Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

05 MAY, 2011

Mapping the Human Condition

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What the empire of love has to do with the intellect forest and the bay of agoraphobia.

We love maps. There’s something about cartography that lends itself to visualizing much more than land and geography. We’ve previously looked at how the London tube map was appropriated as a visual metaphor for everything from The Milky Way to the Kabbalah, and today we turn to seven cartographic interpretations of the human condition, using the visual vocabulary of classical maps to interpret various facets of the human psyche — a genre that came of age during the late Renaissance, when it became known as “sentimental cartography.”

THE KINGDOM OF WISDOM

In 1961, Norton Juster wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, a timeless children’s classic and one of our essential children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups. It tells the story of a bored little boy named Milo who one day receives a magic tollbooth that transports him to a fantasy land called The Kingdom of Wisdom. Though at first he gets lost in the Doldrums, a grey place where thinking and laughing are not allowed, he goes on to incredible adventures before returning to his own room as magically as he had left it.

 

This map by mid-century American cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who illustrated the book, depicts the marvelous land that Milo finds himself in as he follows his own curiosity.

Thanks, @dethe

ISLE OF KNOWLEDGE

Last week, delicious new work by designer Marian Bantjes (whose latest book, I Wonder, is among the most ambitious and beautiful visual communication volumes ever published) made the rounds — and for good reason: Isle of Knowledge is a beautifully illustrated map of “the ‘known’ beyond which lie monsters,” created for the second installment in Bantjes’ column for UK illustration magazine Varoom on the theme of “Knowledge.”

The map is clearly — whether consciously or not — inspired by the Phantom Tollbooth map, which is perfectly fine: With the concept of combinatorial creativity in our DNA, we deeply believe that all creative work is derivative, everything is a remix, and good ideas come from other good ideas.

MAP OF AN ENGLISHMAN

English artist Grayson Perry‘s 2004 Map of an Englishman portrays his mind in a mock-Tudor etch of an imaginary island, surrounded by the “seas” of his perceived psychological flaws — desires, vanities, prejudices, fears. The island itself is vaguely brain-shaped, turning the map into a kind of cartographic phrenology of the self.

Map of an Englishman

Image courtesy of Grayson Perry and The Paragon Press via BBC

CARTE DE TENDRE

Carte de Tendre (Map of Tenderness) is a 17th-century French map by the writer Madeleine de Scudéry depicting the peaks and valleys of amorous pursuit, from the River of Inclination to Lake of Indifference to the Great Spirit. With its undetermined itinerary that offers you multiple routes to Tenderness, it’s part map, part choose-your-own-adventure narrative for love.

THE EMPIRE OF LOVE

We first featured this extraordinary antique German map of Das Reich der Liebe (The Empire of Love) more than three years ago, and it remains an absolute favorite. Created by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf in 1777, it’s a pinnacle of sentimental cartography, as detailed and obsessive as love itself.

If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:

  • GEBIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game, Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GEBIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GEBIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of Tears, Whim Mountain,  Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing, Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity,  Desert of Melancholy)
  • GEBIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GEBIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  •  GEBIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation, Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains, Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GEBIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope, Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)

Many of these maps can be found in these 7 must-read books on maps, particularly in the excellent You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination — a treasure trove of imaginary and imaginative cartographic explorations of self-conception.

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28 APRIL, 2011

HyperCities: Every Past is a Place

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What 17th-century Manhattan has to do with Peru’s grid and the Renaissance in Berlin.

We love cities, maps and urban storytelling. So we’re all over HyperCities — a digital research and educational platform for exploring the layered histories of cities and public spaces, based on the idea that “every past is a place.”

The fundamental idea behind HyperCities is that all stories take place somewhere and sometime; they become meaningful when they interact and intersect with other stories.”

From a digital recreation of Manahatta in 1609 to an archival print of Berlin’s 1772 geometric grid, the project is absolutely fascinating and a treasure trove of urban time travel.

Most recently, HyperCities mapped real-time voices from Cairo using social media, offering an entirely different way to experience the news, not by digesting static newswires and frontpage headlines but by actively hearing the reality of the people on the ground — something last week’s Tweets from Tahrir tried to capture in a different medium.

The project, which received a Google Digital Humanities Award last year, is the brainchild of Todd Presner, Yoh Kawano, and David Shepard and is a collaboration between UCLA and USC.

HyperCities is currently available for 19 cities, including London, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City. You can contribute to the project by adding your own georeferenced map — here’s how.

via @kirstinbutler

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26 APRIL, 2011

The Ragged Edge of Silence: The Art of Listening

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What 17 years of silence have to do with National Geographic and your ringtone.

In 1971, after the devastating 800,000-gallon oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, John Francis, then a young man, pledged to never ride a motorized vehicle again. Two years later, he added voluntary silence to his vow, spending 17 years in silence as he walked the world and became known as The Planetwalker. The first words that he spoke again were in Washington, D.C., on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. In 2009, Francis, by then a National Geographic fellow with a Ph.D, told his remarkable story in the candid and deeply inspirational Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.

This year, Dr. Francis is back with the highly anticipated and most excellent follow-up, The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World — a powerful and poetic exploration of the beauty of our world and our place in it, and a timely antidote to our increasingly networked, ping-scored existence.

The Ragged Edge of Silence explores the art of listening through a beautiful collage of personal accounts, interviews, science, storytelling, and a fascinating historical perspective on the role of silence across Hindu, Buddhist and Native American cultures. Francis transcends the purely philosophical to offer practical ways of building constructive silence into our everyday routines as micro-oases of self-discovery amidst our stimulus-overloaded lives.

The Ragged Edge of Silence digs deeply into the phenomenology of silence and the practice of listening. As in Planetwalker, I followed a methodology that recognizes the importance of personal documents, explanations, and interpretation of silence. This story, then, is my personal account and interpretation of silence as I experienced it.” ~ John Francis

For a moving glimpse of Francis’ unusual story, don’t miss his excellent 2008 TED talk:

Part adventure story, part philosophical reflection, part heartfelt memoir, The Ragged Edge of Silence is a pure joy to read, lacking the self-righteous preachiness this line of thinking often festers into and instead extending a humble but powerful invitation to reexamine your worldview.

Thanks, Jim

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22 APRIL, 2011

Three-Minute Kant

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What the common good has to do with office infidelity and objective reality.

Legendary German philosopher Immanuel Kant, father of the Categorical Imperative, was born on April 22, 1724. To celebrate his birthday, here’s a witty and illuminating 3-minute digest of his life’s work from the wonderful Three-Minute Philosophy series.

For a deeper dive into Kant, try Susan Stuart’s free Kant lectures on iTunesU (thanks, Dan) or the excellent anthology Kant’s Critiques: The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason, The Critique of Judgement.

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