Stream Indie Cindy, the Pixies’ First Album in 23 Years

A quick fyi: Indie Cindy, the Pixies’ first album since 1991, will be released on April 29th. But thanks to NPR’s First Listen site, you can stream the entire LP online for free, for a limited time. Though the band might not sound the same without Kim Deal, Pixies fans will instantly recognize the “disarming beauty nestled against dissonant snarls.” Above, you can listen to the album’s title track. Here you can stream the entire album or the individual tracks – or pre-order it on iTunes or over at Amazon.

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Slavoj Žižek: What Fullfils You Creatively Isn’t What Makes You Happy

While theorist and provocateur Slavoj Žižek tends to get characterized—especially in a recent, testy exchange with Noam Chomsky—as obscurantist and muddle-headed, I’ve always found him quite readable, especially when compared to his mentor, psychoanalytic philosopher Jacques Lacan. As an interpreter of Lacan’s theories, Žižek always does his reader the courtesy of providing specific, concrete examples to anchor the theoretical jargon (where Lacan gives us pseudo-mathematical symbols). In the short Big Think clip above, Žižek’s examples range from the history of physics to the Declaration of Independence to the familiar “male chauvinist” scenario of a man, his wife, and his mistress. Žižek’s point, the point of psychoanalysis, he alleges, is that “people do not really want or desire happiness.”

This seems counterintuitive. Happiness—our own and others—is after all the goal of our loftiest endeavors, no? This seems to be the pop-psych rendition of, say, Maslow’s theory of self-actualization. But no, says Zizek, happiness is an integral part of fantasy. Like the philanderer’s mistress, the object of desire must be kept at a distance, he says. Once it is achieved, we no longer want it: “We don’t really want what we think we desire.” And in keeping with Žižek’s example of infidelity—which may or may not involve the chauvinist killing his wife—he tells us that for him, “happiness is an unethical category.” I find this statement intriguing, and persuasive, though Žižek doesn’t elaborate on it above.

He does in much of his writing however—explaining in Lacanian terms in his essay collection Interrogating the Real that our desire for something we think will bring us happiness can be construed as a kind of envy: “I desire an object only insofar as it is desired by the Other.” Furthermore, he writes, “what I desire is determined by the symbolic network within which I articulate my subjective position.” In other words, what we think we want is determined by ideology—by the cultural products we consume, the soup of mass media and advertising in which we are permanently immersed, and the political ideals we are taught to revere. What does authentic “self-actualization” look like for Slavoj Žižek? He tells us above—it means being “ready to suffer” for the creative realization of a goal: “Happiness doesn’t enter into it.”

Žižek cites the example of nuclear scientists who willingly exposed themselves to radiation poisoning in pursuit of discovery, but he could just as well have pointed to artists and writers who sacrifice comfort and pleasure for lives of profound uncertainty, religious figures who practice all kinds of austerities, or athletes who push their bodies past all ordinary limits. While there are several degrees of pleasure involved in these endeavors, it seems shallow at best to describe the goals of such people as happiness. It seems that many, if not most, of the people we admire and strive to emulate lead lives characterized by great risk—by the willingness to suffer; lives often containing little in the way of actual happiness.

Whatever stock one puts in psychoanalytic theory, it seems to me that Žižek raises some vital questions: Do we really want what we think we want, or is the “pursuit of happiness” an unethical ideological fantasy? What do you think, readers?

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In His Latest Film, Slavoj Žižek Claims “The Only Way to Be an Atheist is Through Christianity”

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

 


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Close Personal Friend: Watch a 1996 Portrait of Gen-X Definer Douglas Coupland

Whether we lived through them as kids or as grown-ups, few of us feel sure about whether we miss the 1990s. No generation did more to define the decade before last, at least in the West, than the unmoored, irony-loving, at once deeply cynical and deeply earnest “Generation X” that succeeded the wealthier, more influential Baby Boomers. No writer did more to define that generation than Douglas Coupland, the Canadian novelist, visual artist, and seer of the immediate future whose 1991 literary debut Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture gave the cohort its name. There he wrote of the twentysomethings who lived through the 1990s definitely not as kids, yet, frustratingly, not quite as grown-ups, coming haplessly to grips in the margins of a human experience that an advanced civilization had already begun detaching from supposed expectations — jobs, houses, stability, tight connection between mind and body, unquestionably “real” lived experience — of generations before.

Coupland, also a prolific sculptor (next time you get to his hometown of Vancouver, do visit the somehow always striking Digital Orca), writer of the film Everything’s Gone Green, star of the documentary Souvenir of Canada, and now the developer of a snoring-assistance smartphone app, knows a thing or two about switching media. Five years after breaking out with Generation X, he also made Close Personal Friend, the not-quite-categorizable short about technology, memory, and identity at the top of the post. In what plays as a cross between a Chris Marker-style essay film and a middle-period MTV music video, Coupland continues his career-long rumination about our “accelerated culture” and the fascinatingly empowered yet compromised human beings to which it gives rise. What does it mean in this modern, hypermediated context, he wonders, that we now wonder whether we actually have lives? “Not having a life is so common,” he says. “It’s almost become the norm. [...] People just aren’t getting their year’s worth of year anymore.”

Given our culture’s further acceleration since he spoke those words in 1996 — the world wide web as we know it having got its start just three years before — Coupland’s thoughts on the subject, whether expressed in fiction, through sculpture, or onscreen, still sound plenty relevant. Close Personal Friend, with its voidlike backdrops, video-blender editing, and scattered clips of wholesome midcentury Americana, bears the aesthetic mark of its era. Coupland’s faintly ominous talk of “FedEx, Prozac, microwave ovens, and fax machines” also time-stamps it technologically and culturally. But the observations have carried through, only growing sharper, to his latest work. Asked to imagine the “two dominant activities” of life twenty years hence, the Coupland of 1996 names “going shopping and going to jail,” pursuits he sees as now merged in his essay collection published last year, Shopping in Jail. Just above, we have a half-hour conversation between Coupland and host Jian Ghomeshi about his even newer book, a study of misanthropy in novel form called Worst. Person. Ever. In the talk, he cites “I miss my pre-internet brain,” a slogan he made up that has gained much traction in recent years. But does he really? “No,” he admits. “It was boring back then!” Close Personal Friend will be added to our collection of 675 Free Movies Online.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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The Lonely Photo of Michel Foucault with a Full Head of Hair

Foucault with Hair

When you think of Michel Foucault, it’s hard not to think of the bald head that’s so part of his persona. Do a Google image search for Foucault, and you’ll find a “profusion of pictures of Foucault’s gleaming bald head” (as Jeffrey Weinstock calls it in an article entitled “This is Not Foucault’s Head”). But, among those many images, you will find one lonely photo of Foucault with a full(ish) head of hair. It’s hard to put a date on the picture. Very likely, it was taken during the mid 1950s, right around when Foucault was 30 years old. The look he’s sporting there is very different than what we see in 1965, when he sits down to talk with Alain Badiou. Or 1971, when he debates Noam Chomsky on Dutch TV. By those later dates, Foucault had the look that became so enduring.

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Soviet Animations of Ray Bradbury Stories: ‘Here There Be Tygers’ & ‘There Will Comes Soft Rain’

Sergei Bondarchuk directed an 8-hour film adaptation of War and Peace (1966-67), which ended up winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Picture. When he was in Los Angeles as a guest of honor at a party, Hollywood royalty like John Wayne, John Ford, Billy Wilder lined up to meet the Russian filmmaker. But the only person that Bondarchuk was truly excited to meet was Ray Bradbury. Bondarchuk introduced the author to the crowd of bemused A-listers as “your greatest genius, your greatest writer!”

Ray Bradbury spent a lifetime crafting stories about robots, Martians, space travel and nuclear doom and, in the process, turned the formerly disreputable genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy into something respectable. He influenced legions of writers and filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to Francois Truffaut, who adapted his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, into a movie.

That film wasn’t the only adaptation of Bradbury’s work, of course. His writings have been turned into feature films, TV movies, radio shows and even a video game for the Commodore 64. During the waning days of the Cold War, a handful of Soviet animators demonstrated their esteem for the author by adapting his short stories.

Vladimir Samsonov directed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. A spaceship lands on an Eden-like planet. The humans inside are on a mission to extract all the natural resources possible from the planet, but they quickly realize that this isn’t your ordinary rock. “This planet is alive,” declares one of the characters. Indeed, not only is it alive but it also has the ability to grant wishes. Want to fly? Fine. Want to make streams flow with wine? Sure. Want to summon a nubile maiden from the earth? No problem. Everyone seems enchanted by the planet except one dark-hearted jerk who seems hell-bent on completing the mission.

Samsonov’s movie is stylized, spooky and rather beautiful – a bit like as if Andrei Tarkovsky had directed Avatar.

Another one of Bradbury’s shorts, There Will Comes Soft Rain, has been adapted by Uzbek director Nazim Tyuhladziev (also spelled Nozim To’laho’jayev). The story is about an automated house that continues to cook and clean for a family of four unaware that they all perished in a nuclear explosion. While Bradbury’s version works as a comment on both American consumerism and general Cold War dread, Tyuhladziev’s version goes for a more religious tact. The robot that runs the house looks like a mechanical snake (Garden of Eden, anyone?). The robot and the house become undone by an errant white dove. The animation might not have the polish of a Disney movie, but it is surprisingly creepy and poignant.

And if you want to see more Russian animation, click here.

Both films mentioned above will be added to the Animation section of our collection of 675 Free Movies Online.

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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.


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Watch 1955 Footage of a Scientist Interviewing a Painter on LSD

A few months ago, we featured the increasingly abstract portraits drawn by an artist after periodic doses of LSD. It happened in the late 1950s, a time when you might well imagine such an activity going down in, say, a bohemian quarter of New York, but also a time when hallucinogenic drugs rode a wave of popularity among legitimate scientists. Those ostensibly straight-laced researchers (sometimes funded by CIA money) had a fascination not with the taking of hallucinogenic drugs — not necessarily, anyway — but with what, exactly, these hallucinogenic drugs did to those who do take them. Particularly artists drawing portraits. Those portraits drawn on LSD came out under the close watch of University of California, Irvine psychiatrist Oscar Janiger. Above, you can watch the fruit of another, much more verbal 1950s experiment conducted just down the coast by the University of Southern California’s Nicholas A. Bercel, M.D.: “Schizophrenic Model Psychosis Induced by LSD 25.”

Here we also have an artist examined: this time, a Los Angeles painter named Bill. As Bill floats through his altered state, Bercel asks him to describe, in as rigorous detail as possible, his perceptions of objects in the room, of items of food and drink brought in, and of their interactions themselves. This 24-minute film of the four-hour process, punctuated by electroencephalographic scans, comes as a production of Sandoz, the Swiss pharmaceutical company who originally isolated LSD and who apparently had an interest in bringing a form of it to market. (One proposed pharmacological designation: “Phantastium.”) Though that didn’t happen, the Hungarian-born Bercel went on throughout his long career to conduct more research of the kind that ultimately earned him a legacy as a pioneer in neurophysiology. He also, when not in the lab, wrote over a dozen novels and film treatments. Clearly he had an impressive creative streak, whether or not he ever personally had his doors of perception opened by the substances his subjects like Bill so enjoyed.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Bob Dylan Plays First Live Performance of “Hurricane,” His Song Defending Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (RIP) in 1975

This weekend, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter passed away. He was 76. An American middleweight boxer, Carter was tried and convicted twice (once 1967, again in 1976) for homicides that took place in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966 — despite the fact that there were no finger prints or eyewitnesses connecting him to the crime. (Both convictions were later overturned when courts found that the trials were tainted by prosecutorial misconduct.) Before the second trial, Bob Dylan met with Carter in prison and then wrote “Hurricane,” a protest song that reached #33 on the Billboard chart. According to Jambase, Dylan brought a trio to Chicago’s WTTW Studios for a three-song performance where they played “Hurricane” on September 10, 1975. He’s backed by Scarlet Rivera on violin, Rob Stoner on bass, and Howie Wyeth on drums. It was apparently Dylan’s first live performance of the eight minute song.

PS Sorry for the ad that plays before the video. We have no control over that.

via Expecting Rain

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Orson Welles Tells Some Damn Good Stories in the Orson Welles’ Sketch Book (1955)

On the first episode of Orson Welles’ Sketch Book, the man who made Citizen Kane remembers an anxiety-inducing evening early in his career: having somehow already gained a reputation as an entertaining after-dinner speaker, he found himself standing before a roomful of what seemed like every movie star in the flesh that he’d ever seen on the screen. Desperate to impress all these celebrities who had so impressed him, he pulled out the only amusing story in his repertoire, only to realize halfway through the telling that he couldn’t remember how it ended. Luckily, one of California’s earthquakes struck just before he reached that forgotten ending, sending the whole Hollywood crowd out the door and letting him off the raconteur hook. By the time he tells the next tale, of his longer-ago, more stressful and much more formative debut onstage in front of a decidedly uncooperative Dublin audience, you’ll wonder why he couldn’t handle the after-dinner speaking; if anyone has a natural storyteller’s instinct, he does.

The BBC must have thought so, in any case, when they put together this series of television commentaries from Welles, none of which need more than his then slightly unfamiliar face (without, he underscores, the usual false nose he wears for roles), his unmistakable voice, and his illustrations — taken, literally, from his sketchbook. In these six fifteen-minute broadcasts, which originally aired in 1955, Welles talks about not just the inauspicious beginnings of his illustrious working life but his experiences with the critics, the police, John Barrymore and Harry Houdini, the infamous radio production of War of the Worlds (which you can hear in our post for its 75th anniversary), and bullfighting (see also our post on his friendship with Ernest Hemingway). Though interesting in and of themselves, he uses these subjects to tie together a variety of recollections and observations from his life and career: on the finer points of producing Shakespeare with voodoo witch-doctors, on media-induced gullibility, on the invasion of privacy, on the art of line prompting. Not settling for status as a creative genius in film, theater, and radio, it seems Welles also laid down the example for a form that wouldn’t actually arrive for another fifty years: vlogging.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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The Drawings of Jean-Paul Sartre

SartreDrawings1

We’ve established something of a tradition here of featuring drawings by famous authors. It seems, unsurprisingly, that skill with the pen often goes hand-in-glove with a keen visual sense, though admittedly some writers are more talented draftsmen than others. William Faulkner, for example, created some very fine pen-and-ink illustrations for his college newspaper during his brief time at Ole Miss. Franz Kafka’s expressionistic sketches are quite striking, despite his anguished protestations to the contrary. And Jorge Luis Borges’ doodles are as quirky and playful as the author himself. Today we bring you the sketches of that great French existentialist philosopher, novelist, and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre—a collection of six rough, childlike caricatures that are, shall we say, rather less than accomplished. It’s certainly for the best—as the cliché goes—that Sartre never quit his day job for an art career.

SartreDrawings2

But there is a certain wicked charm in Sartre’s visual satires of human moral failings, which he calls a “series de ‘douze vices sans allusion’”—roughly, “a series of twelve vices without reference.” Either Sartre only completed half the series, or—more likely—half have been lost, since the author assures the recipient of his handiwork, a Mademoiselle Suzanne Guille, that he presents to her a “série complete.” Who was Suzanne Guille? Your guess is as good as mine. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses these sketches, gives us no indication. Perhaps she was a relative, perhaps the spouse, of Pierre Guille, Simon de Beauvoir’s last lover? Given the many complicated liaisons pursued by both Sartre and his partner, the possibilities are indeed intriguing. As for the drawings? Their subjects hold more interest than their execution, providing us with keys to Sartre’s moral universe.

SartreDrawings3

The first caricature, at the top, is titled “Le Contentment de soi”—“Self-Satisfaction”—and the character’s pompous expression says as much. Below it, the curious little fellow with the curlicue nose is called “L’Esprit Critique”—“The Spirit of Criticism.” And above we have “Le respect de la consigne et de la jurée”—“Keeping a Sworn Oath.” You can see the remaining three drawings, and read Sartre’s letter (in French, of course) to Mademoiselle Guille in pdf form here.

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


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The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

Michael Jackson took one giant leap for pop history on March 25, 1983 when he gave an adoring public their first taste of his signature moonwalk in honor of Motown Records’ 25th birthday. (See below)

Novelty-wise, it wasn’t quite a Neil Armstrong moment. Like many artists, Jackson had many precedents from which he could and did draw. He can be credited with bringing a certain attitude to the proceedings. The expert practitioners in the video above are more ebullient, tapping, sliding and proto-moonwalking themselves into a state of rapture that feeds off the audience’s pleasure.

The line-up includes artists lucky enough to have left lasting footprints—Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, as well as those we’d do well to rediscover: Rubberneck Holmes, Earl “Snakehips” Tucker, Buck and Bubbles….

Lacking the Internet, however, it does seem unlikely that Jackson would’ve spent much time poring over the footwork of these masters. (He may have taken a sartorial cue from their socks.)

Instead, he invested a lot of time breaking down the street moves, what he referred to in his autobiography as “a ‘popping’ type of thing that black kids had created dancing on the street corners in the ghetto.”

Jackson’s sister, LaToya, identified former Soul Train and Solid Gold dancer Jeffrey Daniel, below, as her brother’s primary tutor in this endeavor. (He went on to co-choreograph Jackson’s videos for “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal“.) As to the story behind his moonwalk, or backslide as he called it before Jackson’s version obliterated the possibility of any other name, Daniel gave props to the same kids Jackson did.

For those of you who mentioned it on Twitter and in our comments, we’ve added Charlie Chaplin’s scene in Modern Times.

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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