Why Should You Read Don Quixote?: An Animated Video Makes the Case

In “one of the strangest stories in modern film,” Monty Python alumnus and critically-lauded director Terry Gilliam strove for three decades to make his take on Don Quixote, an ordeal that inspired two documentaries and that did not end in triumph even when the film premiered to acclaim at Cannes this year after its long gestation. Just a few weeks afterward, Gilliam lost the rights to the film in a lawsuit with its former producer. Nonetheless, for all of the serious setbacks on the road to its completion, Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has still mostly fared better than the protagonist of Cervantes’ novel.

But the delusional knight-errant and his much-put-upon squire’s ridiculous and inevitable failures are what constitute the novel’s enduring appeal. Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha has become the best-selling novel of all time, and by the accounts of its most illustrious admirers, the matrix of all modern fiction. “The novelist need answer to no one but Cervantes,” says Milan Kundera. Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes called Don Quixote “the first modern novel, perhaps the most eternal novel ever written and certainly the fountainhead of European and American fiction.”

Such effusive praise for Cervantes is near-universal, but like Gilliam’s film, and the fictional knight's quest, the Spanish writer’s epic adventure came to him late in life, when he was almost sixty, having “spent most of his life as a struggling poet and playwright,” says Ilan Stavans in the TED-Ed video above. He succeeded after a long, undistinguished career with a book that satirized the chivalric romances which “dominated European culture” at the time.

Cervantes’ brilliant idea—conjuring a character who actually believed these stories—gave us the great parodic epic and, in its second volume, a brilliant work of pre-post-modern metafiction in which the characters Quixote meets have already read about his exploits in the first book. The mad hidalgo Don Quixote, unlike the stock figures in popular romances, actually develops and matures as a character, a unique feature of fiction at the time and one reason Cervantes’ book is called the “first modern novel.”

Other foundational features of the novel include the relationship of Quixote and Sancho Panza, a fictional study in contrasts that may be the origin of so many iconic duos since—from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to Batman and Robin and the Odd Couple. The novel’s commercial success was immediate and global—again marking it as a product of modernity. Pirated copies circulated where it had been banned in the Americas. Asserting his proprietary rights over the character while also meeting reader demand, he wrote and published volume two to preempt spurious sequels.

The TED-Ed video is part of a “Why you should read X” series trumpeting the value of great works of literature. These efforts will, hopefully, inspire many people to pick up the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, and more. But ultimately, great works of literature should speak for themselves. Why should you read Don Quixote? Well, yes, because it is the foundation of modern fiction. But the real answer to the question lies between the novel's covers. Pick up Don Quixote (I like Edith Grossman’s 2003 translation), and find out for yourself.

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

130,000 Photographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Available Online, Courtesy of Stanford University

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

It’s taken for granted that every brand or rising star must establish and maintain a constant presence on various social networks. Indeed, the social media star—an entity famous solely for collecting followers and posting glamorous photos with themed commentary—may seem like a phenomenon that could only exist in the internet age, though writers like J.G. Ballard saw such things coming decades ago.

But before obsessive photography saturated the digital environment, Andy Warhol grasped the medium’s central importance in the documentation of everyday life. It just so happened that his everyday life was filled with celebrity actors, models, artists, and musicians.

Warhol, writes James D. Ellis at Light Stalking, “was the proto-hipster,” a restless moth always on the hunt for a flame. “Much like our contemporary culture, Warhol found it difficult to sit and do nothing. He had to leave his house or Factory and experience his immediate surroundings.”

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

And he had to photograph every one of those experiences. Warhol used his Polaroids and 35mm the way we use iPhones. A court case in the early nineties once took up the question of whether Warhol’s photographs could be considered fine art, but the artist himself, writes Patina Lee at Widewalls, “was obviously undecided about their value and meaning,” saying “A picture means I know where I was every minute. That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary.”

Warhol, Lee writes, “took his camera with him wherever he went, documenting practically everything, the highest high class and the lowest trash (literally, he took photos of trash cans and of what they contained)…. This inclusiveness is what made his photographic undertakings border between art and mere obsessive collecting, or as people like to cynically notice, consuming the life around him.” His consumption, and photographs of trash, comes to us as treasure, an extensive record of Warhol’s New York in the seventies and eighties.

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center and Stanford Libraries have collaborated to make their Warhol photo archives available to the public—photos snapped “at discos, dinner parties, flea markets, and wrestling matches. Friends, boyfriends, business associates, socialites, celebrities, and passersby.” This “trove of 3,600 contact sheets featuring 130,000 photographic exposures” documents Warhol’s daily life from 1976 until his death in 1987 and includes candid photos of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Truman Capote, Bianca Jagger, Jimmy Carter, Martha Graham, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Jackie Kennedy, Liz Minelli, Dolly Parton, Elizabeth Taylor, and more.

The archive, writes Sandra Feder for Stanford News, “is the most complete collection of the artist’s black-and-white photography ever made available to the public.” It was acquired by the Cantor in 2014 from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Given that these are all contact sheets, navigating the collecting can be a little bewildering. The Cantor has provided a number of tools to help. Click on Contact Sheets here to explore all 3,600+ contact sheets. Click Negatives to see individual frames, like those of Keith Haring, Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the top, Lou Reed further up, and Annie Leibovitz above. Or start browsing through pictures organized by theme here.

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

Dig deep, and you’ll find the oddest things, like Andy Warhol running in Central Park for charity with Grace Jones and photographer Gordon Parks. Whatever Andy did, whoever he happened to do it with—and a stranger cast of characters you will not find—it’s all in this huge photo archive somewhere.

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

Haruki Murakami Became a DJ on a Japanese Radio Station for One Night: Hear the Music He Played for Delighted Listeners

In his native Japan, Haruki Murakami has published not just fiction but all sorts of essays dealing with a variety of subjects, from travel to music to writing itself. One collection of these pieces came out under the title Murakami Radio, a possible inspiration for a broadcast of the same name this past summer on Tokyo FM. For its 55-minute duration, Murakami took the DJ's seat and spun records (or rather, files from several of his music-filled iPods) from his famously vast personal library, including The Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA," Joey Ramone's version of "What a Wonderful World," Eric Burdon and The Animals' "Sky Pilot," and Daryl Hall and John Oates' version of "Love Train." You can listen to all his selections in the Youtube Playlist above.

"It has been my hobby to collect records and CDs since my childhood, and thanks to that, my house is inundated with such things," wrote Murakami in a message posted by Tokyo FM. "However, I have often felt a sense of guilt toward the world while listening to such amazing music and having a good time alone. I thought it may be good to share such good times with other people while chatting over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee."

He also chatted a bit himself between songs, answering listener questions and explaining the relationship between the music he loves and the books he writes“Rather than learning storytelling technique from someone, I’ve taken a musical approach, while being very conscious about rhythms, harmony and improvisation," he said on-air. "It’s like writing as I dance, even though I don’t actually dance.”

For many of Murakami's fans, Murakami Radio (full recordings of which do exist on the internet) marks the first time they've ever heard his actual voice, and it turns out to have a thing or two in common with his authorial one: take, for instance, his use of boku, the informal personal pronoun favored by most of his narrators. With the broadcast initially announced as a one-off, it might also have seemed like the last chance to hear Murakami speak, but the official Murakami Radio site recently announced two more editions. The next one, scheduled for October 19th, will deal with not just music but another of Murakami's passions, running. Anyone who's read Murakami's 1979 debut novel Hear the Wind Sing will remember the talkative Saturday-night radio DJ who makes occasional appearances in the text — and may wonder if, nearly 40 years later, Murakami channels him again when he gets behind the microphone himself.

via The Vinyl Factory

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writers

stephenking

Image by the USO, via Flickr Commons

In one of my favorite Stephen King interviews, for The Atlantic, he talks at length about the vital importance of a good opening line. “There are all sorts of theories,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King’s discussion of opening lines is compelling because of his dual focus as an avid reader and a prodigious writer of fiction---he doesn’t lose sight of either perspective:

We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.

This is excellent advice. As you orient your reader, so you orient yourself, pointing your work in the direction it needs to go. Now King admits that he doesn’t think much about the opening line as he writes, in a first draft, at least. That perfectly crafted and inviting opening sentence is something that emerges in revision, which can be where the bulk of a writer’s work happens.

Revision in the second draft, “one of them, anyway,” may “necessitate some big changes” says King in his 2000 memoir slash writing guide On Writing. And yet, it is an essential process, and one that “hardly ever fails.” Below, we bring you King’s top twenty rules from On Writing. About half of these relate directly to revision. The other half cover the intangibles---attitude, discipline, work habits. A number of these suggestions reliably pop up in every writer’s guide. But quite a few of them were born of Stephen King’s many decades of trial and error and---writes the Barnes & Noble book blog---“over 350 million copies” sold, “like them or loathe them."

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway."

9. Turn off the TV. “TV---while working out or anywhere else---really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book---even a long one---should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

See a fuller exposition of King’s writing wisdom at Barnes & Noble’s blog.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2014.

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

Buckminster Fuller Creates Striking Posters of His Own Inventions


In addition to his formidable body of work in architecture, design, and theory of the kind the world had never known before, Buckminster Fuller also knew how to promote himself. Sometimes this meant appearing on late-night new-age talk shows, but at its core it meant coming up with ideas that would immediately "read" as revolutionary to anyone who saw them in action. But how to put them before the eyes of someone who hasn't had the chance to see a geodesic dome, a Dymaxion House and Car, or even a Geodome 4 tent in real life?

The ascent of graphic design in the 20th century, a century Fuller saw begin and lived through most of, provided one promising answer: posters. The ones you see here show off "Fuller’s most famous inventions, with line drawings from his patents superimposed over a photograph of the thing itself," writes Fast Company's Katharine Schwab.

"While they look like something Fuller aficionados might have created after the man’s death to celebrate his work, Fuller actually created them in partnership with the gallerist Carl Solway near the end of his career."

These posters, "striking with their two-layer design, are Fuller’s visual homage to his own genius — and an attempt to bring what he believed were world-changing utopian concepts to the masses." They're also now on display at the Edward Cella Art + Architecture in Los Angeles, whose exhibition "R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventions and Models" runs until November 2nd. "Fuller’s objects and prints function not only as models of the mathematical and geometric properties underlying their construction but also as elegant works of art," says the gallery's site. "As such, the works represent the hybridity of Fuller’s practice, and his legacy across the fields of art, design, science, and engineering."

You can see more of Fuller's posters, which depict and visually explain the structures of such inventions as the geodesic dome and Dymaxion Car, of course, but also lesser-known creations like a "Fly's Eye" dome covered in bubble windows (individually swappable for solar panels), a submersible for offshore drilling, and a rowboat with a body reduced to two thin "needles," at Designboom. Edward Cella Art + Architecture has also made the posters available for purchase at $7,000 apiece. That price might seem in contradiction with Fuller's utopian ideals about universal accessibility through sheer low cost, but then, who could look at these and call them anything but works of art?

via Curbed

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The Life & Times of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome: A Documentary

Buckminster Fuller Creates an Animated Visualization of Human Population Growth from 1000 B.C.E. to 1965

Buckminster Fuller’s Collaboration with The North Face Culminates with a New Geodesic Dome Tent, the Geodome 4

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Noam Chomsky Talks About How Kids Acquire Language and Ideas in an Animated Video by Michel Gondry

These days Noam Chomsky is probably most famous for his consistent, outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy. Yet before the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, Chomsky became internationally famous for proposing a novel solution to an age-old question: what does a baby know?

Plato argued that infants retain memories of past lives and thus come into this world with a grasp of language. John Locke countered that a baby’s mind is a blank slate onto which the world etches its impression. After years of research, Chomsky proposed that newborns have a hard-wired ability to understand grammar. Language acquisition is as elemental to being human as, say, dam building is to a beaver. It’s just what we’re programmed to do. Chomsky’s theories revolutionized the way we understand linguistics and the mind.

A little while ago, film director and music video auteur Michel Gondry interviewed Chomsky and then turned the whole thing into an extended animated documentary called Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?.

Above is a clip from the film. In his thick French accent, Gondry asks if there is a correlation between language acquisition and early memories. For anyone who’s watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you know that memory is one of the director’s major obsessions. Over Gondry’s rough-hewn drawings, Chomsky expounds: “Children know quite a lot of a language, much more than you would expect, before they can exhibit that knowledge.” He goes on to talk about new techniques for teaching deaf-blind children and how a day-old infant interprets the world.

As the father of a toddler who is at the cusp of learning to form thoughts in words, I found the clip to be fascinating. Now, if only Chomsky can explain why my son has taken to shouting the word “bacon” over and over and over again.

To gain a deeper understanding of Chomsky's thoughts on linguistics, see our previous post:  The Ideas of Noam Chomsky: An Introduction to His Theories on Language & Knowledge (1977)

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. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2015.

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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. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The 10 Commandments of Chindōgu, the Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions

Back in the 1990s I'd often run across volumes of the Unuseless Japanese Inventions series at bookstores. Each one features about a hundred ostensibly real Japanese devices, photographed and described with a disarming straightforwardness, that mash up other consumer products in outwardly bizarre ways: chopsticks whose attached miniature electric fan cools ramen noodles en route to the mouth; a plastic zebra crossing to unroll and lay across a street at the walker's convenience; an inverted umbrella attached to a portable tank for rainwater collection on the go. Such things, at once plausible and implausible, turn out to have their own word in the Japanese language: chindōgu (珍道具), or "curious tool."

"There's an essence to chindōgu that can't be ignored," writes Michael Richey at Tofugu, where you can view an extensive gallery of examples. "They need to be useful, but only just so. Something people could use, but probably won't because of shame," a famously powerful force in Japanese society.

They also adhere to a set of principles laid down by Kenji Kawakami, former editor of the country housewife-targeted magazine Mail Order Life, who first revealed chindōgu to Japan by showing off his prototypes in the back pages. These ten commandments of chindōgu are as follows:

  1. A Chindōgu Cannot be for Real Use — They must be, from a practical point of view, useless.
  2. A Chindōgu Must Exist — A Chindōgu must be something that you can actually hold, even if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. There must be the Spirit of Anarchy in Every Chindōgu — Chindōgu inventions represent the freedom to be (almost) useless and challenge the historical need for usefulness.
  4. Chindōgu Tools are for Everyday Life — Chindōgu must be useful (or useless) to everyone around the world for everyday life.
  5. Chindōgu are Not for Sale — Chindōgu cannot be sold, as this would go against the spirit of the art form.
  6. Humor is Not the Sole Reason for Creating a Chindōgu — Even if Chindōgu are inherently quirky and hilarious, the main reason they are created is for problem solving.
  7. Chindōgu are Not Propaganda — Chindōgu are, however, innocent and made with good intentions. They should only be created to be used (or not used).
  8. Chindōgu are Never Taboo — Chindōgu must adhere to society’s basic standards.
  9.  Chindōgu Cannot be Patented — Chindōgu cannot be copyrighted or patented, and are made to be shared with the rest of the world.
  10. Chindōgu Are Without Prejudice — Everyone should have an equal chance to enjoy every Chindōgu.

These principles resulted in the kind of inventions that drew great fascination and amusement in their home country — you can watch a short Japanese television broadcast showing Kawakami demonstrate a few chindōgu above — but not only there. The Unuseless Japanese Inventions books came out in the West at just the right time, a historical moment that saw Japan's image shift from that of a fearsome innovator and economic powerhouse to that of an inward-looking but often charming nation of obsessives and eccentrics. Of course such people, so Western thinking went, would come up with fashionable earrings that double as earplugs, a cup holder that slots into a jacket pocket, and shoes with toe-mounted brooms and dustpans.

Kawakami has continued to invent and exhibit chindōgu in recent years, and even now his work remains as analog as ever. "There’s always some process in analog products, and these processes themselves can be their purpose,” he told the Japan Times in a 2001 interview. "If you look at digital products, they all isolate people and leave them in their own small world, depriving them of the joy of communicating with others... I can’t deny that they make life more exciting and convenient, but they also make human relationships more shallow and superficial." Those wise words look wiser all the time — but then, you'd expect that degree of insight into 21st-century life from the man who may well have invented the selfie stick.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A New Academic Hoax–Complete with Fake Articles Published in Academic Journals–Ventures to Show the “Corruption” of Cultural Studies

We should be suspicious when researchers assume their conclusion; when the results of an academic study merely confirm the author’s pre-existing biases. Humans are wired to seek confirmation, a cognitive deficit so deeply engrained that it can be exploited among laypeople and specialists alike. Art historians have been fooled by forgeries, historians by fake manuscripts, and paleontologists by phony fossils. Physicist Steven Weinberg referenced such high-level hoaxes in a 1996 essay in The New York Review of Books, and he placed that year’s academic scandal—known as the “Sokal Hoax”—among them.

The gist of the Sokal affair runs as follows: NYU mathematical physicist Alan Sokal suspected that post-structuralist-influenced cultural studies was jargon-laden, obfuscating BS, and he set out to prove it by authoring his own “postmodernist” text, an article full of misused terminology from quantum physics. He sent it off to the journal Social Text, who published it in their Spring/Summer issue. Sokal then revealed in another journal, Lingua Franca, that the article had been a fraud, “liberally salted with nonsense,” and had only been accepted because “(a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editor’s ideological preconceptions.”

Sokal’s hoax, it was roundly claimed, demonstrated that certain fashionable quarters of the academic humanities had deteriorated into babble, signifying nothing more than rigid ideological commitments and a general disregard for the actual meanings of words and concepts. Weinberg wasn’t so sure. At most, perhaps, it showed the editorial failings of Social Text. And while humanists may abuse scientific ideas, Weinberg points out that scientists of the stature of Werner Heisenberg have also been prone to slipshod, quasi-mystical thinking.

But the Sokal hoax did expose to the wider public a tendency among a coterie of academics to indulge in mystifying language, including the misuse of jargon from other fields of study, usually in imitation of French theorists like Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, or Jacques Derrida—whom, it must be said, all wrote in a very different intellectual culture (one that expects, Michel Foucault once admitted, at least “ten percent incomprehensible”). For a good many people in the academic humanities, this wasn’t much of a revelation. (Sokal has since published a more thoroughly critical book with the apt title Beyond the Hoax.)

Part of the problem with his hoax as a serious critique is that it began with its conclusion. Cultural studies are rife with crap arguments, ideology, and incomprehensible nonsense, Sokal believed. And so, when his paper was accepted, he simply rested his case, making no effort to engage charitably with good scholarship while he ridiculed the bad. Which brings us to the current state of the academic humanities, and to a contemporary, Sokal-like attack on them by a trio of writers who rest their case on a slightly broader base of evidence—20 fraudulent articles sent out to various niche cultural studies journals over a year: four published (since retracted), three accepted but not published, seven under review, and six rejected.

The authors—academic philosopher Peter Boghossian and writers Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay—revealed the hoax this week in an article published at the Pluckrose-edited Areo magazine. One needn’t read past the title to understand the authors’ take on cultural studies in general: “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” While all three hoaxers identify as left-leaning liberals, the broad-brush characterization of whole fields as “grievance studies” reveals a prejudicial degree of contempt that seems unwarranted. In the article, they reveal their motivations and methods, outline the successes of the project, and post the comments of the articles’ referees, along with a video of themselves having a good laugh at the whole thing.

This last bit is unnecessary and obnoxious, but does the new hoax—“Sokal Squared” as it’s been called—genuinely undermine the credibility of cultural studies as a whole? Is it “’hilarious and delightful,’” asks Alexander C. Kafka at The Chronicle of Higher Education, or “an ugly example of dishonesty and bad faith?” Harvard political scientist Yascha Mounk tactfully finds in it a serious case for concern: “Some academic emperors—the ones who supposedly have the most to say about these crucial topics [discrimination, racism, sexism]—have no clothes.”

This is a point worth pursuing, and certain recent scandals should give everyone pause to consider how bullying and groupthink manifest on the academic left at the highest level of prestige. But the great majority of academics are not "emperors" and have very little social or economic power. And Mounk is careful not to overstate the case. He points out how the hoax has unfortunately given welcome “ammunition” to right-wing conservative axe-grinders:

Many conservatives who are deeply hostile to the science of climate change, and who dismiss out of hand the studies that attest to deep injustices in our society, are using Sokal Squared to smear all academics as biased culture warriors. The Federalist, a right-wing news and commentary site, went so far as to spread the apparent ideological bias of a few journals in one particular corner of academia to most professors, the mainstream media, and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Federalist specializes in irresponsible conspiracy-mongering, the kind of thing that sells ads and wins elections but doesn’t belong in academic debate. The question Mounk doesn’t ask is whether the hoaxers’ own attitudes encourage and share in such hostility, an issue raised by several of their critics. As physicist Sean Carroll wrote on Twitter, “What strikes me about stunts like this is their fundamental meanness. No attempt to intellectually engage with ideas you disagree with; just trolling for the lulz.” McGill University political theorist Jacob T. Levy expressed similar reservations in an interview, notes The New York Times, saying

even some colleagues who are not fans of identity-oriented scholarship are looking at the hoax and saying ‘this is potentially unethical and doesn’t show what they think it is showing.’ Besides, he added, “We all recognized that this kind of thing could also be done in our disciplines if people were willing to dedicate a year to do it.”

Therein lies another problem with Sokal Squared. Hoaxes have been perpetuated by smart, dedicated forgers, con-artists, and pranksters in nearly every field, showing up all sorts of experts as potential dupes. The singling out of cultural studies for particular ridicule—the characterization of studies of race, gender, disability, etc. as “grievance studies”—reveals an aggrieved agenda all its own, one that ignores the serious problems corrupting other disciplines (e.g. industry funding in academic sciences, or the gross overuse of undergraduate students as the main subjects of studies—groups that hardly represent the general population.)

Some, but not all, of the successfully-published hoax papers sound ludicrous and terrible. Some, in fact, do not, as Justin Weinberg shows at Daily Nous, and should not shame the editors who published them. Some of the journals have much higher editorial standards than others. (An early hoax attempt by Boghossian targeted an ill-reputed, pay-to-play publication.) The whole affair may speak to broader failures in academic publishing that go beyond a tiny corner of the humanities. In part, those failures may stem from a general trend toward overworked, underpaid, increasingly precarious scholars whose disciplines, and funding, have been under relentless political attack since at least the 1990s and who must keep grinding out publications, sometimes of dubious merit, as part of the overall drive toward sheer productivity as the sole measure of success.

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

The Origins of the Death Growl in Metal Music

When Arab-Spanish Sephardi Jewish merchant Abraham ben Jacob first encountered the Vikings in Denmark, he had this to say:

"Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig. The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed."

Now what Mr. ben Jacob actually heard we will never know, but the description does sound a lot like the “Death Growl” familiar to fans of death metal. (The appearance of Vikings and the preponderance of Scandinavians within the genre certainly make this tale sound true.)

Cheekily referred to by non-metal fans as the “Cookie Monster Voice,” this particular style has evolved over time as metal changed in the 1980s, from the piercing screams of Dio and Iron Maiden to the growl of Sepultura and Cannibal Corpse. And that’s matched by the demonic and doom-laden sound of the music and the Grand Guignol horror of the lyrics, which delight fans with its depravity and disgust, the grosser the better.

Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, you have to admit that the ‘80s and ‘90s saw the growth of a brand new vocal style that seemed to come out of nowhere.


YouTuber Polyphonic tries to unravel its origins in the video above, which, we have to admit, follows the Wikipedia article on the Death Growl point by point. But that’s okay--imagine if all Wikipedia articles had their own videos...would that be a bad thing?

On the other hand, Polyphonic’s video does leave out some antecedents to this style, all of who get named checked by various folks in the comments. (Yes, YouTube comments that are worth reading!)

In particular, there’s no mention of African-American artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, or Clarence Frogman Henry. Wolf in particular became a huge influence on another incredibly gruff and guttural singer, Tom Waits, who often sings like the Devil has his larynx.
And do the distorted vocals on Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” or on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” really count? Or the various screams on Pink Floyd songs?

When Polyphonic returns to the 1980s, he’s on firmer ground. Lemmy from Motörhead makes more sense as an influence, and by the time we get to Venom, then Death, then Mantas, it is easier to see where the Death Growl came from. (But come on, no mention of Napalm Death? They were the first growling band I ever heard, and hats off to BBC DJ John Peel for not only playing them when the debuted, but he had them in session.)

If interested, I would recommend exploring the YouTube comments further and make up your own mind. And if you are interested in learning this technique, there are folks who will teach you.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The Cornell Note-Taking System: Learn the Method Students Have Used to Enhance Their Learning Since the 1940s

How should you take notes in class? Like so many students who came before me and would come after, I had little idea in college and even less in high school. The inherently ambiguous nature of the note-taking task has inspired a variety of methods and systems, few of them as respected as Cornell Notes. Invented in the 1940s by Cornell University education professor Walter Pauk, author of How to Study in College, Cornell Notes involves dividing each page up into three sections: one to paraphrase the lecture's main ideas, one to summarize those ideas, and one to write questions. After writing down those main ideas during class, immediately summarize and add questions about the content. Then, while studying later, try to answer those questions without looking at the main body of notes.

You'll find a complete and concise explanation of how to take Cornell Notes at Cornell's web site, which includes information on the "Reflect" stage (in which you ask yourself broader questions like “What’s the significance of these facts?" and "What principle are they based on?") and the "Review" stage (in which you "spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes" to aid retention).

For a more detailed visual explanation, have a look at teacher Jennifer DesRochers' instructions for how to take Cornell Notes in the video above, which now approaches one million views on Youtube. Her own version encourages taking down main-idea summaries in drawings as well as text, and including things like "key points" and "important people or ideas" in the question column.

That DesRochers' video now approaches one million views suggests students still find the Cornell Notes system effective, as much as or even more so than they did when Pauk first published it. Over time, of course, its users have also augmented it: take Doug Neill's video "Improving Cornell Notes With Sketchnoting Techniques" above, which combines standard Cornell Notes with his system of "sketchnoting," also known as "visual note-taking and graphic recording."

He provides examples of what such Cornell-formatted sketchnoting might look like, explaining that "having the option of doing something more visual in your mind triggers a different type of processing power, so that you're more active in the way that you're responding to the ideas. You're not just passively taking in information." The nature of school, as students in every era have known, can often induce a state of passivity; systems like Cornell Notes and its many variations remind us of how much more we can learn if we have a way to break out of it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.





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