The (Urban) Legend of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story: “For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.”

hemingway list free

A piercingly dark piece of writing, taking the heart of a Dickens or Dostoevsky novel and carving away all the rest, Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story—fabled forerunner of flash- and twitter-fiction—is shorter than many a story’s title:

For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.

The extreme terseness in this elliptical tragedy has made it a favorite example of writing teachers over the past several decades, a display of the power of literary compression in which, writes a querent to the site Quote Investigator, “the reader must cooperate in the construction of the larger narrative that is obliquely limned by these words.” Supposedly composed sometime in the ’20s at The Algonquin (or perhaps Luchow’s, depending on whom you ask), the six-word story, it’s said, came from a ten-dollar bet Hemingway made at a lunch with some other writers that he could write a novel in six words. After penning the famous line on a napkin, he passed it around the table, and collected his winnings. That’s the popular lore, anyway. But the truth is much less colorful.

In fact, it seems that versions of the six-word story appeared long before Hemingway even began to write, at least as early as 1906, when he was only 7, in a newspaper classified section called “Terse Tales of the Town,” which published an item that read, “For sale, baby carriage, never been used. Apply at this office.” Another, very similar, version appeared in 1910, then another, suggested as the title for a story about “a wife who has lost her baby,” in a 1917 essay by William R. Kane, who thought up “Little Shoes, Never Worn.” Then again in 1920, writes David Haglund in Slate, the supposed Hemingway line appears in a “1921 newspaper column by Roy K. Moulton, who ‘printed a brief note that he attributed to someone named Jerry,'”:

There was an ad in the Brooklyn “Home Talk” which read, “Baby carriage for sale, never used.” Would that make a wonderful plot for the movies?

Many more examples of the narrative device abound, including a 1927 comic strip describing a seven-word version—“For Sale, A Baby Carriage; Never Used!”—as “the greatest short story in the world.” The more that Haglund and Quote Investigator’s Garson O’Toole looked into the matter, the harder they found it to “believe that Hemingway had anything to do with the tale.”

It is possible Hemingway, wittingly or not, stole the story from the classifieds or elsewhere. He was a newspaperman after all, perhaps guaranteed to have come into contact with some version of it. But there’s no evidence that he wrote or talked about the six-word story, or that the lunch bet at The Algonquin ever took place. Instead, it appears that a literary agent, Peter Miller, made up the story whole cloth in 1974 and later published it in his 1991 book, Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing.

The legend of the bet and the six-word story grew: Arthur C. Clarke repeated it in a 1998 Reader’s Digest essay, and Miller mentioned it again in a 2006 book. Meanwhile, suspicions arose, and the final debunking occurred in a 2012 scholarly article in The Journal of Popular Culture by Frederick A. Wright, who concluded that no evidence links the six-word story to Hemingway.

So should we blame Miller for ostensibly creating an urban legend, or thank him for giving competitive minimalists something to beat, and inspiring the entire genre of the “six-word memoir”? That depends, I suppose, on what you think of competitive minimalists and six-word memoirs. Perhaps the moral of the story, fitting in the Twitter age, is that the great man theory of authorship so often gets it wrong; the most memorable stories and ideas can arise spontaneously, anonymously, from anywhere.

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

Umberto Eco’s How To Write a Thesis: A Witty, Irreverent & Highly Practical Guide Now Out in English

577px-Umberto_Eco_02

Image by Università Reggio Calabria, released under a C BY-SA 3.0 license.

In general, the how-to book—whether on beekeeping, piano-playing, or wilderness survival—is a dubious object, always running the risk of boring readers into despairing apathy or hopelessly perplexing them with complexity. Instructional books abound, but few succeed in their mission of imparting theoretical wisdom or keen, practical skill. The best few I’ve encountered in my various roles have mostly done the former. In my days as an educator, I found abstract, discursive books like Robert Scholes’ Textual Power or poet and teacher Marie Ponsot’s lyrical Beat Not the Poor Desk infinitely more salutary than more down-to-earth books on the art of teaching. As a sometime writer of fiction, I’ve found Milan Kundera’s idiosyncratic The Art of the Novel—a book that might have been titled The Art of Kundera—a great deal more inspiring than any number of other well-meaning MFA-lite publications. And as a self-taught audio engineer, I’ve found a book called Zen and the Art of Mixing—a classic of the genre, even shorter on technical specifications than its namesake is on motorcycle maintenance—better than any other dense, diagram-filled manual.

How I wish, then, that as a onetime (longtime) grad student, I had had access to the English translation, just published this month, of Umberto Eco’s How to Write a Thesis, a guide to the production of scholarly work worth the name by the highly celebrated Italian novelist and intellectual. Written originally in Italian in 1977, before Eco’s name was well-known for such works of fiction as The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, How to Write Thesis is appropriately described by MIT Press as reading: “like a novel”: “opinionated… frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious.” For example, in the second part of his introduction, after a rather dry definition of the academic “thesis,” Eco dissuades a certain type of possible reader from his book, those students “who are forced to write a thesis so that they may graduate quickly and obtain the career advancement that originally motivated their university enrollment.” These students, he writes, some of whom “may be as old as 40” (gasp), “will ask for instructions on how to write a thesis in a month.” To them, he recommends two pieces of advice, in full knowledge that both are clearly “illegal”:

(a) Invest a reasonable amount of money in having a thesis written by a second party. (b) Copy a thesis that was written a few years prior for another institution. (It is better not to copy a book currently in print, even if it was written in a foreign language. If the professor is even minimally informed on the topic, he will be aware of the book’s existence.

Eco goes on to say that “even plagiarizing a thesis requires an intelligent research effort,” a caveat, I suppose, for those too thoughtless or lazy even to put the required effort into academic dishonesty.

Instead, he writes for “students who want to do rigorous work” and “want to write a thesis that will provide a certain intellectual satisfaction.” Eco doesn’t allow for the fact that these groups may not be mutually exclusive, but no matter. His style is loose and conversational, and the unseriousness of his dogmatic assertions belies the liberating tenor of his advice. For all of the fun Eco has discussing the whys and wherefores of academic writing, he also dispenses a wealth of practical hows, making his book a rarity among the small pool of readable How-tos. For example, Eco offers us “Four Obvious Rules for Choosing a Thesis Topic,” the very bedrock of a doctoral (or masters) project, on which said project truly stands or falls:

1. The topic should reflect your previous studies and experience. It should be related to your completed courses; your other research; and your political, cultural, or religious experience.

2. The necessary sources should be materially accessible. You should be near enough to the sources for convenient access, and you should have the permission you need to access them.

3. The necessary sources should be manageable. In other words, you should have the ability, experience, and background knowledge needed to understand the sources.

4. You should have some experience with the methodological framework that you will use in the thesis. For example, if your thesis topic requires you to analyze a Bach violin sonata, you should be versed in music theory and analysis.

Having suffered the throes of proposing, then actually writing, an academic thesis, I can say without reservation that, unlike Eco’s encouragement to plagiarism, these four rules are not only helpful, but necessary, and not nearly as obvious as they appear. Eco goes on in the following chapter, “Choosing the Topic,” to present many examples, general and specific, of how this is so.

Much of the remainder of Eco’s book—though written in as lively a style and shot through with witticisms and profundity—is gravely outdated in its minute descriptions of research methods and formatting and style guides. This is pre-internet, and technology has—sadly in many cases—made redundant much of the footwork he discusses. That said, his startling takes on such topics as “Must You Read Books?,” “Academic Humility,” “The Audience,” and “How to Write” again offer indispensable ways of thinking about scholarly work that one generally arrives at only, if at all, at the completion of a long, painful, and mostly bewildering course of writing and research.

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

Hear a “DNA-Based Prediction of Nietzsche’s Voice:” First Attempt at Simulating Voice of a Dead Person

Nietzsche

Whether they submit to his mighty philosophical influence, resist it with all their own might, or fall somewhere in between, everyone who’s read the pronouncements of Friedrich Nietzsche (find his ebooks here) recognizes his voice — well, his textual voice, that is. Having died in 1900 after spending the last decade of his life in a mental breakdown, the author of Thus Spake Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil has an excuse for not leaving behind much in the way of audio material. But love Nietzsche or hate him, a reader has to wonder: what did the guy actually sound like?

Here to satiate our curiosity come Flavia Montaggio, Patricia Montaggio, and Imp Kerr, authors of the Investigative Genetics paper “DNA-based prediction of Nietzsche’s voice,” which supposedly offers a scientific means of doing just that. “We collected trace amounts of cellular material (Touch DNA) from books that belonged to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche,” reads the abstract, which goes on to describe the gathering of Nietzsche-related data eventually “converted into bio-measures that were used to 3D-print a vocal tract and larynx through which phonation was organically generated.” The result, after running everything through a series of text-to-speech simulations: “the first attempt at simulating the voice of a deceased person“:

It all seems legit, right? Or maybe you German-speakers out there will suspect something fishy, starting with the unlikely name of Imp Kerr. It actually belongs to “a Swedish-French artist living in New York City, mostly known for her fake American Apparel advertisement campaign,” or so reads the Wikipedia page quoted by a Language Log post on the project. “I have no idea whether anything in the Wikipedia article about Imp Kerr is true,” writes author Mark Liberman, “but it’s clear from internal evidence that the alleged Investigative Genetics article is a piece of performance art.”

Liberman breaks down the paper’s humorous elements, from its “many segments that display quasi-scientific terminology in meaningless or contradictory ways” to its simple inability to “restrain a certain telltale playfulness” (as when it deals with a resonance “lower than expected in regards of Nietzsche’s robust mandibles”). All this may remind you of the famous hoax wherein physicist Alan Sokal published a paperful of sheer nonsense in a respected cultural-studies journal. Or you may think of the film above, which purports, questionably, to show Nietzsche’s last days. It just goes to show that, if your ideas live on, you live on — or your readers will try to make you do so.

via The New Inquiry/Leiter Reports

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema 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.

What Happens When a Cheap Ikea Print Gets Presented as Fine Art in a Museum

The entity to whom Dutch group, Lifehunters, attributes the museum quality artwork in the video prank above doesn’t exist. The “famous” Swedish artist’s handle –IKE Andrews –is but a puckish reference to IKEA, the purveyor of the 10€ print (oh snap, it’s not even an original!) various unnamed “art experts” are asked to evaluate, having been led to believe it’s something rare and wonderful. IKE Andrews’ fellow fictional entity, Borat, would be gratified by how readily these experts accept presenter Boris Lange’s suggestions as to the value of this work.

So how bad is this “painting”? Walter Keane bad? Margaret Keane bad? Is it a Velvis? A sad clown? The sort of crummy landscape artist Wayne White might snap up in a thrift store?

Only if you think IKEA achieved global dominance by choosing designs, patterns, and images in order for snotty hipsters to buy them ironically…

As several YouTube, Twitter, and blog commenters have mentioned, the print itself is pretty cool.

It’s a media frenzy, but interestingly, the artist is not coming forward to herald his or her role in the hoax.

Make that artists. Turns out IKE Andrews is a pair of Swiss street artists, Christian Rebecchi and Pablo Togni, who collaborate as NEVERCREW.

They have a fascination with cross sections. As their website somewhat murkily explains [all sic]:

These models, as such, from time to time actually contain more or less extensive realities, represented as autonomous systems of which the reality of the viewer becomes a part. This then the rapport becomes the very subject, mainly highlighted as the relationship between man and nature (between human being and its nature), but automatically extended to a vision of total and inevitable relationship between everything, between every part, where it is only the point of view, the position within a system, to define a selection.

IKEA streamlines the artists’ philosophy for the masses thusly:

We call the theme “living structures” and we like to see them as models of living systems. We would like our art to generate interest and curiosity, and the viewer to become a part of the mechanism with his or her thoughts, perspective and emotions.

never-crew-message-in-a-bottle

 

Philosophy’s all well and good, but what’s it actually look like, this “Message in a Bottle”?

Well, it seems to me to be a bottle, implausibly halved lengthwise to reveal a bunch of steampunk stuff balanced atop robot spider legs, forming a cage around an ancient-looking whale. Also, a cloud raining yellow liquid, or possibly light. (Hopefully the latter). Oh! And it appears to have been painted on a brown paper bag.

I can think of plenty of people who’d not only like it, but find meaning in it, as the experts do. The only difference is the experts do so on camera, a fact not all of them are willing to laugh at, when host Lange informs them they’ve been punked.

The artists aren’t the only ones playing it cool. The internet may be exploding, but so far, neither IKEA, nor the Netherlands’ Arnhem Museum, where the prank was staged, have made mention of this business.

via Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and mother of a teen filmmaker whose best known work was shot guerrilla style in a Red Hook, Brooklyn Ikea. Follow her @AyunHalliday

The Touching Story Behind Paraguay’s Landfill Orchestra: Now Told in Film, and Soon a Book

Back in 2012, I first told you about the amazing youth chamber orchestra from Cateura, Paraguay. The families from this small impoverished town, located alongside a vast landfill, can’t afford many luxuries — like buying instruments for their kids. But what they lack in money, they make up for in ingenuity and good spirit. The short documentary above gives you a glimpse of their touching story, showing how creative leaders in the community fashioned instruments with their own hands, turning oil cans into cellos, and aluminum bowls into violins. Watch them in action:

But why stop with the short story, when you can get the longer story. Last week, a full blown film called Landfill Harmonic premiered at the SXSW Film Festival 2015. And now the film (see a short trailer here) will be screened at selected film festivals while the producers try to find a distributor who can bring the production to a wider audience. And, in another piece of good news, Simon & Schuster announced that it plans to publish a picture book about the Recycled Orchestra. Look for Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay in March 2016.

You can watch Landfill Harmonic at the festivals mentioned below. To keep tabs on future showings, follow this Facebook page.

  • New York Children’s Film Festival March 21, 2015
  • Environmental Film Festival DC March 25, 2015
  • TIFF Kid’s Film Festival April 10 – 17, 2015

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn 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.

Google Puts Online 10,000 Works of Street Art from Across the Globe

circling

Circling Birdies by Cheko, Granada Spain

Since last we wrote, Google Street Art has doubled its online archive by adding some 5,000 images, bringing the tally to 10,000, with coordinates pinpointing exact locations on all five continents (though as of this writing, things are a bit thin on the ground in Africa). Given the temporal realities of outdoor, guerrilla art, pilgrims may arrive to find a blank canvas where graffiti once flourished. (RIP New York City’s 5 Pointz, the “Institute of Higher Burning.”)

A major aim of the project is virtual preservation. As with performance art, documentation is key. Not all of the work can be attributed, but click on an image to see what is known. Guided tours to neighborhoods rich with street art allow armchair travelers to experience the work, and interviews with the artists dispel any number of stereotypes.

Cultural institutions like Turkey’s Pera Museum and Hong Kong’s Art Research Institute, and street art projects based in such hubs as Rome, Paris, Sydney, and Bangkok, have pulled together official collections of photos and videos, but you can play curator too.

It’s easy to add images to a collection of your own making that can be shared with the public at large or saved for private inspiration. Careful, you could lose hours…it’s like Pinterest for people who gravitate toward spray paint and rubbish strewn vacant lots over gingham wrapped Mason jars.

It’s been a long and brutal winter here on the east coast, so for my first foray, I prowled for Signs of Spring. One of my first hits was “Circling Birdies” by Cheko, above. Located in Granada, Spain, it’s one of the existing works Google has turned into a GIF with some light, logical animation.

Behold a bit of what typing “flower,” “baby animals,” “plants,” and “trees” into a search box can yield! You can enter Google Street Art here.

Child With Windmill

Artist: Walter Kershaw
London UK

Thrashbird

Artists: Thrashbird and Renee Gagnon
Los Angeles, California.

Baby Chick

Artist: unknown
Rochester, NY

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 11.07.58 PM

Icy and Sot
Rochester NY

Freedom Fighter

Artist: Kristy Sandoval
Los Angeles, CA

Natureza Viva

Artists: Regg and Violant
Alfragide Portugal

Beetle

Artist: Klit
Alfragide, Portugal
A giant colorful beetle tries to fly between the ceiling and the floor of this parking lot. His wings seem filled with flower petals. So, the “Living Nature” project brought a set of huge insects that carry a note of living spirit to the space.

Deep Blue

Artist: Rai Cruz
Manila, Philippines

Nagel
Artist: Christiaan Nagel
London, England

Untitled Rome
Artist: Lady Aiko
Rome, Italy

Parsa

Artist: Andrew Kentish
Nepal

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

Cookie Monster, Life Coach, Shows Why Cookies Are the Key to Happiness

You can look for answers to life’s big questions in the Zen teachings of Alan Watts, in the existentialist musings of Hunter S. Thompson, or somewhere in our collection of 130 Free Online Philosophy Courses. But maybe that’s over-thinking things — providing complicated answers when the key to life is really quite simple. Eating cookies. Ladies and gentleman, your favorite life coach and mine, Cookie Monster.

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Watch the “Youngest String Quartet Ever” Perform Vivaldi, Michael Jackson & Katy Perry

They’re billed as “the youngest string quartet ever.” The kids began playing in The Joyous String Quartet when they were four years old. Now, fast forward four more years, and they find themselves performing 20 concerts a year around the globe — in places like South Korea and China, and on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Above you can watch them perform Summer “Presto” by Vivaldi. Below, they give you a classical version of Katy Perry’s “Firework:

And finally Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” In case you’re wondering, the students come out of The Joyous Music School in Hicksville, NY.

via The Kids Should See This

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Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn 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.

On Her 100th Birthday, Watch Rock Pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe Wow Audiences With Her Gospel Guitar

The “British Invasion” as a historical phenomenon, has achieved a status almost like that of Paul Revere’s ride, a watershed moment condensed to a singular image: The Stones, or—if you’re more inclined, The Beatles—step onto the tarmac, young girls scream, cameras flash, microphones jostle… suits abound. We remember the scenery, and the haircuts, but the history disappears. The all important context when the British landed in the mid sixties has to do with another invasion at the same time on England’s shores, of black American blues artists who toured the UK and performed on British TV, beginning in 1963: Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins… and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

If Keith Richards has credited Chuck Berry for his chops, saying he “listened to every lick he played and picked it up,” he could perhaps say something similar about Sister Tharpe, as could dozens of other guitarists who watched her strut across the stage, picking out hot, countrified blues licks on her Gibson SG. “Nobody—not Chuck Berry, not Scotty Moore, not James Burton, not Keith Richards—played wilder or more primal rock ‘n’ roll guitar than this woman who gave her life to God and would have celebrated her 100th birthday on 20 March,” writes The Guardian. And yet, perhaps because of her religiosity, or her race, or her gender, Sister Tharpe has long remained unsung as a hero of both early rock ‘n’ roll and country.

A pioneering crossover artist from the gospel world, Tharpe came from Cotton Plant, Arkansas, a town on the banks of the Mississippi. Born to musical parents, she toured the country with her mother in revival performances across the south and made her first record at the age of 23. By the time she took the Manchester stage to sing “Didn’t it Rain” in the video at the top of the post, Tharpe was 49 years old and a highly seasoned, confident performer who could captivate any audience with her powerful voice and phenomenal playing. Just above, see a younger Tharpe play some jazz-inflected blues in “That’s All,” a sexy-sounding song about tolerance for sinful men. Sister Tharpe worked clean, but she could get down with the best of ‘em.

Like most rock pioneers, Rosetta didn’t have an easy road to stardom, and like many women in the music business, her story involves a fair amount of exploitation and abuse. But Tharpe rose above it, moved to the big city, and pitched her southern gospel tent in the heart of electric blues territory. Learn about Rosetta Tharpe’s life and career in the 2014 documentary above, The Godmother of Rock & Roll. It’s a title Tharpe well deserves, as well as some long overdue recognition from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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

Rome Reborn: Take a Virtual Tour Through Ancient Rome, 320 C.E.

A few years ago, we featured Rome Reborn, which is essentially “a 3D digital model of the Eternal City at a time when Ancient Rome’s population had reached its peak (about one million) and the first Christian churches were being built.” Rome Reborn offers, declared Matthias Rascher, “a truly stunning bird’s-eye view of ancient Rome that makes you feel as if you were actually there.” You may also remember our posts on video analyses of great works of art by Khan Academy’s Smarthistory. Today, the two come together in the video above, “A Tour Through Ancient Rome in 320 C.E.”

In it, we not only see and move through ancient Rome reconstructed, we have our extended tour guided by renowned “virtual archaeologist” and overseer of the Rome Reborn project Dr. Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. He picks 320 C.E. as the year of the tour, “the peak of Rome’s development, certainly in terms of public architecture, for the simple reason that the Emperor at this time was Constantine the Great.” Shortly after this year, Constantine would move the capital from Rome to his city, Constantinople.

We hear Frischer in dialogue with Dr. Steven Zucker, whose voice you may recognize from previous Smarthistory videos. Zucker’s questions ensure that, while we take in the spectacle of Rome’s impressive architecture (to say nothing of its equally impressive aqueducts) as it looked back in 320, we also think about what the real flesh-and-blood people who once lived there actually did there: the jobs they did, the chariot races they watched. “When I was studying ancient Rome,” admits Zucker, “one of the most difficult things for me to understand was how all these ancient ruins fit together.” Now, with Frischer’s expertise, he and we can finally understand how the Forum, the Basilica, the Coliseum, the Pantheon and more all fit onto this early but still majestic urban fabric.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema 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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