“We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. And knowing of course is the cessation of thinking. I mean, there’s this epidemic of listicles: why think about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim ‘the twenty most expensive paintings in history’? I’m very guided by this desire to counter that in myself.” – Maria Popova
Brainpickings is a website created and curated by writer and “interestingness hunter-gatherer” Maria Popova. To collect, connect and spread the wisdom of great thinkers from a bevy of disciplines is the intention, and on the basis of intent alone seems simple enough; it has, however, surprisingly deep ramifications. Though Popova orchestrates the site by herself, there arises inherently, across space and time, unspoken constellations of dialogue between the artists, scientists and others whose stores of insight she draws upon.
As you’ll hear Popova express in her discussion with Krista Tippett on On Being (above), the term “curator” strikes her an unsatisfying descriptor for herself and work. I’ve used it myself in the opening of this post for lack of immediate alternatives (or imagination); and undoubtedly, Brainpickings hums with the ambiance of a thing greater than its parts—a hard-to-define “mental pool of resources”, as Popova designates it, which speaks to the “great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom” Christopher Hitchens alluded to; that broader, brighter horizon we know not how to name but seek always nonetheless.
In whatever terms you’d like to frame this pursuit, the fact is that Popova’s work provokes us to the altar of knowledge itself. It’s an inspiring, at times overwhelming, but always enriching testament to all of the intricate, multitudinous lanes of possible and had human experience—and by that virtue, to the immeasurable wealth which awaits those of us willing to travel them in turn.
“Because I am, like everybody else, a product of my time and my culture, and I remember there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977, in which she said that “an education is not something that you get, but something that you claim,” and I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles, and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a three-hundred page book into a three-minute animation – even in that we skip forward – is because we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge, but not to do the work of claiming it.”
You can support Popova (and her irreducible work) by donating.