Brain Pickings

A Photographic History of Bromance, 1840-1918

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In the spirit of exposing the old-timey roots of seemingly modern concepts — take, for instance, social networking — here comes a historical look at “bromance.”

Contrary to what Judd Apatow movies may lead you to believe, “bromance” is actually an old and surprisingly well-documented phenomenon, as evidenced by David Deitcher’s Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918 — a collection of more than 100 photographs depicting what the era’s comfort levels would have described as platonic male affection.

The book is a treasure trove of early photography gems, including rare daguerreotypes, cartes des visites and vintage photographic postcards, insightfully contextualized by art historian and cultural critic David Deitcher.

Curiously, the images have been longtime prized collector’s items for gay men, who saw in them a sort of indirect validation in lieu of real representation of homosexuality in portraiture — something we covered last week with Hide/Seek, which explores the history of gender identity and sexual difference in art.

David Deitcher writes:

[In the late Victorian period] men posed for photographers holding hands, entwining limbs, or resting in the shelter of each other’s accommodating bodies, innocent of the suspicion that such behavior would later arouse.

Tender and often funny, Dear Friends is both a fascinating timecapsule of an era and a powerful implicit reminder of all the artificial behavioral norms we have since imposed on our conception of masculinity and friendship.

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The Story of Eames Furniture

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Charles and Ray Eames are among the most influential American designers in history, whose contributions to modernist architecture and furniture, as well as graphic design, fine art and film, shaped the American aesthetic for decades to come. Today, we see Eames pervasive legacy in everything from the set of Mad Men to the pages of design history books to the streets of downtown LA.

This fall, Gestalten is capturing the legacy of the great couple in an ambitious and absolutely gorgeous 800-page hardcover volume 13 years in the making, fittingly authored by another husband-and-wife duo, Marilyn Neuhart and John Neuhart. The Story of Eames Furniture is a design geek’s lustful dream, brimming with detailed technical diagrams, glamorous product shots, vintage advertisements, anecdotes and other rare peeks at the Eames’ creative process.

Among the book’s major contributions is that it identifies the Eames’ numerous collaborators, who would’ve never otherwise been credited for their work. From the creative conception of specific pieces of furniture to profiles of individual designers, it’s as intimate a look at the Eames universe as the world has seen.

Going into the Eames’ office was like watching people take their brains out and knead them on their desks like dough.” ~ John Neuhart

In this exclusive interview, the authors talk about everything from the cultural significance of Eames’ work to why Charles hated the word ‘creative':

It was such a clean breath of fresh air. The furniture was a clear expression of the modern movement that went on in graphics and architecture.” ~ John Neuhart

Grab a copy of The Story of Eames Furniture for the design geek in your life or for your own coffee table. Which, more likely than not, is a distant but palpable descendant of Eames’ legacy.

via Susan Everett

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Visualizing Enlightenment-Era Social Networks

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Why Mark Zuckerberg has nothing on Voltaire.

Social networking isn’t really a modern phenomenon. Long before there was Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, there was the Republic of Letters — a vast and intricate network of intellectuals, linking the finest “philosophes” of the Enlightenment across national borders and language barriers. This self-defined community of writers, scholars, philosophers and other thinkers included greats like Voltaire, Leibniz, Rousseau, Linnaeus, Franklin, Newton, Diderot and many others we’ve come to see as linchpins of cultural history.

Mapping the Republic of Letters is a fascinating project by a team of students and professors at Stanford, visualizing the famous intellectual correspondence of the Enlightenment, how they traveled, and how the network evolved over time — an inspired cross-pollination of humanitarian scholarship and computer science. (An important larger trend thoughtfully examined in this New York Times article.)

The project pulls data from the Electronic Enlightenment database, an archive of more than 55,000 letters and documents exchanged between 6,400 correspondents, and maps the geographic origin and destination of the correspondence — something we’ve come to take for granted in the age of real-time GPS tracking, but an incredibly ambitious task for 300-year-old letters.

They were able to create and to foster public opinion, critical thinking, something that was going on in one city or country would soon be known and discussed elsewhere. So there was a sort of freedom of information that was created thanks to these networks.” ~ Dan Edelstein

For more on the Republic of Letters, its cultural legacy and the networking model it provided, we highly recommend Dena Goodman’s The Republic of Letters : A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment — a book controversial for its feminist undertones but nonetheless fascinating in its bold reframing of the Enlightenment not as a set of ideas that gave rise to “masculine self-governance” but as a rhetoric that borrowed heavily from female thought.

via MetaFilter

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Alone: An Animated Lament

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Alone (Egyedül) is a beautifully grim short film by Hungarian animator Mendrei Miklos, telling the story of a man for whom time stands suffocatingly still as days and months blend into each other in the abyss of his loneliness — not the bored-on-a-Friday-night kind, but the kind of soul-crushing existential emptiness that drains life of joy and meaning.

Part Kafka, part Saul Bass, the film captures the outer limits of something all of us have felt, perhaps on a tamer scale, and a fear that haunts us as we move, often mindlessly, through our daily routines.

Before you let your heart shrink with the painful narrative, hurry up and ingest this powerful antidote from a few months ago: How To Be Alone, a soul-warming homage to life’s most important skill.

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