Arthur C. Clarke Creates a List of His 12 Favorite Science-Fiction Movies (1984)

Many thinkers enjoy sci­ence fic­tion, and some even cre­ate it, but Arthur C. Clarke seemed to pos­sess a mind pre­ci­sion-engi­neered for every aspect of it. When not writ­ing such now-clas­sics of the tra­di­tion as Child­hood’s EndRen­dezvous with Rama, and 2001: a Space Odyssey, he pre­dict­ed such actu­al ele­ments of human­i­ty’s future as 3D print­ers and the inter­net. He must also have pos­sessed quite a dis­cern­ing ear and eye for oth­er works of sci­ence fic­tion — an abil­i­ty, in oth­er words, to sep­a­rate the art and the insight from the non­sense. (A use­ful abil­i­ty indeed, giv­en that, in the words of sci-fi author Theodore Stur­geon, “nine­ty per­cent of every­thing,” his and Clarke’s field not except­ed, “is crap.”)

Asked in 1984 to name his favorite sci­ence-fic­tion films, Clarke came up with this top-twelve:

  1. Metrop­o­lis (1927, watch it above)
  2. Things to Come (1936)
  3. Franken­stein (1931)
  4. King Kong (orig­i­nal ver­sion) (1933)
  5. For­bid­den Plan­et (1956)
  6. The Thing from Anoth­er World (orig­i­nal ver­sion) (1951)
  7. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  9. Star Wars (1977)
  10. Close Encoun­ters of the Third Kind (1980)
  11. Alien (1979)
  12. Blade Run­ner (1982)

The request came to him on the set of 2010: The Year We Make Con­tact, Peter Hyams’ sequel to Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which appears on Clarke’s list. This selec­tion may at first seem self-serv­ing, giv­en his own involve­ment in the film’s gen­e­sis, but Clarke’s 2001 and Kubrick­’s 2001, par­al­lel projects derived from a col­lab­o­ra­tive idea, end­ed up as very dif­fer­ent works of sci­ence fic­tion.

Clarke’s choic­es, “which include some obvi­ous titles, clas­sics and mod­ern sen­sa­tions, are a well-round­ed group that would serve any neo­phyte well in study­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing the best that Hol­ly­wood has to offer in that cor­ner of cin­e­ma,” writes Syfy­Wire’s Jeff Spry. He adds that Clarke could­n’t quite decide whether to include Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, the pic­ture cred­it­ed with turn­ing Star Trek movies into much more than a one-off propo­si­tion; and, in addi­tion to Star Wars, which had already made his list, he con­sid­ered Return of the Jedi — though not, intrigu­ing­ly, The Empire Strikes Back, now per­haps the most respect­ed Star Wars movie of them all.

This top-twelve list, in any case, shows that Clarke knew a clas­sic when he saw one, and that he must have had a fair­ly expan­sive def­i­n­i­tion of sci­ence fic­tion, one that encom­pass­es even “mon­ster movies” like Franken­stein and King Kong. (Some purists even insist that Star Wars belongs in the fan­ta­sy col­umn.) But he also showed, as always, a cer­tain pre­science, as evi­denced by his selec­tion of Rid­ley Scot­t’s Blade Run­ner, now rec­og­nized as one of the most influ­en­tial films of all time, sci-fi or oth­er­wise, but then still a fresh vic­tim of com­mer­cial and crit­i­cal dis­as­ter. Only Philip K. Dick him­self, author of the nov­el that pro­vid­ed Blade Run­ner its source mate­r­i­al, could see its future more clear­ly. Dick and Clarke’s work may have had lit­tle in com­mon, but great sci­ence-fic­tion­al minds, it seems, think alike.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Inter­net, 3D Print­ers and Trained Mon­key Ser­vants

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Inter­net & PC in 1974

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

The Let­ter Between Stan­ley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke That Sparked the Great­est Sci­Fi Film Ever Made (1964)

Philip K. Dick Pre­views Blade Run­ner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Over­whelm­ing” (1981)

Metrop­o­lis: Watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 Mas­ter­piece

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.

Yale Presents a Free Online Course on Literary Theory, Covering Structuralism, Deconstruction & More

It’s been a hall­mark of the cul­ture wars in the last few decades for politi­cians and opin­ion­a­tors to rail against acad­e­mia. Pro­fes­sors of human­i­ties have in par­tic­u­lar come under scruti­ny, charged with aca­d­e­m­ic friv­o­li­ty (some­times at tax­pay­er expense), will­ful obscu­ran­tism, and all sorts of ide­o­log­i­cal crimes and dia­bol­i­cal meth­ods of indoc­tri­na­tion. As an under­grad and grad­u­ate stu­dent in the human­i­ties dur­ing much of the nineties and oughts, I’ve wit­nessed a few waves of such attacks and found the car­i­ca­tures drawn by talk radio hosts and cab­i­net appointees both alarm­ing and amus­ing. I’ve also learned that mis­trust of acad­e­mia is much old­er than the many vir­u­lent strains of anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism in the U.S.

As Yale Pro­fes­sor of British Roman­tic Poet­ry Paul Fry points out in an inter­view with 3:AM Mag­a­zine, “satire about any and all pro­fes­sion­als with a spe­cial vocab­u­lary has been a sta­ple of fic­tion and pop­u­lar ridicule since the 18th cen­tu­ry… and crit­ic-the­o­rists per­haps more recent­ly have been the easy tar­gets of upper-mid­dle-brow anti-intel­lec­tu­als con­tin­u­ous­ly since [Hen­ry] Field­ing and [Tobias] Smol­lett.” Though the barbs of these British nov­el­ists are more enter­tain­ing than any­thing you’ll hear from cur­rent talk­ing heads, the phe­nom­e­non remains the same: “Spe­cial vocab­u­lary intim­i­date and are instant­ly con­sid­ered obfus­ca­tion,” says Fry. “Reac­tions against them are shame­less­ly naïve, with no con­sid­er­a­tion of whether the recon­dite vocab­u­lar­ies may be serv­ing some nec­es­sary and con­struc­tive pur­pose.”

Maybe you’re scratch­ing your chin, shak­ing or nod­ding your head, or glaz­ing over. But if you’ve come this far, read on. Fry, after all, acknowl­edges that jar­gon-laden schol­ar­ly vocab­u­lar­ies can become “self-par­o­dy in the hands of fools,” and thus have pro­vid­ed jus­ti­fi­able fod­der for cut­ting wit since even Jonathan Swift’s day. But Fry picks this his­to­ry up in the 20th cen­tu­ry in his Yale course ENGL 300 (Intro­duc­tion to The­o­ry of Lit­er­a­ture), an acces­si­ble series of lec­tures on the his­to­ry and prac­tice of lit­er­ary the­o­ry, in which he pro­ceeds in a crit­i­cal spir­it to cov­er every­thing from Russ­ian For­mal­ism and New Crit­i­cism; to Semi­otics, Struc­tural­ism and Decon­struc­tion; to the Frank­furt School, Post-Colo­nial Crit­i­cism and Queer The­o­ry. Thanks to Open Yale Cours­es, you can watch the 26 lec­tures above. Or you can find them on YouTube, iTunes, or Yale’s own web site (where you can also grab a syl­labus for the course). These lec­tures were all record­ed in the Spring of 2009. The main text used in the course is David Richter’s The Crit­i­cal Tra­di­tion.

Expand­ing with the rapid growth and democ­ra­tiz­ing of uni­ver­si­ties after World War II, lit­er­ary and crit­i­cal the­o­ries are often close­ly tied to the con­tentious pol­i­tics of the Cold War. Their decline cor­re­sponds to these forces as well. Since the fall of the Sovi­et Union and the sub­se­quent snow­balling of pri­va­ti­za­tion and anti-gov­ern­ment sen­ti­ment, many sources of fund­ing for the human­i­ties have suc­cumbed, often under very pub­lic assaults on their char­ac­ter and util­i­ty. Fry’s pre­sen­ta­tion shows how lit­er­ary the­o­ry has nev­er been a blunt polit­i­cal instru­ment at any time. Rather it pro­vides ways of doing ethics and philoso­phies of lan­guage, reli­gion, art, his­to­ry, myth, race, sex­u­al­i­ty, etc. Or, put more plain­ly, the lan­guage of lit­er­ary the­o­ry gives us dif­fer­ent sets of tools for talk­ing about being human.

Fry tells Yale Dai­ly News that “lit­er­a­ture express­es more elo­quent­ly and sub­tly emo­tions and feel­ings that we all try to express one way or anoth­er.” But why apply the­o­ry? Why not sim­ply read nov­els, sto­ries, and poems and inter­pret them by our own crit­i­cal lights? One rea­son is that we can­not see our own bias­es and inher­it­ed cul­tur­al assump­tions. One osten­si­bly the­o­ry-free method of an ear­li­er gen­er­a­tion of schol­ars and poets who reject­ed lit­er­ary the­o­ry often suf­fers from this prob­lem. The New Crit­ics flour­ished main­ly dur­ing the 40s, a fraught time in his­to­ry when the coun­try’s resources were redi­rect­ed toward war and eco­nom­ic expan­sion. For Fry, this “last gen­er­a­tion of male WASP hege­mo­ny in the acad­e­my” reflect­ed “the blind­ness of the whole mid­dle class,” and the idea “that life as they knew it… was life as every­one knew it, or should if they didn’t.”

Fry admits that the­o­ry can seem super­flu­ous and need­less­ly opaque, “a pure­ly spec­u­la­tive under­tak­ing” with­out much of an object in view.  Yet applied to lit­er­a­ture, it pro­vides excit­ing means of intel­lec­tu­al dis­cov­ery. Fry him­self doesn’t shy away from satir­i­cal­ly tak­ing the piss, as a mod­ern-day Swift might say. He begins not with Coleridge or Keats (though he gets there even­tu­al­ly), but with a sto­ry for tod­dlers called “Tony the Tow Truck.” He does this not to mock, but to show us that “read­ing any­thing is a com­plex and poten­tial­ly unlim­it­ed activity”—and as “a face­tious reminder,” he tells 3:AM, that “the­o­ry is tak­ing itself seri­ous­ly in the wrong way if it exhausts its rea­son for being….”

Intro­duc­tion to The­o­ry of Lit­er­a­ture will be added to our list of Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es, a sub­set of our meta col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Quick Intro­duc­tion to Lit­er­ary The­o­ry: Watch Ani­mat­ed Videos from the Open Uni­ver­si­ty

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Hear Roland Barthes Present His 40-Hour Course, La Pré­pa­ra­tion du roman, in French (1978–80)

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

Study Shows That Teaching Young Kids Philosophy Improves Their Academic Performance, Making Them Better at Reading & Math

Should we teach phi­los­o­phy to chil­dren? You’d have a hard time, I imag­ine, con­vinc­ing many read­ers of this site that we shouldn’t. But why? It’s not self-evi­dent that Kant’s ethics will help John­ny or Susie bet­ter nav­i­gate play­ground pol­i­tics or lunch­room dis­putes, nor is Plato’s the­o­ry of forms like­ly to show up on an ele­men­tary school exam. Maybe it’s nev­er too ear­ly for kids to learn intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. But it’s less clear that they can or should wres­tle with Hegel.

Per­haps the ques­tion should be put anoth­er way: should we teach chil­dren to think philo­soph­i­cal­ly? As we not­ed in an ear­li­er post, Eng­lish edu­ca­tors and entre­pre­neurs Emma and Peter Wor­ley have answered affir­ma­tive­ly with their Phi­los­o­phy Foun­da­tion, which trains chil­dren in meth­ods of argu­men­ta­tion, prob­lem-solv­ing, and gen­er­al­ly “think­ing well.” They claim that prac­tic­ing philo­soph­i­cal inquiry “has an impact on affec­tive skills and… cog­ni­tive skills.”

Peter Wor­ley also argues that it makes kids less prone to pro­pa­gan­da and the fear-mon­ger­ing of total­i­tar­i­ans. While one read­er astute­ly point­ed out that sev­er­al philoso­phers have had “author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies,” we should note that even some of the most anti-democratic—Socrates for example—have used philo­soph­i­cal meth­ods to hold pow­er to account and ques­tion means of social con­trol.

But while this noble civic moti­va­tion may be a hard sell to a school board, or what­ev­er the British equiv­a­lent, the idea that philo­soph­i­cal think­ing pro­motes many kinds of lit­er­a­cy nec­es­sary for children’s suc­cess has found wide sup­port for decades in Eng­land and the U.S. as part of a move­ment apt­ly named “Phi­los­o­phy for chil­dren” (P4C), which “began with the work of Pro­fes­sor Matthew Lip­man, who found­ed the Insti­tute for the Advance­ment of Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren at Mont­clair State Uni­ver­si­ty, USA in 1974.”

Inspired by an ear­li­er Amer­i­can ped­a­gog­i­cal thinker, John Dewey, Lip­man and co-authors pub­lished Phi­los­o­phy in the Class­room, under “the assump­tion,” writes Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty Press, “that what is taught in schools is not (and should not be) sub­ject mat­ter but rather ways of think­ing.” Lip­man and his col­leagues have had sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on edu­ca­tors in the UK, prompt­ing a huge study by the Edu­ca­tion­al Endow­ment Foun­da­tion (EEF) that tracked nine and ten year old stu­dents in Eng­land from Jan­u­ary to Decem­ber of 2013.

As Jen­ny Ander­son writes at Quartz, “More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across Eng­land par­tic­i­pat­ed in week­ly dis­cus­sions about con­cepts such as truth, jus­tice, friend­ship, and knowl­edge, with time carved out for silent reflec­tion, ques­tion mak­ing, ques­tion air­ing, and build­ing on one another’s thoughts and ideas.” The results were pret­ty astound­ing. “Over­all,” the study con­cludes, “pupils using the approach made approx­i­mate­ly two addi­tion­al months’ progress in read­ing and maths.” This despite the fact, notes Ander­son, that “the course was not designed to improve lit­er­a­cy or numer­a­cy.”

Chil­dren from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds saw an even big­ger leap in per­for­mance: read­ing skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writ­ing by two months. Teach­ers also report­ed a ben­e­fi­cial impact on stu­dents’ con­fi­dence and abil­i­ty to lis­ten to oth­ers.

The rig­or­ous study not only found imme­di­ate improve­ment but also lon­gi­tu­di­nal­ly tracked the stu­dents’ devel­op­ment for two addi­tion­al years and found that the ben­e­fi­cial effects con­tin­ued through that time; “the inter­ven­tion group continu[ed] to out­per­form the con­trol group” from 22 of the schools “long after the class­es had fin­ished.” You can read the study for your­self here, and learn more about the Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren movement—“inspired by a dia­log­i­cal tra­di­tion of doing phi­los­o­phy begun by Socrates in Athens 2,500 years ago”—at the Phi­los­o­phy Foun­da­tion, the Insti­tute for the Advance­ment of Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren, and the Cen­ter for Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton.

via Quartz/Big Think

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Med­i­ta­tion is Replac­ing Deten­tion in Baltimore’s Pub­lic Schools, and the Stu­dents Are Thriv­ing

Why We Need to Teach Kids Phi­los­o­phy & Safe­guard Soci­ety from Author­i­tar­i­an Con­trol

The Epis­te­mol­o­gy of Dr. Seuss & More Phi­los­o­phy Lessons from Great Children’s Sto­ries

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

For Sale: The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind

Call­ing all par­ents with a hedge fund–or big trust fund. If you real­ly love your kids (wink), you can let them play with the build­ing blocks that once belonged to young Albert Ein­stein. Accord­ing to Ein­stein’s own sis­ter, Albert used these blocks to build “com­pli­cat­ed struc­tures” dur­ing his child­hood in Ger­many, sow­ing the seeds of his cre­ativ­i­ty. Now, after hav­ing been recent­ly auc­tioned off by Einstein’s descen­dants, they’re being sold online for $160,000–plus $3 ship­ping with­in the US). Abe­Books, the online ven­dor of rare books and ephemera–has a blog post with more infor­ma­tion on this col­lectible.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Physics Cours­es

Albert Ein­stein Impos­es on His First Wife a Cru­el List of Mar­i­tal Demands

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

The Musi­cal Mind of Albert Ein­stein: Great Physi­cist, Ama­teur Vio­lin­ist and Devo­tee of Mozart

Albert Ein­stein Archive Now Online, Bring­ing 80,000+ Doc­u­ments to the Web

Stanford University Launches Free Course on Developing Apps with iOS 10

When­ev­er Apple releas­es a new ver­sion of iOS, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty even­tu­al­ly releas­es a course telling you how to devel­op apps in that envi­ron­ment. iOS 10 came out last fall, and now the iOS 10 app devel­op­ment course is get­ting rolled out this quar­ter. It’s free online, of course, on iTunes.

You can now find “Devel­op­ing iOS Apps with Swift” housed in our col­lec­tion of Free Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es, which cur­rent­ly fea­tures 117 cours­es in total, includ­ing some basic Har­vard cours­es that will teach you how to code in 12 weeks.

As always, cours­es from oth­er dis­ci­plines can be found on our larg­er list, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Fol­low us on Face­book, Twit­ter and Google Plus 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.


Cormac McCarthy Explains Why He Worked Hard at Not Working: How 9‑to‑5 Jobs Limit Your Creative Potential

Last sum­mer, a rumor cir­cu­lat­ed that Cor­mac McCarthy, one of America’s most beloved liv­ing writ­ers, had passed away. In the midst of a dev­as­tat­ing year for famous artists and their fans, the announce­ment appeared on Twit­ter, but it “was, in fact, a hoax.” As McCarthy’s publisher—recently merged jug­ger­naut Pen­guin Ran­dom House—con­firmed, the author of such mod­ern clas­sics as Blood Merid­i­an, All the Pret­ty Hors­es, and No Coun­try for Old Men “is alive and well and still doesn’t care about Twit­ter.” The lit­er­ary com­mu­ni­ty is bet­ter off not only for McCarthy’s good health, but for his dis­re­gard of what may be the most fiendish­ly dis­tract­ing social media plat­form of them all. He is still hard at work, on a nov­el called The Pas­sen­ger, ten­ta­tive­ly slat­ed for release this year.

You can hear excerpts of The Pas­sen­ger read in the dim, shaky video below, from an event in 2015 at the San­ta Fe Insti­tute, an inde­pen­dent sci­en­tif­ic think tank where McCarthy keeps an office and where he has plied a sec­ondary trade as a copy-edi­tor for sci­ence-themed books, includ­ing Quan­tum Man, physi­cist Lawrence Krauss’s biog­ra­phy of Richard Feyn­man. (McCarthy’s “knowl­edge of physics and maths,” writes Ali­son Flood at The Guardian, is said to exceed “that of many pro­fes­sion­als in the field.”) McCarthy’s lat­est work seems like a depar­ture for him.

His ear­li­er nov­els mined the rich­ness of South­ern Goth­ic and West­ern tra­di­tions, and “have sub­tly woven in sci­ence,” writes Babak Dowlat­shahi at Newsweek. But The Pas­sen­ger “will place sci­ence in the fore­ground.” San­ta Fe Insti­tute pres­i­dent David Krakauer calls it “full-blown Cor­mac 3.0—a math­e­mat­i­cal [and] ana­lyt­i­cal nov­el.”

So we know Cor­mac McCarthy is a genius, but how is it that he found the time to become a Pulitzer Prize, Nation­al Book Award, and Guggen­heim and MacArthur Fel­low­ship-win­ning nov­el­ist and, on the side, a stu­dent of the­o­ret­i­cal physics and math? His secret involves more than stay­ing off Twit­ter. As McCarthy tells Oprah Win­frey in the video at the top of the post, excerpt­ed from his first tele­vi­sion inter­view ever in 2007, he has made his work the cen­tral focus of his life, to the exclu­sion of every­thing else, includ­ing mon­ey and pub­lic adu­la­tion from fans and admir­ers. For exam­ple, he answers a ques­tion about why he turned down lucra­tive speak­ing engage­ments with, “I was busy. I had oth­er things to do.”

It’s not that I don’t like things, I mean some things are very nice, but they cer­tain­ly take a dis­tant sec­ond place to being able to live your life and being able to do what you want to do. I always knew that I didn’t want to work.

How did he pull off not work­ing? “You have to be ded­i­cat­ed… I thought, ‘you’re just here once, life is brief and to have to spend every day of it doing what some­body else wants you to do is not the way to live it.’” McCarthy doesn’t “have any advice for any­body” about how to avoid the dai­ly grind, except, he says, “if you’re real­ly ded­i­cat­ed, you can prob­a­bly do it.” As Oprah puts it, “you have worked at not work­ing?” To which he replies, “absolute­ly, it’s the num­ber one pri­or­i­ty.”

Lest we imme­di­ate­ly dis­miss McCarthy’s phi­los­o­phy as clue­less­ness or priv­i­lege, we should bear in mind that he will­ing­ly endured extreme and “tru­ly, tru­ly bleak” pover­ty to keep work­ing at not working—or work­ing, rather, on the work he want­ed to do. There’s a bit more to becom­ing a mul­ti­ple award-win­ning nov­el­ist and MacArthur “Genius” than sim­ply avoid­ing the 9‑to‑5. But McCarthy sug­gests that unless artists make their own work their first pri­or­i­ty, and mate­r­i­al com­fort and eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty a “dis­tant sec­ond,” they may nev­er tru­ly find out what they’re capa­ble of.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

The Employ­ment: A Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About Why We’re So Dis­en­chant­ed with Work Today

Cor­mac McCarthy’s Three Punc­tu­a­tion Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

Wern­er Her­zog and Cor­mac McCarthy Talk Sci­ence and Cul­ture

Wern­er Her­zog Reads From Cor­mac McCarthy’s All the Pret­ty Hors­es

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

Petite Planète: Discover Chris Marker’s Influential 1950s Travel Photobook Series

“In anoth­er time I guess I would have been con­tent with film­ing girls and cats,” said Chris Mark­er. “But you don’t choose your time.” Though the inim­itable film­mak­er, writer, and media artist could­n’t choose his time, he did enjoy a decent­ly sized slice of it, pass­ing away in 2012 on his 91st birth­day. His six-decade career’s best-known achieve­ments include the inno­v­a­tive sci­ence-fic­tion short La Jetée and the semi-fic­tion­al trav­el­ogue essay-film mas­ter­piece Sans Soleil, but Mark­er’s vast body of work, most all of it deeply con­cerned with the com­bi­na­tion of words and images, cov­ers a much wider ter­ri­to­ry — aes­thet­ic ter­ri­to­ry, of course, but giv­en Mark­er’s peri­patet­ic ten­den­cies, also phys­i­cal ter­ri­to­ry, scat­tered all across the globe.

Per­haps that sen­si­bil­i­ty land­ed Mark­er, 33 years old and with his most famous work ahead of him, a job as an edi­tor at Paris’ Edi­tions de Seuil, where he con­ceived and designed a series of trav­el guides called Petite Planète. He con­sid­ered each vol­ume “not a guide­book, not a his­to­ry book, not a pro­pa­gan­da brochure, not a traveller’s impres­sions, but instead equiv­a­lent to the con­ver­sa­tion we would like to have with some­one intel­li­gent and well versed in the coun­try that inter­ests us.” Launched “near­ly a decade after World War II,” writes Isabel Stevens at Aper­ture,” the first time when “for­eign locales seemed tan­ta­liz­ing­ly with­in reach, Édi­tions du Seuil intro­duced the books rather charm­ing­ly as ‘the world for every­one.’ ”

“Apart from the ambi­tion to pro­vide some­thing dif­fer­ent from run-of-the-mill guide­books, his­to­ries, or trav­el­ers’ tales,” writes Cather­ine Lup­ton in Chris Mark­er: Mem­o­ries of the Future, “the most inno­v­a­tive aspect of the Petite Planète guides was their lav­ish use of illus­tra­tions, which were dis­played not mere­ly as sup­port to the text but in dynam­ic lay­outs that estab­lished an unprece­dent­ed visu­al and cog­ni­tive relay between text and images.” Though Mark­er con­tributed some of his own pho­tographs (as did his French New Wave col­league Agnès Var­da), his chief cre­ative con­tri­bu­tion came in blend­ing these and a vari­ety of “engrav­ings, minia­tures, pop­u­lar graph­ic illus­tra­tions, pic­ture post­cards, maps, car­toons, postage stamps, posters, and adver­tise­ments” into “a heady and het­eroge­nous mix of high cul­tur­al and mass-mar­ket scenes,” all arranged with the words in “a man­ner that engages know­ing­ly and play­ful­ly with the para­me­ters of the book.”

True Mark­er exegetes will find plen­ty of con­nec­tions between Petite Planète and the rest of his oeu­vreThough no cats ever made the cov­ers, plen­ty of girls did — or rather, plen­ty of women did, since a local female face front­ed every title he over­saw. One of those faces, gaz­ing stat­ue-like from one vol­ume on Japan, will look awful­ly famil­iar to any­one who’s seen Le mys­tère Koumiko, Mark­er’s doc­u­men­tary on a young lady he met in the street while in Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics. And in Toute la mémoire du monde, Alain Resnais’ short on France’s Bib­lio­thèque Nationale made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a cer­tain “Chris and Mag­ic Mark­er,” we wit­ness the cat­a­loging and shelv­ing of Petite Planète nev­er writ­ten — and one that actu­al­ly departs from the plan­et at that.

Around the same time, Mark­er pub­lished Coréennes, a high­ly Mark­eresque visu­al trav­el­ogue of war-torn North Korea. I recent­ly wrote about its Kore­an edi­tion for the Los Ange­les Review of Books, though the long-out-of-print Eng­lish ver­sion remains hard to come by. The same goes for the Mark­er-designed Petite Planète books, trans­la­tions of which Lon­don’s Vista Books put out in the 1950s and 60s, and about which Adam Davis at Divi­sion Leap has begun a series of posts with a look at Ger­many. You can exam­ine more of the orig­i­nals at Let’s Get LostIndex GrafixSÜRKRÜT, and this slide show from The Ressi­a­ba­tor. Our hyper­con­nect­ed era, at a dis­tance of six­ty years, places us well to under­stand the mean­ing of Mark­er’s state­ment on his trav­el-guide project: “We see the world escape us at the same time as we become more aware of our links with it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Owl’s Lega­cy: Chris Marker’s 13-Part Search for West­ern Culture’s Foun­da­tions in Ancient Greece

How Chris Marker’s Rad­i­cal Sci­Fi Film, La Jetée, Changed the Life of Cyber­punk Prophet, William Gib­son

Vin­tage 1930s Japan­ese Posters Artis­ti­cal­ly Mar­ket the Won­ders of Trav­el

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.

Kurt Vonnegut Gives a Sermon on the Foolishness of Nuclear Arms: It’s Timely Again (Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1982)

Image by Daniele Prati, via Flickr Com­mons

Many writ­ers recoil at the notion of dis­cussing where they get their ideas, but Kurt Von­negut spoke on the sub­ject will­ing­ly. “I get my ideas from dreams,” he announced ear­ly in one speech, adding, “the wildest dream I have had so far is about The New York­er mag­a­zine.” In this dream, “the mag­a­zine has pub­lished a three-part essay by Jonathan Schell which proves that life on Earth is about to end. I am sup­posed to go to the largest Goth­ic cathe­dral in the world, where all the peo­ple are wait­ing, and say some­thing won­der­ful — right before a hydro­gen bomb is dropped on the Empire State Build­ing.”

It stands to rea­son that a such a vivid, fright­en­ing, and some­how fun­ny sce­nario would unfold in the uncon­scious mind of a man who wrote such vivid, fright­en­ing, and some­how fun­ny nov­els. (Von­negut’s own inter­pre­ta­tion? “I con­sid­er myself an impor­tant writer, and I think The New York­er should be ashamed that it has nev­er pub­lished me.”) As it hap­pens, he did deliv­er these words in a cathe­dral, name­ly New York City’s Cathe­dral of St. John the Divine in the spring of 1982.

This was just months after Schel­l’s three-part essay “The Fate of the Earth” (all three parts of it still avail­able online) real­ly ran in The New York­er, and Cold War fears about the prob­a­bil­i­ty of a hydro­gen bomb real­ly drop­ping on Amer­i­ca ran high. Von­negut’s speech was one of a series of Sun­day ser­mons the Cathe­dral had lined up on the sub­ject of nuclear dis­ar­ma­ment, assem­bling the rest of the ros­ter from mil­i­tary, sci­en­tif­ic, and activist fields. The author of Cat’s Cra­dleSlaugh­ter­house-Five, and Break­fast of Cham­pi­onsfresh off a trip to the Gala­pa­gos Islands with the St. John the Divine’s Bish­op Paul Moore—presumably rep­re­sent­ed the realm of let­ters.

“At the time, NYPR Archives Direc­tor Andy Lanset cov­ered the Von­negut ser­mon as a vol­un­teer for the WNYC News Depart­ment,” wrote WNY­C’s William Rod­ney Allen in 2014 on the redis­cov­ery and post­ing of Lanset’s record­ing. (The same pub­lic radio sta­tion, inci­den­tal­ly, would fif­teen or so years lat­er com­mis­sion Von­negut for a series of reports from the after­life.) Now we can not only read but also hear Von­negut, in his own voice, try­ing to imag­ine aloud a series of “fates worse than death.” Why? Not sim­ply to indulge his famous sense of gal­lows humor, but in order to put the nuclear threat, and the anx­i­eties it gen­er­at­ed, into the prop­er con­text.

“I am sure you are sick and tired of hear­ing how all liv­ing things siz­zle and pop inside a radioac­tive fire­ball,” Von­negut says, going on to assure his audi­ence that “sci­en­tists, for all their cre­ativ­i­ty, will nev­er dis­cov­er a method for mak­ing peo­ple dead­er than dead. So if some of you are wor­ried about being hydro­gen-bombed, you are mere­ly fear­ing death. There is noth­ing new in that. If there weren’t any hydro­gen bombs, death would still be after you.”

In any event, despite hav­ing shuf­fled through sev­er­al can­di­dates (“Life with­out petro­le­um?”), Von­negut can come up with no fate believ­ably worse than death besides cru­ci­fix­ion. But giv­en that non-cru­ci­fied human beings near­ly always and every­where pre­fer life to death, per­haps “we might pray to be res­cued from our inven­tive­ness” which gave us the abil­i­ty to destroy all life on Earth. But “the inven­tive­ness which we so regret now may also be giv­ing us, along with the rock­ets and war­heads, the means to achieve what has hith­er­to been an impos­si­bil­i­ty, the uni­ty of mankind.”

Von­negut sees this promise main­ly in tele­vi­sion, whose ter­ri­bly real­is­tic sounds and images ensure that “the peo­ple of every indus­tri­al­ized nation are nau­se­at­ed by war by the time they are ten years old.” A vet­er­an of the Sec­ond World War, he him­self remem­bers a very dif­fer­ent time, back when “it used to be nec­es­sary for a young sol­dier to get into fight­ing before he became dis­il­lu­sioned about war,” back when “it was unusu­al for an Amer­i­can, or a per­son of any nation­al­i­ty, for that mat­ter, to know much about for­eign­ers.”

Even before the 1980s, “thanks to mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions, we have seen sights and heard sounds from vir­tu­al­ly every square mile of the land mass on this plan­et,” and so “know for cer­tain that there are no poten­tial human ene­mies any­where who are any­thing but human beings almost exact­ly like our­selves. They need food. How amaz­ing. They love their chil­dren. How amaz­ing. They obey their lead­ers. How amaz­ing. They think like their neigh­bors. How amaz­ing.”

Mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions have, of course, come aston­ish­ing­ly far in the 35 years since Von­negut’s Sun­day ser­mon, but our fears about nuclear anni­hi­la­tion have had a way of resur­fac­ing. In recent months, the Amer­i­can peo­ple have even heard talk of a rein­vig­o­rat­ed nuclear arms race from their new pres­i­dent, a man whose rise detrac­tors part­ly blame on mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy — not a lack of it, but an excess.

“The glob­al vil­lage that was once the inter­net has been replaced by dig­i­tal islands of iso­la­tion that are drift­ing fur­ther apart each day,” writes Mostafa M. El-Bermawy in a Wired piece on the threat social-media “fil­ter bub­bles” pose to democ­ra­cy. “We need to remind our­selves that there are humans on the oth­er side of the screen who want to be heard and can think and feel like us while at the same time reach­ing dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions.” Recent devel­op­ments would prob­a­bly dis­ap­point Von­negut (not that they would sur­prise him), but he’d sure­ly get a kick, as he always did, out of the irony of it all.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Von­negut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Dis­gust with Civ­i­liza­tion

In 1988, Kurt Von­negut Writes a Let­ter to Peo­ple Liv­ing in 2088, Giv­ing 7 Pieces of Advice

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Von­negut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Hear Kurt Von­negut Vis­it the After­life & Inter­view Dead His­tor­i­cal Fig­ures: Isaac New­ton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

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.

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