Video: Stephen Hawking Can Explain Many Complicated Things–Except the Popularity of Donald Trump

Yesterday, we walked you through Noam Chomsky’s analysis of the parallels between the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany. Today, we’d like to take you through Stephen Hawking’s assessment of the situation. But the rub is this: Hawking, a theoretical physicist who has explained many complicated things in his lifetime, hasn’t yet worked out a theory that explains Trump. Asked to account for Trump’s popularity, he offered only this: “I can’t. He is a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.” That’s it.

Hopefully, someone can come up with a working theory by the election. Or Bill Kristol can sandbag him first.

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Get a Sneak Peek of Archangel, the New Comic Book by Cyberpunk Author William Gibson

gibson archangel 2

“The world is in ruins. The White House relocated to the ominous-sounding National Emergency Federal District in Montana. They have technology that far outstrips our own.” A dystopian vision of the distant future? Nope, a dystopian vision of February 2016 — the February 2016 of Archangel, a new comic-book series from actor-writer Michael St. John Smith, artist Butch Guice, and none other than novelist William Gibson, author of such sui generis works of science fiction, pillars of cyberpunk, or prophecies of the present as Neuromancer, All Tomorrow’s PartiesPattern Recognition, and most recently The Peripherala predecessor, in a way, of Archangel‘s story that plays out on more than one timeline.

“A father and son occupy the new White House as President and Vice President,” writes Ars Technica’s Jonathan M. Gitlin. The younger overlord of America “has been surgically altered to resemble his grandfather, because Junior is about travel to an alternate Earth in 1945 to take grandpa’s place, with the intent of remaking that world more to his liking.” In response, “a pair of tattooed Marines go back in time to stop him, but things start to unravel when their stealth plane materializes in a formation of B-17s in the skies above Berlin.” In that alternate 1945, “British intelligence officer Naomi Givens is tasked with finding out what just fell out of the skies of Berlin.” If you feel your curiosity piqued — and how couldn’t you? — you can read through (above) pages of Archangel‘s first issue, whose paper version quickly sold out. (You can also purchase the digital one here.)


As the series goes on, it will surely deliver more of the “alternate-history/cross-worlds story” that Gibson describes as “Band Of Brothers vs. Blackwater,” not to mention plenty of heroics on the part of another one of his signature protagonists, the “over-the-top female character who just never gets killed.” Enthusiasts of both comic books and William Gibson have long and patiently waited for those worlds to collide, and they’ll presumably wait a little less patiently for Archangel‘s next issue, since its first one holds out enough promise to make them want to time-travel back to an alternate 1984, the year of Neuromancer‘s publication, and get its author writing comics right away.

via Ars Technica

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Take a Road Trip with Cyberspace Visionary William Gibson, Watch No Maps for These Territories (2000)

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How Chris Marker’s Radical SciFi Film, La Jetée, Changed the Life of Cyberpunk Prophet, William Gibson

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. 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.

The British Library Digitizes 300 Literary Treasures from 20th Century Authors: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce & More

First Edition Ulysses

As a young college student, I spent hours wandering through my university’s library, looking in a state of awe at the number of books contained therein by writers whose names I knew or who seemed vaguely familiar, and by hundreds, thousands, more I’d never heard of. Always content to immerse myself in secluded corners for days on end with a good book, I couldn’t have felt more at home.

The internet was in its infancy, and my online life at the time consisted of awkward, plain-text emails sent once or twice a week and the occasional clunky, slow-loading website, promising much but delivering little. Excitable futurists made extravagant predictions about how hypertext and interactivity would revolutionize the book. These seemed like intriguing but unnecessary solutions in search of a problem.

To the bookish, the book is a perfected technology that cannot be improved upon except by the publishing of more books. While interactive texts—with linked annotations, biographies, historical precis, critical essays, and the like—have much enhanced life for students, they have not in any way improved upon the simple act of reading for pleasure and edification—an activity, wrote Virginia Woolf, requiring nothing more than “the rarest qualities of imagination, insight, and judgment.”

Though Woolf would likely have been unimpressed with all that talk of hypertextual innovation, I imagine she would have marveled at the online world for offering something to the reader we have never had until the past couple decades: free and instant access to thousands of books, from literary classics to biographies to histories to poetry—all genres upon which Woolf offered advice about how to read on their own terms. Without the anxious admissions process and costly tuition, anyone with a computer now has access to a significant portion of the average college library.

And now anyone with a computer has access to a significant portion of the British Library’s rare collections as well, thanks to the venerable institution’s new online collection: “Discovering Literature: 20th Century.”

orwell rejection

Readers of our site will know of Open Culture’s affinity for 20th century modernist literature, like that of Virginia Woolf, and for the dystopian fiction of George Orwell. These authors and greats of more recent vintage are all well-represented in the British Library collection. You’ll find such treasures as a scanned first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, first American edition of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, and first edition of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. These are just a few of the classic novels available in the “over 300 treasures” of the collection, writes the British Library.

woolf cover

The online library offers a paradise for readers, certainly. And also a heaven for scholars. Included among the rare first editions and critical essays and interviews on the site’s main page are “online for the first time… literary drafts… notebooks, letters, diaries, newspapers and photographs from Virginia Woolf, Ted Hughes, Angela Carter and Hanif Kureishi among others.”

Some incredible highlights include:

And as if all this—and so many more 20th century literary treasures—weren’t enough, the collection also tucks in some wonderful artifacts from previous eras, such as a collection of manuscript poems by John Keats, including the Odes and Robert Burton’s encyclopedic 1628 study of depression, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

“Until now,” says Anna Lobbenberg, the Library’s Digital Programmes Manager, “these treasures could only be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms or on display in exhibitions—now Discovery Literature: 20th Century will bring these items to anyone in the world with an internet connection.” It truly is, for the lover of books, a brave new world (a book whose 1932 original dust jacket you can see here).

Related Content:

The British Library Puts Over 1,000,000 Images in the Public Domain: A Deeper Dive Into the Collection

The British Library’s “Sounds” Archive Presents 80,000 Free Audio Recordings: World & Classical Music, Interviews, Nature Sounds & More

Virginia Woolf Offers Gentle Advice on “How One Should Read a Book”

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

Free: Download 5.3 Million Images from Books Published Over Last 500 Years

Dance Records of the Month 1917

Back in 2014, we brought to your attention an image archive rivaling the largest of its kind on the web: the Internet Archive Book Images collection at Flickr. There, you’ll find millions of “public domain images, all extracted from books, magazines and newspapers published over a 500 year period.”




At the time, the collection contained 2.6 million public domain images, but “eventually,” wrote our editor Dan Colman, “this archive will grow to 14.6 million images.” Well, it has almost doubled in size since our first post, and it now features over 5.3 million images, thanks again to Kalev Leetaru, who headed the digitization project while on a Yahoo-sponsored fellowship at Georgetown University.

Records of Big Game 1910

Rather than using optical character recognition (OCR), as most digitization software does to scan only the text of books, Leetaru’s code reversed the process, extracting the images the Internet Archive’s OCR typically ignores. Thousands of graphic illustrations and photographs await your discovery in the searchable database. Type in “records,” for example, and you’ll run into the 1917 ad in “Colombia Records for June” (top) or the creepy 1910 photograph above from “Records of big game: with their distribution, characteristics, dimensions, weights, and horn & tusk measurements.” Two of many gems amidst utilitarian images from dull corporate and government record books.

1912 Book of Home Building

Search “library” and you’ll arrive at a fascinating assemblage, from the fashionable room above from 1912’s “Book of Home Building and Decoration,” to the rotund, mournful, soon-to-be carved pig below from 1882’s “The American Farmer: A Complete Agricultural Library,” to the nifty Nautilus drawing further down from an 1869 British Museum of Natural History publication. To see more images from any of the sources, simply click on the title of the book that appears in the search results. The organization of the archive could use some improvement: as yet millions of images have not been organized into thematic albums, which would greatly streamline browsing through them. But it’s a minor gripe given the number and variety of free, public domain images available for any kind of use.

American Farmer Library 1882

Moreover, Leetaru has planned to offer his code to institutions, telling the BBC, “Any library could repeat this process. That’s actually my hope, that libraries around the world run this same process of their digitized books to constantly expand this universe of images.” Scholars and archivists of book and art history and visual culture will find such a “universe of images” invaluable, as will editors of Wikipedia. “What I want to see,” Leetaru also said, “is… Wikipedia have a national day of going through this [collection] to illustrate Wikipedia articles.”

Museum of Natural History 1869

Short of that, individual editors and users can sort through images of all kinds when they can’t find freely available pictures of their subject. And, of course, sites like Open Culture—which rely mainly on public domain and creative commons images—benefit greatly as well. So, thanks, Internet Archive Book Images Collection! We’ll check back later and let you know when they’ve grown even more.

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The Getty Adds Another 77,000 Images to its Open Content Archive

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

10 Most Popular MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Getting Started in June: Enroll Free Today

june 2016 moocs

Like everything else these days, education has become a 24/7 affair. Yes, things are slowing down on college campuses this summer. But, on the internet, it’s full steam ahead. This June alone, over 300 free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are getting underway. They’re all neatly catalogued by the education web site Class Central, which also tracks the most popular MOOCS offered each month. What’s hot in June? Find the top 10 below. And don’t hesitate to enroll in any of the courses. They’re all free.

Personal Finance Planning
Purdue University via edX
Manage your money more effectively by learning practical solutions to key investment, credit, insurance and retirement questions.
Bookmark | Next Session : 15th Jun, 2016

Nutrition and Health: Food Safety
Wageningen University via edX
Learn about bacteria, pesticides and health hazards present in food.
Bookmark | Next Session : 1st Jun, 2016

Islam Through Its Scriptures
Harvard University via edX
Learn about the Quran, the central sacred text of Islam, through an exploration of the rich diversity of roles and interpretations in Muslim societies.
Bookmark | Next Session : 1st Jun, 2016

History of Graphic Design
California Institute of the Arts via Coursera
This condensed survey course focuses on four major areas of design and their history: Typography, Image-Making, Interactive Media, and Branding.
Bookmark | Next Session : 20th Jun, 2016

Big Data: Data Visualisation
Queensland University of Technology via FutureLearn
Data visualisation is vital in bridging the gap between data and decisions. Discover the methods, tools and processes involved.
Bookmark | Next Session : 27th Jun, 2016

Microeconomics: When Markets Fail
University of Pennsylvania via Coursera
Perfect markets achieve efficiency: maximizing total surplus generated. But real markets are imperfect. This course will explore a set of market imperfections to understand why they fail and to explore possible remedies, including antitrust policy, regulation, and government intervention.
Bookmark | Next Session : 6th Jun, 2016

Single Page Web Applications with AngularJS
Johns Hopkins University via Coursera
Do you want to write powerful, maintainable, and testable front end applications faster and with less code? Then consider joining this course to gain skills in one of the most popular Single Page Application (SPA) frameworks today, AngularJS
Bookmark | Next Session : 20th Jun, 2016

Machine Learning: Clustering & Retrieval
University of Washington via Coursera
A reader is interested in a specific news article and you want to find similar articles to recommend. What is the right notion of similarity? Moreover, what if there are millions of other documents?
Bookmark | Next Session : 15th Jun, 2016

Introduction to Engineering
University of Texas at Arlington via edX
The application of knowledge to design and build devices, systems, materials and processes in engineering.
Bookmark | Next Session : 8th, Jun, 2016

Social Norms, Social Change
University of Pennsylvania via Coursera
This is a course on social norms, the rules that glue societies together. It teaches how to diagnose social norms, and how to distinguish them from other social constructs, like customs or conventions.
Bookmark | Next Session : 20th Jun, 2016

For a complete list of courses starting in June, click here.

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How to Spot Bullshit: A Primer by Princeton Philosopher Harry Frankfurt

We live in an age of truthiness. Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word to describe the Bush administration’s tendency to fudge the facts in its favor.

Ten years after the American Dialect Society named it Word of the Year, former president Bush’s calendar is packed with such leisure activities as golf and painting portraits of world leaders, but “truthiness” remains on active duty.




It’s particularly germane in this election year, though politicians are far from its only practitioners.

Take global warming. NASA makes a pretty rock solid case for both its existence and our role in it:

97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

In view of such numbers, its understandable that a suburban Joe with a freezer full of factory-farmed beef and multiple SUVs in his garage would cling to the position that global warming is a lie. It’s his last resort, really.

But such self-rationalizations are not truth. They are truthiness.

Or to use the old-fashioned word favored by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, above: bullshit!

Frankfurt–a philosopher at Princeton and the author of On Bullshitallows that bullshit artists are often charming, or at their very least, colorful. They have to be. Achieving their ends involves engaging others long enough to persuade them that they know what they’re talking about, when in fact, that’s the opposite of the truth.

Speaking of opposites, Frankfurt maintains that bullshit is a different beast from an out-and-out lie. The liar makes a specific attempt to conceal the truth by swapping it out for a lie.

The bullshit artist’s approach is far more vague. It’s about creating a general impression.

There are times when I admit to welcoming this sort of manure. As a maker of low budget theater, your honest opinion of any show I have Little Red Hen’ed into existence is the last thing I want to hear upon emerging from the cramped dressing room, unless you truly loved it.

I’d also encourage you to choose your words carefully when dashing a child’s dreams.

But when it comes to matters of public policy, and the public good, yes, transparency is best.

It’s interesting to me that filmmakers James Nee and Christian Britten transformed a portion of their learned subject’s thoughts into voiceover narration for a lightning fast stock footage montage. It’s diverting and funny, featuring such ominous characters as Nosferatu, Bill Clinton, Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator, and Donald Trump, but isn’t it also the sort of misdirection sleight of hand at which true bullshitters excel?

Frankfurt expands upon his thoughts on bullshit in his aptly titled bestselling book, On Bullshit and its followup On Truth.

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

Noam Chomsky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resembles the Rise of Fascism in 1930s Germany

No matter where you are in the world, you must by now be well-acquainted with the political chaos in the United States. No one can confidently predict what’s going to happen next. A certain privileged few still find the situation amusing; a certain few have found a tremendous opportunity to increase profit and standing, embracing the madness by embracing Donald Trump, the celebrity real estate mogul some on the right have dubbed their “Great White Hope.”

A column last week by the far-right nationalist Pat Buchanan— whom Trump once denounced as a “Hitler-Lover”—ran with the idea, expressing the paranoiac fantasies of thousands of white supremacists who have rallied behind the Republican nominee. Rhetoric like Buchanan’s and David Duke’s—another supporter Trump once disavowed (then famously didn’t, then eventually did again)—has demolished the “Overton window,” we hear. America’s racist table talk is now a major party platform: the proverbial crank uncle who immiserates Christmas dinner with wild conspiracy theories now airs grievances 24 hours a day on cable news, unbound by “political correctness” or standards of accuracy of any kind.

Granted, a majority of the electorate is hardly thrilled by the likely alternative to Trump, but as even conservative author P.J. O’Rourke quipped in his backhanded endorsement of Hillary Clinton, “She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” There’s nothing “normal” about Donald Trump’s candidacy. Its freakishness enthralls his adoring fans. But the millions of Americans who aren’t among them have legitimate cause for alarm.

Comparisons to Hitler and Mussolini may have worn out their usefulness in elections past—frivolous as they often were—but the Trump campaign’s overt demagoguery, vicious misogyny, racism, violent speech, actual violence, complete disregard for truth, threats to free speech, and simplistic, macho cult of personality have prompted plausible shouts of fascism from every corner.

Former Republican Massachusetts governor (and recently rejected Libertarian vice-presidential candidate) William Weld equated Trump’s immigration plan with Kristallnacht, an analogy, writes Peter Baker in The New York Times that is “not a lonely one.” (“There is nobody less of a fascist than Donald Trump,” the candidate retorted.) Likewise, conservative columnist Robert Kagan recently penned a Times op-ed denouncing Trump as a fascist, a position, he writes, without a “coherent ideology” except its nationalist attacks on racial and religious others and belief in “the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation.”

On the liberal left, figures like former labor secretary Robert Reich and actor and Democratic Party organizer George Clooney have made the charge, as well as columnists in the New Republic and elsewhere. In the video above from Democracy Now, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto compares Trump to Hitler, and Columbia University’s Robert Paxton—who has written articles and a book on his theory of fascism—discusses the possibility of Trump-as-fascist.

At the top of the post, Noam Chomsky (MIT professor and author of the new book, Who Rules the World?) weighs in, with his analysis of the “generalized rage” of “mainly working class, middle class, and poor white males” and their “traditional families” coalescing around Trump. (Anyone who objects to Chomsky’s characterization of Trump as a circus clown should take a moment to revisit his reality show career and performance in the WWE ring, not to mention those debates.)

In Chomsky’s assessment, we need only look to U.S. history to find the kind of “strong” racialized nativism Trump espouses, from Benjamin Franklin’s aversion to German and Swedish immigrants, who were “not pure Anglo-Saxons like us,” to later parties like the 19th century Know Nothings. Perhaps, as John Cassidy wrote in The New Yorker last year, that’s what Trump represents.

The history of nativism, Chomsky goes on, “continues into the 20th century. There’s a myth of Anglo-Saxonism. We’re pure Anglo-Saxons. (If you look around, it’s a joke.)” Now, there’s “the picture of us being overwhelmed by Muslims and Mexicans and the Chinese. Somehow, they’ve taken our country away.” This notion (which people like David Duke call “white genocide”) is

Based on something objective. The white population is pretty soon going to become a minority (whatever ‘white’ means)…. The response to this is generalized anger at everything. So every time Trump makes a nasty comment about whoever, his popularity goes up. Because it’s based on hate, you know. Hate and fear. And it’s unfortunately kind of reminiscent of something unpleasant: Germany, not many years ago.

Chomsky discusses Germany’s plummet from its cultural and political heights in the 20s—when Hitler received 3% of the vote—to the decay of the 30s, when the Nazis rose to power. Though the situations are “not identical,” they are similar enough, he says, to warrant concern. Likewise, the economic destruction of Greece, says Chomsky may (and indeed has) lead to the rise of a fascist party, a phenomenon we’ve witnessed all over Europe.

The fall of the Weimar Republic has a complicated history whose general outlines most of us know well enough. Germany’s defeat in WWI and the punitive, post-Treaty of Versailles’ reparations that contributed to hyperinflation and total economic collapse do not parallel the current state of affairs in the U.S.—anxious and agitated as the country may be. But Hitler’s rise to power is instructive. Initially dismissed as a clown, he struggled for political power for many years, and his party barely managed to hold a majority in the Reichstag in the early 30s. The historical question of why few—in Germany or in the U.S.—took Hitler seriously as a threat has become a commonplace. (Partly answered by the amount of tacit support both there and here.)

Hitler’s struggle for dominance truly catalyzed when he allied with the country’s conservatives (and Christians), who made him Chancellor. Thus began his program of Gleichschaltung—“synchronization” or “bringing into line”—during which all former opposition was made to fully endorse his plans. In similar fashion, Trump has fought for political relevance on the right for years, using xenophobic bigotry as his primary weapon. It worked. Now that he has taken over the Republican Party—and the religious right—we’ve seen nearly all of Trump’s opponents on the right, from politicians to media figures, completely fold under and make fawning shows of support. Even some Bernie Sanders supporters have found ways to justify supporting Trump.

But Trump is “not Hitler,” as his wife Melania claimed in his defense after his supporters swarmed journalist Julia Ioffe with grotesque anti-Semitic attacks. Although he has an obvious affinity for white nationalists and neo-Nazis (see his activity on social media and elsewhere) and perhaps a fondness for Hitler’s speeches, the comparison has serious drawbacks. Trump is something else—something perhaps more farcical and bumbling, but maybe just as dangerous given the forces he has unified and elevated domestically, and the dangers of such an unstable, petty, vindictive person taking over the world’s largest military, and nuclear arsenal.

Perhaps he’s just a tasteless, cynical con-man entertainer using hate as another means of self-advancement. He has non-white and Jewish supporters!, his voters claim. He holds “corrupt and liberal New York values“! say conservative detractors. These objections ring hollow given all Trump has said and done in recent years. His campaign, and the response it has drawn, looks enough like those of previous far-right racist leaders that calling Trump a fascist doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. That should seriously alarm any honest person who isn’t a far-right xenophobic nationalist.

Related Content:

Noam Chomsky Defines What It Means to Be a Truly Educated Person

Noam Chomsky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Empty ‘Posturing’

How to Spot Bullshit: A Primer by Princeton Philosopher Harry Frankfurt

Rare 1940 Audio: Thomas Mann Explains the Nazis’ Ulterior Motive for Spreading Anti-Semitism

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

4 Simple Ways You Can Personally Reduce Your Risk of Getting Cancer

A quick public service announcement. According to a new study published in the journal JAMA Oncology, we have a good measure of control over whether cancer rates actually rise or fall. And if we take four practical steps, we could see cancer rates decline by as much as 40-60%. Here’s what the new study recommends:

  • No smoking. It’s that simple. (Bill Plympton’s “25 Ways To Quit Smoking” video above offers some light-hearted ways to rid yourself of that bad habit.)
  • Drink in moderation. One drink or less per day for women; two or less for men. Not more.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight, a Body Mass Index between 18.5 and 27.5. Learn how to calculate your BMI here.
  • Exercise often. During a given week, exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes, or vigorously for at least 75 minutes.

There are no great revelations here. It’s common sense really. But maybe you could improve in one of these areas, and maybe now is the time to get going.

You can find more details on the study in this press release.

And, just for good measure, eat well (no processed foods) and get a good night of sleep.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

via LA Times/WaPo

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Life & Literature Introduced in a Monty Python-Style Animation

“You know how earlier we were talking about Dostoyevsky?” asks David Brent, Ricky Gervais’ iconically insecure paper-company middle-manager central to the BBC’s original The Office. “Oh, yeah?” replies Ricky, the junior employee who had earlier that day demonstrated a knowledge of the influential Russian novelist apparently intimidating to his boss. “Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky. Born 1821. Died 1881,” recites Brent. “Just interested in him being exiled in Siberia for four years.” Ricky admits to not knowing much about that period of the writer’s life. “All it is is that he was a member of a secret political party,” Brent continues, drawing upon research clearly performed moments previous, “and they put him in a Siberian labour camp for four years, so, you know…”


We here at Open Culture know that you wouldn’t stoop to such tactics in an attempt to establish intellectual supremacy over your co-workers — nor would you feel any shame in not having yet plunged into the work of that same Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, born 1821, died 1881, and the author of such much-taught novels as Crime and PunishmentThe Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov (as well as a prolific doodler). “His first major work,” in the posturing words of David Brent, “was Notes from the Underground, which he wrote in St Petersburg in 1859. Of course, my favorite is The Raw Youth. It’s basically where Dostoyevsky goes on to explain how science can’t really find answers for the deeper human need.”

An intriguing position! To hear it explained with deeper comprehension (but just as entertainingly, and also in an English-accented voice), watch this 14-minute, Monty Python-style animated primer from Alain de Botton’s School of Life and read the accompanying article from The Book of Life. Even apart from those years in Siberia, the man “had a very hard life, but he succeeded in conveying an idea which perhaps he understood more clearly than anyone: in a world that’s very keen on upbeat stories, we will always run up against our limitations as deeply flawed and profoundly muddled creatures,” an attitude “needed more than ever in our naive and sentimental age that so fervently clings to the idea – which this great Russian loathed – that science can save us all and that we may yet be made perfect through technology.”

After The School of Life gets you up to speed on Dostoyevsky, you’ll no doubt find yourself able to more than hold your own in any water-cooler discussion of the man whom James Joyce credited with shattering the Victorian novel, “with its simpering maidens and ordered commonplaces,” whom Virginia Woolf regarded as the most exciting writer other that Shakespeare, and whose work Hermann Hesse tantalizingly described as “a glimpse into the havoc.” You may well also find yourself moved even to open one of Dostoyevsky’s intimidatingly important books themselves, whose assessments of the human condition remain as devastatingly clear-eyed as, well, The Office‘s.

Related Content:

Dostoevsky Draws Doodles of Raskolnikov and Other Characters in the Manuscript of Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky Draws Elaborate Doodles In His Manuscripts

Dostoevsky Draws a Picture of Shakespeare: A New Discovery in an Old Manuscript

The Digital Dostoevsky: Download Free eBooks & Audio Books of the Russian Novelist’s Major Works

The Animated Dostoevsky: Two Finely Crafted Short Films Bring the Russian Novelist’s Work to Life

Albert Camus Talks About Nihilism & Adapting Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed for the Theatre, 1959

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. 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.

R. Crumb Shows Us How He Illustrated Genesis: A Faithful, Idiosyncratic Illustration of All 50 Chapters


crumb genesis

It is widely accepted among scholars that the first few books of the Bible—including, of course, Genesis, with its creation myths and flood story—are a patchwork of several different sources, pieced together by so-called redactors. This “documentary hypothesis” identifies the literary characteristics of each source, and attempts to reconstruct their different theological and political contexts. Primarily refined by German scholars in the late nineteenth century, the theory is very persuasive, but can also seem pretty schematic and dry, robbing the original texts of much of their liveliness, rhetorical power, and ancient strangeness.

Another German scholar, Hermann Gunkel, approached Genesis a little differently. “Everyone knows”—write the editors of a scholarly collection on the foundational Biblical text—Gunkel’s “motto”: “Genesis ist eine Sammlung von Sagen”—“Genesis is a collection of popular tales.” Rather than reading the various stories contained within as historical narratives or theological treatises, Gunkel saw them as redacted legends, myths, and folk tales—as ancient literature. “Legends are not lies,” he writes in The Legends of Genesis, “on the contrary, they are a particular form of poetry.”

Such was the approach of cartoonist and illustrator Robert Crumb, who took on illustrating the entire book of Genesis, “a text so great and so strange,” he says, “that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions.” In the short video above, Crumb describes the creation narrative in the ancient Hebrew book as “an archetypal story of our culture, such a strong story with all kinds of metaphorical meaning.” He also talks about his genuine respect and admiration for the stories of Genesis and their origins. “You study ancient Mesopotamian writings,” says Crumb, “and there’s all of these references in the oldest Sumerian legends about the tree of knowledge” and other elements that appear in Genesis, mixed up and redacted: “That’s how folk legends and all that shit evolve over centuries.”

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The Biblical book first struck Crumb as “something to satirize,” and his initial approach leans on the irreverent, scatological tropes we know so well in his work. But he instead decided to produce a faithful visual interpretation of the text just as it is, illustrating each chapter, all 50, word for word. The result, writes Colin Smith at Sequart, is “idiosyncratic, tender-hearted and ultimately inspiring.” It is also a critical visual commentary on the text’s central character: Crumb’s God “is regularly, if not exclusively, portrayed as an unambiguously self-obsessed and bloodthirsty despot, terrifying in his demands, terrifying in his brutality.” Arguably, these traits emerge from the stories unaided, yet when we’re told, for example, that “The Lord regretted having made man on Earth and it grieved him in his heart,” Crumb “shows us nothing of regret and grief, but rather a furious old dictator apparently tottering on the edge of madness.”

“It’s not the evil of men that Crumb’s concerned with,” writes Smith, “so much as the psychology of a creature who’d slaughter an entire world.” In that interpretation, he echoes critics of the Bible’s theology since the Enlightenment, from Voltaire to Christopher Hitchens. But he doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of human brutality, either (witness Cain’s murder of his brother, below). Crumb’s move away from satire and decision to “do it straight,” as he told NPR, came from his sense that the sweeping, violent mythology and “soap opera” relationships already lend themselves “to lurid illustration”—his forté. Originally intending to do just the first couple chapters “as a comic story,” he soon found he had a market for all 50 and “stupidly said, ‘okay, I’ll do it.’” The work—undertaken over four years—proved so exhausting, he says he “earned every penny.”

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Does Crumb himself identify with the religious traditions in Genesis? Raised a Catholic, he left the church at 16: “I have my own little spiritual quest,” Crumb says, “but I don’t associate it with any particular traditional religion. I think that the traditional Western religions all are very problematic in my view.” That said, like many nonreligious people who read and respect religious texts, he knows the Bible well—better, it turned out, than his editor, a self-described expert. “I just illustrate it as it’s written,” said Crumb, “and the contradictions stand.”

When I first illustrated that part, the creation, where there’s basically two different creation stories that do contradict each other, and I sent it to the editor at Norton, the publisher, who told me he was a Bible scholar. And he read it, and he said wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense. This contradicts itself. Can we rewrite this so it makes sense? And I said that’s the way it’s written. He said, that’s the way it’s written? I said, yeah, you’re a Bible scholar. Check it out. 

Crumb invites us all to “check it out“—this collection of archetypal legends that inform so much of our politics and culture, whether the bizarre and costly creation of a fundamentalist “Ark Park” (“dinosaurs and all“), or the Biblical epics of Cecil B. DeMille or Darren Aronofsky, or the poetry of John Milton, or the interpretive illustrations of William Blake. Whether we think of it as history or myth or some patchwork quilt of both, we should read Genesis. R. Crumb’s illustrated version is as good—or better—a way to do so as any other. See more of his illustrations at The Guardian and purchase his illustrated Genesis here.

Related Content:

A Short History of America, According to the Irreverent Comic Satirist Robert Crumb

R. Crumb’s Vibrant, Over-the-Top Album Covers (1968-2004)

R. Crumb Describes How He Dropped LSD in the 60s & Instantly Discovered His Artistic Style

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


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