Off the Page: The Undulating Words of Gabriel García Marquez

The interplay between literature and the various visual arts—paintings that tell stories, or books that describe paintings, or any other cross-artform conversation—has always been fascinating to me. And being the book lover that I am, artwork based on the written word itself has always captured my imagination, from the Winnie-the-Pooh movies I watched as a kid, to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

Winnie-the-Pooh words in the rain

Sochi Opening Ceremonies -  great Russian poets and writers

So when I discovered this “ocean of words” honoring Gabriel García Marquez, from Spain-based creative group Think Big Factory and creative agency Barrabes Meaning, I was absolutely mesmerized.

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From an article on PSFK.com:

Choosing a particular motif to trace through his work—in this case, the ocean—they set up an intricate multimedia installation involving 10,000 words 3D printed in real time.

Travesía por los estados de la palabra,” which premiered at the international art fair of Madrid, ARCOmadrid in February, was inspired by a speech given by García Marquez at the First International Congress of the Spanish Language in Zacatecas (Mexico) in 1997 called “Bottle the sea for the God of words.”

The speech is about “the power of words in the image era”—a still-relevant concept, especially in the Internet’s zeitgeist of diminished word use and 140-word tweets.

It is conceptually, visually, experientially stunning. I love this homage to “the power of words in the image era,” and the role words play in the greater social landscape, which is so evocatively visualized in this ocean. The sense of movement, based off of real-time data of word-use on Twitter, gives me the same sense of wonder as the starling murmurations I was inspired by for one of my favorite school projects.

The technology they harnessed to build this piece is also super interesting. More from the PSFK article:

The choice and arrangement of the waves behind the words is affected by the contemporary use of Márquez’s words about water by the general populace. The motion of the 3D-printed words is determined by data extracted from Twitter through a program designed in openFrameworks.

The room, on a larger scale, is a representation of what the creators’ software does, taking the elusive qualities of language and transforming them into a physical manifestation. This is made especially evident through the tirelessly working 3D printers that remain on display, and the words that flow ceaselessly through the room.

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It is so fitting that this creative exploration, pushing the envelope for the experience of the written word, was done to honor the memory of a man whose writing pushed the boundaries of the believable. I was fascinated by Gabriel García Marquez’ works, and wrote my own, rather humble, memorial to the man in this blogpost; it is lovely to see that not only will his stories live on, but his ideas will inspire art and conversations like this, still very relevant to our society today.

Daily Drop Cap Meets Penguin Classics

The internet is abuzz with the recently released preview of a new series of books Penguin is publishing in time for the Christmas season. The Penguin Drop Cap series will be a series of classic books with covers featuring letters designed by the wonderful Jessica Hische. The letters will be new designs, appropriate for each book’s content, that she prepares for this series and not simply caps taken from her previous Daily Drop Cap project. The series uses bold, bright colors and relatively simple elegant layout around the Drop Cap. I have to admit, I think the spines are just as nice as the covers (while you might not think a spine is as important as a beautiful front cover, the spine is all you usually see when a book is on your bookshelf!).

You can read the Imprint article, displaying all six of the released previews (A is for Jane Austen, B is for Charlotte Bronte, C is for Willa Cather, D is for Charles Dickens, E is for George Eliot, and F is for Gustave Flaubert). Below are my favorite two; although Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorites I prefer the Willa Cather and Charles Dickens covers. However, Middlemarch is the only one I haven’t read yet, so its probably top of my list for purchasing. What do you think? Will they be on your Christmas wishlist?

Penguin Drop Cap Series—C is for Willa Cather’s My Antonia
Penguin Drop Cap Series—D is for Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations

Anna, Leo, and Me: Thoughts on finishing Anna Karenina

AnnaKareninaWell I’ve done it!

After months of picking it up, reading for awhile, and putting it down again, I’ve finally finished Anna Karenina. And though it’s seemed more like a marathon than a simple walk through the park, its been very enjoyable. While I don’t find Tolstoy a page-turner, I’m amazed at how well he captures humanity, in all its coarse, unpolished and hum-drum details and therefore how well he captures what it means to be alive. It is glorious, and yet all so ordinary.

And in Anna Karenina Tolstoy manages to fit all turns of life: birth, death, youth, love, hope, disappointment, urban life, rural life, storms and elation. I’ll warn you right now that much of the rest of this post will include PLOT SPOILERS so don’t read after this paragraph if you don’t want to know about some of the plot twists and turns. Just know that I definitely recommend it!

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I will admit, for awhile I wasn’t sure if I could finish it. I had stopped reading for a bit right when Anna and Vronsky start their affair, and I was so into the storyline that reading made me anxious and up tight about their fate, so I didn’t enjoy reading! But curiosity got the better of me, and I pushed through to find out that their affair did end up at least sort of working out, and then I got caught up in the love story between Levin and Kitty, and finished the rest without too much difficulty.

There were several poignant moments that I really loved, especially at the birth of Levin’s first child:

He only knew and felt that what was happening was similar to what had happened the year before in the hotel of the provincial town on the deathbed of his brother Nicholas. But that had been grief—this was joy. Yet that grief and this joy were alike outside all the ordinary conditions of life; they were loop-holes, as it were, in that ordinary life through which there came glimpses of something sublime. And, as in that case, what was now being accomplished came harshly, painfully, incomprehensibly; and while watching it, the soul soared to heights it had never known before, at which reason could not keep up with it.

and the tiny little details, like his reaction to his infant son:

And this consciousness was at first so painful, the fear lest that helpless being should suffer was so strong, that it quite hid the strange feeling of unreasoning joy and even pride which he experienced when the baby sneezed.

Watching Anna’s spiral downwards was fascinating and horrifying. It felt so easy to identify with Anna and what she was thinking, and yet at the same time to look at her from without and see how she was making herself miserable. And when she finally committed suicide, it felt so bizarrely understandable! And yet, so tragic. She knew that it wasn’t Vronsky and it wasn’t her, it was some evil force (which I read as depression or a similar mental affliction) that was bearing her under. The detail that Tolstoy put in about when she crossed herself, the great shadow lifted and she remembered what was beautiful in life again, but she went ahead with her suicide anyway, wondering all the while why her body was still moving on this seemingly unalterable course. So heartbreaking, those last few moments, as they seem so preventable.

And then, with the ending of Levin’s discovery of faith, through the words of the simple peasant:

Oh, well, of course, folks are different. One man lives for his own wants and nothing else, like Mituh, he only thinks of filling his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. He lives for his soul. He does not forget God.

I can’t help bring the two together. The book is titled after Anna, and yet Tolstoy ends with Levin. Is the ideal to live for God and righteousness a comment on Anna’s life? One could argue that Anna has lived her life in ways meant to fill her emotional “belly” and not looking at what is the right thing to do but merely what she feels she needs. And yet, she also seems like a woman who’s happiness has been destroyed at every turn by the whims and strict structures of society. One can’t help but feel that she could so easily have been a successful, beneficial member of society. Yet, one can’t deny that she lived for her own happiness. She lived for what she wanted, and not what (in at least one sense) was the “right” thing to do. But then what is the “right” thing to do?

I must admit, I like Levin’s answer. To be a good person, even if it makes no logical sense and you can find no reason to defend it.