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11 OCTOBER, 2011

Every Page of Moby-Dick, Illustrated

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Illustrated insights on love, hate, God, capitalism, and the rest of life via Herman Melville and found paper.

Since 2009, former high school English teacher and self-taught artist Matt Kish has been drawing every page of the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition of Herman Melville’s iconic Moby-Dick, methodically producing one gorgeous, obsessive drawing per day for 552 days using pages from discarded books and a variety of drawing tools, from ballpoint pen to crayon to ink and watercolor. Now, thanks to Tin House Books, Kish’s ingenious project joins our running list of blogs so good they became books: Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page gathers his magnificent lo-fi drawings in a 600-page visual masterpiece of bold, breathtaking full-page illustrations that captivate eye, heart, and mind, inviting you to rediscover the Melville classic in entirely new ways.

I’ve read the book eight or nine times […] Each and every reading has revealed more and more to me and hinted tantalizingly at even greater truths and revelations that I have yet to reach. Friends often question my obsession with the novel, especially since I am not a scholar or even an educator any longer, and the best explanation I have been able to come up with is that, to me, Moby-Dick is a book about everything. God. Love. Hate. Identity. Race. Sex. Humor. Obsession. History. Work. Capitalism […] I see every aspect of life reflected in the bizarre mosaic of this book.” ~ Matt Kish

'...Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowel's wards.'

Ballpoint pen on paper, September 17, 2009

'Call me Ishmael'

Colored pencil and ink on found paper, August 5, 2009

'But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive.'

Colored pencil and ink on found paper, August 6, 2009

'Hearing the tremendous rush of the sea-crashing boat, the whale wheeled round to present his blank forehead at bay; but in that evolution, catching sight of the nearing black hull of the ship; seemingly seeing in it the source of all his persecutions; bethinking it - it may be - a larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam'

Ink on watercolor paper, January 22, 2011

'...where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse howling than ever it did about poor Paul's tossed craft.'

Acrylic paint and ballpoint pen on found paper, August 13, 2009

'I don't know how it is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping.'

Acrylic paint, colored pencil and ink on found paper, August 19, 2009

''Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam- me, I kill-e!' again growled the cannibal...'

Ink, colored pencil and marker on found paper, August 27, 2009

'Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.'

Acrylic paint on found paper, August 30, 2009

'...and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains...'

Acrylic paint, colored pencil, ink and marker on found paper, September 30, 2009

'Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast, and carried off an infant Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their child borne out of sight over the wide waters.'

Ink and marker on found paper, October 5, 2009

'...hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling...'

Crayon, ink and marker on found paper, November 24, 2009

'…who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently…'

Colored pencil, ink and marker on found paper, November 12, 2009

''I will have no man in my boat,' said Starbuck, 'who is not afraid of a whale.''

Colored pencil, ink and marker on found paper, December 19, 2009

'But it was especially the aspect of the three chief officers of the ship, the mates, which was most forcibly calculated to allay these colorless misgivings, and induce confidence and cheerfulness in every presentment of the voyage.'

Ink on found paper, December 28, 2009

'Moby Dick bodily burst into view! For not by any calm and indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of defiance.'

Ink on watercolor paper, January 11, 2011

''Thou Bildad!' roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the cabin. 'Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these matters, I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be heavy enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape Horn.''

Ballpoint pen and ink on found paper, November 16, 2009

Woven of equal parts visual mastery and creative bravery, Moby-Dick in Pictures is a treasure in and of itself, one that not only pays homage to Melville, but also reimagines what it means to embark on a modern-day epic voyage of creative restlessness.

Images courtesy of Matt Kish

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11 OCTOBER, 2011

What Translation Reveals about the Human Condition

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How to get a tarantula off your southwest leg, or what Astérix has to do with religion and the Manhattan grid.

Language is one of the most fascinating technologies, a human invention so central to our social function and very survival it’s practically indistinguishable from life itself. Yet languages are incredibly intricate, complicated, culture-specific organisms, and much of their delicate complexity can get lost in translation. In Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, a fine new addition to our five favorite books on language, translator, biographer, and Princeton professor David Bellos explores the mystery of how we come to understand what someone else means, using translation as a lens on empathy in the human experience. Intelligent, entertaining, and brimming with delightful, surprising factoids, it’s a cross-disciplinary lens that spans from the evolution of written language to Astérix cartoons and a wealth in between, revealing how translation shaped everything from the propagation of religion to the literary legacy of famous authors.

The practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different: we speak different tongues, and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same—that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, information, understandings, and so forth. Without both of these suppositions, translation could not exist. Nor could anything we would like to call social life. Translation is another name for the human condition.”

~ David Bellos

This charming kinetic typography trailer by Matt Young, full of fascinating trivia-worthy bites of knowledge, is the ultimate cherry on top, and an instant addition to our favorite book trailers:

From what Manhattanese has in common with the Kuuk Thaayorre language of South Australia to why we don’t have a word for all things with chrome handlebars, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything dances across linguistic fascination, cultural history, and pure wit to deliver a unique meditation on mankind’s ever-evolving tango with global communication.

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:





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10 OCTOBER, 2011

Poets Ranked by Beard Weights

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Calculating aptitude by way of facial hair, or what Walt Whitman’s “hibernator” has to do with phrenology.

It’s common knowledge that a poet is only as good as his beard. Or so went the wisdom of Poets Ranked by Beard Weight, a privately printed subscription leaflet authored by Upton Uxbridge Underwood and distributed by the Torchbearer Society of London across the reading bins and cocktail tables of turn-of-the-century parlor cars and smoking lounges to keep the era’s literati informed and entertained. The exceedingly rare work eventually became a prized collector’s item for bibliophiles and beard-historians alike, and inspired many of today’s beard-grooming competitions.

Poets Ranked by Beard Weight: The Commemorative Edition, flagged by the ever-fascinating 50 Watts, collects the best of this Edwardian esoterica in an entertaining volume based on the original 1913 edition, resurrecting the seminal text from out-of-print obscurity and into hipster-readiness. From comparing how Walt Whitman’s “Hibernator” beard stacks up against Henry David Thoreau’s “Wandering Jim” to perusing the code of beard poses and gestures found in the Fundamentals of Beard Flirtation, the tome even peeks inside Underwood’s curious beard-sorcery. Critic and literary historian Gilbert Alter-Gilbert writes in the preface:

The Language of the Beard [...] vaunts the premise that the texture, contours, and growth patterns of a man’s beard indicate personality traits, aptitudes, and strengths and weaknesses of character. A spade beard, according to Underwood’s theories, may denote audacity and resolution, for example, while a forked, finely-downed beard signifies creativity and the gift of intuition, a bushy beard suggests generosity, and so on. Moreover, in keeping with the tenets of such sister systems as palmistry, numerology, and phrenology, Underwood posits the power of the ancient art of pogonomancy, or divination by beard reading, to foresee future events.”

The beards are ranked on Underwood’s Pogonometric Index of 0 (“Very very weak”) to 60 (“Very very heavy”), which attributes numerical values to “poetic gravity” and relative “beard weights,” citing 10 to 24 as the normal range for the average person, with the exceptionally gifted scoring upwards of forty. Though the book features only black-and-white illustrations, 50 Watts’ Will Schofield, whose 2009 post on beard weights inspired the book, has culled some photographic examples of the beards in Underwood’s ranking.

Samuel Morse (1791 – 1872)

Beard type: Garibaldi Elongated

Typical opus: What Hath God Wrought

Gravity (UPI rating): 58

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Beard type: Italian False Goatee

Typical opus: The Blessed Damozel

Gravity (UPI rating): 38

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Beard type: Wandering Jim

Typical opus: Within the Circuit of This Plodding Life

Gravity (UPI rating): 29

Sidney Lanier (1842 – 1881)

Beard type: Spade

Typical opus: The Song of the Chattahoochee

Gravity (UPI rating): 41

William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Beard type: Van Winkle

Typical opus: To a Waterfowl

Gravity (UPI rating): 43

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 1618)

Beard type: Van Dyke

Typical opus: The Lie

Gravity (UPI rating): 27

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Beard type: Hibernator

Typical opus: O Captain! My Captain!

Gravity (UPI rating): 22

As for the obvious “What about the lady-poets?” question, lest we forget what era we’re dealing with here, here’s a proper map of woman’s heart to remind us.

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