Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘lists’

27 DECEMBER, 2011

“Dream Good”: Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolution List, 1942

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How to keep the hope machine running, or what socks have to do with self-actualization and belonging.

As a lover and maker of lists, I often agree with Umberto Eco that “the list is the origin of culture.” But, more than that, it can also be a priceless map of personal aspiration, as is the case of the kinds of lists we make this time of year — resolution lists. This particular one, penned by the great Woody Guthrie in 1942 at the tender-but-just-wise-enough age of 30, is an absolute gem of humor, earnestness, and pure humanity.

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

What’s interesting is that the list doesn’t map onto the Maslow hierarchy of needs in order, but does contain shuffled elements of its five tiers, perhaps validation for the universality of Maslow’s insight into human psychology and aspiration — there is the physiological (“Wash teeth,” “Shave,” “Eat good”), the safety and security (“Bank all extra money,” “Keep rachno clean”), the love and belonging (“Dont get lonesome”, “Love mama,” Love papa,”, Love Pete [Seeger]”, “Love everybody”), the esteem (“Wear clean clothes — look good”, “Dance better”), and the self-actualization (“Work more and better”, “Keep hoping machine running,” “Play and sing good,” “Make up your mind,” “Wake up and fight”).

Thank you, Woody, for a timeless list that still speaks to us all — yes, by all means, let’s read lots of good books, keep hoping and dreaming, make up our minds, and love everybody. And, you know, bathe.

via Boing Boing

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22 DECEMBER, 2011

Umberto Eco on Lists and Making Infinity Comprehensible

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What Don Giovanni’s lovers have to do with the poetics of catalogues.

As a lover and maker of lists, this made my heart sing: In 2009, the great Umberto Eco became a resident at the Louvre, where he chose to focus his studies on “the vertigo of lists,” bringing his poetic observational style to the phenomenon of cataloguing, culling, and collecting. He captured his experience and insights in The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay, where he charts the Western mind’s obsessive impulse for list-making across music, literature and art, an impulse he calls a “giddiness of lists” but demonstrates that, in the right hands, it can be a “poetics of catalogues.”

Der Spiegel interviewed Eco about his project at the Louvre, yielding the following perl:

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.” ~ Umberto Eco

The interview is fantastic in its entirety, as is The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay.

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02 DECEMBER, 2011

The Astonishing Visual Lists of Autistic Savant Gregory Blackstock

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From owls to lighthouses, or what a sixty-something retired pot washer can teach us about art and love.

He has been called an “anthropologist of the everyday,” a beacon of Outsider Art. His work is part Lists, part Drawing Autism, part Pictorial Webster’s, part something entirely its own and entirely remarkable. Seattle-based artist Gregory Blackstock is an autistic savant who, after retiring from a lifetime as a pot washer at the age of 58, captivated the art world with the obsessive, meticulous drawings he’d been making over 18 years of after-hours. Blackstock’s Collections, the brainchild of Karen Light-Piña of Garde Rail Gallery, who discovered Blackstock in 2003, catalogs his astounding visual lists of everything from hats to owl varieties, made with a pencil, a black marker, some crayons, and superhuman attention to detail.

Each of the lists, which feature such diverse and offbeat entries as Monsters of the Deep, The Great Cabbage Family, Classical Clowns, Our State Lighthouses, and The Irish Joys — is lovingly captioned in Blackstock’s wonderfully neat yet almost child-like handwriting.

In the introduction, Light-Piña recounts the following anecdote, which captures both the sharp precision of Backstock’s mind and the degree to which it is like water to a fish for the artist:

His remarkable memory serves Blackstock well as he renders images on paper with paper, markers, and crayons. I commented on how many tiny differences there were in the teeth from one saw blade to the next in his piece The Saws. He replied, in a somewhat frustrated tone, that it took him two visits to Home Depot to memorize them all. He uses no straightedge (‘No need,’ he says) yet his layout is impeccable. And if asked, he can reproduce the same images exactly, time and again — a skill to cartooning or illustration, professions in which Blackstock might have excelled under different circumstances.”

The book is also a thoughtful meditation on the mystique of Savant Syndrome and how it has wedged itself in popular culture as the source of such astonishing art. In the foreword, physician Darold A. Treffert reflects:

Savant Syndrome, then, is a three-legged stool. It combines idiosyncratic circuits and genetic memory, intense motivation and practice, and a supportive and loving family and/or caretakers who value the savant not just for what he or she does but for who he or she is… Savants are geniuses who live among us; they hint at geniuses that might lie within us.”

A glimpse of a striking mind that falls somewhere between Daniel Tammet’s and Stephen Wiltshire’s, Blackstock’s Collections is nothing short of extraordinary.

Thanks, Carol in Seattle

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24 NOVEMBER, 2011

John Lennon’s Handwritten To-Do List

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What a broken bathroom hook has to do with Norwegian ethnography and the cable guy.

I’m relentlessly intrigued by the lists and to-do’s of famous creators, which reveal a private everyday facet of the public creative self. Last week, the talented Wendy MacNaughton (yep, her) recreated Leonardo da Vinci’s, and now comes John Lennon’s hand-written to-do list, a fine addition to this week’s vintage Beatles love. (Going for a mere $3,000 on this auction site.)

As a bibliophile, I was thrilled to see a fragment of Lennon’s reading list — including this book on the mystery of the Hope Diamond, an unnamed tome by Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, and Margaret Trudeau’s Beyond Reason, a memoir about life as a wild hippie flower child turned Prime Minister’s first lady — as well as mundane errands like fixing the bathroom hook and all-too-relatable tediums like being home when the cable guy shows up.

For more little-known Lennon, don’t miss Bob Bonis’s lost Beatles photographs.

HT chained and perfumed; HT this isn’t happiness

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