MIT Is Digitizing a Huge Archive of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures, Papers and Other Documents & Will Put Them Online

If you’re a linguist, you’ve read Noam Chomsky—no way of getting around that. There may be reasons to disagree with Chomsky’s linguistic theories but—as Newton’s theories do in physics—his breakthroughs represent a paradigmatic shift in the study of language, an implicit or explicit reference point for nearly every linguistic analysis in the past few decades.

If you’re on the political left, you’ve read Chomsky, or you should. Even if there are significant reasons to disagree with whatever controversial stance he’s taken over the years, few political theorists have approached their subject with the degree of doggedness, intellectual integrity, and erudition as he has. Chomsky began his second career as a political activist and philosopher in the late sixties, speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam war. Since then, he’s written majorly influential works on mass media propaganda, Cold War politics and interventionist war, economic imperialism, anarchism, etc.

Now an emeritus professor from MIT, where he began teaching in 1955, and a laureate professor at the University of Arizona, Chomsky has reached that stage in every public intellectual’s career when archivists and curators begin consolidating a documentary legacy. Librarians at MIT started doing so a few years ago when, in 2012, the MIT Libraries Institute Archives received over 260 boxes of Chomsky’s personal papers. You can hear the man himself discuss the archive’s importance in the short interview at the top. And at the MIT Library site unBox Chomsky Archive, you’ll find slideshow previews of its contents.

Those contents include the 1953 paper “Systems of Syntactic Analysis,” which “appears to be Chomsky’s first foray in print of what would become transformational generative grammar.” Also archived are notes from a 1984 talk on “Manufacturing Consent” given at Rutgers University, outlining the ideas Chomsky and Edward S. Herman would fully explore in the 1988 book of the same name on “the political economy of the mass media.” And in the category of “activism,” we find materials like the newsletter below, published by an anti-war organization Chomsky co-founded in the 60s called RESIST.

MIT hopes to “digitize the hundreds of thousands of pieces” in the collection, “to make it accessible to the public.” Such a massive undertaking exceeds the library’s budget, so they have asked for financial support. At unBoxing the Chomsky Archive, you can make a donation, or just peruse the slideshow previews and consider the legacy of one of the U.S.’s most formidable living scientific and political thinkers.

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

Hamilton Mania Inspires the Library of Congress to Put 12,000 Alexander Hamilton Documents Online

Remember when bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson seemed like a shoe in for Best Sepulchral Historical Figure Brought Back to Life by an American Musical?

Alas for the 7th President, a little juggernaut called Hamilton came along, and just like that, it was the first Treasury Secretary and author of the Federalist Papers who had a fan base on the order of Beatlemania.

Teachers, historians, and librarians thrilled to reports of kids singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack. Playwright and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s clever rap lyrics ensured that young Hamilfans (and their parents, who reportedly were never allowed to listen to anything else in the car) would become well versed in their favorite founding father’s personal and professional history.




Out of town visitors who spend upwards of a month’s grocery budget for Broadway tickets voluntarily side trip way uptown to tour Hamilton Grange. The insatiable selfie imperative drives them to Central Park and Museum of the City of New York in search of larger than life sculptures. They take the PATH train to Weehawken to pay their respects in the spot where Hamilton was felled by Aaron Burr

Hamilton merchandise, needless to say, is selling briskly. Books, t-shirts, jewelry, bobble heads commemorative mugs…

The Library of Congress is not out to cash in on this cultural moment in the monetary sense. But "given the increased interest in Hamilton," says Julie Miller, a curator of early American manuscripts, it's no accident that the Library has taken pains to digitize 12,000 Hamilton documents and make them available on the web. The collection includes speeches, a draft of the Reynolds Pamphlet, financial accounts, school exercises and correspondence, both personal and public, encompassing such marquee names as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

One need not be a musical theater fan to appreciate the emotion of the letter he wrote to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on the eve of his fateful duel with Aaron Burr:

I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. . . . Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.

Explore the Library of Congress’ Hamilton collection here.

And enter the online lottery for $10 Hamilton tickets because, hey, somebody’s got to win.

via Theater Mania

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

Bertrand Russell Writes an Artful Letter, Stating His Refusal to Debate British Fascist Leader Oswald Mosley (1962)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

Changing the minds of others has never counted among humanity's easiest tasks, and it seems only to have become an ever-stiffer challenge as history has ground along. Increasingly many, as Yale professor David Bromwich recently argued in the London Review of Books"have had no practice in using words to influence people unlike themselves. That is an art that can be lost. It depends on a quantum of accidental communication that is missing in a life of organised contacts." We might find ourselves in reasonably fruitful debates with basically like-minded friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet, but can we ever convince, or be convinced by, someone truly different from us?

Bertrand Russell doubted it. In 1962, long before the structures of the internet allowed us to build tighter echo chambers than ever before, the Nobel-winning philosopher "received a series of letters from an unlikely correspondent — Sir Oswald Mosley, who had founded the British Union of Fascists thirty years earlier," writes Brain Pickings' Maria Popova.




"Mosley was inviting — or, rather, provoking — Russell to engage in a debate, in which he could persuade the moral philosopher of the merits of fascism." Even at the age of 89, with little time and much else to do, Russell declined with the utmost force and clarity in a piece of correspondence featured on Letters of Note:

Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell

Russell passed on eight years later, in 1970, and Mosley a decade thereafter. "His final message to the British people appeared in a letter to the New Statesman written only a week earlier," remembers journalist Hugh Purcell in that newspaper. It concerned an article's description of the "Olympia rally," the 1934 debacle that lost the British Union of Fascists much of what public support it enjoyed. "The largest audience ever seen at that time assembled to fill the Olympia hall and hear the speech," Mosley insisted. "A small minority determined by continuous shouting to prevent my speech being heard. After due warning our stewards removed with their bare hands men among whom were some armed with such weapons as razors and knives. The audience were then able to listen to a speech which lasted for nearly two hours."

The New Statesmen, printing Mosley's letter posthumously, ran it under this introduction: "Throughout his life he was intent on persuading people that their view of history was mistaken." Despite his unceasing efforts, he ultimately persuaded few — and it would hardly have required as keen an observer as Russell to see that someone like Mosley certainly wasn't about to let himself be persuaded by anyone else.

via Letters of Note/Brain Pickings and The Bertrand Russell Archives, McMaster University Library

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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.

“Stop It and Just DO”: Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Advice on Overcoming Creative Blocks, Written by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)


A quick fyi: this video is a little not safe for work.

You know you want to create something, but how on Earth to get it out of your mind and into reality? Sometimes you simply can't see the way forward, a situation in which every creator finds themselves sooner or later. When the sculptor Eva Hesse hit a creative block in 1965, she wrote of her problem to a close friend, the conceptual artist Sol Lewitt. He emphatically suggested that she "just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder," and furthermore that she stop

wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just

DO

You can read Lewitt's reply in full, which offers much more colorful advice and supporting verbiage besides (as well as a far bolder "DO" than HTML can render), at Letters of Note. Though personally tailored to Hesse and her distinctive sensibilities, Lewitt's suggestions also show the potential for wider application: "Try and tickle something inside you, your 'weird humor.'" "Don't worry about cool, make your own uncool." "If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety." "Practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty." "Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT."




Though all this has plenty of impact on the page, it has an entirely different kind when performed by actor (and champion letter-reader) Benedict Cumberbatch, as seen and heard in the Letters Live video above. Putting on a not-overdone New York accent, the English star of Sherlock and The Imitation Game delivers with all necessary force Lewitt's advice to "leave the 'world' and 'ART' alone and also quit fondling your ego," to "empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing," to know "that you don't have to justify your work — not even to yourself." Be warned that this creative coaching session does gets a little NSFW at times, but then, so do some of the finest works of art — and so do the truths we need to hear to make them.

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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.

Listen to a Marathon Reading of Elie Wiesel’s Night

A couple of weeks ago on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a diverse group gathered for a marathon reading of Night, Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his youthful experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The event was organized in part by the National Yiddish Theatre---fitting given that Night was originally written in Yiddish, though first published in French. The theater’s artistic director and several actors from past productions claimed several of the reading slots, but left more than sixty to be filled by participants from an intentionally broad pool.

There were rabbis and Broadway performers, a New Yorker writer, the Consul General of Germany, and the Hungarian Ambassador to the UN...

Students and educators…

A number of Holocaust survivors…

Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Wiesel’s grown son, Elisha, who observed:

At a time when this country is feeling so divided, when so much negativity is circulating about those who are different from ourselves — those who have different ethnicities, religions or even different political leanings — my father’s words are an important reminder of the dangers of the ‘us versus them’ mentality.

It took the volunteer readers a little over four hours to get through the slim volume, which shows up on many American high schools' required reading lists.

The free event was co-sponsored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage---A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, whose location in lower Manhattan was quite convenient to another important event taking place that day---an interfaith rally to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from 7 countries, suspending entry for all refugees for a period of four months, and calling for “extreme vetting” screenings.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

- Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December, 1986

h/t Jeff N.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Albert Camus’ Touching Thank You Letter to His Elementary School Teacher

It’s never too late to thank the teacher who changed your life.

Oprah Winfrey fell to pieces when she was reunited on air with Mrs. Duncan, her fourth grade teacher, her "first liberator" and “validator.”

Patrick Stewart used his knighthood ceremony as an occasion to thank Cecil Dormand, the English teacher who told him that Shakespeare’s works were not dramatic poems, but plays to be performed on one’s feet.




And Bill Gates had kind words for Blanche Caffiere, the former librarian at View Ridge Elementary in Seattle, who destigmatized his role as a “messy, nerdy boy who was reading lots of books.”

One of the most heartfelt student-to-teacher tributes is that of Nobel Prize-winning author and philosopher Albert Camus to Louis Germain, a father substitute whose classroom was a welcome reprieve from the extreme poverty Camus experienced at home. Germain persuaded Camus’ widowed mother to allow Camus to compete for the scholarship that enabled him to attend high school.

As read aloud by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, above, at Letters Live, a “celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence,” Camus’ 1957 message to Germain is an exercise in humility and simply stated gratitude:

Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.

I don't make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

The letter was gratefully received by his former teacher, who wrote back a year and a half later to say in part:

If it were possible, I would squeeze the great boy whom you have become, and who will always remain for me "my little Camus.”

He complimented his little Camus on not letting fame go to his head, and urged him to continue making his family priority. He shared some fond memories of Camus as a gentle, optimistic, intellectually curious little fellow, and praised his mother for doing her best in difficult circumstances.

Readers, please use the comments section to share with us the teachers deserving of your thanks.

You can find this letter, and many more, in the great Letters of Note book.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Richard Feynman’s Poignant Letter to His Departed Wife Arline: Watch Actor Oscar Isaac Read It Live Onstage

Media vita in morte sumus, goes the medieval line of poetry that lent the English Book of Common Prayer its most memorable expression: “In the midst of life we are in death.” The remainder of the poem extrapolates a theology from this observation, something one can only take on faith. But whatever way we dress up the mystery of death, it remains ever-present and inevitable. Yet we might think of the motto as a palindrome: In the midst of death, we are in life. The dead remain with us, for as long as we live and remember them. This is also a mystery.

Even theoretical physicists must confront the presence of the departed, and few scientists—few writers—have done so with as much poignancy, directness, eloquence, and humor as Richard Feynman, in a letter to his wife Arline written over a year after she died of tuberculosis at age 25. Feynman, himself only 28 years old at the time, sealed the letter, written in 1946, until his own death in 1988. “Please excuse my not mailing this,” he wrote with bitter humor in the postscript, “but I don’t know your new address.” Even in the midst of his profound grief, Feynman’s wit sparkles. It is not a performance for us, his posthumous readers. It is simply the way he had always written—in letter after letter—to Arline.

In the video above, Oscar Isaac, who has embodied many a wisecracking romantic, gives voice to the longing and pain of Feynman’s letter, in which the physicist confesses, “I thought there was no sense to writing.” Somehow, he could not help but do so, ending with starkly ambivalent truths he was unable to reconcile with what he colloquially calls his “realistic” nature: “You only are left to me. You are real.... I love my wife. My wife is dead.” Read the full letter below, via Letters of Note. For more from their Letters Live series, see Benedict Cumberbatch read Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the school that banned his novel Slaughterhouse Five.

October 17, 1946

D’Arline,

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes.

You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Rich.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address

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