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Showing posts from October 20, 2019

Prizes and prophets: against all prizes in the arts and sciences

When I was in the second grade, a now dim tidelet of a memory, a weak link over the cholesterol and the neural network, the teacher gave us all a challenge. We were supposed to write down every book we read. At the end of the school year, the person with the most books on the list would get a prize. I can’t remember what the prize was – a pencil sharpener? A gold star? Whatever. Well, at the end of the year I had the most books. So I won the prize. And was congratulated by my parents, too. But what I still remember was how sheepish I felt. Because many of the books I wrote on my list were only half read. I was being, in a word that I didn’t know back then, “aspirational”. Perhaps it was that experience that soured me on the whole prize biz. Although perhaps it is because I am not a prize winner. I haven’t won a prize since second grade – it has been a prizeless life. And I have long been puzzled by the whole prize economy. Like, here’s my questions: what is a prize, how did it c