Hear Leo Tolstoy Read From His Last Major Work in Four Languages, 1909

In years past, we’ve brought you rare record­ings of Sig­mund Freud and Jorge Luis Borges speak­ing in Eng­lish. Today we present a remark­able series of record­ings of the great Russ­ian nov­el­ist Leo Tol­stoy read­ing a pas­sage from his book, Wise Thoughts for Every Day, in four lan­guages: Eng­lish, Ger­man, French and Russ­ian.

Wise Thoughts For Every Day was Tol­stoy’s last major work. It first appeared in 1903 as The Thoughts of Wise Men, and was revised and renamed sev­er­al times before the author’s death in 1910. Even­tu­al­ly banned by the Sovi­et regime, the book reap­peared in 1995 as a best­seller in Rus­sia. Then, in 1997, the text was trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Peter Sekirin and pub­lished as A Cal­en­dar of Wis­dom. The book is a col­lec­tion of pas­sages from a diverse group of thinkers, rang­ing from Laozi to Ralph Wal­do Emer­son. “I felt that I have been ele­vat­ed to great spir­i­tu­al and moral heights by com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the best and wis­est peo­ple whose books I read and whose thoughts I select­ed for my Cir­cle of Read­ing,” wrote Tol­stoy in his diary.

As an old man (watch video of him short­ly before he died) Tol­stoy reject­ed his great works of fic­tion, believ­ing that it was more impor­tant to give moral and spir­i­tu­al guid­ance to the com­mon peo­ple. “To cre­ate a book for the mass­es, for mil­lions of peo­ple,” wrote Tol­stoy, “is incom­pa­ra­bly more impor­tant and fruit­ful than to com­pose a nov­el of the kind which diverts some mem­bers of the wealthy class­es for a short time, and then is for­ev­er for­got­ten.”

Tol­stoy arranged his book for the mass­es as a cal­en­dar, with a series of read­ings for each day of the year. For exam­ple under the date, May 9, Tol­stoy selects brief pas­sages from Immanuel Kant, Solon, and the Koran. Under­neath he writes, “We can­not stop on the way to self-per­fec­tion. As soon as you notice that you have a big­ger inter­est in the out­er world than in your­self, then you should know that the world moves behind you.”

The audio record­ings above were made at the writer’s home in Yas­naya Polyana on Octo­ber 31, 1909, when he was 81 years old. He died just over a year lat­er. Tol­stoy appar­ent­ly trans­lat­ed the pas­sage him­self. The Eng­lish ver­sion sounds a bit like the King James Bible. The words are hard to make out in the record­ing, but he says:

That the object of life is self-per­fec­tion, the per­fec­tion of all immor­tal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be cor­rect by the fact alone that every oth­er object is essen­tial­ly a new object. There­fore, the ques­tion whether thou hast done what thou shoudst have done is of immense impor­tance, for the only mean­ing of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?

Tol­stoy is known to have made sev­er­al voice record­ings in his life, dat­ing back to 1895 when he made two wax cylin­der record­ings for Julius Block. Russ­ian lit­er­ary schol­ar Andrew D. Kauf­man has col­lect­ed three more vin­tage record­ings (all in Russ­ian) includ­ing Tol­stoy’s les­son to peas­ant chil­dren on his estate, a read­ing of his fairy tale “The Wolf,” and an excerpt from his essay “I Can­not be Silent.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Last Days of Leo Tol­stoy Cap­tured on Video

Leo Tol­stoy Cre­ates a List of the 50+ Books That Influ­enced Him Most (1891)

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Leo Tol­stoy, and How His Great Nov­els Can Increase Your Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence

Leo Tolstoy’s 17 “Rules of Life:” Wake at 5am, Help the Poor, & Only Two Broth­el Vis­its Per Month

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 1 ) |

RIP Paul Auster: Hear the Master of the Postmodern Page-Turner Discuss How He Became a Writer

In the Louisiana Chan­nel inter­view clip from 2017 above, the late Paul Auster tells the sto­ry of how he became a writer. Its first episode had appeared more than twen­ty years ear­li­er, in a New York­er piece titled “Why Write?”: “I was eight years old. At that moment in my life, noth­ing was more impor­tant to me than base­ball.” After the first big-league game he ever went to see, the New York Giants ver­sus the Mil­wau­kee Braves at the Polo Grounds, he came face-to-face with a leg­end-to-be named Willie Mays. “I man­aged to keep my legs mov­ing in his direc­tion and then, mus­ter­ing every ounce of my courage, I forced some words out of my mouth. ‘Mr. Mays,’ I said, ‘could I please have your auto­graph?’ ”

Mays says yes, but there was a prob­lem: “I didn’t have a pen­cil, so I asked my father if I could bor­row his. He didn’t have one, either. Nor did my moth­er. Nor, as it turned out, did any of the oth­er grownups.” Even­tu­al­ly, the young Auster’s idol “turned to me and shrugged. ‘Sor­ry, kid,’ he said. ‘Ain’t got no pen­cil, can’t give no auto­graph.’ And then he walked out of the ball­park into the night.” From that point on, as the mid­dle-aged Auster tells it, “it became a habit of mine nev­er to leave the house with­out mak­ing sure I had a pen­cil in my pock­et.” Even in this child­hood anec­dote, read­ers will rec­og­nize some of Auster’s sig­na­ture ele­ments: the icons of mid-cen­tu­ry New York, the life-chang­ing chance encounter, the state of bit­ter regret.

But it takes more than a pen­cil to become a writer. “The thing about doing this, which is unlike any oth­er job, is that you have to give max­i­mum effort, all the time,” Auster says. “You have to give every ounce of your being to what you’re doing, and I don’t think there are many jobs that require that. You see lazy lawyers, lazy doc­tors, lazy judges. They can get through things. You even see lazy ath­letes.” But “you can’t be a writer or a painter or a musi­cian unless you make max­i­mum effort.” Even after pro­duc­ing noth­ing usable in one of his usu­al eight-hour writ­ing shifts, “I can at least stand up and say, at the end of the day, I gave it every­thing I had. I tried 100 per­cent. And there’s some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about that, just try­ing as hard as you can to do some­thing.”

There’s some­thing thor­ough­ly Amer­i­can about these words, as indeed there’s some­thing thor­ough­ly Amer­i­can about Auster’s twen­ty post­mod­ern page-turn­ers (to say noth­ing of his many vol­umes of non­fic­tion and poet­ry). Yet he also had one foot in France, where he lived in the ear­ly nine­teen-sev­en­ties, and sev­er­al of whose respect­ed writ­ers — Sartre, Mal­lar­mé, Blan­chot — he trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. He gained his first and most fer­vent fan­base there, becom­ing a beloved écrivain amer­i­can of long stand­ing. The announce­ment of his death on April 30th must have set off some­thing like a nation­al day of mourn­ing, and an occa­sion to remem­ber what he once said to France Inter: just as a writer should always car­ry a pen­cil, “cha­cun doit être prêt à mourir n’im­porte quand.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear Paul Auster Read the Entire­ty of The Red Note­book, an Ear­ly Col­lec­tion of Sto­ries

Paul Auster Reads from New Nov­el Sun­set Park

Read and Hear Famous Writ­ers (and Arm­chair Sports­men) J. M. Coet­zee and Paul Auster’s Cor­re­spon­dence

Philip Roth Pre­dicts the Death of the Nov­el; Paul Auster Coun­ters

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.

An Archive of Vividly Illustrated Japanese Schoolbooks, from the 1800s to World War II

If you want to appre­ci­ate Japan­ese books, it helps to be able to read Japan­ese books. It helps, but it’s not 100 per­cent nec­es­sary: even if you’ve nev­er learned a sin­gle kan­ji char­ac­ter, you’ve prob­a­bly mar­veled at one time or anoth­er at the aes­thet­ics of Japan’s print cul­ture. Maybe you’ve even done so here at Open Cul­ture, where we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured archives of Japan­ese books going back to the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, a col­lec­tion of Japan­ese wave and rip­ple designs from 1980, a Japan­ese edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables from 1925, and even a fan­tas­ti­cal his­to­ry of Amer­i­ca from 1861 — all of which dis­play a height­ened design sen­si­bil­i­ty not as eas­i­ly found in oth­er lands.

The same even holds true for Japan­ese school­books and oth­er edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als, a dig­i­tal archive of which you can explore on the web site of Japan’s Nation­al Insti­tute for Edu­ca­tion­al Pol­i­cy Research. “Rang­ing from brush paint­ing guides to ele­men­tary read­ers to the geog­ra­phy of Koshi Province — now the Hokuriku region — hun­dreds of dig­i­tal scans reveal what stu­dents were learn­ing in school more than 100 years ago,” writes Colos­sal’s Kate Moth­es.

Cer­tain pub­li­ca­tions, like the epis­to­lary 冨士野往来 (“Mount Fuji Com­ings and Goings”) from 1674, date back much fur­ther. But only a cou­ple of cen­turies lat­er did Japan­ese books start inte­grat­ing the col­or­ful art­work that still looks so vivid to us today. You’ll find par­tic­u­lar­ly rich exam­ples of such books in the sec­tions of the archive ded­i­cat­ed to edu­ca­tion­al pic­tures, wall charts, and sug­oroku, a kind of tra­di­tion­al board game.

Orig­i­nal­ly pro­duced, for the most part, in the mid-to-late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry (though with some items as recent as the time of World War II), these pro­vide a look at the world­view that Japan pre­sent­ed to its young stu­dents dur­ing a peri­od when, not long emerged from more than 200 years of delib­er­ate iso­la­tion, the coun­try was tak­ing in for­eign influ­ence — and espe­cial­ly West­ern influ­ence — at a break­neck pace.

But despite a vari­ety of pro­posed dra­mat­ic lan­guage reforms (which would lat­er include the whole­sale adop­tion of Eng­lish), Japan would con­tin­ue almost exclu­sive­ly to speak and read Japan­ese. If you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing it your­self, the read­ing mate­ri­als in this archive will sure­ly work as well for you as they did for the stu­dents of the eigh­teen-nineties. And even if you’re not, they’re still time­less object lessons in edu­ca­tion­al illus­tra­tion and design. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

via Colos­sal/Present & Cor­rect

Relat­ed con­tent:

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

Behold A Gram­mar of Japan­ese Orna­ment and Design: The 19th Cen­tu­ry Book That Intro­duced West­ern Audi­ences to Japan­ese Art (1880)

Down­load Clas­sic Japan­ese Wave and Rip­ple Designs: A Go-to Guide for Japan­ese Artists from 1903

The Japan­ese Fairy Tale Series: The Illus­trat­ed Books That Intro­duced West­ern Read­ers to Japan­ese Tales (1885–1922)

A Won­der­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed 1925 Japan­ese Edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables by Leg­endary Children’s Book Illus­tra­tor Takeo Takei

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.

Free: Download the The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, The Anarchist’s Design Book, The Anarchist’s Workbench & Other Woodworking Texts

For Christo­pher Schwarz, Amer­i­can anar­chism isn’t “about bombs and leather jack­ets; it’s about being an inde­pen­dent design­er.” It’s about work­ing out­side “mas­sive and dehu­man­iz­ing insti­tu­tions” (like cor­po­ra­tions) and design­ing beau­ti­ful objects that last. He writes: “As a design­er of books, tools and fur­ni­ture, I have zero desire to make things that are intend­ed from the get-go to fall apart.” Based in Cov­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, Schwarz runs a small wood­work­ing busi­ness where he hand­crafts beau­ti­ful tables, chairs and oth­er pieces of fur­ni­ture. He also runs Lost Art Press, which pub­lish­es books like The Anarchist’s Tool ChestThe Anarchist’s Design Book, The Anarchist’s Work­bench, and oth­er titles.

His “Anar­chist” series of books “rep­re­sent a 10-year effort to make wood­work­ing more acces­si­ble, afford­able and eth­i­cal – and less com­mer­cial.” Typ­i­cal­ly the print edi­tions run $30-$54. But, to the delight of many fel­low wood­work­ers, Schwarz has made sev­er­al edi­tions avail­able as free dig­i­tal down­loads. This includes (as of this week) The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, which “shows you how you can build fur­ni­ture with only a small kit of high-qual­i­ty tools. The first half of the book explains in detail how to choose the right tools… The sec­ond half of the book shows you how to build a tra­di­tion­al tool chest to hold these tools.” To find a com­plete list of books avail­able as free down­loads, see the list below.


How the Year 2440 Was Imagined in a 1771 French Sci-Fi Novel

Many Amer­i­cans might think of Rip Van Win­kle as the first man to nod off and wake up in the dis­tant future. But as often seems to have been the case in the sev­en­teenth and eigh­teenth cen­turies, the French got there first. Almost 50 years before Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing’s short sto­ry, Louis-Sébastien Merci­er’s utopi­an nov­el L’An 2440, rêve s’il en fut jamais (1771) sent its sleep­ing pro­tag­o­nist six and a half cen­turies for­ward in time. Read today, as it is in the new Kings and Things video above, the book appears in rough­ly equal parts uncan­ni­ly prophet­ic and hope­less­ly root­ed in its time — set­ting the prece­dent, you could say, for much of the yet-to-be-invent­ed genre of sci­ence fic­tion.

Pub­lished in Eng­lish as Mem­oirs of the Year Two Thou­sand Five Hun­dred (of which both Thomas Jef­fer­son and George Wash­ing­ton owned copies), Mercier’s nov­el envi­sions “a world where some tech­no­log­i­cal progress has been made, but the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion nev­er hap­pened. It’s a world where an agrar­i­an soci­ety has invent­ed some­thing resem­bling holo­gram tech­nol­o­gy, where Penn­syl­va­nia is ruled by an Aztec emper­or, and drink­ing cof­fee is a crim­i­nal offense.” Its set­ting, Paris, “has been com­plete­ly reor­ga­nized. The chaot­ic medieval fab­ric has made way for grand and beau­ti­ful streets built in straight lines, sim­i­lar to what actu­al­ly hap­pened in Hauss­man­n’s ren­o­va­tion a bit under a cen­tu­ry after the book was pub­lished.”

Merci­er could­n’t have known about that ambi­tious work of urban renew­al avant la let­tre any more than he could have known about the rev­o­lu­tion that was to come in just eigh­teen years. Yet he wrote with cer­tain­ty that “the Bastille has been torn down, although not by a rev­o­lu­tion, but by a king.” Mercier’s twen­ty-fifth-cen­tu­ry France remains a monar­chy, but it has become a benev­o­lent, enlight­ened one whose cit­i­zens rejoice at the chance to pay tax beyond the amount they owe. More real­is­ti­cal­ly, if less ambi­tious­ly, the book’s unstuck-in-time hero also mar­vels at the fact that traf­fic trav­el­ing in one direc­tion uses one side of the street, and traf­fic trav­el­ing in the oth­er direc­tion uses the oth­er, hav­ing come from a time when roads were more of a free-for-all.

L’An 2440, rêve s’il en fut jamais offers the rare exam­ple of a far-future utopia with­out high tech­nol­o­gy. “If any­thing, France is more agrar­i­an than in the past,” with no inter­est even in devel­op­ing the abil­i­ty to grow cher­ries in the win­ter­time. Many of the inven­tions that would have struck Mercier’s con­tem­po­rary read­ers as fan­tas­ti­cal, such as an elab­o­rate device for repli­cat­ing the human voice, seem mun­dane today. Nev­er­the­less, it all reflects the spir­it of progress that was sweep­ing Europe in the late eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry. Merci­er was reformer enough to have his coun­try aban­don slav­ery and colo­nial­ism, but French enough to feel cer­tain that la mis­sion civil­isatrice would con­tin­ue apace, to the point of imag­in­ing that the French lan­guage would be wide­ly spo­ken in Chi­na. These days, a sci-fi nov­el­ist would sure­ly put it the oth­er way around.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Old­est Voic­es That We Can Still Hear: Hear Audio Record­ings of Ghost­ly Voic­es from the 1800s

Jules Verne Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts What the 20th Cen­tu­ry Will Look Like in His Lost Nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (1863)

In 1896, a French Car­toon­ist Pre­dict­ed Our Social­ly-Dis­tanced Zoom Hol­i­day Gath­er­ings

How French Artists in 1899 Envi­sioned What Life Would Look Like in the Year 2000

1902 French Trad­ing Cards Imag­ine “Women of the Future”

A 1947 French Film Accu­rate­ly Pre­dict­ed Our 21st-Cen­tu­ry Addic­tion to Smart­phones

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.

The Book of Colour Concepts: A New 800-Page Celebration of Color Theory, Including Works by Newton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

The Book of Colour Con­cepts will soon be pub­lished by Taschen in a mul­ti­lin­gual edi­tion, con­tain­ing text in Eng­lish, French, Ger­man, and Span­ish. This choice makes its abun­dance of explana­to­ry schol­ar­ship wide­ly acces­si­ble at a stroke, but even those who read none of those four lan­guages can enjoy the book. For it takes a deep dive — with Taschen’s char­ac­ter­is­tic visu­al lav­ish­ness — into one of the tru­ly uni­ver­sal lan­guages: that of col­or. Through­out its two vol­umes, The Book of Colour Con­cepts presents more than 1000 images drawn from four cen­turies’ worth of “rare books and man­u­scripts from a wealth of insti­tu­tions, includ­ing the most dis­tin­guished col­or col­lec­tions world­wide.”

Repro­duced with­in are selec­tions from more than 65 books and man­u­scripts, includ­ing such “sem­i­nal works of col­or the­o­ry” as Isaac Newton’s Opticks and Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe’s Zur Far­ben­lehre, as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

Kate Moth­es at Colos­sal adds that “read­ers will also find stud­ies from Col­or Prob­lems, the ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry hand­book by Emi­ly Noyes Van­der­poel, which described the­o­ries that would trend in sub­se­quent decades in design and art, like Joseph Albers’s series Homage to the Square.” In The Book of Colour Con­cepts’ 800 pages also appear a vari­ety of works that don’t belong, strict­ly speak­ing, to the field of col­or the­o­ry, such as a botan­i­cal note­book by the spir­i­tu­al­ist and ear­ly abstract artist Hilma af Klint.

Co-authors Sarah Lowen­gard and Alexan­dra Loske bring seri­ous cre­den­tials to this endeav­or: Lowen­gard is a his­to­ri­an of tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence with more than 40 years’ expe­ri­ence as an “arti­san col­or-mak­er,” and Loske is an art his­to­ri­an and cura­tor who spe­cial­izes in “the role of women in the his­to­ry of col­or.” Both would no doubt agree on the spe­cial val­ue of revis­it­ing the his­to­ry of this par­tic­u­lar sub­ject here in the ear­ly twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, with all its dis­course about the dis­ap­pear­ance of col­or from our every­day lives. It’s wor­ri­some enough that spo­ken and writ­ten lan­guages out­side the Eng­lish-French-Ger­man-Span­ish league seem to be declin­ing; rel­e­gat­ing our­selves to an ever-nar­row­ing vocab­u­lary of col­or would be an even graver loss indeed.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete High-Res­o­lu­tion Dig­i­tal Scan

William Blake’s 102 Illus­tra­tions of The Divine Com­e­dy Col­lect­ed in a Beau­ti­ful Book from Taschen

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

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

A Vision­ary 115-Year-Old Col­or The­o­ry Man­u­al Returns to Print: Emi­ly Noyes Vanderpoel’s Col­or Prob­lems

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.

Frank Herbert Explains the Origins of Dune (1969)

Dune: Part Two has been play­ing in the­aters for less than a week, but that’s more than enough time for its view­ers to joke about the apt­ness of its title. For while it comes, of course, as the sec­ond half of Denis Vil­leneu­ve’s adap­ta­tion of Frank Her­bert’s influ­en­tial sci-fi nov­el, it also con­tains a great many heaps of sand. Such visu­als hon­or not just the sto­ry’s set­ting, but also the form of Her­bert’s inspi­ra­tion to write Dune and its sequels in the first place. The idea for the whole saga came about, he says in the 1969 inter­view above, because he’d want­ed to write an arti­cle “about the con­trol of sand dunes.”

“I’m always fas­ci­nat­ed by the idea of some­thing that is either seen in minia­ture and that can be expand­ed to the macro­cosm or which, but for the dif­fer­ence in time, in the flow rate, and the entropy rate, is sim­i­lar to oth­er fea­tures which we wouldn’t think were sim­i­lar,” he goes on to explain. When viewed the right way, sand dunes turn out to behave “like waves in a large body of water; they just are slow­er. And the peo­ple treat­ing them as flu­id learn to con­trol them.” After enough research on this sub­ject, “I had some­thing enor­mous­ly inter­est­ing going for me about the ecol­o­gy of deserts, and it was — for a sci­ence fic­tion writer, any­way — it was an easy step from that to think: What if I had an entire plan­et that was a desert?”

That may have turned out to be one of the defin­ing ideas of Dune, but there are plen­ty of oth­ers in there with it. “We all know that many reli­gions began in a desert atmos­phere,” Her­bert says, “so I decid­ed to put the two togeth­er because I don’t think that any one sto­ry should have any one thread. I build on a lay­er tech­nique, and of course putting in reli­gion and reli­gious ideas you can play one against the oth­er.” And “of course, in study­ing sand dunes, you imme­di­ate­ly get into not just the Ara­bi­an mys­tique but the Nava­jo mys­tique and the mys­tique of the Kala­hari prim­i­tives and all.” From his tech­ni­cal curios­i­ty about sand, the sto­ry’s host of eco­log­i­cal, reli­gious, lin­guis­tic, polit­i­cal, and indeed civ­i­liza­tion­al themes emerged.

Con­duct­ed in Her­bert’s Fair­fax, Cal­i­for­nia home in 1969 by lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor and sci­ence-fic­tion enthu­si­ast Willis E. McNel­ly (who would lat­er com­pile The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia), the inter­view goes down a num­ber of intel­lec­tu­al byways that will be fas­ci­nat­ing to curi­ous fans. In its eighty min­utes, Her­bert reflects on every­thing from cor­po­ra­tions to hip­pies, the tarot to Zen, and Lawrence of Ara­bia to John F. Kennedy. The late pres­i­den­t’s then-just-begin­ning sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca gets him talk­ing about one of Dune’s threads in par­tic­u­lar, about the “way a mes­si­ah is cre­at­ed in our soci­ety.” The ele­va­tion of a mes­si­ah is an act of myth-mak­ing, after all, and “man must rec­og­nize the myth he is liv­ing in.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia: The Con­tro­ver­sial, Defin­i­tive Guide to the World of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Mas­ter­piece (1984)

The 14-Hour Epic Film, Dune, That Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, Pink Floyd, Sal­vador Dalí, Moe­bius, Orson Welles & Mick Jag­ger Nev­er Made

The Dune Fran­chise Tries Again — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #110

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 Jane Austen Changed Fiction Forever

Though Jane Austen has­n’t pub­lished a nov­el since 1817 — with her death that same year being a rea­son­able excuse — her appeal as a lit­er­ary brand remains prac­ti­cal­ly unpar­al­leled in its class. This cen­tu­ry has offered its own film and tele­vi­sion ver­sions of all her major nov­els from Sense and Sen­si­bil­i­ty to Per­sua­sion, and even minor ones like San­di­tion and Lady Susan. As for the loos­er adap­ta­tions and Austen-inspired works in oth­er media, it would be dif­fi­cult even to count them. But to under­stand why Austen endures, we must go back to Austen her­self: to nov­els, that is, and to the enter­tain­ing­ly inno­v­a­tive man­ner in which she wrote them.

At the begin­ning of her very first book says Evan Puschak, Austen “did some­thing that changed fic­tion for­ev­er.” Puschak, bet­ter known as the Nerd­writer, has in his lat­est video cho­sen Sense and Sen­si­bil­i­ty as an exam­ple with which to explain the key tech­nique that set its author’s work apart. When, in the scene in ques­tion, the dying Hen­ry Dash­wood makes his son John promise to take care of his three half-sis­ters, the younger man inward­ly resolves to him­self to give them a thou­sand pounds each. “Yes, he would give them three thou­sand pounds,” Austen writes. “It would be lib­er­al and hand­some! It would be enough to make them com­plete­ly easy. Three thou­sand pounds! He could spare so lit­tle a sum with a lit­tle incon­ve­nience.”

What, exact­ly, is going on here? Before this pas­sage, Puschak explains, “the nar­ra­tor is describ­ing the thoughts and feel­ings of John Dash­wood.” But then, “some­thing changes: it’s sud­den­ly as if we’re inside John’s mind. And yet, the point of view does­n’t change: we’re still in the third per­son.” This is a notable ear­ly exam­ple of what’s called “free indi­rect style,” which lit­er­ary crit­ic D. A. Miller describes as a “tech­nique of close writ­ing that Austen more or less invent­ed for the Eng­lish nov­el.” When she employs it, “the nar­ra­tion’s way of say­ing is con­stant­ly both mim­ic­k­ing, and dis­tanc­ing itself from, the char­ac­ter’s way of see­ing.”

In his book Jane Austen, or The Secret of Style, Miller pays a good deal of atten­tion to the lat­er Emma, with its “unprece­dent­ed promi­nence of free indi­rect style.” When, in Austen’s hand, that style “mim­ics Emma’s thoughts and feel­ings, it simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inflects them into keen­er obser­va­tions of its own; for our ben­e­fit, if nev­er for hers, it iden­ti­fies, ridicules, cor­rects all the secret van­i­ties and self-decep­tions of which Emma, pleased as Punch, remains com­i­cal­ly uncon­scious. And this is gen­er­al­ly what being a char­ac­ter in Austen means: to be slapped sil­ly by a nar­ra­tion whose con­stant bat­ter­ing; how­ev­er sat­is­fy­ing — or ter­ri­fy­ing — to read­ers, its recip­i­ent is kept from even notic­ing.” Austen may have been a nov­el­ist of great tech­ni­cal pro­fi­cien­cy and social acu­ity, but she also under­stood the eter­nal human plea­sure of shar­ing a laugh at the delu­sion­al behind their back.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Jane Austen

Down­load the Major Works of Jane Austen as Free eBooks & Audio Books

15-Year-Old Jane Austen Writes a Satir­i­cal His­to­ry Of Eng­land: Read the Hand­writ­ten Man­u­script Online (1791)

This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen: The Neu­ro­science of Read­ing Great Lit­er­a­ture

Jane Austen Writes a Let­ter to Her Sis­ter While Hung Over: “I Believe I Drank Too Much Wine Last Night”

The Jane Austen Fic­tion Man­u­script Archive Is Online: Explore Hand­writ­ten Drafts of Per­sua­sion, The Wat­sons & More

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.

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