Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘interview’

26 JULY, 2012

Stanley Kubrick on Mortality, the Fear of Flying, and the Purpose of Existence: 1968 Playboy Interview

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“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Besides being one of the finest filmmakers of all time and mastermind of the greatest movie never made, Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928–March 7, 1999) was also a keen observer of culture with ceaseless curiosity about the human condition, dancing between the hopeless and the heartening. From Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (public library) comes this layered meditation on purpose, mortality, and, as Carl Jung once put it, the art of “kindl[ing] a light in the darkness of mere being,” from a 1968 Playboy interview by Eric Nordern:

Playboy: Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of films — and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even in a commercial jet liner. Why?

Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should be bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.

The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?

Kubrick: The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Stanley Kubrick: Interviews is a spectacular read in its entirety.

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26 JULY, 2012

Happy Birthday, Aldous Huxley: A Rare, Prophetic 1958 Interview by Mike Wallace

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“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Aldous Huxley — author of the classic Brave New World, little-known children’s book wordsmith, staple of Carl Sagan’s reading list — would have been 118 today. To celebrate his mind and his legacy, here is a rare 1958 conversation with Mike Wallace — the same masterful interviewer who also offered rare glimpses into the minds of Salvador Dalí and Ayn Rand — in which Huxley predicts the “fictional world of horror” depicted in Brave New World is just around the corner for humanity. He explains how overpopulation is among the greatest threats to our freedom, admonishes against the effects of advertising on children, and, more than half a century before Occupy Wall Street, outlines how global economic destabilization will incite widespread social unrest.

It’s extremely important, here and now, to start thinking about these problems — not to let ourselves be taken by surprise by the new advances of technology.

[…]

We can foresee, and we can do a great deal to forestall. After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Wallace reads a passage on American political campaigns from Huxley’s Brave New World Revisted (originally written under the title Enemies of Freedom) that rings with remarkable, and remarkably unsettling, timeliness:

All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere; political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, are the things that really matter.

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25 JULY, 2012

Maira Kalman on Identity, Happiness, and Existence

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“How are we so optimistic, so careful not to trip and yet do trip, and then get up and say OK?”

In this wonderful short video, Maira Kalman — the remarkable artist, prolific author, unmatched storyteller, and one of my favorite hearts and minds in the world — shares some wisdom on identity, happiness, and existence. Watch and take notes.

The idea that you’d have to say ‘goodbye’ to all this — even though it’s infuriating and maddening and frightening and horrible, some of the time — is even more infuriating and maddening and horrible: How do you spend this time without perpetually being so broken-hearted about saying the eventual goodbye? I usually say, in the end, okay, it’s love and it’s work — what else could there possibly be?

Speaking to the fluidity of character and the myth of fixed personality, Kalman observes:

How do you know who you are? There are many parts to who you are, so there isn’t one static place. And then, the other part of that is that things keep changing.

Here are some of the beautiful, poignant quotes Kalman reads and shows from her published works.

From And The Pursuit of Happiness:

From The Principles of Uncertainty:

How do you know who you are?

How are we so optimistic, so careful Not to trip and yet Do trip, and then GET up and say O.K. Why do I feel so sorry for everyone and so PROUD?

What can I tell you? The realization that we are ALL (you, me) going to die and the attending disbelief — isn’t that the central premise of EVERYTHING? It stops me DEAD in my tracks a DOZEN times a day. Do you think I remain FROZEN? NO. I spring into action. I find meaningful distraction.

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03 JULY, 2012

Ralph Ellison on Race and the Power of the Writer in Society: A Rare 1966 Interview

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“Power, for the writer … lies in his ability to reveal if only a little bit more about the complexity of humanity.”

In 1953, celebrated novelist Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1913–April 16, 1994) gave a remarkable National Book Award acceptance speech, arguing for fiction as a soapbox for injustice and a chariot of hope. Thirteen years later, in 1966, he gave a rare interview for the National Education Television, in which he discusses a number of timeless, timely topics — national identity, race, the purpose of literature — with extraordinary eloquence and grace, complementing E.B. White’s insights on the role and responsibility of the writer and George Orwell’s thoughts on the writer’s motives and political purpose.

Power, for the writer, it seems to me lies in his ability to reveal if only a little bit more about the complexity of humanity. And, in this country, I think it’s very, very important for the writer to, no matter what the agony of his experience….he should stick to what he’s doing, because the slightest thing that is new, or the slightest thing that has been overlooked, which would tell us about the unity of American experience — beyond all considerations of class, of race, or religion — are very, very important. I think that the nation is still in the process of becoming, of drawing itself together, of discovering itself. And when a writer fails to contribute to this, then he’s played his art false, and he probably does violence to our political vision of ourselves.

Complement with Ellison on fiction as a chariot of hope against injustice, then revisit Einstein’s little-known correspondence with W.E.B. Du Bois on racial justice.

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