Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

08 MAY, 2012

Carl Sagan on Books

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How to reach across the millennia and access magic.

The love of books and the advocacy of reading are running themes around here, as is the love of Carl Sagan. Naturally, this excerpt from the 11th episode of his legendary 1980s Cosmos series, titled “The Persistence of Memory,” is making my heart sing in more ways than the universe can hold:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

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07 MAY, 2012

Harry Clarke’s Haunting 1919 Illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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Artful Edwardian-era erotica at the intersection of the whimsical and the macabre.

Somewhere between Henry Holiday’s weird paintings for Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey’s delightfully grim alphabet fall Harry Clarke‘s hauntingly beautiful and beautifully haunting 1919 illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination — a collection of 29 of Poe’s tales of the magical and the macabre.

So lavish was the artwork that a copy of the “deluxe” Clarke-illustrated edition went for 5 guineas in 1919, or about $300 in today’s money. The book, an epic volume of 480 pages, was eventually reprinted by Calla Editions in 2008, and is now available for the much more reasonable $27, or free with a trip to your local public library.

Eerie and erotic, Clarke’s illustrations bring his Edwardian-era aesthetic and early Art Nouveau influences to the post-Victorian liberated fascination with sensuality.

See more illustrations at the always-wonderful 50 Watts, who took care to scan the images above.

Clarke’s style brings to mind a beautiful German short film I recently shared, titled The Boundaries of Life and Death and inspired by Poe:

50 Watts FastCo Design

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07 MAY, 2012

Reason & Emotion: Pseudoscience Meets Gender Stereotypes in 1943 Disney Wartime Propaganda

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What resisting a double fudge sundae has to do with Freud and defeating the Nazis.

Whether we call it “rationality vs. intuition,” as Albert Einstein, Anne Lamott, and Steve Jobs did, or “reason vs. emotion,” being human means being bedeviled by the near-constant polar pull of two opposing forces. And yet, we’ve seen the “divided brain” is a reductionist myth, and perpetuating it has dangerous sociocultural consequences.

In 1943, however, the clear-cut dichotomy between reason and emotion was not only perfectly acceptable, it was also a perfectly exploitable propaganda talking point. This animated Disney short film, created the same year as the now-infamous Disney employee handbook, enlists the same comically appalling era-appropriate gender stereotypes to deliver a steady dose of wartime propaganda against the Axis, portrayed as governed by unreasonable emotion, which the Allies could combat with the force of reason and restrained emotion.

As amusing as the gender treatment might be in its appallingness, one particularly appalling chasm is what happens to each gender when its bearer is possessed by emotion and negligent of reason: The man merely gets his sexual advances met with a slap, whereas the woman spirals into food binges, which promise an undesirable body, which in turn makes her unworthy of said sexual advances. In other words, reason ultimately serves the man in both scenarios, while emotion merely distracts from his most desirable outcome.

Of course, the analysis of what any of this has to do with going to war is best left to Freud.

For a similar look at wartime propaganda from the other end of the world, see this collection of vintage Russian animated propaganda.

Open Culture

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