Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

25 JULY, 2013

Open House for Butterflies: Ruth Krauss’s Final and Loveliest Collaboration with Maurice Sendak

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“Krauss books can be bridges between the poor dull insensitive adult and the fresh, imaginative, brand-new child.”

Beloved children’s author Ruth Krauss (July 25, 1901–July 10, 1993) penned more than thirty books for little ones over the course of her forty-year career, but remains best-known as half of one of the most celebrated author-illustrator duos of all time, the other half being none other than Maurice Sendak. Their eight-year partnership, masterminded by the great Ursula Nordstrom who also nursed Sendak into genius, produced such soul-stirring, heart-warming delights as the hopelessly wonderful ode to friendship I’ll Be You and You Be Me. But Krauss’s eighth and final* collaboration with Sendak, Open House for Butterflies (public library), was arguably their loveliest. Originally published in 1960 and thankfully, unlike what happens to a tragic many out-of-print gems, reprinted in 2001, this tiny treasure is a timeless smile-inducer for children and grown-ups alike.

Open House for Butterflies is absolutely wonderful in its entirety, an epitome of the Krauss-Sendak magic that nurtured generations of children to blossom into creative, thoughtful, just-the-right-amount-of-irreverent adults.

But no one captured the spirit of the Krauss kid more wonderfully than Nordstrom herself: In a letter from January 29, 1952, found in the altogether fantastic Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (public library), Nordstrom writes to her author months before the first Krauss-Sendak book was released:

Last week-end I saw a television program (yes, I have a tv set and the other children’s book editors think I’m horrible to have one but I just toss my lovely head and act defiant) and on it was the most attractive 4 year old boy I’ve ever seen. very close, manly hair cut, and a darling face with dimples. The repulsive master of ceremonies said to him: “Tell me, Craig, when did you get those dimples?” and the m.c. grinned a baby-talk sort of grin, and the audience of adults giggled lovingly. And the kid looked at him and said: “When I got my face.” His tone of voice was reasonable and courteous and trying not to indicate what a silly question that one was. . . . Doesn’t look so wonderful written down, but it was wonderful. A Krauss Kid, I thought happily to myself.

In another letter from February of 1954, Nordstrom tells one of Harper & Row’s West Coast representatives:

Krauss books can be bridges between the poor dull insensitive adult and the fresh, imaginative, brand-new child. But of course that only will work if the dull adult isn’t too dull to admit he doesn’t know the answer to everything. Krauss books will not charm those sinful adults who sift their reactions to children’s books through their own messy adult maladjustments. That is a sin and I meet it all the time. But there are some adults who don’t sift their reactions to children’s books through their own messy adult maladjustments and I guess those are the ones who will love and buy Krauss.

* In 2005, Sendak re-illustrated a new edition of Krauss’s 1948 gem Bears, originally illustrated by Phyllis Rowand, thus producing a sort of posthumous ninth collaboration.

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16 JULY, 2013

Alice and Martin Provensen’s Stunning Vintage Illustrations for Twelve Classic Fairy Tales

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From “The Happy Prince” to “The Beauty and the Beast,” by way of feminism and art history.

As a hopeless fan of Alice and Martin Provensen and a lover of fairy tales, especially ones featuring exquisite illustrations and beautiful reimaginings of the classics, I was delighted to come across The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales (public library) — an out-of-print gem published in 1971, in which the creative duo bring their singular whimsy to twelve beloved fairy tales. From classics like “The Beauty and the Beast” to literary tales like Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” to a recasting of Grimm’s goose girl as a heroine driven by the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, it is at once a timeless treasure trove of storytelling and a subtle time-capsule of cultural history.

'The Swan Maiden' by Howard Pyle

'The Swan Maiden' by Howard Pyle

'The Forrest Bride' by Parker Fillmore

'The Forrest Bride' by Parker Fillmore

'Feather O' My Wing' by Seamus MacManus

'Feather O' My Wing' by Seamus MacManus

In the foreword, Joan Bodger makes an important distinction, which Philip Pullman would come to echo in his retelling of The Brothers Grimm:

The stories in this book are literary fairy tales and thus may seem both familiar and unfamiliar. They are literary fairy tales because they are consciously created pieces of literature. The folk fairy tale is much more ancient, handed along through time (inheritance) and space (diffusion). Folk tales are so transformed by many tellings that no one knows for sure where they began, or how, or why. Certain it is that men and women in every time and every place have tried to impart what is most powerful or complicated or downright funny about the human condition by making up stories to explain the inexplicable.

The literary tale borrows shamelessly from the folk tale but gives it a new twist or dimension… Literary tales are filched from the seething cauldron of folklore, but the best bits and pieces of them are thrown back into the pot to be used again and again.

'The Prince Rabbit' by A. A. Milne

'The Prince Rabbit' by A. A. Milne

'The Prince Rabbit' by A. A. Milne

'The Prince and the Goose Girl' by Elinor Mordaunt

'The Happy Prince' by Oscar Wilde

'The Lost Half-Hour' by Henry Beston

'The Nightingale' by Hans Christian Andersen

'The Seven Simons' by Ruth Manning-Sanders

'The Beauty and the Beast' by Arthur Rackham

Martin Provensen died of a heart attack in 1987, but Alice has continued to write and illustrate well into her nineties. Their artwork has inspired generations of children and its influence quietly reverberates through styles of some of today’s most celebrated artists and illustrators like Vladimir Radunsky. (That their Wikipedia page is so incomplete and out-of-date is truly a shame.)

Complement The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales with Edward Gorey’s take on three classic fairy tales and Kay Nielsen’s stunning 1914 illustrations for Scandinavian fairy tales.

Thanks, Gjela

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12 JULY, 2013

Ever Rethinking the Lord’s Prayer: Buckminster Fuller Revises Scripture with Science

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A secular definition of divinity as a curiosity-driven love of truth bent through the prism of our subjective experience.

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science,” Einstein wrote to a little girl who asked him whether scientists pray, “becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.” “The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive,” Carl Sagan seconded, “does a disservice to both.” And yet the oppression of religious doctrine over scientific thought has persisted for centuries, from Galileo to some of today’s most celebrated minds.

In his 1981 classic Critical Path (public library), legendary architect, designer, inventor, theorist and futurist Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895–July 1, 1983) explores the subject with his singular blend of philosophical fringe-think, love of science, and cosmic poetics. He recalls being heavily influenced, at the impressionable age of ten, by the Russian Revolution and the Communist party’s demolition of all mystical thought, which was forcibly replaced with blind faith in “omniscientific technology” that manifested as institutionalized atheism. Three years later, Fuller wrote Einstein’s famous “Cosmic Religious Sense — the Nonanthropomorphic Concept of God,” which pointed out that legendary scientists like Galileo and Kepler had been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church as “heretics” for their resolute faith in the orderliness of the universe and the belief that it was driven by principles of nonathropomorphic nature — that is, no elderly gentleman with a big white beard. This, Fuller writes, shaped his thinking profoundly, so he created his own scientifically-inspired rendition of “the Lord’s Prayer,” a centerpiece of the Christian faith:

Since 1927, whenever I am going to sleep, I always concentrate my thinking on what I call “Ever Rethinking the Lord’s Prayer.”

He then goes on to write out his “prayer” — essentially a secular definition of divinity as a curiosity-driven love of truth bent through the prism of our subjective experience, something Philip Ball articulated a quarter century later in his eloquent distinction between curiosity and wonder — on his 84th birthday:

EVER RETHINKING THE LORD’S PRAYER
July 12, 1979

To be satisfactory to science
all definitions
must be stated
in terms of experience

I define Universe as
all of humanity’s
in-all-known-time
consciously apprehended
and communicated (to self or others)
experiences.

In using the word, God,
I am consciously employing
four clearly differentiated
from one another
experience-engendered thoughts.

Firstly I mean: —

Those experience-engendered thoughts
which are predicted upon past successions
of unexpected, human discoveries
of mathematically incisive,
physically demonstrable answers
to what theretofore had been misassumed
to be forever unanswerable
cosmic magnitude questions
wherefore I now assume it to be
scientifically manifest,
and therefore experientially reasonable that

scientifically explainable answers
may and probably will
eventually be given
to all questions
as engendered in all human thoughts
by the sum total
of all human experiences;
wherefore my first meaning for God is: –

all the experientially explained
or explainable answers
to all questions
of all time –

Secondly I mean: –
The individual’s memory
of many surprising moments
of dawning comprehensions
of an interrelated significance
to be existent
amongst a number
of what had previously seemed to be
entirely uninterrelated experiences
all of which remembered experiences
engender the reasonable assumption
of the possible existence
of a total comprehension
of the integrated significance –
the meaning –
of all experiences.

Thirdly, I mean:–
the only intellectually discoverable
a priori, intellectual integrity
indisputably manifest as
the only mathematically statable
family
of generalized principles –
cosmic laws–
thus far discovered and codified
and ever physically redemonstrable
by scientists
to be not only unfailingly operative
but to be in eternal
omni-interconsiderate,
omni-interaccommodative governance
of the complex
of everyday, naked-eye experiences
as well as of the multi-millions-fold greater range
of only instrumentally explored
infra- and ultra-tunable
micro and macro-Universe events.

Fourthly, I mean: –
All the mystery inherent
in all human experience,
which as a lifetime ratioed to eternity,
is individually limited
to almost negligible
twixt sleepings, glimpses
of only a few local episodes
of one of the infinite myriads
of concurrently and overlappingly operative
sum-totally never-ending
cosmic scenario serials

With these four meanings I now directly address God.

“Our God –
Since omni-experience is your identity
You have given us
overwhelming manifest: –
of Your complete knowledge
of Your complete comprehension
of Your complete concern
of Your complete coordination
of Your complete responsibility
of Your complete capability to cope
in absolute wisdom and effectiveness
with all problems and events
and of Your eternally unfailing reliability
so to do

Yours, Dear God,
is the only and complete glory.

By Glory I mean
the synergetic totality
of all physical and metaphysical radiation
and of all physical and metaphysical gravity
of finite
but nonunitarily conceptual
scenario Universe
in whose synergetic totality
the a priori energy potential
of both radiation and gravity
are initially equal
but whose respective
behavioral patterns are such
that radiation’s entropic, redundant disintegratings
is always less effective
than gravity’s nonredundant
syntropic integrating

Radiation is plural and differentiable,
radiation is focusable, beamable, and self-sinusing,
it is interceptible, separatist, and biasable –
ergo, has shadowed voids and vulnerabilities;

Gravity is unit and undifferentiable
Gravity is comprehensive
inclusively embracing and permeative
is nonfocusable and shadowless,
and is omni-integrative
all of which characteristics of love.
Love is metaphysical gravity.

You, Dear God,
are the totally loving intellect
ever designing
and ever daring to test
and thereby irrefutably proving
to the uncompromising satisfaction
of Your own comprehensive and incisive
knowledge of the absolute truth
that Your generalized principles
adequately accommodate any and all
special case developments,
involvements, and side effects;
wherefore Your absolutely courageous

omnirigorous and ruthless self-testing
alone can and does absolutely guarantee
total conservation
of the integrity
of eternally regenerative Universe

Your eternally regenerative scenario Universe
is the minimum complex
of totally intercomplementary
totally intertransforming
nonsimultaneous, differently frequenced
and differently enduring
feedback closures
of a finite
but nonunitarily
nonsimultaneously conceptual system
in which naught is created
and naught is lost
and all occurs
in optimum efficiency.

Total accountability and total feedback
constitute the minimum and only
perpetual motion system.
Universe is the one and only
eternally regenerative system.

To accomplish Your regenerative integrity
You give Yourself the responsibility
of eternal, absolutely continuous,
tirelessly vigilant wisdom.

Wherefore we have absolute faith and trust in You,
and we worship You
awe-inspiredly,
all-thankfully,
rejoicingly,
lovingly,
Amen.

He goes on to further explore the relationship between science and scripture:

In considering theology and science I think it is important to note their differences regarding familiar and not-so-familiar cosmic concepts.

It is the very essence of my thinking that, for a principle to qualify as generalizable in science, there must be no known exceptions to its reliability. Exceptionless means eternal. Principles can be only eternal.

He points to mathematics as an example of the eternal, for its principles are reliably demonstrable, and writes:

Acknowledging the mathematically elegant intellectual integrity of eternally regenerative Universe is one way of identifying God.

Stuart Firestein wrote in his indispensable Ignorance: How It Drives Science, one of the best science books of 2012, that “Real science is a revision in progress, always. It proceeds in fits and starts of ignorance.” So, too, Bucky reminds us that science is inextricably bound with the mysterious, its champion rather than its nemesis, as much of traditional religious doctrine would have us believe. He writes:

The synergetic integral of the totality of all principles is God, whose sum-total behavior in pure principle is beyond our comprehension and is utterly mysterious to us, because as humans — in pure principle — we do not and never will know all the principles.

Like Carl Sagan, who urged us to master the critical balance between skepticism and openness, Bucky reminds us that critical thinking is what separates the superstitious clinging to quasi-principles from the reliable recognition of pure principles:

Only minds have the capability to discover principles and put them to rigorous physical test before accepting them as principle. More often theologists and others discover principles but do not subject them to the rigorous physical-special-case testing before accepting and employing them as working-assumption principles.

Principles are eternal. Special case interactions of principles are temporal and brain-apprehensible because in pure principle we have time, which is simply the principle of potentially different relative frequencies and not of beginnings and endings.

Critical Path, as necessarily mind-bending from cover to cover, can’t be extolled enough. Complement it with Bucky on synergetics and the perils of specialization.

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