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Posts Tagged ‘history’

13 JANUARY, 2012

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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13 JANUARY, 2012

Elevator Groupthink: A Psychology Experiment in Conformity, 1962

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What vintage Candid Camera can teach us about the cultural role of the global Occupy movement.

The psychology of conformity is something we’ve previously explored, but its study dates back to the 1950s, when Gestalt scholar and social psychology pioneer Solomon Asch, known today as the Asch conformity experiments. Among them is this famous elevator experiment, originally conducted as a part of a 1962 Candid Camera episode titled “Face the Rear.”

But, while amusing in its tragicomic divulgence of our capacity for groupthink, this experiment tells only half the story of Asch’s work. As James Surowiecki reminds us in the excellent The Wisdom of Crowds, Asch went on to reveal something equally important — that while people slip into conformity with striking ease, it also doesn’t take much to get them to snap out of it. Asch demonstrated this in a series of experiments, planting a confederate to defy the crowd by engaging in the sensible, rather than nonsensical, behavior. That, it turned out, was just enough. Having just one peer contravene the group made subjects eager to express their true thoughts. Surowiecki concludes:

Ultimately, diversity contributes not just by adding different perspectives to the group but also by making it easier for individuals to say what they really think. [...] Independence of opinion is both a crucial ingredient in collectively wise decisions and one of the hardest things to keep intact. Because diversity helps preserve that independence, it’s hard to have a collectively wise group without it.”

Perhaps the role of the global Occupy movement and other expressions of contemporary civic activism is that of a cultural confederate, spurring others — citizens, politicians, CEOs — to face the front of the elevator at last.

HT Not Exactly Rocket Science

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12 JANUARY, 2012

John Steinbeck on Falling in Love: A 1958 Letter

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“If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (1902-1968) might be best-known as the author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men, but he was also a prolific letter-writer. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters constructs an alternative biography of the iconic author through some 850 of his most thoughtful, witty, honest, opinionated, vulnerable, and revealing letters to family, friends, his editor, and a circle of equally well-known and influential public figures.

Among his correspondence is this beautiful response to his eldest son Thom’s 1958 letter, in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Steinbeck’s words of wisdom — tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious — should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,

Fa

Complement with six tips on writing from Steinbeck.

via Letters of Note

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