The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans

Today, as the 2018 World Cup draws to a close, we're revisiting a classic Monty Python skit. The scene is the 1972 Munich Olympics. The event is a football/soccer match, pitting German philosophers against Greek philosophers. On the one side, the Germans -- Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Marx and, um, Franz Beckenbauer. On the other side, Archimedes, Socrates, Plato and the rest of the gang. The referee? Confucius. Of course.

Note: Some years ago, this match was recreated by The Philosophy Shop, a group dedicated to promoting philosophy among primary schoolchildren. The Telegraph gives you more details.


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Watch “The Hangman,” a Classic Animated Film That Explores What Happens When No One Dares to Stand Up to Evil

Last Friday, I was downtown at an open air cinema to watch a collection of animated shorts. It was also a beastly hot night with roaring sundowners, a very present danger of being clocked in the head by falling palm fronds, and an existential danger of fire in the hills. The other existential danger was that of the authoritarian turn of this country that, at that moment, seemed so far away from our picnic baskets and wine in a can.

In the middle of the program of well made but light and fluffy shorts came the above animated film, “The Hangman.” The version above is not the restored version we saw, but it’s pretty much the same, give or take a scratch. Les Goldman and Paul Julian’s 1964 short delivers a moral message along the same lines as anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller’s “First they came for the Socialists” statement--currently a meme you’ve probably seen pass through your social feed. And though the narrative, based on the poem by Maurice Ogden, is easy to suss out as it trundled towards its mortal conclusion, it did not stop the fact that the rambunctious Friday night audience fell dead silent upon its conclusion. You may too.

The poem first appeared in a 1954 issue of Masses and Mainstream, a monthly Marxist publication that continued publishing through the worst excesses of the McCarthy hearings to an understandably vanishing readership. The poem has occasionally been taught in the context of the Holocaust, but any kind of creeping fascism will do. Not much is really known about Ogden, who wrote the poem under the pseudonym Jack Denoya in its original publication. (He is possibly the same man who taught at Coast Community College in Costa Mesa, CA, and ministered at Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church.)

The animated version, with its modernist look influenced by UPA’s animation studio, came out one year after Masses and Mainstream folded. During that Friday night viewing, I suspected the narrator to be Ken Nordine, who recorded a vocal jazz album around that time. But actually the voice belongs to Herschel Bernardi, a film and theater actor who would have been known to Broadway fans for his starring role in Fiddler on the Roof but to television fans as Charlie Tuna in the Starkist commercials. Before all that, however, he was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, which made him a perfect choice to narrate “The Hangman.”

Director Paul Julian illustrated much of the background art used in Warner Bros. cartoons, and his claim to pop culture fame is providing the “beep beep” sound for the Road Runner cartoons by the same studio. Producer Les Goldman went on to produce several other influential animated shorts, such as “The Dot and the Line” and “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

However, “The Hangman” is serious food for thought in these fraught times, and it’s good to see it back in circulation, thanks to curator Ron Diamond. Here’s to hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

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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 and/or watch his films here.

French Bookstore Blends Real People’s Faces with Book Cover Art

You can lead the I-generation to a bookstore, but can you make them read?

Perhaps, especially if the volume has an eye-catching cover image that bleeds off the edge.

If nothing else, they can be enlisted to provide some stunning free publicity for the titles that appeal to their highly visual sense of creative play. (An author’s dream!)

France's first indie bookstore, Bordeaux’s Librairie Mollat, is reeling ‘em in with Book Face, an irresistible selfie challenge that harkens back to DJ Carl MorrisSleeveface project, in which one or more people are photographed “obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s), causing an illusion.”

The results are proliferating on the store’s Instagram, as fetching young things (and others) apply themselves to finding the best angles and costumes for their lit-based Trompe-l’œil masterstrokes.

…even the ones that don’t quite pass the forced perspective test have the capacity to charm.

…and not every shot requires intense pre-production and precision placement.

Hopefully, we’ll see more kids getting into the act soon. In fact, if some youngsters of your acquaintance are expressing a bit of boredom with their vacances d’été, try turning them loose in your local bookstore to identify a likely candidate for a Book Face of their own.

(Remember to support the bookseller with a purchase!)

Back stateside, some librarians shared their pro tips for achieving Book Face success in this 2015 New York Times article. The New York Public Library’s Morgan Holzer also cites Sleeveface as the inspiration behind #BookfaceFriday, the hashtag she coined in hopes that other libraries would follow suit.

With over 50,000 tagged posts on Instagram, looks like it’s caught on!

See Librairie Mollats patrons’ gallery of Book Faces here.

Readers, if you’ve Book Faced anywhere in the world, please share the link to your efforts in the comments section.

via This is Colossal/Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. In honor of her son’s 18th birthday, she invites you to Book Face your baby using The Big Rumpus, her first book, for which he served as cover model. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Archaeologists Think They’ve Discovered the Oldest Greek Copy of Homer’s Odyssey: 13 Verses on a Clay Tablet

The Homeric epics are thought to have been composed in the 8th century BCE. In the case of these ancient poems, however, “composed” is a very ambiguous term. While archaeological and linguistic research dates Homer’s versions of the poems to somewhere between 650 and 750, BCE., a scholarly consensus agrees these tales existed hundreds of years before, in oral form, transmitted by wandering bards and modified often in the telling. While they are thought to have been written down in Homer’s age, “any glimpse into Homer before medieval times is rare,” notes the Smithsonian, "and any insight into the composition of the epics is precious.”

Before the medieval manuscript tradition, beginning in the 10th century CE, the largest extant copies of the Iliad and Odyssey come from what is known as the “Homeric papyri,” fragments such as the Bankes Papyrus discovered in Egypt in the 19th century. Now, it’s being reported in news sites all over the web that the oldest written copy of the Odyssey has been found—or rather 13 verses of it, carved into a clay tablet and discovered in the ancient city of Olympia in southern Greece. While the dating has not been fully confirmed, experts believe the artifact comes from the Roman era, sometime before the 3rd century CE.

While the discovery may be significant, we should be careful to qualify the many claims made for its status. Like the poem itself, the story of this discovery has seemed to change in its retellings. The tablet is the oldest find in Greece, not in the world. “Finding a bit of Homer in home soil,” says Malcolm Heath, professor of Greek language and literature at Leeds University, “will obviously give the Greeks a warm glow.” But, as The Times reports, “the earliest surviving fragments of the Odyssey” are actually “bits of graffiti scratched into clay by schoolboys at Olbia on the Black Sea coast of what is now Ukraine.” These fragments are “at least 600 years older than the Olympia tablet.”

Furthermore, the Derveni papyrus, discovered in Egypt, which may include a quote from the poem, has been dated as far back as 340 BCE. Nonetheless, the new discovery is still unusual, not only for its place of origin, but also because of the medium. As Cambridge University’s Tim Whitmarsh notes, “It’s rare to find continuous text of Homer written out at such length in clay." The tablet includes a notable word substitution that will certainly be of interest to scholars, particularly those at work on the “Homer Multitext project.”

That project, Smithsonian writes, is gathering all the fragments together “so they can be compared and put in sequence to provide a broader view of Homer’s epics.” A view that shows us, as the project explains, “that there is not one original text that we should try to reconstruct,” but rather an unknown number of variations, transcribed and altered over the course of hundreds of years and scattered all over the ancient world. All of these fragments are fascinating examples, writes Science Alert, “of the way written texts can survive through the centuries, or even millennia,” just as the story itself shows how oral traditions can survive just as long without any need for written language at all.

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

How the Radical Buildings of the Bauhaus Revolutionized Architecture: A Short Introduction

When Germany lost World War I, it also lost its monarchy. The constitution for the new postwar German state was written and adopted in the city of Weimar, giving it the unofficial name of the Weimar Republic. Free of monarchical censorship, the Weimar Republic saw, among other upheavals, the floodgates open for artistic experimentation in all areas of life. One of the most influential aesthetic movements of the era began in Weimar, where the Great Big Story short above opens. As the city gave birth to the Weimar Republic, it also gave birth to the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus, literally "building house," was a school in two senses, both a movement and an actual institution. The style it advocated, according to the video's narrator, "looked to strip buildings from unnecessary ornament and build the foundation of what is called modern architecture." It was at Weimar University in 1919 that architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, and his office still stands there as a testament to the power of "clean, simple designs fit for the everyday life." We also see the first official Bauhaus building, Georg Muche's Haus am Horn of 1923, and Gropius' Bauhaus Dessau of 1925, which "amazed the world with its steel-frame construction and asymmetrical plan."

You can learn more about the Bauhaus' principles in the video above, a chapter of an Open University series on design movements. As an educational institution, the Bauhaus "offered foundation training in many art and design disciplines," including mass production, seeking to "develop students who could unify art with craft while embracing new technology." Bauhaus thinkers believed that "good design required simplicity and geometric purity," which led to works of graphic design, furniture, and especially architecture that looked then like radical, sometimes heretical departures from tradition — but which to their creators represented the future.

"Nothing dates faster than people's fantasies about the future," art critic Robert Hughes once said, but somehow the fruits of the Bauhaus still look as modern as they ever did. That holds true even now that the influence of the Bauhaus manifests in countless ways in various realms of art and design, though it had already made itself globally felt when the school moved to Berlin in 1932. By that time, of course, Germany had another regime change coming, one that would denounce the Bauhaus as a branch of "degenerate art" spreading the disease of "cosmopolitan modernism." The Gestapo shut it down in 1933, but thanks to the efforts of emigrants like Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, each of whom once led the school, the Bauhaus would live on.

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

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language


There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist. And then there’s the Japanese word tsundoku, which perfectly describes the state of my apartment. It means buying books and letting them pile up unread.

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868-1912) and has its origins in a pun. Tsundoku, which literally means reading pile, is written in Japanese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let something pile up and is written 積んでおく. Some wag around the turn of the century swapped out that oku (おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – meaning to read. Then since tsunde doku is hard to say, the word got mushed together to form tsundoku.

As with other Japanese words like karaoke, tsunami, and otaku, I think it’s high time that tsundoku enter the English language. Now if only we can figure out a word to describe unread ebooks that languish on your Kindle. E-tsundoku? Tsunkindle? Visit our collection of Free eBooks and contemplate the matter for a while.

The illustration above was made when Redditor Wemedge asked his daughter to illustrate the word “Tsundoku,” and she did not disappoint.

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

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. 

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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 art blog Veeptopus.

Margaret Atwood to Teach an Online Class on Creative Writing

The problem of dystopian fiction is this: quite often the worst future creative writers can imagine is exactly the kind of present that has already been inflicted on others—by colonialism, dictatorship, genocidal war, slavery, theocracy, abject poverty, environmental degradation, etc. Millions all over the world have suffered under these conditions, but many readers fail to recognize dystopian novels as depicting existing evils because they happen, or have happened, to people far away in space and time. Of course, Margaret Atwood understands this principle. The nightmares she has written about in novels like The Handmaid’s Tale have all already come to pass, she tells us.

In the promo video above for her Masterclass on Creative Writing starting this fall, Atwood says, “when I wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, nothing went into it that had not happened in real life somewhere at some time. The reason I made that rule is that I didn’t want anybody saying, ‘You certainly have an evil imagination, you made up all these bad things.’” And yet, she says, “I didn’t make them up.” In a Swiftian way, she implies, we did—“we” being humanity writ large, or, perhaps more accurately, the destructive, greedy, power-mad individuals who wreak havoc on the lives of those they deem inferiors or rightful property.

“As a writer,” she says above, “your goal is to keep your reader believing, even though both of you know it’s fiction.” Atwood’s trick to achieving this is a devious one in what we might call sci-fi or dark fantasy (though she spurns these designations): she writes not only what she knows to be true, in some sense, but also what we know to be true, though we would rather it not be, as in Virginia Woolf’s characterization of fiction as “as spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

Atwood says that writers turn away from the blank page because they fear something. She has made it her business, instead, to turn toward fear, to see dark visions like those of her MaddAddam Trilogy, an extrapolation of horrors already happening, in some form, somewhere in the world (and soon to be a fun-filled TV series). What she feared in 1984, the year she began writing The Handmaid’s Tale, seems just as chillingly prescient to many readers—and viewers of the TV adaptation—thirty-four years later, a testament to Atwood’s speculative realism, and to the awful, stubborn resistance reality puts up to improvement.

As she put it in an essay about the novel’s origins, “Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already.” The same, perhaps, might be said of novelists. Do you have some truths to tell in fictional form? Maybe Atwood is the perfect guide to help you write them. Her class starts this fall, sign up here.

Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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

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