Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

25 MAY, 2011

How Ralph Waldo Emerson Shaped the American Ideal

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Philosophy, entrepreneurship, and what classic spiritual movements have to do with modern geeks.

Today marks the birthday of poet, essayist, lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, father of Transcendentalism — a belief system in which spirituality transcends the physical and the doctrines of organized religion, and is instead based on the individual’s intuition, advocating for “a poetry and philosophy of insight and not tradition.” His iconic 1837 speech, The American Scholar, is commonly considered the American “Intellectual Declaration of Independence” and, to put it in modern layman terms, is easily the original geek manifesto. His seminal essay, Self-Reliance, remains one of history’s most important works on individuality and anti-conformity.

Emerson: The Ideal in America is the first documentary about the life and work of the great thinker, whose belief in “the infinitude of the private man” is embedded in contemporary concepts ranging from spirituality to spirit of entrepreneurship to ideals of individualism and personal agency. The film is available both online in its entirety and on DVD, and is very much a must-see.

Here is the real secret to Emerson’s work: He stands still, he listens to his heart, and he writes as he listens.”

To commemorate Emerson’s birth today, Seth Godin’s Domino Project is releasing a fantastic new edition of Self-Reliance, featuring self-reflections from both historical and contemporary luminaries, as well as quotes from icons like Henry Ford, Helen Keller, Steve Pressfield, and Milton Glaser. In classic Domino Project fashion, it’s a multiplatform release including a hardcover, audio CD, mp3, Kindle ebook, Audible audiobook, limited deluxe edition (with cover design eerily similar to the Holstee Manifesto), and shareable multi-packs.

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23 MAY, 2011

Cement Eclipses: Tiny Street Art Sculptures by Isaac Cordal

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What tiny people have to do with the sleepwalking hypnotism of urban routine.

I love the work of London-based street artist Isaac Cordal, whose makes big social commentary by way of street art sculptures with tiny human figurines. Since 2006, Cordal has been placing minuscule cement pieces on streets, sidewalks, walls and other corners of the city across Europe, exploring “the voluntary isolation of human beings” from nature. Cement Eclipses is a beautiful new 256-page anthology of images from the project, many never-before-seen, offering a thoughtful look at his tiny-big gifts to the public and inviting an exploration of their meaning in a sociocultural context.

Cement eclipses is a research project of urban space that runs between the fields of sculpture and photography. The sculpture is used as a starting point and photography as a witness to the execution of installations for later viewing or exhibition.” ~ Isaac Cordal

My favorite has to be this piece titled Sleepwalker, which adds to the come-hither allure of the tiny scale the ephemeral mystery of playing on shadow:

Vulnerable and expressive, the vignettes in Cement Eclipses are as much a conversation about solitude as they are an invitation to examine our role as citizens and fellow human beings in a shared urban reality.

via Colossal

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23 MAY, 2011

The Medium Is Not The Message: 3 Handwritten Newspapers

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What Indian calligraphers have to do with disaster relief in Japan and free media in Liberia.

Since their invention in the early 17th century, newspapers have remained one of society’s most important sources of what their name promises — news. Today, we hear various tonal cries of the “print is dying” chorus daily and it’s easy to get caught up in the Marshall McLuhanism that “the medium is the message. Today, let’s consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the medium is not the message, that “print” can mean many different things, and that in the end, the oldest of technologies can be the most innovative. Case in point: Handwritten newspapers.

THE MUSALMAN

Since 1927, The Musalman has been quietly churning out its evening edition of four pages, all of which hand-written by Indian calligraphers in the shadow of the Wallajah Mosque in the city of Chennai. According to Wired, it might just be the last remaining hand-written newspaper in the world. It’s also India’s oldest daily newspaper in Urdu, the Hindustani language typically spoken by Muslims in South Asia. The Musalman: Preservation of a Dream is wonderful short film by Ishani K. Dutta, telling the story of the unusual publication and its writers’ dedication to the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy.

Thanks, GMSV

ISHINOMAKI HIBI SHIMBUN

Last month, I mentioned a fascinating reversal of the-medium-is-the-message as one Japanese newspaper reverted to hand-written editions once the earthquake-and-tsunami disaster destroyed all power in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. For the next six days, the editors of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun “printed” the daily newspaper’s disaster coverage the only way possible: By hand, in pen and paper. Using flashlights and marker pens, the reporters wrote the stories on poster-size paper and pinned the dailies to the entrance doors of relief centers around the city. Six staffers collected stories, which another three digested, spending an hour and a half per day composing the newspapers by hand.

This handwritten newspaper joins a running log of historical instances in which journalists have adapted to disaster situations. During the Civil War’s Union siege of 1863, a scarcity of newsprint in Vicksburg, Miss., led editors of The Daily Citizen to print on wallpaper. Its final issue, now part of the News Corporation News History Gallery, declared: “This is the last wall-paper edition. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.”

Japan’s incidental project has since been acquired by Newseum, the museum of journalism in Washington, D.C.

THE DAILY TALK

Minuscule literacy rates and prevailing poverty may not be conditions particularly conducive to publishing entrepreneurship, but they were no hindrance for Monrovia’s The Daily Talk, a clever concept by Alfred Sirleaf that reaches thousands of Liberians every day by printing just once copy. That copy just happens to reside on a large blackboard on the side of one of the capital’s busiest roads. Sirleaf started the project in 2000, at the peak of Liberia’s civil war, but its cultural resonance and open access sustained it long after the war was over. To this day, he runs this remarkable one-man show as the editor, reporter, production manager, designer, fact-checker and publicist of The Daily Talk. For an added layer of thoughtfulness and sophistication, Sirleaf uses symbols to indicate specific topics for those who struggle to read.

The common man in society can’t afford a newspaper, can’t afford to buy a generator to get on the internet — you know, power shortage — and people are caught up in a city where they have no access to information. And all of these things motivated me to come up with a kind of free media system for people to get informed.” ~ Alfred Sirleaf

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

In related news, don’t forget the fantastic Newspaper Map, which I raved about the other day — an amazing tool for exploring and translating over 10,000 of the world’s newspapers.

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20 MAY, 2011

A Brief History of Cheese

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What the goodness of Gouda has to do with MRI scans have to do with microbial engineering.

The average American eats some 33 pounds of cheese per year, up from under 22 pounds in 1954. Cheese comes in some 2,000 varieties and has been around for some 4,000 years. The Science and Art of Cheese, a new microdocumentary from KQED, explores the rich and nuanced spectrum of this cultural fixation, from unraveling the secrets of cheese artisans, who hone the aesthetic and sensory attributes of fermented blocks of milk, to scientists who stick feta in the MRI in order to reduce its salt content without changing its texture.

Cheese is incredily scientific. Cheese is a living, dynamic food, and it changes during aging. By adding certain bacteria, we can change the direction of one common nutrient — milk — into many, many different products.”

Artisan cheese is a craft, it’s hand-made, it’s not made by pushing a button. It takes people to try to extract the most flavor and the most beauty of of this handmade product.”

To further feed your cheese curiosity, you won’t go wrong with Andrew Dalby’s Cheese: A Global History — a fascinating journey across eras, cheese types and cultures, interweaving curious factoids to drop at your next dinner party with 40 stunning color plates and 20 in black-and-white.

via GOOD

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