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

Art not only saves lives, it casts ripples, as Kurt Vonnegut surely knew when he replied—at length—to five New York City high school students who’d contacted him as part of a 2006 English assignment.  (The identities of the other authors selected for this honor are lost to time, but not one had the courtesy to respond except Vonnegut.)

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s kind wishes and Yoko Ono-esque prompt have been widely disseminated on the Internet, which is no doubt where students at Hove Park School in Brighton, East Sussex caught the scent. Working with a professional production company that specializes in narrative-driven work, they literalized  the assignment in the video above, and while I might have preferred a sneak peek at the poems and drawings such a task might yield, pre-shredding, I loved how they acknowledged that not everyone heeds the call. (The casting of that one could have gone either way…wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that that boy has a punk band that would’ve ripped Vonnegut’s ears off.)

via Kate Rix

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Ayun Halliday is spending tonight’s Night of Vonnegut in Los Angeles rather than her hometown of Indianapolis. So it goes. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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Read 10 Short Stories by Gabriel García Márquez Free Online (Plus More Essays & Interviews)


“Our independence from Spanish domination did not put us beyond the reach of madness,” said Gabriel García Márquez in his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. García Márquez, who died yesterday at the age of 87, refers of course to all of Spain’s former colonies in Latin America and the Caribbean, from his own Colombia to Cuba, the island nation whose artistic struggle to come to terms with its history contributed so much to that art form generally known as “magical realism,” a syncretism of European modernism and indigenous art and folklore, Catholicism and the remnants of Amerindian and African religions.

While the term has perhaps been overused to the point of banality in critical and popular appraisals of Latin-American writers (some prefer Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier’s lo real maravilloso, “the marvelous real”), in Marquez’s case, it’s hard to think of a better way to describe the dense interweaving of fact and fiction in his life’s work as a writer of both fantastic stories and unflinching journalistic accounts, both of which grappled with the gross horrors of colonial plunder and exploitation and the subsequent rule of bloodthirsty dictators, incompetent patriarchs, venal oligarchs, and corporate gangsters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.

Nevertheless, it’s a description that sometimes seems to obscure García Marquez’s great purpose, marginalizing his literary vision as trendy exotica or a “postcolonial hangover.” Once asked in a Paris Review interview the year before his Nobel win about the difference between the novel and journalism, García Márquez replied, “Nothing. I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same.”

In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.

García Márquez made us believe. One would be hard-pressed to find a 20th century writer more committed to the truth, whether expressed in dense mythology and baroque metaphor or in the dry rationalist discourse of the Western episteme. For its multitude of incredible elements, the 1967 novel for which García Márquez is best known—One Hundred Years of Solitude—captures the almost unbelievable human history of the region with more emotional and moral fidelity than any strictly factual account: “However bizarre or grotesque some particulars may be,” wrote a New York Times reviewer in 1970, “Macondo is no never-never land.” In fact, García Márquez’s novel helped dismantle the very real and brutal South American empire of banana company United Fruit, a “great irony,” writes Rich Cohen, of one mythology laying bare another: “In college, they call it ‘magical realism,’ but, if you know history, you understand it’s less magical than just plain real, the stuff of newspapers returned as lived experience.”

Edith Grossman, translator of several of García Márquez’s works—including Love in the Time of Cholera and his 2004 autobiography Living to Tell the Tale (Vivir para Cotarla)—agrees. “He doesn’t use that term at all, as far as I know,” she said in a 2005 interview with Guernica‘s Joel Whitney: “It’s always struck me as an easy, empty kind of remark.” Instead, García Márquez’s style, says Grossman, “seemed like a way of writing about the exceptionalness of so much of Latin America.”

Today, in honor and with tremendous gratitude for that indefatigable chronicler of exceptional lived experience, we offer several online texts of Gabriel García Márquez’s short works at the links below.

HarperCollins’ online preview of García Marquez’s Collected Stories includes the full text of “The Third Resignation,” “The Other Side of Death,” “Eva Is Inside Her Cat,” “Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers,” and “Dialogue with the Mirror,” all from the author’s 1972 collection Eyes of a Blue Dog (Ojos de perro azul).

At The New Yorker, you can read García Marquez’s story “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1976) and his 2003 autobiographical essay “The Challenge.”

Follow the links below for more of García Marquez’s short fiction from various university websites:

Death Constant Beyond Love” (1970)

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” (1968)

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” (1955)

Visit The Modern Word for an excellent biographical sketch of the author.

See The New York Times for “A Talk with Gabriel Garcia Marquez” in the year of his Nobel win, an essay in which he recounts his 1957 meeting with Ernest Hemingway, and many more reviews and essays.

Finally, we should also mention that you can download Love in the Time of Cholera or Hundred Years of Solitude for free (as audio books) if you join Audible.com’s 30-day program. We have details on it here.

As we say farewell to one of the world’s greatest writers, we can remember him not only as a writer of “magical realism,” whatever that phrase may mean, but as a teller of complicated, wondrous, and sometimes painful truths, in whatever form he happened to find them.

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

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Free: British Pathé Puts Over 85,000 Historical Films on YouTube

British Pathé was one of the leading producers of newsreels and documentaries during the 20th Century. This week, the company, now an archive, is turning over its entire collection — over 85,000 historical films – to YouTube.

The archive — which spans from 1896 to 1976 – is a goldmine of footage, containing movies of some of the most important moments of the last 100 years. It’s a treasure trove for film buffs, culture nerds and history mavens everywhere. In Pathé’s playlist “A Day That Shook the World,” which traces an Anglo-centric history of the 20th Century, you will find clips of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, the bombing of Hiroshima and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, alongside footage of Queen Victoria’s funeral and Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile. There’s, of course, footage of the dramatic Hindenburg crash and Lindbergh’s daring cross-Atlantic flight. And then you can see King Edward VIII abdicating the throne in 1936Hitler becoming the German Chancellor in 1933 and the eventual Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 (above).

But the really intriguing part of the archive is seeing all the ephemera from the 20th Century, the stuff that really makes the past feel like a foreign country – the weird hairstyles, the way a city street looked, the breathtakingly casual sexism and racism. There’s a rush in seeing history come alive. Case in point, this documentary from 1967 about the wonders to be found in a surprisingly monochrome Virginia.

Here’s a film about a technological innovation that curiously didn’t take off — an amphibious scooter. The look of regal dignity on the driver’s face as his vehicle moves down the Thames is priceless.

In an early example of a political blooper, there’s this footage from 1942 of Bess Truman trying valiantly to smash an unyielding bottle of champaign against the fuselage of a brand new bomber.

And then there’s this newsreel from 1938 on the wedding between Billy Curtis, a 3’7” nightclub bouncer and his 6’4” burlesque star bride. The jaunty, spectacularly un-PC voiceover should probably be filed under “things were different then.”

If you have several weeks to kill, you can watch all of the videos here.

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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.

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“The Periodic Table of Storytelling” Reveals the Elements of Telling a Good Story

periodic table storytelling

Dmitri Mendeleev might have designed the original periodic table – a graphic representation of all the basic building blocks of the universe – but artist James Harris has done something way cool with that template — the Periodic Table of Storytelling.

That’s right. Harris has taken all the tropes, archetypes and clichés found in movies (not to mention TV, comic books, literature, video and even professional wrestling) and synthesized them into an elegantly realized chart. Instead of grouping the elements by noble gases or metals, Harris has organized them by story elements — structure, plot devices, hero archetypes. Each element is linked to a vast wiki that gives definitions and examples. For instance, if you click on the element Chk, you’ll go to a page explaining the trope of Chekhov’s Gun. And if you click on Neo, you’ll go to the page for, of course, the Chosen One.

Below the chart, Harris has even created story molecules for a few specific movies. Ghostbusters, for example, is the combination of an atom consisting of 5ma (Five Man Band) and Mad (Mad Scientist) and one consisting of Iac (Sealed Evil in a Can) and Hil (Hilarity Ensues).

So if you’re in film school or if you have a copy of Robert McKee’s Story on your bookshelf or if you’re one of the roughly three dozen people in the Los Angeles coffee shop where I’m writing this article who are banging out screenplays, you need to check this table out. But be warned: it will suck away a good chunk of your day.

via No Film School

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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.

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The Ultimate Warrior, Professional Wrestler & Philosopher, Created a Glossary of World Philosophies


If you run a web site long enough, you end up covering topics you never thought you’d touch. Like professional wrestling. Come to think of it, we did show you once before Andy Warhol making an unexpected appearance on a 1985 World Wide Wrestling Federation broadcast. But today the subject isn’t an artist with a penchant for wrestling. It’s a wrestler himself. More specifically its The Ultimate Warrior (born James Hellwig) who had a penchant for philosophy.

A star during the 1990s in the WWF,  The Ultimate Warrior died of heart disease last week at the age of 54. After his retirement from wrestling, he became a motivational speaker and life coach. And, as Deadspin notes, he maintained a curious web site that featured a glossary of world philosophies.

If you want serious definitions of philosophy, I’d suggest you visit The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. For something more abbreviated and kooky, you can’t go wrong with The Ultimate Warriors’ dictionary. Let me give you a few quick examples:

This is a real nasty philosophy that asserts man has free will, but exists in an unknowable, malevolent universe with no knowledge of what is right or wrong. The catch is that the individual is responsible (morally accountable) for all his actions, but has no way of knowing what actions are correct. The effects on a person are devastating. (See also Skepticism.)

This is the exact opposite of Objectivism. It’s [sic] epistemology is faith-eaten and mystic-appeasing. It’s [sic] metaphysics is subjective, it’s [sic] ethics are altruistic and it’s [sic] politics are collectivistic. Kant created the exact opposite of what constitutes a philosophy based on reason. His “argument” consists of equivocations, elaborate straw-men (the entire Critique of Pure Reason for example), etc. He was quite an evil person.

This asserts a moral absolute (without any context) that it is wrong to use force. Instead of recognizing the need for self-defense, the pacifist equates all force with evil, equivocating. A pacifist society would perish absolutely when the first gang came along.

This is the belief that intuition is superior to sense-perception and reason, and is filled with mystic gooble-dee-gook. Its epistemology is exclusively subjective. I think this is only popular because it has an interesting sounding name. (See also Mysticism, Subjectivism, Zen.)

If you’re wondering what philosophy The Warrior sympathized with, it seems you need to look no further than Ayn Rand’s Objectivism (surprise, surprise), which he defined as follows: “In essence, a concept where man is a heroic being, and his life is an end in itself, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

For more definitions, you can dive into the glossary right here. This curious item comes to us via Leiter Reports.

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A Brief Tour of British Accents: 14 Ways to Speak English in 84 Seconds

Americans, coming from the enormous and relatively recently settled place we do, tend to have a hard time with accents, struggling to grasp the extent of the variety of regional ways of speech in smaller, older countries, let alone to use them ourselves. Studying the Korean language, I’ve found that understanding a native speaker from one city doesn’t mean I’ll understand anything said by another native speaker from a city fifty miles away. (Though that holds true even for Koreans themselves; hence the prevalence of subtitles on their television shows.) Visiting London a few months ago, easily as I could make sense of everybody speaking my native tongue, I pre-emptively gave up hope of picking up on the nuances of all the accents people had brought to the city from their hometowns — much less the numerous and subtle dialects native of London itself. Everyone I met insisted that a Briton’s accent says more about their origin, class, station in life, and degree of self-regard than any other quality, but not knowing Newcastle from Southampton when I first set foot on English soil, I had to take them at their word (however they happened to pronounce it).

The video above, in which professional dialect coach Andrew Jack demonstrates fourteen British accents in 84 seconds, might help sort things out for my fellow confused countrymen. “Received communication is the great communicator,” Jack says, using the accent I assume he grew up with. “As soon as you deviate from that and you go into London speech, for example, you lose a little bit of the communication.” By that point, Jack has seamlessly transitioned into Cockney, from which he then shifts into the accents of East Anglia, the West Country, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Liverpool, Northern Ireland, Dublin, the Scottish highlands, Glasgow, North Wales, and South Wales. The Youtube comment box below has, predictably, filled with complains about all the accents — the commenters’ own, dare I imagine? — that didn’t make it into this brief linguistic tour. Though far from comprehensive, the video does in any case put the lie to the notion so many non-Brits seem to have that they can “do a British accent.” If you encounter one of them, don’t ask them to demonstrate it; ask them which British accent they mean. Then you’ll really hear how poorly they fare.

via Kottke

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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John Coltrane Performs A Love Supreme and Other Classics in Antibes (July 1965)

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme came out in 1964, an “album-long hymn of praise,” writes Rolling Stone, “transcendent music perfect for the high point of the civil rights movement” as well as Coltrane’s growing spiritual awakening after kicking his heroin habit. The record amazed critics and jazz fans alike and by 1970, it had sold over half-a-million copies. But lovers of Coltrane would only have only one chance to see him perform the full four-part suite live, and not in any stateside clubs but in Antibes, France on July 26, 1965, where he played two nights with his quartet.

You can see twelve of those miraculous minutes above, consisting of the first two movements of the suite, “Acknowledgement” and “Resolution.” This is a gorgeous performance, capturing what saxophonist David Liebman describes as “an end and a new musical beginning” for Coltrane. The second evening’s performance, below, begins with “Naima,” on which, Liebman says, “Trane solos combining a striking lyrical approach offset by multi-noted, densely packed runs.” If you’ve ever wondered what Ira Gitler meant in describing Coltrane’s style as “sheets of sound,” these performances will clear up the mystery.

The mid-sixties was a pivotal time for jazz—before the electronic fusion experiments to come, as hard bop and free jazz combined with the dissonance of early 20th century contemporary classical music, which had “permeated jazz for at least a handful of artists.”  Coltrane still spoke the “common language”—the “standard repertoire stemming from the American song book and/or original compositions with similar and predictable harmonic movement,” yet in his case, he “added modality to the mix,” a trick picked up from Miles Davis.

Coltrane sadly died from liver cancer in 1967 at age 40 and did not live to see the strange, surprising turns jazz would take in the decade to come. How his brash, yet enchanting playing would have translated in the 70s is anyone’s guess. Yet, like so many artists who die young and in their prime, he left us with a body of work almost mystical in its intensity and beauty—so much so that his more religious followers made him a saint after his death. Watching these too-brief recordings above, it’s not hard to see why.

The second night’s performances from the Antibes Jazz Festival were issued as a live album in 1988. The first night’s live showcase of A Love Supreme has seen several releases, and if you’re one of those who professes devotion to this amazing piece of work, you’d do well to pick up a copy, if you don’t own one already. “The intensity if the Antibes live performance,” writes Liebman in his 2011 liner notes to the Jazz Icons/Mosaic release of the Coltrane Live at Antibes 1965 DVD, “far exceeds the studio recording” of the album. And that’s saying something.

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

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The Secret of Life and Love, According to Ray Bradbury (1968)

“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” This—writes Sam Weller in his introduction to a 2010 interview with sci-fi and fantasy luminary Ray Bradbury—was the author’s “lifelong credo.” Weller writes of discovering an unpublished Paris Review interview from the 1970s in Bradbury’s garage, with a note from editor George Plimpton that read “a bit informal in places, maybe overly enthusiastic.” The irony of this judgment is that it is Bradbury’s enthusiasm, his lack of formality, which make him so compelling and so copious a writer and speaker. Bradbury didn’t self-edit or second guess much—his approach is best characterized as fearless and passionate, just as he describes his writing process:

I type my first draft quickly, impulsively even. A few days later I retype the whole thing and my subconscious, as I retype, gives me new words. Maybe it’ll take retyping it many times until it is done. Sometimes it takes very little revision.

It’s that unfettered expression of his subconscious that Bradbury discusses in the short clip above, in which he re-invigorates all the sort of carpe diem clichés one hears so often by framing them not as self-help suggestions but as imperatives for a full and healthy life. Responding in the moment, says Bradbury, refusing to “put off till tomorrow… what I must do, right now,” allows him to “find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart.” For Bradbury, writing is much more than a formal exercise or a specialized craft—it is a vital expression of his full humanity and a means of “cleansing the stream” of his mind: “We belong only by doing,” he says, “and we own only by doing, and we love only by doing…. If you want an interpretation of life and love, that would be the closest thing I could come to.”

Bradbury doesn’t limit his philosophy to the writing life; he advocates for everyone an unabashed emotional engagement with the world. For him, the man (and woman, we might presume), who cannot “laugh freely,” cry, or “be violent”—which he defines in sublimating terms as any physical or creative activity—is a “sick man.” Bradbury’s “overly enthusiastic” explorations of creative passion were almost as much a part of his output as his fiction. His interviews, televised and in print, are inspiring for this reason: he is never coy or pretentious but pushes others to aspire to the same kind of authentic joy he seemed to take in everything he did.

By the way, the first person we see above is legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones (as one Youtube commenter says, we get in this clip “two visionaries for the price of one”). Bradbury’s “vitality,” says Jones, “rubs off on the people who work with him.” And, he might have added, all of the people who read and listen to him, too.

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

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10 Rules for Students and Teachers Popularized by John Cage

JohnCage_teaching rules

Avant-garde composer John Cage started out as a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg. He greatly looked up to the exiled Austrian as a model of how a true artist ought to live. Cage, in turn, inspired generations of artists and composers both through his work – which incorporated elements of chance into his music – and through his teaching.

One of those whom he inspired was Sister Corita Kent. An unlikely fixture in the Los Angeles art scene, the nun was an instructor at Immaculate Heart College and a celebrated artist who considered Saul Bass, Buckminster Fuller and Cage to be personal friends.

In 1968, she crafted the lovely, touching Ten Rules for Students and Teachers for a class project. While Cage was quoted directly in Rule 10, he didn’t come up with the list, as many website sites claim. By all accounts, though, he was delighted with it and did everything he could to popularize the list. Cage’s lover and life partner Merce Cunningham reportedly kept a copy of it posted in his studio until his dying days. You can check the list out below:

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

Via Gotham Writers

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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.


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Two Artificial Intelligence Chatbots Talk to Each Other & Get Into a Deep Philosophical Conversation

The folks at the Cornell Creative Machines Lab are “interested in robots that create and are creative.” Here’s one such example of robots getting creative. Above, the lab lets two chatbots (essentially computer programs designed to simulate an intelligent conversation) start chatting with one another. They start by exchanging pleasantries. Then things get deeply philosophical, fairly quickly.  It’s fun to watch it play out.

via Gizmodo

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