HTLGI2014 Breakfast with Jasper Fforde

May 31, 2014

The last day of the festival and I had to grab a quick breakfast.  I thanked my hosts at The Cammarch Hotel for yet another good stay and did a high speed dash down the Wye Valley to make breakfast with Jasper Fforde.   I bought his first book in Sydney simply for the idea of Jurisfiction and I have kept up with everything he had read ever since.  Aside from my love of his imagination there are a few other connections.  A lot of his books are situated in and around North Wiltshire, my son was a contemporary of his son at St John's Marlborough and he has adopted Wales as his country.  In his alternative universe, Wales is portrayed as a dark socialist republic, smuggling cheese into England and still suffering the after effects of its own Vietnam in Patagonia.  Just to wet your appetite further, croquet is the English national sport, played with violence aforethought in the national stadium in Swindon, George Formby as President for life of the English Republic and Miss Havisham is a literary detective who likes to drive fast cars. All of that before I get onto the wonderful use of Kafka in Thursday Next's trial.

Jasper started the day by allowing his fingers to load a camera with film and talked about his use of film in preference to digital.  We had a delightful story of his building his own darkroom in the cupboard under the stairs using a lightbulb painted red and salt as a fixer giving limited cash.  It turns out film sales are going up after their initial decline.  Using film is tricky ,which he thinks may account for its attraction.  I made the wider point about the role of craft, referencing the time it takes for a taxi driver to acquire The Knowledge and the physical changes that happen to their brain over a two year plus period in consequence and the discussion then ranged far and wide.  Some key points that came up:

  • An architect made the point that the current generation of students have little ability with pen and paper, but can think more naturally in three dimensions as a result of their interactions with computers.
  • There was a extended discussion about the need to acquire a skill.  I referenced a discussion about the role of craft in defining what is or is not art from a previous festival.  Mary Midgely (I think) and others argued that simply calling something art without demonstrating craft is dubious, something I agree with.  
  • Jasper made the point that it was ten years before he was good enough to write his first book which raised the whole issue of self-publishing and ebooks.  Liberating in one respect but what does it do for the overall quality of the field? He makes the point about the work publishers do in editing material.
  • At that point (or possibly earlier) I raised the criticality of constraints in complexity theory in general.  Without some degree of constraint nothing evolves.   Thing of the creativity of artists in using operas, plays and books in the face of censorship.  The constraint enabled creativity (think Rigoletto for the opera buffs not to mention Shakespeare).  We need boundaries and crowd sourcing criticism is not good enough, dunning down not rising up.
  • I also raised the issue of tools needing to augment human intelligence not replace it.  So using computer based drawing instruments should be about augmentation and scale, but should it replace a basic ability to use a pencil?  I still sketch screen design and use three coloured fine mapping pens on a moleskin notebook to keep track of meetings and calls.   We need mixed capability and to find ways to retain key skills otherwise we may loose them.

There was a lot more, and I had to leave before it finished to get to a session on Metaphysics on the other side of the Wye.  I gather from a later session that the question of the monetisation of time was raised as one negative aspects of a modern art and craft movement.  More on that in a future post

Great session, needed twice the time and a less time consuming process of getting breakfast!

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