The manufacture of hype bios has taken on the character of a veritable epidemic in the swollen volumes of resumes, obituaries, congratulatory magazine articles, concert programs, and dust jackets of novels (where, however, they may sometimes take a different turn: often the author will be praised for all the menial jobs he held before publishing his first book. As a general rule, for non-fiction texts by scholars, only citations, degrees, prizes and honors are listed).
The caricature portrait that emerges may transmit the dazzling aura of the superman or woman, but he or she is certainly not a human being. The tragedy occurs when such fabrications are taken as a source of true knowledge or insight into the person so described.
This made me curious to see what the result would be if I were to commit to paper a self-portrait listing ,( with some pardonable exaggeration), only my awards, titles, glorious deeds, associations with celebrities and the famous, participations in historic events, in combination with the fatuous things said about me by journalists, friends or admirers at one time or another.
I didn this, and it cannot be denied that the result was impressive. My visceral reaction, of course, was one of extreme embarrassment. Like the victim of a hangover, the construction of my hype bio had to be followed by a "chaser": the debunking bio . To my mind the very enjoyable task of doing the debunking bio has re-adjusted this story of my life into its proper perspective.
The next, gutsier, step would have been to compose the horror bio ; but I will not do so. It is the height of bad taste to flaunt the history of one's crimes and vices.
The paragraphs of the hype bio have been numbered, so that they may be compared with the corresponding paragraphs in the debunking bio. One can either put the numbers in the "Find" function, or read the hype bio in its entirety, followed by the debunking bio.
(2) Not surprising, given his genetic antecedents, Roy Lisker demonstrated, while still a child, a remarkable talent for the plastic arts. This has not been followed up in later life.
(3) Since the age of 10, Lisker has been making waves in both academic and literary worlds. In 1949, owing to a challenge posed by Lisker to his 5th grade teacher, Lisker was skipped into 6th grade. It was there, under the guidance of an inspired teacher, that he discovered his enduring love of mathematics.
More remarkable still, at age ten Lisker had already begun his serious study of textbooks on the Theory of Relativity.
(4) In 1951, his new father was granted a Fulbright scholarship to travel to Madras (now Chinnai) India and gather materials for grammars of the South Indian languages, Tamil and Telegu. He took the whole family, including Roy, Sara, and daughter Carol with him. While living on the estate of the internationally famous dancer Uday Shankar (brother of Ravi Shankar) , Lisker studied the musical instrument known as the Esraj. He also read treatises in musicology such as A.H. Fox Strangeways' "Music of Hindustan", "The Music of India" by H.A. Popley. From studying a treatise by an Indian music theoretician he mastered the mathematical principles of Karnatic (South Indian) music.
Lisker was only 13 when he set out to write his own treatise on the music of India, but had to put it aside when he was sent to the American school in Kodaikanal in the Nilgiri hills of South India.
(5) The school was run by Protestant missionaries. Lisker's abiding respect for all religious traditions derives from his experiences at this school combined with his immersion in the ageless wisdom of India. It was at this school also that, like S.A. Ramanujah in a nearby town in South India, that he began his first researches in abstract algebra. He also taught himself French.
(6) The family returned to Philadelphia in the fall of 1952. In September of 1954, he was taken out of high school and enrolled in a graduate program in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania. The event was picked up by the local newspapers: in the Philadelphia Bulletin of February 27th, 1955, there is a photograph of Lisker standing with a piece of chalk, before a blackboard covered with mathematical symbols. Quote: "Roy Lisker has proved that the age of genius has not passed."
Later that year he was awarded the Class of 1880 prize for "the "best paper presented by a candidate for admission to the course in arts and sciences."
Lisker's entry into higher education was facilitated by the recommendations of Britton Chance, director of the Johnson Foundation for Biophysics and Biochemistry, by Einstein's mathematics secretary , Bruria Kaufman, and by University of Pennsylvania mathematics faculty members Hans Rademacher, Isaac Schoenberg, Emil Grosswald, Murray Gerstenhaeber, Nathan Herstein, and topologist Richard Anderson.
(7) In the summer of 1955, while working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as an applied mathematician in sonar technology, he wrote his first research paper on Number Theory " On the α , β Hypothesis in Additive Number Theory ". It was delivered in July at a conference of the mathematics fraternity Pi Mu Epsilon, held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.
(8) Lisker appeared to be on a fast track to a career in mathematics research and teaching. However in the fall and winter of 1955, following a period of deep soul searching, Roy decided that his life's work would be in the arts, not the sciences. His first choice was music, but it quickly became apparent that his future lay in letters. In fact he has done, and continues to do, distinguished work in all 3 areas.
(9)For three years he immersed himself in world literature, from the epic of Gilgamesh to James Joyce's "Ulysses". His first substantial work dates from 1958, written in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were collections of poetry and short stories based on mythological themes. His studies at Harvard between 1958 and 1960 bore their fruit in plays, more poetry and a series of essays on psychology. In 1960 he left Harvard without taking a degree and returned to Philadelphia.
(10)Back in Philadelphia, Lisker wrote book reviews, compiled texts in undergraduate mathematics, taught in a private school, edited a literary newspaper, and designed greeting cards. He also began an ambitious novel, "Chronicles of Nin"
(11) In 1962 he enrolled again at the University of Pennsylvania to complete his BSc . The novelist Kay Boyle, then artist-in-residence for a year, had been impressed by "The "Chronicles of Nin" and arranged to obtain a scholarship for Lisker to spend the summer at the MacDowell Colony for the Creative Arts in Peterborough, New Hampshire. At that time he was the youngest person ever to receive a scholarship at the MacDowell Colony. The cabin/studio that he was given had been occupied the previous year by James Baldwin.
Kay Boyle personally delivered the manuscript of "Chronicles" to Alfred Knopf, but it proved to be too radical for such a conservative house. Legend has it that Kay totally disrupted a cocktail party at U Penn given in her honor by asserting that Lisker should be made chairman of the English department!
(12) At the MacDowell Colony Lisker met several artists who would be of importance to his later career: composers Leonard Bernstein, Louise Talma and Nicolai Lopatnikov, novelist Mary Lee Settle, poet Robert Sward, and others. The many first class composers at MacDowell that year rekindled his interest in music. The work in music theory that he did at MacDowell was later delivered at a series of lectures given at the famous musical research institution, IRCAM in Paris.
As he was leaving Peterborough to return to the University of Pennsylvania, Louise Talma made this comment: "Roy Lisker was the event of the summer of 1962 at the MacDowell Colony. "
(13) Between 1963 and 1972 Lisker created a modest though impressive body of musical compositions, some of which were published by Editions Max Eschig in 1972 under the title "Treize Etudes pour Guitare".
(14) Musical performance has always been part of Lisker's life. He is by no means a professional on any instrument, yet is good enough, between 1968 and 1994, to have given concerts on both violin and guitar throughout Western Europe and the United States. The money earned from these concerts covered the expenses of his travels.
(15) Lisker graduated from Penn in 1963. He spent the year of 1964 in Philadelphia, studying contemporary music with George Rochberg, Ralph Shapey and Milton Babbitt. He also did some research in problems in the branch of mathematics known as Diophantine Approximation. Before heading on to New York, he spent several months researching a novel about the drug scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(16) Lisker moved to New York City in 1965. Here he threw himself into political activity in connection with the Movement against the war in Vietnam. On November 6th, 1965, in a public gathering in Union Square, New York, Lisker, along with 4 other prominent activists, burned their Selective Service cards as a protest against the draft and the war. A photograph of this event appeared on the front pages of most of New York's newspapers, including the New York Times. This important action would lead to 5 months incarceration in federal penitentiaries in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The trial, held in 1967, was followed by appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, and created a legal precedent: the ACLU had based their defense on the legitimacy, as "symbolic speech", of the destruction of a piece of federal property of no economic value.
Lisker did not begiv serving his sentence until 1972. In the fall of 1966 he returned to Philadelphia. For the next year he prepared and presented two courses on epistemology (physics and psychology) in classrooms rented from the University of Pennslyvania, lectured on the French New Novel at the Ethical Culture Society, studied ear-training and continued his participation in anti-war activities in Philadelphia, New York and Washington. He also prepared for an extended stay in western Europe
(17) Between 1968 and 1972, Lisker lived in Europe, in France for the most part, but also in Ireland. His talent was at last put to work through a regular stream of publications and commissions: 4 of his articles were published in Les Temps Modernes, (magazine of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone deBeauvoir , Andre Gorz and Claude Lanzmann) . A novel satirizing then academic world was published by Editions Rene Julliard: "Je Suis Trop Intelligent, Moi!", Julliard 1972 . He did translations of film scripts by Luis Bunuel (The Monk ) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (Project for a Revolution in New York) . His music was published by Editions Max Eschig: Treize Etudes pour Guitare" , Eschig 1972 . He also wrote lyrics for the theme song of Jacques Tati's film Playtime.During the Cannes festival of 1970 he was employed as the English language editor of a French show business and variety magazine. He In his spare time he created another one of his probing newsletters: The Cannes Festival "IT" . Numerous articles were published in magazines in England and Ireland.
(18) In the fall of 1968 he submitted a paper in epistemology Time, Euclidean Geometry and Relativity to the distinguished philosopher of science, Costa de Beauregard. Owing to this Lisker was admitted as a student at the world famous mathematical physics research institute, the Institute Henri Poincare, for a course of study in Quantum Theory and Relativity.
(19) In the summer of 1972 Roy Lisker returned to the United States to begin serving his sentence for his political activity in 1965. Upon his release from Allenwood Penitentiary in December, 1972, he went to Montreal, Quebec. For two years he produced radio broadcasts with political content for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His documentary on the refugees from the Chilean coup living in Canada was used to pressure the Canadian government into allowing several more to enter the country (The number never exceeded more than a handful). He also organized seminars for the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme .
(20) The years from 1975 to 1979 were spent in Dutchess County in the Hudson Valley. In terms of outlets for his creative work, these years were relatively quiet. Beginning in 1978 his children's play "Kangaroo" was produced in several theaters in the Hudson Valley. Further studies were undertaken at Bard College, quantum theory with Dr. Peter Skiff, musical composition and performance with Luis Garcia-Renart. His fight against arbitrary exclusions and bans at Bard established a legal precedent.
(21) Lisker's next notable publication was his coverage of the Einstein Centennial Symposium, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton , in March 1979. This "conference of the century" was nominally open only to Nobel Prize winners, Einstein's colleagues and friends, officials in the scientific establishment, directors of the National Science Foundation and so forth, but Lisker found a way to be admitted as a journalist. This was very fortunate, as he was the only journalist present at the conference with the requisite background to cover it. The article appeared as the lead article of the issue of Les Temps Modernes of December 1979-January 1980, with the title "In Memoriam Einstein".
(22) In 1980 Lisker returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts for another 2 years. It was here that he established "New Universe Weekly" the first of several newsletters covering topics in science, politics, philosophy, the arts and travel. True to its name, it produced 52 issues in 1980. It then came out on a weekly basis until the summer of 1981, after which it continued to produce issues sporadically all through 1982 and 83, when it was replaced by Ferment.
While living in Cambridge, he did not neglect his studies. Post doctoral work was done at MIT in Modern Logic, Algebraic Geometry and Category Theory. He also gave several seminars there on mathematics and on the political movements of the 60's.
(23) In the fall of 1982, New Universe Weekly created a scandal by its merciless expose of fraud, nepotism and corruption in the mathematics department of Hostos Community College in the Bronx. The report handed into the CUNY administration reached the highest levels and resulted in sweeping reforms and not a few dismissals and resignations.
(24) In the spring of the same year, Lisker traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to cover the annual Casals Music festival. The scathing articles in New Universe Weekly on the deification of Pablo Casals, and the slighting treatment of local composers, electrified the musical community.
(25) In the summer 1982, Lisker went to Boulder, Colorado to recite poetry and perform music at the Jack Kerouac festival in honor of the 25th anniversary of the publication of "On The Road".
(26) In the summer of 1983 he returned to Boulder . Changing the name of his publication to "Ferment", he set up two sessions on the social responsibility of physicists at the International Congress of Math-Physicists conference at the University of Colorado. His reports on this conference filled the first two issues of the new publication. Both the reports and the seminars led to increased activity on behalf of "refusenik" scientists in the Soviet Union.
(27) Ferment was in continuous existence from 1984 to 2004. In its final year, it was merged into its On-Line version "Ferment Magazine", which is still going strong.
(28) In 1984, Lisker traveled to Los Angeles to perform at the Olympics Arts Festival. This trip, full of surprises and adventures, has been written up in Ferment Magazine.
(29) In the summer of 1986, based on a recommendation by the great mathematician and philosopher, René Thom, Lisker presented his paper "Algebraic Causation" at the 11th General Relativity and Gravitation conference in Stockholm, Sweden.
The conference report was published in Ferment. Other conference coverage includes: Fractals and Chaos,B. Mandelbrot, U Cincinnati September 87; *Beat Poets Reunion, U Kansas,Lawrence, September 87); *Fermat's Last Theorem Conference Boston University August 1995; *S. Chandrasekhar Conference U Chicago, Winter 1996; *Bolyai-Lobachevsky Conference Nyerigyhaza,Hungary, July 1999 ; *American Mathematics Society Washington, D.C. January 2000; *Conference on Cosmology, ENS, Paris, France; October 2010 Penrose, Rovelli, Dijkgraaf,Connes, Kontsevich.
(30) Recently, Lisker has translated 2 books of interviews with René Thom, "Prediction is not Explanation" and "Parables and Catastrophes". Negotiations are currently underway to obtain the translation rights from Editions Flammarion .
(31) In 1988, Roy Lisker returned to Europe for a year. His most brilliant journalistic coup then was a series of interviews granted by the reclusive genius, Alexandre Grothendieck. He also did translations of engineering texts from French to English for the firms of Ellis Horwood, Ltd. in England , and Editions Masson in Paris: "Radiation Biology and Protection" by Gambini and Granier , and "Information Theory" by Jacques Oswald.
(32) In 1991 he returned to Boulder, Colorado. After being admitted as a delegate to the extraordinary "Novelists of the Americas" conference organized on the Colorado University campus, he stirred up a storm of controversy by his outspoken defense of a free press and in support of Salman Rushdie. Rushdie, still seeking protection from the murderous fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini, put in a brief appearance at the conference.
(33) A notable event in 1992 was his 2 hour recitation and poetry reading at the YMCA on Berkeley, California. Much of the poetry at that conference went into the creation of a CD, Language Compositions, broadcast throughout the United States on many radio stations.
This CD is among the items deposited in the poetry collection in the Woodberry Room of the Lamont Library at Harvard University. This archive also a 2-hour poetry reading commissioned in 1993 by Stratis Haviaris, then the librarian of the Woodberry Room and editor of the Harvard Review of Books.
(34) Throughout the period from 1982 to the present, Lisker has given numerous poetry readings and presentations of scientific papers at universities, conferences and festivals in the United States and Europe, notably SUNY New Paltz, Amherst College, MIT, U Illinois at Chicago, Berkeley, Boulder, UCLA, University of Puerto Rico, Bard College, Colorado University, U Santa Cruz, Wesleyan University, etc. and in many bookstores around the country.
(35) Currently his website www.fermentmagazine.org receives an average of 40,000 hits a month from everywhere in the world.
(2)This remarkable talent for the plastic arts seems to have been restricted to using wire frames to make rings and bracelets, and applying varnish to wooden Indian head badges.
(3)The first sentence is true, although it is not clear how one measures the amplitude of such waves. The second sentence refers to a fight between student and teacher that does none of them credit, but yes, Lisker was skipped a grade, where the teacher got him interested in mathematics.
The 'textbooks' that he studied consisted of the popularizers, George Gamov's "Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland", and H. Lillian Lieber's "Education of T.C. MITS".
(4)Lisker's family did rent the Uday Shankar estate while they were in Madras, but how that constitutes one of Lisker's an accomplishments is not clear. He did take a few lessons on the Esraj, even as his father studied the tabla, while his mother painted watercolors of scenes from the local market. To see examples of her work, go to Sara Lisker
The "treatise on Indian music" consisted of perhaps half a dozen pages. Lisker's "mastery" of Karnatic music theory is pure invention. The three books cited constituted the entire bibliography of the projected treatise.
(5)The "immersion in the ageless wisdom of India" is sheer balderdash. The term at the school in Kodaikanal did give him a 'sentimental' appreciation of Protestantism, yet no more than the sentimental appreciation of Catholicism engendered by visits as a small child to the local Catholic church in the company of the girl who was his baby-sitter.
As for respect for religious traditions, Lisker's natural inclination is to make fun of them all, excepting Buddhism, which he considers a science rather than a religion.
This 'research into abstract algebra' is a euphemism for his study of a textbook in high school algebra. This paid off: when he was forced to take it again in high school he was able to look like a genius without having to do any work. His study of French did give him a large vocabulary and an atrocious accent. The vocabulary at any rate was very useful when he moved to France in 1968for 5 years. It took a few years to tame the accent.
(6)All of this is true, but somewhat misleading. Lisker's talent for mathematics is real but has never been world-shaking:no Ramanujah or Erdos here I'm afraid . It is important to note that his knowledge and ability were never actually tested by anyone. Lisker had done advanced study on his own in calculus and functional analysis. This impressive but not extraodinary feat acted on the over-heated imaginations of the mathematicians at Penn like a burning cigarette tossed into Yosemite in the dry season. This is altogether unfortunate, because the absolute necessity of escaping this absurd campaign of propaganda meant that Lisker was unable to do anything with this talent until his 40's.
This silly, unbelievably ignorant article in The Bulletin is one of the great embarrassments of Lisker's life, and he is amazed that he has the hutsba to quote its opening sentence. It was Richard Anderson who correctly recognized the real presence of real talent in him . Anderson's opinions , picked up and tossed about by the winds of gossip, were blown all out of proportion.
Lisker wrote no paper for the 1880 Prize ($50). It was given to him to commend his admission into the department at such a young age.
(7)Lisker was indeed hired as an applied mathematician for problems related to sonar technology for this naval research institution, yet in fact he never did a stitch of work. This situation is not uncommon, he gathers, with military contracts. In any case all of his training was in pure mathematics, and he'd never studied any of the methods of applied mathematics.
In his second summer at Woods Hole, Lisker was teamed up with a professional applied mathematician. He might then have gotten some real work done: alas, his mentor was a fanatic Trotskyist ideologue, far more interested in indoctrinating his young assistant into his cult than in doing any real work. He did however convince Lisker that military research associated with weapons was wrong. Working together they saw to it that no useful results came out of their collaboration.
The paper in Additive Number Theory was a survey paper on work done by Schnirelmann in Russia, and contained no original results or research.
(8)The term "soul searching" covers what is more accurately described as a series of religious experiences.
A label like "distinguished" must forever remain in the mind of its advocates. Lisker himself only applies it to a selection of his best writings.
(9)The "studies at Harvard" were pursued in the Lamont and Widener libraries (at that time their stacks were still open to the public) in the free time between his jobs as dishwasher, factory worker, clerk and census taker. One of the reasons he left Harvard without taking a degree was that he was never enrolled.
(10)Paragraph 10 is essentially true; the word "ambitious" should be replaced by "overly ambitious"
(11)Lisker stayed on as a math major because (i) he wouldn't have to taken any more courses in mathematics, and (ii) he judged (and still does) English departments as poisonous to all real literary talent.
It does not appear that Kay Boyle read any of the pages of "Chronicles". She was impressed mostly by the way Lisker talked about it (which, admittedly, did indicate talent)
Anyone who believes that it was the experimental boldness of "Chronicles" that led Knopf to reject it, is welcome to try to wade through the first 3 pages of the original.
As for Kay Boyle's statement at the English department party (that Lisker should be appointed chairman of the department), apparently this did happen. However Kay was prone to exaggerated enthusiasms: when she learned that Knopf had turned down the manuscript of "Chronicles" she said to him, "Why have you betrayed us?"
By burning his draft card Lisker was returned , somewhat, to her good graces.
(12)If these artists have ever had the least input into Lisker's career, he'd like to know about it. It is true that Leonard Bernstein did lend a supporting voice on a few occasions.
The research in music theory was done in 1963. The talks at IRCAM were given in 2007 and 2008. Although there was a policy (fomented by George Rochberg) in the U Penn music department that Lisker's research be denigrated, it was very well received at IRCAM.
As for Louise Talma's endorsement: well, she liked him. In fact almost everybody at MacDowell liked him. Only the wife of Nicolai Lopatnikov hated him. One can't please everyone.
(13)Both "modest" and "impressive" are left to the imagination of the reader.
(14)This is the most outrageous paragraph in this entire document. These concerts, of which there were many, were performed on street corners, in front of shops, and in subway stations, in cities in France, Ireland, England, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Canada, Sweden and the United States. The violin case was left open on the street for small change. More details may be read at Street Musician
(15)Miraculously, everything in this paragraph is true, that is to say, neither false nor misleading.
(17)Most of this is correct, except that Lisker doesn't recall ever having seen any advertising for films of this prominent director. Prominent is, of course, another one of 'those' words. Perhaps Lisker himself will become prominent for the invention of the dual hype/debunk biography!
(18)Not false, though it should be explained that, apart from 2 or 3 days attending classes, Lisker spent the school year hitch-hiking around Europe. He did, it is true, devour several volumes of the excellent series of physics texts by Landau and Lifschitz.
(19)Essentially true. What he did organize was a day-long conference on "Racism in Quebec" for the LDH (the Canadian ACLU). In fact he really deserves lots of credit, because at the same time he was well into the throes of a major nervous breakdown.
The time gap between paragraphs (19) and (20) was filled with passages through 6 mental hospitals in Canada and the United States.
(20)The play "Kangaroo" was given 3 performances, 1 in Tivoli NY in 1976, the other two in Poughkeepsie NY in 1991.
The courses in quantum theory and music at Bard were of course audited. Owing to disagreements on virtually every issue, the administration threw Lisker into the Dutchess County jail in Poughkeepsie about 5 times. Such bad behavior on its part was halted by the legal precedent cited above: Bard cannot prevent visitors outside its notion of its community from attending federally-sponsored public events.
20 years later, Lisker received an official pardon from its president, Leon Botstein. He is now free to visit the college if and when he desires.
(21)Yes, this is true. Science journalists are rarely scientists, while scientists rarely do journalism. The isolated instances in which they come together deserve better treatment from the society.
(22)All true. The "studies at MIT" were like those at Harvard mentioned in paragraph 9. The seminars were given under the auspices of the IAP , which allows persons from the outside to give informal courses between the fall and spring terms. The IAP (Interim Activities Program) is an excellent idea. One of the great accomplishments of the period (not mentioned in the hype bio) was a stunt that brought the administration of MIT to a grinding halt for 24 hours. This did not, however, lead to any legal precedents.
(23)Ah! The language of hype! Such a report was handed in, but is there anyone living today who knows what happened to it? A recent communication to Lisker from Hostos College indicates that things there are worse than they ever were.
(24)As far as Lisker knows, the true nature of "electricity" remains a mystery.
(25)The lines between "official" and "fringe" at such festivals are of necessity fluid.
(26) Lisker dare anyone to prove that these reports did not lead to increased activity on behalf of the refuseniks!
(28)Performances and sales of poetry on the UCLA campus were all "impromptu" and led to increased police presence and the loss of a press badge.
(29)True, though none of these have been published in the uniformly dull peer- reviewed journals, which rarely go beyond the format of the kind of denatured "hype bio" of academic publications.
(30)These "negotiations" with Editions Flammarion have been going on for 3 years. To date Lisker,nor anyone else involved in this project, has yet to hear a word from them.
(31`)Lisker doesn't consider the "coup" particularly brilliant, except that many so- called brilliant achievements in history consist of someone doing something very simple that nobody else has thought to do.
(32)True, though the prose is a trifle purple.
(33)No more notable than any other poetry reading. The archive holdings at Harvard are mentioned because the mere mention of the word "Harvard" in any context amplifies the tone of distinction.
(34)Yes, that's true. Unfortunately all this activity has made Lisker so tired by now, that it is with difficulty that he ventures out of his room.
(35)By all means visit Ferment Magazine!