“A Brief History of Goths”: From the Goths, to Gothic Literature, to Goth Music

The history of the word ‘Gothic,’” argues Dan Adams in the short, animated TED-Ed video above,” is embedded in thousands of years’ worth of countercultural movements.” It’s a provocative, if not entirely accurate, idea. We would hardly call an invading army of Germanic tribes a “counterculture.” In fact, when the Goths sacked Rome and deposed the Western Emperor, they did, at first, retain the dominant culture. But the Gothic has always referred to an oppositional force, a Dionysian counterweight to a rational, classical order.

We know the various versions: the Germanic instigators of the “Dark Ages,” early Christian architectural marvels, Romantic tales of terror and the supernatural, horror films, and gloomy, black-clad post punks and their moody teenage fans. Aside from obvious references like Bauhaus’ tongue-in-cheek ode, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the connective tissue between all the uses of Gothic isn't especially evident. “What do fans of atmospheric post-punk music,” asks Adams, “have in common with ancient barbarians?” The answer: not much. But the story that joins them involves some strange convergences, all of them having to do with the idea of “darkness.”


Two significant figures in the evolution of the Gothic as a consciously-defined aesthetic were both art historians. The first, Giorgio Vasari---considered the first art historian---wrote biographies of great Renaissance artists, and first used the term Gothic to refer to medieval cathedrals, which he saw as barbarous next to the neoclassical revival of the 14th-16th centuries. (Vasari was also the first to use the term “Renaissance” to describe his own period.) Two hundred years after Vasari’s Lives, art historian, antiquarian, and Whig politician Horace Walpole appropriated the term Gothic to describe The Castle of Otranto, his 1765 novel that started a literary trend.

Walpole also used the term to refer to art of the distant past, particularly the ruins of castles and cathedrals, with an eye toward the supposedly exotic, menacing aspects (for Protestant English readers at least) of the Catholic church and Continental European nobility. But for him, the associations were positive, and constituted a kitschy escape from Enlightenment rationalism. We have Walpole to thank, in some sense, for ersatz celebrations like Renaissance Fairs and Medieval Times restaurants, and for later Gothic novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the weird tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

We can see that it’s a rather short leap from classic horror stories and films to the dark makeup, teased hair, fog machines, and swirling atmospherics of The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux. In the history of the Gothic, especially between Vasari and Walpole, the word moves from a term of abuse---describing art thought to be “crude and inferior”---to one that describes art forms considered mysterious, and darkly Romantic. For another take on the subject, see Pitchfork's  music-focused, animated, and  "surprisingly light-hearted" short, "A Brief History of Goth," above, a presentation on the subculture's rise, fall, and undead rise again.

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

Watch Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future: Free for a Limited Time

A quick heads up. For the next few days (until January 27) you can watch Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, the latest installment from the PBS American Masters series. Here's the PBS blurb for the episode.

Best known for designing National Historic Landmarks such as St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch and the General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen also designed New York’s TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Yale University’s Ingalls Rink and Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Virginia’s Dulles Airport, and modernist pedestal furniture like the Tulip chair.

In the film, Saarinen’s son, Eric Saarinen, "visits the sites of his father’s work on a cathartic journey, shot in 6K with the latest in drone technology that showcases the architect’s body of timeless work for the first time. The documentary also features rare archival interviews with Eero and his second wife, The New York Times art critic Aline Saarinen, as well as letters and quotations from Aline’s memoirs voiced respectively by Peter Franzén and Blythe Danner."

You can get more background on the film here. Copies of the film can be purchased online here.

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Mesmerizing GIFs Illustrate the Art of Traditional Japanese Wood Joinery — All Done Without Screws, Nails, or Glue

Traditional Japanese carpentry, whether used to build a dinner table or the entire house containing it, doesn't use screws, nails, adhesives, or any other kind of non-wooden fastener. So how do its constructions hold together? How have all those thousands of wooden houses, tables, and countless other objects and structures stood up for dozens and even hundreds of years, and so solidly at that? The secret lies in the art of joinery and its elaborate cutting techniques refined, since its origin in the seventh century, through generations and generations of steadily increasing mastery — albeit by a steadily dwindling number of masters.

"Even until recent times when carpentry books began to be published, mastery of these woodworking techniques remained the fiercely guarded secret of family carpentry guilds," writes Spoon & Tamago's Johnny Strategy. If you find it difficult to grasp how simply cutting two pieces of wood in a certain way could unite them as if they'd grown together in the first place, have a look at a Twitter feed called The Joinery, run by a young enthusiast who has collected a great many of these carpentry books. He's used them, in combination with mechanical design software skills presumably honed in his career in the auto industry, to create elegantly animated visual explanations of Japanese carpentry's tried-and-true joinery methods.

Archdaily points to the work of architect Shigeru Ban as one example of how this "uniquely Japanese wood aesthetic" has survived into the modern day, but the man behind The Joinery imagines even more ambitious possibilities: "3D printing and woodworking machinery has enabled us to create complicated forms fairly easily," he tells Spoon & Tamago. "I want to organize all the joinery techniques and create a catalog of them all," so that anyone with the tools might potentially make use of their beauty and sturdiness in hitherto unimagined new contexts. And so another traditional Japanese craft that has looked doomed to outmoded oblivion, what with all the more advanced and efficient fabrication and construction techniques developed over the past 1400 years, may well thrive in the future. To learn more about the art of joinery, you'll want to explore this 1995 book, The Complete Japanese Joinery.

via ArchDaily

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

Roman Architecture: A Free Online Course from Yale University

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Image by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

Taught by Yale professor Diana E. E. Kleiner, this course offers "an introduction to the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire, with an emphasis on urban planning and individual monuments and their decoration, including mural painting."

The course description continues: "While architectural developments in Rome, Pompeii, and Central Italy are highlighted, the course also provides a survey of sites and structures in what are now North Italy, Sicily, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and North Africa. The lectures are illustrated with over 1,500 images, many from Professor Kleiner's personal collection."

You can watch the 24 lectures from the course above, or find them on YouTube and iTunes. To get more information on the course, including the syllabus, please visit Yale's website.

Texts used in this course include:

Roman Architecture will be added to our collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities. Find more courses focused on the Ancient world here.

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What Does Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel” Look Like? An Accurate Illustration Created with 3D Modeling Software

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Sketchup renderings of the Library of Babel. Images courtesy of Jamie Zawinski.

Fulfilling the maxim “write what you know,” Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges penned one of his most extraordinary and bewildering stories, “The Library of Babel,” while employed as an assistant librarian. Borges, it has been noted—by Borges himself in his 1970 New Yorker essay “Autobiographical Notes”—found the work dreary and unfulfilling: “nine years of solid unhappiness,” as he put it plainly. “Sometimes in the evening, as I walked the ten blocks to the tramline, my eyes would be filled with tears.”

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And yet, for all of its tedium, his library position suited his needs as a writer like none other could. “I would do all my library work in the first hour,” he remembers, “and then steal away to the basement and pass the other five hours in reading or writing.” During those stolen hours, Borges dreamed up a library the size of the universe, “composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.” Like so many of the objects and places in Borges’ stories, this fantastic structure, Escher-like, is both vividly described and impossible to imagine.

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Many have tried their hand at visually rendering the Library of Babel, but according to programmer Jamie Zawinski, “past attempts,” writes Carey Dunne at Hyperallergic, “aren’t faithful to the text,” omitting crucial structures like the “sleep chamber, lavatory, and hallway” and screwing up “the placement of the spiral stairway.” You can see Zawinski’s various critiques of these supposed failures on his blog, JWZ. And you may wonder how it’s even possible to construct an accurate model of a structure that may have no finite boundaries and whose internal architecture the story itself calls into question. Nonetheless, Zawinski has boldly given it a try.

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Using the 3D modeling program Sketchup, he has designed what he believes to be a model superior to the rest, though he admits “I don’t think this is quite right either.” If you’re wondering “Why is he doing this?” Zawinski writes, “you and I have that in common.” The Borgesian task, like that of the librarian, is an endless one, pursued with scholastic rigor for its own sake rather than for some great reward. And once one enters the labyrinth of his twisting designs, there may be no way out but eternally through. “The possibility of a man’s finding his Vindication,” writes Borges wearily of certain librarians' attempts to solve the library's riddles, “or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero.”

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So Zawinski trudges on. His “wrestling with the details of his rendering," writes Dunne, "his obsessive analysis of the wording of Borges’ description, recalls the library inhabitants’ futile quests to decipher the mysteries of the library.” The programmer’s admirable attention to the physics of the space may at times sound like a rather leaden way to approach what is essentially an elaborate metaphor: “I can’t help but think about the weight and pressure of a column of air that high,” he muses in his initial explorations, “and what is it sitting on, and how to route the plumbing from all of those toilets, and that toilets imply digestion, so where does the food come from?”

Such questions take him far afield of Borges’ theo-philosophical parable: “Is there a section of the library devoted to farming, and metallurgy?” Nonetheless, Zawinski’s detailed analysis has produced a visualization of the space like none other, and he admits to “overthinking a sub-infinite but nearly boundless hill of beans.” Borges’ imaginary librarian has abandoned trying to solve the library's mysteries. Humbled by the failures of those who came before him, he persists in the “elegant hope” that the library “is unlimited and cyclical... repeated in the same disorder... which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order.” He wisely leaves the ultimate metaphysical discovery, however, to “an eternal traveler" with infinite time on their hands.

You can view Zawinski’s commentary here, and see his designs here. On the bottom of this page, he lets you download his Sketchup file.

via Hyperallergic

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

Frank Lloyd Wright Designs an Urban Utopia: See His Hand-Drawn Sketches of Broadacre City (1932)

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As much as we admire buildings designed by genius architects, we have to admit that — sometimes, just sometimes — those genius architects themselves can be control freaks. These tendencies manifest with a special clarity when a maker of individual structures turns his mind toward building, or knocking down and re-building, the city as a whole. The Cartesian grid of lookalike towers on the green of Le Corbusier's Radiant City stand (or rather, the project having gone unbuilt, don't stand) as perhaps the best-known image of urbanism re-envisioned to suit a single architect's desires. In response, Frank Lloyd Wright came up with an urban Utopia of his own: Broadacre City.

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"Imagine spacious landscaped highways," Wright wrote in 1932, "giant roads, themselves great architecture, pass public service stations, no longer eyesores, expanded to include all kinds of service and comfort. They unite and separate — separate and unite the series of diversified units, the farm units, the factory units, the roadside markets, the garden schools, the dwelling places (each on its acre of individually adorned and cultivated ground), the places for pleasure and leisure.


All of these units so arranged and so integrated that each citizen of the future will have all forms of production, distribution, self improvement, enjoyment, within a radius of a hundred and fifty miles of his home now easily and speedily available by means of his car or plane." 

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Those words appeared in The Disappearing City, a sort of manifesto about Wright's hope for the industrial metropolis of the early 20th century: that it would go away. He "hated cities," writes The New Yorker's Morgan Meis. "He thought that they were cramped and crowded, stupidly designed, or, more often, built without any sense of design at all." Visitors to 2014's Museum of Modern Art exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright and the City could behold not just Wright's sketches of Broadacre City but a twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot model of the (to the architect) ideal place, a re-thinking of the urban with the sensibilities of the rural. Almost eighty years before, 40,000 visitors to Rockefeller Center who first saw the model saw it emblazoned with such straightforward declarations as "No slum," "No Scum," and "No traffic problems."

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Nelson Rockefeller supported the idea of Broadacre city, as did Albert Einstein and John Dewey, all of whom signed a petition Wright passed around in its favor in 1943. But "even in the 1930s, urban planners were disgusted by Broadacre," writes Next City's Katherine Don. "Its philosophy was deeply individualistic; its layout was conspicuously wasteful. Liberals of the time who emulated the socialist spirit of Europe classified Wright as an anti-government eccentric, which indeed he was." Matt Novak at Paleofuture describes Wright's utopia as "ultimately an extension of the things that made him personally comfortable: open spaces, the automobile, and not surprisingly, the architect as master controller."

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Image courtesy of MoMA

Though Wright and Le Corbusier "shared an interest in dismantling the recognizable urban fabric, they had different ideas about what should replace it," writes City Journal's Anthony Paletta. The architect of Fallingwater thought it best for the city "not to be rationalized but to be pastoralized. Urban ills were to be diluted by ample helpings of prairie soil." By the time he died in 1958, a sprawling postwar America had wholeheartedly adopted his “new standard of space measurement — the man seated in his automobile.” But nothing as techno-pastoral paradisiacal as a Broadacre ever came into being, and indeed, the suburbs turned out to grow in a fashion even more haphazard and irrational than the one that so disgusted him in traditional cities. Then again, a true perfectionist — and a true artist — must grow accustomed to such disappointments.

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

French Artist Creates Digital Street Art in the Sky

We humans are a quarrelsome lot. But one thing that unites us is the time spent on our backs, gazing at clouds for the pleasure of identifying whatever objects they may fleetingly resemble.

It’s a very relaxing activity.

I was surprised there’s an actual, medical name for it: pareidolia, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful, image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”

Thomas Lamadieu, the artist whose work is showcased above, has a different, but not wholly unrelated condition.

A photo posted by Artzop® (@artzop) on

Most of us prefer to contemplate the heavens in a bucolic setting. Lamadieu’s art compels him to look upwards from a more urban landscape. The tops of the buildings hemming him in supply with irregularly shaped frames, which he captures using a fish eye lens. Later, he fills them in with Microsoft Paint drawings, which frequently feature a bearded man whose t-shirt is striped in sky blue. Negative space, not Crayola, supplies the color here.

Think of it as street art in the sky.

Not every day can be a brilliant azure, but it hardly matters when even Lamadieu’s grayest views exhibit a determined playfulness. It takes a very unique sort of eye to tease a pink nippled, stripe-limbed bunny from a steely UK sky.

Like many street artists, he takes a global approach, traveling the world in search of giant unclaimed canvases. His portfolio contains vistas originally captured in Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany, Spain, Austria, Canada, Belgium, and the United States, as well as his native France.

“The bearded man in my images stands for the sky itself,” he told The Independent, adding that his is a wholly secular vision.

View a gallery of Lamadieu’s sky art here.

h/t to reader Alan Goldwasser

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

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