A Dictionary of Words Invented to Name Emotions We All Feel, But Don’t Yet Have a Name For: Vemödalen, Sonder, Chrysalism & Much More

Philoso­phers have always dis­trust­ed lan­guage for its slip­per­i­ness, its overuse, its propen­si­ty to deceive. Yet many of those same crit­ics have devised the most inven­tive terms to describe things no one had ever seen. The Philosopher’s Stone, the aether, mias­mas—images that made the inef­fa­ble con­crete, if still invis­i­bly gaseous.

It’s impor­tant for us to see the myr­i­ad ways our com­mon lan­guage fails to cap­ture the com­plex­i­ty of real­i­ty, ordi­nary and oth­er­wise. Ask any poet, writer, or lan­guage teacher to tell you about it—most of the words we use are too abstract, too worn out, decayed, or rusty. Maybe it takes either a poet or a philoso­pher to not only notice the many prob­lems with lan­guage, but to set about rem­e­dy­ing them.

Such are the qual­i­ties of the mind behind The Dic­tio­nary of Obscure Sor­rows, a project by graph­ic design­er and film­mak­er John Koenig. The blog, YouTube chan­nel, and soon-to-be book from Simon & Schus­ter has a sim­ple premise: it iden­ti­fies emo­tion­al states with­out names, and offers both a poet­ic term and a philosopher’s skill at pre­cise def­i­n­i­tion. Whether these words actu­al­ly enter the lan­guage almost seems beside the point, but so many of them seem bad­ly need­ed, and per­fect­ly craft­ed for their pur­pose.

Take one of the most pop­u­lar of these, the invent­ed word “Son­der,” which describes the sud­den real­iza­tion that every­one has a sto­ry, that “each ran­dom passer­by is liv­ing a life as vivid and com­plex as your own.” This shock can seem to enlarge or dimin­ish us, or both at the same time. Psy­chol­o­gists may have a term for it, but ordi­nary speech seemed lack­ing.

Son­der like­ly became as pop­u­lar as it did on social media because the theme “we’re all liv­ing con­nect­ed sto­ries” already res­onates with so much pop­u­lar cul­ture. Many of the Dictionary’s oth­er terms trend far more unam­bigu­ous­ly melan­choly, if not neurotic—hence “obscure sor­rows.” But they also range con­sid­er­ably in tone, from the rel­a­tive light­ness of Greek-ish neol­o­gism “Anecdoche”—“a con­ver­sa­tion in which every­one is talk­ing, but nobody is listening”—to the major­ly depres­sive “pâro”:

the feel­ing that no mat­ter what you do is always some­how wrong—as if there’s some obvi­ous way for­ward that every­body else can see but you, each of them lean­ing back in their chair and call­ing out help­ful­ly, “cold­er, cold­er, cold­er…”

Both the coinages and the def­i­n­i­tions illu­mi­nate each oth­er. Take “Énoue­ment,” defined as “the bit­ter­sweet­ness of hav­ing arrived in the future, see­ing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.” A psy­chol­o­gy of aging in the form of an elo­quent dic­tio­nary entry. Some­times the rela­tion­ship is less sub­tle, but still mag­i­cal, as in the far from sor­row­ful “Chrysal­ism: The amni­ot­ic tran­quil­i­ty of being indoors dur­ing a thun­der­storm.”

Some­times, it is not a word but a phrase that speaks most poignant­ly of emo­tions that we know exist but can­not cap­ture with­out dead­en­ing clichés. “Moment of Tan­gency” speaks poignant­ly of a meta­phys­i­cal phi­los­o­phy in verse. Like Son­der, this phrase draws on an image of inter­con­nect­ed­ness. But rather than tak­ing a per­spec­tive from within—from solip­sism to empathy—it takes the point of view of all pos­si­ble real­i­ties.

Watch the video for “Vemö­dalen: The Fear That Every­thing Has Already Been Done” up top. See sev­er­al more short films from the project here, includ­ing “Silience: The Bril­liant Artistry Hid­den All Around You”—if, that is, we could only pay atten­tion to it. Below, find 23 oth­er entries describ­ing emo­tions peo­ple feel, but can’t explain.

1. Son­der: The real­iza­tion that each passer­by has a life as vivid and com­plex as your own.
2. Opia: The ambigu­ous inten­si­ty of Look­ing some­one in the eye, which can feel simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inva­sive and vul­ner­a­ble.
3. Mona­chop­sis: The sub­tle but per­sis­tent feel­ing of being out of place.
4 Énoue­ment: The bit­ter­sweet­ness of hav­ing arrived in the future, see­ing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
5. Vel­li­chor: The strange wist­ful­ness of used book­shops.
6. Rubato­sis: The unset­tling aware­ness of your own heart­beat.
7. Kenop­sia: The eerie, for­lorn atmos­phere of a place that is usu­al­ly bustling with peo­ple but is now aban­doned and qui­et.
8. Mauer­bauer­trau­rigkeit: The inex­plic­a­ble urge to push peo­ple away, even close friends who you real­ly like.
9. Jous­ka: A hypo­thet­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion that you com­pul­sive­ly play out in your head.
10. Chrysal­ism: The amni­ot­ic tran­quil­i­ty of being indoors dur­ing a thun­der­storm.
11. Vemö­dalen: The frus­tra­tion of pho­to­graph­ic some­thing amaz­ing when thou­sands of iden­ti­cal pho­tos already exist.
12. Anec­doche: A con­ver­sa­tion in which every­one is talk­ing, but nobody is lis­ten­ing
13. Ellip­sism: A sad­ness that you’ll nev­er be able to know how his­to­ry will turn out.
14. Kue­biko: A state of exhaus­tion inspired by acts of sense­less vio­lence.
15. Lach­esism: The desire to be struck by dis­as­ter – to sur­vive a plane crash, or to lose every­thing in a fire.
16. Exu­lan­sis: The ten­den­cy to give up try­ing to talk about an expe­ri­ence because peo­ple are unable to relate to it.
17. Adroni­tis: Frus­tra­tion with how long it takes to get to know some­one.
18. Rück­kehrun­ruhe: The feel­ing of return­ing home after an immer­sive trip only to find it fad­ing rapid­ly from your aware­ness.
19. Nodus Tol­lens: The real­iza­tion that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you any­more.
20. Onism: The frus­tra­tion of being stuck in just one body, that inhab­its only one place at a time.
21. Libero­sis: The desire to care less about things.
22. Altschmerz: Weari­ness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same bor­ing flaws and anx­i­eties that you’ve been gnaw­ing on for years.
23. Occhi­olism: The aware­ness of the small­ness of your per­spec­tive.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Tsun­doku,” the Japan­ese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the Eng­lish Lan­guage

The Largest His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of Eng­lish Slang Now Free Online: Cov­ers 500 Years of the “Vul­gar Tongue”

How a Word Enters the Dic­tio­nary: A Quick Primer

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

High School Kids Stage Alien: The Play and You Can Now Watch It Online

Sev­er­al weeks back, Col­in Mar­shall told you about an enter­pris­ing group of high school stu­dents in North Bergen, New Jer­sey who staged a dra­mat­ic pro­duc­tion of Rid­ley Scot­t’s 1979 film Alien. And they did it on the cheap, cre­at­ing cos­tumes and props with donat­ed and recy­cled mate­ri­als. The pro­duc­tion was praised by Rid­ley Scott and Sigour­ney Weaver alike. Now, above, you can watch a com­plete encore per­for­mance made pos­si­ble by a $5,000 dona­tion by Scott, and attend­ed by Weaver her­self. Have fun.

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!

h/t aztecla­dy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

High School Kids Stage Alien: The Play, Get Kudos from Rid­ley Scott and Sigour­ney Weaver

Sigour­ney Weaver Stars in a New Exper­i­men­tal Sci-Fi Film: Watch “Rak­ka” Free Online

Rid­ley Scott Demys­ti­fies the Art of Sto­ry­board­ing (and How to Jump­start Your Cre­ative Project)

Rid­ley Scott Walks You Through His Favorite Scene from Blade Run­ner

Ele­men­tary School Stu­dents Per­form in a Play Inspired by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Orson Welles Presents Thorn­ton Wilder’s Our Town, the Most Pop­u­lar High School Play of All Time (1939)

Herbie Hancock’s Joyous Soundtrack for the Original Fat Albert TV Special (1969)

Mil­lions of kids grew up with the groovy yet edu­ca­tion­al car­toon com­e­dy of Fat Albert, and mil­lions of adults may find it dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble now to watch the show with­out think­ing of the crimes of its cre­ator. Such is life in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but so it was too at the end of the 1960s when the first iter­a­tion of Fat Albert debuted. There were plen­ty of rea­sons to feel ter­ri­ble about the cul­ture. Yet the music that came out of the var­i­ous jazz/funk/fusion/soul scenes seemed like it couldn’t let any­one feel too bad for long.

In 1969, Her­bie Han­cock had just been let go from the Miles Davis quin­tet and left his­toric Blue Note. Dur­ing this piv­otal time, he signed on to com­pose the sound­track for the TV spe­cial Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, the pre­cur­sor to the episod­ic car­toon Fat Albert and the Cos­by Kids, which ran from 1972 to 1985 and taught seri­ous eth­i­cal lessons about such sub­jects as kind­ness, respect, steal­ing, drugs, scams, kid­nap­ping, smok­ing, racism, and more with orig­i­nal songs.

The lat­er show’s unfor­get­table theme song (“na, na, na, gonna have a good time!”) was not penned by Han­cock, nor were any of its oth­er tunes. Only the orig­i­nal spe­cial used his music, which is maybe why the sound­track is not bet­ter known, as well it should be. “It’s a deeply soul­ful affair,” writes Boing Boing, “that pre­saged Hancock’s 1973 jazz-funk clas­sic Head Hunters.” The album, Fat Album Rotun­da, had gone out of print, but has now been reis­sued on the label Antarc­ti­ca Starts Here.

After lis­ten­ing to the tracks (hear sam­ples above and below), you might find it dif­fi­cult to resist buy­ing a copy. Whether or not you still enjoy the car­toon, the incred­i­ble grooves here evoke much more than its ado­les­cent char­ac­ters and their junk­yard mishaps. This is such an expan­sive, joy­ous album, one “in which Han­cock,” Supe­ri­or Viaduct writes, “clear­ly had a great time.” So too did the rest of the band, “which by the time of record­ing in late 1969 was both razor-sharp and con­fi­dent­ly loose from rehears­ing and tour­ing.”

The band includ­ed three horn play­ers, “Joe Hen­der­son on sax and flute, Gar­nett Brown on trom­bone and John­ny Coles on trum­pet and flugel­horn.” Hancock’s solos run flu­id­ly through each song, held in place by the rock-sol­id swing of Albert Heath’s drums. The com­po­si­tions are com­plex and catchy, with lilt­ing melodies, mean hooks, and big refrains.

The album is instant­ly clas­sic, whether you heard it fifty years ago or just now for the first time. Warn­er Broth­ers agreed, and gave Han­cock and his band a deal on the strength of the album. So did Quin­cy Jones, who record­ed his own ver­sion of the track “Tell Me a Bed­time Sto­ry,” a mel­low, dynam­ic slow burn that builds to some of the finest Fend­er Rhodes play­ing Han­cock put to tape. Fat Albert Rotun­da was hard­ly his first or his last sound­track album, but while it has fall­en into obscu­ri­ty, it should rank as one of his best.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Her­bie Han­cock Explains the Big Les­son He Learned From Miles Davis: Every Mis­take in Music, as in Life, Is an Oppor­tu­ni­ty

Mis­ter Rogers, Sesame Street & Jim Hen­son Intro­duce Kids to the Syn­the­siz­er with the Help of Her­bie Han­cock, Thomas Dol­by & Bruce Haack

How Inno­v­a­tive Jazz Pianist Vince Guaral­di Became the Com­pos­er of Beloved Char­lie Brown Music

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

The Cast of Avengers: Endgame Rendered in Traditional Japanese Ukiyo‑e Style

Wher­ev­er in the world you live, you’ve heard of Avengers: Endgame, and may well have seen it already — or, depend­ing on your enthu­si­asm for super­heroes, may well have seen it more than a few times. It comes, as fans need not be remind­ed, as the cul­mi­na­tion of a 22-film series in the Mar­vel Cin­e­mat­ic Uni­verse that began with 2008’s Iron Man. The $356 mil­lion pic­ture (which has already earned, as of this writ­ing, more than $1.2 bil­lion) uses, of course, only the lat­est and most high-tech visu­al effects, and a great deal of them, which does get one won­der­ing: how would these super­heroic (and supervil­lianous) char­ac­ters, all of them larg­er than life, come through a trans­plan­ta­tion to anoth­er art form, from an entire­ly dif­fer­ent cul­ture, and a much less overt­ly spec­tac­u­lar one at that?

A Japan­ese illus­tra­tor who goes by the name Taku­mi has tak­en on that chal­lenge. “To com­mem­o­rate the film’s release, the artist has cre­at­ed a series of illus­tra­tions that ren­der char­ac­ters from the film in Ukiyo‑e style,” writes Spoon & Tam­ago’s John­ny Wald­man.

Taku­mi’s task of trans­lat­ing these Amer­i­can-made char­ac­ters to that Japan­ese wood­block print form (which does have a his­to­ry of por­tray­ing actors) includ­ed “a lot of time think­ing about the unique pat­terns and kan­ji names for each char­ac­ter. Thor is pro­nounced tooru in Japan­ese, so he assigned the Japan­ese equiv­a­lent, which is 徹(とおる). Thanos’ 6 infin­i­ty stones served as the inspi­ra­tion behind that name, which ref­er­ences the 6 realms of Bud­dhism.” And all of the Avengers char­ac­ters Taku­mi has ren­dered in this fash­ion wear cos­tumes with “tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese designs and each ref­er­ences cer­tain traits of the char­ac­ters.”

Cap­tain America’s pants, for instance, “use the ship­po (七宝) pat­tern of lay­ered cir­cles, which ref­er­ences the shape of his shield. Thor’s pat­tern is pret­ty straight­for­ward: the tra­di­tion­al cloud (雲) pat­tern. Iron Man uses the com­plex bisha­mon kikko (毘沙門亀甲) pat­tern, which mim­ics the look of a cir­cuit board.”

Taku­mi pre­vi­ous­ly made a splash by cre­at­ing “Ghi­b­li Land,” a hypo­thet­i­cal ver­sion of Dis­ney Land themed entire­ly around the ani­mat­ed films of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li. (The idea turns out to be less hypo­thet­i­cal than it once sound­ed: Stu­dio Ghi­b­li, as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, plans to open its own theme park in 2022.) Just as the stag­ger­ing suc­cess of the Mar­vel Cin­e­mat­ic Uni­verse movies proves the pop­u­lar via­bil­i­ty of the kind of super­hero sto­ries assumed not so long ago to be the domain of obses­sive fans alone, Taku­mi’s ukiyo‑e Avengers cast, all of which you can see at Spoon & Tam­a­go, shows how ver­sa­tile this tra­di­tion­al art form remains.

via Spoon & Tam­a­go

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 1982 DC Comics Style Guide Is Online: A Blue­print for Super­man, Bat­man & Your Oth­er Favorite Super­heroes

R.I.P. Stan Lee: Take His Free Online Course “The Rise of Super­heroes and Their Impact On Pop Cul­ture”

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Releas­es Tan­ta­liz­ing Con­cept Art for Its New Theme Park, Open­ing in Japan in 2022

Japan­ese Kabu­ki Actors Cap­tured in 18th-Cen­tu­ry Wood­block Prints by the Mys­te­ri­ous & Mas­ter­ful Artist Sharaku

David Bowie Memo­ri­al­ized in Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

The Reli­gious Affil­i­a­tion of Com­ic Book Heroes

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­tureand writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hear Debbie Harry’s Stunning Ethereal Vocal Tracks from “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “Rapture,” and “One Way or Another”

Punk rock “shocked the world” when it arrived in the late 70s, one main­stream news out­let remem­bers. Bands like The Ramones inspired “a gen­er­a­tion of wannabe rock­ers to buy gui­tars and form their own bands…. They proved that you didn’t have to be the next Jim­my Page or Paul McCart­ney to be a rock star.”

The idea is common—that punk bands’ ama­teur­ish­ness gave license to remake musi­cal cul­ture with atti­tude and style… tal­ent and abil­i­ty be damned. There’s a sense in which this is true, but there’s also a sense in which it’s a gen­er­al­iza­tion that ignores the var­i­ous organs—early met­al, avant-garde art rock, new wave, etc.—that made up the larg­er body of punk.

The scene was built on some seri­ous abil­i­ty, begin­ning with the prim­i­tivist Vel­vet Under­ground, who relied on the tal­ents of clas­si­cal­ly-trained mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist John Cale. In James Williamson, The Stooges had one of the finest gui­tarists not only in punk (or “heavy met­al,” as Lester Bangs called 1973’s Raw Pow­er), but in rock and roll writ large.

Talk­ing Heads had one of punk’s best bass play­ers in Tina Wey­mouth, a huge influ­ence on con­tem­po­rary bass gui­tar. When punk arrived on the radio, it did so in the sul­try, chill­ing tones of Deb­bie Harry’s two-and-a-half octave-range voice: in the icy, high-pitched echoes of “Heart of Glass,” Call Me,” and “Rap­ture.”

Before Blondie, Har­ry was stripped down in the punk band The Stilet­tos. And before that, her ethe­re­al voice ele­vat­ed the work of late six­ties folk rock band, Wind in the Wil­lows. As one of sev­en singers, she honed her instru­ment in the demand­ing envi­ron­ment of a vocal ensem­ble. In her best-known Blondie songs, Har­ry har­mo­nizes with her­self in huge trails of reverb, recall­ing the dreamy psy­che­delia of ear­li­er years.

Hear her mul­ti-tracked, heav­i­ly effect­ed iso­lat­ed vocals in three huge Blondie hits fur­ther up, and her much more stripped-down, raw­er vocal track from “One Way or Anoth­er,” below. There’s a lot of under­ground punk and indie and alter­na­tive music that did aban­don musi­cian­ship, with mixed but often bril­liant results. But when it comes to what most peo­ple remem­ber when they remem­ber the sound of ear­ly punk, the genre was just as much dri­ven for­ward by musi­cal abil­i­ty and ded­i­ca­tion, as evi­denced by the career of Deb­bie Har­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Blondie Plays CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vin­tage Clips

Dis­cov­er an Archive of Taped New York City-Area Punk & Indie Con­certs from the 80s and 90s: The Pix­ies, Son­ic Youth, The Replace­ments & Many More

How the Uptight Today Show Intro­duced the Sex Pis­tols & British Punk to Amer­i­can TV View­ers (1978)

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

Roald Dahl, Who Lost His Daughter to Measles, Writes a Heartbreaking Letter about Vaccinations: “It Is Almost a Crime to Allow Your Child to Go Unimmunised”

dahl vaccine

Image by Carl Van Vechten/Library of Con­gress, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Gen­er­a­tions of us know Roald Dahl as, first and fore­most, the author of pop­u­lar chil­dren’s nov­els like The BFGThe Witch­esChar­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry (that book of the “sub­ver­sive” lost chap­ter), and James and the Giant Peach. We remem­ber read­ing those with great delight, and some of us even made it into the rumored lit­er­ary ter­ri­to­ry of his “sto­ries for grown-ups.” But few of us, at least if we grew up in the past few decades, will have famil­iar­ized our­selves with all the pur­pos­es to which Dahl put his pen. Like many fine writ­ers, Dahl always drew some­thing from his per­son­al expe­ri­ence, and few per­son­al expe­ri­ences could have had as much impact as the sud­den death of his measles-strick­en sev­en-year-old daugh­ter Olivia in 1962. A chap­ter of Don­ald Stur­rock­’s biog­ra­phy Sto­ry­teller: The Life of Roald Dahl, excerpt­ed at The Tele­graph, tells of both the event itself and Dahl’s sto­ic, writer­ly (accord­ing to some, per­haps too sto­ic and too writer­ly) way of han­dling it.

But good did come out of Dahl’s response to the tragedy. In 1986, he wrote a leaflet for the Sandwell Health Author­i­ty enti­tled Measles: A Dan­ger­ous Ill­ness, which tells Olivi­a’s sto­ry and pro­vides a swift and well-sup­port­ed argu­ment for uni­ver­sal vac­ci­na­tion against the dis­ease:

Olivia, my eldest daugh­ter, caught measles when she was sev­en years old. As the ill­ness took its usu­al course I can remem­ber read­ing to her often in bed and not feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly alarmed about it. Then one morn­ing, when she was well on the road to recov­ery, I was sit­ting on her bed show­ing her how to fash­ion lit­tle ani­mals out of coloured pipe-clean­ers, and when it came to her turn to make one her­self, I noticed that her fin­gers and her mind were not work­ing togeth­er and she could­n’t do any­thing.

“Are you feel­ing all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was uncon­scious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a ter­ri­ble thing called measles encephali­tis and there was noth­ing the doc­tors could do to save her. That was twen­ty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles hap­pens to devel­op the same dead­ly reac­tion from measles as Olivia did, there would still be noth­ing the doc­tors could do to help her.

On the oth­er hand, there is today some­thing that par­ents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not hap­pen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immu­nised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reli­able measles vac­cine had not been dis­cov­ered. Today a good and safe vac­cine is avail­able to every fam­i­ly and all you have to do is to ask your doc­tor to admin­is­ter it.

It is not yet gen­er­al­ly accept­ed that measles can be a dan­ger­ous ill­ness. Believe me, it is. In my opin­ion par­ents who now refuse to have their chil­dren immu­nised are putting the lives of those chil­dren at risk. In Amer­i­ca, where measles immu­ni­sa­tion is com­pul­so­ry, measles like small­pox, has been vir­tu­al­ly wiped out.

Here in Britain, because so many par­ents refuse, either out of obsti­na­cy or igno­rance or fear, to allow their chil­dren to be immu­nised, we still have a hun­dred thou­sand cas­es of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suf­fer side effects of one kind or anoth­er. At least 10,000 will devel­op ear or chest infec­tions. About 20 will die.


Every year around 20 chil­dren will die in Britain from measles.

So what about the risks that your chil­dren will run from being immu­nised?

They are almost non-exis­tent. Lis­ten to this. In a dis­trict of around 300,000 peo­ple, there will be only one child every 250 years who will devel­op seri­ous side effects from measles immu­ni­sa­tion! That is about a mil­lion to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child chok­ing to death on a choco­late bar than of becom­ing seri­ous­ly ill from a measles immu­ni­sa­tion.

So what on earth are you wor­ry­ing about? It real­ly is almost a crime to allow your child to go unim­mu­nised.

The ide­al time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is nev­er too late. All school-chil­dren who have not yet had a measles immu­ni­sa­tion should beg their par­ents to arrange for them to have one as soon as pos­si­ble.

Inci­den­tal­ly, I ded­i­cat­ed two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The sec­ond was ‘The BFG’, ded­i­cat­ed to her mem­o­ry after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the begin­ning of each of these books. And I know how hap­py she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of ill­ness and death among oth­er chil­dren.

Alas, this mes­sage has­n’t quite fall­en into irrel­e­vance. What with anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ments hav­ing some­how picked up a bit of steam in recent years (and with the num­ber of cas­es of measles cas­es now climb­ing again), it might make sense to send Dahl’s leaflet back into print — or, bet­ter yet, to keep it cir­cu­lat­ing far and wide around the inter­net. Not that oth­ers haven’t made cogent pro-vac­ci­na­tion argu­ments of their own, in dif­fer­ent media, with dif­fer­ent illus­tra­tions of the data, and with dif­fer­ent lev­els of pro­fan­i­ty. Take, for instance, Penn and Teller’s seg­ment below, which, find­ing the per­fect tar­get giv­en its man­date against non-evi­dence-based beliefs, takes aim at the propo­si­tion that vac­ci­na­tions cause autism:

Note: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on site in 2014. Giv­en that the num­ber of report­ed cas­es of the measles has just hit a 25 year record in the US–a sit­u­a­tion that mod­ern sci­ence has made com­plete­ly avoid­able, should peo­ple want to avail them­selves of vac­ci­na­tions–we’re bring­ing the post back.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read a Nev­er Pub­lished, “Sub­ver­sive” Chap­ter from Roald Dahl’s Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry

The Recipes of Icon­ic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Mar­quis de Sade & More

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Is Modern Society Stealing What Makes Us Human?: A Glimpse Into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra by The Partially Examined Life

Image by Genevieve Arnold

The pro­logue of Friedrich Niet­zsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathus­tra (1883) intro­duced his notion of the “last man,” who is no longer cre­ative, no longer explor­ing, no longer risk tak­ing. He took this to be the implic­it aim of efforts to “dis­cov­er hap­pi­ness” by fig­ur­ing out human nature and engi­neer­ing soci­ety to ful­fill human needs. If needs are met, no suf­fer­ing occurs, no effort is need­ed to counter the suf­fer­ing, and we all stag­nate. Is our tech­nol­o­gy-enhanced con­sumer cul­ture well on its way to deliv­er­ing us up to such a fate?

In the clip below, Mark Lin­sen­may­er from the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life phi­los­o­phy pod­cast con­sid­ers this pos­si­bil­i­ty, explores Niet­zsche’s pic­ture of ethics, and con­cludes that the poten­tial mis­take by poten­tial social engi­neers lies in under­es­ti­mat­ing the com­plex­i­ty of human needs. As Niet­zsche argued, we’re all idio­syn­crat­ic, and our needs are not just for peace, warmth, food, exer­cise and enter­tain­ment, but (once these are sat­is­fied, per Maslow’s hier­ar­chy of needs) self-actu­al­iza­tion, which is an indi­vid­ual pur­suit, and so is impos­si­ble to mass engi­neer. Hav­ing our more basic needs ful­filled with­out life-fill­ing effort (i.e. full time jobs) would not leave us com­pla­cent but actu­al­ly free to enter­tain these “high­er needs,” and so to pur­sue the cre­ative pur­suits that Niet­zsche thought were the pin­na­cle of human achieve­ment.

Niet­zsche’s tar­get is util­i­tar­i­an­ism, which urges indi­vid­u­als and pol­i­cy-mak­ers to max­i­mize hap­pi­ness, and the more this is pur­sued sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, the more that “hap­pi­ness” needs to be reduced to some­thing poten­tial­ly mea­sur­able, like plea­sure, but clear­ly plea­sure does not add up to a mean­ing­ful life. While we may not be able to quan­ti­fy mean­ing­ful­ness and aim pub­lic pol­i­cy in that direc­tion, it should be eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy clear obsta­cles to pur­su­ing mean­ing­ful activ­i­ty, such as ill­ness, pover­ty, drudgery and servi­tude. We should be glad that choos­ing the most eth­i­cal path is not a mat­ter of mere cal­cu­la­tion, because on Niet­zsche’s view, we thrive as “cre­ators of val­ues,” and fig­ur­ing out for our­selves what makes each us tru­ly hap­py (what we find valu­able) is itself a mean­ing­ful activ­i­ty.

The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life episodes 213 and 214 (forth­com­ing) pro­vide a 4‑man walk­through of Thus Spoke Zarathus­tra, explor­ing the Last Man, the Over­man, Will to Pow­er, the dec­la­ra­tion that “God Is Dead,” and oth­er noto­ri­ous ideas.

Episode 213 Part One:

Episode 213 Part Two: 

Mark Lin­sen­may­er is the host of The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life and Naked­ly Exam­ined Music pod­casts. 

Meet Freddie Mercury and His Faithful Feline Friends

Ooh, you make me so very hap­py
You give me kiss­es and I go out of my mind, ooh

Mee­ow mee­ow mee­ow
You’re irre­sistible — I love you, Delilah
Delilah, I love you.

—Fred­die Mer­cury

Next time you meet a cat called Delilah, ask her if she was named for Fred­die Mercury’s #1 Pussy­cat.

Like many child­less adults’ pets, Mercury’s cats loomed large, enjoy­ing night­ly phone check-ins when he was on the road, Christ­mas stock­ings, and spe­cial­ly pre­pared food.

Unlike most child­less adults’ pets, Mercury’s feline friends alleged­ly occu­pied their own bed­rooms in his Lon­don man­sion, and were the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries of his will, along with Mary Austin, his close friend and one-time fiancée.

(Fol­low­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of their romance, she float­ed the idea of hav­ing a child togeth­er, a pro­pos­al he reject­ed, say­ing that he would rather have anoth­er cat.)

Mer­cury must’ve tak­en com­fort in know­ing that it wasn’t his celebri­ty the cats were cozy­ing up to, even if they did take advan­tage of his gen­eros­i­ty where fresh chick­en and cat toys were con­cerned.

To them, he was just anoth­er human with a can open­er, a lap, and a capac­i­ty for rock star-sized melt­downs should one of them go miss­ing. (He chucked a hibachi through the win­dow of a guest bed­room when Goliath, his black kit­ten, went on tem­po­rary walk­a­bout.)

Short­ly before Mer­cury’s death, he paid trib­ute to his favorite, Delilah, in a song his Queen band­mates grudg­ing­ly agreed to record, gui­tarist Bri­an May even acqui­esc­ing to a talk box to achieve the nec­es­sary “meow” sounds.

Around the same time, a thought­ful friend arranged for the oth­er mem­bers of Mercury’s beloved menagerie to be immor­tal­ized on a cus­tom-paint­ed vest, which the singer can be seen sport­ing in the offi­cial music video for Queen’s “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” as well as his final por­trait.

(I’ll have a thought for Fred­die next time I’m in my home state, where a trip to the mall reveals any num­ber of sim­i­lar sar­to­r­i­al dis­plays, most notice­ably on ladies resem­bling my grand­moth­er and her sis­ters…)

Accord­ing to Mercury’s per­son­al assis­tant, Peter “Phoebe” Free­stone, most of Mercury’s cat babies were even­tu­al­ly farmed out to oth­er homes, though his “princess”, Delilah, remained in res­i­dence with a cou­ple of oth­ers, cared for by Austin.

And because there are sure­ly those among our read­ers burn­ing to know if Fred­die Mer­cury swung both ways, we took a deep­er dive through some of Freestone’s mem­o­ries, and dis­cov­ered that:

Fred­die didn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like or dis­like dogs. He wouldn’t go out of his way to avoid them and he had many friends who had dogs at home. He would play with them and stroke them if they came to him when he was vis­it­ing. He just loved cats. He felt that cats were much more inde­pen­dent than dogs and he was very hap­py that his felines had cho­sen him to be their mas­ter.

Find more pic­ture of Fred­die and his cats over at Dan­ger­ous Minds, Bored Pan­da and Vin­tage Every­day–most of which were tak­en by Peter Free­stone.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fred­die Mer­cury Reimag­ined as Com­ic Book Heroes

A Stun­ning Live Con­cert Film of Queen Per­form­ing in Mon­tre­al, Dig­i­tal­ly Restored to Per­fec­tion (1981)

Watch Behind-the-Scenes Footage From Fred­die Mercury’s Final Video Per­for­mance

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City May 13 for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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