Download 10,000+ Books in Arabic, All Completely Free, Digitized and Put Online

If you’ve considered learning a new language to open up a new realm of reading, you could do much worse than Arabic. Though its mastery may demand a considerable amount of time, it repays the investment as the language of not just a country but an entire region of the world, and a region with a deep textual history at that. Anyone interested in becoming a student of Arabic, casually or seriously, can get their start at our collection of Arabic lessons available free online, and when up to speed on reading might consider a visit to Arabic Collections Online (ACO), a digital library of Arabic-language texts now boasting 10,042 volumes across 6,265 subjects, all of them also available free online.

With a list of contributing partners including institutions in both America (New York University, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia) and the Middle East (the American University in Cairo, the American University of Beirut and United Arab Emirates National Archives) — and, as ArabLit notesa $1.34 million grant received last August — ACO “aims to digitize, preserve, and provide free open access to a wide variety of Arabic language books in subjects such as literature, philosophy, law, religion, and more.”

This mission addresses not just a lack of widely available Arabic texts on the web, but the condition of much of the material digitized, as “many older Arabic books are out-of-print, in fragile condition, and are otherwise rare materials that are in danger of being lost.”

Though clearly an ever more valuable resource for students of Arabic, ACO has much more to offer those already acquainted with the joys of the language. ArabLit specifically points out two of its featured Egyptian titles this month, Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Return of the Spirit (عودة الروح), which English translator William Maynard Hutchins describes as “a gloriously Romantic tribute to the solidarity of the Egyptian people of all classes and religions and to their good taste and excellent sense of humor,” andColors (ألوان) by Taha Hussein, one of the country’s most influential intellectuals of the 20th century. But the full scope of Arabic-language literature, as the already vast holdings of Arabic Collections Online reveals, extends beyond Egypt, and far indeed beyond the past couple of centuries. To those about to explore it,bil-tawfiq.

via Goodreader

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

The British Library Digitizes Its Collection of Obscene Books (1658-1940)

Many people are cheated out of an authentic education in English literature because of a longstanding puritanical approach to its curation. One might spend a lifetime reading the traditional canon without ever, for example, learning much about the long history of popular pornographic British writing, a genre that flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries as the popularity of the novel exploded. Everyone knows the Marquis de Sade, even if they haven’t read him, not least because he lent his name to psychoanalytic theory. Many of us have read Voltaire’s randy satire, Candide. But few know the name John Cleland, author of Fanny Hill, a bawdy British novel published in 1748, over forty years before de Sade’s Justine.

A book that serves up its own wealth of psychosexual insights, Fanny Hill does not disappoint either as pornographic writing or as entertaining fiction. Cleland wrote the book while in debtors’ prison, after he “boasted to James Boswell, himself no mean pornographer… that he could write a sexually exciting story of ‘a woman of pleasure’ without using a single ‘foul’ word,” writes John Sutherland at The Guardian. Cleland succeeded, in a narrative loaded with crudely Shakespearean puns and euphemisms. The wordplay in the title character’s name, an Anglicization of mons veneris (mound of Venus), will be immediately apparent to speakers of British English.

Upon its publication, however, Cleland was prosecuted for “corrupting the king’s subjects,” and the book was “duly buried and went on to become a centuries-long underground bestseller.” Such was the fate of many an obscene British novel. Thousands of these became property of the British Library, which “kept its dirtiest books locked away from the rest of its collections,” notes Brigit Katz at Smithsonian. “All volumes deemed to be in need of extra safeguarding so that members of the public couldn’t get their hands on the saucy stories—or try to destroy them—were placed in the library’s ‘Private Case.’” Now, they are being digitized and made available to Gale subscribers.

2,500 volumes from the Private Case collection have become part of Gale’s Archives of Sexuality and Gender research library, the first time much of this material has been available. “Pretty much anything to do with sex,” says British Library curator Maddy Smith, was locked away “until around 1960, when attitudes to sexuality were changing.” Librarians only began cataloguing this material in the 1970s, but most of it remained obscure and fairly inaccessible. The collection dates to 1658. It includes a series called the Merryland Books, written in the 1740s by authors who took pseudonyms like “Roger Pheuquewell” and described “the female anatomy metaphorically as land ripe for exploration.”

It is not overall a body of work given to subtleties. Aside from some exceptions, like Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal, a tragic gay romance attributed to Oscar Wilde, these are also largely books “written by men, for men,” about women, Smith points out. “It’s to be expected, but looking back, that’s what is shocking, how male-dominated it is, the lack of female agency.” She might have also pointed out that many women in the mid-18th century were writing and publishing popular novels, largely read by women, with frank coming-of-age descriptions of sexual education, seduction, and even rape. And both men and women wrote about homosexuality and gender fluidity in ways that might surprise us.

The response to such books tended to be moralistic correction—as in the best-selling Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson—or lascivious satire, as in the Merryland Books, Fanny Hill, and Henry Fielding’s Shamela, a parody that turns Richardson’s chaste heroine into a scheming prostitute. These two novels were massively popular and show the form as we know it developing as a literary conversation between men about women’s supposed vices or virtues. We should read mid-18th century pornographic literature as an essential part of the formation of the British novel tradition.

At the Gale online collection of these British Library treasures, one can do just that, then reach back a century earlier and forward 200 years to 1940, the last date in the Gale collection, which “makes available approximately one million pages of content that’s been locked away for many years, available only via restricted access.” (We must note that access is still restricted to Gale subscribers). These pages come not only from the British Library but also from The Kinsey Institute and the New York Academy of Medicine, who have both supplied a share of textbooks and scholarly monographs on sex. The “obscenity” of this material lies in the eyes of its keepers—much will seem unremarkable today, and some can still seem plenty scandalous.

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

Behold The Drawings of Franz Kafka (1907-1917)

Runner 1907-1908

Runner 1907-1908

UK-born, Chicago-based artist Philip Hartigan has posted a brief video piece about Franz Kafka’s drawings. Kafka, of course, wrote a body of work, mostly never published during his lifetime, that captured the absurdity and the loneliness of the newly emerging modern world: In The Metamorphosis, Gregor transforms overnight into a giant cockroach; in The Trial, Josef K. is charged with an undefined crime by a maddeningly inaccessible court. In story after story, Kafka showed his protagonists getting crushed between the pincers of a faceless bureaucratic authority on the one hand and a deep sense of shame and guilt on the other.

On his deathbed, the famously tortured writer implored his friend Max Brod to burn his unpublished work. Brod ignored his friend’s plea and instead published them – novels, short stories and even his diaries. In those diaries, Kafka doodled incessantly – stark, graphic drawings infused with the same angst as his writing. In fact, many of these drawings have ended up gracing the covers of Kafka’s books.

“Quick, minimal movements that convey the typical despairing mood of his fiction” says Hartigan of Kafka’s art. “I am struck by how these simple gestures, these zigzags of the wrist, contain an economy of mark making that even the most experienced artist can learn something from.”

In his book Conversations with Kafka, Gustav Janouch describes what happened when he came upon Kafka in mid-doodle: the writer immediately ripped the drawing into little pieces rather than have it be seen by anyone. After this happened a couple times, Kafka relented and let him see his work. Janouch was astonished. “You really didn’t need to hide them from me,” he complained. “They’re perfectly harmless sketches.”

Kafka slowly wagged his head to and fro – ‘Oh no! They are not as harmless as they look. These drawing are the remains of an old, deep-rooted passion. That’s why I tried to hide them from you…. It’s not on the paper. The passion is in me. I always wanted to be able to draw. I wanted to see, and to hold fast to what was seen. That was my passion.”

Check out some of Kafka’s drawings below:

Horse and Rider 1909-1910

Horse and Rider 1909-1910

Three Runners 1912-1913

Three Runners 1912-1913

The Thinker 1913

The Thinker 1913

Fencing 1917

Fencing 1917

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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in February 2014.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Hear Underground 12, the Earliest Known Case of Musicians Recording While Under the Influence of LSD (1966)

Music and LSD: after “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Sgt. Pepper, we knew what an acid trip should sound like. Other folks needed to know more. Somewhere in Los Angeles in 1966 a group of musicians were dosing and recording while tripping.

The resulting recording–credited to “Underground 12” and considered the earliest known case of musicians recording while under the influence of LSD–was only available, as the legend goes, by mail order–you can see a copy of it here on discogs, a plain red label with only an address: 12457 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, CA. A little bit of Google snooping revealed this to be an office for Huntington Park First Savings and Loan in 1966, but assuming there was another office there, an issue of Billboard from that year also mentions an artist manager called Bob Reed at the same address. (Bob, we’re on to you!).

There’s nothing particularly groovy about this music. There’s no sitars, no fuzz pedals, no incense, no peppermints. There is, however, a lot of echo and delay, a lot of sped up tape (which in parts sounds a bit like Zappa’s “King Kong”), plenty of atonal laughing, and welp, that’s about it for side one.

Side two is a bit better, with an actual piano played at normal speed, and an electric guitar soloing against it. This sounds a bit proggy, about five years ahead of its time. But then the producer (Bob Reed, is that you again?) starts speeding up the tape again.

Con job or bad trip? Did these musicians know what they were in for? Did they really dose, or was studio trickery seen as a good enough placebo? Did the LSD produce some pretty ordinary studio jamming and the LP is a salvage job? So many mysteries, so little time.

Lysergia, a Swedish label that re-releases rare grooves such as this has also put out The Psychedelic Experience: The Ultimate Journey Through Late 60s Psychedelia, Acid Burns and Druggy Grooves by Patrick Lundborg, a Swedish writer whose subject was LSD, and rereleased the only album by Madrigal, a Morristown, New Jersey twosome which has a 13-minute track called “Stoned Freakout.”

However if the above sampler thrills you and you would like to own an original copy of this dubious classic by the Underground 12, it will set you back $666. The seller, obviously, knows what’s up.

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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.

The 100 Top Punk Songs of All Time, Curated by Readers of the UK’s Sounds Magazine in 1981

When did punk rock die? Everyone knows it happened sometime in recent history, but few people agree on when. The music still exists, in knowing quotation marks, but its winning combination of unforced abrasiveness and calculated offensiveness seems to have disappeared. Maybe pick a year at random; say, 2010, the year the last great punk songwriter, Jay Reatard, died. It also happens to be the year the last great punk band, OFF!, formed, but they’re a supergroup of classic punk musicians.

One could push that date back into any decade and make reasoned arguments. One snarling purist even once wrote that punk died in 1977 when the Clash signed to CBS. Maybe he was on to something. The following year, it was post-punk, with Johnny Rotten, aka Lydon, releasing his post-Sex Pistol’s project Public Image Limited’s first album, First Issue. Also in 1978, Siouxsie and the Banshees released their debut album, a statement for the spikiness and melodrama of post punk if there ever was one.

By 1981, a year someone might also choose to etch on punk’s tombstone, surviving members of post-punk darlings Joy Division had reformed into New Order and released their first album, Movement. Declaring the death of punk sounds like a bummer, but many people found solace in the arms of new wave synthpop and acid house. Still, 1981 didn’t care about anyone’s punk opinions. A slew of now-classic punk and hardcore albums coexisted with the likes of Gary Numan—Black Flag’s Damaged and D.O.A.’s Hardcore ’81, classic albums from Crass, The Adicts, Adolescents, T.S.O.L., and, of course, The Exploited’s Punk’s Not Dead.

The list above (view it in a larger format here), the “All-Time Punk Top 100”—voted on in 1981 by readers of the “music paper” Sounds—contains a handful of songs from Siouxsie and the Banshees and Public Image Limited. Some people might choose to split hairs. The Exploited make many appearances, as do the Sex Pistols, The Clash, UK Subs, Discharge and other British stalwarts. The heavy UK lean is to be expected from readers of the short-lived UK music mag, but the fact that there are no Ramones, no Dead Boys, no Stooges, no Blondie, no Black Flag even… can begin to feel downright insulting.

Maybe punk just looked different on the other side of the pond in 1981. If it looked like the all-time top 100 list, then it sounded like the playlist above (stream it on Spotify here), which collects these 100 best-ofs, or greats, or not so greats, or clearly misguided choices, or whatever. Enjoy it as you furiously correct it with your own picks.

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

All the Rembrandts: The Rijksmuseum Puts All 400 Rembrandts It Owns on Display for the First Time

If you’ve wanted to see some Rembrandts, as most every art lover has, you’ve wanted to go to the Rijksmuseum. The jewel in the crown of the Netherlands’ most popular museum must surely be Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch, whose latest restoration will stream live this summer. But Rembrandt enthusiasts planning their first trip to the Rijksmuseum only after the completion of that restoration may want to reconsider, given that between now and June, they can see not just some Rembrandts, but all the Rembrandts.

“Rijksmuseum marks the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death in 2019 with ‘Year of Rembrandt,’” says the museum’s site. “The year-long celebration opens with All the Rembrandts, in which the Rijksmuseum will present for the first time an exhibition of all 22 paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 best examples of Rembrandt’s prints in its collection.”

And “given the extreme rarity that many of these delicate drawings and prints go on display, All the Rembrandts offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to glean an unparalleled perspective on Rembrandt the artist, the human, the storyteller, the innovator.”

As a project, assembling all 400 of its Rembrandts into a single coherent exhibition aligns with the impressive ambition the Rijksmuseum has shown in other areas, from restoration to digitization. Visitors will experience not just the scope of the work of that Dutch master among Dutch masters, but the span of his life. The first section, featuring Rembrandt’s self-portraits, “presents the milestones of his career as a young artist”; the second “focuses on Rembrandt’s surroundings and the people in his life,” family, friends, his wife, and even the variety of characters that populated the 17th-century Amsterdam around him; the third and final section reveals Rembrandt the storyteller, as seen in his paintings inspired by the Old Testament. But he may never have told a more enduringly fascinating story than he did in The Night Watch, which will naturally retain its pride of place amid All the Rembrandts.

“The 11- by 15-foot large painting shows a flurry of activity,”’s Marissa Fessenden writes of that painting. “In the center of the scene, a captain gives orders to a lieutenant as the two stride forward. A musket goes off just behind the lieutenant’s hat, additional figures behind the main ones are visible only as limbs or partial faces. A boy runs off to the side with a gunpowder horn and a dog cowers near a drummer beating out a rhythm.” That same degree of excitement will no doubt be on display among the crowds drawn by All the Rembrandts itself. If you plan on joining them, consider downloading the Rijksmuseum’s audio tour app first. If you can’t make it — or if you must insist on waiting to see the fully restored Night Watch — you can still view all the Rijksmuseum’s Rembrandts online.

via Smithsonian/Artnet

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, and A Christmas Carol Written in Shorthand (Circa 1919)

For hundreds of years before the regular use of dictation machines, word processors, and computers, many thousands of court records, correspondence, journalism, and so on circulated in translation. All of these texts were originally in their native language, but they were transcribed in a different writing system, then translated back into the standard orthography, by stenographers using various kinds of shorthand. In English, this meant that a mess of irregular, phonetically nonsensical spellings turned into a streamlined, orderly symbolic system, impenetrable to anyone who hadn’t studied it thoroughly.

I do not know the rates of accuracy in shorthand writing or translation. Nor do I know how many original shorthand manuscripts still exist for comparison’s sake. But for centuries, shorthand systems were used to record lectures, letters, and interviews, and to write edicts, essays, articles, etc., in Imperial China, ancient Greece and Rome, and modern Europe, North America, and Japan.

The practice reached a peak in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, when stenography became a growth industry. Jack El-Hai at Wonders and Marvels explains.

A century ago, hundreds of thousands of people around the world regularly used shorthand. Secretaries, stenographers, court reporters, journalists and others depended on the elaborate shorthand systems that Isaac Pitman and John Robert Gregg developed in the nineteenth century, and countless schools and publishers seized the business opportunity to train them. Talented practitioners could write at speeds up to 280 words per minute.

The texts of systems like Pitman and Gregg’s “grew increasingly complex,” then increasingly simplified during latter half of the 20th century. “In 1903, the publishers of the Gregg method released the first novel entirely rendered in shorthand—an 87-page edition of Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Latimer.”

More literature in shorthand followed, marking the Gregg system’s most baroque period. Ten years later saw the publication of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, then, in 1918, with Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, and A Christmas Carol, and stories like Guy de Maupassant’s “The Diamond Necklace,” Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström.” All of this literary shorthand is written in what is known as “Pre-Anniversary” Gregg, which contained the largest number of symbols and devices. In 1929, a year-late “Anniversary Edition” began a period of simplification that culminated in 1988, a century after the system’s first publication.

The literature published in Gregg shorthand joined in a history of shorthand “used by (or to preserve the work of) everyone from Cicero to Luther to Shakespeare to Pepys,” writes the Public Domain Review. And yet, the “utilitarian function of shorthand sits a little oddly perhaps with literature, given the novel or the poem is a form associated with a different realm: that of leisure.” One should not have to train in a specialized phonemic orthography to read and enjoy Alice in Wonderland, but, on the off chance that you did so train, there is at least much enjoyable and edifying material with which to practice, or show off, your skills.

It would, I maintain, be a fascinating exercise to compare translations of these well-known works from the shorthand with their originals manuscripts written in the phonetic chaos of the English we recognize. Whether or not you have the skill to undertake this experiment, you can see many of these Gregg’s shorthand editions here and at the Internet Archive. Just click on the embeds above to see larger images and view and download a variety of formats.

via The Public Domain Review

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

A Brief Animated Introduction to Noam Chomsky’s Linguistic Theory, Narrated by The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson

How is it that children just entering toddlerhood pick up the structure of their respective languages with ease? They are not formally taught to use speech; they have limited cognitive abilities and a “poverty of stimulus,” given their highly circumscribed environments. And yet, they learn the function and order of subjects, verbs, and objects, and learn to recognize improper usage. Children might make routine mistakes, but they understand and can be understood from a very early age, and for the most part without very much difficulty. How?

These are the questions that confronted Noam Chomsky in the early years of his career in linguistics. His answers produced a theory of Universal Grammar in the 1960s, and for decades, it has been the reigning theory in the field to beat, initiating what is often referred to as the “Chomskyan Era,” a phrase the man himself dislikes but which nonetheless sums up the kinds of issues that have been at stake in linguistics for over fifty years.

Questions about language acquisition have always been the subject of intense philosophical speculation. They were folded into general theories of epistemology, like Plato’s theory of forms or John Locke’s so-called “blank slate” hypothesis. Variations on these positions surface in different forms throughout Western intellectual history. Descartes picks up Plato’s dualism, arguing that humans speak and animals don’t because of the existence of an immortal “rational soul.” Behaviorist B.F. Skinner suggests that operant conditioning writes language onto a totally impressionable mind. (“Give me a child,” said Skinner, “and I will shape him into anything.”)

Chomsky “gave a twist” to this age-old debate over the existence of innate ideas, as Gillian Anderson tells us in the animated video above from BBC 4’s History of Ideas series. Chomsky’s theory is biolinguistic: it situates language acquisition in the structures of the brain. Not being himself a neurobiologist, he talks of those theoretical structures, responsible for reproducing accurate syntax, as a metaphorical “language acquisition device” (LAD), a hardwired faculty that separates the human brain from that of a dog or cat.

Chomsky’s theory has little to do with the content of language, but rather with its structure, which he says is universally encoded in our neural architecture. Children, he writes, “develop language because they’re pre-programmed to do this.” Syntax is prior to and independent of specific meaning, a point he demonstrated with the poetic sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Every English speaker can recognize the sentence as grammatical, even very small children, though it refers to no real objects and would never occur in conversation.

Conversely, we recognize “Furiously sleep ideas green colorless” as ungrammatical, though it means no more nor less than the first sentence. The regional variations on word order only underline his point since, in every case, children quickly understand how to use the version they’re presented with at roughly the same developmental age and in the same way. The existence of a theoretical Language Acquisition Device solves the chicken-egg problem of how children with no understanding of and only a very limited exposure to language, can learn to speak just by listening to language.

Chomsky’s theory was revolutionary in large part because it was testable, and researchers at the professor’s longtime employer, MIT, recently published evidence of a “language universal” they discovered in a comparative study of 37 languages. It’s compelling research that just might anticipate the discovery of a physical Language Acquisition Device, or its neurobiological equivalent, in every human brain.

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

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