Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘literature’

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 — the world’s foremost holiday of talking about books you haven’t read — may come and go, 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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18 JUNE, 2012

Shakespeare and the Number 14, or Why Poetry and Mathematics Belong Together

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A short lesson in cultural cross-pollination.

We’ve already seen how Shakespeare changed everything and how Fibonacci, “the man of numbers,” changed the world. But in this short video, Professor Roger Bowley uses Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and penchant for the number 14 to show that the bard was quite the man of numbers himself, revealing a relationship between poetry and mathematics much more tightly knit than the standard cultural compartmentalization would have you believe.

Poetry is an extreme form of wordplay, in which numbers dictate form and structure to give more beauty to it.

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18 JUNE, 2012

18-Year-Old Sylvia Plath on Loving Everybody and Living with Curiosity

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“Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.”

Her recently uncovered stunning drawings inspired me to revisit The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, who began keeping journals at the age of eleven and remained a diarist until her death at the age of thirty. Among the diary entires and letters to friends, culled by Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, their children, Frieda and Nicholas, and Smith College rare books curator Karen Kukil, is this existential gem from July 1950, when Plath was 18 years old — a meditation so emphatic, so embracing of the world, so full of presence, it makes it hard, tragic even, to know that only twelve years later, this wholehearted being would take her own life.

I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person.* But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…

But, perhaps, the secret of happiness is to do precisely that.

* This reminded me of a beautiful poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, titled “Call Me By My True Names”:

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood”
to my people
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

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