“The art of self-culture begins with a deeper awareness … of the marvel of our being alive at all; alive in a world as startling and mysterious, as lovely and horrible, as the one we live in.” “In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and learnt a monologue from ‘Faust,’ Anton Chekhov wrote in an 1886 letter to his brother, outlining the eight qualities of cultured people — among them sincerity, “no shallow vanity,” and a compassionate heart that “aches for what the eye does not see.” This essential difference between being educated and being cultured is what the great British novelist, philosopher, literary critic, educator, and poet John Cowper Powys (October 8, 1872–June 17, 1963) examined in greater dimension a generation later in the 1929 masterwork The Meaning of Culture (public library) — one of the most thoughtful and beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered.
How a boy who spent his schooldays staring out the classroom window shaped the science of the skies. “Clouds are thoughts without words,” the poet Mark Strand wrote in his breathtaking celebration of the skies.
“I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” “Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” proclaimed a 1924 guide to the art of living.
“Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.” “The power of ‘the Eye of the Heart,’ which produces insight, is vastly superior to the power of thought, which produces opinions,” the great British economic theorist and philosopher E.F.
“Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it.” Recently, while packing to move, I came upon a stack of letters from my Bulgarian grandmother.
A cinematic ode to our oldest living companions. “Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons,” wrote a 17th-century gardener in contemplating the spiritual uses of our arboreal companions, which Hermann Hesse called “the most penetrating of preachers.” Perhaps because they have been our silent friends since the dawn of humanity and remain the oldest living things in the world, trees have been central to our ancient mythology and our sensemaking metaphors of science.
“If any particular discipline … does not become a matter of your personal honor, your private convictions, then it’s simply a cloak which you can wear or throw off.” NOTE: This is the fifth installment in a multi-part series covering Mead and Baldwin’s historic conversation.
“Life is beautiful in spite of everything! … There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.” “An artist needs a certain amount of turmoil and confusion,” Joni Mitchell once told an interviewer.
“The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.” “Death is our friend,” Rilke wrote in an exquisite 1923 letter, “precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.” And yet one of the defining features of the human condition is that we long for immortality despite inhabiting a universe governed by impermanence.
“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality.” “[Is] only the present comprehended?
“I could sense the bliss that springs from love when one loves with total conviction and knows one’s love to be reciprocated.” “Music,” Oliver Sacks wrote, “can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” It a great love letter, itself a high feat of composition, accomplishes the same — a parallel that might explain why great composers are also great writers of love letters, as evidenced by Mozart’s magnificent missive to his wife and Beethoven’s epistle to his “immortal beloved.” In November of 1901, the great Austrian late-Romantic composer Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860–May 18, 1911), then director of the Vienna Court Opera, met Alma Schindler, a gifted aspiring composer herself.
“Oh, work that is done in freedom out of doors, work that is done with the body’s and soul’s goodwill, work that is an integral part of life and is done with friends — is there anything so good?
“At such moments, the world reveals itself as quite different: a place of suffering and misguided effort … but also a place of tenderness and longing, beauty, and touching vulnerability.
A courageous challenge to the stories we tell ourselves about what should make us happy. In 1926, Nikola Tesla gave an interview later published under the title “When Woman Is Boss,” in which he predicted women’s “gradual usurpation of leadership.” His vision was enormously progressive and prescient half a century before the pinnacle of the equality movement, but it also presaged a more ominous cultural groundswell — the rise of workaholism as the accepted path to a dignified life.
“It’s silly to go wishing people were dead just because they don’t call you up the very minute they said they would.” “All love stories are frustration stories,” psychoanalyst Adam Phillips wrote in his fantastic exploration of why frustration is essential to satisfaction in romance.
Two of the greatest commentators on culture and sociological observers of American life, together. Something magical happens when a beloved book is given a new dimension in the hands of a great visual artist — the sort of magic emanating from William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s Paradise Lost, Maurice Sendak’s formative etchings for Blake’s “Songs of Innocence,” Gustave Doré’s striking art for Dante’s Inferno, and Harry Clarke’s haunting interpretation of Goethe’s Faust.
“Truth, which is one of the few really great and precious things in life, cannot be bought. Man receives it as a gift, like love or beauty.” Franz Kafka (July 3, 1883–June 3, 1924) spent twelve years working at an insurance company, where he remained well after The Metamorphosis was published.
“Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth / between my ears, / Hoping an inch of Will is worth a pound of years.” On November 12, 1971 — the day before NASA’s Mariner 9 mission reached Mars and became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet — Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C.
A timeless text of acute timeliness, brought to life in a visual masterwork of traditional technique and imaginative ingenuity.
“In the back-and-forth of a self-made contest, both sides have a shot.” “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others,” the great seventeenth-century French physicist, philosopher, and inventor Blaise Pascal wrote as he contemplated the art of changing minds.