Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

27 JANUARY, 2012

From Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury, Iconic Writers on Truth vs. Fiction


Why art exists, or what a stage magician can teach us about the fine points of literary make-believe.

Famous writers have previously shared insights on symbolism, reading, and writing itself. Underlying many of these meditations is a broader curiosity about the intricate interplay of fact and fantasy. To untangle that knotty relationship, here are a handful of iconic authors’ thoughts on truth, art, and fiction — culled from their finest nonfiction.

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King in On Writing

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison in Advice to Writers

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” ~ Mark Twain in Following the Equator

Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story… humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels, etc., etc. Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing… and as unobtrusive.” ~ Ray Bradbury

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe in Advice to Writers

Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” ~ Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt

You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.” ~ John Waters in Role Models

Fiction that adds up, that suggests a ‘logical consistency,’ or an explanation of some kind, is surely second-rate fiction; for the truth of life is its mystery.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982

The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.” ~ Wallace Stevens in Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose

Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing

We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.” ~ Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

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26 JANUARY, 2012

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: A Story of Passion and Possibility


What bamboo poles and bicycle chains have to do with sparking the spirit of entrepreneurship.

When he was only 14 years old, William Kamkwamba dreamt up a windmill that would produce electricity for his village in Malawi. The trouble? As Malawi was experiencing the worst famine in 50 years, William had to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the $80 annual tuition. This meant he not only had no money to purchase the parts, but also no formal education to teach him how to put them together. Determined, he headed to the local library and voraciously devoured its limited selection of textbooks, then gathered some scrap parts — a bicycle dynamo, bamboo poles, a tractor fan, rubber belts, a bike chain ring — and brought his vision to life, building a functioning windmill. He spent the next five years perfecting the design and went on to found the Moving Windmills Project in 2008 to foster rural economic development and education projects in Malawi.

In 2009, Kamkwamba shared his moving story of perseverance, curiosity, and ingenuity in the memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. Now, this modern-day entrepreneurial fairy tale is being adapted for young hearts and minds in the beautifully illustrated children’s book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition. Kamkwamba’s story shines with all the more optimism and tenacity in the hands of 27-year-old artist Elizabeth Zunon, whose rich, lyrical, almost three-dimensional oil-and-cut-paper illustrations, reminiscent of Sophie Blackall’s, vibrate with exceptional whimsy and buoyancy.

Coupled with the launch is a wonderful literacy effort — for every book parents, teacher, and children read online on We Give Books, the Wimbe community lending library, where Kamkwamba’s journey began, gets a new book, up to 10,000. Despite serving some 1,500 pupils, the library currently has no picture books.

Beautiful, moving, and immensely inspirational, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition tells the kind of story that helps budding entrepreneurs relate to the world through a lens of infinite possibility — the kind of message that might, just might, empower them to harness if not the wind the future itself.

Thanks, Tom

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26 JANUARY, 2012

Laconia: An Architecture of Thinking


Multimedia landscape as a language pattern, or what Ezra Pound has to do with Twitter.

In LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film, Masha Tupitsyn explores the curious intersection of the print tradition of books and the micronarrative model of Twitter. The project is essentially an experiment that appropriates the forms of social media — soundbites, fragmented commentary, quotes, condensed reactions — in a work of film criticism that preserves the cultural purpose of the genre but divorces it from its traditional medium of essayistic narrative. What makes Tupitsyn’s project exceptional, however, is that it reverse-engineers the now-familiar frameworks of Twitter anthologies — unlike Tweets from Tahrir, for instance, which sought to capture of a slice of the social narrative about the Egyptian revolution by culling tweets after the fact, Tupitsyn’s approach put the intention of the book before the composition of each tweet, so that every tweet was deliberately crafted with the larger narrative in mind. Rather than a cohesive analysis of one idea at length, however, that narrative instead connects dots across diverse sources and constructs a mosaic of cultural patterns that explore the relationships between films.

LACONIA is, in essence, an architecture of thinking. It is also a book that shows its skeleton. That tackles the multi-media landscape as a language pattern rather than a material phenomenon.” ~ Masha Tupitsyn

At its heart, the book is as much about film itself as it is about how Tupitsyn thinks about film in the age of infinite connectivity and on a platform that has more in common with poetry than with prose. In Tupitsyn’s own words:

In some ways, I think I was born to write this kind of book because for me writing always starts with: a line, a phrase, a fragment. Modeled on the aphorism, while updating and tailoring it to film and pop culture, the goal in LACONIA was to zoom in rather than to zoom out, to write in close-ups, so that every word, to quote Ezra Pound, could become ‘charged with meaning.’ Like the aphorism, which according to James Geary in The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism, must be ‘brief, definitive, personal, philosophical, have a twist,’ and reveal some larger truth, each tweet in LACONIA is a miniature exegesis; an appraisal of the world through film and media since our understanding of the world has become increasingly, if not entirely, shaped and mediated by both.”

In a way, LACONIA is akin to John Chris Jones’s classic, The Internet and Everyone, substituting tweets for Jones’s lengthy letters to piece together a dimensional meditation on a medium through thoughtfully engineered fragments.

Spotted via The Millions, who have a wonderful piece on the future of fragmented reading.

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