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The Velvet Underground & Andy Warhol Stage Proto-Punk Performance Art: Discover the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966)

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 - 10:12 am

Punk rock, an artless proletarian sneer, a working-class revolt against bourgeois tastes, good manners, and corrupt systems of consumption. Right? Sure… and also pure performance art. Or do we forget that its forebears were avant-garde fringe artists: whether Iggy Pop onstage fighting a vacuum cleaner and blender and smearing peanut butter on himself, or Patti Smith reading her Rimbaud-inspired poetry at CBGB’s. And before rock critic Dave Marsh first used the word “Punk” (to describe Question Mark and the Mysterions)—before even Sgt. Pepper’s and the death of Jimi Hendrix—there came the Velvet Underground, protégés of Andy Warhol and dark psychedelic pioneers whose early songs were as punk rock as it gets.

Some evidence: a dog-eared copy of Please Kill Me, the “uncensored oral history of punk,” which begins with the Velvets and, specifically John Cale remembering 1965: “I couldn’t give a shit about folk music… The first time Lou Played ‘Heroin’ for me it totally knocked me out. The words and music were so raunchy and devastating…. Lou had these songs where there was an element of character assassination going on.” Now these days, everyone from the mayor of London to Shakespeare has been associated with punk, but maybe Lou Reed first defined its raunchiness and devastation back in the mid-sixties. And the performances of those songs were sheer art-rock spectacle, thanks to Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, or EPI.

Critic Wayne McGuire described these Exploding Plastic Inevitable performances, organized in 1966 and 1967, as “electronic: intermedia: total scale.” The Exploding Plastic Inevitable enveloped the Velvets in a dark, hazy, strobe-lit circus. Writer Branden Joseph describes it in detail:

… the Exploding Plastic Inevitable included three to five film projectors, often showing different reels of the same film simultaneously: a similar number of slide projectors, movable by hand so that their images swept the auditorium; four variable-speed strobe lights; three moving spots with an assortment of coloured gels; several pistol lights; a mirror ball hung from the ceiling and another on the floor; as many as three loudspeakers blaring different pop records at once; one or two sets by the Velvet Underground and Nico…

… and so on. “It doesn’t go together,” wrote Larry McCombs in a 1966 review, “But sometimes it does.” Warhol had attempted to stage similar events since 1963, with a short-lived band called the Druids, which included New York avant-garde composer La Monte Young (“the best drug connection in New York,” remembered Billy Name). Then Warhol met the Velvet Underground at the Café Bizarre, forced the broody Nico on them, and it suddenly came together. The new, Warhol-managed band first launched at filmmaker Jonas Mekas’ Cinémathèque theater. “Andy would show his movies on us,” remembers Reed, “We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway.”

As you can see in the 1966 film at the top of an EPI/Velvets performance, Reed’s proto-punk odes to intravenous drugs and sadomasochism provided the ideal soundtrack to Warhol’s celebrations of the tragically hip and pretty. The experience (at least as recreated by the Warhol Museum) put art student Karen Lue in mind of “Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, or a total work of art.” The film we experience here was shot by director Ronald Nameth at an EPI happening at Poor Richards in Chicago.

The overdubbed soundtrack blends recordings of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “European Son,” “It Was a Pleasure” from Nico’s Chelsea Girl, and live versions of “Heroin” and “Venus in Furs,” with John Cale on vocals. This particular happening featured neither Reed nor Nico, so Cale took the lead. Nonetheless, as Ubuweb writes, Nameth’s film “is an experience” fully representative of “Warhol’s hellish sensorium… the most unique and effective discotheque environment prior to the Fillmore/Electric Circus era.” The short “rises above a mere graphic exercise,” making “kinetic empathy a new kind of poetry” and a visual record of how punk arose as much from art-house theaters and galleries as it did from dive bars and garages.

Related Content:    

A Symphony of Sound (1966): Velvet Underground Improvises, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

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Patti Smith Plays at CBGB In One of Her First Recorded Concerts, Joined by Seminal Punk Band Television (1975)

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

The Velvet Underground & Andy Warhol Stage Proto-Punk Performance Art: Discover the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966) 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.

500+William S. Burroughs Book Covers from Across the Globe: 1950s Through the 2010s

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 - 8:26 am

William S. Burroughs has shown generations of readers that the written word can provide experiences they’d never before imagined. But to get to Burroughs’ written words, most of those readers have entered through his covers—or rather, through the covers that a host of publishers, all over the world and for over sixty years now—have considered sufficiently appealing representations of Burroughs’ daring, experimental, and not-especially-representable literary work. You can see over 500 of these efforts at the Burroughs page of beatbookcovers.com.

As mild-mannered as he could seem in person, Burroughs’ life and work, what with the drugs, the acquaintance with the homosexual underworld, and the reckless gunplay, has always attracted an air of the sordid and sensational. Publishers didn’t hesitate to exploit that, as we can see in the first edition of Burroughs’ first published work Junkie just above. Not only did it come out as a 35-cent mass-market two-in-one paperback, it promised the “confessions of an unredeemed drug addict,” and with that lurid illustration implied so much more besides. No matter how much readerly curiosity it piqued, how much of an artistic future could someone impulse-buying it at the drugstore have imagined for this “William Lee” fellow?

More curious readers have probably become Burroughs fans by picking up The Naked Lunch, his best-known novel but a more controversial and much less conventionally composed one than Junkie. This story of William Lee (now just the name of the protagonist, not an authorial pseudonym) and his substance-fueled odyssey through America, Mexico, Morocco, the fictional Annexia and far beyond has had many and varied visual representations, all of which try to convey how strenuously the text struggles against the strictures of traditional forms of writing. Sometimes, as in the 1986 U.K. edition from Paladin above, they resort to telling rather than just showing you that you hold in your hands “the book that blew ‘literature’ apart.”

Those of us who get deep into Burroughs’ work often do so because it transcends genre. Still, that hasn’t stopped marketing departments from trying to place him in one genre or another, or at least to sell certain of his books as if they belonged in one genre or another. The “Nova trilogy” with which Burroughs followed up Naked Lunch, has tended to appear on the science-fiction shelves of bookstores around the world, not completely without reason. Still, the sensibilities of the sci-fi world and Burroughs’ mind do clash somewhat, producing such intriguing results as the 1978 Japanese edition of Nova Express above.

Ultimately, the only image that reliably conveys the work of William S. Burroughs is the image of William S. Burroughs, which appears on the cover of this 1982 Picador William Burroughs Reader as well as many other books besides. As anyone who’s gone deep into his bibliography knows, the work and the man don’t come separately, but they’ll surely always remember the cover that led them into his world in the first place, whether it bore images subdued or sensationalistic, a design grimly real or forbiddingly abstract, or a proper warning about just what it was they were getting into.

Visit all 500+ William S. Burroughs books covers here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

500+William S. Burroughs Book Covers from Across the Globe: 1950s Through the 2010s 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.

George Orwell Tries to Identify Who Is Really a “Fascist” and Define the Meaning of This “Much-Abused Word” (1944)

Wed, 7 Dec 2016 - 4:10 am

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Two neologisms, “Post-truth” and “Alt-right,” have entered political discourse in this year of turmoil and upheaval, words so notorious they were chosen as the winner and runner-up, respectively, for Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. These “Orwellian euphemisms,” argues Noah Berlatsky “conceal old evils” and “whitewash fascism,” recalling “in form and content… Orwell’s old words—specifically some of the newspeak from 1984. ‘Crimethink,’ ‘thoughtcrime,’ and ‘unperson’…. They even sound the same, with their simple, thunk-thunk construction of single syllables mashed together.”

“The sheer ugly clumsiness is supposed to make the language seem futuristic and cutting edge,” Berlatsky writes, “The world to come will be utilitarian, slangy, and up-to-the-minute in its inelegance. So the future was in Orwell’s day; so it is in 2016.” As in Orwell’s day, our current jargon gets mobilized in “defense of the indefensible”—as the novelist, journalist, and revolutionary fighter wrote in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” And just as in his day, the euphemisms pretty up constant, blatant lying and racist ideologies. We can also draw another linguistic comparison to Orwell’s time: the widespread use of the word “fascism.”


Berlatsky uses the word without defining it (when he talks about “whitewashing fascism”), except to say that “fascism thrives on falsehoods.” That may well be the case, but is it enough of a criterion for an entire political and economic system? The word begs for a cogent analysis. Even Umberto Eco, who grew up under Mussolini’s rule, felt the need for clarity, given that “American radicals,” he wrote in 1995, abused the phrase “fascist pig” as a pejorative for any authority, such that the word hardly meant anything thirty years after World War II.

But surely Orwell—who fought fascism in Spain in 1936, and whose ominous postwar dystopian novels have done more than any literary work to illustrate its menace—could define the word with confidence? Alas, when we look to his work, even before the war had ended, we find him writing, “‘Fascism,’ is almost entirely meaningless.” His short 1944 essay, “What is Fascism?” does not, however, push to abolish the word. He calls instead for “a clear and generally accepted definition of it” against the tendency to “degrade it to the level of a swearword.”

But Orwell (being Orwell) is not optimistic. One reason a definition had been so difficult to come by, he writes, is that any group to whom it is applied would have to make “admissions” most of them are not “willing to make”—admissions as to the real nature of their ideology and objectives, behind the euphemisms, lies, and double-speak. If no one is a fascist, then everyone potentially is. Even in the 40s, Orwell wrote, “if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people—certainly no political party or organized body of any kind—which has not been denounced as Fascist.”

He enumerates those so accused: “Conservatives, Socialists, Communists, Trotskyists, Catholics, War Resisters, Supporters of the war, Nationalists….” What of the textbook examples just on the other side of the front lines? “When we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini’s Italy,” Orwell concedes, “we know broadly what we mean.” But appealing to these extreme governments does little good, “because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.” Umberto Eco is content to say that fascism adopts the cultural trappings of the nations in which it arises, yet still shares several constant, if contradictory, ideological traits. Orwell isn’t so sure he knows what those are.

So what can Orwell say about the word, one he is eager to hold on to but at a loss to pin down? Though he believes it must name a “political and economic” system as well, Orwell finally opts for an ordinary language definition, to which we “attach at any rate an emotional significance.” Whether we “recklessly fling” the word “in every direction” or use in it more precise ways, we always mean “roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal, and anti-working class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist.’” Those today who are not bullies—or unapologetic fascist sympathizers—and who don’t need euphemisms for these words, would likely agree.

You can read “What is Fascism?here. You can find the short essay published in this volume, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell.

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

George Orwell Tries to Identify Who Is Really a “Fascist” and Define the Meaning of This “Much-Abused Word” (1944) 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.

Bruce Springsteen Narrates Audiobook Version of His New Memoir (and How to Download It for Free)

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 - 11:07 pm

In September, Bruce Springsteen published his new autobiography, Born to Run. Patiently I’ve been awaiting the audiobook version, which came out today. And, to my surprise, I discovered that it’s narrated by Springsteen himself. All 18 hours of it.

You can hear him read Chapter 41 (called “Hitsville”) above. And if you want to hear the whole shebang, you can purchase it online. Or download the audiobook for free by signing up for Audible’s 30-day free trial. As I’ve mentioned before, if you register for Audible’s free trial program, they let you download two free audiobooks. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber (as I have) or not. No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. Springsteen’s memoir can be one of them.

Learn more about Audible’s free trial program here.

NB: We have a partnership with Audible.com. So, if you give their program a try, it will help support Open Culture.

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Bruce Springsteen Narrates Audiobook Version of His New Memoir (and How to Download It for Free) 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 Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 - 12:00 pm

From Newton’s mechanical calculations to Einstein’s general and special relativity to the baffling indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, the discipline of physics has become increasingly arcane and complex, and less and less governed by orderly laws. This presents a problem for the layperson, who struggles to understand how Newtonian physics, with its predictable observations of physical forces, relates to the parallax and paradox of later discoveries. “If you don’t already know physics,” says physicist Dominic Walliman in the video above, it’s difficult sometimes to see how all of these different subjects are related to each other.” So Walliman has provided a helpful visual aid: an animated video map showing the connections between classical physics, quantum physics, and relativity.

Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation and his invention of calculus best represent the first domain. Here we see the inseparable relationship between physics and math, “the bedrock that the world of physics is built from.” When we come to one of Newton’s less well-known pursuits, optics, we see how his interest in light waves anticipated James Clerk Maxwell’s work on electromagnetic fields. After this initial connection, the proliferation of subdisciplines intensifies: fluid mechanics, chaos theory, thermodynamics… the guiding force of them all is the study of energy in various states. The heuristics of classical physics prevailed, and worked perfectly well, until about 1900, when the clockwork universe of Newtonian mechanics exploded with new problems, both at very large and very small levels of description.


It is here that physics branches into relativity and quantum mechanics, which Walliman explains in brief. While we are likely familiar with the very basics of Einstein’s relativity, quantum physics tends to get a little less coverage in the typical course of a general education, due to its complexity, perhaps, as well as the fact that at their edges, quantum explanations fail. While quantum field theory, says Walliman, is “the best description of the universe we have,” once we come to quantum gravitation, we reach “the giant Chasm of Ignorance” that speculative and controversial ideas like string theory and loop quantum gravity attempt to bridge.

At the “Chasm of Ignorance,” our journey through the domains of physics ends, and we end up back in the airy realm where it all began, philosophy. Those of us with a typical general education in the sciences may find that we have a much better understanding of the field’s intellectual geography. As a handy reminder, you might even wish to purchase a poster copy of Walliman’s Map of Physics, which you can see en miniature above. (It’s also available as a digital download here.) Just below, the charming, laid-back physicist takes the stage in a TEDx talk to demonstrate effective science communication, explaining “quantum physics for 7 year olds,” or, as it were, 37, 57, or 77-year olds. To learn more about physics, please don’t miss these essential resources in our archive: Free Online Physics Courses and Free Physics Textbooks

via Kottke

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

The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together 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 Science of Why We Laugh

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 - 10:19 am

Laughter is universal. And yet strange when you think about it. One moment we’re doing nothing particularly noteworthy. The next moment we’re convulsing and making these loud staccato guffaws. Odd that.

So why do we laugh? It’s a question that Robert Provine, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, has been studying for 20+ years, trying to understand laughter’s social, neurological, and evolutionary roots. In the video above, he gives you a sense of the “sidewalk” research he conducts, and some of the conclusions he has drawn–e.g., laughter is often not a reaction to something funny per se; it’s something that helps build social relationships with others. And it’s a reaction that’s hardwired in the brain.

At the video’s end, Provine tells us that the study of laughter has just begun. But, if you’re interested in what we know so far, see his two books: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation and Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, an exploration of neglected human instincts.

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The Science of Why We Laugh 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.

An Introduction to Jean-Luc Godard’s Innovative Filmmaking Through Five Video Essays

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 - 8:26 am

Even though Jean-Luc Godard turned 86 this past Saturday, cinema scholar David Bordwell would no doubt still call him “the youngest filmmaker at work today” — as he did just two years ago, in an essay on Godard’s most recent picture Goodbye to Language. Over his more than 65-year-long career, which began in film criticism and arguably never left it, the man who directed the likes of Breathless, Alphaville, and Weekend in his very first decade of filmmaking has kept his work intellectually and aesthetically innovative when most movies seem resigned, and even content, to explore the same trampled patch of cinema’s creative space over and over again.

“Godard has been the liberator of weirdness,” wrote New Yorker film critic and Godard biographer Richard Brody on the occasion of the auteur’s 82nd birthday. “He was always ahead of the game in terms of movie-madness, recognizing that the habit of thinking in terms of images and sounds didn’t detach him from emotional engagement with his subjects but added a new dimension to it.”


He secured creative freedom for himself from the beginning when he “cast amateurs alongside professionals, mixed genres and tones, called attention to the artifices of movies he loved and of genres he rejuvenated, overturned convention with an anarchic fury and an analytical passion.”

Godard, Brody concludes, “hasn’t just rethought movies; he has reconceived the cinema, as a practice and as an experience.” But what does that look like for the audience? These five video essays plunge into Godard’s work, isolating and celebrating elements that have merited our close cinephilic attention. At the top of the post, we have a brief aesthetic overview in the Criterion Collection-sponsored “Godard in Fragments,” wherein video essayist kogonada (creator of pieces previously featured here on Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, and neorealism) spends six and a half minutes mesmerizingly “highlighting the iconic director’s signature themes and devices,” from cameras and handguns to women’s faces and bottoms to the very concept of death.

But to understand Godard requires first understanding Breathless, his 1960 debut feature and, in the words of the Nerdwriter in his video essay on the film, “an extended investigation of a French filmic identity in the shadow of Hollywood dominance — of, indeed, whether an identity informed by another nation’s culture can exist at all.” Godard and his collaborators made the movie a little more than a decade after the end of World War II, which meant just over a decade after French restrictions on the screening of American films had vanished, plunging Godard’s impressionable generation straight and deep into the sights, sounds, style, and tropes of Hollywood filmmaking.

Breathless, in all its low-budget excitement and illustration of the notion that the severest limitations create the most favorable conditions for art, also functions as a piece of film criticism: it interprets and repurposes all that Godard and his collaborators had learned, consciously as well as unconsciously, from and about American movies, and especially America’s breathless (as it were) genre pictures. “It wants to participate in the Hollywood filmmaking it admires, but it knows that such an identification is impossible, so it deals with this by being self-conscious, by using jump cuts, awkward transitions, by robbing the classic moments of their force or making the hero’s bloody final steps way longer that it could ever possibly be, forcing you outside the film’s text — or back into it again.”

Five years later came Alphaville, another simultaneous tribute to and assault on genre from Godard and company. In it, according to Patricia Pisters’ “Despair Has No Wings: a Tribute to Godard’s Alphaville,” he “plays with film noir elements to tell a science-fiction story that unfolds many other layers,” dropping the extant pulp-fiction detective Lemmy Caution into a new, “strange” context. “Popular audiences were shocked by this worn-out and alienating version of their hero,” turned by Godard into a “cosmonautic secret agent who travels in his Ford Galaxie” into a futuristic, authoritarian Paris of ruling supercomputers, seemingly mechanical citizens, “useless vending machines,” and stark, imposing modern architecture.

But Godard’s use of architecture started before Alphaville and continued after it, argues Richard Martin in the British Film Institute video essay “Jean-Luc Godard as Architect.” He uses the term in a broad sense to mean “someone interested in building, capturing, and arranging, spaces,” an interest manifest in Breathless‘ “almost joyful” Paris of “people running through the Louvre, jukeboxes, cafés, diners, and bars,” Pierrot le Fou and Weekend‘s presentation of “the car crash as a kind of architectural scenario,” and Contempt‘s journey from the grandly “dilapidated lots of the Cinecittà film studios on the outskirts of Rome” to its thirty-minute centerpiece in one of that city’s new modern apartments to Capri’s Casa Malaparte, “one of the most thrilling pieces of architecture not just in Godard’s career, but in the whole history of cinema.”

Maybe it makes sense that someone who first got behind the camera to make a construction documentary (watch online here) would continue to pursue an interest in the organization of space. But as Godard’s attitudes, ideas, tastes, and even politics have changed, the other qualities of his movies have changed along with them. Having worked in black-and-white, color — its use examined in the supercut “Bleu, Blanc, Rouge” below — and with Goodbye to Language even in 3D, Godard has long shown a willingness to enter new visual territories as well.

Not only will his work past, present, and future continue to give video essays a wealth of material to work with, he himself, according to Richard Brody, made the form possible, having understood since the 1970s that “home video would be the basis for a newly analytical understanding of film history, because it would allow for the easy copying of clips and their manipulation via video editing with such techniques as slow motion, freeze-frame, and superimpositions of other images and text.” Thus “every video essay that turns up online owes him a debt of gratitude,” as do many of the other innovative types of visual media to which Godard has shown the way.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Introduction to Jean-Luc Godard’s Innovative Filmmaking Through Five Video Essays 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.

Was There a First Human Language?: Theories from the Enlightenment Through Noam Chomsky

Tue, 6 Dec 2016 - 4:42 am

During the 17th and 18th centuries, European Enlightenment philosophers discarded the origin stories in religious texts as wildly implausible or simply allegorical. But they found themselves charged with coming up with their own, naturalistic explanations for the origins of life, law, morality, etc. And most pressingly for their inquiries into psychology and cognition, many of those thinkers sought to explain the origins of language.

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel had long been widely accepted, either literally or metaphorically, as indicative that all humans once spoke the same language (The so-called “Adamic Language”). Many competing theories came from philosophers like Locke, Rousseau, Condillac, Herder, and the Scottish jurist and philosopher James Burnett, known by his hereditary title, Monboddo.

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Anticipating Darwinian evolution as well as comparative linguistics, Monboddo argued that language arose as a response to a changing environment, and that it came into being, along with human beings, in one place, then diversified as humans spread across the globe and diverged culturally. This was known as the theory of monogenesis, or the “single-origin theory” of language.

As the narrator in the video above, from linguistics YouTube channel NativLang, puts it, even after the story had been naturalized—and the languages of the world mapped into proto-evolutionary family trees—“Babel still held one intriguing idea over us; that original language.” And yet, rather than search for the mystical Adamic Language—the revelation of a divinity—as many alchemists and occultists had done, natural philosophers like Monboddo used emerging comparative linguistics methods to attempt a historical reconstruction of the first human language.

They were less than successful. Giving it up as futile, in 1866, the Society of Linguistics in Paris banned all discussion of the issue. “Enter the late Joseph Greenberg” to begin the search anew, says NativLang. A 20th-century American linguist, Greenberg used mass comparison and typology to compare “superfamilies.” Later linguists took up the challenge, including Merritt Ruhlen, who “compared vocabulary from across the globe and reconstructed 27 proto-words” supposedly belonging to the first human language, called “Proto-World.” Ruhlen‘s theory has since been critically savaged, says NativLang, and “confidently tossed… into the bins of fringe linguistics, pseudoscience… and yet, Babel’s first, and biggest claim lingers.”

The intellectual history in this five-minute video is obviously oversimplified, but it highlights some fascinating features of the current debate. As Avi Lifschitz, historian of Enlightenment theory of language, writes, we tend “to assume that our own cognitive theories are the latest word when compared with those of our predecessors. Yet in some areas, the questions we are now asking are not too different from those posed some two or three centuries ago.” In the case of the origins of language, that is most certainly so. Central to the theories of Locke and others, for example, “the precise role of language in the brain and in human perception” remains “one of the most topical questions in today’s cognitive science.”

Although many scholars have given up attempting to reconstruct the original language, linguists, cognitive scientists, and evolutionary biologists continue to find compelling evidence for the single-origin theory. The NativLang video omits perhaps the most famous modern linguist, Noam Chomsky, who argued that a chance mutation occurred some 100,000 years ago, giving rise to language. Even as languages have diverged into what’s currently estimated at around 6,000 different tongues, Chomsky claimed, they all retain a common structure, a “universal grammar.”

Whatever it might have sounded like, original language would likely have arisen in Sub-Saharan Africa, where modern humans evolved somewhere between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago. In 2011, University of Auckland biologist Quentin Atkinson used linguistic techniques somewhat like Monboddo’s to show that African languages—especially click languages like the South African Xu—have considerably more individual sounds (phonemes) than others. And that languages around the world have fewer and fewer phonemes the further they are from southern Africa.

Most scientists agree with the basic evolutionary history of human origins. But like Ruhlen’s “Proto-World,” Atkinson’s linguistic theory “caused something of a sensation,” writes Science Daily, and has since come in for severe critique. The debate over many of those Enlightenment questions about the origins of language continues. Barring some draconian ban, “the search for the site of origin of language,” and for the language itself and the evolutionary mechanisms that produced it, “remains very much alive.”

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

Was There a First Human Language?: Theories from the Enlightenment Through Noam Chomsky 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 Genius of Paul McCartney’s Bass Playing in 7 Isolated Tracks

Mon, 5 Dec 2016 - 12:20 pm

In many a musical situation, one can communicate an entire playing style in a name. When it comes to the bass—in pop music, at least—one of the foremost of those names is Paul McCartney, whose soulful basslines have given us some of the most memorable melodies in music history.

McCartney started out—in the Quarrymen, then The Beatles—on rhythm guitar and piano, only taking over the bass when Stuart Sutcliffe left the band in 1961. And while it’s true that he’s distinguished himself in album after album over the past few decades on every instrument in the rock and roll arsenal, as a stylist, Sir Paul has always best used the bass to express his instrumental genius.


He became a bassist “somewhat reluctantly,” Joe Bosso of Music Radar notes, but soon “proved to be a natural on the instrument… The very image of McCartney with the violin-shaped Hofner 500/1 bass is one that will forever be burned into the minds of music lovers everywhere.”

The hollow-bodied Hofner’s resonant, woody sound is as recognizable as its look. But in recordings, McCartney also played a Rickenbacker and Fender Jazz bass. (Speculation about which bass he used on which song spans many years, and can get pretty contentious.) Even so, his tone is ever distinctive. Take Abbey Road’s sinister, seductive “Come Together,” a song with one of the most recognizable basslines in history. At the top of the post, you can hear the solo track.

On its own, it carries all the energy of the song, as does the isolated bass track from “Dear Prudence,” just above. McCartney begins with one resolutely plucked note that rings out for several bars, then launches into the song’s familiar walkdown. In his baseline, we can hear both the song’s trance-like melodies and harmonies, the bouncy rise and fall of its playful appeal. Here, the rhythmic texture of McCartney’s playing modulates from a plucky thump to a muted click.

“Speaking of mobile basslines,” writes Zach Blumenfeld at Consequence of Sound, “McCartney’s contributions to ‘Something’ are the most underrated aspect of the song. The bass “sets up a counter-melody” to the vocals and strings, “more like a lower vocal harmony than a bass. It’s also one of McCartney’s busiest bass lines, showcasing his dexterity on the instrument.”

Many of McCartney’s basslines work this way, creating counter-melodies and acting like another voice in the song. But while he can be a busy player, he just as often opts for simplicity and generally avoids what he calls “fiddly bits” in a recent video lesson. But his restraint is all the more striking when he does rock out, as above in “Hey Bulldog,” a song that poses a challenge to seasoned bass players. Even such a monster player as Geddy Lee credits McCartney as a seminal influence for his inventiveness and melodies. (As Susanna Hoffs says, “melodies just tumble out of him.”)

McCartney’s bass playing reached its apogee in the band’s best-known final albums, in songs like “Come Together” and “I Want You,” above, where the bass growls, moans, and throbs. But even in earlier hits like “Paperback Writer,” below, McCartney’s playing showcased explosive riffs, confident attack, and pregnant pauses and subtleties.

McCartney’s legendary melodicism on the bass, and his signature exploration of its upper ranges, is perhaps nowhere more evident than on “Rain,” the B-side to “Paperback Writer” and, in general a highly underrated Beatles tune. While we don’t have the solo bass track from that recording, we do have the pleasure of seeing musician Wes Mitchell demonstrate the bassline in the video below, playing along to a bootleg version of the track without bass or lead vocal overdubs.

Mitchell nails McCartney’s tone and style. See him do so again here with the Abbey Road medley “Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” a veritable buffet of McCartney styles, techniques, and moods.

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

The Genius of Paul McCartney’s Bass Playing in 7 Isolated Tracks 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.

Tim Robbins’ Improv Classes Transform Prisoners’ Lives & Lower Recidivism Rates

Mon, 5 Dec 2016 - 10:20 am

If a 20-something, Yale-educated New Yorker reporter feels nervous stepping in to her first ever improv class, imagine the stakes for your average inmate, whose survival depends on a successfully monolithic projection of toughness and control.

Control is actually something the Actors’ Gang Prison Project seeks to cultivate in its incarcerated participants. The Actors’ Gang’s Artistic Director, Tim Robbins, who founded the radically experimental ensemble fresh out of college, notes a well-documented connection between an inability to control one’s emotions and criminal activity.

Unchecked rage may have put these players behind bars, but exploring a wide variety of emotions behind the safety of the Actors’ Gang’s mask-like white pancake make-up has proven liberating.

The dull prison routine leaves prisoners favorably inclined toward any diverting activity, particularly those that allow for creative expression. Shakespeare has made an impact on this population. Why not commedia dell’arte-influenced improv?

It’s a truly therapeutic fit, as Actors Gang ensemble member Sabra Williams, the founder of the Prison Project, explains in her TED Talk, below.

Participants are subjected and held to the rigorous physicality and emotional honesty at the core of this group’s aesthetic. Personal connection to the visitors is limited to whatever may transpire in-the-moment, but within the prison population, relationships blossom. Both guards and prisoners speak of newfound empathy.

The emotional insights arising from these spontaneous explorations teach participants how to diffuse aggressive situations, present a more positive face to the world, and interact generously with others. In between classes, participants write in journals, with a goal of sharing aloud.

Gang signs, mimed weapons, and bodily contact are out of bounds. Wild invention often carries the day.

Participants have zero recidivism, and a waiting list in the hundreds attests to the program’s popularity.

You can learn more about the Actors’ Gang ten-year-old Prison Project here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Tim Robbins’ Improv Classes Transform Prisoners’ Lives & Lower Recidivism Rates 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.

Why Making Accurate World Maps Is Mathematically Impossible

Mon, 5 Dec 2016 - 4:50 am

Jorge Luis Borges once wrote of an empire wherein “the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province.” Still unsatisfied, “the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” But posterity, when they lost their ancestors’ obsession for cartography, judged “that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters.” With that enormous map, in all its singular accuracy, cast out, smaller, imperfect ones presumably won the day again.

With that well-known story “On Exactitude in Science,” Borges illustrated the idea that all maps are wrong by imagining the preposterousness of a truly correct one. The Vox video “Why All World Maps Are Wrong” covers some of the same territory, as it were, first illustrating that idea by slitting open an inflatable globe and trying, futilely, to get the resulting plastic mess to lie flat.


“That right there is the eternal dilemma of mapmakers,” says the host in voiceover as the struggle continues onscreen. “The surface of a sphere cannot be represented as a plane without some form of distortion.” As a result, all of humanity’s paper maps of the world–which in the task of turning the surface of a sphere into a flat plane need to use a technique called “projection”–distort geographical reality by definition.

The Mercator projection has, since its invention by sixteenth-century Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, produced the most widely-seen world maps. (If you grew up in America, you almost certainly spent a lot of time staring at Mercator maps in the classroom.) But we hardly live under the limitations of his day, nor those of the 1940s when Borges imagined his land-sized map. In our 21st century, the satellite-based Global Positioning System has “wiped out the need for paper maps as a means of navigating both the sea and the sky,” but even so, “most web mapping tools, like Google Maps, use the Mercator” due to its “ability to preserve shape and angles,” which “makes close-up views of cities more accurate.”

On the scale of a City, in more Borgesian words — and probably on the scale of a Province and even the Empire — Mercator projection still works just fine. “But the fact remains that there’s no right projection. Cartographers and mathematicians have created a huge library of available projections, each with a new perspective on the planet, and each useful for a different task.” You can compare and contrast a few of them for yourself here, or take a closer look of some of the Mercator projection’s size distortions (making Greenland, for example, look as big as the whole of Africa) here. These challenges and others have kept the Disciplines of Geography, unlike in Borges’ world, busy even today.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Making Accurate World Maps Is Mathematically Impossible 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.

What’s the Fastest Way to Alphabetize Your Bookshelf?

Mon, 5 Dec 2016 - 1:00 am

We’ve told you about the great Japanese word “tsundoku,” which describes the act of buying books and letting them pile up unread. It’s an affliction–or state of affairs–I’m sure many of you are personally familiar with.

Now let’s say you move that huge pile of unread books to a new home. And you’re wondering what’s the quickest way to get them in alphabetical order. Above, a handy lifehack to save you time.

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What’s the Fastest Way to Alphabetize Your Bookshelf? 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.

29 Lists of Recommended Books Created by Well-Known Authors, Artists & Thinkers: Jorge Luis Borges, Patti Smith, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, David Bowie & More

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 12:00 pm

Creative Commons image of Austrian National Library by Matl

At any given moment many of us can recommend a list of books to read. Books that have imprinted on us, named emotions we didn’t know we had, carved trails through our brains. Books that stand as a testament to a life lived as a reader. We may construct lists to pass on to a curious niece, nephew, son, daughter, student, or apprentice. “Life is perplexing,” we might say, “complex, wondrous, curious, painful, open to unimaginable possibilities. Read these, then go out and find the books that inspire, soothe, guide, challenge, and enlighten you.”

Of course, as you know from reading this site, we frequently bring you many such lists, from famous writers, artists, musicians, scientists, and other titans of their respective fields who have inspired millions of young students and apprentices. Today, we have compiled a master list of recommended reading lists, from writers like Jorge Luis Borges, musician-poets like Patti Smith, scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, futurists like Stewart Brand, and many, many more.

In fact, we have two lists from Borges, both predictably lengthy and eccentric. The first contains 33 books that could start a fictional Library of Babel, among which we find Jack London and Herman Melville alongside occult English writer Arthur Machen and Qing Dynasty Chinese writer Pu Songling. Borges’ second list spans 74 titles, and was intended, before his death, to expand to 100. Patti Smith also recommends Melville in her list, as well as Mikhail Bulgakov, Louisa May Alcott, and her hero, Arthur Rimbaud. Tyson’s list is short, only 8 titles, and he suggests these books not only for the avid reader but—in answer to a Redditor’s question—for “every single intelligent person on the planet.”

And Stewart Brand? Well, his list of 76 books is one of many such lists (including another one from Brian Eno) for his Long Now Foundation’s “Manual for Civilization,” a library meant to inspire and inform the few intelligent people left on Earth in the event of catastrophic collapse.

Find the complete list of lists above. 28 in total. In some cases, the titles in each post link to online text or audio books freely available online. And, separately, you should not miss our list of 74 essential books recommended by “a group of international women writers, artists and curators.”  Please let us know in the comments if there are any especially good lists not mentioned here–ones you think our readers would do well to consult.

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

29 Lists of Recommended Books Created by Well-Known Authors, Artists & Thinkers: Jorge Luis Borges, Patti Smith, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, David Bowie & More 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.

Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920 (and It’s Now Re-Issued for the Rest of Us)

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 9:00 am

Yesterday, Colin Marshall featured Man Ray’s “Surrealist Chessboard” from 1934, which paid homage to the leaders of the Surrealist movement. Though artistically significant, the chessboard had some practical limitations. Made up of only 20 squares (as compared to the traditional 64), the “Surrealist Chessboard” wouldn’t let you play an actual game of chess.

For that, we need to turn to Man Ray’s chess set fashioned in 1924. Made of abstract geometric forms, this set (on display above, jump to the 3:30 mark to really see it) featured some unconventional chess pieces: the king is a pyramid; the queen, a cone; the castle, a cube; the bishop, a bottle; the knight, the head scroll of a violin; and the pawn, an elegant sphere.

We said you could actually play chess on this board. And indeed you can. In 2012, the Man Ray Trust authorized a new edition of this set, making it available to chess enthusiasts looking for a handsome set. Crafted in Germany, it’s made of solid beech wood.

This chessboard you can obtain.

As for the other modern chessboard Man Ray designed in 1945, it may be out of your league. David Bowie owned one of the few existing copies of that 1945 board, and, earlier this month, it sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London.

For more information on Man Ray’s chessboards, read this short article from Chess Collectors International (see page 18). Or see The Imagery of Chess Revisited, which covers Man Ray’s boards and beyond.

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Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920 (and It’s Now Re-Issued for the Rest of Us) 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.

Blade Runner Gets Re-Created, Shot for Shot, Using Only Microsoft Paint

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 7:00 am

Blade Runner came out in June 1982. Microsoft’s Paint came out in November 1985. Little could the designers of that rebranded version of ZSoft’s PC Paintbrush packaged in with Windows 1.0 know that the paths of their humble graphics application and that elaborate sci-fi cinematic vision would cross just over 30 years later. Surely nobody involved in either project could have imagined the form the intersection would take: MSP Blade Runner, a fan’s shot-by-shot Tumblr “remake” (and gentle parody) of the film using only Microsoft Paint, starting with the Ladd Company tree logo.

Why make such a thing? “I like the idea of having a blog but basically feel as if I have very little to say about things, at least things that are original or interesting,” creator David MacGowan told Motherboard’s Rachel Pick. “I gravitated to Tumblr with some idea of just posting pictures, but still felt I needed to be posting something I’d actually made myself… [Y]ears ago I used to draw really crappy basic MS Paint pics for a favourite pop group’s fan site, and they always seemed to raise a smile. The idea of doing something else with MS Paint, a kind of celebration of my not being deterred by lack of artistic talent, never really went away.”

The mixture of technological and aesthetic sensibilities inherent in using a severely outdated but ever-present digital tool to re-create the enduringly compelling analog visuals of a movie from that same era goes well with the original Blade Runner‘s project of updating the conventions of film noir to depict a then-newly imagined future. Even more fittingly, a work like MSP Blade Runner could only make sense in the 2010s, the very decade the movie tried to envision. Will it go all the way to the shot of Deckard and Rachel’s final exit into the elevator? “I don’t really think about giving up,” McGowan told Pick. “The idea of actually completing something I start out to do (for once in my life) is very appealing.” Spoken like a 21st-century man indeed.

You can find every frame painted so far, and every new one to come, here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Blade Runner Gets Re-Created, Shot for Shot, Using Only Microsoft Paint 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 Whiskey-Fueled Lin-Manuel Miranda Reimagines Hamilton as a Girl on Drunk History

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 1:08 am

Back in July of 1804, when Vice President Aaron Burr fired a fatal round into the abdomen of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, I wonder which scenario would have seemed more implausible: that these political rivals would one day be resurrected in the form of a black guy and a Nuyorican, or as two young women in revealingly snug breeches, above.

Time moves on. These days, your average Hamilton-obsessed pre-teen may have trouble accepting that there was a time—January 2015, to be exact—when most Americans couldn’t say what the guy on the ten dollar bill was famous for.

I confess, until quite recently, I was far more confident in Arrested Developments fictional Bluth family’s exploits than any involving Hamilton and Burr. This explains, in part, why I’m so drawn to the casting instincts of Derek Waters’, creator of Drunk History

The most recent episode features Alia Shawkat, one of my favorite Arrested Development players as a sardonic, potty mouthed Hamilton.

No worries that Drunk History, which bills itself as a “liquored-up narration of our nation’s history,” is the latest in a long line of Johnny-Come-Latelys, eagerly bellying up to the Hamilton trough.

Before Shawkat imbued him with her trademark edge, Drunk History’s Hamilton exuded the befuddled sweetness of Shawkat’s besotted Arrested Development cousinMichael Cera, who originated the part in a video that gave rise to the series, below.

That one’s far sloppier, and not just in terms of production values. The inaugural narrator, Mark Gagliardi, was rendered a good deal more than three sheets to the wind by the bottle of scotch he downed on a sagging brown velour couch.

America would not want to see its current sweetheart, Hamilton’s playwright and original leading man, Lin-Manuel Miranda in such a condition.

Whereas Gagliardi seemed dangerously close to needing the bucket Waters thoughtfully positioned nearby, a whiskey-fuelled Miranda seems merely the tiniest bit buzzed, sitting cross legged in his parent’s living room, fleshing out Hamilton’s story with bits he didn’t manage to cram into his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, such as a bewigged Tony Hale (aka Buster Bluth) as James Monroe.

On the other hand, he does describe the Reynolds Pamphlet as “Dick 101” (and failed to recall FaceTiming various friends post-recording) so…

You’ll need a Comedy Central subscription to view the complete episode online, but Shawkat’s earlier Drunk History turn as Grover Cleveland’s “It Girl” wife, Frances, is free for all, here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Whiskey-Fueled Lin-Manuel Miranda Reimagines Hamilton as a Girl on Drunk History 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 Stanley Kubrick Made His Masterpieces: An Introduction to His Obsessive Approach to Filmmaking

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 1:45 pm

As each semester in my film course rolls around, it’s more and more apparent how time depletes the pop culture currency of those directors who did not make it into the 21st Century. A knowledge of Stanley Kubrick used to be a given, as was the understanding of what “A Stanley Kubrick Film” meant to film fans. Now he is a solution to a weird join-the-dots, as I watch students who know The Shining as a classic horror film grok suddenly that the same director made the headtrip 2001: A Space Odyssey. And what’s this Barry Lyndon film? And this Spartacus that looks like it’s from a completely different time? It can baffle a young cineaste, and it baffles them in a different way, I suppose, than how Kubrick baffled his contemporaries from film to film. Yes, there’s more of my students who have seen Dr. Strange than Dr. Strangelove, but the joy of discovery is still there, as is the thrill of being in a special fan club when you do discover Kubrick.


Fortunately, we are also having a renaissance in film critique in the medium of video, as followers of this site know. Along with Tony Zhou and Evan Puschak, Lewis Bond (aka Channel Criswell) has created some of the most in depth video essays on YouTube. Having authored overviews of the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Yasujiro Ozu, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, and David Lynch, Bond offers an excellent introduction above to Kubrick’s oeuvre.

Not content to use his knowledge of Kubrick’s films, Bond visited the Kubrick archives in London, learning firsthand the meticulous way the director created a film.

“His work ethic bordered on the obsessed,” he says. “This experience was how I imagined it is to see a great painter’s brushes. It was a way to gain a brief glimpse into the mind of a master at work.”

Bond makes the case that Kubrick’s attention to detail through all stages of production, including editing, distribution, and even attending screenings and checking the quality of the prints, is exactly what makes him one of the best directors. Every choice seen in the films, all the way down to the smallest prop, has Kubrick’s DNA on it. It’s no wonder that people pore over every frame of The Shining, reading into it all sorts of meaning.

“He changed the way visual stories were told,” says Bond, where Kubrick’s mise en scene and composition both deliver the essential narrative and the symbolism underneath.

Kubrick could only have reached these heights with the complete creative control his fame afforded him from the 1960s onward. There was time to plan, time and money to shoot, and time to edit, something directors–before or since–rarely get. And not all directors have the discipline to deliver when they get such freedom.

There’s much more in Bond’s essay so check it out. Side note: Lewis Bond’s girlfriend Luiza Lopes (aka Art Regard) also creates video essays on directors like David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, and Ingmar Bergman. Could this be the first ‘celebrity couple’ of the video essay era?

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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.

How Stanley Kubrick Made His Masterpieces: An Introduction to His Obsessive Approach to Filmmaking 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.

When Ursula K. Le Guin & Philip K. Dick Went to High School Together

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 10:25 am

Creative commons images are by Rasmus Lerdorf and Gorthian , via Wikimedia Commons

When you run a site like this, you learn all kinds of unexpected things–most of it rich and rewarding, some of it strange, trivial and still nonetheless intriguing. Discovering that Adolf Hitler and Ludwig Wittgenstein went to the same Austrian middle school, likely at the same time, fits into the latter category. And so too does this:

On Twitter, jazz critic Ted Gioia recently highlighted a curious passage from Ursula K. Le Guin’s new book, where she mentions attending high school with another seminal figure in sci-fi literature, Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly etc.).

As she separately told The Paris Review, Berkeley High had 5,300 kids during the 1940s. It was a big high school. And yet “Nobody knew Phil Dick. I have not found one person from Berkeley High who knew him. He was the invisible classmate.” Years later, the two authors talked. But never met. PKD always remained something of a ghost.

via @TedGioia

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When Ursula K. Le Guin & Philip K. Dick Went to High School Together 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 20 Hours of Romantic & Victorian Poetry Read by Ralph Fiennes, Dylan Thomas, James Mason & Many More

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 8:26 am

By the time William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads in 1798, poets in England had long been celebrities and arbiters of taste in matters political and literary. The seventeenth century, for example, became known as the “Age of Dryden,” for poet and literary critic John Dryden’s tremendous influence. John Milton, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson… these were literary men whose writing vied with the era’s philosophers and advised its nobility and heads of state. By the Romantic period of Wordsworth and Coleridge, no poet held such a position of authority and influence as had those of the previous two centuries.

And yet, we might argue that poetry—and the exalted figure of the poet—became even more sacrosanct and indispensable to British culture throughout the nineteenth century; that poets became, as Percy Shelley wrote in 1821, the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Such a hyperbolic statement may seem to conflict with the aims Wordsworth stated for Romantic poetry in the Lyrical Ballads’ preface: “fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation.” Yet when we think of Romantic poetry, we rarely think of the “real language of men.”

The nineteenth century saw the ascendency of the British Empire to its height during Victoria’s reign. Whether effect or cause of the hubris of the times, both Romantic and Victorian poetry—all the way to the end of Alfred Tennyson’s 12-cycle series Idylls of the King in 1885—gave us mythical epics filled with grandeur of expression and image, and no small amount of bombast. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (from the Lyrical Ballads) and strange “Kubla Khan” showed the way. Keats tells an outsized tale of the Titans’ fall from Olympus in Hyperion. Shelley gave us the bleak imperial relics of “Ozymandias.”


There were also, of course, the quiet love and nature poems of Wordsworth, Keats, John Clare, and Walter De La Mare, all wonderfully representative of a Romantic pastoral tradition reflecting a nostalgia for a rapidly transforming English countryside. There were the Orientalist poems of exotic wonder, and heroic poems of military valor and revolution. The later nineteenth century revealed even more variety as these strains yielded to greater specialization, and to expanded roles for women poets.

Kipling’s colonialist verses reassured British subjects of their superior status in the scheme of things, and entertained them with fables and morality plays. Oscar Wilde refined the aestheticism of Keats with a decadent eroticism. Brother and sister Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti took the Romantics’ antiquarianism into the territory of medieval and Gothic revival. Husband and wife Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning looked also to the Middle Ages, and to Italy. Swinburne and Tennyson upheld the tradition of the epic, imbuing it with their own strange preoccupations. Gerard Manley Hopkins did things with language never attempted before.

All of these poets appear in the Spotify playlists here, titled “The Romantics” and “The Victorians,” though you’ll notice that these aren’t mutually exclusive categories. Elizabeth Barrett Browning appears in both lists. Tennyson, perhaps the longest-lived and most famous poet of the age, spans almost the entire century.  Keats, whose early tragic death contributed to his rock star status with later readers, died most assuredly a Romantic. But the terms hardly tell us very much by themselves, marking conventional ways of dividing up the literature of the nineteenth century.

What we might notice about the English verse of these two periods on the whole is its tendency toward exaggerated, often florid and overly formal diction and syntax, and its sentimentalism, high seriousness, and decorum. These are qualities we often learn to associate with all poetry, or learn to think of as insincere and pretentious.  In the nearly 20 hours of skilled readings here—including some by famous names like James Mason, Dylan Thomas, John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Boris Karloff, and Ralph Fiennes—we hear a great deal of nuance, subtlety, irony, and beauty. Learning to appreciate the poetic voices of over a century past not only requires familiarity with unusual idioms and ideas; it also requires tuning our ears to very different kinds of English than our own.

Both playlists will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

Hear 20 Hours of Romantic & Victorian Poetry Read by Ralph Fiennes, Dylan Thomas, James Mason & Many More 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.

Man Ray Creates a “Surrealist Chessboard,” Featuring Portraits of Surrealist Icons: Dalí, Breton, Picasso, Magritte, Miró & Others (1934)

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 1:00 am

Like most artists, Emmanuel Radnitzky had more than one major interest in his life. We who know him as Man Ray usually first encounter him through his photography, such as the artist and writer portraits featured here at Open Culture last year. But Man Ray himself ultimately considered painting his main creative field. And, apart from his work, he had chess–or at least his friend and fellow conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp had chess. Duchamp seems to have turned Man Ray on to it as well, and they even appear playing together in Rene Clair’s 1924 film Entr’acte.

Duchamp’s passion for chess ran deep enough that, for a time, he all but abandoned art to devote himself to the game. Later he came to the realization that “chess was art; art was chess,” having pursued both of those interests at once in the creation of an art deco chessboard. Man Ray, for his part, brought art and chess together in 1934’s Surrealist Chessboard, a mosaic of his portraits of artists associated with the Surrealist movement, including Salvador Dalí, Andre Breton, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and of course himself — but with the chess-loving Duchamp nowhere to be seen.


“Surrealist exhibition group photographs include the frequent participation of Man Ray but rarely Duchamp,” writes Lewis Kachur in aka Marcel Duchamp: Meditations on the Identities of an Artist, his non-appearance on the Surrealist Chessboard being the “most astonishing” example. “The structure is the democratic grid format of the chessboard, with each of twenty surrealists or fellow travelers as a head shot against a black or light-colored background, alternating to suggest the black and white squares of the board. Man Ray had a negative of an appropriate profile bust of Duchamp (1930), striking for its absence here.”

Kachur imagines that Duchamp “chose not to take part,” in keeping with his “somewhat shadowy” position in relation to the Surrealists, “on the margins of the movement group’s identity.” Or he may simply have wanted to save his friend the trouble of figuring out a shape in which to arrange 21 portraits instead of 20. Whatever Duchamp thought of this project that used the chessboard only as visual structure, he probably preferred the chess set Man Ray designed a decade earlier using historically inspired pure geometric forms — and one that he could actually play chess with. You can still purchase own copy of that chess set today.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Man Ray Creates a “Surrealist Chessboard,” Featuring Portraits of Surrealist Icons: Dalí, Breton, Picasso, Magritte, Miró & Others (1934) 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.