Brain Pickings

Author Archive

13 OCTOBER, 2011

Rare Images from the Golden Age of Circus, 1870-1950

By:

From Ancient Egypt to Lady Gaga, or what P. T. Barnum has to do with Stanley Kubrick.

Since ancient times, spectacles and public performances have transfixed, entertained, and socialized audiences. Between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s, the American circus swelled into the largest show-biz industry in the world and Circus Day became the year’s biggest event, captivating imaginations with its marvelous minstrel shows, audacious acrobats, and crazy clowns. What made the circus extraordinary isn’t merely that it was the birth of American pop culture, the Super Bowl, Macy’s Parade, and the Olympics all rolled up into one, it’s that it created a place for outsiders to become the superheroes of their day, for women to showcase their physical strength in ways that would be socially unacceptable elsewhere, and for audiences to experience cultures from around the world long before the age of global citizenship.

The Circus Book: 1870-1950 is a magnificent volume from Taschen () exploring the circus as a living organism and a way of life, from its history and sociology to its glamor and discipline, through 650 stunning images, culled from a collection of 30,000 spanning 40 different sources, including many of the earliest photographs ever taken of the circus, as well as rare images by Stanley Kubrick and Charles and Ray Eames. More than 80% of the images have never been published, and most have never even been seen before.

The images in this book capture the entrepreneurial audacity for which the circus became famous, and also the remarkable personality and energy of its performers.” ~ Noah Daniel

Alongside the images are fascinating micro-essays that frame the photos, illustrations, and other visual ephemera in a sociocultural context, exploring everything from the ancient origins of public spectacles to how the circus paved the way for film and television.

A time-capsule of a bygone era and priceless artifact of cultural anthropology, The Circus Book: 1870-1950 is both a visual treasure for design- and photography-lovers alike, and an essential primer on understanding the evolution of contemporary pop culture.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

13 OCTOBER, 2011

Complaints Choir: The World’s Mundane Grievances Set to Song

By:

Rent is too damn high, the global musical.

One cold winter night in 2005, while strolling through Helsinki, Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen had an epiphany — what if they could transform the daily grievances people complain about en masse into a source of surprise and joy? In Finnish, there’s an actual word for those mass complaints — “Valituskuoro,” which translates roughly to “complaints choir.” So the duo set out capture the world’s everyday rants in actual choirs and Complaints Choir was born — a traveling record of the world’s grievances, crowdsourced from citizens and set to song.

We defined complaining as “dissatisfaction without action,” nevertheless behind most of the complaints there is an idea or a belief or a value that a person is committed to. Complaints have therefore inbuilt the potential of being a transformative power. The truth about the revolution in East Germany is, that it only happened because a critical mass of people was dissatisfied with and complained about everyday life issues.

There is another fundamental aspect to the culture of complaining. Why do people complain about things they have not the slightest influence upon, for example the weather? Here complaining is not at all about changing things, but rather to build a communal feeling: I am not alone with my little problems, we share the same burden – of an total in-acceptable climate for example.”

From Birmingham to Budapest, Helsinki to Hamburg, Jerusalem to Chicago, the choirs cover everything from the petty and mudane (job resentment, traffic, bureaucracy, the weather) to the amusingly specific and offbeat (neighbor holding Hungarian folk dance classes above bedroom, being ignored by friend’s cat, racist grandmother)

Got the itch for communal ranting? Here’s the DIY guide to orchestrating one in your city. (Did someone say Occupy Wall Street Choir?)

via Deafening Silence HT GMSV

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

13 OCTOBER, 2011

Young Hemingway’s Letters: A Rare Glimpse of the Author’s Tender Side

By:

Rediscovering one of literature’s greatest personas through the vulnerable pieces of his personhood.

From the lovely illustrated correspondence of Edward Gorey to the touching vintage letters of luminaries on the love of libraries, we’ve previously explored how the uncovered letters of cultural icons set ajar the door to a whole new wonderland of their private selves. Such is the case of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 — a fascinating new volume that peels away at a young Hemingway different, richer, more tender than the machismo-encrusted persona we’ve come to know through his published works. After spending a decade sifting through Hemingway’s correspondence, Penn State professor Sandra Spanier collaborated with Kent State University’s Robert W. Trogdon to curate this first in what will be a series of at least 16 volumes.

Though Hemingway had articulated to his wife in the 1950s that he didn’t want his correspondence published, his son, Patrick Hemingway, says these letters could dispel the myth of the writer as a tortured figure and distorted soul, a pop-culture image of his father he feels doesn’t tell a complete and honest story.

My principal motive for wanting it to happen was that I think it gives a much better picture of Hemingway’s life than any of his biographers to date […] [My father] was not a tragic figure. He had the misfortune to have mental troubles in old age. Up until that, he was a rather lighthearted and humorous person.” ~ Patrick Hemingway

The letters — lively, quirky, full of doodles and delightfully unusual spellings — cover everything from Hemingway’s childhood in Oak Park, Illinois, to his adventures as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in WWI to the heartbreak of his romance with a Red Cross nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky and his eventual marriage to Hadley Richardson.

From lovers to rivals to his mother, the recipients of the letters each seem to get a different piece of Hemingway, custom-tailored for them not in the hypocritical way of an inauthentic social chameleon but in the way great writers know the heart, mind, and language of their reader. The letters thus become not only a tender homage to this unknown Hemingway, revealing new insights into his creative process along the way, but also a bow before the lost art of letter-writing itself.

via The Chronicle of Higher Education

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.