The malady of content

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/09/24/norbert-wiener-communication/

When there is communication without need for communication, merely so that someone may earn the social and intellectual prestige of becoming a priest of communication, the quality and communicative value of the message drop like a plummet.

~ Maria Papova

I find “creative culture” an alluring idea. What have I wrought with my own two hands? I find most competition pointless. I find observing others compete unequivically pointless. But creating—or even just watching others create, or observing the fruits of their labor—provides me endless pleasure and opportunity for growth.

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Loneliness in Time

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/08/08/freeman-dyson-immigration/

It seems to me that in a country so fundamentally shaped by immigrants, a societal sentiment so suddenly unwelcoming to them can only be the product of an absurd narrowing of perspective — an unthinking self-expatriation from history, a willful blindness to the cultural legacy of the past, and an inability to take the telescopic perspective so vital to inhabiting the present with lucidity, integrity, and a deep sense of connection to the whole of humanity.

~ Freeman Dyson

Well, regarding trying to understand “the other.” I initially agreed with her characterization and then I thought, “How much of it is spin?” and “How w/could I begin to unravel some of it?” Answer: By talking to people in the other camp.

Dyson adds a wonderfully generous and optimistic counterpoint: Not that I dislike the Americans on the whole; it is probably in the long run a good thing that they live so much in the present and the future and so little in the past. The fact that they are more alone in the world than average English people probably accounts for their great spontaneous friendliness. I had heard this friendliness attributed to the size of the country and to people’s loneliness in space, but I think the loneliness in time is more important.

~ Maria Popova

This strikes me as amazing. (As in, “I am amazed,” not, “wow, this is awesome.”) “Friendly” is not a word I’d choose to describe Americans. Hell, I don’t think it would make my top 3 list of such words. If I was being kind when selecting my words, I’d say, “motivated,” “inspired,” and “principled.” If I was being unkind— well then I’d hew to the old, “If you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing.”

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Michelangelo’s private papers

https://www.brainpickings.org/2011/06/16/michelangelo-a-life-on-paper/

What makes Michelangelo: A Life on Paper all the more intriguing is that, by extending an invitation into Michelangelo’s private world of words written for his eyes alone, it raises the question of whom we create for — ourselves, as tender beings with a fundamental need for self-expression, or an audience, as social creatures with a fundamental desire to be liked, understood and acclaimed.

~ Maria Popova

I have reached the point of no-return on books. The first, undeniable demonstration of my mortality is the stack of “to read” books. Every year I read more than in the previous year. And every year the stack of books gets taller. I am saddened when I find books such as this, and know that I will never get around to reading them.

Spontaneity

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/05/07/erich-fromm-escape-from-freedom-spontaneity/

Those of us accustomed to making life livable by superimposing over its inherent chaos various control mechanisms — habit, routine, structure, discipline — are always haunted by the disquieting awareness that something essential is lost in the clutch of control, some effervescent liveliness and loveliness elemental to what makes life not merely livable but worth living.

~ Maria Popova

I spend significant time swerving between the two extremes of schedule-and-organize “all the things,” and running around like a dog fascinated by everything. New item #1 on my list of 42 things (all numbered “1”)…

Sincerity

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/hope-cynicism/

To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old. The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.

~ Maria Popova

Sometimes the best pull-quote is what she quoted from her reading.

Often the best insight is something she herself has written.

Go follow Brain Pickings. Support her work — she’s one of the few wordsmiths building great content on the Internet.

Areas of vast silence

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/01/30/ursula-k-le-guin-walking-on-the-water/

One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say. It’s one reason why we read poetry, because poets can give us the words we need. When we read good poetry, we often say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel.’

~ Ursula K. Le Guin

In the beginning, I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey — no, I’m not old enough to have seen it in the theater, thank you — and, in all honesty, I did not understand most of it. Later, I learned about the story, read the related books, etc.. I rewatched the movie and began a long period of wielding my understanding as a badge of pride. (“I understand 2001! Here, let me show it to you. Let me explain it to you.”) I eventually went on to learn to play the Blue Danube on the piano because the piece is so prominent and moving in the film.

… cross-fade …

Very recently, I saw a solar eclipse and I wished someone had queued up Also sprach Zarathustra — whose introduction, by the way, still gives me shivers. It would have been sublime to have had totality begin just as the creshendo strikes in the opening . . .

I digress.

Also sprach Zarathustra is a tone poem and after the eclipse — perhaps in search of that sublime moment missed — I took the time to listen to it in its entirety.

…and that led me to adjust my living room for optimal viewing
…to crank up the volume
…and to cue up 2001.

It was just as awe-inspiring as I recalled. Just as awe-inspiring as I’d hoped.

…and then I read this piece — from the perennianlly stellar Brain Pickings — about le Guin’s conception of art.

Something clicked and I gained a new appreciation for the film: “Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel.”

Genius

https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/01/08/germaine-de-stael-passions-happiness-glory/

One of the most fascinating portions of her treatise, for it applies to nearly every aspect of life in every era at every level of society, deals with the complex ecosystem of talent, ambition, and success — what we do with our talent, what others make of our success, and how to cope with one of the ugliest impulses of the human heart: the small-spirited urge to tear down those who have risen to prominence by their own merit.

~ Maria Popova

Two centuries old (ie, very new). There’s nothing new under the sun (at least, in terms of the crap humans do wrongly ;)

A telescopic view

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/12/21/reflection/

It has been a difficult year — politically, personally. Through it all, I have found solace in taking a more telescopic view — not merely on the short human timescale of my own life, looking back on having lived through a Communist dictatorship and having seen poems composed and scientific advances made under such tyrannical circumstances, but on far vaster scales of space and time.

~ Maria Popova

Not sure what it is about this winter, but I’m finding it notably harder to knuckle-down and dig in to prepare for 2018. Normally, the dreary winter months are generally depressing, but it’s the sort of dreary that “cozy up with a good book by the fire (and maybe some good Scotch)” takes care of. But this winter. meh I’ve got a lot of sorting out to do yet for 2018.