Existential Psychologist Rollo May on Freedom and the Significance of the Pause

One of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors for The Little Prince “Freedom is the capacity to pause in the face of stimuli from many directions at once and, in this pause, to throw one’s weight toward this response rather than that one.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Everything can be taken from a man,” the great Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his timeless treatise on the human search for meaning, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” A generation later, James Baldwin examined how we imprison ourselves and … Continue reading Existential Psychologist Rollo May on Freedom and the Significance of the Pause

The Meaning of “I Love You”: Robert Browning on Protecting the Sincerity of Sentiment from Desecration by Misuse

Robert Browning “People would hardly ever tell falsehoods about a matter, if they had been let tell truth in the beginning.” BY MARIA POPOVA Just as we have drained the word friend of meaning by misuse and overuse, we are constantly abrading the integrity of the word love with insincerity of sentiment. Adrienne Rich wrote that in any honorable relationship, we earn the right to use the word love through “a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” But what happens when the snake bites its own tail and the very truthfulness which this process presupposes … Continue reading The Meaning of “I Love You”: Robert Browning on Protecting the Sincerity of Sentiment from Desecration by Misuse

The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel

Page from Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” BY MARIA POPOVA “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,”wrote the thirty-year-old Nietzsche. “The true and durable path into and through experience,” Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney counseled the young more than a century later in his magnificent commencement address, “involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.” Every generation … Continue reading The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel

Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss “When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas.” BY MARIA POPOVA “There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing,” Maya Angelou wrote in contemplating courage in the face of evil. In the decades since, cynicism has become a cultural currency as deadly as blood diamonds, as vacant of integrity and long-term payoff as Enron. Over the years, I have written about, spoken … Continue reading Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism

The Search for a New Humility: Václav Havel on Reclaiming Our Human Interconnectedness in a Globalized Yet Divided World

Illustration from Alice and Martin Provensen’s vintage adaptation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey “Our respect for other people… can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it… and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of being.” BY MARIA POPOVA In his clever 1958 allegory I, Pencil, the libertarian writer Leonard Read used the complex chain of resources and competences involved in the production of a single pencil to illustrate the vital web of interdependencies — economic as well as ethical — undergirding … Continue reading The Search for a New Humility: Václav Havel on Reclaiming Our Human Interconnectedness in a Globalized Yet Divided World

Readers of the world unite

Reading in a tea shop in Istanbul. Photo by Louis Grandadam/Getty How markets, Marx, and provincial elites created world literature to fight both empire and nationalism by Martin Puchner holds the Byron and Anita Wien Chair in drama and in English and comparative literature at Harvard University. As general editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, he has brought 4000 years of literature to students across the globe. His latest book is The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, and Civilization (Random House, 2017). On the afternoon of 31 January 1827, a new vision of literature was born. On that … Continue reading Readers of the world unite

Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the Dangerous Myth of the Suffering Artist and What Makes Life Worth Living

Elizabeth Barrett Browning A beautiful clarion call for making creative work “the filling joy of your life” no matter how difficult the cards you’ve been dealt. BY MARIA POPOVA Elizabeth Barrett Browning (March 6, 1806–June 29, 1861) surmounted an uncommon share of adversity to become one of the most influential writers of the past two centuries, a guiding spirit to such varied pioneers as poet Emily Dickinson and astronomer Maria Mitchell. Since her girlhood, Barrett was bedeviled by intense spinal headaches and muscle pain that would plague her for the remaining four decades of her life, now believed to have been hypokalemic periodic paralysis … Continue reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the Dangerous Myth of the Suffering Artist and What Makes Life Worth Living