Brain Pickings

Ray Bradbury on Space, Education, and Our Obligation to Future Generations: A Rare 2003 Interview

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“Anything that puts a sense of the miraculous in you… Anything that makes you feel alive is good.”

After this morning’s remembrance of Ray Bradbury through 11 of his most memorable quotes, here comes a rare archival gem: On August 22, 2003, SCVTV news man Leon Worden conducted a short but wide-ranging interview with the beloved author, in which he discusses such timely subjects as future of space exploration, what’s wrong with the education system, and where technology is taking us, exploring ideas as broad and abstract as the possibility of alien life and as specific and concrete as tackling the 40,000 highway deaths that take place every year.

The interview is now available online, mashed up with images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — highlights below.

In commenting on the cultural impact of mainstream media, Bradbury echoes David Foster Wallace’s lament:

Maybe we can get rid of a lot of lousy TV, I hope. It can look better if we can destroy most bad TV shows and most bad movies, really making more quality movies. And maybe we’ll redo our educational system and begin to teach reading and writing again. We’re not doing it now, and until we do, we’re going to be a stupid race.

But, unlike Wallace, Bradbury doesn’t believe the medium is the problem and instead makes a case for filling it with more substantial messages:

Anything except what’s on there! I watch the Turner Broadcast night after night — the old movies are better, no matter how dumb they are, they’re better what we’re doing now… We have to have more documentaries, more histories of the various countries of the world, more films on the miracles of life under the sea… when you look at the varieties of life that are under the ocean… Anything that puts a sense of the miraculous in you, that we’re living in a very strange element in this time, and we should appreciate the fact that we’re alive. Anything that makes you feel alive is good.

When asked about our obligation is in terms of passing our legacy along to future generations, Bradbury gives an answer that nods to combinatorial creativity and the idea that “you are a mashup of what you let into your life”:

If you don’t read or write, you can’t be educated, you can’t care about anything — you’ve gotta put something in people’s heads so the metaphors bounce around and collide with each other and make new metaphors. That’s the success I’ve had of daring to put different metaphors together, mashing their heads together, saying, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t think of that — how wonderful!’

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Dorothy Parker Obituary, 1967

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Treasure-hunting for literary history gems in second-hand books.

On her 70th birthday, Dorothy Parker — prolific poet, celebrated satirist, keen critic, astute observer of literary culture — noted wryly:

If I had any decency, I’d be dead. Most of my friends already are.

Less than four years later, on June 7, 1967, she suffered a heart attack in her New York City hotel suite and died. The following day, The Kansas City Times published the following obituary, which my friend Wendy found tucked inside the pages of an old copy of Enough Rope, Parker’s first volume of poetry — a living testament to the wonders tucked inside second-hand books.

Once, reviewing a performance of Katherine Hepburn on Broadway, Miss Parker wrote: ‘She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.’

For a proper celebration of Parker’s genius, treat yourself to the Penguin Classic The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Parker biographer Marion Meade.

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Remembering Ray Bradbury with 11 Timeless Quotes on Joy, Failure, Writing, Creativity, and Purpose

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The literary hero in his own words.

What a tragic season it’s been for literary heroes who defined generations of readers and creators. Last month, we lost Maurice Sendak, and this week, Ray Bradbury — beloved author, champion of curiosity, relentless advocate of libraries — passed way at the age of 91. To celebrate his life and legacy, here are eleven of his most timeless insights on writing, culture, creativity, failure, happiness, and more.

On doing what you love, in this wonderful 2008 video interview from the National Endowment for the Arts:

Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.

On art, in Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You:

We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.

UPDATE: Reader Dr. Karen Funt writes: “‘We have our Arts so we don’t die of the truth’ is really Nietzsche… [W]hether Bradbury realized that he was quoting Nietzsche, I don’t know, but it isn’t fair to Nietzsche to have the attribution of one of his greatest thoughts, given over to another, especially at that person’s death. I’m glad that Bradbury liked the idea, but that does not make it his.”

On reading as a prerequisite for democracy, from the same 2008 NEA interview:

If you know how to read, you have a complete education about life, then you know how to vote within a democracy. But if you don’t know how to read, you don’t know how to decide. That’s the great thing about our country — we’re a democracy of readers, and we should keep it that way.

On creativity and the myth of the muse, in Zen in the Art of Writing:

That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.

On creative purpose and perseverance in the face of rejection, in Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life:

[S]tarting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So … take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

On signal and noise, in Zen in the Art of Writing:

Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.

On curiosity and stimulating work, in his fantastic 2001 speech at The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea:

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.

On joy in one’s work, in the same 2001 speech:

I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.

On symbolism and self-consciousness, in a lovely 1963 project by a high school student asking famous writers to weigh in on symbolism:

I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to get the subconscious to do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural. During a lifetime, one saves up information which collects itself around centers in the mind; these automatically become symbols on a subliminal level and need only be summoned in the heat of writing.

On the beauty of life’s ephemeral nature, in his final piece in the New Yorker:

Even at [age eleven], I was beginning to perceive the endings of things, like this lovely paper light. I had already lost my grandfather, who went away for good when I was five. I remember him so well: the two of us on the lawn in front of the porch, with twenty relatives for an audience, and the paper balloon held between us for a final moment, filled with warm exhalations, ready to go.

On legacy, through a character in Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

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Rilke’s Love Letters

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“Now I come to you full of future. And from habit we begin to live our past.”

As a lover of famous correspondence, especially extraordinary love letters, and of Rilke, I was instantly enamored with Rilke and Andreas-Salomé: A Love Story in Letters (public library) — a magnificent collection of letters exchanged between Rilke and the Russian-born writer, intellectual, psychoanalyst, and “muse of Europe’s fin-de-siècle thinkers and artists” Lou Andreas-Salomé, fifteen years his senior.

The relationship, which began when 21-year-old Rilke met the 36-year-old and married Salomé, commenced with the all-too-familiar pattern of one besotted lover, Rilke, flooding the resistant object of his desire with romantic revelations, only to be faced with repeated, composed rejection as Salomé claimed to wish she could make him “go completely away.” But Rilke’s love didn’t flinch and the two eventually developed a passionate bond which, over the thirty-five-year course of their correspondence that followed, we see change shape and morph from friends to mentor and protégé to lovers to literary allies — a kaleidoscope of love that irradiates across the romantic, the platonic, the creative, the spiritual, the intellectual, and just about everything in between.

Rilke with Lou Andreas-Salomé (1897) On the balcony of the summer house of the family Andreas near Munich. Left to right: Professor Andreas, August Endell, Rilke, and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

In a letter dated May 13, 1897, at the very onset of the relationship, Rilke writes:

You see, gracious lady, through the unsparing severity, through the uncompromising strength of your words, I felt that my own work was receiving a blessing, a sanction. I was like someone for whom great dreams, with all their good and evil, were coming true; for your essay was to my poems as reality is to a dream, as fulfillment is to a desire.

[…]

I always feel: when one person is indebted to another for something very special, that indebtedness should remain a secret between just the two of them.

On May 31 and June 1, 1897, Rilke and Salomé took a two-day trip to a small village south of Munich and it was during that trip that the two first became lovers. In a letter dated June 3rd, Rilke writes:

Songs of longing!

And they will resound in my letters, just as they always have, sometimes loudly and sometimes secretly so that you alone can hear them… But they will also be different — different from how they used to be, these songs. For I have turned and found longing at my side, and I have looked into her eyes, and now she leads me with a steady hand.

In a lengthy letter dated July 6, 1898:

Now I come to you full of future. And from habit we begin to live our past.

Rilke and Andreas-Salomé: A Love Story in Letters is remarkably rich and dimensional in its entirety, each of the 200 letters revealing a different facet of Rilke’s exceptional heart and mind, and of the universal commonalities of love itself.

Thanks, Michael

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