Edvard Munch’s Famous Painting “The Scream” Animated to the Sound of Pink Floyd’s Primal Music

In this short video, Roman­ian ani­ma­tor Sebas­t­ian Cosor brings togeth­er two haunt­ing works from dif­fer­ent times and dif­fer­ent media: The Scream, by Nor­we­gian Expres­sion­ist painter Edvard Munch (1863–1944), and “The Great Gig in the Sky,” by the British rock band Pink Floyd.

Munch paint­ed the first of four ver­sions of The Scream in 1893. He lat­er wrote a poem describ­ing the apoc­a­lyp­tic vision behind it:

I was walk­ing along the road with two Friends
the Sun was set­ting — the Sky turned a bloody red
And I felt a whiff of Melan­choly — I stood
Still, death­ly tired — over the blue-black
Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire
My Friends walked on — I remained behind
– shiv­er­ing with anx­i­ety — I felt the Great Scream in Nature

Munch’s hor­rif­ic Great Scream in Nature is com­bined in the video with Floy­d’s oth­er­world­ly “The Great Gig in the Sky,” one of the sig­na­ture pieces from the band’s 1973 mas­ter­piece, Dark Side of the Moon. The vocals on “The Great Gig” were per­formed by an unknown young song­writer and ses­sion singer named Clare Tor­ry.

Tor­ry had been invit­ed by pro­duc­er Alan Par­sons to come to Abbey Road Stu­dios and impro­vise over a haunt­ing piano chord pro­gres­sion by Richard Wright, on a track that was ten­ta­tive­ly called “The Mor­tal­i­ty Sequence.”  The 25-year-old singer was giv­en very lit­tle direc­tion from the band. “Clare came into the stu­dio one day,” said bassist Roger Waters in a 2003 Rolling Stone inter­view, “and we said, ‘There’s no lyrics. It’s about dying — have a bit of a sing on that, girl.’ ”

Forty-two years lat­er, that “bit of a sing” can still send a shiv­er down any­one’s spine. For more on the mak­ing of “The Great Gig in the Sky,” and Tor­ry’s amaz­ing con­tri­bu­tion, see the clip below to hear Tor­ry’s sto­ry in her own words.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

30,000 Works of Art by Edvard Munch & Oth­er Artists Put Online by Norway’s Nation­al Muse­um of Art

Hear How Clare Torry’s Vocals on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” Made the Song Go from Pret­ty Good to Stun­ning

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

The Night Frank Zap­pa Jammed With Pink Floyd … and Cap­tain Beef­heart Too (Bel­gium, 1969) 

Three Pink Floyd Songs Played on the Tra­di­tion­al Kore­an Gayageum: “Com­fort­ably Numb,” “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall” & “Great Gig in the Sky”

George Orwell Reviews We, the Russian Dystopian Novel That Noam Chomsky Considers “More Perceptive” Than Brave New World & 1984

We know George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, at least by rep­u­ta­tion, and we’ve heard both ref­er­ences tossed around with alarm­ing fre­quen­cy this past year. Before these water­shed dystopi­an nov­els, pub­lished over a decade apart (1949 and 1932, respec­tive­ly), came an ear­li­er book, one tru­ly “most rel­e­vant to our time,” writes Michael Bren­dan Dougher­ty: Yevge­ny Zamyatin’s We, writ­ten in 1923 and set “1,000 years after a rev­o­lu­tion that brought the One State into pow­er.” The nov­el had a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on Orwell’s more famous polit­i­cal dystopia. And we have a good sense of Orwell’s indebt­ed­ness to the Russ­ian writer.

Three years before the pub­li­ca­tion of 1984, Orwell pub­lished a review of Zamyatin’s book, hav­ing “at last got my hands on a copy… sev­er­al years after hear­ing of its exis­tence.” Orwell describes the nov­el as “one of the lit­er­ary curiosi­ties of this book-burn­ing age” and spends a good part of his brief com­men­tary com­par­ing We to Huxley’s nov­el. “[T]he resem­blance with Brave New World is strik­ing,” he writes. “But though Zamyatin’s book is less well put together—it has a rather weak and episod­ic plot which is too com­plex to summarise—it has a polit­i­cal point which the oth­er lacks.” The ear­li­er Russ­ian nov­el, writes Orwell, in 1946, “is on the whole more rel­e­vant to our own sit­u­a­tion.”

Part of what Orwell found con­vinc­ing in Zamyatin’s “less well put togeth­er” book was the fact that under­neath the tech­no­crat­ic total­i­tar­i­an state he depicts, “many of the ancient human instincts are still there” rather than hav­ing been erad­i­cat­ed by eugen­ics and med­ica­tion. (Although cit­i­zens in We are lobot­o­mized, more or less, if they rebel.) “It may well be,” Orwell goes on to say, “that Zamy­atin did not intend the Sovi­et regime to be the spe­cial tar­get of his satire.” He did write the book many years before the Stal­in­ist dic­ta­tor­ship that inspired Orwell’s dystopias. “What Zamy­atin seems to be aim­ing at is not any par­tic­u­lar coun­try but the implied aims of indus­tri­al civ­i­liza­tion.”

In the inter­view at the top of the post (with clum­sy sub­ti­tles), Noam Chom­sky makes some sim­i­lar obser­va­tions, and declares We the supe­ri­or book to both Brave New World and 1984 (which he pro­nounces “obvi­ous and wood­en”). Zamy­atin was “more per­cep­tive” than Orwell or Hux­ley, says Chom­sky. He “was talk­ing about the real world…. I think he sensed what a total­i­tar­i­an sys­tem is like,” pro­ject­ing an over­whelm­ing­ly con­trol­ling sur­veil­lance state in We before such a thing exist­ed in the form it would in Orwell’s time. The nov­el will remind us of the many dystopi­an sce­nar­ios that have pop­u­lat­ed fic­tion and film in the almost 100 years since its pub­li­ca­tion. As Dougher­ty con­cise­ly sum­ma­rizes it, in We:

Cit­i­zens are known only by their num­ber, and the sto­ry’s pro­tag­o­nist is D‑503, an engi­neer work­ing on a space­ship that aims to bring the glo­ri­ous prin­ci­ples of the Rev­o­lu­tion to space. This world is ruled by the Bene­fac­tor, and presided over by the Guardians. They spy on cit­i­zens, who all live in apart­ments made of glass so that they can be per­fect­ly observed. Trust in the sys­tem is absolute.

Equal­i­ty is enforced, to the point of dis­fig­ur­ing the phys­i­cal­ly beau­ti­ful. Beau­ty — as well as its com­pan­ion, art — are a kind of heresy in the One State, because “to be orig­i­nal means to dis­tin­guish your­self from oth­ers. It fol­lows that to be orig­i­nal is to vio­late the prin­ci­ple of equal­i­ty.”

Zamy­atin sure­ly drew from ear­li­er dystopias, as well as the clas­si­cal utopia of Plato’s Repub­lic. But an even more imme­di­ate influ­ence, curi­ous­ly, was his time spent in Eng­land just before the Rev­o­lu­tion. Like his main char­ac­ter, Zamy­atin began his career as an engineer—a ship­builder, in fact, the craft he stud­ied at St. Peters­burg Poly­tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty. He was sent to New­cas­tle in 1916, writes Yolan­da Del­ga­do, “to super­vise the con­struc­tion of ice­break­ers for the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment. How­ev­er, by the time the ships actu­al­ly reached Rus­sia, they belonged to the new authorities—the Bol­she­viks…. [I]n an iron­ic twist, Zamy­atin, one of the most out­spo­ken ear­ly crit­ics of the Sovi­et regime, actu­al­ly designed the first Sovi­et ice­break­ers.”

While Zamy­atin wrote We in response to the Sovi­et takeover, his style and sci-fi set­ting was great­ly inspired by his immer­sion in Eng­lish cul­ture. His two years abroad “great­ly influ­enced him,” from his dress to his speech, earn­ing him the nick­name “the Eng­lish­man.” He became so flu­ent in Eng­lish that he found work as an “edi­tor and trans­la­tor of for­eign authors such as H.G. Wells, Jack Lon­don, and Sheri­dan.” (Dur­ing his sojourn in Eng­land, writes Orwell, Zamy­atin “had writ­ten some blis­ter­ing satires on Eng­lish life.”) Upon return­ing to Rus­sia, Zamy­atin quick­ly became one of the “very first dis­si­dents.” We was banned by the Sovi­et cen­sors in 1921, and that year the author pub­lished an essay called “I Fear,” in which he described the strug­gles of Russ­ian artists under the new regime, writ­ing, “the con­di­tions under which we live are tear­ing us to pieces.”

Even­tu­al­ly smug­gling the man­u­script of We to New York, Zamy­atin was able to get the nov­el pub­lished in 1923, incur­ring the wrath of the Sovi­et author­i­ties. He was “ostra­cized… demo­nized in the press, black­list­ed from pub­lish­ing and kicked out of the Union of Sovi­et Writ­ers.” Zamy­atin was unapolo­getic, writ­ing Stal­in to ask that he be allowed to leave the coun­try. Stal­in not only grant­ed the request, allow­ing Zamy­atin to set­tle in Paris, but allowed him back into the Union of Sovi­et Writ­ers in 1934, an unusu­al turn of events indeed. Just above, you can see a Ger­man film adap­ta­tion of We (turn on closed cap­tions to watch it with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles). And you can read Orwell’s full review of We here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hux­ley to Orwell: My Hell­ish Vision of the Future is Bet­ter Than Yours (1949)

Hear the Very First Adap­ta­tion of George Orwell’s 1984 in a Radio Play Star­ring David Niv­en (1949)

Hear Aldous Hux­ley Read Brave New World. Plus 84 Clas­sic Radio Dra­mas from CBS Radio Work­shop (1956–57)

George Orwell’s 1984 Is Now the #1 Best­selling Book on Ama­zon

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

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Makes 140,000+ Artistic Images from Its Collections Available on Archive.org

As an Open Cul­ture read­er, you might already know the Inter­net Archive, often sim­ply called “Archive.org,” as an ever expand­ing trove of won­ders, freely offer­ing every­thing from polit­i­cal TV ads to vin­tage cook­books to Grate­ful Dead con­cert record­ings to the his­to­ry of the inter­net itself. You might also know the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art as not just a build­ing on Fifth Avenue, but a lead­ing dig­i­tal cul­tur­al insti­tu­tion, one will­ing and able to make hun­dreds of art books avail­able to down­load and hun­dreds of thou­sands of fine-art images usable and remix­able under a Cre­ative Com­mons license.

Now, the Inter­net Archive and the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art have teamed up to bring you a col­lec­tion of over 140,000 art images gath­ered by the lat­ter and orga­nized and host­ed by the for­mer.

Most every dig­i­tal vault in the Inter­net Archive offers a cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal jour­ney with­in, but the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art offers an espe­cial­ly deep one, rang­ing his­tor­i­cal­ly from ear­ly 19th-cen­tu­ry India (The Plea­sures of the Hunt at the top of the post) to mid­cen­tu­ry New York (the pho­to of the mighty loco­mo­tive before the entrance to the 1939 World’s Fair above) and, in either direc­tion, well beyond.

Cul­tur­al­ly speak­ing, you can also find in the Met’s col­lec­tion in the Inter­net Archive every­thing from from Japan­ese inter­pre­ta­tions of French pho­tog­ra­phy (the wood­block print French Pho­tog­ra­ph­er above) to the Bel­gian inter­pre­ta­tion of Anglo-Amer­i­can cin­e­ma (the poster design for Char­lie Chap­lin’s Play Day below). You can dial in on your zone of inter­est by using the “Top­ics & Sub­jects,” whose hun­dreds of fil­ter­able options include, to name just a few, such cat­e­gories as Asia, woodfrag­mentsLon­don, folios, and under­wear.

The col­lec­tion also con­tains works of the mas­ters, such as Vin­cent van Gogh’s 1887 Self-Por­trait with Straw Hat (as well as its obverse, 1885’s The Pota­to Peel­er), and some of the world’s great vis­tas, includ­ing Francesco Guardi’s 1765 ren­der­ing of Venice from the Baci­no di San Mar­co. If you’d like to see what in the col­lec­tion has drawn the atten­tion of most of its browsers so far, sort it by view count: those at work should beware that nudes and oth­er erot­i­cal­ly charged art­works pre­dictably dom­i­nate the rank­ings, but they do it along­side Naru­to Whirlpool, the Philoso­pher’s Stone, and Albert Ein­stein. Human inter­est, like human cre­ativ­i­ty, always has a sur­prise or two in store.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Makes 375,000 Images of Fine Art Avail­able Under a Cre­ative Com­mons License: Down­load, Use & Remix

Down­load 464 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

1.8 Mil­lion Free Works of Art from World-Class Muse­ums: A Meta List of Great Art Avail­able Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, 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.

An Animated Introduction to Stoicism, the Ancient Greek Philosophy That Lets You Lead a Happy, Fulfilling Life

For­ev­er known, it seems, as keep­ing a “stiff upper lip,” Sto­icism—like its pre­de­ces­sor, Cyn­i­cism—is an ancient school of Greek phi­los­o­phy that has been reduced into an atti­tude, a pose rather than a way of life. “We do this to our philoso­phies,” writes Lary Wal­lace at Aeon, “We redraft their con­tours based on pro­ject­ed shad­ows, or give them a car­toon­ish shape like a car­i­ca­tur­ist empha­siz­ing all the wrong fea­tures.” We do this espe­cial­ly to schools as obscure to most peo­ple as Sto­icism and Cyn­i­cism.

“In real­i­ty,” how­ev­er, writes Mas­si­mo Pigli­uc­ci at The Stone, “prac­tic­ing Sto­icism is not real­ly that dif­fer­ent from, say, prac­tic­ing Bud­dhism (or even cer­tain forms of mod­ern Chris­tian­i­ty): it is a mix of reflect­ing on the­o­ret­i­cal pre­cepts, read­ing inspi­ra­tional texts, and engag­ing in med­i­ta­tion, mind­ful­ness, and the like.” Would the ancient Sto­ics have agreed with this assess­ment? In the short TED-Ed les­son above, writ­ten by Pigli­uc­ci and ani­mat­ed by Com­pote Col­lec­tive, we learn about Zeno of Cyprus, “strand­ed miles from home, with no mon­ey or pos­ses­sions.”

Des­ti­tute and “ship­wrecked in Athens around 300 BCE,” the once-wealthy mer­chant dis­cov­ered Socrates, and decid­ed to “seek out and study with the city’s not­ed philoso­phers.” Zeno then taught his own stu­dents the prin­ci­ples of “virtue, tol­er­ance, and self-con­trol” that under­lie Sto­ic phi­los­o­phy (called so for “the porch (stoa poik­ilê) in the Ago­ra at Athens” where the group con­gre­gat­ed). Although the abil­i­ty to remain calm and com­posed in a crisis—the qual­i­ty most asso­ci­at­ed with Stoicism—occupies a promi­nent place in Sto­ic thought, it is cen­tral­ly con­cerned with two ques­tions.

As the site 99u puts it, Sto­ics ask: “1. How can we lead a ful­fill­ing, hap­py life?” and “2. How can we become bet­ter human beings?” In brief, we do so not by obey­ing or sub­mit­ting to some kind of capri­cious divine will, but by attend­ing to the ratio­nal struc­ture of the uni­verse, the Logos, an intri­cate web of cause and effect that deter­mines the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. The Sto­ic cul­ti­vates four virtues—Wisdom, Tem­per­ance, Jus­tice, and Courage—and the char­ac­ter rec­om­mend­ed by Sto­ic phi­los­o­phy makes it plain why Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, as Pigli­uc­ci notes, was “actu­al­ly mod­eled after [Gene Roddenberry’s]—mistaken—understanding of Sto­icism.”

Giv­en Stoicism’s con­cern with hap­pi­ness and virtue, we might expect Alain de Botton’s School of Life to be an advo­cate, and we would be right. In the ani­mat­ed intro­duc­tion to Sto­icism above, de Bot­ton assures view­ers “you need more of it in your life.” Why? Because “life is dif­fi­cult,” and Sto­icism is “help­ful,” for com­mon­ers and aris­to­crats alike. Indeed the most famous of Sto­ic philoso­phers, Mar­cus Aure­lius, was Emper­or of Rome from 161 to 180 CE. Con­sid­ered one of the great­est works of ancient thought, Aure­lius’ Med­i­ta­tions is also per­haps one of the most acces­si­ble of philo­soph­i­cal texts.

In plain, straight­for­ward lan­guage, the emper­or-philoso­pher rec­om­mends a series of Gre­co-Roman virtues, and gives cred­it to his many teach­ers. In book two, he writes, “Why should any of these things that hap­pen exter­nal­ly, so much dis­tract thee? Give thy­self leisure to learn some good thing, and cease rov­ing and wan­der­ing to and fro. Thou must also take heed of anoth­er kind of wan­der­ing, for they are idle in their actions, who toil and labour in this life, and have no cer­tain scope to which to direct all their motions, and desires.” In oth­er words, rather than suf­fer­ing in coura­geous silence—the car­i­ca­ture of Stoicism—Aurelius dis­tills much of its essence to this: “Don’t wor­ry about what you can’t con­trol, find good work to do, and do it well and wise­ly.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Alain de Botton’s School of Life Presents Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tions to Hei­deg­ger, The Sto­ics & Epi­cu­rus

A Guide to Hap­pi­ness: Alain de Bot­ton Shows How Six Great Philoso­phers Can Change Your Life

Free Cours­es in Ancient His­to­ry, Lit­er­a­ture & Phi­los­o­phy 

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

David Sedaris Breaks Down His Writing Process: Keep a Diary, Carry a Notebook, Read Out Loud, Abandon Hope

When did you first hear David Sedaris? Nor­mal­ly in the case of a writer, let alone one of the most famous and suc­cess­ful writ­ers alive, the ques­tion would be when you first read him, but Sedaris’ writ­ing voice has nev­er real­ly exist­ed apart from his actu­al voice. He first became famous in 1992 when Nation­al Pub­lic Radio aired his read­ing of the “San­ta­land Diaries,” a piece lit­er­al­ly con­struct­ed from diaries kept while he worked in San­ta­land, the Christ­mas vil­lage at Macy’s, as an elf. Though that break illus­trates the impor­tance of what we might call two pil­lars of Sedaris’ writ­ing process, nobody in his enor­mous fan­base-to-be gave it much thought at the time — they just want­ed to hear more of his hilar­i­ous sto­ry­telling.

A quar­ter-cen­tu­ry lat­er, Sedaris has released more diaries — many more diaries — to his ador­ing pub­lic in the form of Theft by Find­ing, a hefty vol­ume of select­ed entries writ­ten between 1977 and 2002. They give addi­tion­al insight into not just the events and char­ac­ters involved in the per­son­al essays com­piled in best­selling books like NakedMe Talk Pret­ty One Day, and Dress Your Fam­i­ly in Cor­duroy and Den­im, but also into his writ­ing process itself. “A woman on All Things Con­sid­ered wrote a book of advice called If You Want to Write and men­tioned the impor­tance of keep­ing a diary,” a 26-year-old Sedaris writes in an entry from 1983. “After a while you’d stop being forced and pre­ten­tious and become hon­est and unafraid of your thoughts.”

Obvi­ous­ly he did­n’t need that advice at the time, since even then keep­ing a diary had already become the first pil­lar of the David Sedaris writ­ing process. “I start­ed writ­ing one after­noon when I was twen­ty, and ever since then I have writ­ten every day,” he once told the New York­er, also a pub­lish­er of his sto­ries. “At first I had to force myself. Then it became part of my iden­ti­ty, and I did it with­out think­ing.” Most of what he writes in his diary each and every morn­ing he describes as “just whin­ing,” but “every so often there’ll be some­thing I can use lat­er: a joke, a descrip­tion, a quote.”

The entries lat­er cohere, along with oth­er ideas and expe­ri­ences, into his wide­ly read sto­ries. One such piece began, Sedaris told Fast Com­pa­ny’s Kristin Hohenadel, as “a diary entry from a trip to Ams­ter­dam. He met a col­lege kid who told him he’d learned that the first per­son to reach the age of 200 had already been born.” Then, Sedaris said, “I spec­u­lat­ed that the first per­son to reach the age of 200 would be my father. And then I attached it to some­thing else that had been in my diary, that all my dad talks about is me get­ting a colonoscopy. So I con­nect­ed the 200-year-old man to my father want­i­ng me to get a colonoscopy, and that became the sto­ry.”

Only con­nect, as E.M. Forster said, but you do need mate­r­i­al to con­nect in the first place. Hence the sec­ond pil­lar of the process: car­ry­ing a note­book. To the Mis­souri Review Sedaris described him­self as less fun­ny than obser­vant, adding that “everybody’s got an eye for some­thing. The only dif­fer­ence is that I car­ry around a note­book in my front pock­et. I write every­thing down, and it helps me recall things,” espe­cial­ly for lat­er inclu­sion in his diary. When he pub­licly opened his note­book at the request of a red­di­tor while doing an AMA a few years ago, he found the words, “Ille­gal met­al sharks… white skin classy… dri­ver’s name is free Time… rats eat coconuts… beau­ti­ful place city, not beau­ti­ful…”

These cryp­tic lines, he explained, were “notes I wrote in the Mekong delta a few weeks ago. A Viet­namese woman was giv­ing me a lit­tle tour, and this is what I jot­ted down in my note­book.” For instance, “I was ask­ing about all the women whom I saw on motor scoot­ers wear­ing opera gloves, and masks that cov­ered every­thing but their eyes. And the dri­ver told me they were try­ing to keep their skin white, because it’s just classier. Tan skin means you’re a farmer. So that’s some­thing I remem­bered from our con­ver­sa­tion, so when I tran­scribe my note­book into my diary, I added all of that.” And one day his read­ers may well see this frag­ment of life that caught his atten­tion appear again, but as part of a coher­ent, pol­ished nar­ra­tive whole.

The bet­ter part of that pol­ish­ing hap­pens through the prac­tice of read­ing, and revis­ing, in front of an audi­ence. “Dur­ing his bian­nu­al mul­ti­c­i­ty lec­ture tours, Sedaris says he rou­tine­ly notices imper­fec­tions in the text sim­ply through the act of read­ing aloud to oth­er peo­ple,” writes Hohenadel. “He cir­cles acci­den­tal rhymes or close­ly repeat­ed words, or words that sound alike — like night and nightlife — in the same sen­tence, rewrit­ing after each read­ing and try­ing out revi­sions dur­ing the next stop on his tour.” When a pas­sage gets laughs from the audi­ence, he pen­cils in a check mark beside it; when one gets coughs (which he likens to “a ham­mer dri­ving a nail into your cof­fin”), he draws a skull. “On the page it seems like I’m try­ing too hard, and that’s one of the things I can usu­al­ly catch when I’m read­ing out loud,” he says, whether his writ­ing “sounds a lit­tle too obvi­ous” or “like some­body who’s just strain­ing for a laugh.”

And the pres­ence of live human beings can’t but improve your sto­ry­telling skills. It helps to be able to fill Carnegie Hall like Sedaris can, but all of us can find, and learn from, some kind of audi­ence some­where, no mat­ter how mod­est. He told Jun­kee that he began read­ing out loud back in his art-school days: “I was in a paint­ing class and we had a cri­tique, and you put your work up and talk about it, and most peo­ple would talk as if they were alone with a psy­chi­a­trist.” He real­ized that “they don’t have any sense of an audi­ence. For some rea­son, maybe it’s because I have so many broth­ers and sis­ters, I was always very acute­ly aware of an audi­ence,” and so for his cri­tiques he pre­pared in-char­ac­ter mono­logues from the point of view of invent­ed artists. “Peo­ple laughed, and it felt amaz­ing to me,” which brought about an even big­ger real­iza­tion: “This is what I’m sup­posed to do. Write my own stuff and read it out loud.”

What­ev­er fears so many of us have about speak­ing in pub­lic, the fourth pil­lar of the Sedaris process may prove the most dif­fi­cult to incor­po­rate into your own work meth­ods: aban­don­ing hope. “If I sit at my com­put­er, deter­mined to write a New York­er sto­ry I won’t get beyond the first sen­tence,” he told the New York­er. “It’s bet­ter to put no pres­sure on it. What would hap­pen if I fol­lowed the pre­vi­ous sen­tence with this one, I’ll think. If the eighth draft is tor­ture, the first should be fun.” And any­body who gets stuck can use the writer’s-block-break­ing strat­e­gy he revealed on Red­dit: “There are a lot of col­lege writ­ing text­books that will include essays and short sto­ries, and after read­ing the sto­ry or essay, there will be ques­tions such as ‘Have YOU Had any expe­ri­ence with a pedophile in YOUR fam­i­ly?’ or ‘When was the last time you saw YOUR moth­er drunk?’ and they’re just real­ly good at prompt­ing sto­ries.”

And though it might seem obvi­ous, the activ­i­ty that con­sti­tutes Sedaris’ fifth pil­lar gets all too much neglect from aspir­ing writ­ers: con­stant read­ing, the active pur­suit of which he con­sid­ers “one of those things that changes your life.” At the same time he began writ­ing his diary, he told the Mis­souri Review, “I start­ed read­ing vora­cious­ly. They go hand in hand, espe­cial­ly for a young per­son who’s try­ing to write.” Today, when peo­ple ask him to have a look at what they’ve writ­ten, “I often want to say to them, ‘This doesn’t look like how things in books look.’ Read­ing is impor­tant when you’re try­ing to write because then you can look at what’s in a book and remind your­self, ‘Hey, I’m young; I just start­ed, and it’s gonna take me a long time, but boy, look at the dif­fer­ence between this and that.’ ”

He should know, giv­en the vicious­ness with which he crit­i­cizes his own work. Even now his sto­ries require more than twen­ty drafts to get right, as he men­tions in the PBS New­sHour clip at the top of the post, but when he re-read his first diaries, “it was real­ly painful. Real­ly painful.” These ear­ly entries revealed that “no one was a worse writer than me. No one was more false. No one was more pre­ten­tious. It was just absolute garbage.” But some of them hint at things to come. “I stayed up all night and worked on my new sto­ry,” a 28-year-old Sedaris writes in 1985. “Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I write like I paint: one cor­ner at a time. I can nev­er step back and see the full pic­ture. Instead, I con­cen­trate on a lit­tle square and real­ize lat­er that it looks noth­ing like the real live object. Maybe it’s my strength, and I’m the only one who can’t see it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

20 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Sedaris: A Sam­pling of His Inim­itable Humor

Be His Guest: David Sedaris at Home in Rur­al West Sus­sex, Eng­land

Ray Brad­bury on Zen and the Art of Writ­ing (1973)

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Sev­en Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion

John Updike’s Advice to Young Writ­ers: ‘Reserve an Hour a Day’

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, 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.

Albert Einstein Writes the 1949 Essay “Why Socialism?” and Attempts to Find a Solution to the “Grave Evils of Capitalism”

Image by Fer­di­nand Schmutzer, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Albert Ein­stein was a com­pli­cat­ed human being, with a wide range of inter­ests. His per­son­al­i­ty seemed bal­anced between a cer­tain chill­i­ness when it came to per­son­al mat­ters, and a great deal of warmth and com­pas­sion when it came to the wider human fam­i­ly. The physi­cist struck up friend­ships with famed Amer­i­can activists Paul Robe­son, Mar­i­an Ander­son, and W.E.B. Du Bois, and he cham­pi­oned the cause of Civ­il Rights in the U.S. He pro­fessed a deep admi­ra­tion for Gand­hi, and praised him sev­er­al times in let­ters and speech­es. And in 1955, just days before his death, Ein­stein col­lab­o­rat­ed with anoth­er out­spo­ken pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al, Bertrand Rus­sell, on a peace man­i­festo, which was signed by six oth­er sci­en­tists.

Ein­stein saw a pub­lic role for sci­en­tists in mat­ters social, polit­i­cal, and even eco­nom­ic. In 1949, he pub­lished an arti­cle in the Month­ly Review titled “Why Social­ism?” Antic­i­pat­ing his crit­ics, he begins by ask­ing “is it advis­able for one who is not an expert on eco­nom­ic and social issues to express views on the sub­ject of social­ism?” To which he replies, “I believe for a num­ber of rea­sons that it is.”

Ein­stein goes on, sound­ing some­thing like a com­bi­na­tion of Karl Marx and E.O. Wil­son, to elab­o­rate the the­o­ret­i­cal basis for social­ism as he sees it, first describ­ing what Marx called “prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion” and what the social­ist econ­o­mist Thorstein Veblen called “’the preda­to­ry phase’ of human devel­op­ment.”

…most of the major states of his­to­ry owed their exis­tence to con­quest. The con­quer­ing peo­ples estab­lished them­selves, legal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly, as the priv­i­leged class of the con­quered coun­try. They seized for them­selves a monop­oly of the land own­er­ship and appoint­ed a priest­hood from among their own ranks. The priests, in con­trol of edu­ca­tion, made the class divi­sion of soci­ety into a per­ma­nent insti­tu­tion and cre­at­ed a sys­tem of val­ues by which the peo­ple were thence­forth, to a large extent uncon­scious­ly, guid­ed in their social behav­ior.

The sci­ence of eco­nom­ics, as it stands, writes Ein­stein, still belongs “to that phase.” Such “laws as we can derive” from “the observ­able eco­nom­ic facts… are not applic­a­ble to oth­er phas­es.” These facts sim­ply describe the preda­to­ry state of affairs, and Ein­stein implies that not even econ­o­mists have suf­fi­cient meth­ods to defin­i­tive­ly answer the ques­tion “why socialism?”—“economic sci­ence in its present state can throw lit­tle light on the social­ist soci­ety of the future.” We should not assume, then, he goes on, “that experts are the only ones who have a right to express them­selves on ques­tions affect­ing the orga­ni­za­tion of soci­ety.” Ein­stein him­self doesn’t pre­tend to have all the answers. He ends his essay, in fact, with a few ques­tions address­ing “some extreme­ly dif­fi­cult socio-polit­i­cal prob­lems,” of the kind that attend every debate about social­ism:

…how is it pos­si­ble, in view of the far-reach­ing cen­tral­iza­tion of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er, to pre­vent bureau­cra­cy from becom­ing all-pow­er­ful and over­ween­ing? How can the rights of the indi­vid­ual be pro­tect­ed and there­with a demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­ter­weight to the pow­er of bureau­cra­cy be assured?

Nev­er­the­less, Ein­stein is “con­vinced” that the only way to elim­i­nate the “grave evils” of cap­i­tal­ism is “through the estab­lish­ment of a social­ist econ­o­my, accom­pa­nied by an edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem which would be ori­ent­ed toward social goals.” For Ein­stein, the “worst evil” of preda­to­ry cap­i­tal­ism is the “crip­pling of indi­vid­u­als” through an edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem that empha­sizes an “exag­ger­at­ed com­pet­i­tive atti­tude” and trains stu­dents “to wor­ship acquis­i­tive suc­cess.” But the prob­lems extend far beyond the indi­vid­ual and into the very nature of the polit­i­cal order.

Pri­vate cap­i­tal tends to become con­cen­trat­ed in few hands… The result of these devel­op­ments is an oli­garchy of pri­vate cap­i­tal the enor­mous pow­er of which can­not be effec­tive­ly checked even by a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly orga­nized polit­i­cal soci­ety. This is true since the mem­bers of leg­isla­tive bod­ies are select­ed by polit­i­cal par­ties, large­ly financed or oth­er­wise influ­enced by pri­vate cap­i­tal­ists who, for all prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es, sep­a­rate the elec­torate from the leg­is­la­ture. The con­se­quence is that the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple do not in fact suf­fi­cient­ly pro­tect the inter­ests of the under­priv­i­leged sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion. More­over, under exist­ing con­di­tions, pri­vate cap­i­tal­ists inevitably con­trol, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, the main sources of infor­ma­tion (press, radio, edu­ca­tion). It is thus extreme­ly dif­fi­cult, and indeed in most cas­es quite impos­si­ble, for the indi­vid­ual cit­i­zen to come to objec­tive con­clu­sions and to make intel­li­gent use of his polit­i­cal rights.

The polit­i­cal econ­o­my Ein­stein describes is one often lam­bast­ed by right lib­er­tar­i­ans as an impure vari­ety of crony cap­i­tal­ism, one not wor­thy of the name, but the physi­cist is skep­ti­cal of the claim, writ­ing “there is no such thing as a pure cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.” Pri­vate own­ers always secure their priv­i­leges through the manip­u­la­tion of the polit­i­cal and edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems and the mass media.

The preda­to­ry sit­u­a­tion Ein­stein observes is one of extreme alien­ation among all class­es; “All human beings, what­ev­er their posi­tion in soci­ety, are suf­fer­ing from this process of dete­ri­o­ra­tion. Unknow­ing­ly pris­on­ers of their own ego­tism, they feel inse­cure, lone­ly, and deprived of the naïve, sim­ple, and unso­phis­ti­cat­ed enjoy­ment of life. Man can find mean­ing in life, short and per­ilous as it is, only through devot­ing him­self to soci­ety.” Ein­stein believed that devo­tion should take the form of a social­ist econ­o­my that pro­motes both the phys­i­cal well­be­ing and the polit­i­cal rights of every­one. But he did not pre­sume to know exact­ly what such an eco­nom­ic future would look like, nor how it might come into being. Read his full essay, “Why Social­ism?” here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Ein­stein Explains How Slav­ery Has Crip­pled Everyone’s Abil­i­ty (Even Aristotle’s) to Think Clear­ly About Racism

Albert Ein­stein Express­es His Admi­ra­tion for Mahat­ma Gand­hi, in Let­ter and Audio

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

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

A Lecture About the History of the Scots Language … in Scots: How Much Can You Comprehend?

Dau­vit Hors­broch has served as the Lan­guage and Infor­ma­tion Offi­cer of the Scots Lan­guage Cen­tre since 2007, and has spent con­sid­er­able time liv­ing in North East Scot­land. Above, watch him give a 19-minute lec­ture on the his­to­ry of the Scots lan­guage … in Scots. For the first 20 sec­onds, you might think, no sweat, I can hang with it. Then sud­den­ly your com­pre­hen­sions fades out, only to return moments lat­er, before dis­ap­pear­ing again. And on it goes.

As you lis­ten, you can enter­tain the long-sim­mer­ing debate: Is Scots a dis­tant dialect of Eng­lish? Or is it its own dis­tinct Ger­man­ic lan­guage? Writes Slate: “Both mod­ern Eng­lish and Scots descend­ed from Old Eng­lish in the 1100s, and devel­oped sep­a­rate­ly for hun­dreds of years. When Scot­land and Eng­land joined to form the Unit­ed King­dom of Great Britain in 1707, Scots was wide­ly regard­ed as its own lan­guage, dis­tinct from Eng­lish. It is still one of Scot­land’s three offi­cial lan­guages (the oth­er two are Eng­lish and Scot­tish Gael­ic), but because it is most­ly mutu­al­ly intel­li­gi­ble with Eng­lish, it’s some­times regard­ed as a dialect of Eng­lish or slang.” If you’d like to see Scots writ­ten, as opposed to just spo­ken, spend time over at the Wikipedia Scots page.

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:

Hear Beowulf Read In the Orig­i­nal Old Eng­lish: How Many Words Do You Rec­og­nize? 

Hear What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like in the Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Neil Young Busk­ing in Glas­gow, 1976: The Sto­ry Behind the Footage

The Sound of Avant Garde Jazz: Stream 35 Hours of Experimental Jazz by Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane & More

Jazz has become insti­tu­tion­al­ized, for both good and ill. On the upside, it has found a per­ma­nent home in pres­ti­gious per­form­ing arts cen­ters like Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter, where its mem­o­ry will be pre­served for gen­er­a­tions. High priests like Wayne Short­er, Wyn­ton Marsalis, and Her­bie Han­cock pass on the tra­di­tions to young jazz acolytes at uni­ver­si­ties. The Amer­i­can art form has achieved the lev­el of respectabil­i­ty that some of its most inno­v­a­tive prac­ti­tion­ers, such as Duke Elling­ton and Charles Min­gus, had always sought, the recog­ni­tion of the high art world.

On the oth­er hand, we too eas­i­ly for­get how dan­ger­ous jazz used to be—how thor­ough­ly cut­ting edge and dis­turb­ing to mid­dle­brow sen­si­bil­i­ties. But of course, jazz has passed through many cul­tur­al cycles, with each gen­er­a­tion of artists shock­ing its elders by push­ing against musi­cal deco­rum. Late 40s and 50s bebop gave us the lean, mean com­bo as a chal­lenge to the big band swing era, and pro­duced super­star impro­vis­ers who veered thrilling­ly off script in every per­for­mance. But this incar­na­tion of jazz, too, threat­ened to become staid as the six­ties neared.

And so a hand­ful of artists cre­at­ed, to take the title of Ornette Coleman’s ground­break­ing 1959 album, “the shape of jazz to come,” free jazz, which rep­re­sent­ed, writes Chris Kelsey, “a final break with the music’s roots as a pop­u­lar art form, cast­ing it in an alter­na­tive role as an exper­i­men­tal art music.” The six­ties saw pro­found inno­va­tion in jazz, as artists like Cole­man, Coltrane, Eric Dol­phy, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, and oth­ers expand­ed its pos­si­bil­i­ties. But to read this music as sole­ly exper­i­ment­ing “along the lines of the Euro­pean ‘clas­si­cal’ avant-garde” is to ignore the deep cul­tur­al well­spring from which it came.

As Amiri Bara­ka wrote in the lin­er notes for a 1965 com­pi­la­tion, The New Wave in Jazz, avant-garde jazz was a “touch stone of the new world,” a form that tran­scend­ed the con­di­tions of slav­ery, mise­d­u­ca­tion, and social con­trol; it was the “music of con­tem­po­rary black cul­ture.”

The peo­ple who make this music are intel­lec­tu­als or mys­tics or both. The black rhythm ener­gy blues feel­ing (sen­si­bil­i­ty) is pro­ject­ed into the area of reflec­tion, inten­tion­al­ly. As Expression…where each term is (equal­ly) co-respon­dent.

     Pro­jec­tion over sus­tained peri­ods (more time giv­en, and time pro­pos­es a his­to­ry for expres­sion, hence it becomes reflec­tive pro­jec­tion.

     Arbi­trari­ness of Form (vari­ety in nature)

     Inten­tion of per­for­mance as a Learn­ing expe­ri­ence

These were the dis­tinc­tive “new world” qual­i­ties of exper­i­men­tal jazz. Its hip sig­ni­fiers, Bara­ka wrote, mark it as “an inven­tion of Black Lives”; it is not music to lull and soothe but to instruct, with force, if nec­es­sary. “Get­ting hit in the head with a stick,” he writes with a wink, “can do you as much good as med­i­tat­ing.” It might be hard for us to hear, now that the music has been so thor­ough­ly enshrined in aca­d­e­m­ic depart­ments and con­ser­va­to­ries, but avant-garde jazz once had the pow­er to thor­ough­ly shock and sur­prise, as the state­ment of a cul­ture both in dia­logue with and revolt against oppres­sive tra­di­tion­al forms.

In the playlist above, The Sound of Avant-Garde Jazz, you recov­er a sense of the music’s edgi­ness with record­ings from some of its most exper­i­men­tal gurus, includ­ing Cole­man, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyn­er, Yusef Lateef, Alice Coltrane, and many, many more. The playlist spans the last 60 years or so, fea­tur­ing lat­er white adopters like Pat Methe­ny, John Zorn, and Bill Frisell, and includ­ing rock­ing elec­tric jazz from diverse, eclec­tic bands like Tony Williams’ Life­time, whose “Pro­to-Cos­mos,” at the top, epit­o­mizes the expan­sive range of 70s fusion. The over­all expe­ri­ence of this com­pre­hen­sive playlist may not only shake up your pre­con­cep­tions of jazz, but may, as Bara­ka writes, change your pre­con­di­tioned sense of “the nor­mal feel­ing of adven­ture.”

The playlist offers up 350 tracks, and runs 35 hours. If you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear 2,000 Record­ings of the Most Essen­tial Jazz Songs: A Huge Playlist for Your Jazz Edu­ca­tion

Langston Hugh­es Cre­ates a List of His 100 Favorite Jazz Record­ings: Hear 80+ of Them in a Big Playlist

The His­to­ry of Spir­i­tu­al Jazz: Hear a Tran­scen­dent 12-Hour Mix Fea­tur­ing John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Her­bie Han­cock & More

Her­bie Han­cock to Teach His First Online Course on Jazz 

The Night When Char­lie Park­er Played for Igor Stravin­sky (1951) 

Hear Ornette Cole­man Col­lab­o­rate with Lou Reed, Which Lou Called “One of My Great­est Moments”

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

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