“The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.” In preparing for my conversation with the wonderful artist and philosopher of forms Ann Hamilton, I came upon a striking passage from one of her exhibition catalogs.
“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her beautiful meditation on why we read and write.
A dreamlike meditation on our elemental companion. Certain languages, including French and my native Bulgarian, have one word for both “time” and “weather.” Perhaps the conflation arises from an inescapable similarity — like time, which envelops the entirety of our conscious experience, the weather is the indelible backdrop against which our lives are lived, constantly coloring our state of mind and saturating our language with myriad metaphors.
“There are no grounds for fear of the unknown: for often the things we most dreaded, before we experienced them, turn out to be better than those we desired.” “The job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist,” wrote Dani Shapiro in her beautiful meditation on why creativity requires leaping into the unknown, “is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it.” John Keats called this “negative capability” and it resides at the heart of Rilke’s timeless incantation to “live the questions.” But ours is a world strewn with dualities, where everything exists in parallel with its opposite, every point tethered to its counterpoint.
“If the history of medical genetics teaches us one lesson, it is to be wary of precisely such slips between biology and culture… Genes cannot tell us how to categorize or comprehend human diversity; environments can, cultures can, geographies can, histories can.” Intelligence, Simone de Beauvoir argued, is not a ready-made quality “but a way of casting oneself into the world and of disclosing being.” Like the rest of De Beauvoir’s socially wakeful ideas, this was a courageously countercultural proposition — she lived in the heyday of the IQ craze, which sought to codify into static and measurable components the complex and dynamic mode of being we call “intelligence.” Even today, as we contemplate the nebulous future of artificial intelligence, we find ourselves stymied by the same core problem — how are we to synthesize and engineer intelligence if we are unable to even define it in its full dimension?
“I could fall for lamp-light…” The poet, novelist, memoirist, lesbian icon, and onetime presidential candidate Eileen Myles (b.
“An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky.” “The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E.
“Diversity fills the city with cartographic potential… New York belongs to everyone, and maps prove it.” “Each of us is an atlas of sorts, already knowing how to navigate some portion of the world,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her imaginative remapping of New York’s untold stories, “containing innumerable versions of place as experience and desire and fear, as route and landmark and memory.” But as fascinating as it is to imagine the world’s greatest metropolis remapped according to its unheralded dimensions, New York’s multitude of parallel realities is itself bountiful fodder for the artistic imagination and has inspired centuries of fanciful cartographic interpretations.
“The climb is personal, a truly human endeavor, and the real expedition pixelates into individuals, not Platonic forms.” “Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity,” wrote pioneering physicist Lise Meitner, “[and] it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep joy and awe that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.” Meitner herself was a true scientist who embodied this selfless, joyful reach for truth — she discovered nuclear fission and was denied the Nobel for the discovery, but went on to pave the way for women in science anyway and lived a long life invigorated by the pleasurable pursuit of knowledge.
“Photographs economize the truth; they are always moments more or less illusorily abducted from time’s continuum.” “Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original… it is a continuing act of creation,” pioneering researcher Rosalind Cartwright wrote in distilling the science of the unconscious mind.
“The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values: offers food to some need which we have starved.” “The notion of obligations comes before that of rights, which is subordinate and relative to the former,” wrote the great French philosopher Simone Weil shortly before her untimely and patriotic death as she contemplated the crucial difference between our rights and our obligations.
“Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it.” “Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future,” wrote the poet and philosopher David Whyte in contemplating crisis as a testing ground for courage.
A radiant reminder that we transcend our darkness only by choosing to turn toward the light. For billions of years, the Moon has remained our steadfast companion bearing witness to every tumult and triumph of this world, its benevolent radiance reminding us that even the darkest of earthly eras shall pass.
“Our task must be to free ourselves … by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” “Have compassion for everyone you meet,” Lucinda Williams sang as she put one of her father’s poems to music, “for you do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.” But without the recognition that those wars are shared wars — that our suffering is always a part of the suffering, common to the human experience — compassion becomes an intellectual abstraction.
“Full engagement in the movement called democracy requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives.” “America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without,” Walt Whitman wrote in his timeless meditation on democracy.
Neko Case, Nikki Giovani, Tavi Gevinson, Maira Kalman, Debbie Millman, Carrie Brownstein, and more. “Women had always made a significant contribution to the development of human civilization, but these were consistently ignored, denied, or trivialized,” artist Judy Chicago wrote at the height of the women’s liberation movement in her iconic 1979 celebration of women’s place in creative culture.
“The sole art that suits me is that which, rising from unrest, tends toward serenity.” “Art,” Jeanette Winterson observed in a terrific conversation about art and the human spirit, “pulls people up short.
“In times of strife, we have our imagination, we have our creative impulse, which are things that are more important than material things.
“Without power for the group, a group larger, even, than an extended family, our success always threatened to leave others behind.” “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you?
“A library is a rainbow in the clouds.” “You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians.