “seems to me quite close to altruism, and most importantly is given language,” said Morrison, “which I hoped would be a profound and literal definition of freedom.”

For the past three months, members of the Harvard community have met weekly at HDS to explore the religious dimensions of Morrison’s writings. The working group was convened by Harvard’s Davíd Carrasco (pictured) and Stephanie Paulsell.

In the mother’s words, Morrison read: “To be given dominion over another is a hard thing. To wrest, or take dominion over another is a wrong thing. To give dominion of yourself to another is an evil thing.”

Many in the crowd arrived well prepared. For the past three months, members of the Harvard community have met weekly at HDS to explore the religious dimensions of Morrison’s writings. The working group, convened byDavid Carrasco, Harvard’s Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America, and Stephanie Paulsell, Houghton Professor of the Practice of Ministry Studies, brought together scholars from across the University.

Earlier Thursday the group met for the final time, with Morrison in attendance. “We are grateful to Toni Morrison for creating this extraordinary body of work,” said Paulsell. “We could swim and swim in it for several more semesters and never reach its depth.”

The guest of honor was ready to engage with an eager group that included avid readers and fans. In response to one question, Morrison expanded on the intersection of the divine and the human. “This is really what art is for … whether it’s music, or writing, or dance … that’s what it does in the best of times.”

Source:

Harvard Gazette

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