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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Dark Side of Alan Lightman: The Diagnosis

Alan Lightman is a person who works with both sides of his brain. Not only does he hold a doctorate in theoretical astrophysics, he has also published two novels, most recently The Diagnosis (2000) and the earliest Einstein’s Dream (1993). Currently, he is an adjunct professor of the humanities at MIT and has also lectured and taught physics.

Lightman’s lecture, sponsored by the UMB English Department, took place on December 5, where he answered questions students put forth by students on the meaning behind his books and questions about the creative process itself.

What Lightman brings to the literary table is different from most authors who seek to entertain. Mainly, he wants to leave the reader thinking. “A good novel is one that does not have answers.” He went on to describe essays as being the best vehicle for getting a view across, if that was the writer’s intention. Lightman’s background in the sciences, grouped with his creative capabilities, has brought a certain aesthetic quality and attention to detail where he has more emphasis on structure than most.

“A good novel is one where I’m haunted. I’m left in that state. I keep going back to that novel. I aspire more to the second than the first.”

In 1974, Lightman started writing poetry for small literary magazines. The year 1981 saw him make his way into publishing essays on the “human” side of science. From there, he went on to publish short stories and reviews in magazines like The Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, and Boston Review. His novel, The Diagnosis, was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award in fiction.

He went on to expound on the nature of contemporary literature ,citing that most of it was meant to entertain, neither a bad or good thing but adequate in fulfilling that particular purpose.

Lightman writes every day and calls it, “a very solitary life.” Each summer, he retreats to an island in Maine to unwind and “unplug,” as he refers to it. Immersed as he is in some very technical aspects of his discipline, even he feels the need to get away from it all. Lightman escapes in the rush in another way by avoiding the use of a cellular phones and e-mail.

His latest work, The Diagnosis, according to Lightman’s website features, “Bill Chalmers, a junior executive in Boston, [who] realizes that he cannot remember where he is going or even who he is. All he remembers is the motto of his company: ” ‘the maximum information in the minimum time.’ ” Lightman’s work is best described as having a technology obsession with a social focus and asks the question, “Does faster, better, and more exact technology increase social progress?”

About the Contributor
MiMi Yeh served as arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003; 2003-2004 *Evan Sicuranza served as arts editor for Fall 2002 Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.