Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

19 JUNE, 2012

Henri Matisse’s Rare 1935 Etchings for James Joyce’s Ulysses

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A 22-karat creative cross-pollination.

Bloomsday may have come and gone — the world’s foremost holiday of talking about books you haven’t read — but a rare gem calls for extending the Joyce-related celebrations a little while longer. In 1935, American publisher George Macey offered the great Henri Matisse $5,000 to create as many etchings as this budget would afford for a special illustrated edition of Ulysses. After Open Culture flagged the book last week, I gathered up my year’s worth of lunch money and was able to grab one of the last copies available online — a glorious leather-bound tome with 22-karat gold accents, gilt edges, moire fabric endsheets, and a satin page marker. The Matisse drawings inside it, of course, are the most priceless of its offerings — the best thing since Salvador Dalí’s little-known Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Enjoy.

A few more copies still remain on Amazon, or if you’re so endowed, you could snag a copy signed by both Joyce and Matisse for $30,000.

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03 FEBRUARY, 2012

A Brief History of The Elements of Style and What Makes It Great

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On depth in simplicity and beauty in plainness.

“I hate the guts of English grammar,” E. B White once famously proclaimed. Yet Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style is among the most important and timeless books on writing. With its enduring legacy and cultish following, it has inspired countless derivatives and homages, from a magnificent edition illustrated by Maira Kalman to a rap. The book has become a legend in its own right, its story part of our modern creative mythology — but, like a good fairy tale, it brims with more curious, unlikely, even whimsical details than a mere plot summary might suggest. Those are exactly what Mark Garvey, a 20-year publishing veteran and self-professed extreme Elements of Style enthusiast, explores in Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

From how White, a former student of Strunk’s, resurrected the original text after Strunk’s death, to White’s thoughtful, stubborn, heartfelt, and often snarky correspondence with his editors and readers, including many never-before-published letters, to original interviews with some of today’s most beloved writers, including Adam Gopnik, Nicholas Baker, and Elmore Leonard, the slim but fascinating and wholehearted volume offers a rare peek inside the creative process behind one of the most iconic meta-meditations on the English language.

A large part of what made the Strunk and White collaboration so potent, it turns out, is the stark contrast between the two authors’ attitude towards the rules of language. Garvey writes:

E. B. White described Strunk’s voice on the page as being ‘in the form of sharp commands, Sergeant Strunk snapping orders to his platoon,’ and it’s true, the professor seems to spend much of this time in an imperative mood: ‘Do not break sentences in two,’ ‘Use the active voice,’ ‘Omit needless words.’ It’s a natural enough idiom, considering his day job; Strunk sounds teacherly, though he’s not without humor.

White’s voice, on the other hand, is that of the writer, the practitioner of long experience whose sympathies favor the artistic side of the enterprise.

But, above all, Garvey captures the intangible essence of what makes The Elements of Style as much a subject of workshops as it is an object of worship:

True believers have always felt something more, an extra dimension that has likely been a fundamental source of the book’s success all along: As practical as it is for helping writers over common hurdles, The Elements of Style also embodies a worldview, a philosophy that, for some, is as appealing as anything either author ever managed to get down on paper. Elements of Style is a credo. And it is a book of promises — the promise that creative freedom is enabled, not hindered, by putting your faith in a few helpful rules; the promise that careful, clear thinking and writing can occasionally touch truth; the promise of depth in simplicity and beauty in plainness; and the promise that by turning away from artifice and ornamentation you will find your true voice.

Rigorously researched and infectiously narrated, Stylized is an exquisite labor of love, a love that honors one of the most quintessential paragons of creative labor in modern literary history.

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05 JANUARY, 2012

Three Classic Fairy Tales Examined Through the Lens of Architecture

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What Rapunzel’s braid-to-tree connection has to do with the rotational circumference of Baba Yaga’s house.

As a lover of classic fairy tales and longtime fan of Kate Bernheimer’s modernist ones, I was delighted to come across Design Observer’s three-part series, in which Kate and Andrew Bernheimer reimagine the magical homes from three beloved fairy tales — Baba Yaga, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel — through the lens of architecture. In each installment, a different architecture firm selects a favorite fairy tale and examines its pivotal structure through a new kind of imaginative architectural storytelling.

Houses in fairy tales are never just houses; they always contain secrets and dreams. This project presents a new path of inquiry, a new line of flight into architecture as a fantastic, literary realm of becoming. We welcome you to these fairy-tale places.” ~ Kate Bernheimer & Andrew Bernheimer

As a child of Eastern European folklore, I’m partial to the first installment, in which Bernheimer Architecture examine Baba Yaga through its most important structure — the chicken legs, of course — and consider “how one might make a structure or an architecture ‘chicken-like,’ both externally and internally.”

In part two, Leven Betts Studio take a curious paradox of Jack and the Beanstalk — that the vehicle for the story’s magic, adventure and triumph is the beanstalk, yet it’s rarely described — and use it as the focal point of their architectural explorations.

Fairy tales are exemplified by spare and abstract detail, leaving enormous space — big as the sky — for the reader to wonder.”

In the third and final installment, Guy Nordenson and Associates bring their masterful structural engineering to Rapunzel’s tower, blending the original vision of the Brothers Grimm with their own pre-existing design for The Seven Stems Broadcast and Telecommunications Tower .

Rapunzel’s tower has come to symbolize both an enchanted, magical home and a dreadful prison from which to escape. Inside, one’s heart is full of desire and longing; and one must always also get out. The complicated emotional valence of this space is part of its longstanding appeal.”

For more modernist fairy tale magic, don’t miss Kate Bernheimer’s My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales — a wonderful anthology of stories by some of today’s greatest fiction writers, including Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Aimee Bender and Lydia Millet. And for a classical take, look no further than the best illustrations from 130 years of the Brothers Grimm.

via It’s Okay To Be Smart

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