Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘interview’

30 DECEMBER, 2011

Marshall McLuhan on New Forms and Old Assumptions (1960)

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What the golden age of television has to do with human nature and today’s Internet intellectuals.

It seems fitting that we conclude the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of iconic media theorist Marshall McLuhan with one of his timeless and remarkably timely observations, which in just 30 seconds manages to capture in 1960 a folly of human nature that rings all the more true in 2011 as we trek forward into this constantly evolving media landscape.

When any new form comes into the foreground of things, we naturally look at it through the old stereos. We can’t help that. This is normal, and we’re still trying to see how will our previous forms of political and educational patterns persist under television. We’re just trying to fit the old things into the new form, instead of asking what is the new form going to do to all the assumptions we had before.”

The segment comes from the tribute site Marshall McLuhan Speaks, originally featured here in July. (Though, it warrants noting, the lack of embedding capability for their footage is particularly ironic in light of McLuhan’s words above.) It is also adapted in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, edited by McLuhan’s daughter and with a foreword by Tom Wolfe offering a 21st-century perspective on McLuhan’s life and work. (To be supplemented with Douglas Coupland’s fantastic Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!.)

What McLuhan gets at, of course, could also be said not only of media but also of media theory itself, especially today. As Internet scholar Evgeny Morozov writes in The New Republic:

Our Internet intellectuals lack the intellectual ambition, and the basic erudition, to connect their thinking with earlier traditions of social and technological criticism. They desperately need to believe that their every thought is unprecedented. Sometimes it seems as if intellectual life doesn’t really thrill them at all. They never stoop to the lowly task of producing expansive and expository essays, where they could develop their ideas at length, by means of argument and learning, and fully engage with their critics. Instead they blog, and tweet, and consult, and give conference talks—modes of discourse that are mostly impervious to serious critique.”

(Thanks, Kristen.)

So, where does this leave us as we round out McLuhan’s centennial? With more questions than answers, no doubt, but the questions about the future of information abundance, the future of journalism, and the future of the Internet might be a good place to start.

Thanks, Bob

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29 DECEMBER, 2011

Maurice Sendak on Passion, the Risk of Art, and Never Having Written for Children

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What Herman Melville has to do with the artist’s gauntlet and the sacrilege of sequels.

There are few worthier of being called a “creative genius” more than children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, beloved creator of Where The Wild Things Are and countless other gems, from the darkly delightful to the immeasurably sweet. This affectionate five-minute micro-documentary from the Tate Modern zooms in on the iconic creator, uncompromising and idiosyncratic and brilliant as ever at the age of 83, to reveal the creatively restless and lovably grumpy workings of his heart and mind.

Herman Melville said that artists have to take a dive, and either you hit your head on a rock and it splits your skull and you die, or, that blow to your head is so inspiring that you come back up and you do the best work you ever did.

But — you have to take the dive. And you do not know what the result will be.

[…]

My books are really books that are impressed and in love with the memory of comics and how important they were to me as a child… I didn’t live near any famous person, I didn’t see Michelangelo go to work in the morning. I just lived in Brooklyn, where everything was ordinary — and yet, enticing and exciting and bewildering. The magic of childhood, the strangeness of childhood, the uniqueness that makes us see things that other people don’t see…

For more Sendak gold, see his rare Velveteen Rabbit illustrations circa 1960.

via Open Culture

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29 DECEMBER, 2011

Advice on Writing from Modernity’s Greatest Writers

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What sleep and plagiarism have to do with the poetry of experience and the experience of poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a delightful little book called Advice to Writers, “a compendium of quotes, anecdotes, and writerly wisdom from a dazzling array of literary lights,” originally published in 1999. From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum of the aspirational and the utilitarian, covering grammar, genres, material, money, plot, plagiarism, and, of course, encouragement. Here are some words of wisdom from some of my favorite writers featured:

Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Begin with an individual and you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created — nothing.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.” ~ Charles Bukowski

Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser

A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” ~ T. S. Eliot

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe

You cannot write well without data.” ~ George Higgins

Listen, then make up your own mind.” ~ Gay Talese

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” ~ Mark Twain

And then, of course, there’s the importance of knowing what advice to ignore:

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26 DECEMBER, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola Predicts YouTube in 1991

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What a fat girl in Ohio has to do with Mozart and one of our era’s most radical shifts in the culture of creativity.

We’ve previously explored 5 fascinating vintage visions for modern social media, including Thomas Edison’s early experimentation with what became one of YouTube’s message staples — the cat meme as a currency of entertainment. From legendary director Francis Ford Coppola comes a vision for YouTube as a medium — 40 seconds of remarkably prescient insight into one of the greatest creative revolutions of our time, some two decades before our time.

Suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is gonna be the new Mozart…and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camera-corder, and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever, and it will really become an art form.” ~ Francis Ford Coppola

The excerpt comes from Hearts of Darkness, the fascinating documentary about Coppola’s 1979 cult-classic Apocalypse Now.

via Jason Pollock

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22 DECEMBER, 2011

Umberto Eco on Lists and Making Infinity Comprehensible

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What Don Giovanni’s lovers have to do with the poetics of catalogues.

As a lover and maker of lists, this made my heart sing: In 2009, the great Umberto Eco became a resident at the Louvre, where he chose to focus his studies on “the vertigo of lists,” bringing his poetic observational style to the phenomenon of cataloguing, culling, and collecting. He captured his experience and insights in The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay, where he charts the Western mind’s obsessive impulse for list-making across music, literature and art, an impulse he calls a “giddiness of lists” but demonstrates that, in the right hands, it can be a “poetics of catalogues.”

Der Spiegel interviewed Eco about his project at the Louvre, yielding the following perl:

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.” ~ Umberto Eco

The interview is fantastic in its entirety, as is The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay.

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