Paola Antonelli on Design as the Interface Between Progress and Humanity

Pao­la Antonel­li — Senior Cura­tor of Archi­tec­ture and Design at the MoMA, long­time pro­po­nent of human­ized tech­nol­o­gy, self-described “curi­ous octo­pus” — has arguably done more for the main­stream infil­tra­tion of design lit­er­a­cy than any oth­er indi­vid­ual in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. In her recent open­ing keynote at the unequiv­o­cal­ly titled media and ideas con­fer­ence The Con­fer­ence in Malmö, Swe­den, Antonel­li pulls the cur­tain on her cura­to­r­i­al process and, with her sig­na­ture on-stage charis­ma, takes a reveal­ing look at how her shows go about the incred­i­ble bal­anc­ing act of being both bea­cons of the bleed­ing edge of design and an approach­able edu­ca­tion plat­form for instill­ing in the gen­er­al pub­lic a basic under­stand­ing of the fun­da­men­tal impor­tance of design — some­thing she describes as “push[ing] design down from the realm of art and up from the realm of dec­o­ra­tion and pret­ti­fi­ca­tion into real life.”

“What design­ers do is they take rev­o­lu­tions that hap­pen maybe in sci­ence or tech­nol­o­gy or pol­i­tics, and they trans­form them into objects that you and I can use, that you and I can feel some famil­iar­i­ty or at least some curios­i­ty about, so we can be drawn in and we can start a new life and a new behav­ioral pat­tern. And this idea of design­ers as the inter­face of progress, between progress and human­i­ty, is what I try to stay with.” ~ Pao­la Antonel­li

Antonel­li’s excel­lent new show, Talk to Me: Design and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Between Peo­ple and Objects, is on dis­play at the MoMA through Novem­ber 7.

Maria Popo­va is the founder and edi­tor in chief of Brain Pick­ings, a curat­ed inven­to­ry of cross-dis­ci­pli­nary inter­est­ing­ness. She writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Desig­nOb­serv­er, and spends a great deal of time on Twit­ter.

Vladimir Nabokov Marvels Over Different “Lolita” Book Covers

In this short excerpt from a TV pro­gram called “USA: The Nov­el,” Vladimir Nabokov com­ments on dif­fer­ent for­eign edi­tions of his nov­el Loli­ta. The indi­vid­ual cov­ers he dis­cuss­es are list­ed here; the full pro­gram is avail­able here, and it con­tains some mem­o­rable quotes by the author (from chap­ter 1: “Mr Nabokov, would you tell us why it is that you detest Dr. Freud?” — “I think he’s crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elder­ly gen­tle­man from Vien­na with an umbrel­la inflict­ing his dreams upon me. I don’t have the dreams that he dis­cuss­es in his books, I don’t see umbrel­las in my dreams or bal­loons.”).

Find­ing a pub­lish­er for Loli­ta proved to be rather dif­fi­cult for Nabokov. A Decem­ber 1953 review of the man­u­script said: “It is over­whelm­ing­ly nau­se­at­ing, even to an enlight­ened Freudi­an. To the pub­lic, it will be revolt­ing. It will not sell, and will do immea­sur­able harm to a grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion. […] I rec­om­mend that it be buried under a stone for a thou­sand years.” (Get more infor­ma­tion at Stan­ford’s “The Book Haven”) Loli­ta was first pub­lished in 1955 (orig­i­nal cov­er here) and has since been trans­lat­ed into many lan­guages with a wide vari­ety of cov­er designs (find a good col­lec­tion at this site).

Short­ly after Loli­ta’s pub­li­ca­tion, Nabokov dis­cussed his nov­el on the CBC pro­gram “Close Up”: see part one and part two.

Bonus: Lit­tle known detail — Nabokov held the post of cura­tor of lep­i­doptera at Har­vard’s Muse­um of Com­par­a­tive Zool­o­gy. He col­lect­ed many but­ter­flies and devel­oped a the­o­ry of but­ter­fly migra­tion which dis­put­ed all pre­vi­ous the­o­ries and was­n’t tak­en seri­ous­ly by biol­o­gists then. Only recent­ly did genet­ic stud­ies vin­di­cate his once bold the­o­ry. Some of Nabokov’s beau­ti­ful draw­ings of the but­ter­flies he stud­ied can be enjoyed cour­tesy of Fla­vor­wire.

You can find this video housed in our col­lec­tion of 235 Cul­tur­al Icons.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.