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A Poetic Antidote to City Life

“You exist by your smile and your presence… Quests, pursuits of concrete securities of one kind or another lose all their importance.”

The recent omnibus of everyday happiness recorded by history’s great minds reminded me of a beautiful passage by Anaïs Nin from Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 5: 1947–1955 (public library), in which she — very much a city woman, but one with a deep sensitivity to the poetic and a hunger for existential truth — captures the remarkable awakening that happens when we shed our city skin and plunge into nature with joy and abandon.

In a diary entry from the fall of 1951, penned while vacationing in Mexico, Nin writes:

To me Acapulco is the detoxicating cure for all the evils of the city: ambition, vanity, quest for success in money, the continuous contagious presence of power-driven, obsessed individuals who want to become known, to be in the limelight, noticed, as if life among millions gave you a desperate illness, a need of rising above the crowd, being noticed, existing individually, singled out from a mass of ants and sheep. It has something to do with the presence of millions of anonymous faces, anonymous people, and the desperate ways of achieving distinction. Here, all this is nonsense. You exist by your smile and your presence. You exist for your joys and your relaxations. You exist in nature. You are part of the glittering sea, and part of the luscious, well-nourished plants, you are wedded to the sun, you are immersed in timelessness, only the present counts, and from the present you extract all the essences which can nourish the senses, and so the nerves are still, the mind is quiet, the nights are lullabies, the days are like gentle ovens in which infinitely wise sculptor’s hands re-form the lost contours, the lost sensations of the body. The body comes to life. Quests, pursuits of concrete securities of one kind or another lose all their importance. As you swim, you are washed of all the excrescences of so-called civilization, which includes the incapacity to be happy under any circumstances.

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Action Philosophers: Two Millennia of Philosophy in Comic Form

John Stuart Mill meets Peanuts, or how to handle mummies like Carl Jung.

Graphic nonfiction has established itself as a storytelling medium for educational entertainment and entertaining education, from the history of the atomic bomb to the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson to the Zen of Steve Jobs. Action Philosophers! (public library), a mega-tome collecting all nine volumes of the celebrated series by graphic artist Ryan Dunlavey and writer Fred Van Lente, takes you on an ideological journey from the pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida, by way of Rene Descartes, John Stuart Mill, and Carl Jung, giving those literary action figures a run for the money.

Open Culture

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No Decent Woman or Girl is Ever Seen Wearing Trousers: 12 Conduct Rules for Women from Rural Spain

“No decent woman or girl is ever seen on a bicycle.”

It’s one thing to look at a Victorian list of don’ts for women on bicycles with amusement-softened outrage, perhaps because we have the luxury of looking back on those times with the detached smugness of an evolved society. But it’s quite something else to encounter a similar list from an era too uncomfortably close to our own. Such is the case of a poster James Michener makes note of in Iberia, which he encounters pinned to a church door while traveling across rural Spain in the late 1960s. Dated July 11, 1943, and laid out by a bishop as a code of conduct for local life, the twelve-point directive bespeaks religion’s persistent, matter-of-factly subjugation of women:

  1. Women shall not appear on the streets of this village with dresses that are too tight in those places which provoke the evil passions of men.
  2. They must never wear dresses that are too short.
  3. They must be particularly careful not to wear dresses that are low-cut in front.
  4. It is shameful for women to walk in the streets with short sleeves.
  5. Every woman who appears in the streets must wear stockings.
  6. Women must not wear transparent or network cloth over those parts which decency requires to be covered.
  7. At the age of twelve girls must begin to wear dresses that reach to the knee, and stockings at all times.
  8. Little boys must not appear in the streets with their upper legs bare.
  9. Girls must never walk in out-of-the-way places because to do so is both immoral and dangerous.
  10. No decent woman or girl is ever seen on a bicycle.
  11. No decent woman is ever seen wearing trousers.
  12. What they call in the cities ‘modern dancing’ is strictly forbidden.

The most jarring part, however, is that the poster is made all the more tragicomic by new evidence that, in many ways, things have hardly gotten better.

The Atlantic @FaisalSethi

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