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The Art of Cleanup: Ursus Wehrli Playfully Deconstructs and Reorders the Chaos of Life

Alphabet soup made alphabetical, and other treats of visual obsessiveness.

As a longtime fan of Swiss artist and comedian Ursus Wehrli’s playful crusade to organize the world, I was thrilled for the English release of The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy (public library). From bringing new meaning to ordering the cosmos to arranging alphabet soup in alphabetical order, his obsessive deconstruction and reorganization of life’s necessary small chaoses is at once utterly delightful and playfully philosophical, reminding us of the quintessential human tendency to seek to bring order to the chaos of life.

Complement The Art of Clean Up with Wehrli’s equally charming Tidying Up Art and these deconstructed grids of famous cities, likely inspired by Wehrli’s work.


The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit: Sylvia Plath’s Little-Known, Lovely Children’s Book

A charming cautionary tale about the perils of self-consciousness.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — celebrated poet, little-known artist, lover of the world, repressed “addict of experience”, steamy romancer … and children’s book author? Given my soft spot for lesser-known vintage children’s books by famous literary icons, I was delighted to discover The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit (public library) — a charming children’s story Plath penned shortly before having her first child. Though her journals indicate it was written on or immediately before September 26, 1959, it wasn’t until March of 1996 that the tale saw light of day with its first — and only — publication, featuring wonderful illustrations by German graphic designer and artist Rotraut Susanne Berner.

It tells the story of seven-year-old Maximilian “Max” Nix, one of seven brothers, who sees people in various suits everywhere he looks and dreams of the perfect attire for any and all occasions — an “it-doesn’t-matter suit.”

One day, a mysterious package arrives at the Nix house and inside it is a “wonderful, woolly, whiskery, brand-new, mustard-yellow It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit.”

All the Nix brothers proceed to try the suit on, but each finds it ill-fitted, worrying about how the townspeople might judge this unusual mustard-yellow suit.

When Max tries it on, it fits him “as if it were made-to-order.” Once he puts the suit on, Max never takes it off — he goes to school in it, goes fishing, rides his bicycle, takes to the slopes, milks the cow, goes hunting and all along earns the admiration of his fellow citizens.

It’s inescapable to consider how the moral of the story — an admonition against the perilous preoccupation with other people’s opinions — reflects Plath’s own daily struggle with self-consciousness.

The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit is currently out of print, but used copies can still be tracked down. Complement it with Plath’s other little-known and lovely children’s book — The Bed Book, illustrated by the great Sir Quentin Blake — then revisit Plath on privilege and free will, the creative benefits of keeping a journal, and how her first job as a farm worker shaped her as a writer.


History’s 100 Geniuses of Language and Literature, Visualized

“Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom … the true use of literature for life.”

“Genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly,” Victorian novelist Amelia E. Barr reflected in her 9 rules for success. But what, exactly, is genius? In their latest project, Italian visualization wizard Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat — who have previously given us a timeline of the future based on famous fiction, a visual history of the Nobel Prize, and a visualization of global brain drain inspired by Mondrian — explore the anatomy of genius, based on Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (public library) by literary titan Harold Bloom.

Playing off Bloom’s use of the Sefirot image — the ten emanations of the Kabbalah — to organize the taxonomy of the one hundred geniuses of language he identifies, from Shakespeare to Stendhal to Lewis Carroll to Ralph Ellison, the visualization depicts the geographic origin, time period, and field of each “genius,” correlated with visits to the respective Wikipedia page and connection to related historical figures.

Bloom writes:

All genius, in my judgment, is idiosyncratic and grandly arbitrary, and ultimately stands alone. … My placement of the hundred geniuses is hardly one that fixes them in place, since all the Sefirot are images constantly in motion, and any creative spirit must move through all of them, in many labyrinths and transformations. … Since the ten Sefirot form a system in constant motion, all of my hundred persons could be illuminated almost equally well by the other nine Sefirot, beyond the one where I group them, and I intend this book to be a kind of mosaic-in-perpetual-movement.

Appearing here is an exclusive English-language version of a forthcoming spread in Italian literary supplement La Lettura.

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At the heart of Bloom’s ambitious taxonomy is a concern with the very nature of genius:

What is the relationship of fresh genius to a founding authority? At this time, starting the twenty-first century, I would say: ‘Why, none, none at all.’ Our confusions about canonical standards for genius are now institutionalized confusions, so that all judgments as to the distinction between talent and genius are at the mercy of the media, and obey cultural politics and its vagaries.

Echoing Virginia Woolf’s counsel on the art of reading, Bloom argues for cultivating an individual sensibility of genius-appreciation:

Literary genius, difficult to define, depends upon deep reading for its verification. The reader learns to identify with what she or he feels is a greatness that can be joined to the self, without violating the self’s integrity…. Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom, which I believe to be the true use of literature for life.

More than a decade after Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, Bloom followed up with The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life, further exploring the interwoven mesh of genius.

See more of Giorgia’s wonderful work on her site and pair it with some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.


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