Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

In 2001 or 2002, guitarist and singer David Gilmour of Pink Floyd recorded a musical interpretation of William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" at his home studio aboard the historic, 90-foot houseboat the Astoria. This video of Gilmour singing the sonnet was released as an extra on the 2002 DVD David Gilmour in Concert, but the song itself is connected with When Love Speaks, a 2002 benefit album for London's Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts.

The project was organized by the composer and conductor Michael Kamen, who died a little more than a year after the album was released. When Love Speaks features a mixture of dramatic and musical performances of Shakespeare's Sonnets and other works, with artists ranging from John Gielgud to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.




Kamen wrote much of the music for the project, including the arrangement for Sonnet 18, which is sung on the album by Bryan Ferry. A special benefit concert to celebrate the release of the album was held on February 10, 2002 at the Old Vic Theatre in London, but Ferry did not attend. Gilmour appeared and sang the sonnet in his place. It was apparently around that time that Gilmour recorded his own vocal track for Kamen's song.

"Sonnet 18" is perhaps the most famous of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. It was written in about 1595, and most scholars now agree the poem is addressed to a man. The sonnet is composed in iambic pentameter, with three rhymed quatrains followed by a concluding couplet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

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Philip K. Dick Tarot Cards: A Tarot Deck Modeled After the Visionary Sci-Fi Writer’s Inner World

What does Philip K. Dick have in common with Jorge Luis Borges, Hermann Hesse, and John Cage? Fans of all three twentieth-century visionaries will have much to say on the matter of what deep resonances exist between their bodies of work and the worldviews that produced them. But they can't overlook the fact that Dick, Borges, Hesse, and Cage all, at one time or another, enthusiastically consulted the ancient Chinese divination text known as the I Ching. Also known as The Book of Changes, it became a must-have countercultural volume in the 1960s, and the words of guidance it provided, in all their openness to interpretation, surely influenced no small number of decisions made in that era.

What the I Ching had to say certainly influenced the decisions of Philip K. Dick, in life as well as in writing. Not only did he use the book to write The Man in the High Castle, his 1962 novel portraying a world in which the Axis powers won World War II, he also included it as a plot element in the story itself.

And speaking of alternate histories, we might ask: could Dick have written The Man in the High Castle without the I Ching? Or could he have written it using another divination tool, perhaps one from the West rather than the East? What would the novel have looked like if written while harnessing the perceptive power of tarot, the 15th-century European card game whose decks also have a long history as windows onto human destiny?

Recently the world of tarot, the world of the I Ching, and the world of Philip K. Dick collided, resulting in The Fool's Journey of Philip K. Dick, a tarot deck published by Wide Books. "PKD scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey have brought together a new vision of tarot and the great works of Philip K. Dick," says Wide Books' site. "Ideal for advanced students of tarot as well as novices to the I Ching," the deck "takes the seeker through an initiation into the life and writings of one of the greatest writers of recent times." In addition to its 80 cards, each drawing from some element of Dick's body of work, the deck includes "four rule cards for two I Ching inspired card games and an eight-sided folding booklet about tarot as Gnostic Allegory, with beginning exercises contrasting tarot to the I Ching."

Two of the games pay tribute to particular Dick novels: A Maze of Death and its "domino-type game" that "familiarizes players with the trigrams of which I Ching hexagrams are composed," and Ubik, which has "players either hoping to avoid accumulating entropy or trying to capture all the energy you can from the deck and other players to be the last standing at the end of the game." If that sounds like a good time to you, you'll have to register your interest in ordering a copy of The Fool's Journey of Philip K. Dick on Wide Books' contact form, since the initial run has sold out. That won't come as a surprise to Dick's fans, who know the addictive power of one glimpse into his inner world, with its rich mixture of the supernatural, the scientific, the paranormal, and the paranoid. But what kind of books will they use his tarot deck to write?

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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.

Take a Virtual Tour of Jane Austen’s Library

Jane Austen read voraciously and as widely as she could in her circumscribed life. Even so, she told her niece Caroline, she wished she had “read more and written less” in her formative years. Her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh made clear that no matter how much she read, her work was far more than the sum of her reading: “It was not,” he wrote in his 1870 biography, “what she knew, but what she was, that distinguished her from others.” What she was not, however, was the owner of a great library.

Members of Austen’s family were well-off, but she herself lived on modest means and never made enough from writing to become financially independent. She owned books, of course, but not many. Books were expensive, and most people borrowed them from lending libraries. Nonetheless, scholars have been able to piece together an extensive list of books Austen supposedly read—books mentioned in her letters, novels, and an 1817 biographical note written by her brother Henry in her posthumously published Northanger Abbey.




Austen read contemporary male and female novelists. She read histories, the poetry of Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, Cowper, and Sir Walter Scott, and novels written by family members. She read Chaucer, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Spencer, and Wollstonecraft. She read ancients and modern. “Despite her desire to have ‘read more” in her youth,” write Austen scholars Gillian Down and Katie Halsey, “recent scholarship has established that the range of Austen’s reading was far wider and deeper than either Henry or James Edward suggest.”

Austen may not have had a large library of her own, but she did have access to the handsome collection at Godmersham Park, the home of her brother Edward Austen Knight. “For a total of ten months spread over fifteen years,” Rebecca Rego Barry writes at Lapham’s Quarterly, “Austen visited her brother at his Kent estate. The brimming bookshelves at Godmersham Park were a particular draw for the novelist.” In the last eight years of her life, Jane lived with her mother and sister Cassandra at Edward’s Chawton estate, in a villa that had its own library.

Reconstructing these shelves show us the books Austen would have regularly had in view, though scholars must use other evidence to show which books she read. In 2009, Down and Halsey curated an exhibition focused on her reading at Chawton. Ten years later, we can see the library at Godmersham Park recreated in a virtual version made jointly by Chawton House and McGill University’s Burney Center.

Called “Reading with Austen,” the interactive site lets us to navigate three book-lined walls of the library. “Users can hover over the shelves and click on any of the antique books,” writes Barry, “summoning bibliographic data and available photos of pertinent title pages, bookplates, and marginalia. Digging deeper, one can peruse a digital copy of the book and determine the whereabouts of the original.”

These volumes are what we might expect from an English country gentleman: books of law and agriculture, historical registers, travelogues, political theory, and classical Latin. There is also Shakespeare, Swift, and Voltaire, Austen’s own novels, and some of the contemporary fiction she particularly loved. The Burney Center “tried,” says director Peter Sabor, “to imagine Jane Austen actually walking around the library…. We’re basically looking over her shoulder as she looks at the bookshelf.” It’s not exactly quite like that at all, but the project can give us a sense of how much Austen treasured libraries.

She wrote about libraries as a sign of luxury. In an early unfinished novel, "Catherine," she has a furious character exclaim in reproach, "I gave you the key to my own Library, and borrowed a great many good books of my Neighbors for you." Austen may have feared losing library and lending access, and she longed for a kingdom of books all her own. During her final visit to Godmersham Park in 1813, she wrote to her sister, “I am now alone in the Library, Mistress of all I survey.”

Try to imagine how she might have felt as you peruse the library’s haphazardly arranged contents. Consider which of these books she might have read and which she might have shelved and why. Enter the "Reading with Austen" library project here.

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

Toni Morrison Deconstructs White Supremacy in America

Toni Morrison wrote against forgetting, against the institutionalization of denial necessary for maintaining racial hierarchies in the United States. But that denial is not sufficient, she also showed. Racism always falls back on brutality when confronted with change, no matter that the past will not return except to haunt us. This reality has driven a significant percentage of Americans (back) into the arms of white supremacist ideology, espoused equally by politicians and armed “loners” in networks on Facebook or YouTube or 8chan.

In a short essay for The New Yorker after the 2016 election, Morrison displayed little surprise at the turn of events. The language of white supremacy, she wrote, is a language of cowardice disguised as dominance. “These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.” A fear so great, it has brought back public lynching, with high-capacity semiautomatic weapons.

What did Morrison think of the idea that racist mass shootings are the acts of random mentally ill people? She did not offer a medical opinion, nor presume to diagnose particular individuals. She did say that racism is seriously disordered thinking, and she suggested that if racist killers are “crazy,” so are the millions who tacitly approve and support racist violence, or who spur it on by repeating rhetoric that dehumanizes people.

In the clip above from a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, Morrison says “those who practice racism are bereft. There is something distorted about the psyche…. It’s like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy, it is crazy.” Some may reasonably take issue with this as stigmatizing, but it seems she is neither scapegoating the mentally ill, nor absolving racists of responsibility.

Morrison points out that despite (and because of) its lofty delusions, white supremacy makes things worse for everyone, white people very much included. It succeeds because the belief in “whiteness” as a category of specialness covers up deep-seated insecurity and doubt. “What are you without racism?” she asks. “Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself?”

In her masterful way, Morrison showed us how to have empathy for people in the grip of hatred and fear without diluting the consequences of their actions. She pitied racists but never gave an inch to racism. Tragically, her 2016 essay, “Mourning for Whiteness,” is making the rounds for reasons other than in tribute to its author, one of the country's greatest writers and one of its most unflinchingly candid.

In the days before her death yesterday at age 88, Americans were once again, “training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets." Morrison dares us to look away from this:

In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change, and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing, and, to do so, they are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice. Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. 

Ending with a reference to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, she summed up the state of the nation in one deft sentence: “Rather than lose its ‘whiteness’ (once again), the family chooses murder.”

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

Joyce Carol Oates Teaches a New Online Course on the Art of the Short Story

How on Earth does Joyce Carol Oates do it? Since her debut 56 years ago she has put out 58 novels, not to mention her poetry, plays, nonfiction, diaries, and thousands — literally thousands — of short stories. (In recent years, she's also written no small number of tweets.) But though she's spent decades with the adjective prolific attached to her name, none of us would know her name in the first place if her work had nothing more distinctive about it than its sheer volume. No matter how much a writer writes, all is for naught if that writing doesn't make an impact. The question of how to make that impact, in several senses of the word, lies at the heart of Oates' new online course offered through Masterclass.

"The most powerful writing often comes from confronting taboos," Oates says in the course's trailer above. "As a writer, if one can face the darkest elements in oneself, and the things that are secret, you have such a feeling of power." The truth of that comes through in any of Oates' novels, but also in her shorter works of fiction, even the early stories that make up her very first book, 1963's collection By the North Gate.




We might call her one of the writers whose short stories offer distillations of their sensibilities, and so it makes sense that her Masterclass focuses on "the Art of the Short Story." Its fourteen lessons cover such aspects of short-story writing as drafting, revising, and sharing; observing the world with a journal; and of course, "exploring taboo and darkness."

Oates draws examples from her own vast body of work, of course, including her much-reprinted short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" But she also examines the writing of such predecessors as Virginia Woolf, William Carlos Williams, and Ernest Hemingway, as well as stories written by the two students who appear in the class videos. This is as close as most of us will ever get to being workshopped by Joyce Carol Oates, and if that appeals to you, you can take her Masterclass for $90 USD or buy the all-access pass to every course on the site (including courses taught by novelists like Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman) for $15 per month. But be warned that, however daunting the prospect of tapping into one's own dark memories and forbidden thoughts, the question of how Oates does it has another, potentially more frightening answer: eight hours a day.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Hear Toni Morrison (RIP) Present Her Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech on the Radical Power of Language (1993)

Note: We woke this morning to the news that Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author, has died at age 88. We will pay proper tribute to her in upcoming posts. Below find a favorite from our archive, a look inside her poetic 1993 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Since her first novel, 1970’s The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison has dazzled readers with her commanding language—colloquial, magical, magisterial, even fanciful at times, but held firm to the earth by a commitment to history and an unsparing exploration of racism, sexual abuse, and violence. Reading Morrison can be an exhilarating experience, and a harrowing one. We never know where she is going to take us. But the journey for Morrison has never been one of escapism or art for art’s sake. In a 1981 interview, she once said, “the books I wanted to write could not be only, even merely, literary or I would defeat my purposes, defeat my audience.” As she put it then, “my work bears witness and suggests who the outlaws were, who survived under what circumstances and why.”

She has sustained such a weighty mission not only with a love of language, but also with a critical understanding of its power—to seduce, to manipulate, confound, wound, twist, and kill. Which brings us to the recorded speech above, delivered in 1993 at her acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature. After briefly thanking the Swedish Academy and her audience, she begins, “Fiction has never been entertainment for me.” Winding her speech around a parable of “an old woman, blind but wise,” Morrison illustrates the ways in which “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.”




Another kind of language takes flight, “surges toward knowledge, not its destruction.” In the folktale at the center of her speech, language is a bird, and the blind seer to whom it is presented gives us a choice: “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.”

Language, she suggests, is in fact our only human power, and our responsibility. The consequences of its misuse we know all too well, and Morrison does not hesitate to name them. But she ends with a challenge for her audience, and for all of us, to take our own meager literary resources and put them to use in healing the damage done. You should listen to, and read, her entire speech, with its maze-like turns and folds. Near its end, the discursiveness flowers into exhortation, and—though she has said she dislikes having her work described thus—poetry. “Make up a story,” she says, “Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created.”

We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon's hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly -- once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and the light. Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation

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

Discover Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A Beautiful Digital Edition of the Poet’s Collection of Pressed Plants & Flowers Is Now Online

So many writers have been gardeners and have written about gardens that it might be easier to make a list of those who didn’t. But even in this crowded company, Emily Dickinson stands out. She not only attended the fragile beauty of flowers with an artist’s eye—before she’d written any of her famous verse—but she did so with the keen eye of a botanist, a field of work then open to anyone with the leisure, curiosity, and creativity to undertake it.

“In an era when the scientific establishment barred and bolted its gates to women,” Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova writes, “botany allowed Victorian women to enter science through the permissible backdoor of art.”




In Dickinson’s case, this involved the pressing of plants and flowers in an herbarium, preserving their beauty, and in some measure, their color for over 150 years. The Harvard Gazette describes this very fragile book, made available in 2006 in a full-color digital facsimile on the Harvard Library site:

Assembled in a patterned green album bought from the Springfield stationer G. & C. Merriam, the herbarium contains 424 specimens arranged on 66 leaves and delicately attached with small strips of paper. The specimens are either native plants, plants naturalized to Western Massachusetts, where Dickinson lived, or houseplants. Every page is accompanied by a transcription of Dickinson’s neat handwritten labels, which identifies each plant by its scientific name.

The book is thought to have been finished by the time she was 14 years old. Long part of Harvard’s Houghton Library collection, it has also long been treated as too fragile for anyone to view. The only access has come in the form of grainy, black and white photographs. For the past few years, however, scholars and lovers of Dickinson’s work have been able to see the herbarium in these stunning reproductions.

The pages are so formally composed they look like paintings from a distance. Though mostly unknown as a poet in her life, Dickinson was locally renowned in Amherst as a gardener and “expert plant identifier,” notes Sara C. Ditsworth. The herbarium may or may not offer a window of insight into Dickinson’s literary mind. Houghton Library curator Leslie A. Morris, who wrote the forward to the facsimile edition, seems skeptical. “I think that you could read a lot into the herbarium if you wanted to,” she says, “but you have no way of knowing.”

And yet we do. It may be impossible to separate Dickinson the gardener and botanist from Dickinson the poet and writer. As Ditsworth points out, “according to Judith Farr, author of The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, one-third of Dickinson’s poems and half of her letters mention flowers. She refers to plants almost 600 times,” including 350 references to flowers. Both her herbarium and her poetry can be situated within the 19th century “language of flowers,” a sentimental genre that Dickinson made her own, with her elliptical entwining of passion and secrecy.

The first two specimens in Dickinson’s herbarium are the jasmine and the privet: “You have jasmine for poetry and passion” in the language of flowers, Morris points out, “and privet,” a hedge plant, “for privacy.” There is no need to see this arrangement as a prediction of the future from the teenage botanist Dickinson. Did she plan from adolescence to become a recluse poet in later life? Perhaps not. But we can certainly “read into” the language of her herbarium some of the same great themes that recur over and over in her work, carried across by images of plants and flowers. See Dickinson’s complete herbarium at Harvard Library’s digital collections here, or purchase a (very expensive) facsimile edition of the book here.

via BrainPickings

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

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