New Archive Offers Free Access to 22,000 Literary Documents From Great British & American Writers


Thomas Hardy—architect, poet, and writer (above)—gave us the fierce, stormy romance Far From the Madding Crowd, currently impressing critics in a film adaptation by Thomas Vinterberg. He also gave us Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, and Jude the Obscure, books whose persistently grim outlook might make them too depressing by far were it not for Hardy’s engrossing prose, unforgettable characterization, and, perhaps most importantly, unshakable sense of place. Hardy set most of his novels in a region he called Wessex, which—much like William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha—is a thinly fictionalized recreation of his rural hometown of Dorchester and its surrounding counties.

Hardy Revisions

Now, thanks to the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, we can learn all about this ancient region in South West England, and Hardy’s transmutation of it, through Hardy’s own proof copy of a 1905 book by Frank R. Heath called Dorchester (Dorset) and its Surroundings, with revisions in Hardy’s hand. In the excerpt above, for example, from page 36 of this scholarly work, the author discusses Hardy’s use of Dorchester in The Mayor of Casterbridge and the so-called “Wessex Poems.” In the margins on the right, we see Hardy’s corrections and glosses. Though this may not seem the most exciting piece of Hardy memorabilia, for students of the author and his investment in a rural corner of England, it is indeed a treasure.

St Juliots Hardy

The Hardy archive also contains scans of the author’s correspondence, manuscripts and signed typescripts, and architectural drawings, like that of St. Juliot’s Church in Cornwall, above. This extensive digital Hardy collection is but one of many housed in the Ransom Center’s Project Reveal, an acronym for “Read and View English & American Literature.” Read and view you can indeed, through the intimacy of first drafts, manuscripts, personal writing, and other ephemera.

Wilde Salome

See, for example, a handwritten draft of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in French, (excerpt above). Below, we have a handwritten list of Robert Louis Stevenson’s favorite books, and further down, a manuscript draft of Katherine Mansfield’s “Now I am a plant, a weed” from her personal poetry notebook.


Other authors included in the Project Reveal archive include Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Hart Crane, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and William Thackeray. The project, writes the Ransom Center in a press release, generated more than 22,000 high-resolution images, available for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction or fees” (but with attribution). The literary storehouse on display here only adds to an already essential collection of artifacts the Ransom Center houses, such as the papers of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, syllabi, annotated books, and manuscripts from David Foster Wallace, scrapbooks of Harry Houdini, and the first known photograph ever taken. See a complete list of contents of the Ransom Center’s Digital Collections here, and learn more about this amazing library in the heart of Texas at their main site.


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

Watch a Needle Ride Through LP Record Grooves Under an Electron Microscope

Last year, we highlighted a 1956 video from RCA Victor which demonstrated how vinyl records were made back in the good old days. If you have 23 free minutes, you can get a pretty good look at the production process — the live audio recording, the making of a master disc, the production of a mold, the eventual mass production of vinyl records, etc.

Almost 60 years later, vinyl is making a comeback. So why not let Ben Krasnow, a hardware engineer at Google X, give us a much more modern perspective on the LP? Above, watch Krasnow’s stop motion animation, made with an electron microscope, which shows us a phonograph needle riding through grooves on an LP. Much of the 9-minute video offers a fairly technical primer on what went into making this stop motion clip in the first place. So if you want to get to the action, fast forward to the 4:20 mark.

If you hang with Krasnow’s video, you can also see him take some microscopic looks at other media formats — CD-ROMs, early forms of DVDs, and more.

via Devour

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Shot by Shot: A 22-Minute Breakdown of the Director’s Filmmaking

“What is Bresson’s genre? He doesn’t have one. Bresson is Bresson,” wrote master filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in his seminal book Sculpting in Time. “The very concept of genre is as cold as the tomb.”

Nonetheless, Tarkovsky made two of the most praised, best-regarded science fiction films in cinema. Stalker (watch it online) is a metaphysical riddle wrapped in the trappings of a sci-fi thriller. In the verdant area called the Zone, ringed off by miles of barbed wire and armed soldiers, pilgrims come to behold an uncanny landscape ruled by a powerful, otherworldly intelligence. The film seemed to prefigure the Chernobyl disaster that happened years later and proved to be the unlikely inspiration for a video game.

Adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (watch online) is about a space station that orbits a sentient planet that causes hallucinations in the cosmonauts. The hyper-rational protagonist, Kris Kelvin, is thrown for a loop when he is confronted by a doppelganger of his dead wife who killed herself years earlier. The logical side of him knows that this is a hallucination but he falls in love anyway, only to lose her again. Kelvin is caught in a hell of repeating the mistakes of his past.

Solaris was seen as a Cold War-era response to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both movies are mind-altering deep-space epics that raise more questions than they answer. Yet Tarkovsky hated 2001’s ostentatious use of cutting-edge special effects. “For some reason, in all the science-fiction films I’ve seen, the filmmakers force the viewer to examine the details of the material structure of the future,” he told Russian film journalist Naum Abramov in 1970. “More than that, sometimes, like Kubrick, they call their own films premonitions. It’s unbelievable! Let alone that 2001: A Space Odyssey is phony on many points, even for specialists. For a true work of art, the fake must be eliminated.”

Indeed, Tarkovsky seemed to deliberately half-ass the generic elements of film. He used leisurely shots of tunnels and highways of 1971 Tokyo to depict the city of the future. He devoted only a couple minutes of the film’s nearly three hour running time to things like spaceships. And you have to love the fact that the space station in Solaris has such distinctly unfuturistic design elements as a chandelier and a wood-paneled library.

Tarkovsky, of course, isn’t interested in science. He’s interested in art and its way to evoke the divine. And his primary way of doing this is with long takes; epic shots that resonate profoundly even if the meaning of those images remains elusive. Solaris opens with a shot of water flowing in a brook and then, later in the scene, there is a sudden downpour. The camera presses into a shot of a teacup filling with rain. It’s a beautiful, memorable, evocative shot. Maybe the image means something. Maybe its beauty is, in and of itself, its meaning. Either way, Tarkovsky forces you to surrender to his deliberate cinematic rhythm and his pantheistic view of the world.

In a piece called Tarkovsky Shot by Shot, video essayist Antonios Papantoniou dissects a few scenes from Solaris, breaking down each according to camera angle, shot type and duration while pointing out recurring visual motifs. “Diametrically different from Hollywood’s extravagant moviemaking Tarkovsky’s Solaris is in a cinematic universe of its own,” writes Papantoniou in one of the video’s copious intertitles. “Symbolic images and metaphysical manifestations are created and expressed in a poetic way where every visual detail matters.” Watching Shot by Shot, you get a real sense of just how beautifully his films unfold with those gorgeously choreographed long takes. You can watch the full video above.

via Indie Wire

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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 lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

George Orwell Blasts American Fashion Magazines (1946)


While the print magazine industry as a whole has seen better days, publications dedicated to women’s fashion still go surprisingly strong. Perhaps as a result, they’ve continued to attract criticism, not least for their highly specific, often highly altered visions of the supposedly ideal body image emblazoned across their covers. One critic called it an “overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty,” with nearly all of the women on display “immensely elongated” with narrow hips and “slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard.”

This hardly counts as a recent phenomenon; that particular criticism comes from 1946, the critic none other than Animal Farm and 1984 author George Orwell. He lodged his complaint against an “American fashion magazine which shall be nameless” in his “As I Please” column for the British TribuneThe New Republic, which subsequently ran Orwell’s broadside stateside, re-published it on their web site last year. On the magazine’s cover Orwell sees a photograph of “the usual elegant female, standing on a chair while a gray-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirtsleeves kneels at her feet” — a tailor about to take a measurement. “But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment—not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization.”

But this wouldn’t count as an Orwellian indictment of the state of Western society without a harsh assessment of the language used, and the author of “Politics and the English Language” doesn’t neglect to make one here. In the fashion magazine Orwell finds “an extraordinary mixture of sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expensive technical jargon. Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random”:

“A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.” “Bared and beautifully bosomy.” “Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!” “Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!” “An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.” “The miracle of figure flattery!” “Molds your bosom into proud feminine lines.” “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsets wash and wear and whittle you down… even though they weigh only four ounces!” “The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable… forever beloved… Forever Amber.” And so on and so on and so on.

From what I can tell by the fashion magazines of 2015 my girlfriend leaves around the house, while the specific terminology might have changed, the brand-strewn overall wordscape of meaninglessness and obscurantism remains. Orwell surely didn’t foresee that lamentable linguistic and aesthetic situation changing any time soon — though it might surprise him that, despite it all, American civilization itself, in its characteristically unsleek, inelegant, and provisional way, has continued lumbering on.

You can read Orwell’s short essay on Fashion here.

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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 Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Dr. Seuss’ World War II Propaganda Films: Your Job in Germany (1945) and Our Job in Japan (1946)

Most of us come to know the work of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel through his children’s books (I, for instance, remember Hop on Pop as the first book I could read whole), and while he remains most famous as a prolific teller and illustrator of surreally didactic tales for youngsters, his productivity entered other cultural areas as well. Perhaps the most surprising chapter of his career happened during the Second World War, when Seuss, who had already demonstrated his strong anti-Hitler, anti-Mussolini, and pro-Roosevelt sentiments in political cartoons, went to work scripting propaganda films.

Having joined the U.S. Army in 1943 as a Captain, Seuss went on to take charge of the Animation Department of the Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit. Working under Frank Capra toward the end of the war, he wrote the short films Your Job in Germany and Our Job in Japan, both intended to get American soldiers into the right mindset for the occupations of those defeated countries. “With your conduct and attitude while inside Germany, you can lay the groundwork of a peace that could last forever,” says the narrator of the former, “Or just the opposite.”

Unlike the similarly G.I.-targeted Private Snafu cartoons we featured last year, nothing of Seuss’ fanciful style comes through in these films, which use all-too-real footage to illustrate to “our boys” as vividly as possible what could go wrong if they let their guard down in these only-just-former enemy territories. “The German lust for conquest is not dead,” the narrator warns, “it’s merely gone undercover.”  The German people, he insists, “must prove they have been cured beyond the shadow of a doubt before they ever again are allowed to take their place among respectable nations.”

Our Job in Japan also holds out the prospect of a prolonged peace — “peace, if we can solve the problem of 70 million Japanese people.” But this short doesn’t have quite as damning a tone as Your Job in Germany; instead, it focuses on how best to rehabilitate an “old, backward, superstitious country” full of impressionable people “trained to follow blindly wherever their leaders led them.” According to the script, the eminently teachable and adaptable “Japanese brain” just happened to fall under the sway of warlords who decided it could “be hopped up to fight with fanatical fury.” Patronizing, certainly, but a far cry from the popular conception in the west at the time of the Japanese as a cruel, power-mad race inherently bent on bloodshed.

Seuss himself had a history of anti-Japanese cartooning (also featured on our site), but it seems his views had already begun to turn by the time of Our Job in Japan, which argues only for setting an example demonstrating that “what we like to call the American Way, or democracy, or just plain old Golden Rule common sense is a pretty good way to live.” As a result, no less a player in the Pacific theater than Douglas MacArthur found the film excessively sympathetic to the Japanese and tried to have it suppressed, a kind of controversy that never erupted around the likes of Hop on Pop. But as far as the actual winning of Japanese hearts and minds goes, I suspect Seuss’ children’s books have done a better job.

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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 Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Free: Listen to John Rawls’ Course on “Modern Political Philosophy” (Recorded at Harvard, 1984)

Some of the most-referenced Western political thinkers—like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson—have taken hierarchies of class, race, or both, for granted. Not so some of their more radical contemporaries, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine, who made forceful arguments against inequality. A strain of utopianism runs through more egalitarian positions, and a calculating pragmatism through more libertarian. Rarely have these two threads woven neatly together.

In the work of 20th century political philosopher John Rawls, they do, with maybe a knot or a kink here and there, in a unique philosophy first articulated in his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, a novel attempt at reconciling abstract principles of liberty and equality (recently turned into a musical.)

Like the Enlightenment philosophers before him, Rawls’ system of distributive justice invokes a thought experiment as the ground of his philosophy, but it is not an original myth, like the state of nature in nearly every early modern thinker, but an original position, as he calls it, of a society that lives behind a “veil of ignorance.” In this condition, wrote Rawls:

No one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.

Clearly, then, this idea presupposes the opposite of a meritocracy built on labor, conquest, or natural superiority. In fact, some of Rawls’ critics suggested, the “original position” presupposes a kind of nothingness, a state of incoherent nonexistence. What does it mean, after all, to exist without histories, differences, attributes, or aspirations? And how can we visualize an equality of conditions when no one experiences anything like it? What kind of position can possibly be “original”?

To clarify his theory and answer reasonable objections, Rawls followed A Theory of Justice with a 1985 essay called “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical.” This rethinking coincided with a series of lecture classes he taught at Harvard in the 80s, which were eventually published in a 2001 book also titled Justice as Fairness, a promised “restatement” of the original position.

Now we can hear these lectures, or most of them, with the rest to come, on Youtube. Get started with the first lecture in his 1984 seminar “Philosophy 171: Modern Political Philosophy,” at the top, with lectures two and three above and below. There are six additional classes on the Harvard Philosophy Department’s Youtube channel, with a final two more to follow. (Get them all here.)

In these talks, Rawls explains and expands on his core principles: equality of opportunity and the “difference principle,” which states that any and all inequality should benefit the least well-off members of a society. Rawls’ brand of political liberalism (also a title of one of his books) has influenced presidents, judges, and legislators with arguments directly contrary to some of the right’s ideological architects, many of whom in fact wrote in reaction to Rawls. We are free to accept his claims or not, but Rawls’ significant contribution to the terms of modern political discourse is inarguable.

This set of lectures will be added to our collection of 140 Free Online Philosophy Courses, a subset of our meta collection: 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via Daily Nous

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


Watch Glass Walls, Paul McCartney’s Case for Going Vegetarian

Paul McCartney became a vegetarian in 1975, thanks to his wife Linda, who campaigned for animal rights before it became fashionable, and later wrote internationally bestselling vegetarian cookbooks. Decades later, Sir Paul still remains committed to the cause, encouraging people to skip eating meat once a week — see his Meatless Mondays web site — and persuading figures like the Dalai Lama to walk the walk. Above you can watch the Paul McCartney-narrated film, Glass Walls. It works on his theory that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” That is, if you saw how most every carnivorous meal starts with absurd amounts of suffering suffering, you might question whether you personally want to support this.

Glass Walls will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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Artist Turns 24-Volume Encyclopedia Britannica Set into a Beautifully Carved Landscape

Not too long ago, an older relative tried to donate the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia he’d owned since boyhood to a local charity shop, but they refused to take it.

What an ignominious end to an institution that had followed him for seven decades and twice as many moves. Like many such weighty possessions, its provenance was sentimental, a graduation gift I believe, bestowed all at once, rather than purchased piecemeal from a traveling encyclopedia salesman.

By the time I came along, its function had been reduced to the primarily decorative. Every now and then, he’d find some pretext to pull one of its many volumes from the shelf.

Did I know that Tanzania was once called Tanganyika?

And Thailand was once Siam!

The vintage Funk & Wagnalls’ many facts, maps, and illustrations were not the only aspects in need of an update. Its pre-Women’s Lib, pre-Civil Rights attitudes were shocking to the point of camp. There was unintentional comic gold in those pages. A collage artist could’ve had a ball. Witness the success of the Encyclopedia Show, an ongoing performance event in Chicago.

encyc brit carved

Multidisciplinary artist Guy Laramée takes a much more sober approach, above. Adieu, his sculptural repurposing of a 24-volume Encyclopedia Britannica feels like a memento mori for a dimly recalled ancestor of the information age.

Quoth the artist:

I carve landscapes out of books and I paint romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.

An enemy of 3D printing and other 21st-century technological advances, Laramée employs old fashioned power tools to accomplish his beautiful, destructive vision. What’s left is a deliberate wasteland.

Kudos to filmmaker Sébastien Ventura for transcending mere documentation to deliver the befitting elegy at the top of the page. He presents us with a beautiful ruin. Whatever happened there, nature will reclaim it.

You can see more of Laramée’s work at This Is Colossal.

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

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