Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘social media’

19 FEBRUARY, 2013

Happy Birthday, United Amateur Press Association: H. P. Lovecraft on the Early Spirit of “Blogging”

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“Our amateurs write purely for love of their art, without the stultifying influence of commercialism.”

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the rise of amateur press associations (ASAs) — small groups of writers, often without professional training, who would produce individual articles, pamphlets, or magazines mailed to all other members of the association; in other words, a progenitor of subscription-based blogging, and yet another example of primitive versions of modern social media. The first such group to become a formal organization was the National Amateur Press Association, founded on February 19, 1876, in Philadelphia. Over the century that followed, NAPA went on to produce a series of wide-ranging and intelligent articles spanning politics, language, religion, literary criticism, and more, including NAPA vice-president H. P. Lovecraft’s famous advice to young writers. For the first time in the history of mass media, a small group of dedicated writers had pulled into question the distinction between “journalists” and “amateurs,” a line all the more profoundly blurred today.

Lovecraft himself lays out a mission statement in Writings in the United Amateur (public domain; public library):

The desire to write for publication is one which inheres strongly in every human breast. From the proficient college graduate, storming the gates of the high-grade literary magazines, to the raw schoolboy, vainly endeavoring to place his first crude compositions in the local newspapers, the whole intelligent public are today seeking expression through the printed page, and yearning to behold their thoughts and ideals permanently crystallized in the magic medium of type. But while a few persons of exceptional talent manage eventually to gain a foothold in the professional world of letters rising to celebrity through the wide diffusion of their art, ideals, or opinions; the vast majority, unless aided in their education by certain especial advantages, are doomed to confine their expression to the necessarily restricted sphere of ordinary conversation. To supply these especial educational advantages which may enable the general public to achieve the distinction of print, and which may prevent the talented but unknown author from remaining forever in obscurity, has arisen that largest and foremost of societies for literary education The United Amateur Press Association.

Amateur journalism, or the composition and circulation of small, privately printed magazines, is an instructive diversion which has existed in the United States for over half a century. In the decade of 1866-1876 this practice first became an organized institution; a short-lived society of amateur journalists, including the now famous publisher, Charles Scribner, having existed from 1869 to 1874. In 1876 a more lasting society was formed, which exists to this day as an exponent of light dilettantism. Not until 1895, however, was amateur journalism established as a serious branch of educational endeavour. On September 2nd of that year, Mr. William H. Greenfield, a gifted professional author, of Philadelphia, founded The United Amateur Press Association, which has grown to be the leader of its kind, and the representative of amateur journalism in its best phases throughout the English-speaking world.

Lovecraft offers a necessary disclaimer to the term “amateur,” reminding us that it is a distinction of motives rather than of competence — those who pour countless hours and endless heart into the publication do it for love rather than for commercial gain:

In many respects the word ‘amateur’ fails to do full credit to amateur journalism and the association which best represents it. To some minds the term conveys an idea of crudity and immaturity, yet the United can boast of members and publications whose polish and scholarship are well-nigh impeccable. In considering the adjective ‘amateur’ as applied to the press association, we must adhere to the more basic interpretation, regarding the word as indicating the non-mercenary nature of the membership. Our amateurs write purely for love of their art, without the stultifying influence of commercialism. Many of them are prominent professional authors in the outside world, but their professionalism never creeps into their association work. The atmosphere is wholly fraternal, and courtesy takes the place of currency.

Today, the spirit Lovecraft describes endures online, where countless brilliant “amateurs” craft with love havens of knowledge and stimulation around their passions — like Joe Hanson in science, Tina Roth Eisenberg in design, John Ptak in history, Christopher Jobson in art, Dan Colman in education, Emily Spivack in sartorial history, and many more. To be an “amateur,” in that sense, seems to be to avoid work by doing what you love.

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26 AUGUST, 2011

Illustrated Three-Line Novels by the One-Man Twitter of 1906 France

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What an early 20th-century Parisian dandy had to do with political theater and the rise of micro-nonfiction.

We’ve previously shown that the literati of yore had their own Facebook, and it turns out they had their Twitter, too. Artist, anarchist and literary entrepreneur Félix Fénéon was the one-man Twitter of early 20th-century France. Between May and November of 1906, he wrote 1,220 succinct and near-surrealist three-line reports in the Paris newspaper Le Matin, serving to inform of everything from notable deaths to petty theft to naval expedition disasters. In Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon, artist Joanna Neborsky captures the best of these enigmatic vignettes in stunning illustrations and collages, inspired by Luc Sante’s English translation of Fénéon’s gems for the New York Review of Books. Sometimes profound, often perplexing, and always prepossessing, these visual snapshots of historical micro-narratives offer a bizarre and beautiful glimpse of a long-gone French era and a man of rare creative genius.

Félix Fénéon was a dandy, a literary bricoleur, and a terrorist, maybe. Biographers dispute his guilt in the 1894 bombing of a restaurant in Paris. As the journalist himself might later have written, ‘A flowerpot left on a windowsill exploded in the Rue de Conde. In the Restaurant Foyot, appetites and the eye of Laurent Tailhad, 40, were lost.’ Fénéon, then a clerk in the government’s War Office, was arrested and tried int he sensational Trial of the Thirty, a piece of political theater aimed at exposing the anarchist underground. After he was acquitted (evidence was flimsy, the prosecution, inept), two policemen followed Fénéon for the next two decades. But how do you shadow a shadow? In life and work, the wraithlike Fénéon — his lean face darkened by a top hat and limned by a goatee that friends said gave him the look of Uncle Sam, or Mephistopheles — preferred to disappear. His love was art, and his subject, the genius of others.”

Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon comes from indie powerhouse Mark Batty Publisher, who have previously delighted us with explorations of everything from how sounds became letters to why typography might be the key to cross-cultural understanding to what the ecology of Antarctica has to do with remix culture and many, many more treats.

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21 APRIL, 2011

Tweets from Tahrir: Rare Record of a Revoltuion

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What Gladwell’s fallacies have to do with changing media models and political paradigms.

In the past year, we’ve seen the fall of political regimes, the crumbling of media paradigms, and the parallel evolution of decomcary and social media. And while certain pundits continue to hold blatantly misguided opinions about the sociopolitical role of social media in activism, the real world is providing ample evidence for these new modalities of democracy and dissent. Tweets from Tahrir, an excellent new addition to alternative publishing powerhouse OR Books‘ stable of progressive social and political commentary, is a compelling time-capsule of the revolution unfolded before the world’s eyes as young people used social platforms to coordinate an historic uprising, documented it with their mobile phones, and spread it across the social web — a revolution not only of political dogma, but also of media dogma as citizen journalists in the streets replaced traditional newsrooms to deliver rich real-time insight into the heart of a historical milestone.

I think we’re agreed: Without the new media the Egyptian Revolution could not have happened in the way that it did. The causes were many, deep-rooted, and log0seated. The turning moment had come — but it was the instant and widespread nature of the new media that made it possible to recognize the moment and to push it into such an effective manifestation. What happened next has already become legend. Lines and images from the three weeks that followed January 25, 2011 , have imprinted themselves not just on the Egyptian psyche, but on the memory and imagination of the world.” ~ Ahdaf Soueif

Edited by young activists Alex Nunns and Nadia Idle, an Egyptian who was in Tahrir Square when Mubarak fell, and with a foreword by Anglo-Egyptian novelist and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif, the book is everything the self-righteous, removed pontification of cultural theorists is not (sorry, Malcolm) — the lived reality of the revolutionaries, the raw core of a world history landmark the repercussions of which will shape textbook narratives for generations to come.

I have friends on antidepressants who, over the twenty days of the revolution, forgot to take their pills and hav enow thrown them away. Such is the effect of the Egyptian Revolution.” ~ Ahdaf Soueif

Fast-paced and relentlessly fascinating, Tweets from Tahrir is unlike any book ever written, much in the way that the Egyptian Revolution was unlike any uprising ever orchestrated. To miss it is to deny yourself unprecedented understanding of the sociocultural forces that shape our political and media reality.

Thanks, Kirstin

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