Free NASA eBook Theorizes How We Will Communicate with Aliens

Douglas A. Vakoch

Dur­ing the past few years, NASA has released a series of free ebooks, includ­ing NASA Earth As Art and var­i­ous inter­ac­tive texts focus­ing on the Webb and Hub­ble space tele­scopes. Last week, they added a new, curi­ous book to the col­lec­tion, Archae­ol­o­gy, Anthro­pol­o­gy, and Inter­stel­lar Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Edit­ed by Dou­glas A. Vakoch (the Direc­tor of Inter­stel­lar Mes­sage Com­po­si­tion at the SETI Insti­tute), the text con­tem­plates how we’ll go about “estab­lish­ing mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion with an extrater­res­tri­al intel­li­gence.” The schol­ars con­tribut­ing to the vol­ume “grappl[e] with some of the enor­mous chal­lenges that will face human­i­ty if an infor­ma­tion-rich sig­nal ema­nat­ing from anoth­er world is detect­ed.” And to make sure that we’re “pre­pared for con­tact with an extrater­res­tri­al civ­i­liza­tion, should that day ever come,” they draw on “issues at the core of con­tem­po­rary archae­ol­o­gy and anthro­pol­o­gy.” Why archae­ol­o­gy and anthro­pol­o­gy? Because, says Vack­och, com­mu­ni­ca­tion with intel­li­gent life prob­a­bly won’t be through sound, but through images. We will need to read/understand the civ­i­liza­tion we encounter based on what we observe. Vakoch says:

[D]on’t think of “sound worlds” or music or speech as the domains, vehi­cles, or con­tents of ETI [extra ter­res­tri­al intel­li­gence] mes­sages. Regard­less of semi­otic con­cerns, the acces­si­bil­i­ty of acoustic mes­sag­ing must remain doubt­ful. Fur­ther­more, there will be intend­ed and unin­tend­ed aspects of per­for­mance, which elab­o­rate the dif­fi­cul­ties of using sound. In my view avoid­ance of the sound world need not be con­tro­ver­sial.

On the oth­er hand, vision and the use of images would appear to be at least plau­si­ble. Although spec­tral details can­not be con­sid­ered uni­ver­sal, the phys­i­cal arrange­ment of objects on a hab­it­able plan­et’s sur­face will be shaped in part by grav­i­ty (the notion of a hori­zon might well be uni­ver­sal) and thus mul­ti­spec­tral images might plau­si­bly be con­sid­ered worth­while for mes­sages. More gen­er­al­ly, the impli­ca­tions for con­sid­er­ing SETI/CETI as some sort of anthro­po­log­i­cal chal­lenge need teas­ing out.

The 300-page book, Archae­ol­o­gy, Anthro­pol­o­gy, and Inter­stel­lar Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, has been made avail­able in three for­mats, and added to our own col­lec­tion, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices:

› Kin­dle read­ers: MOBI [2.8 MB]

› All oth­er eBook read­ers: EPUB [3.8 MB]

› Fixed lay­out: PDF [1.7 MB]

Below you can watch Vakoch give a TEDX talk called,“What Would You Say to an Extrater­res­tri­al?”

via Giz­mo­do/Kim Komand0

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 2 ) |

Patti Smith Presents Top Webby Award to Banksy; He Accepts with Self-Mocking Video

Pre­sent­ing at the 18th annu­al Web­by Awards last week, God­moth­er of Punk Pat­ti Smith man­aged to Adele Dazeem street art provo­ca­teur Banksy not once, but twice. Banksky? Ban-ski? It’s a mea­sure of the lady’s august stand­ing that emcee Pat­ton Oswalt passed on the com­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties of this giant blun­der. He did call her “fuck­ing adorable,” but I like to think he did so with the kind­est of inten­tions.

As to why an artist famous for using the real world as his can­vas should be dubbed “Per­son of the Year” by an out­fit that rec­og­nizes excel­lence on the Inter­net, Smith was noth­ing short of elo­quent. The imper­ma­nence of his oft-ille­gal­ly installed cre­ations make them the per­fect can­di­date “to be archived, shared and stored … through the World Wide Web.” (Appar­ent­ly, she only just real­ized this is a syn­onym for the Inter­net, but no mat­ter. I’m with Oswalt! It would be a cringe­wor­thy admis­sion in just about any­body else, but from her, it’s pret­ty dang cute.)

The nec­es­sar­i­ly low-pro­file hon­oree sur­prised no one by fail­ing to accept his award in per­son. Rather than send­ing Sacheen Lit­tle­feath­er as his proxy, he prof­fered a delight­ful, self-mock­ing short film, which you can see above.

The short revis­its some of the high points of Bet­ter In Than Out, last fal­l’s month-long, piece-a-day takeover of New York City. Keep your eyes peeled for Sirens of the Lambs, a truck haul­ing a load of squeak­ing, osten­si­bly doomed plush farm ani­mal toys and Queens, an inflat­able tag thrown up on his final day as “Artist in Res­i­dence for the City of New York.”

My favorite work from his autum­nal siege of my city was Art Sale, in which he stocked a Cen­tral Park ven­dor table with half a mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of uncred­it­ed sten­cil art, then installed a decid­ed­ly unhip-look­ing senior cit­i­zen to man it. The day’s receipts totaled $420 from a hand­ful of tourists, one of whom suc­cess­ful­ly bar­gained her way into a 2‑for‑1 deal.

I want to know more about these peo­ple who unwit­ting­ly lucked into such a lucra­tive role in 21st-cen­tu­ry art his­to­ry, but to my con­ster­na­tion, they seem to be fly­ing incog­ni­to, just like the artist who so increased their val­ue. You know, the guy who’s all over the inter­net, with­out reveal­ing his iden­ti­ty? The Web­by Awards’ Per­son of the Year!?

Maybe if I spend anoth­er hour pok­ing around online… (A bad use of time, for all but Pat­ti Smith, who claimed it took her 48 min­utes to unsuc­cess­ful­ly down­load the video we can click with such ease, above.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Banksy Cre­ates a Tiny Repli­ca of The Great Sphinx Of Giza In Queens

Watch Pat­ti Smith Read from Vir­ginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Sur­viv­ing Record­ing of Woolf’s Voice

Hear Pat­ti Smith Read 12 Poems From Sev­enth Heav­en, Her First Col­lec­tion (1972)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day occa­sion­al­ly tears her­self  free of the Inter­net to labor over The East Vil­lage Inky, an entire­ly hand­writ­ten, illus­trat­ed zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

Thank You, Mask Man: Lenny Bruce’s Lone Ranger Comedy Routine Becomes a NSFW Animated Film (1968)

If you ever real­ly want­ed to know what was the deal between The Lone Ranger and Ton­to, the above video of Thank You, Mask Man might answer a few ques­tions. Warn­ing: it’s seri­ous­ly NSFW.

The audio for Thank You, Mask Man is tak­en from a stand up rou­tine from Lenny Bruce, who ruth­less­ly, hilar­i­ous­ly takes apart the leg­endary crime fight­er. After years of get­ting saved by a masked hero on a white steed, the denizens of a small West­ern town cor­ner him into accept­ing some­thing, any­thing as a token of their grat­i­tude. The hero points to a near­by Native Amer­i­can and says that he wants him. He pro­claims that he wants “to per­form an unnat­ur­al act.” The towns­peo­ple are hor­ri­fied. “I’ve read a lot of expos­es on how bad it is,” the Masked Man explains, “and I want to try it, just once.”

Jeff Hale, who lat­er went on to ani­mate that groovy Pin­ball Num­ber Count­down bit on Sesame Street, made the short in 1968, two years after Bruce’s death. The movie had a hard time get­ting booked into the­aters report­ed­ly, in part, because Bruce ruf­fled more than a few feath­ers in the film indus­try. Ulti­mate­ly though Thank You, Mask Man became a sta­ple at gay and cult film fes­ti­vals.

Bruce was, of course, the orig­i­nal bad boy com­ic. He laced his free form, light­ning quick per­for­mances with frank dis­cus­sions of sex, social issues and lots of swear­ing. Nowa­days, F‑bombs are par for the course in a come­di­an club but, back dur­ing the Kennedy admin­is­tra­tion, they were shock­ing. And they got him thrown in jail on sev­er­al occa­sions. You can lis­ten to anoth­er (unan­i­mat­ed) Bruce rou­tine below. It’s com­plete­ly NSFW.

You can find Thank You, Mask Man in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lenny Bruce Riffs and Rants on Injus­tice and Hypocrisy in One of His Final Per­for­mances (NSFW)

George Car­lin Per­forms His “Sev­en Dirty Words” Rou­tine: His­toric and Com­plete­ly NSFW

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.

19th Century Caricatures of Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, H.M. Stanley & Other Famous Victorians (1873)

Stu­dents and lovers of Vic­to­ri­ana, we have a treat for you. The 1873 book above, Car­toon Por­traits and Bio­graph­i­cal Sketch­es of Men of the Day, offers car­i­ca­tures of forty-nine promi­nent men, and one woman, of the 19th cen­tu­ry, some of them less-than-famous now and some still ver­i­ta­ble giants of their respec­tive fields.


Accom­pa­nied by live­ly biogra­phies, the por­traits were all drawn by illus­tra­tor Fred­er­ick Wad­dy, who is per­haps best known for the draw­ing on page six of a white-beard­ed Charles Dar­win (above) enti­tled “Nat­ur­al Selection”—often repro­duced in col­or and found hang­ing on the office walls of biol­o­gy teach­ers. Dar­win appears sec­ond in Car­toon Por­traits, pre­ced­ed only by Sir Edward Bul­w­er-Lyt­ton of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame.


In addi­tion to professor’s offices, you may also encounter some of Waddy’s work at the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don. In his time, Wad­dy was one of the fore­most car­i­ca­tur­ists of the day—an impor­tant posi­tion in peri­od­i­cal pub­lish­ing before the advent of cheap­ly mass-repro­ducible pho­tog­ra­phy. All of the por­traits orig­i­nal­ly appeared in a mag­a­zine called Once a Week, found­ed in a split between Charles Dick­ens and his pub­lish­er Brad­bury and Evans, who start­ed the jour­nal with edi­tor Samuel Lucas in 1859 to com­pete with Dick­ens’ All the Year Round. Once a Week ran until 1880, pub­lish­ing pieces on his­to­ry and cur­rent affairs and occa­sion­al poems by Ten­nyson, Swin­burne, Dante Ros­set­ti and oth­ers. Its pop­u­lar­i­ty was buoyed by Waddy’s draw­ings and the detailed illus­tra­tions of sev­er­al oth­er graph­ic artists. Above, see Mark Twain rid­ing his cel­e­brat­ed jump­ing frog, and just below, poet and crit­ic Matthew Arnold does a high-wire act between two trapezes labelled “Poet­ry” and “Phi­los­o­phy.” Twain’s por­trait is titled “Amer­i­can Humour”— and he is the only Amer­i­can in the series—and Arnold’s is called “Sweet­ness and Light.”


Though the book’s title promis­es only “Men of the Day,” it does include one woman, Dr. Eliz­a­beth Gar­rett Ander­son (below, sim­ply titled “M.D.”), the first Eng­lish­woman to offi­cial­ly work as a physi­cian. Her bio­graph­i­cal sketch begins with a long and some­what tor­tu­ous his­tor­i­cal defense for female doc­tors, stat­ing that “social prej­u­dices are almost as hard to erad­i­cate as those of reli­gion. It was not till quite late­ly that the feel­ing against woman’s rights as regard edu­ca­tion was suc­cess­ful­ly com­bat­ed.” Once a Week was a pro­gres­sive-lean­ing mag­a­zine, its edi­tor a not­ed abo­li­tion­ist, and it reg­u­lar­ly pub­lished the work of women writ­ers like Har­ri­et Mar­tineau, Isabel­la Blag­den, and Mary Eliz­a­beth Brad­don, though one won­ders why they didn’t war­rant car­i­ca­tures as well.


Below, see Wad­dy’s por­trait of cen­tral African explor­er Hen­ry Mor­ton Stan­ley, stand­ing twice the height of the native African next to him. It’s a fit­ting image of colo­nial ego, though the scene may be drawn after a pho­to of Stan­ley with his adopt­ed son Kalu­lu. The title refers to his search for—and famous excla­ma­tion upon discovering—Scottish mis­sion­ary David Liv­ing­stone. All in all, Car­toon Por­traits gives us a fas­ci­nat­ing look at Vic­to­ri­an visu­al media and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of the most pop­u­lar lit­er­ary, sci­en­tif­ic, and polit­i­cal fig­ures in Eng­land dur­ing the mid­dle of the cen­tu­ry. While the names of Wad­dy and his fel­low com­ic artists are hard­ly remem­bered now, the authors of The Smil­ing Muse: Vic­to­ri­ana in the Com­ic Press assert that in their day, “they were the ones who had their fin­gers on the pulse of what we now call the ‘pop­u­lar cul­ture’ of the time.” See The Pub­lic Domain Review for more high­lights from the book.


via The Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The British Library Puts Online 1,200 Lit­er­ary Trea­sures From Great Roman­tic & Vic­to­ri­an Writ­ers

Explor­er David Livingstone’s Diary (Writ­ten in Berry Juice) Now Dig­i­tized with New Imag­ing Tech­nol­o­gy

Mark Twain Writes a Rap­tur­ous Let­ter to Walt Whit­man on the Poet’s 70th Birth­day (1889)

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

Protect and Survive: 1970s British Instructional Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack

In Walk­ing in Ruins, nov­el­ist and adven­tur­ous pedes­tri­an Geoff Nichol­son’s book about the on-foot explo­ration of Eng­land and Amer­i­ca’s dis­used places, the author devotes a fas­ci­nat­ing sec­tion to an Essex “secret nuclear bunker.” Ren­dered un-secret, and indeed unnec­es­sary, by the end of the Cold War, the whole under­ground com­plex under­went con­ver­sion into a for­lorn tourist attrac­tion. “In some of the bunker’s small­er, emp­ti­er rooms, videos were being shown on chunky old TV sets, doc­u­men­taries relat­ed to nuclear war and its sur­vival,” Nichol­son writes. “They includ­ed the noto­ri­ous pub­lic infor­ma­tion series Pro­tect and Sur­vive, twen­ty short episodes, basic ani­ma­tion, strange­ly ahead-of-its-time elec­tron­ic music, and a voice-over by Patrick Allen, deeply unsym­pa­thet­ic and unre­as­sur­ing, though you imag­ine he was sup­posed to be both. The titles in the series includ­ed ‘What to Put in Your Fall­out Room’ and ‘San­i­ta­tion Care and Casu­al­ties.’ ”

“ ‘Stay at Home,’ ” Nichol­son tells us, “remind­ed us that fall­out ‘can set­tle any­where, so no place in the Unit­ed King­dom is safer than any oth­er,’ and my favorite sin­gle sen­tence comes from the episode ‘Refuges’: ‘If you live in a car­a­van or oth­er build­ing of light­weight con­struc­tion with very lit­tle pro­tec­tion against fall­out, your local author­i­ty will be able to advise you on what to do’ — and there was a car­toon image of a tiny car­a­van that looked like it might be blown away by a good sneeze, nev­er mind a nuclear explo­sion.” The com­pi­la­tion above col­lects 51 min­utes of these and oth­er episodes of Pro­tect and Sur­vive, orig­i­nal­ly com­mis­sioned by the British gov­ern­ment in the 1970s and meant for trans­mis­sion only in the case of an immi­nent nuclear attack on the coun­try. But episodes leaked, and the BBC pro­ceed­ed to broad­cast them absent that imme­di­ate threat, there­by ensur­ing the lega­cy of this Cold War media arti­fact beloved of irony-lov­ing Britons — that is to say, Britons — across the coun­try.

These vin­tage films will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Duck and Cov­er, or: How I Learned to Elude the Bomb

How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Sur­vive the Atom­ic Bomb: A Cold War Film from 1954

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.

Fear and Desire: Stanley Kubrick’s First and Least-Seen Feature Film (1953)

Ask film­go­ers to name their favorite Stan­ley Kubrick pic­tures, and you’ll hear many of the same titles over and over again: Spar­ta­cusDr. Strangelove2001: A Space OdysseyA Clock­work Orange. These and the five oth­er fea­ture films Kubrick direct­ed between 1960 and his death in 1999 hold per­ma­nent pride of place as some of the most endur­ing and influ­en­tial works in the his­to­ry of the form. His fourth pic­ture, 1957’s Kirk Dou­glas-star­ring, World War I‑set Paths of Glo­ry, has drawn a good share of crit­i­cal acclaim, but noth­ing before it in his body of work has yet com­mand­ed the lev­el of respect asso­ci­at­ed with Kubrick and his cin­e­mat­ic lega­cy.

In 1956, he’d made the noir The Killing on the cheap; the pre­vi­ous year, he’d made the noir Killer’s Kiss on the cheap­er. But before even those came Fear and Desire, Kubrick­’s very first fea­ture, an exis­ten­tial war movie pro­duced in 1953 with mon­ey raised from his wealthy drug­store-own­ing uncle and pro­ceeds from a job shoot­ing sec­ond-unit on a doc­u­men­tary about the life of Abra­ham Lin­coln. You can watch the whole film, which has fall­en into the pub­lic domain, at the top of the post, or in a restored ver­sion, pre­ced­ed by a brief 1966 inter­view with Kubrick, right here.

By the time of Fear and Desire, Kubrick had already logged a cer­tain amount of film­mak­ing prac­tice direct­ing shorts. Still, he could nev­er quite get over his own per­cep­tion of the movie, which he made at age 24 fresh from his job as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er at Look mag­a­zine. He con­sid­ered the film “a bum­bling ama­teur film exer­cise” and “com­plete­ly inept odd­i­ty.” He lat­er, hav­ing burned the neg­a­tive, sought to pre­vent its screen­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion when­ev­er pos­si­ble. Yet it had its high-pro­file appre­ci­a­tors even at the time of release: “Its over­all effect is entire­ly wor­thy of the sin­cere effort put into it,” said the New York Times; “Worth watch­ing for those who want to dis­cov­er high tal­ent at the moment it appears,” said crit­ic-schol­ar Mark Van Doren. Though far rougher than every film Kubrick would go on to make, Fear and Desire offers sev­er­al moments that reveal him as the direc­tor we now know he would go on to become. Grant­land’s Steven Hyden, in an arti­cle on the movie, quotes an attendee at one of its par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­as­trous pre­view screen­ings who remem­bers that “there were gig­gles in the wrong places, and it all seemed over­done and over­wrought.” He also quotes Kubrick­’s full reflec­tion on the expe­ri­ence in a New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file: “Pain is a good teacher.”

Find Fear and Desire list­ed in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Doc­u­men­taries

Killer’s Kiss: Where Stan­ley Kubrick’s Film­mak­ing Career Real­ly Begins

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Rare 1965 Inter­view with The New York­er

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.

Designer Massimo Vignelli Revisits and Defends His Iconic 1972 New York City Subway Map

Most every dweller of a city with a robust pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem comes to iden­ti­fy their bound­aries with the lines, angles, and col­ors of its sub­way map. This is true of my home­town, Wash­ing­ton, DC, at least since the pop­u­lar adop­tion of its Metro sys­tem in the 80s. It’s many times truer of my adopt­ed city for ten years, New York, whose more than 100-year-old sub­way sys­tem has giv­en urban his­to­ri­ans enough mate­r­i­al for life­long study. The his­to­ry of the NYC sub­way maps offers a spe­cial­ized area for stu­dents of design, who must sure­ly know the name Mas­si­mo Vignel­li, the mod­ernist design­er who named the DC Metro and cre­at­ed the noto­ri­ous 1972 NYC Tran­sit map that, writes the MTA (Metro Tran­sit Author­i­ty), “reimag­ined the MTA New York City Tran­sit sub­way sys­tem as a neat grid of col­ored lines sur­round­ed by a beige ocean.” The map will be famil­iar, and per­haps even a token of nos­tal­gia, to New York­ers from the era, who may also recall the com­plaints the MTA received for the map’s “geo­graph­ic inac­cu­ra­cies” and “aes­thet­ic con­fu­sion.” Nonethe­less, “design fans […] cel­e­brat­ed the map and made it a cov­et­ed sou­venir of trips to New York. It lat­er became part of the post­war design col­lec­tion at the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art.” In the video above, excerpt­ed from the 2007 design doc­u­men­tary Hel­veti­ca, Vignel­li revis­its his tran­sit map design (below), which he adopt­ed from the Lon­don Under­ground map.


Click here to view in a larg­er for­mat.

Vignel­li, who passed away Tues­day at the age of 83, worked close­ly with his wife Leila on a wide range of design projects—his mot­to, “if you can design one thing, you can design every­thing.” A great many of those sub­way rid­ers in 1972 may have dis­agreed. While pre­vi­ous and sub­se­quent maps, includ­ing the cur­rent design, pro­vide a geo­graph­i­cal­ly pre­cise ren­der­ing of the five bor­oughs, with details of major avenues and parks and water­ways in sim­ple greens and blues, Vignelli’s map is for­mal and abstract, more art object than guide­post. As a new­com­er to the city, I used my pock­et-sized MTA map to guide me around on foot as well as by train (this was before smart­phones, mind you), but this would be quite dif­fi­cult if not impos­si­ble with the ’72 ver­sion. Yet in his reassess­ment of the design, Vignel­li says that he should have stripped away even the few geo­graph­i­cal ref­er­ences he did include because “the peo­ple couldn’t relate the geog­ra­phy with the sta­tions.” For Vignel­li, “there is no rea­son why this geog­ra­phy has to be lit­er­al, it could be com­plete­ly abstract.” How this would bet­ter help rid­ers nav­i­gate the huge­ly exten­sive sys­tem isn’t at all clear, but what is appar­ent is Vignelli’s com­mit­ment to form over util­i­tar­i­an func­tion. It’s a com­mit­ment that served him very well as a design­er, though not, it seems, as a car­tog­ra­ph­er. For more on Vignelli’s design phi­los­o­phy, see his 2012 inter­view with Big Think.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Under­ci­ty: Explor­ing the Under­bel­ly of New York City

Vin­tage Video: A New York City Sub­way Train Trav­els From 14th St. to 42nd Street (1905)

Bauhaus, Mod­ernism & Oth­er Design Move­ments Explained by New Ani­mat­ed Video Series

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

Watch William S. Burroughs’ Ah Pook is Here as an Animated Film, with Music By John Cale

The work of William S. Bur­roughs can be by turns hilar­i­ous, opaque and pro­fane – filled with images of drugs, insects and oth­er odd­i­ties. Though it might be fas­ci­nat­ing, if dif­fi­cult, on the page, his work real­ly comes alive when read aloud, prefer­ably in Burroughs’s sig­na­ture dead­pan drawl. And if it’s accom­pa­nied by some trip­py visu­als, then, all the bet­ter.

The above video is exact­ly that. In 1994, ani­ma­tor Peter Hunt made this appro­pri­ate­ly grotesque stop motion ani­mat­ed film, Ah Pook is Here, with audio tak­en from Burroughs’s 1990 album Dead City Radio. (You can read along to the video below.) John Cale pro­vides the music. The win­ner of 10 inter­na­tion­al film awards, the short film has been archived in the Goethe Insti­tut.

Ah Pook is Here start­ed in 1970 as a col­lab­o­ra­tion with artist Mal­colm McNeil. Orig­i­nal­ly it was slat­ed to be a mag­a­zine com­ic strip but when the pub­li­ca­tion fold­ed, Bur­roughs and McNeil decid­ed to turn it into a book. Ah Pook is Here and Oth­er Texts was final­ly pub­lished in 1979, though with­out McNeil’s illus­tra­tions. You can see them here.

When I become Death, Death is the seed from which I grow…

Itza­ma, spir­it of ear­ly mist and show­ers.
Ixtaub, god­dess of ropes and snares.
Ixchel, the spi­der web, catch­er of morn­ing dew.
Zooheekock, vir­gin fire patroness of infants.
Adz­iz, the mas­ter of cold.
Kock­upock­et, who works in fire.
Ixtah­doom, she who spits out pre­cious stones.
Ixchun­chan, the dan­ger­ous one.
Ah Pook, the destroy­er.

Hiroshi­ma, 1945, August 6, six­teen min­utes past 8 AM.

Who real­ly gave that order?

Answer: Con­trol.

Answer: The Ugly Amer­i­can.

Answer: The instru­ment of Con­trol.

Ques­tion: If Control’s con­trol is absolute, why does Con­trol need to con­trol?

Answer: Con­trol… needs time.

Ques­tion: Is Con­trol con­trolled by its need to con­trol?

Answer: Yes.

Why does Con­trol need humans, as you call them?

Answer: Wait… wait! Time, a land­ing field. Death needs time like a junkie needs junk.

And what does Death need time for?

Answer: The answer is sooo sim­ple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sake.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stu­pid vul­gar greedy ugly Amer­i­can death-suck­er.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stu­pid vul­gar greedy ugly Amer­i­can death-suck­er… Like this.

We have a new type of rule now. Not one man rule, or rule of aris­toc­ra­cy, or plu­toc­ra­cy, but of small groups ele­vat­ed to posi­tions of absolute pow­er by ran­dom pres­sures and sub­ject to polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic fac­tors that leave lit­tle room for deci­sion. They are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of abstract forces who’ve reached pow­er through sur­ren­der of self. The iron-willed dic­ta­tor is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stal­ins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most inse­cure of all worlds are rulers by acci­dent inept, fright­ened pilots at the con­trols of a vast machine they can­not under­stand, call­ing in experts to tell them which but­tons to push.

You can find Ah Pook is Here in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Junky’s Christ­mas: William S. Burrough’s Clay­ma­tion Christ­mas Film

William S. Bur­roughs on Sat­ur­day Night Live, 1981

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Naked Lunch, His Con­tro­ver­sial 1959 Nov­el

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.


More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.