Open Culture Blog

Syndicate content
The best free cultural & educational media on the web
Updated: 7 min 14 sec ago

Watch a Luthier Birth a Cello in This Hypnotic Documentary

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 - 11:59 pm

It’s always interesting to see how things are made—crayons, Fender Stratocasters, cartoon eggs

The documentary above takes you through the creation of a cello in the Barcelona workshop of master luthier Xavier Vidal i Roca. (To watch with English subtitles, click the closed caption icon — “CC” — in the lower right corner.)

The opening shots of luthier Eduard Bosque Miñana taking measurements have the jazzy feel of a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood segment, but once music scholar Ramón Andres gets into the act, things take a turn toward the philosophical.

His thoughts as to the ways the “king of all instruments” speaks to the human condition are commensurate with the level of craftsmanship its construction requires.

(Though seeing Miñana patiently fit a steam-shaped curve to the developing instrument’s c-bout leads me to question Andres’ choice of anthropomorphizing pronoun. With a waistline like that, surely this cello is a deep-voiced queen.)

The master luthier himself acknowledges that there is always a bit of mystery as to how any given instrument will sound. Most modern cellos are copies of ancient instruments. With the design set, the luthier must channel his or her creative expression into the construction, working with similarly ancient tools – chisels, palette knives, and the like. If power tools come into play, director Laura Vidal keeps them offscreen.

The effect is meditative, hypnotic…I was glad to have the mystery preserved, even as I agree with cellist Lito Iglesias that musicians should make an effort to understand their instruments’ construction, and the reasons behind the selection of particular woods and shapes.

Iglesias also notes that the luthier is the unsung partner in every public performance, the one the audience never thinks to acknowledge.

The Sarabande of Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello no. 1 in G major brings things to an appropriately emotional conclusion.

Should this leave you craving a less mysterious explanation of bowed instrument construction, in 1985, Mister Rogers and his friend Mr. “Speedy Delivery” McFeely used picture-picture to visit Link Bass and Cello in Oak Park, Illinois, to learn how bass violins are made. One need not be a musician to follow the step-by-step process they witnessed, below.

via Devour

Related Content:

The Recycled Orchestra: Paraguayan Youth Play Mozart with Instruments Cleverly Made Out of Trash

Electric Guitars Made from the Detritus of Detroit

A Song of Our Warming Planet: Cellist Turns 130 Years of Climate Change Data into Music

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Carl Jung’s Hand-Drawn, Rarely-Seen Manuscript The Red Book: A Whispered Introduction

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 - 11:47 pm

Despite his onetime friend and mentor Sigmund Freud’s enormous impact on Western self-understanding, I would argue it is Carl Jung who is still most with us in our communal practices: from his focus on introversion and extroversion to his view of syncretic, intuitive forms of spirituality and his indirect influence on 12-Step programs. But Jung’s journey to self-understanding and what he called “individuation” was an intensely private, personal affair that took place over the course of sixteen years, during which he created an incredible, folio-sized work of religious art called The Red Book: Liber Novus. In the video above, you can get a tour through Jung’s private masterpiece, presented in an intensely hushed, breathy style meant to trigger the tingly sensations of a weird phenomenon called “ASMR” (recently the subject of a This American Life segment). Given the book’s disorienting and often disturbing content, this over-gentle guidance seems appropriate.

After his break with Freud in 1913, when he was 38 years old, Jung had what he feared might be a psychotic break with reality as well. He began recording his dreams, mystical visions, and psychedelic inner voyages, in a stylized, calligraphic style that resembles medieval European illuminated manuscripts and the occult psychic journeys of Aleister Crowley and William Blake. Jung had the work bound, but not published. It’s “a very personal record,” writes Psychology Today, “of Jung’s complicated, tortuous and lengthy quest to salvage his soul.” Jung called this process of creation the “numinous beginning” to his most important psychological work. After many years spent locked in a bank vault, The Red Book finally came to light a few years ago and was translated and published in an expensive edition.

Since its completion, Jung’s book—a “holy grail of the unconscious”—has fascinated artists, psychologists, occultists, and ordinary people seeking to know their own inner depths. For most of that time, it remained hidden from view. Now, even if you can’t afford a copy of the book, you can still see more of it than most anyone else could for almost 100 years. In addition to the whispered tour of it above, you can see several finely illustrated pages—with sea serpents, angels, runes, and mandalas—at The Guardian, and read a short excerpt at NPR.

And for a very thorough survey of Jung’s book, listen to the lecture series by longtime Jung scholar Dr. Lance S. Owens, who delivers one set of talks for lay people and another more in-depth set for a group of clinical psychologists. Above and below, you can hear the first two parts of Owen’s more general lecture on Jung’s “numinous beginning,” a book, “unlike anything in the modern age; a work completely without category or comparison.” Visit the Gnostic Society Library site to stream and download the remaining lectures.

Related Content:

The Famous Letter Where Freud Breaks His Relationship with Jung (1913)

Carl Jung Explains His Groundbreaking Theories About Psychology in Rare Interview (1957)

Carl Jung’s Fascinating 1957 Letter on UFOs

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Take a 360° Virtual Tour of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Personal Home & Studio

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 - 4:55 am

You can learn a lot about an architect from looking at the buildings they designed, and you can learn even more by looking at the buildings they lived in, but you can learn the most of all from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. For that best-known of all American architects, this house stands still today not just as his home but as one of his notable works, and as the studio in which he designed other notable works (including Fallingwater). Wright’s enthusiasts make pilgrimages out to Spring Green, Wisconsin to pay their respects to this singular house on a hill, which offers tours from May through October.

For those less inclined toward architectural pilgrimages, we have this HD 360-degree “virtual visit” of Taliesin (also known as Taliesin East since 1937, when Wright built a Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona). “The center of Frank Lloyd Wright’s world was Taliesin East,” write the online tour’s developers. “It was his home, workshop, architectural laboratory and inspiration for nearly all his life.” In the comfort of your web browser, you can “experience what he saw daily, surrounded by Asian art, expansive views of Wisconsin’s rolling hills, his own courtyard gardens and a space to relax before a fire watched over by a portrait of his mother.”

You can also get a view of “the actual drafting tables where Wright designed his most famous buildings” and the drawings on them, all while “staff historian Keiran Murphy shares the history, the personal stories and points out special objects in the room” (if you choose to keep the “tour guide” option turned on). And Taliesin certainly doesn’t lack history, either personal or architectural. Wright built its first iteration in 1911, and it lasted until a paranoid servant burnt it down in 1941, axe-murdering seven people there (including Wright’s live-in ladyfriend and her children) in the process. Wright, who’d been away at the time of the tragedy, recovered from the shock of it all, then set to work on Taliesin II, though he didn’t really live in it until after he returned from his work on Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel in 1922.

Three years later, another fire (this time probably due to an electrical problem) badly damaged the house again, necessitating the design of a Taliesin III, which he could begin only after digging himself out of a financial hole in 1928. It is more or less that Taliesin that you can see today, whether you visit in person or through the internet. If you feel sufficiently inspired as a result, you could even apply to study at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture located there. While the house won’t likely turn you into an architectural genius just by osmosis, at least you can rest assured that it has probably put its most dramatic disasters behind it.

Related Content:

Frank Lloyd Wright Reflects on Creativity, Nature and Religion in Rare 1957 Audio

The Modernist Gas Stations of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater Animated

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

How to Age Gracefully: No Matter What Your Age, You Can Get Life Advice from Your Elders

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 - 1:00 am

You can always learn something from your elders. 8-year-olds can learn from 9-year-olds, just as octogenarians can learn from nonagenarians. With age comes wisdom. That’s the premise of this touching, farewell video from the CBC’s WireTap radio show, which is about to go off the air.

It’s not the first time we’ve explored this line of thinking. For a little life perspective, we’d encourage you to watch: Stephen Fry: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 18.

Or read: Stephen King Writes A Letter to His 16-Year-Old Self: “Stay Away from Recreational Drugs,” an excerpt from the anthology, Dear Me: A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self.

via Kottke

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

See Very Early Concert Footage of the B-52s, When New Wave Music Was Actually New (1978)

Thu, 27 Aug 2015 - 5:00 pm

I recall with uncharacteristic clarity the first time I heard the B-52s. Forced on a youth-group ski trip by my parents, I arrived an angry thirteen-year-old wanna-be punk: mohawk, ripped jeans, patched leather jacket, disaffected scowl, and feigned air of adolescent cynical world-weariness. Pop music, I had already decided, was for suckers. The only sounds that spoke to me were loud, abrasive, and deliberately unlovely. Then someone in our dorm put on “Rock Lobster” and it blew my narrow mind. Though the ostensible purpose of this church-sponsored vacation was to stir up some Protestant piety, I came away converted instead to the gospel of new wave. I credit my awakening to Kate Pierson’s otherworldly wail, Cindy Wilson’s throaty harmonies, and Ricky Wilson’s bizarrely tuned guitar.

Maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it was a decisive moment in my young fandom, after which I found myself seeking out the odd, angular, jangly sounds I’d first heard on that B-52s record—and finding them in Johnny Marr’s Smiths guitar work, every early R.E.M. album, and in more morose form, in The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, and countless mopey British post-punks. What surprised me at the time was learning how many of these bands arrived on the scene at the same time as the nastier, grittier bands that scored my angst-ridden entry into callow teenage-hood. We’re familiar with the story of new wave bands like Talking Heads and Television’s beginnings at CBGB’s. But around that same time, in 1976, Georgia’s B-52s got their start in the college town of Athens. As one interviewee says—in the above short documentary on the Southern art-rock scene that also birthed R.E.M.—“the B-52s started the music scene as we think of it.”

Taking their sound from surf rock, 50s doo-wop and girl group harmonies, and a weirdness that is Athens’ own, the B-52s carved out a space for themselves within music that had something in common with the Ramones except it was hyper-colorful, thrift-store kitschy, and unapologetically campy. Their warped take on 50s and 60s dance rock—complete with Pierson and Wilson’s “B-52” beehives—first broke out with “Rock Lobster” (a song John Lennon once credited with influencing his comeback). You can see them open with the song at the top in 1978 at Atlanta’s Downtown Cafe, just prior to the release of their debut album. (Stick around to watch the rest of the 28-minute set.) Fred Schneider, the band’s wry, flamboyant frontman, introduces each band member with a series of quirky pseudonyms. Above, they do my personal favorite, “52 Girls”—with its pounding tom-tom surf rhythms and sung-shouted lyrics about “The principal girls of the USA.” Just below catch another early gig from 1980, at New Jersey’s Capitol Theater.

The B-52s plugged along through the 80s—suffered the loss of Ricky Wilson to AIDS—then hit it very big on the pop charts with “Love Shack” and “Roam” from 1989’s Cosmic Thing. For my money, though, nothing beats the glorious joyfulness of their debut, which sounds like the most fun any band has ever had making a record together.

Though the band has always been a highly collaborative ensemble, Kate Pierson’s huge voice came to shape their sound over the years. She would go on to record the torch song “Candy” with Iggy Pop and the ridiculous, love-it-or-hate-it “Shiny Happy People” with her hometown peers R.E.M. Now, at 67, she’s putting out her first solo album, Guitars and Microphones. Listen to the super-catchy title track above, and hear an interview with Pierson on NPR here and another on WBEZ’s Sound Opinions here. For more on the B-52s early years, see retrospectives on Dangerous Minds and Pitchfork. You owe it to yourself to get to know this band. They may not change your life like they did mine, but they might just expand your understanding of pop music’s possibilities.

Related Content:

Watch the Talking Heads Play a Vintage Concert in Syracuse (1978)

The Ramones in Their Heyday, Filmed “Live at CBGB,” 1977

Blondie Plays CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vintage Clips

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The Evolution of Batman in Cinema: From 1939 to Present

Thu, 27 Aug 2015 - 11:10 am

Bob Kane created Batman in 1939 as a way to fulfill the public’s need for more comic book superheroes in the wake of Superman. And, by 1943, Batman made his way from pulpy print to the screen for first time.

In this video tribute to the many looks of Batman through the ages, Jacob T. Swinney advances chronologically, but also thematically, focusing on the interplay between Batman and his sidekick Robin; the fetishization of Batman’s tool belt; and the evolution of his costume from fabric (his classic look up through the ’80s) to the BDSM-inspired rubber outfits that have lasted since Michael Keaton donned the solid black get-up through Christian Bale’s interpretation. (It does seem that Ben Affleck’s version will not deviate from this course, but add some armor. He will also continue to perch on top of spires and tall buildings and stand watch over the city.)

The other evolution worth noticing is in Batman’s voice, and what it says about America’s relationship with authority. In the early serials up through Adam West’s iconic TV version, Batman speaks in clipped but enunciated tones, somewhere in the region of newscasters and G-men. This connects Batman to the detective part of his character and telegraphs his innate goodness. But once Keaton takes on the role, Batman speaks in a low, gravely tone to suit his vigilante ethos, designed for meetings in dark alleys. This is how we want our heroes now.

This “serious” shift takes its cue from Frank Miller’s groundbreaking The Dark Knight Returns comic book, which is ground zero for every superhero film since that wears its gritty realism on its sleeve. This affected speech reaches its fairly ridiculous apotheosis in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, where both hero and villain are incomprehensible. The only thing left is parody, and that’s how we end this video, with Will Arnett’s voice animating the Lego Movie’s version of the superhero: affected, narcissistic, and believing too much in his own myth.

Related content:

Batman Stars in an Unusual Cartoon Adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

The Dark Knight: Anatomy of a Flawed Action Scene

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The 1982 DC Comics Style Guide Is Online: A Blueprint for Superman, Batman & Your Other Favorite Superheroes

Thu, 27 Aug 2015 - 4:33 am

Even if you don’t like comic books, think of names like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and you get a very clear mental picture indeed. Classic superheroes live, breathe, battle supervillians, and even die and return to life across decades upon decades of storylines (and often more than one at once), but we all know them because, just like the most enduring corporate logos, they also stand as surpassingly effective works of commercial art. But given that countless different artists in various media have had to render these superheroes over those decades, how have their images remained so utterly consistent?

That owes to documents such as the 1982 DC Comics Style Guide, scanned and recently posted to a Facebook group for fans of comic-book artist José Luis García-López. Having spent most of his career with DC Comics, caretaker of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and many other well-known and much-licensed heroes and villains besides, García-López surely knows in his very bones the sort of details of costume, physique, posture, and bearing these style guides exist to convey.

Being 33 years old, this particular style guide doesn’t perfectly reflect the way all of DC’s superheroes look today, what with the aesthetic changes made to keep them hip year on year. But you’ll notice that, while fashions tend to have their way with the more minor characters (longtime DC fans especially lament the headband and big hair this style guide inflicted upon Supergirl), the major ones still look, on the whole, pretty much the same. Sure, Superman has the strength and the flight, Batman has the wealth and the vast armory of high-tech crime-fighting tools, and Wonder Woman can do pretty much anything, but all those abilities pale in comparison to the sheer power of their design. You can flip through the rest of the Style Guide here.

 

(via Metafilter)

Related Content:

Download Over 22,000 Golden & Silver Age Comic Books from the Comic Book PlusArchive

Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

Kapow! Stan Lee Is Co-Teaching a Free Comic Book MOOC, and You Can Enroll for Free

Batman & Other Super Friends Sit for 17th Century Flemish Style Portraits

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Watch The Half Hour Hegel: A Long, Guided Tour Through Hegel’s Phenomenology, Passage by Passage

Thu, 27 Aug 2015 - 1:32 am

Big books can be daunting. Big, complicated books can seem insurmountable, especially if you’re trying to read them on your own. How many of you have tried to read Joyce’s Ulysses‘ and bailed out within 30 pages? Raise your hands. Well, perhaps you’ll be pleased to learn about Frank Delaney’s Re:Joyce podcast, which, since 2012, has been taking listeners on a slow walk through Joyce’s masterpiece, sometimes sentence by sentence. Episode 273 has just been posted, which features Delaney unpacking a scene in “Hades,” or what amounts to Chapter 6. By my count, Frank has only covered about 15% of the book. So it’s hardly too late to jump in.

If you’re looking to work your way through another bear of a book, give Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit a try. Written in 1807, the Phenomenology had a profound effect on the development of German and Western philosophy, and it’s a notoriously difficult read. That’s where the Youtube series “Half Hour Hegel” comes in handy. Created by Gregory Sadler, a philosopher by training, the series features “25-35 minute YouTube videos leading students through the entire text of G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, paragraph by paragraph, engaging in a close reading of the text without skipping any of the material.” You can find 67 videos so far (watch the playlist above), covering 5 main portions of the text: the Preface (lectures 1-31), the Introduction (lectures 32-38), Sense-Certainty (lectures 39-44), Perception (lectures 45-51), and Force and the Understanding (lectures 52-65).”  By the end of the project, there will be roughly 300 videos in the series. You can keep tabs on the video playlist here. And you can support Sadler’s work over on his Patreon page.

Other courses on Hegel can be found on our list of Free Online Philosophy Courses, a subset of our meta collection, 1150 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Related Content:

An Animated Intro to G.W.F. Hegel, and Everything Else You Wanted to Know About the Daunting German Philosopher

How Martin Luther King, Jr. Used Hegel, Kant & Nietzsche to Overturn Segregation in America

 

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Marilyn Monroe Recounts Her Harrowing Experience in a Psychiatric Ward in a 1961 Letter

Wed, 26 Aug 2015 - 4:55 pm

By the end of 1960, Marilyn Monroe was coming apart.

She spent much of that year shooting what would be her final completed movie – The Misfits (see a still from the trailer above). Arthur Miller penned the film, which is about a beautiful, fragile woman who falls in love with a much older man. The script was pretty clearly based on his own troubled marriage with Monroe. The production was by all accounts spectacularly punishing. Shot in the deserts of Nevada, the temperature on set would regularly climb north of 100 degrees. Director John Huston spent much of the shoot ragingly drunk. Star Clark Gable dropped dead from a heart attack less than a week after production wrapped. And Monroe watched as her husband, who was on set, fell in love with photographer Inge Morath. Never one blessed with confidence or a thick skin, Monroe retreated into a daze of prescription drugs. Monroe and Miller announced their divorce on November 11, 1960.

A few months later, the emotionally exhausted movie star was committed by her psychoanalyst Dr. Marianne Kris to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. Monroe thought she was going in for a rest cure. Instead, she was escorted to a padded cell. The four days she spent in the psych ward proved to be among the most distressing of her life.

In a riveting 6-page letter to her other shrink, Dr. Ralph Greenson, written soon after her release, she detailed her terrifying experience.

There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney — it had a very bad effect — they asked me after putting me in a “cell” (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn’t committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic. They asked me why I wasn’t happy there (everything was under lock and key; things like electric lights, dresser drawers, bathrooms, closets, bars concealed on the windows — the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients). I answered: “Well, I’d have to be nuts if I like it here.”

Monroe quickly became desperate.

I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation what would I do. So I figured, it’s a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called “Don’t Bother to Knock”. I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had never broken anything in my life — against the glass intentionally. It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass – so I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in. They did, and I said to them “If you are going to treat me like a nut I’ll act like a nut”. I admit the next thing is corny but I really did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. I indicated if they didn’t let me out I would harm myself — the furthest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr. Greenson I’m an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself. I’m just that vain.

During her four days there, she was subjected to forced baths and a complete loss of privacy and personal freedom. The more she sobbed and resisted, the more the doctors there thought she might actually be psychotic. Monroe’s second husband, Joe DiMaggio, rescued her by getting her released early, over the objections of the staff.

You can read the full letter (where she also talks about reading the letters of Sigmund Freud) over at Letters of Note. And while there, make sure you pick up a copy of the very elegant Letters of Note book.

Related Content:

The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Playground (1955)

Marilyn Monroe Reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1952)

Marilyn Monroe Explains Relativity to Albert Einstein (in a Nicolas Roeg Movie)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Hear Kurt Vonnegut Read Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle & Other Novels

Wed, 26 Aug 2015 - 4:30 pm

Many of us grade the books we read, but Kurt Vonnegut graded the books he wrote. Letters of Note once tweeted out a list of the thirteen grades he applied to thirteen of his novels, prefaced with his disclaimer that “the grades I hand out to myself do not place me in literary history. I am comparing myself with myself.” With that out of the way, he gives 1969’s Slaughterhouse-Five, his sixth novel and best-known work, an A-plus, and puts his fourth novel, Cat’s Cradle from 1963, in the very same league.

But you don’t have to take Vonnegut’s word for it. You can, of course, read these books yourself — or you can hear them read aloud, at least in abridged versions, for free on Spotify. What’s more, you can hear Vonnegut, clearly not a man to distance himself from his finished work, read them aloud in his own voice. The recordings come from the label Caedmon, pioneers of the vinyl-album proto-audiobook beginning in the 1950s with a record of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry. Their Vonnegut-reading-Vonnegut releases came out through the 1970s.

You might as well begin by listening to the readings of Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s “A-plus” books. They also put out audio versions of Welcome to the Monkey House, which the author graded a bit more harshly with a B-minus, and Breakfast of Champions, which, with a C, he ranked down among what he considered his lesser works. But that disdain doesn’t affect his characteristic richly weary delivery of the text, and besides, some of his fans love Breakfast of Champions best of all. Bonus: Stories from Welcome to the Monkey House is also an option.

If you don’t yet have the free software needed to play these or other recordings on Spotify, download it here, start listening to these classically satirical, inventive, and cynical midcentury American novels, and prepare to hand out some grades of your own.

Related Content:

Kurt Vonnegut Maps Out the Universal Shapes of Our Favorite Stories

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story

Kurt Vonnegut Explains “How to Write With Style”

Kurt Vonnegut Urges Young People to Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

Hear Hemingway Read Hemingway, and Faulkner Read Faulkner (90 Minutes of Classic Audio)

Listen to 60+ Free, High-Quality AudioBooks of Classic Literature on Spotify: Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy & More

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Watch the Behind-the-Scenes Blade Runner Promo Film … Created to Prevent a Box Office Flop (1982)

Wed, 26 Aug 2015 - 4:00 pm

I have a confession to make. This may anger some people, but I have to get it off my chest. I actually like the Harrison Ford voiceover in the 1983 theatrical release of Blade Runner, though I do revile the hokey, happy ending. I guess I’m in pretty good company. Even the movie’s screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, went on record to say “the old voiceover in the first version I sort of like better than all the rest of them.” In this regard, Fancher and I exist in what Colin Marshall called “a curious minority” in a recent post on yet another recut of Blade Runner, a definitive reference for almost every android/robot/AI movie made since.

It’s okay to like the theatrical cut, or the 1992 director’s cut, or the 2007 “final cut”—let a thousand Blade Runner fandoms bloom, I say, as long as the film remains a critical reference for sci-fi cinema for many years to come. But part of the reason for all these later versions, besides that tacked-on ending, is the voiceover, which director Ridley Scott hated, and Harrison Ford hated, and even the studio executives, who forced him to record it, hated. The studio hated almost everything about the movie, and the critics were mostly unimpressed. Siskel called it “a waste of time”; Ebert gave it an unenthusiastic thumbs up. (Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, made some prophetic predictions based on the little he saw of the film.)

Audiences didn’t cozy up to Blade Runner either. They went to see E.T. instead. Blade Runner opened at the box office with a disappointing $6 million weekend. Sensing all this trouble even before the film’s release, executives commissioned M.K. Productions to shoot the promotional film above, a behind-the-scenes short documentary that circulated at horror and sci-fi conventions in 1982. Introduced by a bored-looking Ridley Scott (and some cheesy seventies funk), the 16mm short gave potential fans a glimpse of Blade Runner’s heavily Tokyo-accented future Los Angeles, its classic noir plot elements, and its visual effects by masterminds Syd Mead and Douglas Trumbull, both of whom appear here.

Those of us fans now living in the future may find the footage of the movie’s production and the detailed explanations of its set design fascinating. It’s hard to know what the original viewers of this extended trailer/promotional vehicle might have thought, though it clearly didn’t move enough of them to fill the theater seats. I can imagine, though, that many a science fiction lover and Blade Runner fan who missed the movie’s first run might regret it now. Voiceover, sappy ending and all, it would have been a treat to be one of the first to see this now ubiquitous—and deservedly so—sci-fi detective story.

Related Content:

Blade Runner: The Pillar of Sci-Fi Cinema that Siskel, Ebert, and Studio Execs Originally Hated

Blade Runner’s Miniature Props Revealed in 142 Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Philip K. Dick Previews Blade Runner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Overwhelming” (1981)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Kickstart a Documentary on Emily Dickinson, Narrated by Cynthia Nixon

Wed, 26 Aug 2015 - 11:30 am

Later this year, Hurricane Films will release A Quiet Passion, a film about Emily Dickinson, which will be directed by Terence Davies and star Cynthia Nixon as the great American poet.

But that’s not where their ambitions end. If they can get your support on Kickstarter, Hurricane Films also hopes to make a documentary (narrated by Nixon) that will take everyone deeper into Dickinson’s life & times. You can learn more about the promising film–tentatively to be called Phosphorescence: A Film about the Life of Emily Dickinson–in the video above, or the text down below. Please note: If you’re inclined to support this kind of enriching project, please do so now. There are only a few short days left in the Kickstarter campaign:

The documentary will be an essential companion piece to the narrative. Narrated by Cynthia Nixon (who plays Emily in the feature film) PHOSPHORESCENCE will take us on a journey through the seasons of Emily’s life in mid 1800’s New England as we engage with her passionate relationships via her letters and poems. Emily’s deep love of horticulture and music as well as her closeness to her family and friends will form a rich tapestry – combining elements of a natural history film and a Koyaanisqatsi-esque travelogue. Together with an ensemble cast of highly recognized actors lending their voices to her many correspondences not dissimilar in tone and feel to Ken Burns’ American Civil War. And with the differing views and interpretations of her poetry by contemporary experts we aim to weave a story that will both surprise, delight and throw light on some controversial opinion from unexpected quarters.

The documentary will endeavor to reflect qualities inspired by its subject, Emily Dickinson – deft words, passionate beliefs, searing individuality and a great story well told. The film has the support of the Emily Dickinson Museum and will be completed in mid 2016.

Get more information and make a contribution over on Kickstarter.

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Related Content:

The Online Emily Dickinson Archive Makes Thousands of the Poet’s Manuscripts Freely Available

Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake Recipe Hints at How Baking Figured Into Her Creative Process

The Second Known Photo of Emily Dickinson Emerges

Watch an Animated Film of Emily Dickinson’s Poem ‘I Started Early–Took My Dog’

Free Online Literature Courses

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Who Was Afraid of Ray Bradbury & Science Fiction? The FBI, It Turns Out (1959)

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 - 1:55 pm

When you think of the most astute minds of our time, you might well think of Ray Bradbury’s — but you probably don’t think of him as one of the most astute terrorist minds of our time. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, saw things differently. Collaborative news site MuckRock found that out through files “released to former MuckRocker Inkoo Kang [which] document the decade the Bureau spent trying to determine if Bradbury was, if not a card-carrying Communist, at least a sympathetic ‘fellow traveler.'” See snippets of documents here from 1959.

You can view the files themselves, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, at MuckRock. There, the site’s JPat Brown also summarizes the organization’s basis for suspicion against the author: his “membership in the Screen Writer’s Guild, as well as his vocal opposition to McCarthyism, drew particular attention,” as did the use in The Martian Chronicles of the “repeated theme that earthmen are despoilers and not developers.” Not just Bradbury’s work but the whole of science fiction, which informant Martin Berkeley calls a possibly “lucrative field for the introduction of Communist ideology,” comes in for an indictment.

“Communists have found fertile opportunities for development,” Berkeley says, “for spreading distrust and lack of confidence in America [sic] institutions in the area of Science Fiction writing.” Another, unsurprisingly clearer view of the genre comes from Bradbury himself, quoted disapprovingly in the file from a 1959 Women’s Legislative Action Bulletin. There, he said he uses the medium of science fiction to “try to bring to light some of the current fallacies in human values today” — the one thing, as the author of Fahrenheit 451 must have known full well, that the powers that be least want anybody to do. Get more at MuckRock.

via Metafilter

Related Content:

Ray Bradbury: “I Am Not Afraid of Robots. I Am Afraid of People” (1974)

Ray Bradbury: Literature is the Safety Valve of Civilization

Soviet Animations of Ray Bradbury Stories: ‘Here There Be Tygers’ & ‘There Will Comes Soft Rain’

FBI’s “Vault” Web Site Reveals Declassified Files on Hemingway, Einstein, Marilyn & Other Icons

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Stream 36 Recordings of Legendary Grateful Dead Concerts Free Online (aka Dick’s Picks)

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 - 10:57 am

Creative Commons image by Chris Stone

There’s no shortage of Grateful Dead concerts freely available on the web. Indeed, head over to Archive.org and you’ll find hundreds of Dead shows, some going as far back as the 1960s. But when you start rummaging around, you’ll discover that some nights were magic, while many others fell far short. That’s why we can be thankful that Dick’s Picks came along. Named after the band’s tape archivist Dick Latvala, Dick’s Picks (released between 1993 and 2005) featured 36 volumes/albums of Grateful Dead concerts, all sourced from soundboard recordings captured on two-track master tapes. The recordings, as Tony Sclafani notes in The Grateful Dead FAQ, gave everyone a chance to “experience what going to a classic Dead show was like” — “to easily access recordings of legendary shows.”

Caught up in some Grateful Dead nostalgia myself, I quickly realized that all 36 volumes of Dick’s Picks are available on Spotify — at no cost. As much for my own musical edification as for yours, I’ve created a list below. (Some of you might have a beef with Spotify, or want to own your own copies, so I’ve included Amazon links too.) You can register for Spotify and download the free software here.

Dead fans will surely argue over which Dick’s Picks are the best. But, from what I’ve seen, Vol. 4 (above), Vol. 8, Vol. 10, and Vol. 12. offer great places to begin.

And although it doesn’t appear in the Dick’s Picks series, you can find on Archive.org what’s often considered one of the Dead’s finest live recordings — their May 8, 1977 concert in Barton Hall, at Cornell University.

Also, if you’re looking for a good introduction to the Dead’s musical career, listen to this recent episode of the Sound Opinions podcast, coming out of WBEZ in Chicago.

Enjoy.

  • Vol. 1, 1993 : Tampa, 12/19/73 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 2, 1995 : Columbus, 10/31/71 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 3, 1995 : Pembroke Pines, 5/22/77 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 4, 1996 : Fillmore East, 2/13-14/70 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 5, 1996 : Oakland, 12/26/79 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 6, 1996 : Hartford, 10/14/83 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 7, 1997 : London, 9/9-11/74 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 8, 1997 : Binghamton, 5/2/70 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 9, 1997 : Madison Square Gardens, 9/16/90 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 10, 1998 : Winterland, 12/29-30/77 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 11, 1998 : Jersey City, 9/27/72 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 12, 1998 : Providence & Boston, 6/26 & 28/74 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 13, 1999 : Nassau Coliseum, 5/6/81 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 14, 1999 : Boston, 11/30/73 & 12/2/73 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 15, 1999 : Englishtown, 9/3/77 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 16, 2000 : Fillmore Aud, 11/8/69 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 17, 2000 : Boston, 9/25/91 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 18, 2000 : Madison & Cedar Falls, 2/3 & 5/78 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 19, 2000 : Oklahoma City, 10/19/73 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 20, 2001 : Landover & Syracuse, 9/25 & 28/76 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 21, 2001 : Richmond, 11/1/85 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 22, 2001 : Lake Tahoe, 2/23 & 24/68 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 23, 2001 : Baltimore, 9/17/72 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 24, 2002 : Cow Palace, 3/23/74 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 25, 2002 : New Haven & Springfield, 5/10-11/78 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 26, 2002 : Chicago & Minneapolis, 4/26-27/69 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 27, 2003 : Oakland, 12/16-17/92 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 28, 2003 : Lincoln & Salt Lake City, 2/26 & 28/73 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 29, 2003 : Atlanta & Lakeland, 5/19 & 21/77 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 30, 2003 : Academy of Music, NYC, 3/25 & 28/72 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 31, 2004 : Philadelphia & Jersey City, 8/4-6/74 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 32, 2004 : Alpine Valley, East Troy , 8/7/82 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 33, 2004 : Oakland, 10/9 & 10/76 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 34, 2005 : Rochester, 11/5/77 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 35, 2005 : San Diego, Chicago and Hollywood, August 1971 – SpotifyAmazon
  • Vol. 36, 2005 : Philadelphia 9/21/72 – SpotifyAmazon

Related Content:

The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” Played by Musicians Around the World

Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead Rehearse Together in Summer 1987. Listen to 74 Tracks.

The Grateful Dead Play at the Egyptian Pyramids, in the Shadow of the Sphinx (1978)

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Hear Demos of Keith Richards Singing Lead Vocals on Rolling Stones Classics: “Gimme Shelter,” “Wild Horses” & More

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 - 8:50 am

In the early seventies, at the height of their powers, unforgettable hits seemed to tumble out one after another from The Rolling Stones, solidifying Jagger and Richards’ reputation for elemental, immediate songwriting that seemed to cut through more baroque studio productions of the late sixties and seventies and deliver the goods raw. As Brian Jones’ influence waned, Richards’ dark, raunchy riffs took over the band’s sound, and even when Jagger’s vocals are near incomprehensible, as in much of Exile on Main Street, his peculiar intonation—part fake Delta bluesman, part sneering delinquent schoolboy—gets across everything you need to know about the Rolling Stones’ ethos.

The immediacy of the Stones’ recordings is largely an artifact of their trial-and-error method in the studio. Unafraid of last-minute inspiration and unorthodox technical experiments, they built songs like “Gimme Shelter” from inspired demos to powerful anthems over the course of many versions and mixes. We’ve told the story of that song’s last-minute inclusion of Merry Clayton’s stirring vocal performance. Now, at the top, hear an early demo of the song lacking not only her voice, but Jagger’s as well—at least in the lead spot. Everything else is there: the tremolo-soaked opening riff, the haunting, reverb-drenched “Oooo”’s. But instead of Jagger’s faux-Southern drawl suddenly breaking the tension, we get the much more subdued voice of Richards, pushed rather far back in the mix and sounding pretty underwhelming next to the final album version.

It’s not that Richards is a bad singer—here he almost captures the cadences of Jagger, if not the projection (we do hear Jagger’s voice backing his). It’s just that we’ve come to associate the song so closely with Jagger’s quirks that hearing anyone else deliver the lyrics is a little jarring. On the other hand, Richard’s unadorned acoustic demo of “Wild Horses,” above, gets right to the heart of the song, sounding more like his friend Gram Parsons’ mournful early version than the later 1971 release on Sticky Fingers. (Hear another acoustic demo here, with Jagger on vocals.)

These two tracks represent rare opportunities to hear Richards take the vocal lead on Stones tracks, though he would begin releasing solo work in 1978 and fronted his own band, the X-pensive Winos, in 1987, assembled in tribute to his hero Chuck Berry. Just the year previous, the Stones released Dirty Work, a high point in an otherwise creative slump for the band. The album’s first track, “One Hit (to the Body),” became its second big hit, and you can hear a scratchy, lo-fi demo version, with Keith on lead vocals, above. A thread at the Steve Hoffman Music Forums points us toward many more demos of Stones songs with Keith’s vocals, from outtakes and demos of Voodoo Lounge, Talk is Cheap and other albums. Many of these recordings show how much Richards was responsible for the band’s vocal melodies as well their signature guitar tones and rhythms. Amidst all these demos—of varying degrees of sound quality and states of inebriation—one song in particular stands out, and it’s not a Stones song.

Above, Richards’ delivers a Bourbon Street take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” His quiet voice haunts the song, again pushed so far back in the mix you have to strain to hear him at all as he trails in and out. The recording, from 1977, leaked in 2008, along with Richards covers of other standards by Hoagy Carmichael and Perry Como. “The songs,” writes The Guardian, “feature melancholy piano, an even more melancholy Keef and sound like he’s doing an impression of early Tom Waits.” Fitting, then, that Richards would collaborate with Waits in 2006, on a recording that sounds like he’d been practicing for it his entire career.

Related Content:

Tom Waits and Keith Richards Sing Sea Song “Shenandoah” for New Pirate-Themed CD: Listen Online

The Rolling Stones Release a Soulful, Never-Heard Acoustic Version of “Wild Horses”

Mick Jagger Tells the Story Behind ‘Gimme Shelter’ and Merry Clayton’s Haunting Background Vocals

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Jared Diamond Identifies the Real, Unexpected Risks in Our Everyday Life (in a Psychedelic Animated Video)

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 - 1:00 am

Jared Diamond is a true polymath. He got his start researching how the gall bladder absorbed salt and then moved on to other fields of study – ornithology, anthropology, linguistics. His wildly diverse interests have given him a unique perspective of how and why our species evolved. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book Germs, Guns and Steel makes a pretty convincing argument about why Europe – and not China or South America – ended up dominating the world. The answer, it turns not, has everything to do with geography and little to do with any kind of cultural superiority.

Back in 2013, Diamond spoke at The Royal Institution about how we think of risk in the first world versus those who live in remote New Guinea. The RI has taken a portion of that hour and a half talk and set it to some glorious animation. You can watch it above.

Early in Diamond’s career, he was in the jungle with his New Guinean guides. He found what he thought was a perfect spot to pitch camp – under a massive dead tree. His guides refused to sleep there, fearing that the tree might fall in the middle of the night. He thought that they were being overly paranoid until he started seeing things from their perspective.

Every night you’re in New Guinea sleeping in a forest, you hear a tree fall somewhere and then you go do the numbers. Suppose the risk of that tree falling on me tonight is 1 in 1000. If I sleep under dead trees for 1000 nights, in three years I’m going to be dead. … The New Guinea attitude is sensitive to the risks of things you are going to do regularly. Each time they carry a low risk but if you are not cautious it will catch up with you.

Diamond then extrapolated this realization to modern life. He notes that he is 76 years old and will statistically speaking probably live another 15 or so years. Yet if the risk of taking a fall in the shower is roughly the same as getting brained by a dead tree in the jungles of New Guinea (1 in 1000), then Diamond figures he could kill himself 5 ½ times over his the course of those 15 years.

“And so I’m careful about showers,” he says in the full video of the talk. “I’m careful about sidewalks. I’m careful about stepladders. It drives many of my American friends crazy but I will survive and they won’t.”

People in the first world are terrified by the wrong things, Diamond argues. The real danger isn’t terrorism, serial killers or sharks, which kill a very, very small percentage of people annually. The real risks are those things that we do daily that carry a low risk but that eventually catch up with you – driving, taking stairs, using step ladders.

You can watch the full interview, which is fascinating, below.

Related Content:

Jared Diamond Explains Haiti’s Enduring Poverty

The Evolution of Religions: A Talk by Jared Diamond

“Professor Risk” at Cambridge University Says “One of the Biggest Risks is Being Too Cautious”

MIT’s Introduction to Poker Theory: A Free Online Course

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Philosophy Explained With Donuts

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 - 1:55 pm

We’ve all seen them, on the boardwalks of Venice Beach or of the Jersey Shore: poop-joke t-shirts that state the gist of various world religions or philosophies by reference to the aforementioned bodily function. Clever they aren’t, but the form adapts to another, more tasteful formulation (pun most definitely intended) in the list above, which briefly describes the philosophical programs of sixteen prominent Western thinkers with reference to that universally beloved food, the donut. To wit: pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus gets summed up with “You can’t eat the same donut twice,” a twist on one of his famous few aphorisms. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy becomes an elliptical series of possible donuts in various language games: “Fried Pastry, Zero, Parking lot spin, Spare tire.” And so on.

No need to point out the oversimplification inherent in this strategy; that’s kind of the point. It’s a joke, after all, but one the author—whoever that is—clearly intends as a means of breaking the ice and getting down to more serious explorations. But what if the donut is the serious exploration? Such is the case in a 2001 article published in the journal Basic Objects: Case Studies in Theoretical Primitives by Columbia philosophy professor Achille C. Varzi. Simply titled (in the British spelling) “Doughnuts,” Varzi’s paper explores the donut, or “torus” in the language of topographers, as a theoretical object for an ontological thought experiment. In short, he asks whether or not we can say that the donut hole is an actual existing entity or simply a figure of speech, a “façon de parler.” In the traditional view, that of the topographers, who practice “a sort of rubbery geometry…. The only thing that matters is the edible stuff. The hole is a mere façon de parler.”

On another, more three-dimensional view of the relationship “between void and matter,” things look different: “We must be very serious about treating them [donut holes] as fully-fledged entities, on a par with the material objects that surround them.” The real existence of the hole cannot be easily dismissed without running into a problem, “the dilemma of every eliminative strategy: if successful, it ends up eliminating everything just in order to eliminate nothings.” No hole, no donut. (Though, as Simone De Beauvoir apparently recognized, “Patriarchy is responsible for the shape of the donut.”) The donut hole thesis also forms part of the argument in an academic philosophy paper from 2012 entitled “Being Positive About Negative Facts” from Philosophy & Phenomenological Research. On the way to showing that “negative facts exist in the usual sense of existence,” authors Stephen Barker and Mark Jago, both of the University of Nottingham, come to similar conclusions about the donut, with reference to earlier work by Varzi:

Holes pose something of a philosophical quandary and, perhaps as a result of their mystery, are often treated as immaterial entities (Casati and Varzi 1994). Yet we seem to be able to perceive holes, gaps, dents and the like. The view of holes as immaterial objects is, we think, very much in line with thinking of the negative as the metaphysically undead. Given our acceptance of negative facts, we can offer a story about holes on which they are material entities. If there is a donut hole then there is a spatial region involving the instantiation of donut-dough which is intimately connected with an absence thereof.

Make of these claims what you will, but I think what we see in both essays is that serious interest in a frivolous object can produce illuminating discussion. That describes the thesis of the site Improbable Research, who bring us both of these donut examples; their motto—“Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.” I don’t know if either essay—or even the donut joke at the top of the page—really makes for ha-ha laughs so much, but these arguments about the material existence of the immaterial space of donut holes certainly challenged my thinking.

via Improbable Research

Related Contents:

140+ Free Online Philosophy Courses

Philosophy Referee Hand Signals

Monty Python’s Best Philosophy Sketches

The Epistemology of Dr. Seuss & More Philosophy Lessons from Great Children’s Stories

The History of Philosophy, from 600 B.C.E. to 1935, Visualized in Two Massive, 44-Foot High Diagrams

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Marshall McLuhan’s 1969 Deck of Cards, Designed For Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 - 11:00 am

Image via EricMcluhan.com

Six years before Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt designed their first pack of Oblique Strategies cards—a set of random aphorisms meant to clear creative blocks—communication theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan had designed a very similar deck in 1969, this one with a more direct nod to the classic playing card deck.

The name of the card deck, Distant Early Warning, was a reference to the 3,000 mile long DEW Line, a system of 63 radar stations that acted as an early detection invasion buffer during the Cold War. And in his 1964 book Understand Media, McLuhan explained,

“I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”

And so with help from advertising and publishing guru Eugene Schwartz, The Marshall McLuhan DEW-Line Newsletter and its spinoff deck of cards was born. Schwartz saw the newsletter much like we see blogs today: a very immediate way of disseminating information, deeper than television and faster than books. The newsletter lasted only two years, came in several forms (one issue was a set of slides, another a record), and represents the height of “McLuhan Mania” in American culture. Business and thought leaders were its target audience.

Much like Oblique Strategies (you can still find vintage versions online), the instructions for Distant Early Warning (also available online here) suggest that the user think of a personal or business problem, shuffle the deck, choose a card and interpret its meaning. Although divinatory cards have long been a part of western culture, the idea of indeterminacy and consulting the I Ching was very much in vogue through artists like John Cage.

The cards contain plays on aphorisms, like “The Victor Belongs to the Spoils” or “Thanks for the Mammaries.” Sometimes they quote Victorian novelist Samuel Butler, like “The chicken was the egg’s idea for getting more eggs” or W.C. Fields (“How do you like kids?” “Well cooked,” he said sternly), or John Cage (“Silence is all the sounds of the environment at once.”) Many are McLuhan’s own quotes.

McLuhan and Schwartz’ ideas can still be felt in any number of TED talks or whenever a business leader talks about thinking outside the box. Steve Jobs was a walking deck of these cards.

Should you feel like pushing your brain laterally, check out the full deck here at this Flickr feed, and if you long to own a physical copy, it can still be had for $65 Canadian dollars at the site run by McLuhan’s son.

via Flashbak

Related content:

The Visionary Thought of Marshall McLuhan, Introduced and Demystified by Tom Wolfe

McLuhan Said “The Medium Is The Message”; Two Pieces Of Media Decode the Famous Phrase

Norman Mailer & Marshall McLuhan Debate the Electronic Age

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

A Wonderfully Illustrated 1925 Japanese Edition of Aesop’s Fables by Legendary Children’s Book Illustrator Takeo Takei

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 - 8:30 am

Most of us have internalized the content of a fair few of Aesop’s fables but have long since forgotten the source — if, indeed, we read it close to the source in the first place. Whether or not we’ve had any real awareness of the ancient Greek storyteller himself, we’ve certainly encountered his stories in countless much more recent interpretations over the decades. My personal favorite renditions came, skewed, in the form of the “Aesop and Son” segments on Rocky and Bullwinkle, but this 1925 Japanese edition of Aesop’s Fables, illustrated by hugely respected children’s artist Takeo Takei, must certainly rank in the same league.

Takei began his career in the early 1920s, illustrating children’s magazine covers, collections of Japanese folktales and original stories, and even youngster-oriented writings of his own. Even in that early period, he showed a professional interest in giving new aesthetic life to not just old stories but old non-Japanese stories, such as The Thousand and One Nights and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. It was during that time that he took on the challenge of putting his own aesthetic stamp on Aesop.

You can see quite a few of Takei’s Aesop illustrations at the book design and illustration site 50watts, whose author notes that he found the images in the database of Japan’s National Diet Library. Even if you can’t read the Japanese, you’ll know the fables in question — “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The North Wind and the Sun,” “The Wolf and the Crane” — after nothing more than a glance at Takei’s lively artwork, which takes Aesop’s well-known characters (often animals or natural forces personified) and dresses them up in the natty style of jazz-age Tokyo high society.

Takei would go on to enjoy a long career after illustrating Aesop’s Fables. A decade after its publication, he would begin producing his best-known series of works, the “kampon” (in Japanese, “published book”). With these 138 volumes, he explored the form of the illustrated children’s book in every way he possibly could, using, according to rarebook.com, “traditional methods of letterpress, woodblock, wood engraving, stencil, etching and lithography,” as well as clay block-prints and “definitely non-traditional images of woven labels, painted glass, ceramic, and cello-slides – transparencies composed of bright cellophane paper.” He would continue working working right up until his death in 1983, leaving a legacy of influence on Japanese visual culture as deep as the one Aesop left on storytelling.

via 50watts

Related Content:

Early Japanese Animations: The Origins of Anime (1917-1931)

Advertisements from Japan’s Golden Age of Art Deco

Glorious Early 20th-Century Japanese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902-1954)

Vintage 1930s Japanese Posters Artistically Market the Wonders of Travel

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Walt Whitman’s Poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider” Brought to Life in Three Animations

Mon, 24 Aug 2015 - 1:00 am

How can a modern educator go about getting a student to connect to poetry?

Forget the emo kid pouring his heart out into a spiral journal.

Ditto the youthful slam poetess, wielding pronunciation like a cudgel.

Think of someone truly hard to reach, a reluctant reader perhaps, or maybe just someone (doesn’t have to be a kid) who’s convinced all poetry sucks.

You could stage a rap battle.

Take the drudgery out of memorization by finding a pop melody well suited to singing Emily Dickinson stanzas.

Or appeal to the YouTube generation via short animations, as educator Justin Moore does in the TED-Ed lesson, above.

Animation, like poetry, is often a matter of taste, and Moore’s lesson hedges its bets by enlisting not one, but three animator-narrator teams to interpret Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider.”

Originally published as part of the poem “Whispers of Heavenly Death,” and included in the 1891 “deathbed edition” of Leaves of Grass, the poem equates the soul’s desperate struggle to connect with something or someone with that of a spider, seeking to build a web in a less than ideal location.

Two of the animators, Jeremiah Dickey and Lisa LaBracio launch themselves straight toward the “filament, filament, filament.” Seems like a solid plan. An industrious spider industriously squirting threads out of its nether region creates a cool visual that echoes both Charlotte’s Web and the repetition within the poem.

Mahogany Browne’s narration of Dickey’s painting on glass mines the stridency of slam. Narrator Rives gives a more low key performance with LaBracio’s scratchboard interpretation.

In-between is Joanna Hoffman’s spiderless experimental video, voiced with a wee bit of vocal fry by Joanna Hoffman. Were I to pick the one least likely to capture a student’s imagination…

Once the student has watched all three animations, it’s worth asking what the poem means. If no answer is forthcoming, Moore supplies some questions that might help stuck wheels start turning. Question number five strikes me as particularly germane, knowing the ruinous effect the teenage tendency to gloss over unfamiliar vocabulary has on comprehension.

Ultimately, I prefer the below interpretation of Kristin Sirek, who uses her YouTube channel to read poetry, including her own, out loud, without any bells or whistles whatsoever.

A noiseless patient spider, I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. And you O my soul where you stand, Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

 Related Content:

Hysterical Literature: Art & Sexuality Collide in Readings of Whitman, Emerson & Other Greats (NSFW)

Orson Welles Reads From America’s Greatest Poem, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (1953)

Marilyn Monroe Reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1952)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

%%POST_LINK%% is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.