Hear Roland Barthes Present His 40-Hour Course, La Préparation du roman, in French (1978-80)

A key figure in such academic areas as semiology, structuralism, and post-structuralism, and author of such theoretical classics as Mythologies, The Pleasure of the Text, and S/Z, Roland Barthes is familiar to students across the humanities. His prolific output encompassed books on literary theory, philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, and theoretical essays on photography, music, fashion, sports, and love. In addition to his wide-ranging writings, Barthes lectured in the U.S., Switzerland, and at the Collège de France, where he was elected Chair of Semiology in 1977.

Barthes’ 1978-1980 lecture course at the Collège de France—titled The Preparation of the Novel—has been preserved in an English translation by Kate Briggs. Speakers of French, however, can hear Barthes himself deliver the lecture series in audio archived at Ubuweb. Listen to the first session from December, 1978 at the top of the post, and hear the fifth, with some musical accompaniment, above.

Delivered shortly after publication of the seminal texts mentioned above, these lectures, writes editor Nathalie Léger in her introduction, “form a diptych—the two parts can be accessed independently of each other, yet each one is indispensable to the other.” The last two lecture courses Barthes taught at the Collège de France, both, Léger writes, represent not a systematic theory, but “the peregrination of a quest,” exploring “one question and one question only: that of literary utopia.” Such probing investigations propelled Barthes’ entire career, and opened up new critical paths for a great many thinkers who dared to trace his winding intellectual steps and often intensely personal explorations.

La Préparation du roman will be added to our list of Free Online Literature Courses, part of our larger collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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

James Earl Jones Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

For all its many flaws the original Star Wars trilogy never strayed too far afield because of the deep well of gravitas in James Earl Jones’ voice. The ominous breathing, the echo effect, and that arresting baritone—no amount of dancing Ewoks could take away from his vocal performance. And though Jones’ expressive face has also carried many a film, his unmistakable voice can give even the silliest of material the weight of an oil tanker’s anchor. So then imagine the effect when Jones reads from already weighty literature by Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman? “Chills” only begins to describe it. Just above, hear him read Poe’s “The Raven,” a poem whose rhymes and sing-song cadences conjure up the mad obsession that materializes as that most portentous and intelligent of all the winged creatures.

While Vader and Poe seem like natural companions, the reading by Jones above of selections from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” also makes perfect sense. As comfortable on the stage as he is before the cameras, Jones has an excellent ear for the Shakespearean line, clearly good preparation for the Whitmanian, an “operatic line,” writes The Broken Tower, “due to its brea(d)th.” In the truth Whitman sings in his expansive transcendental poem, “the body, the body politic, and the nation’s body, are all literally the stuff of the universe, stardust smattered and strewn from the unifying explosion of our shared origin.” There are few readers, I aver, who could hold such “stuff” together with the strength and depth of voice as James Earl Jones. The recording above, of sections 6-7 and 17-19, comes from a reading Jones gave in October of 1973 at the 92nd St. Y. Below, hear the complete recording, with several more stanzas. Jones begins at the beginning, rumbling and bellowing out those lines that transmute egotism into magisterial, selfless inclusivity:

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

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis Restored with a Soundtrack Featuring Freddie Mercury, Adam Ant & Pat Benatar

At the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, disco trailblazer and Oscar-winning composer Giorgio Moroder unveiled a restored version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent epic Metropolis — the first time that the groundbreaking movie had been restored since it premiered. Though Moroder labored for years with some of the leading archivists in the world to create the most complete version of the film to date, his adaptation also streamlined the movie’s storyline, added sound effects, colorized the movie’s monochrome picture and, most controversially, added a synth pop soundtrack featuring music by Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, Adam Ant and Freddie Mercury. You can watch it above.

The resulting film, as you might expect, is a profoundly odd collision between pop and art. Lang’s pungent imagery exists uneasily alongside Moroder’s MTV treatment. Critic Thomas Elsaesser in his BFI booklet on the movie called Moroder’s version “somewhere between a remake and a post-modern appropriation.” And though the songs are uniformly cringe-inducing – to say that they didn’t age well is a big understatement — Moroder’s version still works.

The reason that Lang’s movie influenced filmmakers from George Lucas to Terry Gilliam to Stanley Kubrick is because of its visual brilliance, not because of its story. The script, penned by Lang’s wife and future Nazi Party propagandist, Thea von Harbou, is stuffed full of allusions to Frankenstein and German folktales along with plenty of maudlin melodrama. But Lang’s high modernist visuals – evoking both the Bauhaus movement and Henry Ford’s new brand of industrialism – transcended the movie’s story, becoming a lasting vision of totalitarian dystopia.

In 2010, a painstakingly researched “complete” version of Metropolis came out, clocking in at almost three hours. It might be an achievement of film preservation but, compared to Moroder’s version, it shows how bloated and meandering Von Harbou’s script was. Moroder’s more svelte version might be cheesy, but at least it’s fun. The great film critic Pauline Kael described Lang’s movie as “a wonderful, stupefying folly.” Moroder’s version is a folly on top of a folly.

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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. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.

Experience James Joyce’s Ulysses in Virtual Reality, Using the Oculus Rift Headset

If, like Virginia Woolf, you could never read James Joyce’s Ulysses from start to finish, then here’s another way to experience the modernist classic. Virtually rather than textually. According to The Creator’s Project, “an Irish filmmaker named Eoghan Kidney is designing a virtual reality video game that uses an Oculus Rift headset to put the player in the shoes of Stephen Dedalus as he meanders through Dublin on June 16th, 1904.”  On his Fundit page and in the video above, Mr. Kidney (not to be confused with Leopold Bloom’s burnt kidney breakfast) gives us an example of how the “In Ulysses” project will work:

My “In Ulysses” project is another way of experiencing the book – this time, using the virtual format. It will be a virtual reality videogame that will allow a user to inhabit the characters of Ulysses and experience the density of Joyce’s language in a fun and accessible way….

As a user of “In Ulysses” walks along a virtual Sandymount Strand, the book will be read to them – they will hear Stephen’s thoughts as they are written – but these thoughts will then be illustrated around the user in real-time using textual annotations, images and links. A user can stop walking (therefore stopping Stephen walking) and explore these illustrations, gaining insight into the book and adding to the enjoyment of it.

“In Ulysses” has already raised €4000, enough to fund its prototype. No target date for its release has been announced. And, from what I can tell, the consumer version of the Oculus Rift won’t be released until next year. So, like any good reader of Ulysses, you’ll need to have a little patience.

H/T Eric O.

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Watch World War I Unfold in a 6 Minute Time-Lapse Film: Every Day From 1914 to 1918

World War I began 100 years ago, on 28 July 1914. The initial trigger, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, produced something of a “domino effect,” where European powers, bound by pre-existing international alliances, chose sides and fell rather obviously into a catastrophic war. It started as a European war, pitting Allied powers against Central powers. But, soon enough, it became international, involving a long list of countries from Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Australasia. The trench warfare that became such an important part of World War I ensured that the battle lines moved ever so slowly, at least until the final stages of the war. That grinding quality gets captured remarkably well by EmperorTigerstar’s latest YouTube video, “World War I: Every Day,” which shows “the changing front lines of World War I every day from Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war to the armistice of November 11, 1918.” It also includes the changing front lines in Africa and the Pacific. (A legend, below, will help you sort out the various different players.) When you’re done watching “World War I: Every Day” (above), you’ll perhaps want to spend time with EmperorTigerstar’s previous video, “World War II in Europe: Every Day,” which documents an even bloodier war unfolding at a dramatic pace.


Maroon = Central Powers and annexed lands.
Burgundy = Areas militarily occupied by the Central Powers.
Red = Central Power puppet or client states.
Brown = Central Powers in an armistice.
Pink = Central Power gains for that day.
Dark blue = Allied powers.
Blue = Central Powered lands militarily occupied by the Allies.
Blue-grey = Allied powers in an armistice.
Light blue = Allied gains for that day.

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Bertolt Brecht Sings “Mack the Knife” in a 1929 Recording

brecht sings

Since 2008, a recording has been making the rounds on YouTube of Bertolt Brecht singing ‘Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,’ or what’s more commonly known as “Mack the Knife” in English, a song Kurt Weill and Brecht composed for The Threepenny Opera, which premiered in Berlin in 1928. The Brecht recording dates back to 1929, and, according to Discogs, it was released in 1960 on a 7-inch German album called Bertolt Brecht Singt. Below, you can hear Brecht make his way through the tune. The clip comes accompanied by a quirky, new animated video created by the studio Quality Schnallity, Inc.

“Mack the Knife” has, of course, been covered by countless artists over the years. Bobby Darin sang perhaps the most famous, swinging version in 1958. There are also classic versions by Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald, not to mention more contemporary ones by Lyle Lovett, The Psychedelic Furs, The Young Gods, Nick Cave, and Marianne Faithfull. Did we miss one of your favorites?

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via WFMU

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Learn How Crayons Are Made, Courtesy of 1980s Videos by Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers

Some things are difficult to improve upon. Take crayons. The new generation may be clamoring for shades like “mango tango” and “jazzberry jam” but the actual technology appears unchanged since Sesame Street detailed the process in the early 80s, in the lovely, non verbal documentary above. Not a product placement in sight, I might add, though few can mistake that familiar green and gold box.

Those who prefer a bit more explanation might prefer Fred Rogers‘ hypnotic step-by-step guide, playing in perpetuity on Picture Picture.

By the time the industry’s giant gorilla got around to weighing in, the wooden collection boxes and analog counters had been replaced, but otherwise, it’s still business as usual on the ol’ crayon-manufacturing floor. Don’t expect to find the recipe for the “secret proprietary blend of pigments and other ingredients” any time soon. Just know they’re capable of cranking out 8500 crayons per minute. For those playing along at home, that’s enough to encircle the globe 6 times per calendar year, with a full third owing their existence to solar energy.

There’s a Homeland Security-ish vibe to some of the dialogue, but the Life of an American Crayon, above, does our native assembly lines proud. Prouder than the American slaughterhouse, anyway, or some other factory floors, I could name. The workers seem content enough to stay in their positions for decades, happily declaring allegiance to this or that hue.

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


Greek Myth Comix Presents Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey Using Stick-Man Drawings


The next time some know-it-all moralist blames any number of social ills on violent video games or action films, ask them if they’d rather kids stick to the classics. When they invariably reply in the affirmative, you can smugly direct their attention to Greek Myth Comix’s astonishing infographic detailing the multitude of gruesome killings in the Iliad. Homer’s epic unflinchingly describes, for example, in graphic detail, the death of Lycon, who in Book 16 has a sword thrust through his neck: “nothing held but a piece of skin, and from that, Lycon’s head dangled down.” And if you’ve held on to your lunch, you may be interested to know the grisly circumstances of the other two candidates for “grimmest death.” Just below, see a section of the comic celebrating “stand out performances in battle.” Can Zack Snyder’s King Leonidas match kills with Homer’s Achilles? Only one way to find out….


The Iliad graphic is great fun—as well as a succinct way to render modern scolds speechless—but Greek Myth Comix doesn’t stop there… Oh no! Fans of Homer’s Odyssey will not be disappointed; Books 5-7, and much of 9, 10, and 12 also get the “comix” treatment. The artwork is admittedly crude, but the text comes from a much more authoritative source than 300, no disrespect to Frank Miller. Lauren Jenkinson is a “Classical Civilisation and Literature teacher, writer and, apparently, artist,” and her online adaptations are intended primarily to help students pass their GCSE (OCR), the British secondary exams whose nearest equivalent in the States might perhaps be the SATs.


But Greek Myth Comix won’t only appeal to struggling students in the British Isles. Educators will find much to love here, as will lovers of mythology in general. Online access to the site is free, and you can purchase copies of the comix in PDF—either individually, in bulk, or in poster-size resolution. The site’s full archive has other goodies like the above, “What Makes a Homeric Hero?” And with such recent updates, no doubt Greek Myth Comix has much more in store for those struggling to enjoy or understand Homer’s bloody-minded epics, and those who simply love their myths in comic form as well as ancient lyric.

via HolyKaw

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

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