In college, I took a course in semiotics, mostly because it sounded easy. (It wasn’t.)
I struggled with the readings, which were either incomprehensible or boring. But the professor, a Ph.D. candidate with an anarchic streak, said that any student who, uh, went to the bathroom in the main atrium of one of the banks downtown, during business hours, would get an automatic A. Facing a possible F, I seriously considered it, even going so far as to scout one of the bank lobbies, trying to figure out how to make a getaway before the security guard got to me.
Then we started reading Pico Iyer, whose visionary writings on travel and globalization (before globalization was even a term) are infused with the kind of insight that shifts your worldview on contact. I devoured his books, wrote my final paper on them, salvaged a B, and avoided the embarrassment of being arrested with my pants around my ankles.
Born in England, and raised in California and the U.K., Iyer has taught at Harvard, traveled from North Korea to Paraguay, and now lives in Japan. In the early ’90s, he was already writing about “a world that is itself increasingly small and increasingly mongrel.” If he felt like that then, what in God’s name could he possibly think about the internet and social media?
Ask him Saturday night at Politics and Prose, where he’ll discuss his new book, “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations.”
Pico Iyer, Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19. Free.