Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘SoundCloud’

06 DECEMBER, 2013

RIP, Nelson Mandela: Madiba’s Moving Inauguration Speech and Timeless Wisdom from His Autobiography

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“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

We have lost Nelson Mandela, unequaled patron saint of equality, peace, and human rights. But while the body might be gone, the spirit remains forever with us — a spirit that not only changed political history, but also tirelessly elevated humanity into a higher version of itself.

In his inauguration speech, delivered on May 10, 1994, and available below in its entirety, Madiba addresses the end of apartheid in words at once timeless and timely, ringing with soul-stirring resonance today in the wake of the end of DOMA and the dawn of marriage equality, which has been called “the civil rights issue of our day.”

Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.

[…]

The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
The time to build is upon us.

In his 1995 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (public library), Mandela speaks to the conditioning that produces both love and hate:

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

He echoes Bertrand Russell’s timeless philosophy of education as the foundation of the good life and writes:

Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

Mandela, like many of history’s greatest luminaries, sees mistakes and failure as an iterative tool of success rather than an indignity to be avoided:

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

But perhaps most poignant of all is Mandela’s remark on the never-ending journey of freedom and human rights:

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.

Though Madiba’s own bodily walk may have ended, the path paved by his spectacular spirit and enduring legacy reaches further and further into the horizon as we turn the page on yet another victory of freedom and equality.

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27 NOVEMBER, 2013

November 27, 1965: A Rare Recording of Stanley Kubrick’s Most Revealing Interview

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“People react primarily to direct experience and not to abstractions; it is very rare to find anyone who can become emotionally involved with an abstraction.”

In the spring of 1965, the physicist and prolific author Jeremy Bernstein wrote a short piece for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” about of 37-year-old director Stanley Kubrick, who was accelerating towards the zenith of his cultural acclaim after releasing Lolita and Dr. Strangelove and was about to release his greatest film, his cult collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The piece garnered enough interest that Bernstein was assigned to write a feature-length profile of Kubrick — something the reclusive director wouldn’t have ordinarily agreed to, had it not been for one peculiar passion he shared with Bernstein: the love of chess. So Bernstein traveled to Oxford, where 2001 was being shot, and spent ample time with Kubrick, sneaking in chess matches during production breaks. And even though he never beat Kubrick, he accomplished an even greater feat: He got the young director, notoriously averse to long interviews, to engage in a 76-minute conversation, recorded on tape. This rare audio, recorded on November 27, 1965, is arguably Kubrick’s most extensive and revealing interview about his early career, discussing such wide-ranging subjects as how he learned that problem-solving is the key to creative success, why he got bad grades in high school, the promise and perils of nuclear power, the allure of space exploration, and what it was like to work with Clarke and Nabokov.

The profile, fittingly titled “How About a Little Game?,” was published nearly a year later, in the November 12, 1966 issue of The New Yorker, and was eventually included in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (public library) — the same excellent collection that gave us Kubrick’s Playboy interview on mortality, the fear of flying, and the meaning of life. One of the most interesting — and prescient — subjects discussed in both the New Yorker article and the audio interview are Kubrick’s conflicted views on nuclear power and the atomic bomb. Bernstein writes:

It was the building of the Berlin Wall that shaped Kubrick’s interest in nuclear power and nuclear strategy, and he began to read everything he could get hold of about the bomb. Eventually, he had decided that he had about covered the spectrum, and wasn’t learning anything new. “When you start reading the analyses of nuclear strategy, they seem so thoughtful that you’re lulled into a temporary sense of reassurance,” Kubrick explained. “But as you go deeper into it, and become more involved, you begin to realize that every one of these lines of thought leads to a paradox.” It is this constant element of paradox in all the nuclear strategies and in the conventional attitudes toward them that Kubrick transformed into the principal theme of Dr. Strangelove.

Kubrick goes on to argue that nuclear energy and the atomic bomb have been reduced to an abstraction, one “represented by a few newsreel shots of mushroom clouds,” which hinders people’s ability to actually engage with the reality of the issue. He tells Bernstein:

People react primarily to direct experience and not to abstractions; it is very rare to find anyone who can become emotionally involved with an abstraction. The longer the bomb is around without anything happening, the better the job that people do in psychologically denying its existence. It has become as abstract as the fact that we are all going to die someday, which we usually do an excellent job of denying. For this reason, most people have very little interest in nuclear war. It has become even less interesting as a problem than, say, city government, and the longer a nuclear event is postponed, the greater becomes the illusion that we are constantly building up security, like interest at the bank. As time goes on, the danger increases, I believe, because the thing becomes more and more remote in people’s minds. No one can predict the panic that suddenly arises when all the lights go out — that indefinable something that can make a leader abandon his carefully laid plans. A lot of effort has gone into trying to imagine possible nuclear accidents and to protect against them. But whether the human imagination is really capable of encompassing all the subtle permutations and psychological variants of these possibilities, I doubt. The nuclear strategists who make up all those war scenarios are never as inventive as reality, and political and military leaders are never as sophisticated as they think they are.

And yet, despite this glib view of our capacity for transcending the limitations of our own minds, Kubrick did have beautiful faith in the human spirit, as his timeless words bespeak: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

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25 NOVEMBER, 2013

This Is Love: Neil Gaiman’s Bachelor Party the Night Before He Married Amanda Palmer

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An uncommon story of uncommon romance.

Few can master the intricate balance of romance and creative collaboration as gracefully as power-duo Neil Gaiman, he of invaluable advice on the written word and timeless wisdom on the creative life, and Amanda Palmer, remarkable musician and eloquent crusader for the art of asking. At their recent New York City show for the traveling-performance-turned-terrific-collaborative-album An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer (vinyl), Gaiman shared the disarmingly endearing story of his bachelor party the night before their wedding. Listen with headphones on:

The album itself is absolutely fantastic — you can, and should, order it from Amanda’s site, where it is available in various formats under the Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike” license.

Donating = Loving

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