Animated Philosophers Presents a Rocking Introduction to Socrates, the Father of Greek Philosophy

Would there be such a thing as philosophy had there been no such person—or literary character, at least—as Socrates? Surely people the world over have always asked questions about the nature of reality, and come up with all sorts of speculative answers. But the particular form of inquiry known as the Socratic method—a blanket presumption of ignorance—would not have become the dominant force in Western intellectual history without its namesake. And that is, of course, not all. In the work of Socrates’ highly imaginative student, interpreter, and biographer Plato, we find, as Alfred North Whitehead suggested, a “wealth of general ideas” that have made for “an inexhaustible mine of suggestion” for philosophers since antiquity.

As bluesman Robert Johnson did for rock and roll, Socrates more or less single-handedly invented the formulas of Western thought. He might be called the first philosophical rock star—and judging by the Guns N’ Roses soundtrack to the animated video above, the producers of the Greek Public Television series Animated Philosophers seem to feel the same. Dubbed into English, and with character animation that owes more than a little to South Park, this episode makes the case for Socrates’ importance to philosophy as tantamount to Christ’s in Christianity. Overstated? Perhaps, but the argument is by no means a thin one.

To make the point, writer, editor, and host George Chatzivasileiou interviews Greek philosophers like Vasilis Karamanis and Vasilis Kalfas, who basically agree with Roman orator Cicero’s characterization of Socrates bringing “philosophy down from the heavens to the earth”… as well as, says Kalfas, “into the city” as a “teacher of the citizen” in a modern democratic city-state. A key part of Socrates’ appeal is that he “did not take anything for granted, no matter how obvious it may have seemed.” Though this attitude is as much a performance as it is a genuine admission of ignorance, the Socratic approach nonetheless set the standards of intellectual integrity in the West.

The comparison with Christ is relevant in more ways than one. The fathers of the Christian church relied as much on Plato and his student Aristotle—sometimes it seems even more so—as they did on the Bible. Perhaps chief among early theologians, Bishop Augustine of Hippo receives the animated rock star treatment above in another episode of Animated Philosophers, this one subtitled in English. The many other episodes in the series—on Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, Empedocles, Parmenides, Plotinus, Epicurus, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras—are all available on Youtube, but only in the original Greek with no titles or dubbing. It’s no great surprise the series focuses almost exclusively on Greek philosophers. And yet, national pride notwithstanding, the ancient civilization does have legitimate claim to the origins of the discipline, especially in that most influential figure of them all, Socrates.

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

Hear 46 Versions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3 Minutes: A Classic Mashup

In 2013, New York’s most popular classical music station WQXR celebrated the centennial of Igor Stravinksy’s The Rite of Spring, with a series of events that culminated in Rite of Spring Fever, 24 hours of different performances of the work and a live solo interpretation by Bang on a Can pianist Vicky Chow.

As a promotional posting, WQXR also created this mashup of 46 recordings in 3 minutes, showing the varying approaches to Stravinsky’s score, and the wildly different dynamics of interpretation.

Sixteen years after the work’s tumultuous live premiere in 1913, both Stravinsky and conductor Pierre Monteux competed to record the first version in 1929 in Paris. That was followed in 1930 by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose re-recorded version would become the most famous when it appeared in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. That film did more to bring Stravinsky to wide swathes of society, from kids to grandparents, than any other performance. Plus it had frickin’ dinosaurs:

Phil Kline, the composer and curator of WQXR’s event, notes that it was high-fidelity LPs, not 78s, that really brought the dynamics of Rites into its own. “Few other classics so desperately need to be heard with a wide dynamic range, especially on that big bottom end,” he writes.

This mashup is pretty schizoid, but shows the personalities and influences of each conductor: Leonard Bernstein creates a colorful and sparkling Rite; Pierre Boulez is like a machine; Karajan is thunderous. The various piano interpretations lose none of their bite after being resigned to the keyboard. And Stravinsky’s 1960 recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (aka the New York Philharmonic, renamed for contractual reasons) is also here, sounding just that little bit sweeter than the rest.

Via Kottke

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

A Harrowing Test Drive of Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion Car: Art That Is Scary to Ride

In the 1930s, the systems theorist, designer and inventor Buckminster Fuller created the Dymaxion car — an aerodynamic concept car that managed to get 30 miles per gallon while topping out at 90 miles per hour, and transporting 11 passengers. Like Fuller’s Dymaxion house, the three-wheel Dymaxion car could be disassembled and re-assembled with ease. You can see vintage videos of both here.

The concept car didn’t get much beyond the concept stage. Only three original versions were built, one of which rolled over at the 1933 World’s Fair, leaving the driver dead, three passengers injured, and investors reluctant to bring the car to market. In 2010, the British architect Sir Norman Foster built a replica of the Dymaxion. You can see Dan Neil, of The Wall Street Journal, take the car on a harrowing test drive above. And if you’re intrigued enough to learn more, you can hunt down the 2012 documentary called The Last Dymaxion (watch a trailer of the film here).

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Martin Scorsese Introduces Filmmaker Hong Sangsoo, “The Woody Allen of Korea”

In the clip above, Martin Scorsese talks about a group of films that, in his words, have “enriched me, educated me, disturbed me, moved me in a way that have awakened me to new possibilities in cinema.” Those words will remind many of us of our experiences with Scorsese’s own pictures, which raises a big question: what movement could possibly have enough power to enrich, educate, disturb, move, and cinematically awaken a man who has done so much enriching, educating, disturbing, moving, and cinematic awakening himself?

Scorsese speaks of the cinema of South Korea, especially the wave that, over the past twenty years, has brought the global film scene such auteurs as Park Chan-wook (Joint Security AreaOldboyStoker), Lee Chang-dong (OasisSecret SunshinePoetry), and Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, 3-Iron, Pietà). But he adds that, “for me, there’s something especially interesting about the films of Hong Sangsoo. It’s got to do with his masterful sense of storytelling. In each of his films that I’ve managed to see, everything kind of starts unassumingly” — but then things “unpeel like an orange.”

Only in one respect can I compare myself to Martin Scorsese: a love of Hong Sangsoo movies. I even wrote an essay for The Quarterly Conversation a few years back trying to explain the artistry of this most prolific Korean director, who has put out sixteen alcohol-soaked, cigarette-clouded, social and sexual awkwardness-saturated features to date. Some call Hong “the Korean Woody Allen,” which gets at the fact that his many comedies of manners pass through more moods than comedy and deal with more than manners, but that doesn’t capture his penchant for rich formal and structural experimentation — stories told multiple times, through different perspectives, using clashing sets of facts, and so on — which delights cinephiles everywhere.

This has made Hong a big name on the festival circuit — he usually has a project or two making the rounds at any given time — on which his latest movie Hill of Freedom received much critical acclaim. Telling of a Japanese man’s trip to Seoul to track down his Korean ex-girlfriend through a disordered pile of letters he sent her all at once, the mostly English-language movie shows the internationalization of not just Hong’s appeal, but of his work itself. It allows few of its characters to speak their native language, resulting in the kind of meaningful inarticulacy that he’d previously had to get his all-Korean casts drunk to achieve.

You can take the plunge into Hong’s cut-up and meticulously rearranged cinematic world of inept, jealously idealistic men, women that I’ve elsewhere described as “eerily unrepentant studies in blank calculation and frigid pliability,” and the catastrophes into which they lead themselves by starting with his debut The Day the Pig Fell into a Well, available free on the Korean Film Archive’s Youtube channel.

I recently went to Korea to record a podcast interview with Seoul-based film scholar Marc Raymond about how Hong’s films reflect modern Korean life. It turns out they reflect it pretty well, something I’ll see for myself later this year when, after having studied the Korean language for nearly a decade, I move to Korea — all out of an interest first stoked by Hong Sangsoo.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Science of Singing: New, High-Speed MRI Machine Images Man Singing ‘If I Only Had a Brain’

Back in December, Ayun Halliday took you inside an MRI machine to explore the neuroscience of jazz improvisation and musical creativity. Along the way, you got to see Johns Hopkins surgeon Charles Limb jam on a keyboard inside one of those crowded, claustrophobia-inducing tubes. How could you beat that for entertainment?

Today, we return with a new video showing another way the MRI machine is giving scientists new insights into the making of music. This time the focus is on how we produce sounds when we sing. When “we sing or speak, the vocal folds—the two small pieces of tissue [in our neck]—come together and, as air passes over them, they vibrate,” and produce sound. That’s basically what happens. We know that. But the typical MRI machine, capturing about 10 frames per second, is too slow to really let scientists break down the action of the larynx. Enter the new, high speed MRI machine at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, working at 100 frames per second. It does the trick.

Above, you can see the new machine in action, as a volunteer sings ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’ Get more of the backstory over at the Beckman Institute.

via Mental Floss

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Baudelaire, Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix & Hugo Get a Little Baked at Their Hash Club (1844-1849)

Club des Hashischins

Hôtel de Lauzun, the meeting place of the Club des Hachichins

It may be cliché to say so, but there does seem to be a strong correlation between experiments with mind-altering chemicals and some of the most intriguing experiments in literary style. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Arthur Rimbaud, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson…. Of course, it is necessary to point out that these talented writers were already that—talented writers—substances or no. As one of Rimbaud’s modern children, Patti Smith, declares, drugs are “not really how one accesses the imagination. It can be a tool, but when that tool starts to master you, you’ll lose touch with your craft.”

This seems to have happened to Smith’s literary idol. One of Rimbaud’s literary heroes, Charles Baudelaire, also eventually succumbed to his excessive use of laudanum, alcohol, and opium. But at one time, Baudelaire dabbled with a much less destructive drug, hashish, along with a coterie of other artists, including Alexandre Dumas, Gérard de Nerval, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and painter Eugène Delacroix. The French greats gathered in a gothic house, from 1844-1849, under the moniker Club des Hachichins and partook of the drug, introduced to it by medical doctor Jacques-Joseph Moreau and writer and journalist Théophile Gautier. Writes The Guardian:

…ritualistically garbed in Arab clothing, they drank strong coffee, liberally laced with hashish, which Moreau called dawamesk, in the Arabic manner. It looked, reported the members, like a greenish preserve, its ingredients a mixture of hashish, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, butter and cantharides. Some of them would write of their “stoned” experiences, although not all. Balzac attended the club but preferred not to indulge, though some time in 1845 the great man cracked and ate some. He told fellow members he had heard celestial voices and seen visions of divine paintings. 

Baudelaire declared the hash admixture “the playground of the seraphim” and “a little green sweetmeat.” And yet, like Balzac, he “rarely, if indeed ever, indulged.” Gautier would write of the poet, “It is possible and even probable that Baudelaire did try hascheesh once or twice by way of physiological experiment, but he never made continuous use of it. Besides, he felt much repugnance for that sort of happiness, bought at the chemist’s and taken away in the vest-pocket.”

This “repugnance” did not keep Baudelaire from other drugs. And it did not keep him from writing a short book in 1860 on hash and opium, Artificial Paradises (Les Paradis Artificiels). The Paris Review reprints an excerpt of one section, “The Poem of Hashish”—not in fact a poem, but a descriptive essay. Translated by Aleister Crowley—another writer whose experiments with chemical excess contributed to some of the strangest books written in English—Baudelaire’s prose is almost medical in its precision. In part a response to Thomas de Quincy’s 1821 drug memoir Confession’s of an English Opium Eater, the symbolist poet’s treatise does not draw the conclusions one might expect.

Though he writes stunningly vivid, almost seductive, descriptions of hash intoxication, instead of praising the creative effects of drugs, Baudelaire disparages their use and warns of addiction, especially for the artist. At one point, he writes, “He who would resort to a poison in order to think would soon be incapable of thinking without the poison. Can you imagine this awful sort of man whose paralyzed imagination can no longer function without the benefit of hashish or opium?” Baudelaire recognized these stifling effects even as he lapsed into addiction himself, describing in withering terms the search “in pharmacy” for an escape from “his habitaculum of mire.”

You can read an excerpt of the Crowley-translated “The Poem of Hashish” at The Paris Review’s site and the full translation here. Those who have indulged in their own cannabis experiments—legally or otherwise—will surely recognize the poetic accuracy of his hash portrait, so perfect that it’s hard to believe he didn’t partake at least once or twice at the all-star Club des Hachichins:

Hashish often brings about a voracious hunger, nearly always an excessive thirst … Such a state would not be supportable if it lasted too long, and if it did not soon give place to another phase of intoxication, which in the case above cited interprets itself by splendid visions, tenderly terrifying, and at the same time full of consolations. This new state is what the Easterns call Kaif. It is no longer the whirlwind or the tempest; it is a calm and motionless bliss, a glorious resignèdness. Since long you have not been your own master; but you trouble yourself no longer about that. Pain, and the sense of time, have disappeared; or if sometimes they dare to show their heads, it is only as transfigured by the master feeling, and they are then, as compared with their ordinary form, what poetic melancholy is to prosaic grief.

via The Paris Review

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

Shakespearean Actor Brian Cox Teaches Hamlet’s Soliloquy to a 2-Year-Old Child

Perhaps you’ve seen Scottish actor Brian Cox in blockbuster films like Braveheart, The Bourne Identity, or Troy. Or, if you’re lucky enough, you’ve seen him perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company in critically-acclaimed performances of The Taming of The Shrew and Titus Andronicus. But there’s perhaps another role you haven’t seen him in: tutor of toddlers. Several years back, Cox taught Theo, then only 30 months old, the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, hoping to show there’s a Shakespearean actor in all of us. Later, Cox talked to the BBC about his “masterclass” with Theo and what he took away from the experience. Watch him muse right below:

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Hōshi: A Short Film on the 1300-Year-Old Hotel Run by the Same Japanese Family for 46 Generations

Hōshi is a ryokan (a Japanese traditional inn) located in Komatsu, Japan, and it holds the distinction of being the 2nd oldest hotel in the world, and “the oldest still running family business in the world” (per Wikipedia). Built in 718 AD, the ryokan has been operated by the same family for 46 consecutive generations. Count them. 46 generations.

Japan is a country with deep traditions. And when you’re born into a family that’s the caretaker of a 1300-year-old institution, you find yourself struggling with issues most of us can’t imagine. That’s particularly true when you’re the daughter of the Hōshi family, a modern woman who wants to break free from tradition. And yet history and strong family expectations keep calling her back.

The story of Hōshi ryokan is poignantly told in a short documentary above. It was shot in 2014 by the German filmmaker Fritz Schumann.

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