Ann Patchett

Contributed by John Menier

8232Listed by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2012, Ann Patchett is a true woman of letters: novelist, essayist, anthologist, and co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville. Patchett is also a frequent and accomplished public speaker, noted for her anecdotes about the literary life, her insights into the creative process, and her wry wit.

One of Patchett’s favorite topics is the ever-changing relationship between readers and books. As an example she cites her own evolution reading (and re-reading) the works of John Updike, Leo Tolstoy, Pearl Buck, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others, noting that “the books don’t change, but we do.” Put another way, the reader’s evaluation of a particular book is shaped as much by the reader’s life experience and circumstances as by the work’s innate qualities. As such our appreciation (or lack thereof) for a particular title may change over time, but the consistent commonality among the books we treasure is that they never fail to evoke a strong response. Patchett believes the writer’s primary task is to elicit that response by inviting the reader to become an active participant in their story.

Patchett’s approach to the reading public is refreshingly un-elitist. She stresses the importance of what she calls “gateway drugs,” books of dubious literary worth that may encourage readers to explore other authors and genres. She applauds the success of “trashy” pop novels such as “Fifty Shades of Gray” and “Twilight,” no matter their pedigree, for their role in re-vitalizing book sales and energizing the publishing community. What matters most to Patchett as both author and bookstore owner is that the reading habit is fostered and encouraged, and in that endeavor, there’s no place for snobbery.

Click here to watch An Evening with Ann Patchett

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The Dalai Lama at UC San Diego

8232It seems fitting that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama should deliver both a public talk and the Commencement keynote address at UC San Diego. His Holiness claims a special affinity for educators and for young people, whom he characterizes as the ones who shape the future; in his view each generation has the opportunity – indeed, the responsibility – to remake the world for the better and to redefine our place in it. Throughout his public life the Dalai Lama has extolled the nexus formed by mind, body, and spirit, stressing that to nurture one is to nurture the others, and that all are essential to lead a fulfilled life. To this end His Holiness is a strong advocate for universal and well-rounded education, and in particular believes that an understanding of the sciences is essential for safeguarding our planet’s health. (He was one of the first world leaders to warn of the dangers of climate change and the need for swift action, on both individual and societal levels.)

The Dalai Lama maintains that the true goal of a fulfilled life is happiness expressed through inner peace. Many Westerners view Tibetan Buddhism as a philosophy that emphasizes asceticism, but the Dalai Lama’s message eschews an isolated, purely contemplative “sackcloth and ashes” approach in favor of one that couples active engagement with the world with a realization that true happiness is not materially based. Rather, it comes from an optimistic outlook, good deeds, and above all, love, tolerance and compassion rooted in the acceptance of our interconnectedness through our shared humanity. Achieving this inner peace is never easy, and His Holiness acknowledges the difficulties when he tells the graduates, “Now you have completed your study period, now you begin another lifestyle – work: not easy; life will not be easy. Determination, willpower, optimism are very essential.”

Watch:

Embracing the Beauty of Diversity in Our World – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

UC San Diego Commencement 2017 with The Dalai Lama

For more programs with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama click here.

The Mind and Methods of V.S. Ramachandran

8232In the first chapter of his book, Phantoms in the Brain, premier neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran quotes Sherlock Holmes: “I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routines of everyday life.”

It was this “Sherlock Holmes” aspect of science and medicine – of exploring the unusual and figuring out how things work – that ultimately led to Ramachandran’s successful career in neurology. When he first began to study neurology, the brain was largely unchartered territory. Why is it that some people see colors when they smell certain aromas? Why is it that some people can still feel their fingertips – even when their hands are missing? For Ramachandran, a lifetime of mysteries was waiting to be solved.

As a child growing up in India and Thailand, Ramachandran loved the beautiful simplicity of scientific experiments. Put an iron nail in a blue solution of copper sulfate, and iron becomes copper – like magic! As a neurologist, Ramachandran continued to embrace a low-tech and elegant approach to scientific study whenever possible. When one of his patients still felt the painfully-clenched fist of his severed hand, Ramachandran used a mirror to fool the patient into seeing his missing hand and the patient was then able to unclench it and feel relief.

Ramachandran explains the “grandmother test” to UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler: “If an elaborate theory can not predict what your grandmother knows using common sense, then it isn’t worth much.” Thus, the litmis test of a well-constructed experiment is two-fold: first, it should be simple enough to easily explain it to your grandmother so that she understands it; and second, she should say “Wow!” If it’s too complicated to explain and it doesn’t interest her, then try again.

Learn more about the incredible work of V.S. Ramachandran in our video archive of his work and lectures. New programs feature discussions on neurolology and our questions of self, along with an interview with UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler. From mystical sensory experiences, to phantom limbs, to art – go inside the mind with Ramachandran.

Browse all programs in the V.S. Ramachandran video archive.

New Series Explores the Spread of HIV in Tijuana

8232Every once in awhile, we work on a project that touches our soul. Such is the case of HIV/SIDA, a four-part series that brought us in contact with people whose paths we otherwise would not have crossed.

In the two years of field reporting, we saw many acts of kindness — the glamorous physician who washes the feet of Tijuana’s poor, the compassionate medical student who worries about a sex worker’s UTI, the transgender woman who overcomes her fear of mockery and reveals her HIV status, the ex-heroin addict who walks the Tijuana River Canal, urging residents to protect themselves by using clean needles, and the Tijuana cop who is teaching his fellow police officers to see addiction as a sickness, not a crime. These are among many featured in this series HIV/SIDA: The Epidemic in Tijuana.

We’ll show you what UC San Diego researchers and others are doing to stop the spread of HIV and how those most affected by the epidemic are coping under difficult conditions. And, we’ll share some of our favorite moments of empathy, moments of hope for humanity, the kind that stick with you, long after the reporting is done.

Watch HIV/SIDA: The Epidemic in Tijuana.

Submitted by Shannon Bradley, UCTV Producer of HIV/SIDA: The Epidemic in Tijuana

Pay Attention – New Documentary Features UCSD's Stuart Collection

8232

An eternal question: What is “public art?”

The definition of public art continues to evolve, but at its most basic level public art can be defined as “work created by artists for places accessible to and used by the public.” In other words, there’s no velvet rope ‘twixt the art and the patron. It’s worth noting that the art/public art field distinguishes between “public art” and “art in public places.” The former term implies a contextual, often collaborative approach to the creation of art that takes the site and other local factors into account, while the focus of the latter is on the art itself, not where it will be sited. Put another way, “public art” is site-specific, or designed for a particular environment – for instance, a university campus.

“UCSD may not have a football team, but it does have the Stuart Collection.”
– A UC San Diego student

Established in 1982 by retired businessman James Stuart DeSilva, the Stuart Collection of public art at UC San Diego is unique in several respects:

Commissioned Works

Whereas other collections – for example, UCLAs Murphy Sculpture Garden – consist of acquisitions, all works in the Stuart Collection are commissioned; prominent contemporary artists are invited to survey the campus and develop proposals based on their site selection. Proposals are reviewed and approved by an Advisory Board, and most of the works are constructed on-site rather than in a studio.

Self-Funded

The Collection also differs in its funding model. Other collections, such as the J. Michael Bishop Art Collection at UCSF Mission Bay, typically rely on a percentage of construction budgets (1% is common) allocated for public art, but the Stuart Collection is entirely self-funded by grants and donations.

Variety of Forms

An unusual emphasis on variety is another hallmark of the Stuart Collection. Unlike a conventional sculpture garden the works span a variety of forms, materials, genres, etc., and are often “one of a kind” in relation to the artist’s body of work. As the pieces are varied, so too are the artists themselves, ranging from painters (Elizabeth Murray) to installation artists (Nam June Paik) to composers (John Luther Adams). Several of the artists who’ve created pieces for the Collection are not otherwise known for public art (John Baldessari, William Wegman, Terry Allen).

However varied in their form and function, all of the pieces in the Stuart Collection share a common goal. They don’t proselytize or attempt to define “good art” but, in the words of artist Bruce Nauman, they do ask the viewer to “pay attention,” to regard their familiar environment in a different way and, in the process, perhaps see themselves in a new way as well.

Watch Pay Attention: The Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, then browse more programs that explore UCSD’S Stuart Collection.