Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

Page 781

Susan Sontag on Life, Death, Art, and Freedom

“Oh, where is the out-going freedom, the instrumental freedom from, freedom that is not this enormous possession of one’s own heart which is death?”

The first installment of Susan Sontag’s published diaries, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library), has already given us the celebrated thinker’s list of “rules + duties for being 24” and her 10 rules for raising a child. On February 13, 1951, shortly after Sontag’s 18th birthday, she jotted down some fragmented notes on her current reading — War and Peace, Caudewll, a biography of Dostoyevsky — then turned the existential lens inwards, as one inevitably, and often reluctantly, does around personal milestones, adding to other cultural icons’ meditations on the meaning of life:

From Rilke:

… the great question-dynasty: … if we are continually inadequate in love, uncertain in decision, + impotent in the face of death, how is it possible to exist?’

Yet we do exist, + affirm that. We affirm the life of lust. Yet there is more. One flees not from one’s real nature which is animal, id, to a self-torturing externally imposed conscience, super-ego, as Freud would have it– but the reverse, as Kierkegaard says. Our ethical sensitivity is what is natural to man + we flee from it to the beast; which is merely to say that I reject weak, manipulative, despairing lust, I am not a beast, I will not to be a futilitarian. I believe in more than the personal epic with the hero-thread, in more than my own life: above multiple spuriousness + despair, there is freedom + transcendence. One can know worlds one has not experienced, choose a response to life that has never been offered, create an inwardness utterly strong + fruitful.  

But how, when one can, to instrument the fact of wholeness + love? One must attempt more than the surety of reflexive nurturing. If ‘life is a hollow form, a negative mold, all the grooves + indentations of which are agony, disconsolations + the most painful insights, then the casting from this … is happiness, assent– most perfect + most certain bliss.’ But how protected + resolved one would have to be! And this leads one outside art to the dying, the madness– oh, where is the out-going freedom, the instrumental freedom from, freedom that is not this enormous possession of one’s own heart which is death?

More of Sontag’s meditations on life — including her thoughts on love, writing, censorship, and aphorisms — are collected in the second volume of her diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980.

BP

The Architect Says: A Compendium of Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom from Iconic Architects

Gehry, Eames, Le Corbusier, Fuller, Hadid, and more.

There’s something inescapably alluring about pocket-sized compendiums of quotes by great architects and designers — take, for instance, those of Charles Eames and Frank Lloyd Wright. Fittingly, The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom (public library) gathers timeless wisdom on design and architecture from more than 100 of history’s most vocal — and often dissenting — minds. What emerges, besides the fascinating tapas bar of ideas about the art and science of building, is the subtle but essential reminder that what lies at the heart of creative legacy aren’t universal formulas and unrelenting tents but perspective, conviction, and personality.

Frank Gehry (1929–) speaks to the power of ignorance and insecurity in the creative process, and echoing Orson Welles:

For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did, and I get the sweats, I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going — if I knew where I was going, I wouldn’t do it.

Hannes Meyer (1889–1954) offers a list of “the only requirements to be considered when building a house”:

  1. sex life
  2. sleeping habits
  3. pets
  4. gardening
  5. personal hygiene
  6. protection against weather
  7. hygiene in the home
  8. car maintenance
  9. cooking
  10. heating
  11. insolation
  12. service

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) reminds us of the joy of the analog:

Is anything more pleasurable to the mind than unsullied paper? The studious comparisons and selections of ‘stock’ in textures and colors of cards and paper?

Tom Kundig (1954–) stresses the importance of cross-pollinating perspectives:

I learn more from creative people in other disciplines than I do even from other architects because I think they have a way of looking at the world that is really important.

Thom Mayne (1944 — ) explores the relationship between simplicity and complexity:

Architecture is a discipline that takes time and patience. If one spends enough years writing complex novels one might be able, someday, to construct a respectable haiku.

Glenn Murcutt (1936–) voices something George Lois has since echoed:

We do not create the work. I believe we, in fact, are discoverers.

Le Corbusier (1887–1965) stands for the honesty of drawing:

I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies.

Jan Kaplicky (1937–2009) on creativity as subtraction:

It’s not a sign of creativity to have sixty-five ideas for one problem. It’s just a waste of energy.

Then there are the contradictions:

Some of them, of course, are but a caricature of the infamous architect arrogance. From Louis Kahn (1901–1974):

The sun never knew how great it was until it hit the side of a building.

Really? (At least he didn’t say “my building.”)

The Architect Says comes, unsurprisingly, from Princeton Architectural Press.

BP

The Famous Grids of Iconic Cities, Deconstructed and Remixed

Great metropolises, dissected and tidied up.

Some of the world’s most iconic cities define themselves by their famous grids. So what happens to the sense, notion, and identity of a city if the grid were dissolved and rearranged? That’s exactly what French artist Armelle Caron explores in her playful series “Everything Tidy,” doing to cities what Ursus Wehrli does to art — deconstructing the familiar grid representations into “tidy” graphic anagrams of famous metropolises.

New York City
Paris
Berlin
Istanbul

Krulwich Wonders @alexgoldmark

BP

View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated