In “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” Artist John Koenig Names Feelings that Leave Us Speechless

It may be a mis­con­cep­tion, it may be a cliché: I’m not a Ger­man speaker—but read­ing translator’s intro­duc­tions to, say, Kant, Hegel or Goethe has con­vinced me that their lan­guage does a much bet­ter job than Eng­lish at cap­tur­ing those odd­ly spe­cif­ic twi­light moods and com­pound feel­ings that so often escape def­i­n­i­tion. Then again, Eng­lish absorbs, can­ni­bal­izes, appro­pri­ates, steals, and bas­tardizes words wher­ev­er it can find them, dri­ving lex­i­cog­ra­phers and gram­mar purists mad.

Graph­ic design­er and film­mak­er John Koenig does all of these things in his “Dic­tio­nary of Obscure Sor­rows,” a blog project in which he names emo­tions that oth­er­wise leave us speech­less. In his short video above, he illus­trates one of his words, “Son­der,” or “the real­iza­tion that each ran­dom passer­by is liv­ing a life as vivid and com­plex as your own…”—something like the shock of sud­den empa­thy that shakes us out of navel-gaz­ing. It’s an emo­tion I’ve expe­ri­enced, with­out know­ing what to call it.

This being an “obscure sor­row,” there’s more to it than empathy—in Koenig’s poet­ic video, “son­der” relates to the infi­nite num­ber of over­lap­ping sto­ries, in which each of us feels we are the hero, oth­ers sup­port­ing cast or extras. In a state of “son­der,” we sud­den­ly occu­py all of those roles at once, our screen time dimin­ish­ing as oth­ers take the lead. After watch­ing Koenig’s film, I’m think­ing “son­der” is a port­man­teau of “sub­lime” and “won­der.” It’s a mys­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy con­tained with­in a sin­gle made-up word.

Some oth­er Koenig coinages: “Ruck­kehrun­ruhe,” “nodus tol­lens,” “adroni­tis,” “rig­or sam­sa”.…. I leave it to you to vis­it Koenig’s Dic­tio­nary and learn what these words mean. It’s an expe­ri­ence well worth your time.

Relat­ed Con­tent:


The Atlas of True Names Restores Mod­ern Cities to Their Mid­dle Earth-ish Roots

The His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Lan­guage in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

Oxford Schol­ars Name Top Ten Irri­tat­ing Phras­es

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

Revealed: The Visual Effects Behind The Great Gatsby

Sev­er­al days ago, Chris God­frey, the VFX super­vi­sor on the lat­est film adap­ta­tion of The Great Gats­by, post­ed a remark­able “before and after” film on Vimeo.  Run­ning four min­utes, the short com­pi­la­tion reveals the many sets and scenes cre­at­ed with com­put­er gen­er­at­ed images. It’s all pret­ty impres­sive from a tech­ni­cal point of view. No doubt. And yet this wiz­ardry con­tributed to mak­ing what’s wide­ly con­sid­ered a mediocre film. In The New York­er, film crit­ic David Den­by writes:

Luhrmann’s ver­sion is mere­ly a fran­tic jum­ble. The pic­ture is filled with an indis­crim­i­nate swirling motion, a thrash­ing impress of “style” (Art Deco turned to dig­i­tized glitz), thrown at us with whoosh­ing cam­era sweeps and surges and rapid changes of per­spec­tive exag­ger­at­ed by 3‑D.… Luhrmann’s vul­gar­i­ty is designed to win over the young audi­ence, and it sug­gests that he’s less a film­mak­er than a music-video direc­tor with end­less resources and a stun­ning absence of taste.

Some­times, as they say, less is more.…

via Richard Brody

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Only Known Footage of the 1926 Film Adap­ta­tion of The Great Gats­by (Which F. Scott Fitzger­ald Hat­ed)

Sev­en Tips From F. Scott Fitzger­ald on How to Write Fic­tion

F. Scott Fitzger­ald in Drag (1916)

A Short, Animated Look at What’s Inside Your Average Cup of Coffee

What’s inside your aver­age cupe of joe? Wired breaks it down for us. Let’s start with the obvi­ous, water and caf­feine. But did you know about the traces of 2‑ethylphenol, which oth­er­wise dou­bles as a cock­roach pheromone?  Or how about dimethyl disul­fide, which has indus­tri­al uses in oil refiner­ies? And acetyl­methyl­carbinol? It gives the cof­fee its pleas­ant, but­tery odor. Want to keep con­tem­plat­ing cof­fee? Check out the relat­ed resources below:

The His­to­ry of Cof­fee and How It Trans­formed Our World

Black Cof­fee: Doc­u­men­tary Cov­ers the His­to­ry, Pol­i­tics & Eco­nom­ics of the “Most Wide­ly Tak­en Legal Drug”

Every­thing You Want­ed to Know About Cof­fee in Three Min­utes

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Improv Comedy with Liam Neeson, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Del Close

Atten­tion, all strug­gling come­di­ans! There’s big mon­ey in teach­ing cor­po­rate exec­u­tives the rules of impro­vi­sa­tion. Not to pre­pare them for a high­ly lucra­tive sec­ond career on some late night, black box stage, but rather to hone their lis­ten­ing skills, teach them how to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, and give them prac­tice com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a flexible—and there­fore effective—manner.

The above clip from Ricky Ger­vais and Stephen Mer­chan­t’s Life’s Too Short, sug­gests that actor Liam Nee­son might ben­e­fit from sim­i­lar train­ing.

Or are Ger­vais and Mer­chant guilty of fail­ing to embrace the Rules of Improv, when Nee­son, hav­ing solicit­ed a sug­ges­tion of “hypochon­dri­ac at the doc­tor’s office” from series star War­wick Davis, announces that he’s con­tract­ed full blown AIDS from a starv­ing African pros­ti­tute?

Even though it’s obvi­ous that the supreme­ly gift­ed Nee­son is hav­ing a laugh, let’s see if we can deter­mine who’s break­ing the car­di­nal rules of improv in this scene.

Come­di­an Tina Fey has Four Rules of Improv that res­onate with both busi­ness and fun­ny peo­ple:

  1. The first rule of impro­vi­sa­tion is to AGREE. 
  2. The sec­ond rule of improv is to not only say YES, say YES, AND.
  3. The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. (Nee­son does great in this depart­ment)

Hmm. One thing’s clear. A bad impro­vis­er can drag the most gift­ed prac­ti­tion­ers of the form down with him.

The bril­liance of the script­ed scene recalls late improv guru Del Close’s Eleven Com­mand­ments:

  1. You are all sup­port­ing actors.
  2. Always check your impuls­es.
  3. Nev­er enter a scene unless you are NEEDED.
  4. Save your fel­low actor, don’t wor­ry about the piece.
  5. Your prime respon­si­bil­i­ty is to sup­port.
  6. Work at the top of your brains at all times.
  7. Nev­er under­es­ti­mate or con­de­scend to your audi­ence.
  8. No jokes (unless it is tipped in front that it is a joke.)
  9. Trust… trust your fel­low actors to sup­port you; trust them to come through if you lay some­thing heavy on them; trust your­self.
  10. Avoid judg­ing what is going down except in terms of whether it needs help (either by enter­ing or cut­ting), what can best fol­low, or how you can sup­port it imag­i­na­tive­ly if your sup­port is called for.
  11. LISTEN

That’s like­ly ample rules, though it’s tempt­ing to add:

Nev­er (or per­haps always) pre­tend to knock on a door by say­ing “knock knock.”

Nev­er (or per­haps always) pre­tend to open a shop door by say­ing “tring.”

Nev­er (or per­haps always) iden­ti­fy a “well known homo­sex­u­al actor” by name.

And if any cor­po­rate clients—or Ricky Ger­vais—need lessons in how to keep from “corps­ing” while deliv­er­ing fun­ny mate­r­i­al, Liam Nee­son is for sure the man for the job.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ricky Ger­vais Presents “Learn Gui­tar with David Brent”

“Learn Eng­lish With Ricky Ger­vais,” A New Pod­cast Debuts (NSFW)

Tina Fey Brings Bossy­pants Tour to Google

Ayun Hal­l­i­day was a found­ing mem­ber of The No Fun Mud Pira­nhas, North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty’s Improv Olympic Team. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

Noam Chomsky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Empty ‘Posturing’

Noam Chom­sky’s well-known polit­i­cal views have tend­ed to over­shad­ow his ground­break­ing work as a lin­guist and ana­lyt­ic philoso­pher. As a result, peo­ple some­times assume that because Chom­sky is a left­ist, he would find com­mon intel­lec­tu­al ground with the post­mod­ernist philoso­phers of the Euro­pean Left.

Big mis­take.

In this brief excerpt from a Decem­ber, 2012 inter­view with Vet­er­ans Unplugged, Chom­sky is asked about the ideas of Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Der­ri­da. The M.I.T. schol­ar, who else­where has described some of those fig­ures and their fol­low­ers as “cults,” does­n’t mince words:

What you’re refer­ring to is what’s called “the­o­ry.” And when I said I’m not inter­est­ed in the­o­ry, what I meant is, I’m not inter­est­ed in posturing–using fan­cy terms like poly­syl­la­bles and pre­tend­ing you have a the­o­ry when you have no the­o­ry what­so­ev­er. So there’s no the­o­ry in any of this stuff, not in the sense of the­o­ry that any­one is famil­iar with in the sci­ences or any oth­er seri­ous field. Try to find in all of the work you men­tioned some prin­ci­ples from which you can deduce con­clu­sions, empir­i­cal­ly testable propo­si­tions where it all goes beyond the lev­el of some­thing you can explain in five min­utes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fan­cy words are decod­ed. I can’t. So I’m not inter­est­ed in that kind of pos­tur­ing. Žižek is an extreme exam­ple of it. I don’t see any­thing to what he’s say­ing. Jacques Lacan I actu­al­ly knew. I kind of liked him. We had meet­ings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total char­la­tan. He was just pos­tur­ing for the tele­vi­sion cam­eras in the way many Paris intel­lec­tu­als do. Why this is influ­en­tial, I haven’t the slight­est idea. I don’t see any­thing there that should be influ­en­tial.

via Leit­er Reports

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Sear­le on Fou­cault and the Obscu­ran­tism in French Phi­los­o­phy

Clash of the Titans: Noam Chom­sky and Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature and Pow­er on Dutch TV, 1971

Jacques Lacan Talks About Psy­cho­analy­sis with Panache (1973)

Philoso­pher Slavoj Zizek Inter­prets Hitchcock’s Ver­ti­go in The Pervert’s Guide to Cin­e­ma (2006)

Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Two Drawings by Jorge Luis Borges Illustrate the Author’s Obsessions


Jorge Luis Borges had many fascinations—detective nov­els, gau­chos, libraries, and labyrinths. Two promi­nent fig­ures that occu­pied his mind, the tan­go and myth­i­cal mon­sters, appear in draw­ings Borges made in his man­u­scripts. Of the tan­go, Borges did much to spread the idea that the sen­su­al Argen­tine dance orig­i­nat­ed in broth­els. In his draw­ing above of a tan­go-ing cou­ple, he writes at the top (in Span­ish): “The tan­go is a broth­el dance. Of this I have no doubt.”

Borges would repeat this claim on many occa­sions. In his 1930 biog­ra­phy of Evaris­to Car­reiego, he writes, “my infor­mants con­cur on one essen­tial fact: the tan­go orig­i­nat­ed in the broth­els.”

Why this his­to­ry so intrigued Borges I do not know, but I do know that he once col­lab­o­rat­ed with Argen­tine com­pos­er Astor Piaz­zo­la on an album of tan­gos in 1965. The draw­ing comes from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame’s spe­cial col­lec­tions (you can read a Span­ish tran­scrip­tion of the rest of the text at their site).


Above, see anoth­er of Borges’ sketch­es, this one from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s exten­sive Borges col­lec­tion. The draw­ing appears in a man­u­script titled “The Old Argen­tine Habit,” penned in 1946 and pub­lished (as “Our Poor Indi­vid­u­al­ism”) in Borges’ 1952 essay col­lec­tion Oth­er Inqui­si­tions. Accord­ing to C. Jared Lowen­stein, the draw­ing is titled in Ger­man, “Die Hydra der Dik­ta­tor” (“The Hydra of the Dic­ta­tors”) and depicts Rosas, Per­on, Mus­soli­ni, Hitler, and Marx and is signed “Jorge Luis Borges 46.” Lowen­stein writes:

The theme of the art­work is a stun­ning polit­i­cal state­ment by a writer who has often been deemed apo­lit­i­cal. It is also a remark­ably detailed draw­ing, espe­cial­ly for some­one who was los­ing his eye­sight as Borges was at this time. This mar­velous depic­tion sup­ple­ments Borges’s dec­la­ra­tion in his text that Argen­tineans see them­selves as indi­vid­u­als, not as cit­i­zens of a spe­cif­ic nation.

It is indeed a remark­ably detailed work. I only wish Borges had sup­plied illus­tra­tions for his Book of Imag­i­nary Beings.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Borges: Pro­file of a Writer Presents the Life and Writ­ings of Argentina’s Favorite Son, Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967–8 Nor­ton Lec­tures On Poet­ry (And Every­thing Else Lit­er­ary)

James Joyce, With His Eye­sight Fail­ing, Draws a Sketch of Leopold Bloom (1926)

Two Child­hood Draw­ings from Poet E.E. Cum­mings Show the Young Artist’s Play­ful Seri­ous­ness

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

Jean-Luc Godard’s Debut, Opération béton (1955) — a Construction Documentary

“A 2500 m. d’alti­tude, dans le Val des Dix, un mil­li­er d’homme dresse un mur de béton aus­si haut que la Tour Eif­fel: le bar­rage de la ‘GRANDE-DIXENCE’.” So begins Jean-Luc Godard­’s very first film, Opéra­tion béton. You Fran­coph­o­nes will have gath­ered that, for the debut that would begin his long, pas­sion­ate career in film­mak­ing, Godard chose to shoot the con­struc­tion of “a wall as high as the Eif­fel Tow­er” by a thou­sand men and out of con­crete — a great deal of con­crete indeed. Valais’ Grande Dix­ence dam not only pro­vid­ed Godard the direc­tor the sub­ject of his first movie, but the funds to make it as well. Despite hav­ing already gained some momen­tum writ­ing crit­i­cal pieces for Cahiers du ciné­ma, the 23-year-old Godard took hard man­u­al work on the dam’s job site, join­ing his friend Jean-Pierre Laub­sch­er already employed there. Then the idea came to him: why not shoot a doc­u­men­tary about all of this?

Arrang­ing a trans­fer through Laub­sch­er to a less tax­ing place on the dam as a switch­board oper­a­tor, Godard then bor­rowed a 35-mil­lime­ter cam­era from a friend of a friend and got to work — his real work, that of cin­e­ma. “The orig­i­nal com­men­tary for La Cam­pagne du beton (The Cam­paign of Con­crete or The Con­crete Coun­try­side), writ­ten by Laub­sch­er and dat­ed Octo­ber 17, 1954, was two pages long and con­cise; it mere­ly labeled the action,” writes crit­ic Richard Brody in Every­thing is Cin­e­ma: The Work­ing Life of Jean-Luc Godard. “But Godard gave the film a rhyming title instead, Opéra­tion béton (Oper­a­tion Con­crete) and rewrote the com­men­tary. Though he kept sev­er­al of Laub­scher’s felic­i­tous turns of phrase, Godard­’s ver­sion, which he record­ed in his own voice, great­ly ampli­fied the ver­biage and resem­bled, instead of a series of pho­to cap­tions, a per­son­’s enthu­si­as­tic, digres­sive account of his expe­ri­ence at work.” Cer­tain die-hard Godard-heads may also iden­ti­fy hints of the auteur’s favorite themes: labor, cap­i­tal, nation­al­ism, the machine-like sys­tems that sur­round human­i­ty. Cer­tain­ly the indus­try-admir­ing tone seems suit­ably, er, breath­less.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jean-Luc Godard Films The Rolling Stones Record­ing “Sym­pa­thy for the Dev­il” (1968)

Jef­fer­son Air­plane Wakes Up New York; Jean-Luc Godard Cap­tures It (1968)

Meetin’ WA: Jean-Luc Godard Meets Woody Allen in 26 Minute Film

Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Com­mer­cial for Schick

525 Free Movies Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from Publisher (1912)


Gertrude Stein con­sid­ered her­self an exper­i­men­tal writer and wrote what The Poet­ry Foun­da­tion calls “dense poems and fic­tions, often devoid of plot or dia­logue,” with the result being that “com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers slight­ed her exper­i­men­tal writ­ings and crit­ics dis­missed them as incom­pre­hen­si­ble.” Take, for exam­ple, what hap­pened when Stein sent a man­u­script to Alfred C. Fifield, a Lon­don-based pub­lish­er, and received a rejec­tion let­ter mock­ing her prose in return. Accord­ing to Let­ters of Note, the man­u­script in ques­tion was pub­lished many years lat­er as her mod­ernist nov­el, The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans: Being a His­to­ry of a Fam­i­ly’s Progress (1925). You can hear Stein read­ing a selec­tion from the nov­el below. Also find oth­er Gertrude Stein works in our col­lec­tions of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

via Elec­tric Lit­er­a­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Gertrude Stein Read Works Inspired by Matisse, Picas­so, and T.S. Eliot (1934)

Gertrude Stein Recites ‘If I Told Him: A Com­plet­ed Por­trait of Picas­so’

The Dead Authors Pod­cast: H.G. Wells Com­i­cal­ly Revives Lit­er­ary Greats with His Time Machine

James Joyce in Paris: “Deal With Him, Hem­ing­way!”

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