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Unforgettable Books

  • Unforgettable Books

    • ‘Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages’ is already a classic title in Eco’s oeuvre, it invites us question the notion of that which we call beautiful.

    Art and beauty in medieval aestheticism (a reflection by Umberto Eco) / 

    Beauty and ugliness are real, but above all else they’re ideas. While physical reality has a number of objective realities, such as mass and speed (even if these can vary depending on the observer’s point of view), as we make our way through these properties, this become more and more subjective, cultural, social, defined by their context, linked to the different circumstances that add to the different facts and planes where it is hard to affirm, categorically, that something is definitely so

    Umberto Eco is probable one of the most eloquent exponents of this type of cultural analysis. From his legendary Apocalittici e integrati (1964), the Italian semiotic and narrator has proven an unlikely ability to dissect the mechanisms which make an idea be accepted or rejected, the social forces behind these processes, the invention of its legitimacy and other aspects of this dynamic that transforms something that was previously considered ephemeral or volatile; a supposition, belief or fantasy, into something real.

    In Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, Eco creates a collection of the “aesthetic theories elaborated by the Latin culture of the middle ages from the sixth to the fifteen century”, an unfolding of erudition animated by the intention of showing the contrasting and differing ideas surrounding beauty (some theological, some philosophic, artistic etc.), a game where the reflections of the diversity give rise to reflection: does beauty have to be identified by the practical or the sublime? With the aesthetic or with the good? Can these dilemmas have a single answer?

    The book, originally published in the Eighties, continues to be a point of reference for the investigations surrounding the aesthetic experience, especially on how this might seem to be extremely personal, non-transferable, and also coveted by external circumstances that have directly or indirectly taught us how to react in a specific manner. 

    Tagged: Umberto Eco, books, beauty, Middle Age
  • Agents of Change

    • The Future of the Mind, by Michio Kaku, explores the most recent research surrounding the human mind.

    Are you ready to explore the limits of the mind? / 

    The Future of the Mind, the latest book by Michio Kaku, physical theorist, was recently published. It explores the scientific desire to understand, improve and potentiate the human mind. This prominent researcher has distinguished himself in the field of String Theory, primarily due to his commitment to scientific diffusion and to his astounding ability to guide anybody through the complexities of many subjects such as neuroscience, for example.

    This book gathers the most astounding research in the field of neuroscience. For example, it describes the experiments that inch us closer to the possibility of recording our thoughts, dreams or memories so that these can later be reproduced or consulted. This type of work, combined with a minimal dosage of optimism, can easily reach Dan Simmons’ visions, and in a near future, they could create a sophisticated network for the exchange of thoughts and brain to brain emotions.

    Doctor Kaku is also proposing a new way of perceiving consciousness, using it to treat certain psychological issues and to work with artificial intelligences. The wonderful aspects that are exposed by this volume are inspiring, even if many of them are still in their early stages, the future that once seemed so distant is actually much closer than we could imagine, at least, according to this theoretical physicist.

    An essential read for those who love to delve into the confines of the region where magic, science, technology and our imagination converge. 

    Tagged: Michio Kaku, mind, human mind, brain
  • Unforgettable Books

    • The author of this piece sets himself apart through his critical and fresh contributions surrounding Arts and the Net.

    Anti-Media Ephemera on Speculative Arts / 

    Florian Cramer has developed a book that encourages us to reflect on what remains current, expires or is constantly moving during the digital age.  Anti-Media Ephemera on Speculative Arts, is a collection of essays spanning over subjects like online porn, art, anti-copyright activists, 4chan, Anonymous, popular culture. In general, the book sets out to dialogue and clarify the impermanent quality of virtual spaces to reveal it to be an absolute provocative.

    His most persistent questions surround the current state of art, will it always be relevant? ‘Art’ is, to begin with, a somewhat vague term and one which can have a multitude of different definitions, its precise function within society is also fairly elusive. In this sense, the same thing happens with ‘Media’, a somewhat imprecise term that does not encompass this modern phenomenon’s complexity. Hence anti-art and anti-media become essential to understanding and grasping the meaning, definition and importance of these two.

    Anti-Media is a profound title that employs an intensive analysis of cultural manifestations, observations surrounding Art and Media Criticism, which as Cramer points out, and ends up referencing themselves. This is undoubtedly, a relevant book which can become a crucial reference point that will help us understand the period we’re living in. The author is a professor at the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam, he studied comparative literature in Berlin and is much familiarised with codes and the web. Cramer shares his current work and hints at the topic for his next book:

    “All papers I published since 1996 are available under free licenses on my website. My next research project will be about the aesthetics of obscenity —and inevitably involve contemporary Internet culture."

    Tagged: books, art, art criticism, contemporary art, Florian Cramer, Anti-Media Ephemera on Speculative Arts
  • Unforgettable Books

    • This delicious book presents the drama of the greatest space missions as seen through the gaze of masters of modern art, inviting us to dream of life on other planets.

    Sphere recommends: NASA/Art, 50 years of exploration / 

    Exploring outer space has been a human goal dating back to a time when we could not yet define what that enormous light in the sky that defined seasons and life on Earth was. Before we knew that the moon lacked light of its own there were already creators envisioning life on this satellite and in hundreds of planets beyond. NASA has been able to make that dream come true by exploring other worlds, and by recognising that as well as important scientific achievements, space exploration quenches a thirst for fantasy, which lead to the eloquent founding of a somewhat unlikely arts programme in 1962.

    James Webb, the program’s creator, thought that “Important events can be interpreted by artists to provide unique insight into significant aspects of our history-making advances into space. An artistic record of this nation’s program of space exploration”, that left behind an artistic legacy reflecting a different side of the agency, through artistic revelations.

    In 2008 the Smithsonian Museum celebrated the agency’s fiftieth anniversary with an exhibition and a magnificent book entitled NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration. Here we can appreciate works created by renowned masters of the twentieth century like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg , as well as contemporary creators like Annie Leibovitz and Daniel Zeller. The images of the book invite us to explore the mysteries that can be found spread throughout the macrocosm.

    While NASA has been recognised for its enormous achievements and its contributions to space exploration, their art program resulted in the burgeoning of some truly inspiring pieces. This beautiful edition evokes an almost child-like curiosity that leads us to devour its pages, feeding our dreams and fantasies. Undoubtedly NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration is a small treasure that must become a part of everybody’s personal library, whether we love art, space contemplation or science. 

    Tagged: NASA, books, cosmos, space exploration, science
  • Unforgettable Books

    • James Geary wrote one of the most accessible books concerning the most beautiful linguistic resource of all: the metaphor.

    Children are masters of the imagination and metaphor / 

    Children tend to look for categorical clarity and experience reality in profoundly different ways to adults. This is what makes them great masters of the imagination; their processes enlighten our minds’ mechanisms. One of the most amazing properties in their search for clarity is their understanding and the use of abstract language and of rhetoric to understand the world and make themselves understood. An whole chapter of the entirely fortunate I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World is devoted to studying it.

    Before anything else, Geary explores metaphors’ vast power:

    Metaphor is most familiar as the literary device through which we describe one thing in terms of another, as when the author of the Old Testament Song of Songs describes a lover’s navel as “a round goblet never lacking mixed wine”. […]Yet metaphor is much, much more than this.

    Metaphorical thinking — our instinct not just for describing but for comprehending one thing in terms of another, for equating I with an other — shapes our view of the world, and is essential to how we communicate, learn, discover, and invent.

    Metaphor is a way of thought long before it is a way with words.

    Apparently children are creators of some of the most persuasive and original metaphors, and, on the other hand, the best receptors of adults’ figurative language. According to Geary, a child’s innate talent when it comes to live and fertile metaphors is triggered by the same conductive force that moves adult creativity: recognising patterns (combining primitive pieces of information to create something new). The fact that children are not limited to narrow thought and classification conventionalisms allows them to produce remote metaphoric expressions that are effective for that very reason. When children reach an age when they can use their experiences to understand more similarities, then their psychology evolves towards abstraction. Geary quotes an effective example to portray this:

    During pretend play, children effortlessly describe objects as other objects and then use them as such. A comb becomes a centipede; cornflakes become freckles; a crust of bread becomes a curb.

    Children listened to short stories that ended with either a literal or metaphorical sentence. In a story about a little girl on her way home, for example, the literal ending was “Sally was a girl running to her home;” while the metaphoric ending was “Sally was a bird flying to her nest.”

    Researchers asked the children to act out the stories using a doll. Five- to six-year-olds tended to move the Sally doll through the air when the last sentence was “Sally was a bird flying to her nest,” taking the phrase literally. Eight to nine year olds, however, tended to move her quickly across the ground, taking the phrase metaphorically.

    Children struggle to understand sophisticated metaphors because they have not had the life-experiences needed to acquire the storage space required to associate common spaces. However, their abstraction capacities and their vast representational world have much to teach adults. “This is one of the marvels of metaphor. Fresh, successful metaphors do not depend on conventional pre-existing associations. Instead, they highlight novel, unexpected similarities, not particularly characteristic of either the source or the target — at least until the metaphor itself points them out”, Geary states. In short, the book is a great read, destined to expand the semantic world in which we live, thus expanding our experience in the world. 

    Tagged: books, children, human brain, brain, languaje, metaphor
  • Unforgettable Books

    • Dean Radin, the “modern Galileo”, reconciles the strictest scientific protocol with the mental powers that have been manifested throughout history.

    Supernormal, an essential book concerning the science of the mind / 

    Supernormalby Dean Radin is one of the most important endeavours made so far in terms of reconciling metaphysics and science. The general discussion revolves around supernatural activities that were accessed by Buddha Christ and Muhammad, and since in real life these are qualities we all possess, it means we are merely too distracted most of the time to gain access to them. He explores this from the point of view of quantum science, which has been entwined with spirituality for over 40 years.

    But something new can now be brought to the discussion: empirical evidence. Laboratory data amassed over many decades suggest that some of what the yogis, mystics, saints, and shamans have claimed is probably right. And that means some of today’s scientific assumptions are probably wrong.

    Once physics was able to prove that objects are only clouds of energy in movement, and that cause and effect is a probability game in a safety place, there is no longer a way to separate the extraordinary powers of the mind from modern science. But if the “super powers such as levitating or mind reading might actually be true, why haven’t we read about it in science magazines?” asks Radin. “This is because potentially there would be many offended people if we were to touch spiritual issues from the “officialdom” of science”. In this way, Supernormal is devoted to expanding the modern dialogue between science and contemplative traditions. Find a point of reconciliation between the world that believes in mental powers and the world that considers them to be absurd.

    Patiently, and following a fairly tranquil pace, Radin explains how some scientific experiments have shown that reading someone’s mind or anticipating the future are real experiences.  His talent, as Deepak Chopra explains in the prologue, resides on returning to the basics and finding common ground there. Radin journeys to the ordinary experience of archaic mysticism, “Remember when this happened” he says. “Well, the same was known by yogis a thousand years ago, and it has been proven in a lab”. In this way, and in the first person, he presents the gathered information from all types of “super powers” while he persuasively encourages us to notice how something can be proven, and refuted at the same time (the eternal paradox between science and magic). What Radin seems to be saying is that our future heavily depends on the awakening of our human potentials as soon as possible.

    I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

    All in all, this book is a fascinating reminder that there are more options than those that people usually consider, and some of those options can be incredibly empowering for our minds, increasing the potential to discover more phenomena in order to transform the “you can create your own reality” cliché into a living experience. Radin invites us to look through the telescope into the heart of the deepest issue of the contemporary science of the mind. 

    Tagged: mind, human mind, Unforgettable Books, Dean Radin, Supernormal Dean Radin
  • Unforgettable Books

    • Great contemporary thinkers answer scientific, metaphysic, and impossible questions, in a language children can understand.

    Great questions for little people / 

    This is the kind of book that makes us want to have a child, a nephew or a child-friend, so we can give it to them (without erasing the possibility of giving it to ourselves). Gemma Elwin Harris chose the best questions, formulated by thousands of children between the ages of four and twelve years of age, to be answered by experts on each subject. Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds is an enchanting journey into the paths of knowledge, in a simple vocabulary. Some of the questions are:

    Do animals have feelings?

    Why can’t I tickle myself?

    Who is God?

    Why do we dream?

    Why are we all made of stardust?

    Among the distinguished men and women who answer these, and many other questions, we can find Noam Chomsky the linguist, the authors May Roach and Phillip Pullman, Chef Gordon Ramsay, the adventurer Bear Gryllis, and the evolutionist Richard Dawkins, who, by the way, has a similar book, addressing children: The Magic of Reality.

    In the book, the British novelist Jeanette Winterson gives this answer to the question “Why do we fall in love?”

    You don’t fall in love like you fall in a hole. You fall like falling through space. It’s like you jump off your own private planet to visit someone else’s planet. And when you get there it all looks different: the flowers, the animals, the colours people wear. It is a big surprise falling in love because you thought you had everything just right on your own planet, and that was true, in a way, but then somebody signalled to you across space and the only way you could visit was to take a giant jump. Away you go, falling into someone else’s orbit and after a while you might decide to pull your two planets together and call it home. And you can bring your dog. Or your cat. Your goldfish, hamster, collection of stones, all your odd socks. (The ones you lost, including the holes, are on the new planet you found.)

    And you can bring your friends to visit. And read your favourite stories to each other. And the falling was really the big jump that you had to make to be with someone you don’t want to be without. That’s it.

    PS You have to be brave.

    Science, history and imagination come together in these pages. They are the perfect  complement for the rigidity of school education, a varied source of knowledge in simple words that everybody can understand. Childhood curiosity, as evidenced in this experiment, can be as transcendental as the most essential philosophical problems.

    This is a work similar to The Dangerous Book for Boys by Hal Igguiden and A Little History of the World by Ernst Gombrich, written in Vienna in 1935 and later prohibited by the Nazi regime for being too pacifist. Or to The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, by Julia Rothman, Jenny Volvovski and Matt Lamothe, one of the favourite books of Maria Popova, the creator of Brainpickings

    Tagged: books, Unforgettable Books, curiosity, creativity, children
  • Unforgettable Books

    • To celebrate the existence of this great naturalist, and that friendship prevails between all beings in this world, we quote a short passage from his journal.

    The journals of Henry David Thoreau / 

    The beloved transcendtalist and eco-anarchist Henry David Thoreau would turn 196 years old this year, and because of this, the Brainpickings site is honouring him by selecting some of the most moving passages from his journals. In these texts, Thoreau considers the essence of friendship, what it means to be human and the inextricable connection we have with non-human beings, which are as worthy of our sympathy and respect as  our human friends.

    To Thoreau, the essence of friendship lies in cultivating true compassion (in the sense of “putting oneself in another’s shoes”). Once, for example, he observed a pinecone he had picked up a few days before, opening in his bedroom. From this apparently mundane event, he extracted a deep meditation on existence and the bonds of compassion, through a squirrel. “That uncanny gift from translating the minutia of the physical world into timeless wisdom on the metaphysical is the defining characteristic of his journal”, writes Maria Popova.

    If you would be convinced how differently armed the squirrel is naturally for dealing with pitch pine cones, just try to get one off with your teeth. He who extracts the seeds from a single closed cone with the aid of a knife will be constrained to confess that the squirrel earns his dinner. It is a rugged customer, and will make your fingers bleed. But the squirrel has the key to this conical and spiny chest of many apartments. He sits on a post, vibrating his tail, and twirls it as a plaything.

    But so is a man commonly a locked-up chest to us, to open whom, unless we have the key of sympathy, will make our hearts bleed.

    This sensibility towards other feeling creatures permeates all of Thoreau’s diaries. After all, he was the one who went to live at Walden moved by the desire to understand the behaviours of nature and the radical correspondence between all visible things and human thoughts.

    All parts of nature belong to one head, as the curls of a maiden’s hair. How beautifully flow the seasons as one year, and all streams as one ocean!

    The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861 is an absolute beauty. One of those books we visit over and over throughout life seeking written nature and essential reminders. Reminders as valuable as the one quoted in this text. 

    Tagged: Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Thoreau journals, Agents of Change, Warriors & Rebels, writers
  • Libros Inolvidables

    • A fairly unknown facet of the great Argentinian writer: Borges de draughtsman; an unexpected extension of his creative genius.

    Two drawings by J.L. Borges, the poetry of the body / 

    That burst, tango, that mischief,
    it defies the busy years;
    made of dust and time, man lasts
    less than a light melody,
    that is only time.

    J.L. Borges

     As well as prosing with brilliant geometry the most unforgettable Western stories, Jorge Luis Borges, traced a couple of drawings that can be easily attached to his oeuvre. In them, we can find two of his “minor” obsessions: tango and hydra. We say “minor”, perhaps because they do not occupy as much space in his writing as labyrinths, mirrors, libraries, time…

    The first drawing “El tango”, is part of a Notre Dame rare book collection. Borges said tango had originated in brothels, as a way of encouraging the sensual closeness of bodies. Also, in 1965, he collaborated with Piazzola in a tango and milonga album called El Tango.  His drawing reads as follows:

    Tango is from the brothel. I have no doubt of that. But certainty

    is not with me when it comes to finding its birthplace.


    For Ernesto Poncio, it is the archway of Retirement,

    it is clearly, in the whorehouses; the Southerners believe it

    is in Chile street, and the Northerners sustain


    it is on Temple street, both whorehouses.

    In any case it is also indisputable that it was born between 1880 and 1890.

    The second drawing, called “La hidra de los dictadores” (the hydra of dictators), alludes to the political animal; the mythical seven headed monster. In it we can see the faces of Hitler, Peron, Rosas, Mussolini and Marx, as a single monster that can only be killed by severing all seven heads at once (a feat only Hercules could accomplish).

    This last drawing is part of the Virginia University’s manuscript collection, and can be found in a nine page manuscript called “Viejo hábito argentino” (“Old Argentinian Habit”), which was later published as “Nuestro pobre individualismo” (“Our poor individualism”) in the book Otras inquisiciones (Other inquisitions). 

    Tagged: Borges, writers, literature, drawings by Borges, Unforgettable Books, books Credits: Image (Alicia D'Amico)
  • Unforgettable Books

    • The ‘do it’ project has been exporting artistic instructions for twenty years to the streets and to the many individuals’ imaginations.

    Do it: instructions to create art / 

    Hans Ulrich Obrist (1968) is a distinguished art thinker; he has curated exhibitions by renowned artists, —for example Gerhard Richter— and is currently the Exhibition and Program Co-director for the Serpentine Gallery. Obrist is originally from Zurich, and many will remember him because at the age of 23 he mounted an exhibition in his kitchen —and since then, his mind has continued to turn art around into an infinite number of possibilities.

    In 1993, he was chatting with the artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier in a café, and the conversation was apparently centred on “art instructions”, popular during the Seventies among artists such as Sol LeWitt, who used to leave complicated instructions for the construction of complicated geometrical works that would often take days to put together. Each one of them contributed something to the Do it project, as a result of that conversation.

    Do it means making art by following the necessary instructions, mounting an exhibition moulded to fit the space, creating your own performance, sculpture or intervention anywhere. As a musical piece is contained by the instructions to perform it, it represents a potential visual art. It is not a copy of works or the reproduction of an image; it pertains to the realm of human interpretation that detonates the artistic phenomenon.

    20 years after he helped shape the project that redefined the conception of art, Obrist published Do it: The Compendium. A complete reference to the manual art involved in performance, sculpture, urban interventions and philosophical reflections. The book includes commentaries, contributions and recipes by artists such as Lawrence Weiner, Louis Bourgeois, Ai Wei Wei, Douglas Coupland, David Lynch and Sol LeWitt.

    Do it rejects the notion of the original in favor of an open-ended conception of the creation of the work. … No two versions of do it instructions are ever identical when carried out.

    Obrist thus proposes the Do it project, by adding ideas about the conception of an open work of art, which does not die when it leaves the gallery, and that represents the open source spirit that prevails because of electronic media. An artistic revolution, an explosion of creativity that could reach the minds of any person around the world, an artistic sensibility that leaved the institution to burst into the daily flow. 

    Tagged: books, Unforgettable Books, inspiration, Do it book, Do it project