Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her New UW-Madison Course, “Making Comics”



Car­toon­ist turned edu­ca­tor Lyn­da Bar­ry is again per­mit­ting the world at large to freely audit one of her fas­ci­nat­ing Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son class­es via her Tum­blr. (To get to the start of the class, click here and then scroll down the page until you reach the syl­labus, then start work­ing your way back­wards.)

The top­ic this fall is “Graph­ic Vices, Graph­ic Virtues: Mak­ing Comics,” a sub­ject with which Bar­ry is inti­mate­ly acquaint­ed. In the professor’s own words, this class is “a(n aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly rig­or­ous) blast!”

As in pre­vi­ous class­es, the syl­labus, above, spells out a high­ly spe­cial­ized set of required sup­plies, includ­ing a num­ber of items rarely called for at the col­lege lev­el.



It’s become a time hon­ored tra­di­tion for Barry’s stu­dents to adopt new names by which to refer to each oth­er in-class, some­thing they’ll enjoy hear­ing spo­ken aloud. For “Mak­ing Comics,” Bar­ry is fly­ing under the han­dle Pro­fes­sor SETI (as in “search for extrater­res­tri­al intel­li­gence”), telling the class that “images are the ETI in SETI.”

The stu­dents have respond­ed with the fol­low­ing han­dles: Chef Boyardee, Gin­ger, Lois Lane, Rosie the Riv­et­er, Regi­na Pha­lange, Ara­bel­la, Snoopy, Skeeter, Tig­ger, Arya Stark, Nala, Nos­tal­gia, Aki­ra, Lapus Lazuli, The Buffalo,Mr. Novem­ber, The Short Giraffe, Nic­ki Minaj, Neko, Vin­cent Brooks, Reg­u­lar Sized Rudy, and Zef.

(Sounds like a rough and ready crew. What name would you choose, and why?)

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As usu­al, Bar­ry draws inspi­ra­tion from the dizzy­ing boun­ty of images avail­able on the net, bom­bard­ing her pupils with find­ings such as the lobed teeth of the crab-eater seal, above.

Sci­ence and music remain pet sub­jects–Afro­fu­tur­ist band­leader Sun Ra serves as class ora­cle this go round.

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Pro­fes­sor SETI keeps the “graph­ic vice” of the class’ offi­cial title front and cen­ter with assign­ments per­tain­ing to the 7 dead­ly sins, ask­ing stu­dents to exam­ine mod­ern equiv­a­lents of the hor­rors depict­ed by Heron­imus Bosch above and 16th-cen­tu­ry engraver Pieter van der Hey­den, below.

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What to do with all of these images? Draw them, of course! As Bar­ry tells her stu­dents:

Draw­ing is a lan­guage. It’s hard to under­stand what that real­ly means until you’ve ‘spo­ken’ and ‘lis­tened’ to it enough in a reli­able reg­u­lar way like the reli­able reg­u­lar way we will have togeth­er this semes­ter.

That’s an impor­tant def­i­n­i­tion for those lack­ing con­fi­dence in their draw­ing abil­i­ties to keep in mind. Bar­ry may revere the inky blacks of comics leg­end Jaime Her­nan­dez, but she’s also a devo­tee of the wild, unbri­dled line that may be a beginner’s truest expres­sion. (Stick fig­ures, how­ev­er, “don’t cut it.”) To her way of think­ing, every­one is capa­ble of com­mu­ni­cat­ing flu­ent­ly in visu­al lan­guage. The cur­rent crop of stu­dent work reveals a range of train­ing and nat­ur­al tal­ent, but all are wor­thy when viewed through Barry’s lens.

The teacher’s phi­los­o­phy is the bind­ing ele­ment here, but don’t fret if you are unable to take the class in per­son:

We rarely speak direct­ly about the work we do in our class though we look at it togeth­er. We stare at it and some­times it makes us laugh or we silent­ly point out some part of it to the class­mate beside us.  To be able to speak this unspo­ken lan­guage we need to prac­tice see­ing (hear­ing) the way it talks.

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That ear­li­er-allud­ed-to rig­or is no joke. Dai­ly diary comics, 3 minute self por­traits on index cards, pages fold­ed to yield 16 frames in need of fill­ing, and found images copied while lis­ten­ing to pre­scribed music, lec­tures, and read­ings are a con­stant, non-nego­tiable expec­ta­tion of all par­tic­i­pants. Her method­ol­o­gy may sound goose‑y but it’s far from loose‑y.

In oth­er words, if you want to play along, pre­pare to set aside a large chunk of time to com­plete her week­ly assign­ments with the vig­or demand­ed of non-vir­tu­al stu­dents.

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Those who aren’t able to com­mit to going the dis­tance at this time can recon­struct the class lat­er.  Bar­ry leaves both the assign­ments and exam­ples of stu­dent work on her Tum­blr for per­pe­tu­ity. (You can see an exam­ple here.) For now, try com­plet­ing the 20 minute exer­cise using the assigned image above, or by choos­ing from one of her “extra cred­it” images, below:

Set timer for three min­utes and begin this draw­ing using a yel­low col­or pen­cil. Try to draw as much of the draw­ing as you can in three min­utes. You can draw fast, and in a messy way, The impor­tant thing is to get as much cov­ered as you can in three min­utes. You can col­or things in if you like. Look for the dark­est areas of the pho­to and col­or those in.

Set a timer for anoth­er three min­utes and using your non-dom­i­nant hand, draw with orange or col­or pen­cil to draw the entire draw­ing again, draw­ing right on top of the first draw­ing lay­er. The lines don’t have to match or be right on top of each oth­er, you can change your mind as you add this lay­er. You can move a bit to the right rather than try to draw direct­ly onto the first set of lines.

Set a timer for anoth­er 3 min­utes and use a red pen­cil and draw it again, using you dom­i­nant hand, adding anoth­er lay­er to the draw­ing. Again, you don’t have to fol­low your orig­i­nal lines. Just draw on top of them.

Set a timer for anoth­er 3 min­utes and use a dark green pen­cil to draw the entire draw­ing one more time on top of all the oth­ers. 

Set a timer for 8 min­utes and use a dark blue pen­cil to draw it one more time.

Spend the last 8 min­utes ink­ing the image in with your uni­ball pen. Remem­ber that sol­id black is the very last thing you’d do giv­en your time lim­it. You want to make sure to draw all the parts of the pic­ture first.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry Shows You How to Draw Bat­man in Her UW-Madi­son Course, “Mak­ing Comics”

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

Watch Lyn­da Barry’s Grad­u­a­tion Speech; Give a Shout Out to the Teach­ers Who Changed Your Life

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

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

Classic Blues Songs By John Lee Hooker, B.B. King & Muddy Waters Played on the Gayageum, a Traditional Korean Instrument

To say that most polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions on social media lack nuance seems tan­ta­mount to point­ing out that most pornog­ra­phy lacks romance. The thrusts, par­ries, and asides of the Face­book com­ment skir­mish and the Twit­ter­fight gen­er­al­ly con­sti­tute per­for­ma­tive acts rather than thought­ful inter­per­son­al engage­ment. It’s more the nature of the medi­um than the fault of the par­tic­i­pants; ever-churn­ing con­tro­ver­sy keeps the machines run­ning. One con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject now trend­ing on a net­work near you is the issue of Cul­tur­al Appropriation—broadly defined as the use of the sym­bols, lan­guage, dress, hair­styles, music, art, and oth­er sig­ni­fiers of one cul­ture by anoth­er.

A prob­lem aris­es when we leave the sub­ject broad­ly defined. Pow­er dynam­ics are key, but to con­demn all acts of cul­tur­al appro­pri­a­tion as theft leaves us in a bind. How do we gen­er­ate cul­ture with­out it? Not all acts of bor­row­ing are equal­ly respect­ful, but with­out them, we could not have had the musi­cal rev­o­lu­tions of rock and roll—with its appro­pri­a­tion of the blues—or of hip-hop, with its appro­pri­a­tion of dis­co, pop, Kung Fu movies, and every­thing else in a DJ’s record and video col­lec­tion. Neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive exam­ples can eas­i­ly get jum­bled togeth­er under these rubrics. To avoid get­ting tan­gled in ana­lyt­i­cal bram­bles, why don’t we turn instead to what I would con­sid­er a pos­i­tive exam­ple of cul­tur­al appro­pri­a­tion: the pieces you hear in the videos here, inter­pre­ta­tions of blues songs per­formed by musi­cian Luna Lee on a Gayageum, a tra­di­tion­al Kore­an zither-like instru­ment.

We’ve fea­tured Luna’s Gayageum cov­ers before—of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” and Ste­vie Ray Vaughan’s take on Hendrix’s “Lit­tle Wing.” Both Hen­drix songs demon­strate the degree to which the rock gui­tarist bor­rowed heav­i­ly from blues idioms. Tra­di­tion­al blues artists them­selves, of course, cre­at­ed and inno­vat­ed through bor­row­ing from each oth­er and from myr­i­ad tra­di­tion­al sources. Are Luna’s blues per­for­mances any dif­fer­ent? She clear­ly demon­strates a love and respect for the source mate­r­i­al, and she plays it with deft­ness and skill, tak­ing plea­sure in musi­cian­ship, not sales­man­ship. Her blues cov­ers don’t seem to have much com­mer­cial appeal, but they great­ly appeal to lis­ten­ers judg­ing by the num­ber of peo­ple her videos reach.

At the top of the post, you can hear her play John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” Below it, we have Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and above, B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone.”  Low­er down, hear Mud­dy Waters “Rollin’ and Tum­blin’” (first record­ed by Ham­bone Willie New­born) and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom.” Each inter­pre­ta­tion relies on mul­ti­track recording—Luna is either accom­pa­nied by a gener­ic back­ing track or accom­pa­nies her­self with a rhythm track that she plays over. Her cov­ers of Amer­i­can blues clas­sics on a tra­di­tion­al Kore­an instru­ment bring to the fore the inter­cul­tur­al acces­si­bil­i­ty of the songs and their adapt­abil­i­ty to an instru­men­tal con­text we might also con­sid­er “roots.” But as you can see from Luna’s Youtube chan­nel, she doesn’t only adapt “roots” music. She also cov­ers Radio­head, Frank Sina­tra, Led Zep­pelin, and AC/DC.

It’s like­ly my own bias for the blues—and for more tra­di­tion­al blues in particular—that makes me say so, but I think the cov­ers rep­re­sent­ed here are her most suc­cess­ful. (Whether Messrs Hook­er, King, King, Waters, and James would approve, I can­not say.) There’s some­thing about hear­ing the Gayageum in dia­logue with these songs that feels… well, if not exact­ly authen­tic at least less gim­micky than than a cov­er of One Repub­lic. But ulti­mate­ly, what­ev­er your pref­er­ence, if you can appre­ci­ate Luna’s instru­men­tal skill and devo­tion to her source mate­r­i­al, you’ll find some­thing to love on her page.

She’s not in it for the mon­ey, but like every strug­gling artist, Luna has dreams and bills to pay. To sup­port her work, vis­it her Patre­on page and help con­tribute to her goal of play­ing music full time and hir­ing addi­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tors. In the pitch video below, Luna gives us some of her musi­cal back­ground and explains how she adapt­ed the tra­di­tion­al­ly acoustic Gayageum for more rock­ing con­tem­po­rary tunes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ Per­formed on a Gayageum, a Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Instru­ment

With Medieval Instru­ments, Band Per­forms Clas­sic Songs by The Bea­t­les, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Metal­li­ca & Deep Pur­ple

Led Zep­pelin, Rolling Stones & The Bea­t­les Played on a 3‑String Elec­tric Moun­tain Dul­cimer

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

Stream a Free 65-Hour Playlist of John Cage Music and Discover the Full Scope of His Avant-Garde Compositions

john cage 65 hours

Cre­ative Com­mons image via Wiki Art

We might as well get the self-writ­ing joke about a 65-hour John Cage playlist out of the way up front: that’s a whole lot of silence! But of course, such a joke about the work of John Cage inevitably ends up as a joke about how lit­tle so many of us know about the work of John Cage. Most of us learn, at one time or anoth­er, of “4’33”,” his famous 1952 com­po­si­tion — or per­haps anti-com­po­si­tion — which instructs its play­ers to, for the length of time reflect­ed by its title, play noth­ing at all. But dig a lit­tle deep­er into Cage’s moti­va­tions, and you find that he want­ed the audi­ence of “4’33”” to lis­ten not to the silence, but to what­ev­er sounds hap­pen to remain in the absence of music — so that those inci­den­tal nois­es, in effect, become the music.

Many more such uncon­ven­tion­al com­po­si­tion­al ideas and result­ing lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ences await you in John Cage: A Chrono­log­i­cal Col­lec­tion, this decid­ed­ly non-silent Spo­ti­fy playlist above (and if you don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware yet, down­load it here) by Ulysses Clas­si­cal, author of sev­er­al of our favorite playlists, includ­ing this 50-hour clas­si­cal com­pi­la­tion we fea­tured in August.

If you find your­self still in need of more of Cage’s salu­tary effect on your per­cep­tion of not just music and art but of the world itself, you can hear Ulysses Clas­si­cal’s playlist of only Cage’s “Num­ber Pieces” below, which “has a cleans­ing effect on the mind, as if it paints the walls of the room I’m sit­ting in with sooth­ing col­ors.”

Ulysses Clas­si­cal’s back­ground post on the big chrono­log­i­cal playlist opens with a quote from Cage that neat­ly incap­su­lates what we might call his phi­los­o­phy of com­po­si­tion, or maybe of life itself: “What I’m propos­ing, to myself and oth­er peo­ple, is what I often call the tourist atti­tude — that you act as though you’ve nev­er been there before. So that you’re not sup­posed to know any­thing about it. If you real­ly get down to brass tacks, we have nev­er been any­where before.” This playlist, which spans Cage’s six-decade career from 1932 to 1992, show­cas­es just what rich musi­cal places Cage found when he act­ed as though he’d nev­er been there before. Lis­ten­ing to it will cer­tain­ly take you to musi­cal places you’ve nev­er been before — and, assum­ing you’ve been to “4’33”,” it does­n’t take you there, but I sup­pose you can go to that par­tic­u­lar patch of musi­cal ter­ri­to­ry any time you like.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Music of Avant-Garde Com­pos­er John Cage Now Avail­able in a Free Online Archive

John Cage Per­forms Water Walk on US Game Show I’ve Got a Secret (1960)

10 Rules for Stu­dents and Teach­ers Pop­u­lar­ized by John Cage

Lis­ten to John Cage’s 5 Hour Art Piece: Diary: How To Improve The World (You Will Only Make Mat­ters Worse)

Hear Joey Ramone Sing a Piece by John Cage Adapt­ed from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Watch a Sur­pris­ing­ly Mov­ing Per­for­mance of John Cage’s 1948 “Suite for Toy Piano”

10 Rules for Stu­dents and Teach­ers Pop­u­lar­ized by John Cage

See the Curi­ous Score for John Cage’s “Silent” Zen Com­po­si­tion 4’33”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


People of Nowhere: Short, Powerful Film Captures the Human Dimension of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

“The pro­pa­gan­dis­t’s pur­pose is to make one set of peo­ple for­get that cer­tain oth­er sets of peo­ple are human.”
–Aldous Hux­ley (1936)

Lior Speran­deo, who has pre­vi­ous­ly direct­ed short films called Peo­ple of Mum­bai, Peo­ple of Nepal, and Peo­ple of Sene­gal, returns with a film that resists focus­ing on a sense of place. Peo­ple of Nowhere cap­tures the plight of Syr­i­an refugees, flee­ing their worn-torn coun­try for a safer life in Europe. Explain­ing how he came to make the dra­mat­ic film, Speran­deo writes:

I have heard and read dif­fer­ent opin­ions about the wave of Syr­i­an refugees who try to make their way in to the EU. Then I went to Lesvos. 7 days on the Greek Island gave me a health­i­er, human per­spec­tive on the sit­u­a­tion.  See­ing the peo­ple behind the head­lines with my own eyes, and feel­ing their deep strug­gle, broke my heart.  Are they the ‘threat’ peo­ple talk about? All I saw were coura­geous peo­ple in a time of cri­sis, look­ing for hope.  I also got to meet brave vol­un­teers from all over the world who reach out to help all peo­ple regard­less of their reli­gion, race or back­ground. That inspired me.  My hope is that this video might tear down some of the walls of bad ideas and opin­ions we have built around our­selves.

You can watch Lior’s film, a reminder that real lives are stake in the slow-mov­ing geno­cide in Syr­ia, on Vimeo here. And vis­it his Vimeo Chan­nel here.

Fol­low Open Cul­ture on Face­book and Twit­ter and share intel­li­gent media with your friends. Or bet­ter yet, sign up for our dai­ly email and get a dai­ly dose of Open Cul­ture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts def­i­nite­ly appear in your Face­book news­feed, just fol­low these sim­ple steps.

300 Kate Bush Impersonators Pay Tribute to Kate Bush’s Iconic “Wuthering Heights” Video

Heath­cliff, it’s me–Cathy.

(and 300 Kate Bush imper­son­ators…)

Let (us) in-a-your win­do-o-ow!

I will nev­er for­get my first hear­ing of singer-song­writer Kate Bush’s “ Wuther­ing Heights.” My col­lege boyfriend was a fan, but noth­ing he told me in advance pre­pared me for the shock­ing lunatic squeak of that voice.

Was that how Emi­ly Bron­të con­ceived of her oth­er­world­ly Goth­ic hero­ine, Cather­ine Earn­shaw?

Sure­ly no.

Had such an unholy screech issued from the lips of Mer­le Oberon in the 1939 film adap­ta­tion, Lawrence Olivi­er would have bolt­ed for the moors…

It’s an acquired taste, but a last­ing one. Bush’s debut sin­gle, writ­ten on a full moon night at the ten­der age of 18, has become a clas­sic in its own right.  (SPOILER: its life span has proved longer than Heath­cliff’s).

It’s weird, trag­ic, com­pelling… just like the nov­el that inspired it.

It’s also peren­ni­al­ly ripe for par­o­dy. Not just because of the voice. Two music videos Bush released seal that deal.

The UK ver­sion, above, fea­tures the sort of over-the-top the­atrics rarely dis­played out­side the pri­va­cy of bed­room mir­rors, as Bush pirou­ettes, cart­wheels, and emotes in a gauzy white frock.

(Some young teens of my acquain­tance nailed that one at sum­mer camp, with lit­tle more than white bed sheets and fif­teen min­utes of advance prepa­ra­tion.)

When it came time for the Amer­i­can release, below, Bush paint­ed her nails, rouged her lips, and took to the great out­doors in a bright red gown and tights, below.

Come­di­an Noel Field­ing camped his way through that ver­sion in 2011, rais­ing mon­ey for char­i­ty with a near­ly 30-year-old ref­er­ence.

But for sheer num­bers, noth­ing trumps the Sham­bush! stunt at the top of the page. In May, 2013, the self-pro­claimed “ludi­crous per­for­mance troupe” invit­ed all inter­est­ed Bush fans to join them in a Brighton park to recre­ate the famous video en masse. (Gowns and wigs were avail­able onsite.)

More than 300 par­tic­i­pants heed­ed the call, allow­ing Sham­bush! to achieve its goal of set­ting the world’s record for the most num­ber of peo­ple dressed as Kate Bush. (As one of the orga­niz­ers point­ed out, they would’ve set the world’s record even if it had only been the three of them.)

What a won­der­ful, ridicu­lous moment in music his­to­ry to be a part of!

For those inspired to recre­ate the mad­ness with their own crew, Sham­bush! breaks down (and names) some of the most icon­ic moves in an instruc­tion­al video, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

2009 Kate Bush Doc­u­men­tary Dubs Her “Queen of British Pop”

Ai Weiwei’s Par­o­dy of ‘Gang­nam Style’

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

Learn to Code with Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Minecraft, a non-prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to expand­ing access to com­put­er sci­ence, has cre­at­ed a fun way for stu­dents to learn the basics of cod­ing. Team­ing up with Dis­ney and Lucas­film, they’ve launched Star Wars: Build­ing a Galaxy with Code, a tuto­r­i­al designed to teach stu­dents to write JavaScript as they guide Star Wars char­ac­ters through a fun mis­sion. The mod­ule is designed for kids 11 and up. (Adults, that could def­i­nite­ly apply to you.) There’s also a sep­a­rate begin­ner’s tuto­r­i­al for kids between the ages of 6 and 10.

If Star Wars does­n’t hold appeal, then you can always learn to code through the ever-pop­u­lar video game Minecraft. The Minecraft tuto­r­i­al, cre­at­ed in part­ner­ship with Microsoft, got some pret­ty nice reviews over on Moth­er­board.

More tuto­ri­als can be found here. And you’ll find oth­er intro­duc­to­ry cod­ing cours­es (some designed with an old­er demo­graph­ic in mind) in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Harvard’s Free Com­put­er Sci­ence Course Teach­es You to Code in 12 Weeks

Codecademy’s Free Cours­es Democ­ra­tize Com­put­er Pro­gram­ming

Free Online Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es

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Albert Einstein On God: “Nothing More Than the Expression and Product of Human Weakness”

Einstein Gutkind Letter

With depend­able fre­quen­cy, the reli­gious views of Albert Ein­stein get revised and re-revised accord­ing to some re-dis­cov­ered or re-inter­pret­ed quo­ta­tion from his sci­en­tif­ic work or per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence. It’s not espe­cial­ly sur­pris­ing that Ein­stein had a few things to say on the sub­ject. As the pre-emi­nent the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist of his age, he spent his days pon­der­ing the mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse. As one of the most famous pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als in his­to­ry, and an immi­grant to a coun­try as high­ly reli­gious as the Unit­ed States, Ein­stein was often called on to voice his reli­gious opin­ions. Like any one of us over the course of a life­time, those state­ments do not har­mo­nize into a neat and tidy con­fes­sion of belief, or unbe­lief. Instead, at times, Ein­stein explic­it­ly aligns him­self with the pan­the­ism of Baruch Spin­oza; at oth­er times, he express­es a much more skep­ti­cal atti­tude. Often he seems to stand in awe of a vague deist notion of God; Often, he seems max­i­mal­ly agnos­tic.

Ein­stein reject­ed the athe­ist label, it’s true. At no point in his adult life, how­ev­er, did he express any­thing at all like a belief in tra­di­tion­al reli­gion. On the con­trary, he made a par­tic­u­lar point of dis­tanc­ing him­self from the the­olo­gies of Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty espe­cial­ly. Though he did admit to a brief peri­od of “deep reli­gious­ness” as a child, this phase, he wrote “reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve.” As he writes in his Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Notes, after a “fanat­ic orgy of free­think­ing,” brought on by his expo­sure to sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, he devel­oped a “mis­trust of every kind of author­i­ty… a skep­ti­cal atti­tude toward the con­vic­tions that were alive in any spe­cif­ic social environment—an atti­tude that has nev­er left me, even though, lat­er on, it has been tem­pered by a bet­ter insight into the causal con­nec­tions.” In con­trast to the “reli­gious par­adise” of his youth, Ein­stein wrote that he had come to find anoth­er kind of faith—in the “huge world… out yon­der… which stands before us like a great rid­dle.”

Einstein’s rejec­tion of a per­son­al God was unde­ni­ably final, such that in 1954, a year before his death, he would write the let­ter above to philoso­pher Erik Gutkind after read­ing Gutkind’s book Choose Life: The Bib­li­cal Call to Revolt on the rec­om­men­da­tion of a mutu­al friend. The book, Ein­stein tells its author, is “writ­ten in a lan­guage inac­ces­si­ble to me.” He goes on to dis­par­age all reli­gion as “the most child­ish super­sti­tion”:

The word God is for me noth­ing more than the expres­sion and prod­uct of human weak­ness, the Bible a col­lec­tion of hon­or­able, but still pure­ly prim­i­tive, leg­ends which are nev­er­the­less pret­ty child­ish. No inter­pre­ta­tion, no mat­ter how sub­tle, can change this for me. For me the Jew­ish reli­gion like all oth­er reli­gions is an incar­na­tion of the most child­ish super­sti­tion. And the Jew­ish peo­ple to whom I glad­ly belong, and whose think­ing I have a deep affin­i­ty for, have no dif­fer­ent qual­i­ty for me than all oth­er peo­ple. As far as my expe­ri­ence goes, they are also no bet­ter than oth­er human groups, although they are pro­tect­ed from the worst can­cers by a lack of pow­er…

You can read a full tran­script at Let­ters of Note, who include the let­ter in their sec­ond vol­ume of fas­ci­nat­ing cor­re­spon­dence from famous fig­ures, More Let­ters of Note. The let­ter went up for auc­tion in May of 2008, and a much more dog­mat­i­cal­ly anti-reli­gious sci­en­tist had a keen inter­est in acquir­ing it: “Unsur­pris­ing­ly,” Let­ters of Note point out, “one of the unsuc­cess­ful bid­ders was Richard Dawkins.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Do Sci­en­tists Pray?”: A Young Girl Asks Albert Ein­stein in 1936. Ein­stein Then Responds

Albert Ein­stein Reads ‘The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence’ (1941)

Ein­stein for the Mass­es: Yale Presents a Primer on the Great Physicist’s Think­ing

Albert Einstein​ & Sig­mund Freud​ Exchange Let­ters and Debate How to Make the World Free from War (1932)

Free Online Physics Cours­es

50 Famous Aca­d­e­mics & Sci­en­tists Talk About God

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

Portland, the City in Cinema: See the City of Roses as it Appears in 20 Different Films

Last year, I post­ed about The City in Cin­e­ma, my series of video essays explor­ing cities as revealed and re-imag­ined by the films set in them — or rather, at that time, about one city in par­tic­u­lar: Los Ange­les, birth­place of Hol­ly­wood cin­e­ma and end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing urban phe­nom­e­non in its own right. But ever since I first began the project, I knew I’d want to extend it to oth­er cities. When first I stepped beyond Los Ange­les with The City in Cin­e­ma, I stepped into the city I’ve long con­sid­ered my favorite to vis­it in Amer­i­ca.

And what city, exact­ly, would that be? “Port­land, Ore­gon: one of the nation’s most beau­ti­ful cities, with Mount Hood ris­ing in the dis­tance, majes­tic, serene, white with eter­nal snow,” a “city of wide streets, mod­ern build­ings” whose cit­i­zens “attend many fine church­es” and live in “beau­ti­ful homes,” a city where “in the soft cli­mate, gar­dens grow lush and green through­out the year” with ros­es “every­where in pro­fu­sion,” a “fam­i­ly town, a good place to bring up chil­dren.” Or so, in any case, goes the open­ing of Port­land Exposé, a 1957 true-crime moral­i­ty play, one of the very first films to use Port­land as a set­ting, and the one that opens my lat­est long-form video essay, Port­land, the City in Cin­e­ma.

At that time not much more than a small-to-medi­um-sized town in the woods, Port­land claims only a scant cin­e­mat­ic his­to­ry up through the 1970s. But every Port­land movie that came out then, such as the CBS nuclear-strike drama­ti­za­tion A Day Called X and the bohemi­an land-use satire Prop­er­ty, boasts its own sort of inter­est. And then, in the 1980s, emerges Gus Van Sant, unques­tion­ably the fore­most Port­land auteur of his gen­er­a­tion. His black-and-white debut fea­ture Mala Noche, which deals humor­ous­ly with themes of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty on Port­land’s for­mer Skid Row (now the thor­ough­ly gen­tri­fied Pearl Dis­trict) drew the Hol­ly­wood atten­tion that would ulti­mate­ly get him mak­ing main­stream fea­tures like Good Will Hunt­ing and Milk.

But Van Sant has, in par­al­lel, led anoth­er career as a thor­ough­ly inde­pen­dent film­mak­er, and one who shoots most of those thor­ough­ly inde­pen­dent films in Port­land. That track of Van San­t’s work has led to such for­mi­da­ble Port­land movies, cen­tral to a project like this, as Drug­store Cow­boy, My Own Pri­vate Ida­ho, and Para­noid Park. Dur­ing the 1990s, the time of the “Indiewood” boom in Amer­i­ca, oth­er film­mak­ers dis­cov­ered Port­land’s poten­tial as a rich and under­used urban set­ting: Annette Hay­wood-Carter for her adap­ta­tion of Joyce Car­ol Oates’ nov­el Fox­fire, for instance, or Jake Kas­dan for his uncon­ven­tion­al detec­tive sto­ry and black roman­tic com­e­dy Zero Effect.

Albert Pyun, per­haps the last great B‑movie auteur, also came to Port­land of the 1990s for his Andrew Dice Clay vehi­cle Brain Smash­er… a Love Sto­ry. And not much lat­er, the city host­ed the likes of Body of Evi­dence, a high­ly unerot­ic erot­ic thriller star­ring Willem Dafoe and Madon­na. But it, too, reveals the the city’s poten­tial (or poten­tial for mis­use) as a set­ting, as does the more recent Untrace­able, a bland com­pro­mise between tech­no-thriller and tor­ture hor­ror that at least had the mon­ey to shoot Port­land from some impres­sive angles.

As the city of Port­land has devel­oped in a way appre­ci­at­ed by urban­ists for its com­pact down­town, use­ful tran­sit sys­tem, most­ly well-exe­cut­ed archi­tec­tur­al preser­va­tion, and over­all “smart” growth (by Amer­i­can stan­dards, any­way), the cin­e­ma of Port­land has devel­oped in a way appre­ci­at­ed by crit­ics. The 21st cen­tu­ry has so far seen such well-craft­ed, thought­ful Port­land pic­tures as Kel­ly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, Aaron Katz’s Dance Par­ty USA and Cold Weath­er, and Matt McCormick­’s Some Days Are Bet­ter than Oth­ers. But if Port­land, the City in Cin­e­ma remains, in its cur­rent ver­sion, the defin­i­tive exam­i­na­tion of the cin­e­ma of Port­land, I’ll be ter­ri­bly dis­ap­point­ed. I intend it in part as an appre­ci­a­tion of the Port­land movies already made, cer­tain­ly, but in larg­er part as a call for more Port­land movies in the future.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of Drug­store Cow­boy, Gus Van Sant’s First Major Film (1989)

The City in Cin­e­ma Mini-Doc­u­men­taries Reveal the Los Ange­les of Blade Run­ner, Her, Dri­ve, Repo Man, and More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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