Brain Pickings

Writer’s Block in Stop-Motion, Shakespeare-Style


What Romeo and Juliette have to do with William Shatner and modern justice.

395 years ago tomorrow, the great William Shakespeare took his last breath. Shakespearean Tragedy (A Comedy) is a lovely Claymationesque animated short film about Shakespeare’s writer’s block by 24-year-old Jerusalem-based animator Anna Cohen, exploring something we have an ongoing fascination with: What is creativity, and how do we overcome the obstacles in its way? After previously hearing from the very real Scott Belsky, Rainn Wilson, Kurt Andersen, Stefan Sagmeister, Steven Johnson and Isaac Asimov, it’s time we heard from imaginary-Shakespeare:

Bonus points for the Spakespearean facepalm, no?

Here are a few more intelligent ways to commemorate the iconic playwright:

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The Language of Graphic Design


100 years of visual communication on a silver platter.

Visual communication, like all communication, relies on a sophisticated and deeply encoded language to relay its message. That language is design and though it’s wildly ubiquitous, most people are proficient at best. Out this month, The Language of Graphic Design: An Illustrated Handbook for Understanding Fundamental Design Principles offers fluency on a beautiful silver platter by dissecting the building blocks of this language and examining its ABC’s — definitions, functions, and usage — through visually-driven case studies spanning the past 100 years.

The Language of Graphic Design isn’t a design textbook — it’s a thoughtful look at the syntax and lexicon of this language that speaks to us daily, crisply written and visually driven in away that makes it equal parts visual reference and semantic study.

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Tweets from Tahrir: Rare Record of a Revoltuion


What Gladwell’s fallacies have to do with changing media models and political paradigms.

In the past year, we’ve seen the fall of political regimes, the crumbling of media paradigms, and the parallel evolution of decomcary and social media. And while certain pundits continue to hold blatantly misguided opinions about the sociopolitical role of social media in activism, the real world is providing ample evidence for these new modalities of democracy and dissent. Tweets from Tahrir, an excellent new addition to alternative publishing powerhouse OR Books‘ stable of progressive social and political commentary, is a compelling time-capsule of the revolution unfolded before the world’s eyes as young people used social platforms to coordinate an historic uprising, documented it with their mobile phones, and spread it across the social web — a revolution not only of political dogma, but also of media dogma as citizen journalists in the streets replaced traditional newsrooms to deliver rich real-time insight into the heart of a historical milestone.

I think we’re agreed: Without the new media the Egyptian Revolution could not have happened in the way that it did. The causes were many, deep-rooted, and log0seated. The turning moment had come — but it was the instant and widespread nature of the new media that made it possible to recognize the moment and to push it into such an effective manifestation. What happened next has already become legend. Lines and images from the three weeks that followed January 25, 2011 , have imprinted themselves not just on the Egyptian psyche, but on the memory and imagination of the world.” ~ Ahdaf Soueif

Edited by young activists Alex Nunns and Nadia Idle, an Egyptian who was in Tahrir Square when Mubarak fell, and with a foreword by Anglo-Egyptian novelist and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif, the book is everything the self-righteous, removed pontification of cultural theorists is not (sorry, Malcolm) — the lived reality of the revolutionaries, the raw core of a world history landmark the repercussions of which will shape textbook narratives for generations to come.

I have friends on antidepressants who, over the twenty days of the revolution, forgot to take their pills and hav enow thrown them away. Such is the effect of the Egyptian Revolution.” ~ Ahdaf Soueif

Fast-paced and relentlessly fascinating, Tweets from Tahrir is unlike any book ever written, much in the way that the Egyptian Revolution was unlike any uprising ever orchestrated. To miss it is to deny yourself unprecedented understanding of the sociocultural forces that shape our political and media reality.

Thanks, Kirstin

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something: An Open-Story Plot Device for Life


An antidote to friend buttons, or what Shakira, Seth Godin and JJ Abrams have in common.

We’ve got something, something we share with Sir Richard Branson, Dave Eggers, Shakira, and Seth Godin, among others. And now, you too can have something — for free.

something is a plot device in a story you choose to ascribe it to, part MacGuffin Library, part Significant Objects, part creative vehicle all its own — a fascinating side project by our friends at m ss ng p eces, whom you might recall from the lovely Behind the Scenes of a TED Talk, the Michael Wolff mirco-documentary on the three muscles of creativity and last month’s excellent James Murphy interview on the future of taste and music discovery.

Today, we sit down with founder Scott Thrift to talk about something.


What, exactly, is something?

ST: something is a profoundly simple work of art that connects people, inspires new ideas and generates curiosity.


How did the something story start?

ST: After film school my writing was taking me deeper into the meaning of the moving image. The impact a single frame could have on someone began to hold more interest for me than a feature film. While applying pressure to what a one second film might feel like; I began to wonder what media, books, or art ‘do’ in the first place. What do we ‘have’ with us after the experience? I wanted to be able to grasp that intangible mystery. I wanted to ‘have’ what I wanted an original film to ‘do’ to people, without making the film.


Where is something going?

ST: For the past nine years I have given it as a gift to people who have meant something to me. It’s an effective way of giving thanks for everything beyond words. I would estimate that there are close to 500 pieces throughout the world.

One of my favorite things about something is that it cannot be downloaded. I’ve always wanted to send something to people in the mail to celebrate the physicality of connection.”

I kind of miss that in a world of friend buttons, so I’m going to give that a go and see what happens.


What has been the most surprising response to something that you’ve seen?

ST: Something connects people to the present moment. In the newness of that moment I’ve seen people bite it, laugh uncontrollably, shake it next to their ear, try desperately to open it, smell it, go on a pun fit or become frightened, confused, jubilant, jealous, I’ve seen it make people cry, become furious, throw it or take a picture with it but most commonly, share it with everyone around them. The most enjoyable responses for me are the surprising insights and deeply interesting conversations it inspires concerning meaning, perception, value and the thingness of things.

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