Category: Announcements

Shame

The German language, never shy of eclectic terminologies, has a word for a specific kind of shame: Fremdschämen. Roughly translated, it means stranger shame, and denotes the feeling of shame you feel when someone else does something particularly shameful. Arguably, this Teutonic proxy-shame manages to be empathetic and disdainful at the same time – but when it comes to shame, matters are naturally complex.
On its surface, shame is deeply personal: An unpleasant feeling, serving for emotional self-flagellation. But this specific power of shame has always been wielded against other as well. Back in the day, misdeeds were punished with public shaming at the market square. And even though most modern states have moved away from emotional punishment, the urge to shame others is very much alive on the internet, where (perceived) misdeeds lead to shitstorms, doxxing, and other forms of amateur vigilantism. In his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed“, author Jon Ronson succinctly states that we’re seeing a “great renaissance of public shaming”.
So there you have it: An emotion that’s both public and private, ancient and contemporary, complex and simple. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be shining our flashlights into the darkest corners of shame. And guess what: It would be a shame not to.

Myth

The word myth is worth examining.
According to the dictionary, it stands for a traditional story, for a widely-held (but usually false) belief, or even an imaginary person.
“Myths are public dreams” wrote the American author and mythologist Joseph Campbell, and his analogy holds: Just like myths, dreams are elusive fantasies – sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Yet as a society, we’re sharing neither the same bed nor head. And so believing the same thing (especially if it’s false!) goes counter to our whole idea of ourselves as sensible, enlightened citizens of the 21st century.
That we nevertheless do is because myths have something irresistible about them: They make for engrossing stories.
Take Oedipus, or the popular belief that Einstein failed maths: A good myth is something you want to believe, because of the lesson it entails. Oedipus tells us that plans backfire. Einsteins imagined failures make him more human.
So we may know of a myth’s falsehood but still treasure it for that. Isn’t religion, in its bare essence, just a set of moral guidelines illustrated through mythology? Isn’t a myth a lesson packaged into a really good story?
That’s why myths tend to stick and evolve over time. Some accounts have been around for thousands of years and yet we tell them again and again, drawing lessons for our modern conditions.
All that makes the myth a potent antidote to our modern rationality. It’s a story, a concept, or a person that has become idealized and thereby remained relevant. We’re sharing it not because it is right, but because it tells us something about ourselves. If only that we’re not the sensible, enlightened citizens we’d live to belief.

Trash

The “Triangle of Death” is an area in Southern Italy, a region between three different municipalities where the local population’s life expectancy is two years lower than in the rest of the country. The cause? Trash.
For years, the region’s trash collection had been slow and inefficient, resulting from a mix of maxed-out landfills and government inertia. Then the mafia stepped in, began to offer speedy and cheap collection. And the trash disappeared: They burnt in illegal dumpsites and with very little regard to the hazardous fumes or contamination. Today, with the garbage crisis still ongoing, the resulting pollution has started to take its toll on locals, with more and more of them dying from related diseases.
The story is a poignant reminder that trash doesn’t just go away – it lingers, in one form or another, somewhere out of sight. But even the way we talk about it shows how little we think about that: We speak of “throwing something away”, without addressing the away, blindly counting on the fact that anything we want to get rid of can be put into a bag, thrown into a bin, and get carted off.
In chemistry, the principle of mass conservation states that in a closed system, mass cannot be destroyed but only be rearranged in space. When you think about our world and all the undesirable objects in it, that law seems to apply quite well: We may have constructed intricate systems to get rid of stuff, but that stuff only ever goes somewhere else: A bin, a landfill, or into the hot Italian summer air.
So it’s really our struggle to combat this reality which needs to be looked at. Trash is a trail we leave in the world: Showing not what we want but precisely what we do not want. We find it so abhorrent that it has even become synonymous with anything undesirable: Bad books, terrible movies, or even entire groups of people.
The dictionary lists “refuse” as a synonym for trash, and that term indeed seem to fit better: Refusal stands for the unwillingness to do or to accept something. And trash is exactly that: A very elaborate way of saying no.

Solitude

Solitude is an island. Quite literally: Way up North, deep in the Arctic Ocean, there’s a small archipelago called “Einsamkeit”, German for solitude. It’s barren and icy, temperatures rarely go above freezing and needless to say, it is completely uninhabited.
We like knowing that this place exists, not only because of its unusual name but because it’s such an excellent metaphor: Solitude is also island inside of us, a place we might like to visit – but not one where we’d like to linger.
Popular stories about solitude often begin on islands, place where the likes of Robinson Crusoe fight for bare survival. It’s a narrative playing to the popular notion that solitude is bad, something so undesirable that it amounts to a struggle for life. And yet: Each and everyone of us needs occasional breaks from other people, time spent alone, time spent in solitude.
It’s a state for reflection, a state for growth, for working on yourself. And although we tend to conflate it with loneliness, the two are very different: Solitude may lead to loneliness, but it doesn’t have to. Or, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company.”
Solitude, then, is a double-edged sword: Oppressive if forced upon you, liberating if chosen. Which goes to show that despite of being universal, it is an experience that couldn’t be more individual.
Those are the kinds of dichotomies we are exploring on The Idea List this month. For it, we’ll go to the big cities and to space, roam rural Spain and Russian forests. We’ll go to the fortresses of solitude.

The Devil

It’s a scary concept, really: A fallen angel, who reigns over the underworld and tortures lost souls until eternity. According to scripture, the devil is a corrupting force that never cedes to tempt humanity, a merchant of souls and the polar opposite of the good and forgiving God who supposedly watches over us. Any of these attributes should make you tremble, dear reader, but chances are that you simply registered these attributes and shrugged. You have heard them countless times before, and the term “devil” has become void of meaning. After all, we live in rational times and tend not to worry about eternal damnation as much as our medieval ancestors did.
The devil, it turns out, no longer scares us. He has become a caricature of evil, a figure of speech that scares but the ultra-faithful. Yet as a character, Lucifer has proved remarkably sticky: The devil remains one of the most portrayed characters in literature and film, and its characteristics keep inspiring musicians across the globe. Not necessarily for the original religious reasons, but as a force of malignity or seduction that each and every one of us feels within themselves from time to time.
So the scary concept has become a seductive one: Maybe the evil we do isn’t our fault but that of a corrupting force? Maybe we carry the devil inside of us only for him to occasionally rear his horned head and lead us astray? The idea that the we are as much the devil as he is us is anything, if not a great excuse – and ironically just as tempting as the man himself.
This month on The Idea List we’re taking on the dark lord himself, the way he keeps sparking popular imagination and meddles with our supposedly rational times.

Oh the little ones

This magazine started out with the idea of a dog-trimming salon on a Formula One racetrack. But that idea wasn’t ours: It had come from a Japanese boy, who told a friend of ours about this peculiar combination. It would bundle up two of his favorite things – race driving and dog shearing – into one irresistible package. We were impressed. And also reminded of the amazing creativity kids have, a creativity unencumbered by the logic of grown-ups.
So when we decided to create a magazine, we initially considered asking kids for topics. We liked the idea of subjecting ourself to some randomness, but ultimately weren’t sure if child labor was the right way to go. We chose to pick our own topics, which seem plenty random, but stuck with the monthly theme around which to tell stories.
We quickly noticed that many of our favorite anecdotes are from our own – or others’ – childhood. That period between birth and becoming a grown-up that is full of ideas only easily malleable minds could conceive, ideas that say equally much about the kids as they do about the adults who find them crazy. So we are devoting this month to kids, to the things they do, the things they inspire, and to what we lose when we become adults and read magazines instead of dreaming about dogs and racecars.

Next up: Sleep

Sleep, you black-eyed pig,
fall into a deep pit full of ghosts.
– Icelandic lullaby, early 19th century.

Greetings from Iceland, where the sun barely makes it above the horizon at this time of the year. It’s November already, which means that we’ve embarked on the second monthly topic at The Idea List. Rather fittingly for the season, we’re dedicating it to Sleep – a universal activity that could not be more personal. On average, humans spend around a third of their day sleeping, but it remains an activity as unchartered as this country’s inland mountains.
So, make yourself a cup of cocoa, put on your nightgowns and check back regularly before going to bed.
And if you haven’t already seen it: Here’s a handy overview page showing you all articles from October’s exploration on Endings.
Night night,
your friends at The Idea List

Introducing The Idea List

Magazines end. Magazines start. And there are always stories in between. Here’s ours:

Time is money, they say. Time flies. Time is of the essence. The list of time-related idioms could go on endlessly. That is because everyone struggles with time and needs excuses not do be doing the thing they really want to.
Until very recently, we were working as editors for a political magazine, which didn’t consume our every minute but took such a bite out of our day that the time for side-projects seemed scarce. Or maybe we were just putting new ideas aside, waiting for the right time to come. Can you blame us?
Spending eight hours bathing in the dim light of a computer screen, editing articles and looking for spelling mistakes makes you a little fed up with the job – regardless of how much you love it. So free time was reserved for activities that did not include missing commas or arguing over the use of adjectives in headlines. After work, we would often go to a bar around the corner, treat ourselves to a beer or two, chatting about things we had read or stories we had heard. Stories of megalomaniac experiments, weird cultural rituals in foreign places we could hardly pronounce, or any other bemusing and fascinating tales we had come across.

A magazine that feels like a conversation

Then, on a summer afternoon this year, the magazine suddenly went bust, closed its doors and shoved out all employees. Time became free time. The excuses for postponing side-projects were gone.
There was no doubt that we wanted to keep publishing. This time, it would be our own magazine, one we could not just set up and run, but that would offer us the space to explore topics that had seemed at odds with a political publication. We decided to create a magazine that feels like those conversations we used to have after work: Full of stories that straddle the line between the obscure and the relevant.
You see, stories have a way of their own: We experience them, tell them, hear them, recount them, spread them, document them, forget them, re-discover them. They end up transcending the people who experienced them in the first place and become our common property. Stories are usually ephemeral yet timeless; private yet shared; true yet imaginary; about us; about you. Those stories matter because they tell us something about the lives we lead, the world we lead them in and what can happen at the intersection of chance and plans. They are the fabric of life. Scratch that. They are life.

A list of ideas around a theme

To bring them to you, we have decided on a method both tried and true: Each month, we sit down to agree on a new topic, make a list of ideas revolving around it, and write down the stories it spawns. Sometimes they are things we have heard somewhere, sometimes we discover them in conversation. Occasionally, we ask other writers to share their ideas with us or we go out and talk to people who have experienced a particular thing befitting our theme. We are trying to keep this process deliberately open: Ideas can take the form of articles or interviews, photos or playlists. Basically anything that makes us curious for more and that we would otherwise have shared with friends.
There is a time and a place for everything, they say. The time to launch that magazine is now. The place is here: The Idea List.