October 22, 1964: Jean-Paul Sartre Becomes the First Person to Decline the Nobel Prize. By Maria Popova “A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own — that is, the written word.”
Despite its surprisingly dark origin, the Nobel Prize is regarded as the highest honor bestowed upon a human being. 20 Badass Alternative Versions Of Cartoon Characters. Four Ways to Use Your Dark Side for Good (and Fight Evil in Others) The Artist and the Anguish of the American Dream: Zadie Smith’s Love-Hate Letter to New York. By Maria Popova “The greatest thing about Manhattan is the worst thing about Manhattan: self-actualization.”
With his philosophy of happiness as a moral obligation, it is no surprise that Albert Camus is intellectual America’s favorite European export. The American Dream is built on the pursuit of happiness, but Camus amplifies it from a mere right to something more, something better aligned with the modern condition of compulsive pursuit — of happiness, of productivity, of self-actualization. Indeed, this is a paradoxical culture where the Self reigns supreme, even though we know it is an illusion; a culture built on hard-headed, hard-bodied, hard-and-fast individualism, even though we don’t know how to be alone. Ours is an era built on the legacy of the age of anxiety, the pathology of which we’ve perfected to a virtuoso degree.
The History of the English Language, Animated. By Maria Popova “The Sun never sets on the English language.”
The history of language, that peculiar human faculty that Darwin believed was half art and half instinct, is intricately intertwined with the evolution of our species, our capacity for invention, our understanding of human biology, and even the progress of our gender politics. From the fine folks at Open University — who previously gave us these delightful 60-second animated syntheses of the world’s major religions, philosophy’s greatest thought experiments, and the major creative movements in design — comes this infinitely entertaining and illuminating animated history of the English language in 10 minutes: Complement with these 5 essential reads on language and the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice, in which she explores the beauty of the English language.
The Secret of Life from Steve Jobs in 46 Seconds. By Maria Popova “Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two months since Steve Jobs passed away. William Faulkner on Writing, the Human Dilemma, and Why We Create: A Rare 1958 Recording. By Maria Popova “It’s the most satisfying occupation man has discovered yet, because you never can quite do it as well as you want to, so there’s always something to wake up tomorrow morning to do.”
The writer’s duty, William Faulkner (September 25, 1897–July 6, 1962) asserted in his magnificent Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950, is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.” How to Navigate the Murky Waters of Workplace Friendships: Wisdom from Adam Smith and Aristotle. By Maria Popova “Is not mistaking relationships for what they are not — that is being blind to their ambiguity — arguably the greatest cause of disappointment and failure?”
“A condition of friendship, is the abdication of power over another, indeed the abdication even of the wish for power over one another,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in his beautiful meditation on why friendship is a greater gift than romantic love. “As soon as a friend attempts to control a friend, the friendship ceases to exist.”
Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses: 18 Rants by Mark Twain. How to commit 114 out of 115 possible violations of literary art in less than a single page.
On the heels of yesterday’s New Year’s resolution to read more and write better channeled through a reading list of 9 essential books on reading and writing comes Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences — an epic, exquisite rant by Mark Twain, listing eighteen rules of fiction violated in popular writer James Fenimore Cooper’s final tale, The Deerslayer. So peeved was Twain by critics’ acclaim of the story that he unpacked it with meticulous, delightfully spiteful attention to distasteful detail, his fury culminating in one passage where “in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115.”
There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:1. A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus on Our Search for Meaning and Why Happiness Is Our Moral Obligation. By Maria Popova Why “the demand for happiness and the patient quest for it” isn’t a luxury or a mere need but our existential duty.
“To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy,” Albert Camus wrote in his 119-page philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus in 1942. “Everything else … is child’s play; we must first of all answer the question.” One of the most famous opening lines of the twentieth century captures one of humanity’s most enduring philosophical challenged — the impulse at the heart of Seneca’s meditations on life and Montaigne’s timeless essays and Maya Angelou’s reflections, and a wealth of human inquiry in between.
Joni Mitchell on Freedom, the Source of Creativity, and the Dark Side of Success. By Maria Popova “How does a person create a song?
A lot of it is being open… to encounter and to… be in touch with the miraculous.” At the age of eight, Joni Mitchell (b. November 7, 1943) contracted polio during the last major North American epidemic of the disease before the invention of the polio vaccine. The Nietzsche Family Circus. How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: Lessons in Mindfulness and Creativity from the Great Detective.
By Maria Popova “A man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.”
“The habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts,” wrote James Webb Young in his famous 1939 5-step technique for creative problem-solving, “becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.” But just how does one acquire those vital cognitive customs? John Cleese on the 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative. By Maria Popova “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” Much has been said about how creativity works, its secrets, its origins, and what we can do to optimize ourselves for it.
In this excerpt from his fantastic 1991 lecture, John Cleese offers a recipe for creativity, delivered with his signature blend of cultural insight and comedic genius. Specifically, Cleese outlines “the 5 factors that you can arrange to make your lives more creative”: Be Like Water: The Philosophy and Origin of Bruce Lee’s Famous Metaphor for Resilience. By Maria Popova “In order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.” With his singular blend of physical prowess and metaphysical wisdom, coupled with his tragic untimely death, legendary Chinese-American martial artist, philosopher, and filmmaker Bruce Lee (1940-1973) is one of those rare cultural icons whose ethos and appeal remain timeless, attracting generation after generation of devotees. My Ideal Bookshelf: Famous Artists and Writers Select Their All-Time Favorite Books.
By Maria Popova Reverse-engineering identity through the love of books. In 2007, artist and illustrator Jane Mount began painting “portraits of people through the spines of their books” — those aspirational bookshelves we all hold in our heads (and, ideally, on our walls), full of all the books that helped us discover and rediscover who we are, what we stand for, and what we’d like to become. A kind of book spine poetry of identity. In 2010, she paired with Paris Review writer Thessaly La Force and the two asked more than a hundred of today’s most exciting creators — writers, artists, designers, critics, filmmakers, chefs, architects — what those favorite, timeless books were for them. Thus, My Ideal Bookshelf * (public library) was born — a magnificent collection of Mount’s illustrated “portraits” of these modern-day icons, alongside short essays by each contributor explaining why the books included are meaningful to him or her.
Agnes Martin on Art, Happiness, Pride, and Failure: A Rare Vintage Interview with the Reclusive Artist. By Maria Popova “We all have the same inner life. The difference lies in the recognition. The artist has to recognize what it is.” Barbara Walters on the Art of Conversation, How to Talk to Bores, and What Truman Capote Teaches Us About Being Interesting. By Maria Popova “Things being what they are in the world today, we are more and more driven to depend on one another’s sympathy and friendship in order to survive…” What The Paris Review has done for the art of the interview in print, Barbara Walters has done for it on television.
Homeless People Were Asked To Write Down A Fact About Themselves. Their Answers May Surprise You.
Misc. Darwin’s Battle with Anxiety. There's More to Life Than Being Happy. The Oppressed Majority: A Poignant French Short Film about a World in Which Men Are Subject to Sexism. Health and Fitness. Psychology. Consciousness. Pondering. Questionable New Age Stuff. Information and How-to's.