Brain Pickings

Manuel Lima on the Power of Knowledge Networks in the Age of Infinite Connectivity

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Manuel Lima, founder of data visualization portal Visual Complexity, author of the indispensable information visualization bible of the same name, and one of the most intelligent people I know, recently gave an excellent talk on the power of networks at the RSA. Using examples that span from the Dewey Decimal System to Wikipedia, Manuel explores the evolving organization of knowledge and information, and the shift from hierarchical structures to distributed lateral networks.

Networks are really becoming a cultural meme in their own right. We could even argue, is this the birth of a new movement, is this the birth of ‘networkism’?” ~ Manuel Lima

Further reading: Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information.

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The Origin of Snark: Original Illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark,” 1876

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Snark is something we encounter — and possibly employ — daily, its permeating ubiquity and cultural givenness having eclipsed any sort of curiosity about its history and origins. But while snark might be a weapon from the modern hipster’s arsenal, the linguistic heritage of the word itself dates back many generations — to 1874, to be precise. Its first recorded occurrence in language is in the title of Lewis Carroll‘s nonsensical poem The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits), which he penned at the age of 42, nine years after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (Cue in some favorite and little-known illustrations for his masterpiece.)

The poem chronicles “with infinite humour the impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature” — the Snark. The original edition, published in 1876 by Macmillan, featured intricate black-and-white artwork by English historical genre painter Henry Holiday — a collaboration rumored to have taken place largely through a correspondence of letters between Holiday and Carroll. (Cue in this morning’s famous correspondence.)

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Scrap Irony: Irreverent Illustrated Cultural Commentary by Edward Gorey circa 1961

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What the physiological effects of space flight have to do with the art of courtship and the Oedipus complex.

Inimitable mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey — notorious letter-writer, illuminator of day and night, purveyor of mischievous eroticism — had a rare gift for irreverent storytelling and dark humor, so it was only fitting he would parter with poet and satirist Felicia Lamport. Over the course of more than two decades, Gorey illustrated three of Lamport’s satirical verse collections, beginning in 1961 with Scrap Irony — an anthology of witty, sarcastic observations on everything from courtship to vice to the era’s hottest technologies, like cybernetics and space flight. Gorey created artwork for the dust jacket, title page, chapter titles, and many of the individual poems. With Gorey’s visual irreverence and Lamport’s penchant for puns, the book defined snark long before snark was a weapon of choice in the arsenal of modern hipsters.

Though the book is long out of print, you can find a copy with some sifting through Amazon or, if you’re lucky, your favorite local Gorey-loving bookstore.

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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.