“The Hippie Temptation”: An Angst-Ridden CBS TV Show Warns of the Risks of LSD (1976)

To lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, we owe much of what has endured from Western popular culture of the mid-20th century: consider, for instance, the latter half of the Beatles’ oeuvre. In Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald describes LSD as “a powerful hallucinogen whose function is temporarily to dismiss the brain’s neural concierge, leaving the mind to cope as it can with sensory information which meanwhile enters without prior arrangement — an uncensored experience of reality which profoundly alters one’s outlook on it.”

So profound is that alteration that some came to believe in a utopia achievable through universal ingestion of the drug: “If there be necessary revolution in America,” declared Allen Ginsberg, “it will come this way.” But most Americans didn’t see it quite the same way. It was for them that CBS made its broadcast “The Hippie Temptation.” Aired in August 1967, three months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, it constitutes an exposé of LSD-fueled youth culture as it effervesced at the time in and around San Francisco’s countercultural mecca of Haight-Ashbury.

“The hippies present a strange problem,” says correspondent Harry Reasoner, later known as the host of 60 Minutes. “Our society has produced them. There they are, in rapidly increasing numbers. And yet there seem to be very few definite ideas behind the superficial glitter of their dress and behavior.” In search of the core of the hippie ideology, which seems outwardly to involve “standing apart from society by means of mutual help and love,” Reasoner and his collaborators delve into the nature of LSD, whose users “may see a wild complexity of images, hear a multiplicity of sounds. This is called ‘taking an acid trip.'”

Alas, “for many, the price of taking the shortcut to discovery the hippies put forward turns out to be very high.” A young doctor from UCLA’s neuropsychiatric institute named Duke Fisher argues that most LSD users “talk about loving humanity in general, an all-encompassing love of the world, but they have a great deal of difficulty loving one other person, or loving that specific thing.” Also included in “The Hippie Temptation” are interviews with young people (albeit ones cleaner-cut than the average denizen of late-60s Haight-Ashbury) placed into medical facilities due to hallucinogen-related mishaps, including suicide attempts.

“There is the real danger that more and more young people may follow the call to turn on, tune in, drop out,” Reasoner declares, in keeping with the broadcast’s portentous tone. Even then there were signs of what MacDonald calls “the hippie counterculture’s incipient commercialization and impending decline into hard drugs.” But to this day, “that there was indeed something unusual in the air can still be heard from many of the records of the period: a light, joyous optimism with a tangible spiritual aura and a thrillingly fresh informality” — a quality MacDonald finds concentrated in the work of not just The Beatles but the Grateful Dead, who sit for an interview in “The Hippie Temptation.” LSD may no longer be as tempting as it was half a century ago, but many of the creations it inspired then still have us hooked today.

via Laughing Squid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

How Neal Stephenson’s Sci-Fi Novel Snow Crash Invented the “Metaverse,” Which Facebook Now Plans to Build (1992)

Whatever the benefits and pleasures of our current internet-enriched world, one must admit that it’s not quite as exciting as the setting of Snow Crash. Originally published in 1992, that novel not only made the name of its author Neal Stephenson, it elevated him to the status of a technological Nostradamus. It did so, at least, among readers interested in the internet and its potential, which was much more of a niche subject 29 years ago. Of the many inventions with which Stephenson furnished Snow Crash‘s then-futuristic 21st-century cyberpunk reality, few have captured as many techie imaginations as the “metaverse,” an enormous virtual world inhabited by the avatars of its users.

“Lots of other science fiction media includes metaverse-like systems,” writes The Verge’s Adi Robertson, but “Stephenson’s book remains one of the most common reference points for metaverse enthusiasts.” This holds especially true in Silicon Valley, where, as Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson puts it, “a host of engineers, entrepreneurs, futurists, and assorted computer geeks (including Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos) still revere Snow Crash as a remarkably prescient vision of today’s tech landscape.” It’s rumored that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will soon announce his company’s intent to change its name to one that better suits its own long-term plan: to transition, as Zuckerberg himself put it, “from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

Bold though this may sound, astute readers haven’t forgotten that Snow Crash is a dystopian novel. The metaverse it presents “is an outgrowth of Stephenson’s satirical corporation-dominated future America,” writes Robinson, “but it’s undeniably depicted as having a cool side.” After all, the novel’s protagonist is “a master hacker who gets in katana fights at a virtual nightclub,” though his virtual existence compensates for a grimmer real-world lifestyle. “In the book, Hiro lives in a shabby shipping container,” Stephenson says, “but when he goes to the Metaverse, he’s a big deal and has access to super high-end real estate.” This may sound faintly reminiscent of certain online worlds already in existence: Second Life, for example, whose heyday came in the early 2010s.

Though presumably more ambitious, Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse remains, for the moment, broadly defined: it will consist, he’s said, of “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” But as The Verge’s Alex Heath notes in an article on Facebook’s impending name change, the company “already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses” — glasses, that is, for augmented reality, the overlaying digital elements onto the real world — “that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.” It’s not impossible that he could be leading the way toward the thrilling, dangerous, and often hilarious virtual world Snow Crash held out to us — and in whose absence we’ve had to make do with Facebook.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Demystifying Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” and How It Was Inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost

Youtuber Polyphonic has done a good job of looking at some hoary old classics of ‘60s rock, but he doesn’t always dip his toe in taking on contemporary music, or even considering a modern canon. Pronouncing what is essential listening of the last few decades is a minefield, especially among the ranks of Commentus YouTubus.

So their choice to explore Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” is a deft one. It’s not Cave’s most well-known song—-that would be “The Mercy Seat”—-but it’s one that many non-Cave fans know regardless. Though released in 1994, it’s now best known as the theme song from Peaky Blinders, though it also showed up in all three of the first Scream films. It’s been used to sell tequila and tourism as well.

Polyphonic first delves into the source of the title—the “Red Right Hand”—as coming from Milton’s Paradise Lost, spoken by fallen angel Belial:

“What if the breath that kindled those grim fires,
Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage,
And plunge us in the flames; or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us?”

This is the hand of God, and a vengeful, Old Testament one at that. But that will only get you so far into the lyrics of this creepy song. As Polyphonic peels back the layers of Cave’s verses, the man with the red right hand could be God, could be the Devil, could be a man, could be a ghost. He could offer you a Faustian pact, or they could take everything away immediately. It could be government, or capitalism, or the media, or materialism.

Cave, to the song’s credit, leaves everything in a liminal space (as Polyphonic illustrates with the kind of crossroads blues players love to sing about). What’s left is a warning, a sense of unease, a feeling that maybe it’s already too late. Maybe we really are just all fallen angels with no idea how to get back home to paradise.

That’s why Cave includes it in most of his live sets. He can improvise on the lines, adding, as he has been doing, references to Twitter and social media. Cave might have left his religious upbringing in his youth, but he knows that the best way to express the unease of the modern condition is to get biblical. And part of that is mystery. Even fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey knows not to go looking for answers from his friend about this particular song.

“I still find it mysterious,” he told the New York Post. “I don’t want to know the details, and I’d never ask Nick. Sometimes it’s better to think ‘What the hell’s that all about?’ It’s better that it’s unknowable and spooky.”

As a bonus, here’s Snoop Dogg’s quizzical cover version where he pushes and is pulled between his own style and Cave’s.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The Does and Don’ts of Putting on a Prison Concert: Johnny Cash, BB King, the Grateful Dead, Bonnie Tyler & The Cramps

The prison gig has been a staple of live performance since Johnny Cash played Folsom in 1968, with variations on the theme like the Cramps’ legendary performance at a California Psychiatric Hospital (revisited in the documentary We Were There to Be There). Some bands who play institutions may not be far away from inhabiting them. When the Sex Pistols played Chelmsford Prison, it was not the first time guitarist Steve Jones had been inside, what with his 14 criminal convictions. In fact, Jones has credited the band for saving him from a life of crime.

BB King gave one of the best performances of his career from behind the walls of Sing Sing, three years after Cash’s concert at San Quentin. King himself hadn’t done time, but having grown up in poverty on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, he well understood the conditions that led people to incarceration.

As his keyboardist Ron Levy said after an earlier prison concert in Cook County Jail, “If anybody had the blues, it was those people incarcerated. And BB really felt compassion for those guys.” Likewise, Johnny Cash never did hard time, but his childhood poverty, struggles with addiction, and love for underdogs and outcasts lent him an authenticity inmates recognized immediately.

Other matchups between stars and prison audiences have not only been less authentic, but sometimes downright baffling, as when Bonnie Tyler gave a concert at Long Lartin prison in England …. or so the inmates thought. It turned out Tyler had only used her audience as props for a botched music video that never aired. This, clearly, is how not to run a prison concert, also the title of the Bandsplaining video at the top, which begins with Tyler’s kerfuffle and goes on to examine the genre of prison concerts through prison concert films, TV, and albums.

Johnny Cash, the Grateful Dead, BB King, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, The Cramps, Fugazi, and Fugazi’s previous incarnation, Minor Threat, are all covered here. Missing are artists like Freddy Fender (who did it before Cash), Sonny James, and Big Mama Thornton, who released an album called Jail in 1975, compiled from two different prison performances, and who surely deserves top honors for knowing how to do it right. In prison, writes Music Times, “she finally gets to perform her hit, ‘Ball ‘n’ Chain’ — which was made famous by Janis Joplin and The Holding Company — where it was made to be played: Jail.”

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

Mozart Sonatas Can Help Treat Epilepsy: A New Study from Dartmouth

Many and bold are the claims made for the power of classical music: not just that it can enrich your aesthetic sensibility, but that it can do everything from deter juvenile delinquency to boost infant intelligence. Making claims for the latter are CDs with titles like Baby Mozart: Music to Stimulate Your Baby’s Brain, a case of trading on the name of one of the most beloved composers in music history. Alas, the proposition that classical music in general can make anyone smarter has yet to pass the most rigorous scientific trials. But recent research does suggest that Mozart’s music in particular has desirable effects on the brain: his Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major on epilepsy-afflicted brains in particular.

For about 30 years the piece has been thought to reduce symptoms of epilepsy in the brain, a phenomenon known as the “K448 effect” (the number being a reference to its place in the Köchel catalogue). Recent work by researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) and Dartmouth College’s Bregman Music and Affective Sound Lab has gone deep into the workings of that effect, and you can read the results free online: the paper “Musical Components Important for the Mozart K448 Effect in Epilepsy,” published just last month in Nature. What they’ve found suggests that the K448 effect is real: that the piece is effective, to be more specific, in “reducing ictal and interictal epileptiform activity.”

Writing for non-neuroscientists, Madeleine Mudzakis at My Modern Met explains that when the researchers “played the tune while monitoring brain implant sensors in the subjects,” they detected “events known as interictal epileptiform discharges (IEDs). These brain events are a symptom of epilepsy and are harmful to the brain.” But “after 30 seconds of listening to the sonata, the subjects experienced noticeably fewer IEDs,” and “transitions between musical phases lead to larger effects, possibly because of anticipation being created which culminates in the pleasant nature of a shifted tune.” These neurologically soothing qualities may also have something to do with the pleasure all Mozart aficionados, epileptics or otherwise, feel when they hear the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major — or what they don’t feel when they hear Wagner, whose music was here employed as the control that every proper scientific experiment needs.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

When Salvador Dali Viewed Joseph Cornell’s Surrealist Film, Became Enraged & Shouted: “He Stole It from My Subconscious!” (1936)

Did Salvador Dalí meet the diagnostic criteria for a personality disorder and maybe, also, a form of psychosis, as some have alleged? Maybe, but there’s no real way to know. “You can’t diagnose psychiatric illnesses without doing a face to face psychiatric examination,” Dutch psychiatrist Walter van den Broek writes, and it’s possible Dali “consciously created an ‘artistic’ personality… for the money or in order to succeed.” No doubt Dalí was a tireless self-promoter who marketed his work by way of a sensationalist persona.

But maybe Dalí faked symptoms of mental illness (via his understanding of Freud) in order to deliberately induce states of psychosis as part of his paranoid-critical method, a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena,” he wrote. One of Dalí’s extreme “unorthodox methods for idea generation,” the practice of pretending to be insane may have driven Dalí to believe too strongly in his own delusions at times.

Throughout the early 1930s, Dalí championed paranoia, “a form of mental illness in which reality is organized in such a manner so as to be served through the control of an imaginative construction,” he said in a 1930 lecture. “The paranoiac who thinks he is being poisoned discovers in all the things that surround him, down to their most imperceptible and subtle details, preparations for his death.” And the paranoiac Surrealist who believes he’s being robbed of his ideas may see artistic theft everywhere — especially in an exhibit of Surrealist artists that does not include him. (After all, as Dalí once declared, “I am Surrealism.”)

In 1936, Dalí attended a screening of Joseph Cornell’s short Surrealist film Rose Hobart (top), named for the obscure silent actress whose scenes Cornell excised from a “1931 jungle adventure film” called East of Borneo. Cornell took the footage, slowed it down, “chopped it up, reordered it, and discarded the entire plot,” writes Catherine Corman. “He cut out reaction shots… removed overtly upsetting scenes,” edited in scenes from other films, and “made the film seem deliberately modest and worn,” projecting it through a blue filter and scoring it with two songs from Nestor Amaral’s album Holiday in Brazil (which he’d found at a junk shop).

The screening happened to be held in New York at the same time as the Museum of Modern Art’s first exhibit of Surrealist art, an exhibition “rife with controversy,” MoMA writes, that “provoked fierce reactions from battle factions among the Dadaists and the Surrealists.” French Surrealist poet and critic André Breton, who two years earlier expelled Dalí from the Surrealist group for “the glorification of Hitlerian fascism,” wrote the catalogue introduction. The Spanish Civil War had just broken out that year, further aggravating Dalí, no doubt, when he encountered Cornell’s film at a matinee screening.

Partway through the screening of Rose Hobart, Dalí became enraged, stood up, shouting in Spanish, and overturned the projector. Later, he reportedly told Julian Levy, whose gallery held the screening: “My idea for a film is exactly that, and I was going to propose it to someone who would pay to have it made…. I never wrote it or told anyone, but it is as if [Cornell] had stolen it.” Other versions of the story had Dalí saying, “He stole it from my subconscious!” or “He stole my dreams!” Cornell had not, of course, reached into Dalí’s subconscious but had manifested the film from his own obsessions with silent film and Hollywood divas, themes that run throughout his work. After Dalí’s outburst, the shy, reclusive artist refused to screen Rose Hobart again until the 1960s.

Dalí had vanquished an imaginary rival, but perhaps his true targets — Breton and his former Surrealist colleagues — remained untouched. It would not matter: Dalí eclipsed them all in fame, especially in the age of television, which embraced the artist’s antics like no other medium. But through his performances of insanity, maybe Dalí actually did touch into a creative preconscious state shared among artists — a place in which Joseph Cornell just might have found and stolen his ideas.

In 1932, Dalí had an epiphany about Jean-Francois Millet’s The Angelus, a painting with which he’d been obsessed since childhood and that influenced him heavily as an adult, becoming a key source for his paranoid-critical method. Dalí claimed that the two farmers praying over a meager harvest were actually mourning a lost child. He persisted in this belief until the Louvre agreed to X-ray the painting. Underneath, they found a small, child-sized coffin, and at least one of Dalí’s paranoid fantasies was proved true.

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

The Beautifully Illustrated Atlas of Mushrooms: Edible, Suspect and Poisonous (1827)

Two centuries ago, Haiti, “then known as Saint-Domingue, was a sugar powerhouse that stood at the center of world trading networks,” writes Philippe Girard in his history of the Haitian war for independence. “Saint-Domingue was the perle de Antilles… the largest exporter of tropical products in the world.” The island colony was also at the center of the trade in plants that drove the scientific revolution of the time, and many a naturalist profited from the trade in slaves and sugar, as did planter, “physician, botanist, and inadvertent historiographer of the Haitian Revolution” Michel Etienne Descourtilz, the Public Domain Review writes.

Descourtilz’ 1809 Voyages d’un naturaliste “chronicles, among other adventures, a trip from France to Haiti in 1799 in order to secure his family’s plantations.” Instead, he was arrested and conscripted as a doctor under Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

The experience did not change his view that the island should be reconquered, though he did admit “the germ” of rebellion “must secretly have existed everywhere there were slaves.” Decourtilz chiefly spent his time, while not attending to those wounded by Napoleon’s army, collecting plants between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien.

In the dense tropical growth along the Artibonite river, now part of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Decourtilz learned much about the plant world — and maybe learned from some Haitians who knew more about the island’s flora than the Frenchman did. Rescued in 1802, Decourtilz returned to France with his plants and began to compile his research into taxonomic books, including Flores pittoresque et medicale des Antilles, in eight volumes, and a later, 1827 work entitled Atlas des champignons: comestibles, suspects et vénéneux, or “Atlas of mushrooms: edible, suspect and poisonous.”

As the title makes clear, sorting out the differences between one mushroom and another can easily be a matter of life and death, or at least serious poisoning. “Fly agaric, for example,” writes the Public Domain Review, “can resemble edible species of blushers.” Consumed in small amounts, it might cause hallucinations and euphoria. Larger doses can lead to seizures and coma. One can imagine the numbers of colonists in the French Caribbean who either had very bad trips or were poisoned or killed by unfamiliar plant life. Just last year alone in France, hundreds were poisoned from misidentified mushrooms.

To guide the mushroom hunter, cook, and eater, Decourtiliz’s book featured these rich, colorful lithographs here by artist A. Cornillon (which may remind us of the proto-psychedelic scientific art of Ernst Haeckel). He alludes to the great dangers of wild mushrooms in a dedication to “S.A.R., Duchesse de Berry” and promises his guide will prevent “mortal accidents” (those which “frequently occur among the poor.”) Descourtilz offers his guide, accessible to all, he writes, out of a devotion to the alleviation of human suffering. Read his Atlas of Mushrooms, in French at the Internet Archive, and see more of Cornillon’s illustrations here.

via Public Domain Review

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

A 13th-Century Cookbook Featuring 475 Recipes from Moorish Spain Gets Published in a New Translated Edition

Some of the distinctiveness of Spain as we know it today comes as a legacy of the period from 700 to 1200, when most of it was under Muslim rule. The culture of Al-Andalus, as the Islamic states of modern-day Spain and Portugal were then called, survives most visibly in architecture. But it also had its own cuisine, developed by not just Muslims, but by Christians and Jews as well. Whatever the dietary restrictions they individually worked under, “cooks from all three religions enjoyed many ingredients first brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Arabs: rice, eggplants, carrots, lemons, sugar, almonds, and more.”

So writes Atlas Obscura’s Tom Verde in an article occasioned by the publication of a thirteenth-century Moorish cookbook. Fiḍālat al-Khiwān fī Ṭayyibāt al-Ṭaʿām wa-l-Alwān, or Best of Delectable Foods and Dishes from al-Andalus and al-Maghrib had long existed only in bits and pieces. A “maddeningly incomplete carrot recipe, along with missing chapters on vegetables, sauces, pickled foods, and more, left a gaping hole in all existing editions of the text, like an empty aisle in the grocery store.” But in 2018, British Library curator of Arabic scientific manuscripts Dr. Bink Hallum happened upon a nearly complete fifteenth- or sixteenth-century copy of the Fiḍāla within a manuscript on medieval Arab pharmacology.

The Fiḍāla itself dates to around 1260. It was composed in Tunis by Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī, “a well-educated scholar and poet from a wealthy family of lawyers, philosophers, and writers. As a member of the upper class, he enjoyed a life of leisure and fine dining which he set out to celebrate in the Fiḍāla.” The Christian Reconquista had already put a bitter end to all that leisure and fine dining, and it was in relatively hardscrabble African exile that al-Tujībī wrote this less as a cookbook than as “an exercise in culinary nostalgia, a wistful look back across the Strait of Gibraltar to the elegant main courses, side dishes, and desserts of the author’s youth, an era before Spain’s Muslims and Jews had to hide their cultural cuisines.”

That description comes from food historian Nawal Nasrallah, translator of the complete Fiḍāla into an English edition published last month by Brill. In some of its sections al-Tujībī covers breads, vegetables, poultry dishes, and “meats of quadrupeds”; in others, he goes into detail on stuffed tripe, “edible land snails,” and techniques for “remedying overly salty foods and raw meat that does not smell fresh.” (The book includes 475 recipes in total.) Though much in the Moorish diet is a far cry from that of the majority in modern English-speaking countries, interest in historical gastronomy has been on the rise in recent years. And as even those separated from al-Tujībī by not just culture but seven centuries’ worth of time know, whatever your reasons for leaving a place, you soon long for nothing as acutely as the food — and that longing can motivate impressive achievements.

via Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

A Beautifully Illustrated Edition of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, the Bestselling Book by Historian Timothy Snyder

For all its talk of liberty, the US government has practiced dehumanizing authoritarianism and mass murder since its founding. And since the rise of fascism in the early 20th century, it has never been self-evident that it cannot happen here. On the contrary — wrote Yale historian Timothy Snyder before and throughout the Trump presidency — it happened here first, though many would like us to forget. The histories of southern slavocracy and manifest destiny directly informed Hitler’s plans for the German colonization of Europe as much as did Europe’s 20th-century colonization of Africa and Asia.

Snyder is not a scholar of American history, though he has much to say about his country’s present. His work has focused on WWII’s totalitarian regimes and his popular books draw from a “deep knowledge of twentieth-century European history,” write Françoise Mouly and Genevieve Bormes at The New Yorker.

These books include bestsellers like Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and the controversial Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, a book whose arguments, he said, “are clearly not my effort to win a popularity contest.”

Indeed, the problem with rigid conformity to populist ideas became the subject of Snyder’s 2017 bestseller, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, “a slim volume,” Mouly and Bormes note, “which interspersed maxims such as ‘Be kind to our language’ and ‘Defend institutions’ with biographical and historical sketches.” (We posted an abridged version of Snyder’s 20 lessons that year.) On Tyranny became an “instant best-seller… for those who were looking for ways to combat the insidious creep of authoritarianism at home.”

If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, maybe you’ve noticed that the threat has not receded. Ideas about how to combat anti-democratic movements remain relevant as ever. It’s also important to remember that Snyder’s book dates from a particular moment in time and draws on a particular historical perspective. Contextual details that can get lost in writing come to the fore in images — clothing, cars, the use of color or black and white: these all key us in to the historicity of his observations.


“We don’t exist in a vacuum,” says artist Nora Krug, the designer and illustrator of a new, graphic edition of On Tyranny just released this month. “I use a variety of visual styles and techniques to emphasize the fragmentary nature of memory and the emotive effects of historical events.” Krug worked from artifacts she found at flea markets and antique stores, “depositories of our collective consciousness,” as she writes in an introductory note to the new edition.

Krug’s choice of a variety of mediums and creative approaches “allows me to admit,” she says, “that we can only exist in relationship to the past, that everything we think and feel is thought and felt in reference to it, that our future is deeply rooted in our history, and that we will always be active contributors to shaping how the past is viewed and what our future will look like.”

It’s an approach also favored by Snyder, who does not shy away, like many historians, from explicitly making connections between past, present, and possible future events. “It’s easy for historians to say, ‘It’s not our job to write the future,’” he told The New York Times in 2015. “Yes, right. But then whose job is it?” See many more images from the illustrated On Tyranny at The New Yorker and purchase a copy of the book here.

Via Kottke

Related Content:

20 Lessons from the 20th Century About How to Defend Democracy from Authoritarianism, According to Yale Historian Timothy Snyder

The Story of Fascism: Rick Steves’ Documentary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Century

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism

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

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Nick Cave’s Online Store: Pencils Adorned with Lyrics, Mugs, Polaroids & More

I’m sitting on the balcony
Reading Flannery O’Connor
With a pencil and a plan

– Nick Cave, Carnage

Access to technology has transformed the creative process, and many artists who’ve come to depend on it have long ceased to marvel at the labor and time saved, seething with resentment when devices and digital access fails.

Musician Nick Cave, founder and frontman of The Bad Seeds, is one who hasn’t abandoned his analog ways, whether he’s in the act of generating new songs, or seeking respite from the same.

“There has always been a strong, even obsessive, visual component to the (songwriting) process,” he writes, “a compulsive rendering of the lyric as a thing to be seen, to be touched, to be examined:”

I have always done this—basically drawn my songs—for as long as I’ve been writing them…when the pressure of song writing gets too much, well, I draw a cute animal or a naked woman or a religious icon or a mythological creature or something. Or I take a Polaroid or make something out of clay. I do a collage, or write a child’s poem and date stamp and sticker it, or do some granny-art with a set of watercolour paints. 

Last year, these extra creative labors became fruits in their own right, with the opening of Cave Things, an online shop well stocked with quirky objects “conceived, sourced, shaped, and designed” by the musician.

These include such longtime fascinations as prayer cards, picture discs, and Polaroids, and a series of enameled charms and ceramic figures that evoke Victorian Staffordshire “flatbacks.”

T-shirts, guitar picks and egg cups may come graced with doodles of frequent collaborator Warren Ellis‘ bearded mug, or the aforementioned naked women, which Cage describes to Interview’s Ben Barna as “a compulsive habit I have had since my school days”:

They have no artistic merit. Rather, they are evidence of a kind of ritualistic and habitual thinking, not dissimilar to the act of writing itself, actually.

Of all of Cave’s Cave Things, the ones with the broadest appeal may be the pencil sets personalized with thematic snippets of his lyrics.

White god pencils quote from “Into My Arms,” “Idiot Prayer,” “Mermaids,”  and “Hand of God.”

A red devil pencil bearing lines from “Brompton Oratory” slips a bit of god into the mix, as well as a reference to the sea, a frequent Cave motif.

Madness and war pencils are counterbalanced by pencils celebrating love and flowers.

The pencils are Vikings, a classic Danish brand well known to pencil nerds, hard and black on the graphite scale.

Put them all in a cup and draw one out at random, or let your mood or feelings about what said pencil will be writing or drawing determine your pick.

Meanwhile Cave’s implements of choice may surprise you. As he told NME’s Will Richards last December:

My process of lyric writing is as follows: For months, I write down ideas in a notebook with a Bic medium ballpoint pen in black. At some point, the songs begin to reveal themselves, to take some kind of form, which is when I type the new lyrics into my laptop. Here, I begin the long process of working on the words, adding verses, taking them away, and refining the language, until the song arrives at its destination. At this stage, I take one of the yellowing back pages I have cut from old second-hand books, and, on my Olympia typewriter, type out the lyrics. I then glue it into my bespoke notebook, number it, date-stamp it, and sticker it. The song is then ‘officially’ completed.

Hmm. No pencils, though there’s a reference to a blind pencil seller in Cave’s contribution to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ science fiction epic Until the End of the World.

Two more lyrics about pencils and he’ll have enough to put a Pencil Pencils set up on Cave Things!

Follow Cave Things on Instagram to keep tabs on new pencil drops.

Related Content: 

Nick Cave Answers the Hotly Debated Question: Will Artificial Intelligence Ever Be Able to Write a Great Song?

Listen to Nick Cave’s Lecture on the Art of Writing Sublime Love Songs (1999)

Animated Stories Written by Tom Waits, Nick Cave & Other Artists, Read by Danny Devito, Zach Galifianakis & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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