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.

A Look Inside David Bowie & Iman’s Beautiful Mountain Home

It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine Iman and David Bowie invit­ing Vogue read­ers to join them on the above vir­tu­al tour of their moun­tain­top home near Wood­stock, New York when the rock leg­end was alive.

Grant­ed, short­ly after their 1992 wed­ding, he gave Archi­tec­tur­al Digest a peek at their ultra-lux­u­ri­ous, Indone­sian-style hol­i­day digs on the Caribbean island of Mus­tique, but, as reporter Christo­pher Buck­ley not­ed, “role changes have always been part of David Bowie’s per­sona.”

By the time they bought prop­er­ty and start­ed a fam­i­ly in New York, they had honed tech­niques for fly­ing under the radar in pub­lic, allow­ing them to lead a fair­ly reg­u­lar life in both Man­hat­tan and Ulster Coun­ty where the house they built on their 64-acre plot of Lit­tle Ton­shi Moun­tain is locat­ed.

Even the most ded­i­cat­ed city slick­er should be able to appre­ci­ate the beau­ty of their floor-to-ceil­ing Catskills views.

“It’s stark, and it has a Spar­tan qual­i­ty about it,” Bowie said pri­or to break­ing ground on the house:

The retreat atmos­phere honed my thoughts. I’ve writ­ten in the moun­tains before, but nev­er with such grav­i­tas.

WPDH in Pough­keep­sie report­ed that “the moun­tain­top retreat was kept “secret” from fans and paparazzi as much as any­thing can be hid­den in the age of the Inter­net and TMZ:”

Locals, how­ev­er, are well aware of Bowie’s moun­tain­top home. Although many knew of his address, the rock icon’s requests for pri­va­cy were most­ly hon­ored by his neigh­bors and fel­low Ulster Coun­ty res­i­dents. Bowie was spot­ted around town but rarely has­sled by strangers.

By and large, his neigh­bors left him in peace to pick up Chi­nese take out, browse the indie book­shop, and cel­e­brate his daughter’s birth­day at a near­by water park.

Bowie record­ed his final album, Black Star, on the moun­tain. Soon after, friends and fam­i­ly gath­ered to scat­ter his ash­es there too.

Iman con­fides that she found it dif­fi­cult to spend time at the house fol­low­ing his 2016 death, but spend­ing time there dur­ing the most intense part of the pan­dem­ic helped her come to terms with grief, and rejoice in the many con­tents that remind her of him.

Some high­lights:

  • Bowie’s 1980 paint­ing, Mus­tique, one of many self-por­traits he paint­ed over the years.

I feel like when I look at his eyes and I move around the house, it’s like it’s fol­low­ing me.

  • Lynn Chadwick’s sculp­ture “Ted­dy Boy and Girl”

Art con­sul­tant Kate Cher­ta­vian recalls how Iman enlist­ed her to help her track it down in the sum­mer of 1993 to mark the couple’s first wed­ding anniver­sary:

David had shared with her a small draw­ing of a sculp­ture by Lynn Chad­wick… a ver­sion of his Ted­dy Boy and Girl that had won the Inter­na­tion­al Sculp­ture Prize at the 1956 Venice Bien­nale. Although I didn’t yet know David, his inter­est in this sculp­ture, with its musi­cal ref­er­ences and incred­i­ble ener­gy, made per­fect sense. Ted­dy Boy and Girl is one of Chadwick’s best-known bod­ies of sculp­ture that helped rock­et the artist to inter­na­tion­al fame. The series elo­quent­ly embod­ies the emer­gent 1950s British Pop cul­ture as they depict post-war music-mad teens in their Edwar­dian frock coats danc­ing with arms in the air.

…way before David and I met, this was one of his favorite books. And actu­al­ly, he told me some of the lyrics from his song “Heroes” were actu­al­ly inspired by this book. And then of course, final­ly, when we meet, we can’t believe that we both adore the same book, but that also the whole sto­ry hap­pens from where I come from, Soma­lia.

  • A self-por­trait by their then-fif­teen-year-old daugh­ter Alexan­dria Jones, in which she and her moth­er are depict­ed inclin­ing gen­tly towards each oth­er:

It’s me and her and, of course, the black star. That’s David… she paint­ed this in 2016, which was the first year with­out David.

Of per­haps less imme­di­ate inter­est to those uncon­nect­ed to the world of high fash­ion is a pricey black croc­o­dile Her­mès Birkin bag, a sou­venir of a Parisian hol­i­day ear­ly in the couple’s romance. This item does come with an endear­ing sar­to­r­i­al sur­prise for Bowie fans, how­ev­er:

…and he bought him­self, you won’t believe it, san­dals.

Round­ing out the tour are a lim­it­ed edi­tion porce­lain pitch­er by Kara Walk­er and gifts from fash­ion design­er and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Hedi Sli­mane and fel­low for­mer mod­els Bethann Hardi­son and Nao­mi Camp­bell.

(Are we wrong to wish those san­dals had been Crocs?)

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Behold The Paint­ings of David Bowie: Neo-Expres­sion­ist Self Por­traits, Illus­tra­tions of Iggy Pop, and Much More

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

The Art Col­lec­tion of David Bowie: An Intro­duc­tion

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


A 500-Page Book Explores the Ghosts & Monsters from Japanese Folklore

West­ern­ers tend to think of Japan as a land of high-speed trains, expert­ly pre­pared sushi and ramen, auteur films, bril­liant ani­ma­tion, ele­gant wood­block prints, glo­ri­ous old hotels, sought-after jazz-records, cat islands, and ghost towns. The last of those has, of course, not been shown to har­bor lit­er­al wraiths and spir­its. But if that sort of thing hap­pens to be what you’re look­ing for, Japan’s long his­to­ry offers up a wealth of mytho­log­i­cal chimeras whose form, behav­ior, and sheer num­bers exceed any of our expec­ta­tions. Wel­come to the super­nat­ur­al realm of the shapeshift­ing, good- and bad-luck-bring­ing, trick-play­ing yōkai.

“Trans­lat­ing to ‘strange appari­tion,’ the Japan­ese word yōkai refers to super­nat­ur­al beings, mutant mon­sters, and spir­its,” writes Colos­sal’s Grace Ebert. “Mis­chie­vous, gen­er­ous, and some­times venge­ful, the crea­tures are root­ed in folk­lore and expe­ri­enced a boom dur­ing the Edo peri­od when artists would ascribe inex­plic­a­ble phe­nom­e­na to the unearth­ly char­ac­ters.”

Hiroshi­ma Pre­fec­ture’s Miyoshi Mononoke Muse­um, whose open­ing we announced here on Open Cul­ture in 2019, “hous­es the largest yōkai col­lec­tion in the world with more than 5,000 works, and a book recent­ly pub­lished by PIE Inter­na­tion­al show­cas­es some of the most icon­ic and bizarre pieces from the insti­tu­tion.”

Writ­ten by eth­nol­o­gist Yumo­to Koichi, a yōkai expert whose dona­tions con­sti­tute most of the Miyoshi Mononoke Muse­um’s col­lec­tion, the 500-page YOKAI offers “the rare expe­ri­ence of see­ing the brush­work of Edo-era painters like Tsukio­ka Yoshi­toshi,” whom we’ve fea­tured here as Japan’s last great wood­block artist. Poised between the human and ani­mal king­doms, reflect­ing the ways of the past as well as the forces of nature, yōkai would seem to belong entire­ly to the tales of a bygone age. But in fact, many of them have joined the canon since Tsukioka’s time, hav­ing emerged from haunt­ed-school rumors, the fer­tile imag­i­na­tions of man­ga artists, and even video games. Whether to accept these “mod­ern yōkai” has been a mat­ter of some debate, but as Japan­ese pop­u­lar cul­ture has long shown us, every age needs its own mon­sters.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed to Japan­ese Folk­lore Mon­sters Is Now Open

The Ghosts and Mon­sters of Hoku­sai: See the Famed Wood­block Artist’s Fear­some & Amus­ing Visions of Strange Appari­tions

When a UFO Came to Japan in 1803: Dis­cov­er the Leg­end of Utsuro-bune

Behold the Mas­ter­piece by Japan’s Last Great Wood­block Artist: View Online Tsukio­ka Yoshitoshi’s One Hun­dred Aspects of the Moon (1885)

Dis­cov­er the Ghost Towns of Japan — Where Scare­crows Replace Peo­ple, and a Man Lives in an Aban­doned Ele­men­tary School Gym

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 Codex Seraphinianus: How Italian Artist Luigi Serafini Came to Write & Illustrate “the Strangest Book Ever Published” (1981)

The Codex Seraphini­anus is not a medieval book; nor does it date from the Renais­sance along with the codices of Leonar­do. In fact, it was pub­lished only in 1981, but in the inter­ven­ing decades it has gained recog­ni­tion as “the strangest book ever pub­lished,” as we described it when we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured it here on Open Cul­ture a few years ago. Since then, Riz­zoli has pub­lished a for­ti­eth-anniver­sary edi­tion of the Codex, which author-artist Lui­gi Ser­afi­ni has grant­ed inter­views to pro­mote. What new light has thus been shed on its more than 400 pages filled with bizarre illus­tra­tions and inde­ci­pher­able text?

“The book is designed to be com­plete­ly alien to any­body who picks it up,” says the nar­ra­tor of the Curi­ous Archive video at the top of the post. “Not only are the images utter­ly mind-bend­ing, it’s writ­ten in a made-up and thor­ough­ly untrans­lat­able lan­guage. And yet, the more you read, the more you might find a strange sense of con­ti­nu­ity among the images. That’s because Ser­afi­ni intend­ed this book to be an ency­clo­pe­dia: an ency­clo­pe­dia of a world that does­n’t exist.”

The expe­ri­ence of read­ing it — if “read­ing” be the word — “reminds me of being young and flip­ping through an ency­clo­pe­dia, star­ing at pic­tures and not com­pre­hend­ing the words, but feel­ing a strange, untrans­lat­able world hov­er­ing just out­side my under­stand­ing.”

Ser­afi­ni him­self describes the Codex as “an attempt to describe the imag­i­nary world in a sys­tem­at­ic way” in the Great Big Sto­ry video above. To cre­ate it, he spent two and a half years in a state he likens to “going in a trance,” draw­ing all these “fish with eyes or dou­ble rhi­noc­er­os­es and what­ev­er.” These images came first, and they were all so strange that he “had to find a lan­guage to explain” them. The result­ing expe­ri­ence lets us expe­ri­ence what it is “to read with­out know­ing how to read” — an expe­ri­ence that has attract­ed the atten­tion of thinkers from Dou­glas Hof­s­tadter to Roland Barthes to Ser­afini’s coun­try­man Ita­lo Calvi­no, a man pos­sessed of no scant inter­est in the strange, myth­i­cal, and inscrutable.

In a 1982 essay, Calvi­no writes of Ser­afini’s “very clear ital­ics,” which “we always feel we are just an inch away from being able to read and yet which elude us in every word and let­ter. The anguish that this Oth­er Uni­verse con­veys to us does not stem so much from its dif­fer­ence to our world as from its sim­i­lar­i­ty.” Clear­ly, “Serafini’s uni­verse is inhab­it­ed by freaks. But even in the world of mon­sters there is a log­ic whose out­lines we seem to see emerg­ing and van­ish­ing, like the mean­ings of those words of his that are dili­gent­ly copied out by his pen-nib.” It all brings to mind a joke I once heard that likens human­i­ty, with its invin­ci­ble instinct to ask what every­thing means, to a race of space aliens with enor­mous trunks. When these aliens vis­it Earth, they respond to every­thing we try to tell them with the same ques­tion: “Yes, but what does that have to do with trunks?”

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Codex Seraphini­anus, the Strangest Book Ever Pub­lished

The Mean­ing of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Explained

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.

Read Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World: The First Sci-Fi Novel Written By a Woman (1666)

For a vari­ety of rea­sons, sci­ence fic­tion has long been regard­ed as a most­ly male-ori­ent­ed realm of lit­er­a­ture. This is evi­denced, in part, by the eager­ness to cel­e­brate par­tic­u­lar works of sci-fi writ­ten by women, like Ursu­la K. LeGuin’s Earth­sea saga, Octavia But­ler’s Para­ble nov­els, Joan­na Russ’ The Female Man, or Mar­garet Attwood’s The Hand­maid­’s Tale (uneasi­ly though it fits with­in the bound­aries of the genre). But those who pre­fer the ear­ly stuff can go all the way back to the mid-sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, where they’ll find Mar­garet Cavendish’s The Blaz­ing World, read­able and down­load­able in all its strange glo­ry free online.

The Blaz­ing World was first pub­lished in 1666 and is often con­sid­ered a fore­run­ner to both sci­ence fic­tion and the utopi­an nov­el gen­res,” writes book blog­ger Eric Karl Ander­son. “It’s a total­ly bonkers sto­ry of a woman who is stolen away to the North Pole only to find her­self in a strange bejew­eled king­dom of which she becomes the supreme Empress. Here she con­sults with many dif­fer­ent animal/insect peo­ple about philo­soph­i­cal, reli­gious and sci­en­tif­ic ideas. The sec­ond half of the book pulls off a meta-fic­tion­al trick where Cavendish (as the Duchess of New­cas­tle) enters the sto­ry her­self to become the Empress’ scribe and close com­pan­ion.”

In the video just below, Youtu­ber Great Books Prof frames this as not just a work of pro­to-sci­ence fic­tion, but also a pio­neer­ing use of the “mul­ti­verse” con­cept that has under­gird­ed any num­ber of twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry block­busters.

The Blaz­ing World con­tin­ues to inspire: actor-direc­tor Carl­son Young put out a loose cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion just a few years ago. Cavendish her­self described the book as a “her­maph­ro­dit­ic text,” pos­si­bly in ref­er­ence to its engage­ment with top­ics then addressed almost exclu­sive­ly by men. But it also occu­pied two cat­e­gories at once in that she orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished it as a fic­tion­al sec­tion of her book Obser­va­tions upon Exper­i­men­tal Phi­los­o­phy, one of six philo­soph­i­cal vol­umes she wrote. In fact, her work qual­i­fied her as not just philoso­pher and nov­el­ist, but also sci­en­tist, poet, play­wright, and even biog­ra­ph­er. That last she accom­plished by writ­ing The Life of the Thrice Noble, High and Puis­sant Prince William Cavendish, who hap­pened to be her hus­band. Let her life be a les­son to those young girls who simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dream of becom­ing a princess and a writer whose books are read for cen­turies: some­times, you can have it all.

Relat­ed con­tent:

100 Great Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Women Writ­ers (Read 20 for Free Online)

The First Work of Sci­ence Fic­tion: Read Lucian’s 2nd-Cen­tu­ry Space Trav­el­ogue A True Sto­ry

When Astronomer Johannes Kepler Wrote the First Work of Sci­ence Fic­tion, The Dream (1609)

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Every Pos­si­ble Kind of Sci­ence Fic­tion Sto­ry: An Exhaus­tive List Cre­at­ed by Pio­neer­ing 1920s Sci­Fi Writer Clare Winger Har­ris (1931)

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: A Knitting Pattern for a Sweater Depicting an Iconic Cover of George Orwell’s 1984

It’s win­ter, and we still have a ways to go. So maybe we could inter­est you in a free knit­ting pat­tern that depicts a vin­tage Pen­guin Clas­sics cov­er of George Orwell’s <i>1984</i>. A col­lege stu­dent gave it a go and post­ed the results on Red­dit. It’s pret­ty swelle­gant. You can down­load the pat­tern here.

Please note, “The pat­tern includes extra alpha­bet charts so that you can cus­tomise the title and author to your favourite book.”

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The BBC Cre­ates Step-by-Step Instruc­tions for Knit­ting the Icon­ic Dr. Who Scarf: A Doc­u­ment from the Ear­ly 1980s

A Mas­sive, Knit­ted Tapes­try of the Galaxy: Soft­ware Engi­neer Hacks a Knit­ting Machine & Cre­ates a Star Map Fea­tur­ing 88 Con­stel­la­tions

Behold an Anatom­i­cal­ly Cor­rect Repli­ca of the Human Brain, Knit­ted by a Psy­chi­a­trist

Behold 1,600-Year-Old Egypt­ian Socks Made with Nål­bind­ning, an Ancient Pro­to-Knit­ting Tech­nique



by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 1 ) |

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.