NASA may have given us decades of cosmic awe, but the agency’s future and thus the future of space exploration are hanging by a thread. Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that the only way to get NASA back on track is to get those to whom the president is accountable — the electorate, “we the people” — excited about space exploration again, and Pursuit of Light, a beautiful short film from NASA with original music by Moby, seeks to do exactly that. With my jaw agape and my breath a gasp just a few seconds into it, I dare say it is succeeding — it’s the most magnificent reminder of the whimsy of the universe since The Sagan Series.
Literature and art converge to combat book famine and bibliowaste.
A modern paradox: While the developing world is experiencing the worst “book famine” in decades, an estimated 40% of books printed in the “developed world” go to waste, eventually destroyed by the publishers themselves. Having a tremendous soft spot for art and design projects inspired by literary classics, I love everything about Danny Fein’s Litographs project, which addresses this paradox through beautiful prints by a team of artists, made of upcycled classic texts, many in the public domain. The books remain fully legible in the final print. Thanks to a partnership with the International Book Bank, every print sold sends a book to a community in need.
'What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.'
This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of The Catcher in the Rye. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first half of the book.
'If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.'
This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The 18 x 24 inch print includes the full text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
'I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.'
This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of On the Road. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first half of the book.
'...for the shield may be as important for victory, as the sword or spear.'
This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes approximately the first third of On the Origin of Species. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first sixth of the book.
All the litographs are available in color as well as black-and-white, and you can see the full full collection on the project site.
Benson’s own Beatle story is an unlikely one — in 1964, while boarding a plane for a foreign assignment in Africa, he got a call from the editor of London’s The Daily Express and was dispatched to Paris instead, with The Beatles, to document French Beatlemania. Personable and warm, Benson was quickly welcomed into the Fab Four’s inner circle. At the cusp of their exorbitant global celebrity, he managed to capture some of their most intimate and genuine moments on film. (That famous photograph of The Beatles having a pillow fight at the George V Hotel was his.) From their first visit to the U.S., complete with New York hysteria, to their adventures on the set of A Hard Day’s Night to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Benson was there to capture it all, even the impact of Lennon’s controversial comment that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus Christ.”
An introductory essay by Benson himself, complete with newspaper clippings from the era, adds first-hand context to the remarkable photos. He writes:
These photos convey a really happy period for them and for me. It all comes down to music, they were without a doubt the greatest band of the 20th century, and that’s why these photographs are so important.
Where a third of our entire life goes, or what professional wrestling has to do with War and Peace.
“The universe is made of stories, not atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser memorably asserted, and Harvard sociobiologist E. O. Wilson recently pointed to the similarity between innovators in art and science, both of whom he called “dreamers and storytellers.” Stories aren’t merely essential to how we understand the world — they are how we understand the world. We weave and seek stories everywhere, from data visualization to children’s illustration to cultural hegemony. In The Storytelling Animal, educator and science writer Jonathan Gottschall traces the roots, both evolutionary and sociocultural, of the transfixing grip storytelling has on our hearts and minds, individually and collectively. What emerges is a kind of “unified theory of storytelling,” revealing not only our gift for manufacturing truthiness in the narratives we tell ourselves and others, but also the remarkable capacity of stories — the right kinds of them — to change our shared experience for the better.
Gottschall articulates a familiar mesmerism:
Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.
One particularly important aspect of storytelling Gottschall touches on is the osmotic balance between the writer’s intention and the reader’s interpretation, something Mortimer Adler argued for decades ago in his eloquent case for marginalia. Gottschall writes:
The writer is not … an all-powerful architect of our reading experience. The writer guides the way we imagine but does not determine it. A film begins with a writer producing a screenplay. But it is the director who brings the screenplay to life, filling in most of the details. So it is with any story. A writer lays down words, but they are inert. They need a catalyst to come to life. The catalyst is the reader’s imagination.
In discussing the extent to which we live in stories, Gottschall puts in concrete terms something most of us suspect — fear, perhaps — on an abstract, intuitive level: the astounding amount of time we spend daydreaming.
Clever scientific studies involving beepers and diaries suggest that an average daydream is about fourteen seconds long and that we have about two thousand of them per day. In other words, we spend about half of our waking hours — one-third of our lives on earth — spinning fantasies. We daydream about the past: things we should have said or done, working through our victories and failures. We daydream about mundane stuff such as imagining different ways of handling conflict at work. But we also daydream in a much more intense, storylike way. We screen films with happy endings in our minds, where all our wishes — vain, aggressive, dirty — come true. And we screen little horror films, too, in which our worst fears are realized.
From War and Peace to pro wrestling, from REM sleep to the “fictional screen media” of commercials, from our small serialized personal stories on Facebook and Twitter to the large cultural stories of religious traditions, The Storytelling Animal dives into what science knows — and what it’s still trying to find out — about our propensity for storytelling to reveal not only the science of story but also its seemingly mystical yet palpably present power.
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