Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

27 MAY, 2013

Marguerite Duras on Immortality, Life & the Art of Seeing, Illustrated

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“The art of seeing has to be learned.”

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie,Stephen King proclaimed, and a beacon of this conviction is The Lover (public library) — a short and stirring 1984 autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, with a cover as iconic as the book itself, designed by the inimitable Louise Fili.

For this latest installment in the Brain Pickings artist series, designer and artist Kerri Augenstein has illustrated some of my marginalia from this masterpiece, including a poetic meditation on the recently explored question of immortality, in the style of her magnificent Dumb Dots Figure Studies series. Each is in reality a 10-foot drawing, so the screen does it little justice, but their elegant beauty still mesmerizes:

It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.

The art of seeing has to be learned.

Both pieces are available on Etsy as limited-edition 5.5″ x 9.5″ prints in Kerri’s Etsy shop. You can find out about the philosophy behind her Figure Studies series here.

The Lover is a sublime and timeless read that, though semi-fictional, offers keen insight into the complex machinery of love on par with these 5 essential books on the art and science of love.

Previous artist series have included Susan Sontag on art and on love illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, Anaïs Nin on love and more love illustrated by Debbie Millman, Salvador Dalí’s creative credo illustrated by Moly Crabapple, and Anaïs Nin on life illustrated by Lisa Congdon.

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24 MAY, 2013

Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Typographic Confabulation with Finnegans Wake

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“First we feel. Then we fall.”

Long before the Tumblr era of visual quotes, long before the ubiquity of typographic treatments of famous words, long before the age of art and design projects inspired by literary classics, in 1978, to be precise, Brooklyn-born artist and poet Jacob Drachler (1909-1998) released Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake (public library) – a visually gripping suite of 44 graphics that captures in a beautifully abstract, ethereal yet tangibly coherent way the essence of the dense Joyce classic.

Drachler writes in the foreword:

I have mined the immense “Unterwealth” of Finnegans Wake, not with the aim of illustrating Joyce’s mythic narrative, but rather to tap into the energies of his truly protean language, and thus to bring about new contexts of word and image. Having been for many years a spellbound delver in the Wake, I began, for this project, a systematic culling out of hundreds of brief texts that spoke to me with particular resonance. I would then comb back and forth through these texts somewhat the way a water-douser follows his forked branch. Texts would call forth forms and forms would find their texts. The new contexts which were thus given shape are, to be sure, merely one man’s response to Joycean insights — a confabulation with a fabled work.

Thanks to Austin’s wonderful South Congress Books, where I found Joyce’s little-known poems, I got my hands on one of the few surviving copies — here is a glimpse of the deliciousness inside:

Though this gem is sadly long out of print, used copies can still be found. Happily, my limited-edition find includes this gorgeous original screenprint, signed by Drachler:

Take the abstraction level down a significant notch, but not the visual delight, with some illustrations from Joyce’s posthumously discovered children’s book.

Thanks to my friends at the School of Visual Arts for letting me use their large scanner.

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24 MAY, 2013

Love Letter as Obit: How To Praise Like David Ogilvy

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“Many nice men are too dumb to be anything else.”

Few are the legends of communication arts whose legacy tells us something not merely about how to sell well but how to live well, whose minds reveal something deeper about the inner workings of the self rather than the mere machinery that fueled “the century of the self,” who teach us something not only about the tricks of the commercial trade but also about what makes the human heart tick. Among those exceptional few is advertising icon and original “Mad Man” David Ogilvy. From the out-of-print 1986 gem The Unpublished David Ogilvy (public library) — the same compendium of his lectures, memos, and lists that gave us his 10 timeless tips on writing — comes this memo sent to a veteran copywriter on April 2, 1971, which bespeaks with equal measure Ogilvy’s unapologetic standards, his wry wit, and his self-conscious but unrelenting humanity:

Harry just read me the letter you wrote me yesterday, on your anniversary.

Shyness makes it impossible for me to tell any man what I think of him when he is still alive. However, if I outlive you, I shall write an obituary along these lines:

––––––––– was probably the nicest man I have ever known. His kindness to me, and to dozens of other people, was nothing short of angelic.

Many nice men are too dumb to be anything else. But ––––––––– was far from dumb. Indeed, he had a superb intelligence.

His judgment of men and events was infallible; I came to rely on it more and more as the years went by.

He was one of my few partners who worked harder and longer hours than I did. He gave value for money. And he knew his trade.

He was an honest man, in the largest sense of the word. He had a glorious sense of humor.

He had the courage to challenge me when he thought I was wrong, but he always contrived to do it without annoying me.

There was nothing saccharine about him. Tolerant as he was, he did no like everybody; he disliked the people who deserved to be disliked.

He never pursued popularity, but he inspired universal affection.

The Unpublished David Ogilvy is fantastic in its entirety, a treasure trove of wisdom on business, creative culture, and the human condition.

Photograph via Ogilvy One

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