The Science of Willpower: 15 Tips for Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Last from Dr. Kelly McGonigal

This week­end, mil­lions of New Year’s res­o­lu­tions will go into effect, with the most com­mon ones being lose weight, get fit, quit drink­ing and smok­ing, save mon­ey, and learn some­thing new. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, 33% of these res­o­lu­tions will be aban­doned by Jan­u­ary’s end. And 80% will even­tu­al­ly fall by the way­side. Mak­ing res­o­lu­tions stick is tricky busi­ness. But it’s pos­si­ble, and psy­chol­o­gist Kel­ly McGo­ni­gal has a few sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-proven sug­ges­tions for you.

For years, McGo­ni­gal has taught a very pop­u­lar course called The Sci­ence of Willpow­er in Stan­ford’s Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies pro­gram, where she intro­duces stu­dents to the idea that willpow­er is not an innate trait. Rather it’s a “com­plex mind-body response that can be com­pro­mised by stress, sleep depri­va­tion and nutri­tion and that can be strength­ened through cer­tain prac­tices.”

For those of you who don’t live in the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, you can find McGo­ni­gal’s ideas pre­sent­ed in a recent book, The Willpow­er Instinct: How Self-Con­trol Works, Why It Mat­ters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Below, we have high­light­ed 15 of Dr. McGo­ni­gal’s strate­gies for increas­ing your willpow­er reserves and mak­ing your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion endure.

  1. Will pow­er is like a mus­cle. The more you work on devel­op­ing it, the more you can incor­po­rate it into your life. It helps, McGo­ni­gal says in this pod­cast, to start with small feats of willpow­er before try­ing to tack­le more dif­fi­cult feats. Ide­al­ly, find the small­est change that’s con­sis­tent with your larg­er goal, and start there.
  2. Choose a goal or res­o­lu­tion that you real­ly want, not a goal that some­one else desires for you, or a goal that you think you should want. Choose a pos­i­tive goal that tru­ly comes from with­in and that con­tributes to some­thing impor­tant in life.
  3. Willpow­er is con­ta­gious. Find a willpow­er role mod­el — some­one who has accom­plished what you want to do. Also try to sur­round your­self with fam­i­ly mem­bers, friends or groups who can sup­port you. Change is often not made alone.
  4. Know that peo­ple have more willpow­er when they wake up, and then willpow­er steadi­ly declines through­out the day as peo­ple fatigue. So try to accom­plish what you need to — for exam­ple, exer­cise — ear­li­er in the day. Then watch out for the evenings, when bad habits can return.
  5. Under­stand that stress and willpow­er are incom­pat­i­ble. Any time we’re under stress it’s hard­er to find our willpow­er. Accord­ing to McGo­ni­gal, “the fight-or-flight response floods the body with ener­gy to act instinc­tive­ly and steals it from the areas of the brain need­ed for wise deci­sion-mak­ing. Stress also encour­ages you to focus on imme­di­ate, short-term goals and out­comes, but self-con­trol requires keep­ing the big pic­ture in mind.” The upshot? “Learn­ing how to bet­ter man­age your stress is one of the most impor­tant things you can do to improve your willpow­er.” When you get stressed out, go for a walk. Even a five minute walk out­side can reduce your stress lev­els, boost your mood, and help you replen­ish your willpow­er reserves.
  6. Sleep depri­va­tion (less than six hours a night) makes it so that the pre­frontal cor­tex los­es con­trol over the regions of the brain that cre­ate crav­ings. Sci­ence shows that get­ting just one more hour of sleep each night (eight hours is ide­al) helps recov­er­ing drug addicts avoid a relapse. So it can cer­tain­ly help you resist a dough­nut or a cig­a­rette.
  7. Also remem­ber that nutri­tion plays a key role. “Eat­ing a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes ener­gy more avail­able to the brain and can improve every aspect of willpow­er from over­com­ing pro­cras­ti­na­tion to stick­ing to a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion,” McGo­ni­gal says.
  8. Don’t think it will be dif­fer­ent tomor­row. McGo­ni­gal notes that we have a ten­den­cy to think that we will have more willpow­er, ener­gy, time, and moti­va­tion tomor­row. The prob­lem is that “if we think we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a dif­fer­ent choice tomor­row, we almost always ‘give in’ to temp­ta­tion or habit today.”
  9. Acknowl­edge and under­stand your crav­ings rather than deny­ing them. That will take you fur­ther in the end. The video above has more on that.
  10. Imag­ine the things that could get in the way of achiev­ing your goal. Under­stand the ten­den­cies you have that could lead you to break your res­o­lu­tion. Don’t be over­ly opti­mistic and assume the road will be easy.
  11. Know your lim­its, and plan for them. Says McGo­ni­gal, “Peo­ple who think they have the most self-con­trol are the most like­ly to fail at their res­o­lu­tions; they put them­selves in tempt­ing sit­u­a­tions, don’t get help, give up at set­backs. You need to know how you fail; how you are tempt­ed; how you pro­cras­ti­nate.”
  12. Pay atten­tion to small choic­es that add up. “One study found that the aver­age per­son thinks they make 14 food choic­es a day; they actu­al­ly make over 200. When you aren’t aware that you’re mak­ing a choice, you’ll almost always default to habit/temptation.” It’s impor­tant to fig­ure out when you have oppor­tu­ni­ties to make a choice con­sis­tent with your goals.
  13. Be spe­cif­ic but flex­i­ble. It’s good to know your goal and how you’ll get there. But, she cau­tions, “you should leave room to revise these steps if they turn out to be unsus­tain­able or don’t lead to the ben­e­fits you expect­ed.”
  14. Give your­self small, healthy rewards along the way. Research shows that the mind responds well to it. (If you’re try­ing to quite smok­ing, the reward should­n’t be a cig­a­rette, by the way.)
  15. Final­ly, if you expe­ri­ence a set­back, don’t be hard on your­self. Although it seems counter-intu­itive, stud­ies show that peo­ple who expe­ri­ence shame/guilt are much more like­ly to break their res­o­lu­tions than ones who cut them­selves some slack. In a nut­shell, you should “Give up guilt.”

To put all of these tips into a big­ger frame­work, you can get a copy of Kel­ly McGo­ni­gal’s book, The Willpow­er Instinct: How Self-Con­trol Works, Why It Mat­ters, and What You Can Do to Get More of ItAnd now you can take The Sci­ence of Willpow­er as an online course that begins on Jan­u­ary 23.

Final­ly you might also want to peruse How to Think Like a Psy­chol­o­gist (iTunes Video), a free online course led by Kel­ly McGo­ni­gal. It appears in our col­lec­tion of 1200 Free Cours­es Online.

A ver­sion of this post first appeared on Open Cul­ture in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Pow­er of Empa­thy: A Quick Ani­mat­ed Les­son That Can Make You a Bet­ter Per­son

Carl Gus­tav Jung Explains His Ground­break­ing The­o­ries About Psy­chol­o­gy in Rare Inter­view (1957)

Jacques Lacan’s Con­fronta­tion with a Young Rebel: Clas­sic Moment, 1972

New Ani­ma­tion Explains Sher­ry Turkle’s The­o­ries on Why Social Media Makes Us Lone­ly

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Google Lets You Take a 360-Degree Panoramic Tour of Street Art in Cities Across the World


A friend of mine, a fel­low Amer­i­can liv­ing in Seoul, just recent­ly put up a vlog in which he at once admires a piece of street art he hap­pens upon here and remarks on how much the pres­ence of the stuff both­ered him back in the States. It illus­trates an impor­tant point about the very medi­um of street art, graf­fi­ti, tag­ging, or what­ev­er you hap­pen to call it: con­text is every­thing — or rather, con­text and skill are every­thing. The worst exam­ples, as Paul Gra­ham writes, hap­pen “at the inter­sec­tion of ambi­tion and incom­pe­tence: peo­ple want to make their mark on the world, but have no oth­er way to do it than lit­er­al­ly mak­ing a mark on the world.”


How to find the best exam­ples? Ide­al­ly, they’ll catch you by sur­prise in their nat­ur­al urban envi­ron­ment, but you can’t be in every urban envi­ron­ment at once. Hence Google Street Art, the vir­tu­al muse­um we fea­tured last year. Since then Google Street Art intro­duced anoth­er inno­va­tion: the abil­i­ty to behold some of their 10,000 col­lect­ed pieces in “muse­um view.”

We’ve all used Google Street View to remote­ly explore the far­away places that pique our curios­i­ty, and some of us have already tried using it to check out the world’s street art, but this pro­vides a kind of Street View espe­cial­ly for street art, a high-res­o­lu­tion 360-degree panoram­ic per­spec­tive that lets you step for­ward and back­ward, to the left and to the right, and look at it from whichev­er angle you want to look at it.


Now you can check out 94 pieces and count­ing in much greater detail, from Los Ange­les to Bal­ti­more, Lis­bon to Lon­don, Buenos Aires to Mel­bourne. The selec­tion even includes pieces of street art brought indoors, as found in Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and the Gyeong­gi Muse­um of Art right here in Korea. Whether street art has the prop­er impact out­side its orig­i­nal urban con­text, or in a dig­i­tal rather than a con­crete ver­sion of that urban con­text, will sure­ly remain an inter­est­ing debate. “A city can nev­er be a uni­fied work of art or a beau­ti­ful object,” argues archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an Joseph Ryk­w­ert in The Seduc­tion of Place, since “all sorts of things buf­fet and push human inten­tions about.” Per­haps, but that buf­fet­ing and push­ing cre­ates so much, from the grand­est tow­ers to the hum­blest alley murals, that counts as art in itself.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Google Puts Online 10,000 Works of Street Art from Across the Globe

The Cre­ativ­i­ty of Female Graf­fi­ti & Street Artists Will Be Cel­e­brat­ed in Street Hero­ines, a New Doc­u­men­tary

Obey the Giant: Short Film Presents the True Sto­ry of Shep­ard Fairey’s First Act of Street Art

Big Bang Big Boom: Graf­fi­ti Stop-Motion Ani­ma­tion Cre­ative­ly Depicts the Evo­lu­tion of Life

Artists Paint Paris, Berlin and Lon­don with High-Tech Video Graf­fi­ti

The Bat­tle for LA’s Murals

Google Gives You a 360° View of the Per­form­ing Arts, From the Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny to the Paris Opera Bal­let

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 Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Jim Jarmusch Lists His Favorite Poets: Dante, William Carlos Williams, Arthur Rimbaud, John Ashbery & More


Wiki­me­dia Com­mons pho­to by Chrysoula Artemis

When it comes to Amer­i­can indie direc­tor Jim Jar­musch, we tend to think right away of the impor­tance of music in his films, what with his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. (Jar­musch is him­self a musi­cian who has released two stu­dio albums and three EPs under the moniker Sqürl.) But Jarmusch’s most recent film, Pater­son, is an ode to poet­ry, drawn from his own love of New York School poets like Frank O’Hara and John Ash­bery. Set in Pater­son, New Jer­sey and fea­tur­ing a main char­ac­ter also named Pater­son (Adam Dri­ver), the film aims to show, writes Time mag­a­zine, “how art—maybe even espe­cial­ly art made in the margins—can fill up every­day life.”

Jar­musch was drawn to Pater­son, the town, by William Car­los Williams. The mod­ernist poet called the town home and pub­lished an epic poem called Pater­son in 1946. Although that dense, com­plex work is “not one of my favorite poems,” Jar­musch tells Time, he namechecks Williams as one of his favorite poets.

I think we can see the influ­ence of Williams’ spare visu­al imag­i­na­tion in Jar­musch films like Stranger than Par­adise, Down by Law, Ghost Dog, and Bro­ken Flow­ers. Jar­musch goes on in the course of his dis­cus­sion about Pater­son, the film, to name a hand­ful of oth­er poets he counts as inspi­ra­tions. In the list below, you can find Jarmusch’s favorites, along with links to some of their most-beloved poems.

–William Car­los Williams (“Aspho­del, That Gree­ny Flower,” “4th of July”)
–Wal­lace Stevens (“The Man with the Blue Gui­tar,” “The Snow Man,” “Thir­teen Ways of Look­ing at a Black­bird”)
–Dante Alighieri (Can­to I of the Infer­no)
–Arthur Rim­baud (“The Drunk­en Boat,” “Vagabonds”)
–John Ash­bery (“Self-Por­trait in a Con­vex Mirror”—read by Ash­bery)
–Ken­neth Koch (“In Love With You,” “One Train May Hide Anoth­er”)
–Frank O’Hara (“Steps,” Var­i­ous Poems)

As we read or re-read these poets, we might ask how they have informed Jar­musch’s styl­ish films in addi­tion to the influ­ence of his cin­e­mat­ic favorites. Sev­er­al great direc­tors have con­tributed to his pecu­liar visu­al aes­thet­ic. The only film­mak­er he men­tions as a hero in his Time inter­view is Bernar­do Bertol­luc­ci, but you can read about Jar­musch’s top ten films at our pre­vi­ous post–films direct­ed by such lumi­nar­ies as Yasu­jiro Ozu, Nicholas Ray, and Robert Bres­son.

via Austen Kleon’s week­ly newslet­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim Jarmusch’s 10 Favorite Films: Ozu’s Tokyo Sto­ry, Kurosawa’s Sev­en Samu­rai and Oth­er Black & White Clas­sics

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Wern­er Her­zog Cre­ates Required Read­ing & Movie View­ing Lists for Enrolling in His Film School

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

Watch Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer’s Haunting, Animated Take on Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy”

The late Leonard Cohen’s 1992 anthem “Democ­ra­cy” feels not just fresh, but painful­ly rel­e­vant these days.

Cohen, a Cana­di­an who spent much of his adult life in the States, avowed that the song was nei­ther sar­cas­tic nor iron­ic, but rather hope­ful, an “affir­ma­tion of the exper­i­ment of democ­ra­cy in this coun­try.”

He start­ed writ­ing it in the late ’80s, churn­ing out dozens of vers­es as he pon­dered the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tianan­men Square protests.

The press kit for the album on which the song orig­i­nal­ly appeared stat­ed:

These are the final days, this is the dark­ness, this is the flood. What is the appro­pri­ate behav­ior in a cat­a­stro­phe, in a flood? You know, while you’re clean­ing out your orange crate in the tor­rent and you pass some­body else hang­ing on to a spar of wood. What do you declare your­self? “left wing” “right wing” “pro-abor­tion” “against abor­tion”? All these things are lux­u­ries which you can no longer afford. What is the prop­er behav­ior in a flood?

For musi­cian Aman­da Palmer and her hus­band, author Neil Gaiman, the answer to Cohen’s ques­tion is the stripped down, spo­ken word ver­sion of “Democ­ra­cy,” above—a fundrais­er for the free speech defense orga­ni­za­tion, PEN Amer­i­ca.

The video’s stir­ring water­col­ors are cour­tesy of artist David Mack, an offi­cial Ambas­sador of Arts & Sto­ry for the US State Depart­ment who has illus­trat­ed sev­er­al of Gaiman’s poems. Singer-song­writer Olga Nunes, anoth­er in Gaiman and Palmer’s vast sta­ble of tal­ent­ed co-con­spir­a­tors, ani­mat­ed.

Gaiman fans will no doubt thrill to hear that unmis­tak­able accent game­ly tack­ling such lyrics as “the homi­ci­dal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen,” but for my mon­ey, the most mem­o­rable phrase is the descrip­tion of this coun­try as “the cra­dle of the best and of the worst.”


You can pur­chase the track here—the project was fund­ed by 9,408 con­trib­u­tors to Palmer’s Patre­on and all pro­ceeds ben­e­fit PEN Amer­i­ca.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Inter­view: Record­ed by David Rem­nick of The New York­er

Hear Aman­da Palmer’s Cov­er of “Pur­ple Rain,” a Gor­geous Stringfelt Send-Off to Prince

Neil Gaiman Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”: One Mas­ter of Dra­mat­ic Sto­ry­telling Reads Anoth­er

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

25 Animations of Great Literary Works: From Plato, Dostoevsky & Dickinson, to Kafka, Hemingway & Bradbury

Over the years, we’ve fea­tured a large num­ber of lit­er­ary works that have been won­der­ful­ly re-imag­ined by ani­ma­tors. Rather than leav­ing these works buried in the archives, we’re bring­ing them back and putting them all on dis­play. And what bet­ter place to start than with a foun­da­tion­al text — Pla­to’s Repub­lic. We were tempt­ed to show you a clay­ma­tion ver­sion of the sem­i­nal philo­soph­i­cal work (watch here), but we decid­ed to go instead with Orson Welles’ 1973 nar­ra­tion of The Cave Alle­go­ry, which fea­tures the sur­re­al artis­tic work of Dick Oden.

Stay­ing with the Greeks for anoth­er moment … This one may have Sopho­cles and Aeschy­lus spin­ning in their graves. Or, who knows, per­haps they would have enjoyed this bizarre twist on the Oedi­pus myth. Run­ning eight min­utes, Jason Wish­now’s 2004 film fea­tures veg­eta­bles in the star­ring roles.

One of the first stop-motion films shot with a dig­i­tal still cam­era, Oedi­pus took two years to make with a vol­un­teer staff of 100. The film has since been screened at 70+ film fes­ti­vals and was even­tu­al­ly acquired by the Sun­dance Chan­nel. Sep­a­rate videos show you the behind-the-scenes mak­ing of the film, plus the sto­ry­boards used dur­ing pro­duc­tion.

Eight years before Piotr Dumala tack­led Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment, the Russ­ian ani­ma­tor pro­duced a short ani­mat­ed film based on The Diaries of Franz Kaf­ka. Once again, you can see his method, known as “destruc­tive ani­ma­tion,” in action. It’s well worth the 16 min­utes. Or you can spend time with this 2007 Japan­ese ani­ma­tion of Kafka’s cryp­tic tale of “A Coun­try Doc­tor.” And if you’re still han­ker­ing for ani­mat­ed Kaf­ka, don’t miss The Meta­mor­pho­sis of Mr. Sam­sa (Car­o­line Leaf’s sand ani­ma­tion from 1977) and also Orson Welles’ nar­ra­tion of the Para­ble, “Before the Law.” The lat­ter film was made by Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­er, who using a tech­nique called pin­screen ani­ma­tion, cre­at­ed a longer film adap­ta­tion of Niko­lai Gogol’s sto­ry, “The Nose.” You can view it here.

The ani­mat­ed sequence above is from the 1974 film adap­ta­tion of Her­man Hes­se’s 1927 nov­el Step­pen­wolfIn this scene, the Har­ry Haller char­ac­ter played by Max von Sydow reads from the “Trac­tate on the Step­pen­wolf.” The visu­al imagery was cre­at­ed by Czech artist Jaroslav Bradác.

In 1999, Alek­san­dr Petrov won the Acad­e­my Award for Short Film (among oth­er awards) for a film that fol­lows the plot line of Ernest Hemingway’s clas­sic novel­la, The Old Man and the Sea (1952). As not­ed here, Petrov’s tech­nique involves paint­ing pas­tels on glass, and he and his son paint­ed a total of 29,000 images for this work. (For anoth­er remark­able dis­play of their tal­ents, also watch his adap­ta­tion of Dos­to­evsky’s “The Dream of a Ridicu­lous Man”.) The Old Man and the Sea is per­ma­nent­ly list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Oscar Win­ning Films Avail­able Online and our col­lec­tion of 1150 Free Movies Online.

Ita­lo Calvi­no, one of Italy’s finest post­war writ­ers, pub­lished Ital­ian Folk­tales in 1956, a series of 200 fairy tales based some­times loose­ly, some­times more strict­ly, on sto­ries from a great folk tra­di­tion. Upon the col­lec­tion’s pub­li­ca­tion, The New York Times named Ital­ian Folk­tales one of the ten best books of the year. And more than a half cen­tu­ry lat­er, the sto­ries con­tin­ue to delight. Case in point: in 2007, John Tur­tur­ro, the star of numer­ous Coen broth­ers and Spike Lee films, began work­ing on Fiabe ital­iane, a play adapt­ed from Calvi­no’s col­lec­tion of fables. The ani­mat­ed video above fea­tures Tur­tur­ro read­ing “The False Grand­moth­er,” Calvi­no’s rework­ing of Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood. Kevin Ruelle illus­trat­ed the clip, which was pro­duced as part of Fly­p­me­di­a’s more exten­sive cov­er­age of Tur­tur­ro’s adap­ta­tion. You can find anoth­er ani­ma­tion of a Calvi­no sto­ry (The Dis­tance of the Moon) here.

Emi­ly Dick­in­son’s poet­ry is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed for its beau­ty and orig­i­nal­i­ty. To cel­e­brate her birth­day (it just recent­ly passed us by) we bring you this lit­tle film of her poem, “I Start­ed Early–Took My Dog,” from the “Poet­ry Every­where” series by PBS and the Poet­ry Foun­da­tion. The poem is ani­mat­ed by Maria Vasilkovsky and read by actress Blair Brown.

E.B. White, beloved author of Char­lot­te’s WebStu­art Lit­tle, and the clas­sic Eng­lish writ­ing guide The Ele­ments of Style, died in 1985. Not long before his death, he agreed to nar­rate an adap­ta­tion of “The Fam­i­ly That Dwelt Apart,” a touch­ing sto­ry he wrote for The New York­er. The 1983 film was ani­mat­ed by the Cana­di­an direc­tor Yvon Malette, and it received an Oscar nom­i­na­tion.

Shel Sil­ver­stein wrote The Giv­ing Tree in 1964, a wide­ly loved chil­dren’s book now trans­lat­ed into more than 30 lan­guages. It’s a sto­ry about the human con­di­tion, about giv­ing and receiv­ing, using and get­ting used, need­i­ness and greed­i­ness, although many fin­er points of the sto­ry are open to inter­pre­ta­tion. Today, we’re rewind­ing the video­tape to 1973, when Sil­ver­stein’s lit­tle book was turned into a 10 minute ani­mat­ed film. Sil­ver­stein nar­rates the sto­ry him­self and also plays the har­mon­i­ca.

Dur­ing the Cold War, one Amer­i­can was held in high regard in the Sovi­et Union, and that was Ray Brad­bury. A hand­ful of Sovi­et ani­ma­tors demon­strat­ed their esteem for the author by adapt­ing his short sto­ries. Vladimir Sam­sonov direct­ed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. And here you can see anoth­er adap­ta­tion of “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

The online book­seller Good Books cre­at­ed an ani­mat­ed mash-up of the spir­its of Franz Kaf­ka and Hunter S. Thomp­son. Under a buck­et hat, behind avi­a­tor sun­glass­es, and deep into an altered men­tal state, our nar­ra­tor feels the sud­den, urgent need for a copy of Kafka’s Meta­mor­pho­sis. Unwill­ing to make the pur­chase in “the great riv­er of medi­oc­rity,” he instead makes the buy from “a bunch of rose-tint­ed, will­ful­ly delu­sion­al Pollyan­nas giv­ing away all the mon­ey they make — every guilt-rid­den cent.” The ani­ma­tion, cre­at­ed by a stu­dio called Buck, should eas­i­ly meet the aes­thet­ic demands of any view­er in their own altered state or look­ing to get into one.

39 Degrees North, a Bei­jing motion graph­ics stu­dio, start­ed devel­op­ing an uncon­ven­tion­al Christ­mas card sev­er­al years ago. And once they got going, there was no turn­ing back. Above, we have the end result – an ani­mat­ed ver­sion of an uber dark Christ­mas poem (read text here) writ­ten by Neil Gaiman, the best­selling author of sci-fi and fan­ta­sy short sto­ries. The poem was pub­lished in Gaiman’s col­lec­tion, Smoke and Mir­rors.

This col­lab­o­ra­tion between film­mak­er Spike Jonze and hand­bag design­er Olympia Le-Tan does­n’t bring a par­tic­u­lar lit­er­ary tale to life. Rather this stop motion film uses 3,000 pieces of cut felt to show famous books spring­ing into motion in the icon­ic Parisian book­store, Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny. It’s called  Mourir Auprès de Toi.

Oth­er nota­bles include: a two minute take on Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta; a 1977 exper­i­men­tal adap­ta­tion of The Rime of the Ancient Marinerwhich mar­ries the clas­sic engrav­ings of Gus­tave Doré to an Orson Welles nar­ra­tion; and “Beer,” a mind-warp­ing ani­ma­tion of Charles Bukowski’s 1971 poem hon­or­ing his favorite drink.

Are there impres­sive lit­er­ary ani­ma­tions that did­n’t make our list? Please let us know in the com­ments below. We’d love to know about them.

A short­er ver­sion of this post first appeared on our site in 2012.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Spike Jonze’s Stop Motion Film Haunt­ing­ly Ani­mates Paris’ Famed Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny Book­store

Piotr Dumala’s Art­ful Ani­ma­tions of Lit­er­ary Works by Kaf­ka & Dos­to­evsky

A Beau­ti­ful­ly Hand-Paint­ed Ani­ma­tion of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1999)

Download 20 Free eBooks on Design from O’Reilly Media


A quick note: Thanks to O’Reil­ly Media, you can now down­load 20 free ebooks focused on design–every­thing from Design­ing for Cities, to Design­ing for the Inter­net of Things, to Design Essen­tials. You can down­load the books in PDF for­mat. No cred­it card is required. See the com­plete list here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Roman Architecture: A Free Online Course from Yale University

Taught by Yale pro­fes­sor Diana E. E. Klein­er, this course offers “an intro­duc­tion to the great build­ings and engi­neer­ing mar­vels of Rome and its empire, with an empha­sis on urban plan­ning and indi­vid­ual mon­u­ments and their dec­o­ra­tion, includ­ing mur­al paint­ing.”

The course descrip­tion con­tin­ues: “While archi­tec­tur­al devel­op­ments in Rome, Pom­peii, and Cen­tral Italy are high­light­ed, the course also pro­vides a sur­vey of sites and struc­tures in what are now North Italy, Sici­ly, France, Spain, Ger­many, Greece, Turkey, Croa­t­ia, Jor­dan, Lebanon, Libya, and North Africa. The lec­tures are illus­trat­ed with over 1,500 images, many from Pro­fes­sor Klein­er’s per­son­al col­lec­tion.”

You can watch the 24 lec­tures above, or find the com­plete lec­ture set on YouTube and iTunes. To get more infor­ma­tion on the course, includ­ing the syl­labus, please vis­it Yale’s web­site.

Texts used in this course include:

Roman Archi­tec­ture will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties. Find more cours­es focused on the Ancient world here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rome Reborn: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 C.E.

The His­to­ry of Rome in 179 Pod­casts

The Rise & Fall of the Romans: Every Year Shown in a Time­lapse Map Ani­ma­tion (753 BC ‑1479 AD)

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

Free Cours­es in Ancient His­to­ry, Lit­er­a­ture & Phi­los­o­phy

What Life Was Like for Teenagers in Ancient Rome: Get a Glimpse from a TED-ED Ani­ma­tion

An Animated Introduction to Voltaire: Enlightenment Philosopher of Pluralism & Tolerance

Got­tfried Wil­helm Leib­niz has the dis­tinc­tion of hold­ing promi­nent places in both math­e­mat­ics and phi­los­o­phy. A con­tem­po­rary of Isaac New­ton, a rival, and Baruch Spin­oza, an acquain­tance, Leib­niz will for­ev­er be asso­ci­at­ed with Enlight­en­ment Ratio­nal­ism. But thanks to French philoso­pher and writer Voltaire, he will also be asso­ci­at­ed with a strain of thought gen­er­al­ly tak­en much less seri­ous­ly: the phi­los­o­phy of Opti­mism.

In the Theod­i­cy, the only philo­soph­i­cal book he pub­lished in his life­time, Leib­niz attempts to rec­on­cile divine prov­i­dence, human free­dom, and the nature of evil. He con­cludes, more or less, that the world is a per­fect bal­ance between the three. As “an absolute­ly per­fect being,” God must have made the best pos­si­ble world, he rea­soned, and many con­ser­v­a­tive the­olo­gians then and now have agreed. But not Voltaire.

Draw­ing on a diverse body of genres—travel nar­ra­tive, Bil­dungsro­man, picaresque novel—the French writer’s rol­lick­ing satir­i­cal novel­la Can­dide, or the Opti­mist presents us with a com­i­cal­ly grotesque and hyper­bol­ic world that is nonethe­less much more like the vio­lent, chaot­ic one we actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence than like Leibniz’s ide­al­iza­tion. The novel’s hero, a gullible naïf, traipses through Europe and the Amer­i­c­as with his men­tor, Pro­fes­sor Pan­gloss, “the great­est philoso­pher of the Holy Roman Empire.” A broad car­i­ca­ture of Leib­niz, Pan­gloss insists—as the two run into dev­as­tat­ing earth­quakes, war, tor­ture, can­ni­bal­ism, vene­re­al dis­ease, and yet more earthquakes—that they live in “the best of all pos­si­ble worlds.”

The asser­tion comes to seem increas­ing­ly, out­ra­geous­ly absurd and will­ful­ly obtuse. In the end, the var­i­ous char­ac­ters come around to the idea that their grand meta­phys­i­cal ques­tions have no real pur­chase on human exis­tence, and that they would do best to prac­tice a kind of qui­etism, set­tling down to small farms to, as Can­dide says, “cul­ti­vate our gar­den.” The response does not enjoin us to pas­siv­i­ty, but rather to the use of our abil­i­ties for pur­pose­ful work rather than con­tentious spec­u­la­tion or in the ser­vice of blind faith. From his start as a writer, Voltaire fierce­ly attacked “fanati­cism, idol­a­try, super­sti­tion,” as Alain de Bot­ton says in the School of Life intro­duc­tion to Voltaire above, as the basis of peo­ple killing each oth­er “to defend some bit of reli­gious doc­trine which they scarce­ly under­stand.”

Voltaire found the phe­nom­e­non of reli­gious war “repel­lant,” and his age had seen its share of war. In the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of Can­dide’s com­po­si­tion were the Sev­en Years’ War, the glob­al impe­r­i­al con­flict that claimed the lives of eight mil­lion, and the Thir­ty Years’ War: the 17th cen­tu­ry reli­gious con­flict that spread vio­lent death, famine, and dis­ease all over the Euro­pean con­ti­nent. In addi­tion to these appalling events, Voltaire and his con­tem­po­raries were left reel­ing from the 1755 Lis­bon earth­quake, which his­to­ri­ans esti­mate may have killed upwards of 100,000 peo­ple. This nat­ur­al evil was whol­ly unre­lat­ed to any kind of human misbehavior—as Voltaire bit­ter­ly argued in his “Poem on the Lis­bon Dis­as­ter”—and so made Opti­mistic phi­los­o­phy and the­ol­o­gy seem cru­el and ridicu­lous.

The bawdy, bloody, and hilar­i­ous Can­dide has remained the most inci­sive lit­er­ary rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dis­il­lu­sion­ment in “best of all pos­si­ble worlds” theod­i­cy. It is by far Voltaire’s most pop­u­lar work—a best­seller from the day that it appeared in 1759—and is still giv­en to stu­dents to help them under­stand the philo­soph­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, or what is often called, as de Bot­ton says, “The Age of Voltaire.” With more clar­i­ty than even Jonathan Swift’s satires, Voltaire helps us grasp and remem­ber the major his­tor­i­cal, reli­gious, and philo­soph­i­cal con­flicts of the time. A “mas­ter at pop­u­lar­iz­ing dif­fi­cult mate­r­i­al,” Voltaire also used lit­er­ary tech­niques to explain the ideas of con­tem­po­rary thinkers like Locke and New­ton.

The anec­dote of the apple falling on Newton’s head, for exam­ple, “is due entire­ly to Voltaire,” who heard it from Newton’s niece and includ­ed it in his Let­ters Con­cern­ing the Eng­lish Nation. This work, com­posed dur­ing his two-year stay in Eng­land, implic­it­ly cri­tiques the intol­er­ance of French society—causing the book to be banned—and makes the case for some of the philoso­pher’s most cher­ished val­ues: plu­ral­ism, reli­gious tol­er­a­tion, mutu­al respect, and free inquiry. We find these ideals all through­out the works of Enlight­en­ment philoso­phers from all over the con­ti­nent, but nowhere do we find them artic­u­lat­ed with such force­ful wit and vivid style as in the work of Voltaire.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Voltaire: “Those Who Can Make You Believe Absur­di­ties, Can Make You Com­mit Atroc­i­ties”

Voltaire & the Lis­bon Earth­quake of 1755

Philoso­phers Drink­ing Cof­fee: The Exces­sive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard

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

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