ASU to host literary 'counterfeiter' in reading series


November 5, 2013

The writer Michael Martone is perhaps best recognized for his book titled … well: “Michael Martone.”

Not quite the same as a musical artist’s self-titled first album, this writer’s eighth book of fiction is comprised of a series of surreal and absurd contributor’s notes – false, mini-biographies. Michael Martone Download Full Image

“Rather than telling stories, I’m more interested in discovering how different kinds of prose can be fictive,” said Martone.

Martone will read selections from his work at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 13, in the Memorial Union room 202 on ASU’s Tempe campus. The reading is free of charge and open to the public. It is part of the Department of English’s MFA Reading Series, hosted by English’s creative writing program and co-sponsored by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, all units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU.

Martone's most recent books are “Four for a Quarter,” “Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fiction from the Flyover,” “Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins,” a collection of essays, and “Double-wide,” his collected early stories. His stories and essays have appeared and been cited in the Pushcart Prize, “The Best American Stories” and “The Best American Essays” anthologies.

Martone has a talent for recontextualizing established forms and smashing them wide open, as seen in one of his earlier books, “The Blue Guide to Indiana,” a brilliantly disguised faux travel guide, which, to this day, finds its home on book store shelves in the travel section. “I’m more of a counterfeiter than a storyteller,” said Martone.

The author is bent on acting as a literary trickster, continually questioning conventional forms and blurring the boundaries between genres to shake up his audiences. “My job as an artist is to confuse categories,” said Martone, “to open states of wonder, surprise and bafflement for the reader. (We) don’t make something new out of nothing – (we) take things we already know and rearrange them to create a new perspective.”

Currently, Martone is working on several projects, one of which is titled “Winesburg, Indiana,” described by the author as a “hybrid of an anthology and a parody of the memoir.” Martone is branching out into science fiction as well, with another work set in Indiana, called “Amish in Space.” The author is also chipping away at two additional creative nonfiction projects: “The Complete Writings of Art Smith: The Bird Boy of Indiana, Edited by Michael Martone,” a work centering around the authentic pioneer of sky-writing, and “Philo in Fort Wayne,” which illustrates the bizarre career of the inventor of television, Philo T. Farnsworth. “I’ve never written a novel,” commented Martone, “but I have done books.”

Martone’s wry sense of humor and prolific prose characterize his trickster persona and aid him in reconfiguring conventional forms to continually offer readers something they’ve never seen before. He could be described as a sort of wizard of literature, but Martone says that it’s the up-and-coming generation of writers who really have the potential to change the game.

“(My generation) saw the computer as just a souped-up typewriter, but today’s students recognize its true potential and are chomping at the bit to see what it can really do,” said Martone. “In about 1980, students in universities were taught to write stories with narrative realism, modeled after authors like Hemingway. They were told, ‘This is the type of story all writers ought to be able to write,’ but recently I’ve noticed a change: students are saying, ‘No, no, no, it’s all up for grabs,’ and they’re figuring out how to use the computer artistically after 20 or 30 years of suppression.”

Martone is keenly aware of the way in which the industry of literature is changing in the 21st century, noting that in his fiction workshop courses at the University of Alabama, he instructs his students to compose using their iPhones, to begin thinking differently as a new generation of writers. “Reader, editor, writer and publisher all used to be static positions, but not anymore,” said Martone. “More and more, people are doing it all.” The boundaries of the literary world are starting to overlap in the same way Martone is working to blur the lines of genre in his own work.

“You never hear poets saying, ‘This is a fictional poem or a nonfictional poem,’” Martone said. “They’re all just poems. Literary criticism is only about sorting and division – it’s our duty as artists to attack that tendency; to mess things up.”

For more information about the MFA Reading Series, please visit: http://english.clas.asu.edu/mfareadingseries

Written by Jake Adler

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

ASU scientists discover that ants, like humans, can change their priorities


November 5, 2013

All animals have to make decisions every day. Where will they live and what will they eat? How will they protect themselves? They often have to make these decisions as a group, too, turning what may seem like a simple choice into a far more nuanced process. So, how do animals know what’s best for their survival?

For the first time, Arizona State University researchers have discovered that at least in ants, animals can change their decision-making strategies based on experience. They can also use that experience to weigh different options. Ants exploring a nest while deciding which is the best choice. Download Full Image

The findings are featured today in the early online edition of the scientific journal Biology Letters, as well as in its Dec. 23 edition.

Co-authors Taka Sasaki and Stephen Pratt, both with ASU’s School of Life Sciences, have studied insect collectives, such as ants, for years. Sasaki, a postdoctoral research associate, specializes in adapting psychological theories and experiments that are designed for humans to ants, hoping to understand how the collective decision-making process arises out of individually ignorant ants.

“The interesting thing is we can make decisions and ants can make decisions – but ants do it collectively,” said Sasaki. “So how different are we from ant colonies?”

To answer this question, Sasaki and Pratt gave a number of Temnothorax rugatulus ant colonies a series of choices between two nests with differing qualities. In one treatment, the entrances of the nests had varied sizes, and in the other, the exposure to light was manipulated. Since these ants prefer both a smaller entrance size and a lower level of light exposure, they had to prioritize.

“It’s kind of like a humans and buying a house,” said Pratt, an associate professor with the school. “There’s so many options to consider – the size, the number of rooms, the neighborhood, the price, if there’s a pool. The list goes on and on. And for the ants it’s similar, since they live in cavities that can be dark or light, big or small. With all of these things, just like with a human house, it’s very unlikely to find a home that has everything you want.”

Pratt continued to explain that because it is impossible to find the perfect habitat, ants make various tradeoffs for certain qualities, ordering them in a queue of most important aspects. But, when faced with a decision between two different homes, the ants displayed a previously unseen level of intelligence.

According to their data, the series of choices the ants faced caused them to reprioritize their preferences based on the type of decision they faced. Ants that had to choose a nest based on light level prioritized light level over entrance size in the final choice. On the other hand, ants that had to choose a nest based on entrance size ranked light level lower in the later experiment.

This means that, like people, ants take the past into account when weighing options while making a choice. The difference is that ants somehow manage to do this as a colony without any dissent. While this research builds on groundwork previously laid down by Sasaki and Pratt, the newest experiments have already raised more questions.

“You have hundreds of these ants, and somehow they have to reach a consensus,” Pratt said. “How do they do it without anyone in charge to tell them what to do?”

Pratt likened individual ants to individual neurons in the human brain. Both play a key role in the decision-making process, but no one understands how every neuron influences a decision.

Sasaki and Pratt hope to delve deeper into the realm of ant behavior so that one day, they can understand how individual ants influence the colony. Their greater goal is to apply what they discover to help society better understand how humanity can make collective decisions with the same ease ants display.

“This helps us learn how collective decision-making works and how it’s different from individual decision-making,” said Pratt. “And ants aren’t the only animals that make collective decisions – humans do, too. So maybe we can gain some general insight.”

Media contact:
Sandy Leander, sandra.leander@asu.edu
480-965-9865

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine

480-727-1233