Europe’s Oldest Intact Book Was Preserved and Found in the Coffin of a Saint

Pho­to via the British Library

If you’re a British his­to­ry buff, next month is an ide­al time to be in Lon­don for the British Library’s “once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion exhi­bi­tion” Anglo-Sax­on King­doms: Art, Word, War, open­ing Octo­ber 19th and fea­tur­ing the illu­mi­nat­ed Lind­is­farne Gospels, Beowulf, Bede’s Eccle­si­as­ti­cal His­to­ry, the “world-famous” Domes­day Book, and Codex Ami­at­i­nus, a “giant Northum­bri­an Bible tak­en to Italy in 716” and return­ing to Eng­land for the first time in 1300 years. But with all of these man­u­script stars steal­ing the show, one spe­cial exhib­it might go over­looked, the St. Cuth­bert Gospel, the old­est sur­viv­ing intact Euro­pean book.

A Latin copy of the Gospel of John, the book was orig­i­nal­ly called the Stony­hurst Gospel, after its first own­er, Stony­hurst Col­lege. It acquired its cur­rent name because it was found inside the cof­fin of St. Cuth­bert, a her­mit monk who died in 687 and whose remains, leg­end has it, were incor­rupt­ible. This sup­posed mir­a­cle inspired a cult that placed offer­ings around Cuthbert’s tomb. Just when and how the small book made its way into his cof­fin remains a mys­tery. It was like­ly some­time between the 700s and 800s CE, when his body was moved to Durham due to Viking raids.

When Cuthbert’s cas­ket was opened in 1104, the book was found “in mirac­u­lous­ly per­fect con­di­tion,” writes the British Library, inside “a satchel-like con­tain­er of red leather with a bad­ly-frayed sling made of silken threads.” Schol­ars have dat­ed the book’s cre­ation to between 700 and 730, and its inter­est for aca­d­e­mics and lay peo­ple alike lies not only in the leg­end of St. Cuth­bert but in the book’s phys­i­cal qual­i­ties and its own uncor­rupt­ed nature. As Alli­son Meier writes at JSTOR Dai­ly, “the 1,300-year-old man­u­script retains its orig­i­nal pages and bind­ing,” a remark­able fact for a book of its age.

Its con­di­tion makes it an “impor­tant exam­ple of Insu­lar art, which was cre­at­ed on the British Isles and Ire­land between 600 and 900 CE.” The gen­er­al fea­tures of this style involve “the lay­er­ing of pat­tern, line, and col­or on seem­ing­ly flat sur­faces,” notes Oxford Bib­li­ogra­phies, in order to cre­ate “com­plex spa­tial pat­terns.” Schol­ar Robert D. Ste­vick describes these prop­er­ties on the ornate dyed leather cov­ers of the St. Cuth­bert Gospel:

There is inter­lace pat­tern in two pan­els on the front cov­er, step-pat­tern imply­ing two cross­es on the low­er cov­er, a promi­nent dou­ble vine scroll at the cen­ter of the front cover—elements of this ear­ly art that have been well cat­a­logued for their indi­vid­ual fea­tures as well as for their affini­ties to sim­i­lar dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments in oth­er arti­facts.

Bound with a sewing tech­nique that orig­i­nat­ed in North Africa (and there­fore often called “Cop­tic sewing”), the “sim­ple but ele­gant” book, Meier explains, “reflects the trans­mis­sion of pub­lish­ing knowl­edge across Europe” from the Mediter­ranean. Its small size and place­ment in a leather pouch is also sig­nif­i­cant. St. John’s Gospel “was some­times employed as a pro­tec­tive tal­is­man,” worn in a pouch on the body to ward off evil. Why one of Cuthbert’s admir­ers would have giv­en such a tal­is­man to his corpse remains unclear.

If you can’t make it to the British Library to see this fas­ci­nat­ing arti­fact in per­son, you can see its mirac­u­lous­ly well-pre­served bind­ing and pages in scans at the British Library site here.

via JSTOR Dai­ly

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Behold 3,000 Dig­i­tized Man­u­scripts from the Bib­lio­the­ca Palati­na: The Moth­er of All Medieval Libraries Is Get­ting Recon­struct­ed Online

1,000-Year-Old Man­u­script of Beowulf Dig­i­tized and Now Online

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

Wear­able Books: In Medieval Times, They Took Old Man­u­scripts & Turned Them into Clothes

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

Hear Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Pioneering Compositions for Music Boxes

We now remem­ber Karl­heinz Stock­hausen as a pio­neer of elec­tron­ic music, labor­ing away in stu­dios dom­i­nat­ed by hulk­ing ear­ly syn­the­siz­ers and tape machines toward a new son­ic expe­ri­ence, but he wrote his most pop­u­lar work for much hum­bler devices: music box­es. Com­posed in 1974 and 1975, Tierkreis, the Ger­man word for zodi­ac, con­sists of twelve melodies, each rep­re­sent­ing a sign on that astro­log­i­cal cal­en­dar, each cen­tered on a dif­fer­ent pitch, each played on its own ded­i­cat­ed music box. You can hear (and see) all of the Tierkreis box­es in action in these videos:

Despite their sim­plic­i­ty, Stock­hausen’s twelve- and some­times four­teen-tone ser­i­al com­po­si­tions may sound like noth­ing you ever heard come out of a music box in child­hood. But chil­dren must have made up a sig­nif­i­cant part of their ear­ly audi­ence: these melodies made their debut as part of the fairy-tale music the­ater piece called Musik im Bauch, or “Music in the Bel­ly,” a phrase Stock­hausen used to describe the nois­es that would issue from the insides of his young daugh­ter Juli­ka, to her great delight. After com­ing up with the twelve melodies, quite pos­si­bly the first music ever orig­i­nal­ly com­posed for the music box, he had to order the box­es them­selves cus­tom-made from the Swiss man­u­fac­tur­er Reuge. You can see an orig­i­nal Tierkreis box, play­ing the Aries melody, in the video below.

Reuge, accord­ing to Dan­ger­ous Minds’ Oliv­er Hall, “con­tin­ued to man­u­fac­ture the zodi­ac box­es into the eight­ies. In ‘98, Stock­hausen-Ver­lag pro­duced a lim­it­ed run for the composer’s 70th birth­day, fol­lowed by anoth­er series in 2005. The Pisces, Aries and Sagit­tar­ius box­es are sold out, but the shop still has a few of the oth­ers left at €310 a piece.” Pricey, cer­tain­ly, but what a gift they would make for musi­cal­ly inclined friends born under the oth­er zodi­ac signs, giv­en that Stock­hausen, writes All Music Guide’s Robert Kirzinger, “care­ful­ly con­sid­ered the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each sign and each month of the year, as well as the per­son­al­i­ties of peo­ple he knew were born under a par­tic­u­lar sign, in com­pos­ing this work.” Such a com­po­si­tion­al scheme may strike astro­log­i­cal non-believ­ers as odd, but remem­ber: this was back in the age of Aquar­ius.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Presents “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” & Oth­er Lec­tures in Eng­lish (1972)

Watch Karl­heinz Stockhausen’s Great Heli­copter String Quar­tet, Star­ring 4 Musi­cians, 4 Cam­eras & 4 Copters

A Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Brand­ed Car: A Play­ful Trib­ute to the Ground­break­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er

Pachelbel’s Music Box Canon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Jurassic Park Without Dinosaurs: Watch Humans Stare in Amazement at a World Stripped of CGI Creations

How many times have you encoun­tered an oth­er­wise per­fect view spoiled by a new­ly erect­ed high rise, a con­struc­tion crane, or a CGI bra­chiosaurus?

Con­stant­ly, right?

Video edi­tor William Hirsch makes light work of Juras­sic Park’s pri­ma­ry attrac­tions’ first appear­ance, lit­er­al­ly eras­ing them from the scene.

Hirsch esti­mat­ed that it took him about a week to get rid of those pesky ‘saurs using noth­ing fanci­er than After Effects’s built in tools, which include the motion track­ing soft­ware Mocha.

It’s equal parts ridicu­lous and love­ly to see humans sud­den­ly thun­der­struck by the unspoiled land­scape they’ve been dri­ving through.

These days, of course, Lau­ra Dern would have to glance up from her phone, not a paper map.

Though it’s not such a stretch to imag­ine Juras­sic Park’s author’s suc­ces­sor, the late Michael Crich­ton’s lit­er­ary heir, hard at work on a dystopi­an nov­el titled Park.

At the time of its release, Juras­sic Park’s dinosaurs were a spe­cial effects game chang­er. Their num­bers were sup­ple­ment­ed by some non-com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed ani­ma­tron­ic mod­els, though no doubt Spiel­berg was appre­hen­sive giv­en the way his robot­ic sharks act­ed up on the set of Jaws. The human play­ers may have had more screen time, but the dinosaurs’ 15 min­utes of footage has result­ed in a last­ing fame, extend­ing decades beyond the expect­ed 15 min­utes.

Unex­pect­ed­ly, Hirsch’s dinosaurs, or rather, lack there­of, have gen­er­at­ed the most excite­ment with regard to his project. But his atten­tion to detail is also laud­able. Above, he reveals how he tweaked the access badge dan­gling from the rear view mir­ror of the park’s all-ter­rain vehi­cle.

Are we wrong to think that John Williams’ swelling orig­i­nal score feels more organ­ic in this dinosaur-free con­text? Rivers, trees, and vast amounts of skies have been known to spur com­posers to such heights.

The poten­tial­ly lethal pre­his­toric beasts are out of the way, but that line “We’re gonna make a for­tune with this place” retains an air of omi­nous fore­shad­ow­ing, giv­en the plen­ti­ful nat­ur­al resources on dis­play. Some­times humans can do more dam­age than dinosaurs.

If that feels too intense, you can also retreat to the escapist plea­sures of the orig­i­nal, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cap­ti­vat­ing GIFs Reveal the Mag­i­cal Spe­cial Effects in Clas­sic Silent Films

Game of Thrones: A Great Behind-the-Scenes Look at The Show’s Visu­al Effects

The Blade Run­ner Pro­mo­tion­al Film

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 15 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Brian Eno Reveals His Favorite Film Soundtracks

Think of “inter­view­ing Bri­an Eno” (lis­ten to it here) like a piece of his gen­er­a­tive music. Yes, the man has no prob­lems talk­ing and actu­al­ly encour­ages it. But input the same old ques­tions about those same four albums (you know them, right?) and you get the same old answers as out­put. Feed in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent subject–like his favorite film soundtracks–and lo and behold, a very intrigu­ing 80 min­utes fol­lows.

That’s what hap­pened when Hugh Corn­well (lead vocal­ist of The Stran­glers) inter­viewed Mr. Peter George St John le Bap­tiste de la Salle Eno–that’s Bri­an to you–in 2013 for his short-lived inter­net radio show on film.

Eno has always had an inter­est in film. As he men­tions in the sec­ond half of the show, he pro­duced his 1976/78 album Music for Films not for any spe­cif­ic film, but in the hopes that they would be used for sound­tracks in the future. Also, he hoped that the descrip­tive titles–“Alternative 3,” “Patrolling Wire Borders”–and the evoca­tive music would lead lis­ten­ers to cre­ate films in their heads. Since then every track has been used at least once, and doc­u­men­tar­i­ans like Adam Cur­tis have used Eno to great effect.

The only track, he reveals, on that album to be writ­ten for a film was clos­er “Final Sun­set” put to great, tran­scen­dent use in Derek Jarman’s 1976 film Sebas­tiane.

But if you think Eno might choose sim­i­lar ambi­ent tracks or instru­men­tals dur­ing the rest of the inter­view, you’re in for a sur­prise.

As he grew up, Eno had no expo­sure to what was “cool” and what was not. And that led to an ear that heard things stripped of cul­tur­al con­text. When he plays a track from the musi­cal Okla­homa called “The Farmer and the Cow­boy,” we might just be able to put aside our mem­o­ries of high school pro­duc­tions and hear the weird, humor­ous and very excit­ing vocal arrange­ment under­neath. Sim­i­lar­ly, despite not being the biggest fan of Elvis Pres­ley at the time (“I was a snob,” Eno says), he selects this jaun­ty pop num­ber “Did­ja Ever” from G.I. Blues. “One of the wit­ti­est, clever­est bits of writ­ing,” as he calls it, writ­ten by Sid Wayne and Sher­man Edwards, who wrote at least one song in every sub­se­quent Pres­ley movie.

Eno also has space for the jazz of Miles Davis and the evoca­tive score for Louis Malle’s 1961 film Ele­va­tor to the Gal­lows, in par­tic­u­lar how it was record­ed: impro­vised live while watch­ing the screen. (Not men­tioned: its huge influ­ence on Ange­lo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks sound­track.)

There’s much more in the inter­view to check out, includ­ing the source of a sam­ple used in My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and one of David Bowie’s best but most under­rat­ed songs. Lis­ten here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bri­an Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Cre­ative Work: Don’t Get a Job

The “True” Sto­ry Of How Bri­an Eno Invent­ed Ambi­ent Music

Bri­an Eno Lists 20 Books for Rebuild­ing Civ­i­liza­tion & 59 Books For Build­ing Your Intel­lec­tu­al World

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

Explore an Interactive, Online Version of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a 200-Year-Old Guide to the Colors of the Natural World

In a post ear­li­er this year, we brought to your atten­tion Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colours. Used by artists and nat­u­ral­ists alike, the guide orig­i­nal­ly relied on writ­ten descrip­tion alone, with­out any col­or to be found among its pages. Instead, in the late eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, Ger­man min­er­al­o­gist Abra­ham Got­t­lob Wern­er painstak­ing­ly detailed the qual­i­ties of the 110 col­ors he sur­veyed, by ref­er­ence to where they might be found on ani­mals, veg­eta­bles, and min­er­als. The col­or “Pearl Gray,” for exam­ple, might be locat­ed on the “Backs of black head­ed and Kittwake Gulls,” the “Back of Petals of Pur­ple Het­at­i­ca,” or on “Porce­lain Jasper.”

The lit­er­ary pos­si­bil­i­ties of this approach may seem vast. But its use­ful­ness to those engaged in the visu­al arts—or in close obser­va­tion of new species in, say, the Gala­pa­gos Islands—may have been some­what lack­ing until Scot­tish painter Patrick Syme updat­ed the guide in 1814 with col­or swatch­es, most of them using the very min­er­als Wern­er described.

It was the sec­ond edi­tion of Syme’s guide that accom­pa­nied Charles Dar­win on his 1831 voy­age aboard the HMS Bea­gle, where he “used it to cat­a­logue the flo­ra and fau­na that lat­er inspired his the­o­ry of nat­ur­al selec­tion,” as his­to­ri­an Daniel Lewis writes at Smith­son­ian.

While we might think of tax­onomies of col­or as prin­ci­pal­ly guid­ing artists, web design­ers, and house painters, they have been indis­pens­able for sci­en­tists. “They can indi­cate when a plant or ani­mal is a dif­fer­ent species or a sub­species,” Lewis notes; “in the 19th cen­tu­ry, the use of col­or to dif­fer­en­ti­ate species was impor­tant for what it said about evo­lu­tion and how species changed over time and from region to region.” For his­to­ri­ans of sci­ence, there­fore, Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colours rep­re­sents an essen­tial tool in the ear­ly devel­op­ment of evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy.

Oth­er col­or dic­tio­nar­ies fol­lowed, “designed to give peo­ple around the world a com­mon vocab­u­lary to describe the col­ors of every­thing from rocks and flow­ers to stars, birds, and postage stamps.” Some of these were high­ly spe­cial­ized, such as the two-vol­ume set cre­at­ed by the French Soci­ety of Chrysan­themists in 1905. All of them, how­ev­er, strove to meet the high bar set by Wern­er when it came to lev­el of detailed descrip­tion. These are guides that speak in human terms, in con­trast to the nomen­cla­ture most often used today, which “is real­ly a machine lan­guage,” Kelsey Cam­bell-Dol­laghan writes at Fast Com­pa­ny, “numer­i­cal hex codes craft­ed to com­mu­ni­cate with soft­ware on com­put­ers and print­ers.”

In recog­ni­tion of Wern­er and Syme’s con­tri­bu­tion to col­or nomen­cla­ture, Smith­son­ian Books recent­ly repub­lished the 1814 edi­tion of their guide, and the revised 1821 edi­tion has been avail­able for some time as scans at the Inter­net Archive. Now it has received a 21st update thanks to design­er Nicholas Rougeux, who has cre­at­ed an online inter­ac­tive ver­sion of the book, “with addi­tions like data visu­al­iza­tions of its 100 col­ors and inter­net-sourced pho­tographs of the ani­mals and min­er­als that the book references”—a fea­ture its cre­ators could nev­er have dreamed of. You can read Werner’s com­plete text, see all of the col­ors as illus­trat­ed and cat­e­go­rized by Syme, and even pur­chase through Rougeux’s site cool 36” x 24” posters like that above, start­ing at $27.80.

It’s true, view­ing the book online has its draw­backs, relat­ed to how Syme’s paint swatch­es are trans­lat­ed into hex codes, then dis­played dif­fer­ent­ly depend­ing on var­i­ous screen set­tings. But Rougeux has tried to com­pen­sate for this dif­fer­ence between print and screen. On a pub­licly acces­si­ble Google Doc, he has pro­vid­ed the hex codes “for each of the 18th-cen­tu­ry hues, from Skimmed Milk (#e6e1c9) to Veinous Blood Red (#3f3033).” Not near­ly as poet­ic as Werner’s descrip­tions, but it’s what we have to work with these days when ref­er­ence books get writ­ten for com­put­ers as much as they do for humans.

See the inter­ac­tive Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colours here.

via Fast Com­pa­ny

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colour, the 19th-Cen­tu­ry “Col­or Dic­tio­nary” Used by Charles Dar­win (1814)

Goethe’s Col­or­ful & Abstract Illus­tra­tions for His 1810 Trea­tise, The­o­ry of Col­ors: Scans of the First Edi­tion

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

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

1,100 Classic Arcade Machines Added to the Internet Arcade: Play Them Free Online

Once we could hard­ly imag­ine such things as video games. Then, all of a sud­den, they appeared, though for years we had to go out to bars — and lat­er, pur­pose-built “arcades” filled with video game machines — in order to play them, and we paid mon­ey to do so. When they came into our homes in the form of con­soles we could hook up to our tele­vi­sion sets, we at first felt only dis­ap­point­ment: these ver­sions of Space InvadersDon­key Kong, and Defend­er nei­ther looked nor felt much like the orig­i­nals into which we’d pumped so many coins. But only now that the tech­nol­o­gy in our homes has long since sur­passed most of the tech­nol­o­gy out­side them can we play faith­ful repro­duc­tions of all our old favorite games with­out going out to the arcade.

Not that many arcades still stand, although the Inter­net Archive has made up for that absence by build­ing the Inter­net Arcade, which we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture a few years ago. Hav­ing made it pos­si­ble for us to play an enor­mous vari­ety of clas­sic arcade games free in our web browsers, the Inter­net Archive looks on its way to cre­at­ing not just the largest arcade in exis­tence but an infi­nite arcade, the kind that Borges would have imag­ined had he grown up in the video-game age.  Just last week, devel­op­ments in the soft­ware that pow­ers it allowed Inter­net Archive to add more than a thou­sand new machines to the Inter­net Arcade, from games for which we had to wait in line back in the day to obscu­ri­ties on which few of us have ever even laid eyes, let alone hands, before.

“The major­i­ty of these new­ly-avail­able games date to the 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, as arcade machines both became sig­nif­i­cant­ly more com­pli­cat­ed and graph­i­cal­ly rich,” writes the Inter­net Archive’s Jason Scott, “while also suf­fer­ing from the ever-present and home-based video game con­soles that would come to dom­i­nate gam­ing to the present day. Even fer­vent gamers might have missed some of these arcade machines when they were in the phys­i­cal world, due to low­er dis­tri­b­u­tion num­bers and short­er times on the floor.” You can explore the new wing of the Inter­net Arcade here, some of whose most pop­u­lar games include Puz­zle Bob­ble (bet­ter known in the West as Bust-a-Move), X‑MenMet­al Slug 5Teenage Mutant Nin­ja Tur­tles: Tur­tles in Time, and Street Fight­er Alpha 2. Maybe their sound and graph­ics no longer wow us as once they did, but the years have done noth­ing to dimin­ish their fun fac­tor — and for many of us, not hav­ing to spend our quar­ters will always be a feel­ing to savor.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Inter­net Arcade Lets You Play 900 Vin­tage Video Games in Your Web Brows­er (Free)

Free: Play 2,400 Vin­tage Com­put­er Games in Your Web Brows­er

Play a Col­lec­tion of Clas­sic Hand­held Video Games at the Inter­net Archive: Pac-Man, Don­key Kong, Tron and MC Ham­mer

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Flannery O’Connor Renders Her Verdict on Ayn Rand’s Fiction: It’s As “Low As You Can Get”

For all the grotesque humor of her sto­ries and nov­els, Flan­nery O’Connor took the writ­ing of fic­tion as seri­ous­ly as it is pos­si­ble to do. Even at the age of 18, she saw the task as a divine call­ing, writ­ing in her jour­nal, “I feel that God has made my life emp­ty in this respect so that I may fill it some won­der­ful way.” Intense self-doubt also made her fear that she would fail in her mis­sion, a too-famil­iar feel­ing for every cre­ative writer: “I may grov­el the rest of my life in a stew of effort, of mis­guid­ed hope.”

In acquir­ing the need­ed con­fi­dence to push through fear, O’Connor also acquired a the­o­ry of fiction—a seri­ous and demand­ing one that left no room for friv­o­lous enter­tain­ments or pro­pa­gan­da. “I know well enough that very few peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in writ­ing are inter­est­ed in writ­ing well,” she told a stu­dent audi­ence in her lec­ture “The Nature and Aim of Fic­tion” (col­lect­ed in Mys­tery and Man­ners).

Writ­ing well, for O’Connor, meant pur­su­ing “the habit of art,” a phrase she took from French Catholic philoso­pher Jacques Mar­i­tain. While she admits that Art is “a word that imme­di­ate­ly scares peo­ple off, as being a lit­tle too grand,” her def­i­n­i­tion is sim­ple enough, if vague: “some­thing that is valu­able in itself and that works in itself.” When she gets into the meat of these ideas, we see why she could be so harsh a crit­ic of fel­low writ­ers in her many let­ters to friends and acquain­tances.

In one par­tic­u­lar­ly harsh assess­ment in a May, 1960 let­ter to play­wright Mary­at Lee, O’Connor wrote, “I hope you don’t have friends who rec­om­mend Ayn Rand to you. The fic­tion of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fic­tion. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the sub­way and threw it in the near­est garbage pail. She makes Mick­ey Spillane look like Dos­to­evsky.”

The ref­er­ence to Spillane is inter­est­ing. Rand cor­re­spond­ed with the crime nov­el­ist and admired his work, seem­ing “great­ly pleased,” William Thomas writes at the Ran­di­an Atlas Soci­ety, by his “sense of life,” if not “enam­ored of his skill in con­vey­ing it.” Sure­ly Rand’s hyper-indi­vid­u­al­is­tic, pure­ly mate­ri­al­ist “sense of life” repelled O’Connor, but her objec­tions to Rand’s fic­tion would have certainly—if not primarily—extended to the writ­ing itself.

In her lec­ture, O’Connor elab­o­rates on her def­i­n­i­tion of the art of fic­tion by telling her audi­ence what it is not:

I find that most peo­ple know what a sto­ry is until they sit down to write one. Then they find them­selves writ­ing a sketch with an essay woven through it, or an essay with a sketch woven through it, or an edi­to­r­i­al with a char­ac­ter in it, or a case his­to­ry with a moral, or some oth­er mon­grel thing.

Rand’s fic­tion presents read­ers with speechi­fy­ing heroes who serve as one-dimen­sion­al expo­nents of Objec­tivism, and card­board vil­lains act­ing as straw car­i­ca­tures of the demo­c­ra­t­ic or social­ist philoso­phies she loathed. Books like Atlas Shrugged embody all the marks of ama­teurism, accord­ing to O’Connor, of writ­ers who “are con­scious of prob­lems, not of peo­ple, of ques­tions and issues, not of the tex­ture of exis­tence, of case his­to­ries and every­thing that has a soci­o­log­i­cal smack, instead of with all those con­crete details of life that make actu­al the mys­tery of our posi­tion on earth.”

For O’Connor, the habit of art requires keen obser­va­tion of com­plex human behav­ior, com­pas­sion for human fail­ings, a gen­uine open­ness to para­dox and the unknown, and a pref­er­ence for idio­syn­crat­ic speci­fici­ty over grand abstrac­tions and stereotypes—qualities Rand sim­ply did not pos­sess. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, how­ev­er, as O’Con­nor told her stu­dent audi­ence in “The Nature and Aim of Fic­tion,” the writer’s “moral sense must coin­cide with his dra­mat­ic sense.” One imag­ines O’Connor felt that Rand’s moral sense could only pro­duce pro­found­ly impov­er­ished dra­ma.

Read more of O’Con­nor’s let­ters, full of her infor­mal lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, in the col­lec­tion The Habit of Being: The Let­ters of Flan­nery O’Con­nor.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Hitchens Dis­miss­es the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advo­cat­ing Self­ish­ness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Rein­force­ment”

Hear Flan­nery O’Connor’s Short Sto­ry, “Rev­e­la­tion,” Read by Leg­endary His­to­ri­an & Radio Host, Studs Terkel

Flan­nery O’Connor to Lit Pro­fes­sor: “My Tone Is Not Meant to Be Obnox­ious. I’m in a State of Shock”

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

The Talmud Is Finally Now Available Online

In South Korea, where I live, the Tal­mud is a best­seller. Just a few years ago the New York­er’s Ross Armud report­ed on the improb­a­ble pub­lish­ing suc­cess, in this small east Asian coun­try, of Judais­m’s “dense com­pi­la­tion of oral laws anno­tat­ed with rab­bini­cal dis­cus­sions, con­sist­ing of about two and a half mil­lion words.” Some of those words deal­ing with such press­ing ques­tions as, “If you find a cake with a pot­tery shard in it, can you keep it? Do you have to report the dis­cov­ery of a pile of fruit? What do you do if you find an item built into the wall of your house?”

The much short­er “Kore­an Tal­mud,” Armud writes, with its para­bles, apho­risms, and top­ics that run the gamut “from busi­ness ethics to sex advice,” makes a read­er feel like “the last play­er in a game of tele­phone.” But Joshua Foer, the sci­ence writer who co-found­ed Atlas Obscu­ra, might say that the Jew­ish Tal­mud has long left even Jew­ish read­ers in a sim­i­lar state of befud­dle­ment — if, indeed, they could find the text at all. Look­ing to get a han­dle on the Tal­mud him­self back in 2010, he found that, shock­ing­ly, the inter­net had almost noth­ing to offer him. And so he began work­ing, along­side an ex-Google engi­neer col­lab­o­ra­tor named Brett Lock­speis­er, to cor­rect that absence.

“Last year, after years of work and nego­ti­a­tions, Foer and Lock­speis­er final­ly suc­ceed­ed in their quest,” writes the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Noah Smith. “Through a non­prof­it they cre­at­ed called Sefaria, the men are bring­ing the Tal­mud online in mod­ern Eng­lish, and free of charge.” Sefari­a’s library, avail­able on the web as well as in app form, now includes a vari­ety of texts from Gen­e­sis and the Kab­bal­ah to phi­los­o­phy and mod­ern works — and of course the Tal­mud, the cen­ter­piece of the col­lec­tion, the rel­e­vant resources for which had not been in the pub­lic domain and thus required no small amount of nego­ti­a­tion to make free.

Sefari­a’s cre­ators have com­bined all this with a fea­ture called “source sheets,” which allow “any user on the site to com­pile and share a selec­tion of rel­e­vant texts, from Sefaria or out­side, sur­round­ing a giv­en issue or ques­tion.” (Smith points to the most pop­u­lar source sheet thus far, “Is One Per­mit­ted to Punch a White Suprema­cist in the Face?”) At about 160 mil­lion words with 1.7 mil­lion inter­tex­tu­al links and count­ing, the site has made a greater vol­ume of Jew­ish texts far more acces­si­ble than ever before. Read­ers, even non-Ortho­dox ones, have been dis­cov­er­ing them in Eng­lish, but if Sefaria wants to increase their traf­fic fur­ther still, they might con­sid­er upload­ing some Kore­an trans­la­tions as well.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ancient Israel: A Free Online Course from NYU

Intro­duc­tion to the Old Tes­ta­ment: A Free Yale Course

Intro­duc­tion to New Tes­ta­ment His­to­ry and Lit­er­a­ture: A Free Yale Course

Har­vard Presents Two Free Online Cours­es on the Old Tes­ta­ment

Har­vard Launch­es a Free Online Course to Pro­mote Reli­gious Tol­er­ance & Under­stand­ing

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.