Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘interview’

30 JULY, 2012

Maira Kalman on Walking as a Creative Device and the Difference Between Thinking and Feeling

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“It’s very important not to be bored…for too long. More than a minute.”

Last week, Maira Kalmanartist extraordinaire, prolific author, unequaled visual storyteller — shared some poignant, beautifully human thoughts on existence and happiness. From the same interview series comes Kalman’s equally wonderful meditation on the difference between thinking and feeling, touching on Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Anne Lamott’s insights on rationality vs. intuition, and the power of walking as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity:

I walk everywhere in the city. Any city. You see everything you need to see for a lifetime. Every emotion. Every condition. Every fashion. Every glory.

Kalman’s proclivity for walking and movement as a gateway to a higher sensibility is something a number of great creators have in common. Dickens and Hugo were avid walkers during ideation; Burns often composed while “holding the plough”; Twain paced madly while dictating; Goethe and Scott composed on horseback; Mozart preferred the back of a carriage; Lord Kelvin worked on his mathematical studies while traveling by train. Drawing on these anecdotes, Rosamund E. Harding suggests in the 1932 gem An Anatomy of Inspiration:

It is possible that the rhythmical movement of a carriage or train, of a horse and to a much lesser degree of walking, may produce on sensitive minds a slightly hypnotic effect conducive to that state of mind most favourable to the birth of ideas.

Here are some of the drawings that make cameos in the video. From The Principles of Uncertainty:

From Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World):

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26 JULY, 2012

Stanley Kubrick on Mortality, the Fear of Flying, and the Purpose of Existence: 1968 Playboy Interview

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“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Besides being one of the finest filmmakers of all time and mastermind of the greatest movie never made, Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928–March 7, 1999) was also a keen observer of culture with ceaseless curiosity about the human condition, dancing between the hopeless and the heartening. From Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (public library) comes this layered meditation on purpose, mortality, and, as Carl Jung once put it, the art of “kindl[ing] a light in the darkness of mere being,” from a 1968 Playboy interview by Eric Nordern:

Playboy: Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of films — and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even in a commercial jet liner. Why?

Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should be bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.

The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?

Kubrick: The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

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26 JULY, 2012

Happy Birthday, Aldous Huxley: A Rare, Prophetic 1958 Interview by Mike Wallace

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“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Aldous Huxley — author of the classic Brave New World, little-known children’s book wordsmith, staple of Carl Sagan’s reading list — would have been 118 today. To celebrate his mind and his legacy, here is a rare 1958 conversation with Mike Wallace — the same masterful interviewer who also offered rare glimpses into the minds of Salvador Dalí and Ayn Rand — in which Huxley predicts the “fictional world of horror” depicted in Brave New World is just around the corner for humanity. He explains how overpopulation is among the greatest threats to our freedom, admonishes against the effects of advertising on children, and, more than half a century before Occupy Wall Street, outlines how global economic destabilization will incite widespread social unrest.

It’s extremely important, here and now, to start thinking about these problems — not to let ourselves be taken by surprise by the new advances of technology.

[…]

We can foresee, and we can do a great deal to forestall. After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Wallace reads a passage on American political campaigns from Huxley’s Brave New World Revisted (originally written under the title Enemies of Freedom) that rings with remarkable, and remarkably unsettling, timeliness:

All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere; political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, are the things that really matter.

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