Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is British, works as a medical examiner for the New York Police Department, and likes scarves and classical music. Oh, he is also immortal and utterly clueless why.
Fear not, this is not a spoiler to the show and not even to its pilot as the first episode begins with Morgan’s words about his “first death” two centuries ago. Since then he hasn’t aged a day, maintaining the look of a man in his mid to late thirties and has never died. Well, actually he has died many times but always came back to life within seconds and without a scratch. Having presented that brief statement about his “condition” – as he calls it – Dr. Morgan assures us that we know as much about it as he himself does. What follows is the unraveling of the first clues about a mysteriously emerging opponent – dangerous and unpredictable.
The limits of my language
mean the limits
of my world.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Does time only flow in a continuum? Does a sentence have to contain a verb? The answer to the first question hasn’t been definitively answered. The answer to the second one is definitely no. Both play a role in the science fiction movie Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
For once, the U.S. government doesn’t bomb first and ask questions later. When aliens arrive, they send the linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try to solve the mystery of their language so that peaceful communication can take place. This is where my little geeky language heart starts to beat faster. Concepts such as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the correlation between language and worldview), logograms (symbols standing for words and not a single sound), and palindromes (words reading the same backwards and forwards) are used. The movie does an excellent job explaining these concepts so that non-linguists understand and linguists don’t get bored.
Recently, I read a highly acclaimed novel written by Lisa Genova, a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Her first book, Still Alice (2009), chronicles the descent into Alzheimer’s of Dr. Alice Howland, the eminent William James Professor of Psychology at Harvard. Reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Lisa Genova pens a touching, highly accurate, and gripping account of the effects of dementia on the body, mind, and spirit.
Several years after a catastrophic event has destroyed all of America’s – and maybe the whole world’s – flora and fauna, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are on a desperate journey through this barren, cold, and gray new world. They are led by a vague shimmer of hope that there might still be a better place somewhere. “We have to keep carrying the fire,” the father tries to motivate his young son, who has seen real plants and animals only in his ragged picture book. Here and there, the morbid silent solitude is disturbed by something far worse – bands of surviving humans, just as much on the verge of starvation as father and son and, to make things worse, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
The 1990s rang in an – if not the – era of memoir writing. Since then, memoir publications have surged and with them their readership as well as the sound of cash registers ringing up sale after sale. One reason for their popularity can be traced back to the postmodern questioning of the very foundation upon which non-fiction was based: the concept of an infallible truth. This development, combined with the rise of social media and the willingness of people to share their intimate details with everyone, has provided fertile ground for many people of all backgrounds. Yes, academics as well as average people with little or no professional training as writers do try their hand at this ever-growing subgenre of creative non-fiction. And who can blame them? Why not write something for yourself, your family and friends as well as posterity, especially if history or mainstream society has ignored, silenced, or misrepresented you? And while there are a lot of trashy, gossipy, or unfaithful memoirs, the public as well as critics and scholars are starting to agree that memoir – if done with true honesty, voice, and a dose of creativity – can be just as powerful and masterful as the best fiction writing. So, to the autobiography I would say: “Move over bacon, there is something meatier!” And its name is memoir.