surrealistic Belgium

Phillipe, our tour guide, said “Belgium is surrealistic” in reference to the language alliance of the German-speaking population in the east with the French-speakers of the south. Belgium, he explained, is “a small country with complicated problems.” The majority language speakers of Dutch are the Flemish in the north. I will need to devote a single blog entry concerning what I have learned about these language dynamics to date – I think I have enough to sketch an outline of the main discourses. (We’ll see!)
Meanwhile, I put most of my energy towards my new colleagues. What a fascinating lot! You may guess I gravitated toward Colin (“metaheuristics”) and Jared (“neurogenesis”) immediately. 🙂 Colin’s description of metaheuristics as a huge simplified abstraction of simple rules applied to a population which then generates complex interactions put me immediately in mind of Asimov’s “human conglomerate.” Jared’s work on bird brains led to a comment that there are now two known areas of the brain that produce new cells throughout life: the subverticular zone (responsible for smell) and a region above the hippocampus engaged with memory. What better start to this research project than optimization forces and new cells in the brain?
Bill, who is here to teach about the color line in American literature, said there is no other approach for addressing matters of race/ism than “to start with the present and proceed to the past.” (I want to take his class!) He really got me excited later, inquiring about this blog (!), when he described the inevitability of a diurnal narrative structure emerging with and without the writer’s conscious intentions. Yes! Indeed this is what I have grasped (over five long years and a lot of nudging from friends to present my thinking in a more organized fashion) and – hopefully – put into deliberate motion with the three new categories linkable from the cutesy flash animation (above). How much force/creation can be generated is a function of participation/response (so it seems to me). I am in agreement with Bill that one can only begin with the present. I am hopeful the past can help us learn how to make choices toward more preferred futures (presuming some agreement can be forged on a vision).
Vanja and I compared notes concerning our respective “Institutional Review Boards” processes in order to receive authorization for “human subjects research.” I received varying advice on approaching the Members of the European Parliament. One person is convinced response rates will be low. :-/ Jen suggested I follow ‘chains’ of connections by developing each contact slowly and deliberately. Meanwhile, I’m still hoping to find people to translate a few more of the initial invitations so that I can approach MEPs in their official national language. It’s just a hunch (as is most of this action research project), but I’m thinking I might up the percentage of interest just a nib by making this gesture. We’ll see!
Zac “The Architect”, Cathleen, and Kathy “The Medievalist” had an interesting conversation about the differences between studying the work of live persons (or those who lived recently enough that people who knew them in person are still alive) and studying those long dead. Is it really true that one can define clearer boundaries about a past subject than about a more current one? I’m not sure. I do know that I’m grappling with the liveliness of my own subject , its “superfluidity” to use Zac’s term, and have struggled to impose a boundary of location and membership (the European Parliament and its current Members), as well as to define the locus of study on MEPs discourses concerning the choices they make in terms of which language to speak, when and why, and how the attitudes revealed or exposed by these discourses establish a certain frame of reference in relation to interpretation. What is/are those frames, and how do they establish behavioral rituals that instruct (by example), thus limiting and enabling potentials of communication across cultural/linguistic differences?
Cathy’s artist of study, Marcel Broodthaers, kinda seems like a guy right up my alley (not necessarily an ally – so many people read my business card mistakenly! I guess ally is either not much in favor or largely unused.) He is famous among Belgians for his mussel pottery. Cathy described how some of his work “pretends to teach” and that he interspersed text in his work in an anti-modernist way . . . there was something she said about his use of space that I’d like to understand better. Later, on the tour, Phillipe explained that symmetry in buildings was a feature to emerge during the Renaissance in the 16th century. It had never occurred to me before that symmetry was not always a desirable geometry, or at least a frame of reference anchoring artistic deviations!
We’re all waiting to witness Alyssa in action, meanwhile I was reminded of the incredible cello performance I saw in Northampton some years ago – dang, can’t find a blogpost about it! – when they surrounded us with forty or more cellos and played deep and low like whale song. Still gives me shivers! Finally, Caitlin has also carved out a language-related project. I may even have a lead for her! 🙂
When I got home yesterday evening, my host and I had a long conversation about the day and all its learnings, ending with a bit of collaborative poetry:

You like to fiddle in the margins,” she said.
It’s about the language,” said I.
And framing,” she replied, “is the other melody.”

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