Albert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity — 1997 Documentary Revisits the Philosopher’s Life & Work

Opening with a childhood story from his life, the documentary above, Albert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity, tells us that the philosopher/journalist/novelist’s first love was “the howling and the tumult of the wind.” It’s a beautiful image for a writer who confronted the pain, joy, and confusion of human existence without the ready-made props of religious belief, nationalist allegiance, or ideological conformity. Camus’ “madness of sincerity” produced enduring work like The Stranger, The Plague, The Rebel, The First Man, and The Fall and won him a Nobel Prize in 1957.

His conviction also cost him friendships as he turned away from mass movements and pursued his own path. It was a cost he was prepared to bear. As he would write in The Fall in 1956, “How could sincerity be a condition of friendship? A liking for the truth at all costs is a passion that spares nothing and that nothing can withstand.”

After the wind, of course, Camus had many more loves, and many lovers. A few of them appear above, along with Camus’ daughter Catherine and son Jean to discuss the great themes of his work in three chapters: the Absurd, Revolt, and Happiness. With discussion and excerpts—read by narrator Brian Cox—from Camus’ work, the documentary traces his life from birth and a difficult childhood in French Algeria, to his daily editorials for Combat during the French Resistance, his turn against Communism and decision to live in near-exile in the ‘50s, and his premature death in a car accident in 1960 at the age of 47. All in all, the documentary leaves us with the impression of Camus as a magnetic individual, and a deeply principled one, who held true to the words quoted from his Nobel acceptance speech early in the film about the writer’s task, which is always, he said, “rooted in two commitments… the refusal to lie about what one knows, and resistance to oppression.”

Find more thought-provoking films in our collection, 285 Free Documentaries Online.

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

16,000 Pages of Charles Darwin’s Writing on Evolution Now Digitized and Available Online

Darwin Tree of Life

The Darwinian theory of evolution is an amazing scientific idea that seems, at least to a layperson like me, to meet all the criteria for what scientists like Ian Glynn praise highly as “elegance”—all of them perhaps except one: Simplicity. Evolutionary theory may seem on its face to be a fairly simple explanation of the facts—all life begins as single-celled organisms, then changes and adapts in response to its environment, branching and developing into millions of species over billions of years. But the journey Darwin took to arrive at this idea was hardly straightforward and it certainly didn’t arrive in one eureka moment of enlightenment.

darwin Notebook D

The process for him took over two decades, represented by the hundreds of pages of notes he left behind, all of which will be freely available online at the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History in 2015. This means 30,000 digitized documents, like the naturalist’s first “Tree of Life” at the top of the page, from a July 1837 notebook entry, and Transmutation Notebook D above, the first notebook in which Darwin began working on the theory of natural selection.

The Museum has currently announced that it is a little over the halfway point, with just over 16,000 digitized documents that cover, they write, “the 25-year period in which Darwin became convinced of evolution; discovered natural selection; developed explanations of adaptation, speciation, and a branching tree of life and wrote the Origin [of Species].” Director of the project David Kohn describes that latter famous work as “the mature fruit of a prolonged process of scientific exploration and creativity that began toward the end of his Beagle voyage… and that continued to expand in range and deepen in conceptual rigor through numerous well-marked stages.”


Now historians of science can trace those stages as though they were a fossil record, starting with that famous H.M.S. Beagle voyage, in which the young Darwin sailed from South America to the Pacific Islands—stopping at numerous sites, including the Galapagos Islands of course, and collecting samples and making observations. The journey produced a lively account, 1839’s Voyage of the Beagle, prelude to the fully developed theory presented 20 years later in On the Origin of Species. Looking into the Beagle voyage section, you’ll find hundreds of pages of notes, like that above on Galapagos mockingbirds. Darwin’s handwriting will present a challenge, which is why, Hyperallergic tells us, the project is “adding transcriptions and a scholarly structure to its high-resolution images.”

darwin Children's drawing

Hyperallergic also sums up the remaining contents of the huge archive, which in addition to the Beagle material will feature everything “from the rest of his life, which he spent defending his work.” This means “scribblings in books he studied, abstracts, his own book drafts, articles and their revisions, journals he read, and his notebooks on transmutation.” You’ll also find “some charming oddities” like drawings by the scientist’s children (above) on the back of original Origin manuscript pages. Learn much more about the archive, and Darwin’s lifelong work, at the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin Manuscript Project site.

via io9/Hyperallergic

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

A Haunting Drone’s-Eye View of Chernobyl

Back in August, Colin Marshall remarked that drones “have drawn bad press in recent years: as the intrusive tools of the coming surveillance state, as deliverers of death from above in a host of war zones, as the purchase-delivering harbingers of world domination by” “But as with any technology,” Colin went on to note, “you can also use drones for the good, or at least for the interesting.” Like capturing mesmerizing aerial footage of major cities around the world, cities such as Los Angeles, New York, London, Bangkok & Mexico City. Now let’s add Chernobyl to the list.

While working on a recent 60 Minutes episode, filmmaker Danny Cooke visited Chernobyl, and, using a drone (a DJI Phantom 2 and GoPro 3+, to be precise), he captured haunting footage of the city devastated by the nuclear meltdown of April 26, 1986. Chernobyl has cooled off enough that journalists and scientists can now visit the area for short periods of time. (Biologists, for example, are actively studying the crippling effects radiation has had on Chernobyl’s animal life, and producing disturbing videos showing how birds are developing tumors, and spiders are spinning asymmetrical webs.) As for when Chernobyl will be truly habitable again, the best guess is another 20,000 years. By that time, the detritus will have fully given way to nature, and, if people still roam the earth, they’ll get something close to a fresh start.

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All of Lionel Messi’s 253 Record-Setting Goals in La Liga, Shown in One Video

Earlier this month, when Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick against Sevilla, he reached a milestone. He had scored his 253rd goal in La Liga, making him the all-time top scorer in the elite Spanish soccer league. His first goal came on May 1, 2005, and it took him just 289 matches to break the record previously held by Telmo Zarra. If you’re late to appreciating the artistry of Messi, not to worry. Above, we have a video that runs 31 minutes and brings together footage of every Messi goal in La Liga — all 253 in a row. To see the goals presented in another fashion, check out this infographic.

via Twisted Sifter

Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”

Lynda Barry Syllabus

Our reverence for cartoonist Lynda Barry, aka Professor Chewbacca, aka The Near Sighted Monkey is no secret. We hope someday to experience the pleasure of her live teachings. ’Til then, we creep on her Tumblr page, following with homework assignments, writing exercises and lesson plans intended for students who take her class, “The Unthinkable Mind,” at the University of Wisconsin.

And now, those course materials have been collected as Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, an old fashioned, tangible book. It’s like a paper MOOC!

(Yes, we know, MOOCs are free. This will be too, if you add it to your holiday wish list, or insist that your local library orders a copy.)

Barry 2

Barry’s marching orders are always to be executed on paper, even when they have been retrieved on smartphones, tablets, and a variety of other screens. They are the antithesis of dry. A less accidental professor might have dispensed with the doodle encrusted, lined yellow legal paper, after privately outlining her game plan. Barry’s choice to preserve and share the method behind her madness is a gift to students, and to herself.

barry homework

As Hillary L. Chute notes in Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics:

 The decontextualization of cheap, common, or utilitarian paper (which also harkens back to the historical avant-garde) may be understood as a transvaluation of the idea of working on “waste” –a knowing, ironic acknowledgment on Barry’s part that her life narrative, itself perhaps considered insignificant, is visualized in an accessible popular medium, comics, that is still largely viewed as “garbage.”

Working on “garbage” must come as a relief for someone like Barry, who has talked about growing up under a hostile mother who saw her daughter’s creative impulses as a “waste” of paper:

I got screamed at a lot for using up paper. The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I sometimes stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper everywhere, in every drawer, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I agonize over using a “good” sheet of paper for anything. I have good drawing paper I’ve been dragging around for twenty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane.

Sample assignments from “The Unthinkable Mind” are above and below, and you will find many more in Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Let us know if Professor Chewbacca’s neurological assumptions are correct. Does drawing and writing by hand release the monsters from the id and squelch the internal editor who is the enemy of art?

Barry 1

Barry 3

Barry 4

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

Neil Gaiman Reads Bad, Fake Neil Gaiman Stories

The American Public Media show, “Wits,” asked its listeners to write their “poorest imitations of Neil Gaiman’s writing.” And then they got Gaiman himself to read the best/worst submissions. You can watch the results above, and hear the complete radio show here.

To watch/listen to Gaiman reading stories that he actually wrote, see this collection where Neil reads eight works, including the entirety of The Graveyard Book.

via @Electric Literature

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If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Crash Course Big History: John Green Teaches Life, the Universe & Everything

If you don’t understand big history, you’ll never understand small history. That idea hasn’t yet attained aphorism status, but maybe we can get it there. Last month, we featured a free, Bill Gates-funded short course on 13.8 billion years of “Big History”. Back in 2012, we featured well-known online educator (and now even better-known young adult novelist) John Green’s Crash Course on World History. Now these worlds, or rather these histories of the world, have collided in the form of  Crash Course Big History, a web series “in which John Green, Hank Green, and Emily Graslie teach you about, well, everything.” In true fashion of the biggest possible history, the Crash Course crew begins at the beginning — the real beginning, the Big Bang, which the first fifteen-minute episode gets into above.

“Mr. Green! Mr. Green!” exclaims Green at himself, momentarily taking on his signature secondary pushy-student persona. “That’s not history, that’s science.” Returning to his cool-professor persona, Green lays it out for himself: “Academics often describe history as, like, all stuff that’s happened since we started writing things down, but they only start there because that’s where we have the best information. The advent of writing was a huge deal, obviously, but as a start date for history, it’s totally arbitrary. It’s just a line we drew in the sand and said, ‘Okay, history begins now!'” In order to push that line as far back as possible, history must fuse with science, allowing the study of the past to best incorporate and contextualize all it can about (and students of Green had to know he would quote Douglas Adams on this) “Life, the Universe, and Everything.”

Seven episodes in and underway right now, Crash Course Big History has gone on to cover not just the universe, but the sun and the Earth, the emergence of life, the epic of evolution, and how that process produced humans. Having arrived at the appearance of Homo sapiens, Green and company cover, in the freshly released seventh episode, the process of “humanity conquering the Earth. Or at least moving from Africa into the rest of the Earth,” going on to reach “a critical mass of innovators” and develop “collective learning.” And amid the grand sweep of planetary movement, evolution, and mass migration, we continue to find new ways to collectively learn all the time — of which the Crash Courses represent only one particularly entertaining variety.

You can watch future Crash Course Big History videos by following this playlist on Youtube. It’s also worth mentioning that Bill Gates has helped fund these Crash Course videos, just as he has helped fund the larger Big History Project mentioned in our previous post.

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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.

Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow Finally Gets Released as an Audio Book

gravitys rainbow audiobook

A quick heads up for Thomas Pynchon fans. Four decades after its publication, you can finally get Gravity’s Rainbow as an audio book — possibly even as a free audio book.

According to The New York Times, “Since the mid-1980s, a George Guidall recording [of the 1973 novel] has been floating around, like some mythical lost rocket part — no one had heard it, but all Pynchon fans knew someone who knew someone who had — but in October a new version, authorized and rerecorded… — hit the stands.”

The new release, which runs 40 hours and 1 minute, is also narrated by Guidall. It’s available on (Hear an audio sample below.) And there’s a way to get it for free. As we’ve mentioned before, Audible lets you download an audio book for free if you sign up for their 30-Day Free Trial. And even if you decide to cancel the trial, you can still keep the audio book and pay no money. That said, I dig Audible’s subscription service, as I’ve spelled out before, precisely because you can get big long audio books for a really reasonable price.

Learn more about the Free Trial program here, and to get Gravity’s Rainbow, simply click here and then click the “Try Audible Free” link on the right side of the page. NB: Audible is an subsidiary, and we’re a member of their affiliate program.


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