Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Susan Sontag’

28 JUNE, 2013

Happy Birthday, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: 21 Essential Reads on Education

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Bertrand Russell, Richard Feynman, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, Isaac Asimov, Kio Stark, and more.

After previously requested reading lists like famous writers’ collected advice on writing, the best books of 2012, and history’s finest letters of fatherly advice, here is another omnibus of popular demand: 21 great reads on education from the Brain Pickings archives, to commemorate the birthday of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712–July 2, 1778), whose reverberating wisdom shaped modern thinking on education.

Complement with the Book Pickings education archive.

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18 JUNE, 2013

Barthes’s Likes and Dislikes, Illustrated

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Champagne over strawberries, Glenn Gould over Vivaldi, romantic music over fidelity, and no telephoning.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about Susan Sontag’s meditation on why lists appeal to us, which included her quirky stream-of-consciousness lists of personal likes and dislikes. One reader — Australian illustrator and graphic designer Lynore Avery — was moved to draw some of Sontag’s favorite things, while another pointed out that French literary critic and philosopher Roland Barthes had written a similar list of likes and dislikes, which probably inspired Sontag’s. This, in fact, makes perfect sense: Sontag mentions Barthes frequently in her later journals, always with admiring and aspirational remarks like this one jotted down on a November afternoon in 1977, the year Barthes’s original list was published in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (public library):

Imagine having such a mind as Barthes has — that always works …

On March 26, 1980, she notes with forlorn dryness:

Barthes died.

It is the only death of a public intellectual she notes in this diary. Several days later, Sontag dedicates an entire journal entry to him:

People called him a critic, for want of a better label; and I myself said he was “the greatest critic to have emerged anywhere …” But he deserves the more glorious name of writer.  

His body of work is an immense, complex, extremely discreet effort at self-description.  

Eventually he became a real writer. But he couldn’t purge himself of his ideas.

Such a celebrator was Sontag of Barthes’s legacy that in 1983 she edited an anthology of his selected writings and penned the introduction to it. It comes as no surprise that it included Barthes’s own list of likes and dislikes, originally titled J’aime, je n’aime pas (I like, I don’t like).

So, the only natural thing to do was ask Lynore to bring the same illustration magic to Barthes’s lists — which she kindly did:

I like: salad, cinnamon, cheese, pimento, marzipan, the smell of new-cut hay (why doesn’t someone with a “nose” make such a perfume), roses, peonies, lavender, champagne, loosely held political convictions, Glenn Gould, too-cold beer, flat pillows, toast, Havana cigars, Handel, slow walks, pears, white peaches, cherries, colors, watches, all kinds of writing pens, desserts, unrefined salt, realistic novels, the piano, coffee, Pollock, Twombly, all romantic music, Sartre, Brecht, Verne, Fourier, Eisenstein, trains, Médoc wine, having change, Bouvard and Pécuchet, walking in sandals on the lanes of southwest France, the bend of the Adour seen from Doctor L.’s house, the Marx Brothers, the mountains at seven in the morning leaving Salamanca, etc.

I don’t like: white Pomeranians, women in slacks, geraniums, strawberries, the harpsichord, Miró, tautologies, animated cartoons, Arthur Rubinstein, villas, the afternoon, Satie, Bartók, Vivaldi, telephoning, children’s choruses, Chopin’s concertos, Burgundian branles and Renaissance dances, the organ, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, his trumpets and kettledrums, the politico-sexual, scenes, initiatives, fidelity, spontaneity, evenings with people I don’t know, etc.

Like previous Brain Pickings Artist Series collaborations, both of these gems are available as prints in Lynore’s Society6 shop — enjoy. Find more of her wonderful work on Behance.

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05 JUNE, 2013

The Quartet of Creativity: 28-Year-Old Susan Sontag on the Four People a Great Writer Must Be

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“A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2.”

The most recently released volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 — which was among the best psychology and philosophy books of 2012 — gave us the author’s collected insights on writing. But the journals of Sontag’s younger self, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library), offer another fine addition to the collected wisdom of history’s greatest authors.

In an entry dated December 3, 1961, twenty-eight-year-old Sontag itemizes:

The writer must be four people:

  1. The nut, the obsédé
  2. The moron
  3. The stylist
  4. The critic

1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence*.

A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.

(* A bit of a redundancy between 3 and 4, since Sontag once observed, “Intelligence … is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”)

Pair this list with Ezra Pound on the 6 types of writers — even though Sontag famously listed Pound among her dislikes.

Reborn — which has given us Sontag’s insights on art, marriage, and life, as well as her 10 rules for raising a child, her duties for being 24, and her list of beliefs at ages 14 vs. 24 — is full of such wonderful meditations, at once irreverent and profound.

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