Hear Edgar Allan Poe Stories Read by Iggy Pop, Jeff Buckley, Christopher Walken, Marianne Faithful & More

In 1849, a lit­tle over 175 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe was found dead in a Bal­ti­more gut­ter under mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances very like­ly relat­ed to vio­lent elec­tion fraud. It was an igno­min­ious end to a life marked by hard­ship, alco­holism, and loss. After strug­gling for years as the first Amer­i­can writer to try and make a liv­ing from his art, and fail­ing in sev­er­al pub­lish­ing ven­tures and posi­tions, Poe achieved few of his aims, bare­ly get­ting by finan­cial­ly and only man­ag­ing to attract a little—often negative—notice for now-famous poems like “The Raven.” Con­tem­po­raries like Ralph Wal­do Emer­son dis­par­aged the poem and a lat­er gen­er­a­tion of writ­ers, includ­ing William But­ler Yeats, pro­nounced him “vul­gar.”

But of course, as we know, a coun­ter­cur­rent of Poe appre­ci­a­tion took hold among writ­ers, artists, and film­mak­ers inter­est­ed in mys­tery, hor­ror, and the supernatural—to such a degree that in the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, near­ly every artist even pass­ing­ly asso­ci­at­ed with dark­er themes has inter­pret­ed Poe as a rite of pas­sage. We’ve fea­tured a read­ing of “The Raven” by the often-sin­is­ter Christo­pher Walken.

At the top of the post, you can hear anoth­er ver­sion of the Queens-born actor read­ing Poe’s best-known work, a poem designed to pro­duce what the author called a “uni­ty of effect” with its incan­ta­to­ry rep­e­ti­tions. This record­ing comes from a col­lec­tion of celebri­ty Poe read­ings called Closed on Account of Rabies, which also fea­tures such unique takes on the clas­sic hor­ror writer’s work as that above, “The Tell-Tale Heart” as read by Iggy Pop.

Just above, hear a less­er-known poem by Poe called “Ulalume” read by Jeff Buck­ley, with an accom­pa­ny­ing sound­track of low, puls­ing, vague­ly West­ern-inspired music that well suits Buckley’s for­mal, rhyth­mic recita­tion. The use of music on this album has divid­ed many Poe fans, and admit­ted­ly, some tracks work bet­ter than oth­ers. On Buckley’s “Ulalume,” the music height­ens ten­sion and pro­vides a per­fect atmos­phere for imag­in­ing “the misty mid region of Weir,” its “ghoul-haunt­ed wood­land,” and the “sco­ri­ac rivers” of lava pour­ing from the poet’s heart. On Mar­i­anne Faithful’s read­ing of “Annabelle Lee,” below, a score of keen­ing synths can seem over­wrought and unnec­es­sary.

The remain­der of the 1997 album, which you can pur­chase here, treats us to read­ings from 80s goth-rock stars Dia­man­da Galas and Gavin Fri­day, Bad Lieu­tenant direc­tor Abel Fer­rara, Blondie singer Deb­bie Har­ry, and grav­el-voiced New Orleans blues­man Dr. John, among oth­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Clas­sic Read­ings of Poe’s “The Raven” by Vin­cent Price, James Earl Jones, Christo­pher Walken, Neil Gaiman & More

Why Should You Read Edgar Allan Poe? An Ani­mat­ed Video Explains

7 Tips from Edgar Allan Poe on How to Write Vivid Sto­ries and Poems

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

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Download Issues of “Weird Tales” (1923–1954): The Pioneering Pulp Horror Magazine Features Original Stories by Lovecraft, Bradbury & Many More

We live in an era of genre. Browse through TV shows of the last decade to see what I mean: Hor­ror, sci-fi, fan­ta­sy, super­heroes, futur­is­tic dystopias…. Take a casu­al glance at the bur­geon­ing glob­al film fran­chis­es or mer­chan­dis­ing empires. Where in ear­li­er decades, hor­ror and fan­ta­sy inhab­it­ed the teenage domain of B‑movies and com­ic books, they’ve now become dom­i­nant forms of pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive for adults. Telling the sto­ry of how this came about might involve the kind of lengthy soci­o­log­i­cal analy­sis on which peo­ple stake aca­d­e­m­ic careers. And find­ing a con­ve­nient begin­ning for that sto­ry wouldn’t be easy.

Do we start with The Cas­tle of Otran­to, the first Goth­ic nov­el, which opened the door for such books as Drac­u­la and Franken­stein? Or do we open with Edgar Allan Poe, whose macabre short sto­ries and poems cap­ti­vat­ed the public’s imag­i­na­tion and inspired a mil­lion imi­ta­tors? Maybe. But if we real­ly want to know when the most pop­ulist, mass-mar­ket hor­ror and fan­ta­sy began—the kind that inspired tele­vi­sion shows from the Twi­light Zone to the X‑Files to Super­nat­ur­al to The Walk­ing Dead—we need to start with H.P. Love­craft, and with the pulpy mag­a­zine that pub­lished his bizarre sto­ries, Weird Tales.

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Debut­ing in 1923, Weird Tales, writes The Pulp Mag­a­zines Project, pro­vid­ed “a venue for fic­tion, poet­ry and non-fic­tion on top­ics rang­ing from ghost sto­ries to alien inva­sions to the occult.” The mag­a­zine intro­duced its read­ers to past mas­ters like Poe, Bram Stok­er, and H.G. Wells, and to the lat­est weird­ness from Love­craft and con­tem­po­raries like August Der­leth, Ash­ton Smith, Cather­ine L. Moore, Robert Bloch, and Robert E. Howard (cre­ator of Conan the Bar­bar­ian).

In the magazine’s first few decades, you wouldn’t have thought it very influ­en­tial. Founder Jacob Clark Hen­nen­berg­er strug­gled to turn a prof­it, and the mag­a­zine “nev­er had a large cir­cu­la­tion.” But no mag­a­zine is per­haps bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the explo­sion of pulp genre fic­tion that swept through the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and even­tu­al­ly gave birth to the jug­ger­nauts of Mar­vel and DC.

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Weird Tales is wide­ly accept­ed by cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans as “the first pulp mag­a­zine to spe­cial­ize in super­nat­ur­al and occult fic­tion,” points out The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion (though, as we not­ed before, an obscure Ger­man title, Der Orchideen­garten, tech­ni­cal­ly got there ear­li­er). And while the mag­a­zine may not have been wide­ly pop­u­lar, as the Vel­vet Under­ground was to the rapid spread of var­i­ous sub­gen­era of rock in the sev­en­ties, so was Weird Tales to hor­ror and fan­ta­sy fan­dom. Every­one who read it either start­ed their own mag­a­zine or fan­club, or began writ­ing their own “weird fic­tion”—Lovecraft’s term for the kind of super­nat­ur­al hor­ror he churned out for sev­er­al decades.

Fans of Love­craft can read and down­load scans of his sto­ries and let­ters to the edi­tor pub­lished in Weird Tales at the links below, brought to us by The Love­craft eZine (via SFFau­dio).

Let­ter to the edi­tor of Weird Tales, Sep­tem­ber 1923 – Sep­tem­ber 1923

Let­ter to the edi­tor of Weird Tales, Octo­ber 1923 – Octo­ber 1923

Let­ter to the edi­tor of Weird Tales, Jan­u­ary 1924 – Jan­u­ary 1924

Let­ter to the edi­tor of Weird Tales, March 1924 – March 1924

Impris­oned With The Pharaohs – May/June/July 1924

Hyp­nos – May/June/July 1924

The Tomb – Jan­u­ary 1926

The Ter­ri­ble Old Man – August 1926

Yule Hor­ror – Decem­ber 1926

The White Ship – March 1927

Let­ter to the edi­tor of Weird Tales, Feb­ru­ary 1928 – Feb­ru­ary 1928

The Dun­wich Hor­ror – April 1929

The Tree – August 1938

Fun­gi From Yug­goth Part XIII: The Port – Sep­tem­ber 1946

Fun­gi From Yug­goth Part X: The Pigeon-Fly­ers – Jan­u­ary 1947

Fun­gi From Yug­goth Part XXVI: The Famil­iars – Jan­u­ary 1947

The City – July 1950

Hallowe’en In A Sub­urb – Sep­tem­ber 1952

Fans of ear­ly pulp hor­ror and fantasy—–or grad stu­dents writ­ing their the­sis on the evo­lu­tion of genre fiction—can view and down­load dozens of issues of Weird Tales, from the 20s to the 50s, at the links below:

The Inter­net Archive has dig­i­tized copies from the 1920s and 1930s.

The Pulp Mag­a­zine Project hosts HTML, Flip­Book, and PDF ver­sions of Weird Tales issues from 1936 to 1939

This site has PDF scans of indi­vid­ual Weird Tales sto­ries from the 40s and 50s, includ­ing work by Love­craft, Ray Brad­bury, Dorothy Quick, Robert Bloch, and Theodor Stur­geon.

And to learn much more about the his­to­ry of the mag­a­zine, you may wish to beg, bor­row, or steal a copy of the pri­cy col­lec­tion of essays, The Unique Lega­cy of Weird Tales: The Evo­lu­tion of Mod­ern Fan­ta­sy and Hor­ror.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the First Hor­ror & Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine, Der Orchideen­garten, and Its Bizarre Art­work (1919–1921)

Enter a Huge Archive of Amaz­ing Sto­ries, the World’s First Sci­ence Fic­tion Mag­a­zine, Launched in 1926

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

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

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James Joyce Picked Drunken Fights, Then Hid Behind Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hem­ing­way seemed to feud with most of the promi­nent male artists of his time, from Wal­lace Stevens and T.S. Eliot to F. Scott Fitzger­ald. He had a “very strange rela­tion­ship” with Orson Welles—the two came to blows at least once—and he report­ed­ly slapped Max East­man in the face with a book. All his blus­ter and brava­do make his warm friend­ship with James Joyce seem all the more remark­able. They are a lit­er­ary odd cou­ple if ever there was one: Joyce the labyrinthine thinker of Byzan­tine thoughts and cre­ator of sym­bol­ic sys­tems so dense they con­sti­tute an entire field of study; phys­i­cal­ly weak and—despite his infa­mous car­nal appetites—intel­lec­tu­al­ly monk­ish, Joyce exem­pli­fies the artist as a reclu­sive con­tem­pla­tive. Hem­ing­way, on the oth­er hand, well… we know his rep­u­ta­tion.

Hemingway’s 1961 obit­u­ary in The New York Times char­ac­ter­ized Joyce as “a thin, wispy and unmus­cled man with defec­tive eye­sight” (per­haps the result of a syphilis infec­tion), and also notes that the two writ­ers “did a cer­tain amount of drink­ing togeth­er” in Paris. As the nar­ra­tor of the rare film clip of Joyce informs us above, the Ulysses author would pick drunk­en fights, then duck behind his burly friend and say, “Deal with him, Hem­ing­way. Deal with him.” (That scene also gets men­tioned in The Times obit­u­ary.) Hem­ing­way, who con­vinced him­self at one time he had the mak­ings of a real pugilist, was like­ly hap­py to oblige. Joyce, writes Hem­ing­way biog­ra­ph­er James R. Mel­low, “was an admir­er of Hemingway’s adven­tur­ous lifestyle” and wor­ried aloud that his books were too “sub­ur­ban” next to those of his friend, of whom he said in a Dan­ish inter­view, “he’s a good writer, Hem­ing­way. He writes as he is… there is much more behind Hemingway’s form than peo­ple know.”

Joyce, notes Ken­neth Schyler Lynn in Hem­ing­way, real­ized that “nei­ther as a man nor as an artist was [Hem­ing­way] as sim­ple as he seemed,” though he also remarked that Hem­ing­way was “a big pow­er­ful peas­ant, as strong as a buf­fa­lo. A sports­man. And ready to live the life he writes about. He would nev­er have writ­ten it if his body had not allowed him to live it.” One detects more than a hint of Hem­ing­way in Joycean char­ac­ters like Dublin­ers’ Igna­tious Gal­la­her or Ulysses’ Hugh “Blazes” Boylan—strong, adven­tur­ous types who over­awe intro­vert­ed main char­ac­ters. That’s not to say that Joyce explic­it­ly drew on Hem­ing­way in con­struct­ing his fic­tion, but that in the boast­ful, out­go­ing Amer­i­can, he saw what many of his semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal char­ac­ters did in their more bull­ish counterparts—a nat­ur­al foil.

Hem­ing­way returned Joyce’s com­pli­ments, writ­ing to Sher­wood Ander­son in 1923, “Joyce has a most god-damn won­der­ful book” and pro­nounc­ing Joyce “the great­est writer in the world.” He was “unques­tion­ably… stag­gered,” writes Lynn, “by the mul­ti­lay­ered rich­ness” of Ulysses. But its den­si­ty may have proven too much for him, as “his inter­est in the sto­ry gave out well before he fin­ished it.” In Hem­ing­way’s copy of the nov­el, “only the pages of the first half and of Mol­ly Bloom’s con­clud­ing solil­o­quy are cut.” Hem­ing­way tem­pered his praise with some blunt crit­i­cism; unlike Joyce’s praise of his writ­ing, the Amer­i­can did not admire Joyce’s ten­den­cy towards auto­bi­og­ra­phy in the char­ac­ter of Stephen Dedalus.

“The weak­ness of Joyce,” Hem­ing­way opined, was his inabil­i­ty to under­stand that “the only writ­ing that was any good was what you made up, what you imag­ined… Daedalus [sic] in Ulysses was Joyce him­self, so he was ter­ri­ble. Joyce was so damn roman­tic and intel­lec­tu­al.” Of course Stephen Dedalus was Joyce—that much is clear to any­one. How Hem­ing­way, who did his utmost to enact his fic­tion­al adven­tures and fic­tion­al­ize his real life, could fault Joyce for doing the same is hard to reck­on, except per­haps, as Joyce cer­tain­ly felt, Hem­ing­way led the more adven­tur­ous life.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce Reads a Pas­sage From Ulysses, 1924

Vir­ginia Woolf Writes About Joyce’s Ulysses, “Nev­er Did Any Book So Bore Me,” and Quits at Page 200

Ernest Hem­ing­way to F. Scott Fitzger­ald: “Kiss My Ass”

James Joyce’s “Dirty Let­ters” to His Wife (1909)

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

When a Drunken Charles Bukowski Walked Off the Prestigious French Talk Show Apostrophes (1978)

Charles Bukows­ki did­n’t do TV — or at least he did­n’t do Amer­i­can TV. Like a Hol­ly­wood movie star shoot­ing a Japan­ese com­mer­cial, he did make an excep­tion for a gig abroad. It hap­pened in 1978, when the poet received an invi­ta­tion from the pop­u­lar French lit­er­ary talk show Apos­tro­phes. Bukows­ki was­n’t the first for­eign­er to grace its set: a few years ear­li­er, Vladimir Nabokov had come in advance of  the French trans­la­tion of Ada, but only under the con­di­tions that he be allowed to pre-write his answers and read them off note­cards, and to drink whiskey from a teapot dur­ing the inter­view. No such niceties for the author of Ham on Rye, who was set up with ear­piece inter­pre­ta­tion and Sancerre straight from the bot­tle.

Or rather, bot­tles, plur­al: Bukows­ki had pol­ished off one of them by the time Apos­tro­phes host Bernard Piv­ot opened the live broad­cast by ask­ing him how it felt to be cel­e­brat­ed on French tele­vi­sion. Already drunk, Bukows­ki respond­ed in a slurred and dis­mis­sive fash­ion. Things dete­ri­o­rat­ed from there, and Bukows­ki kept ram­bling as the oth­er pan­elists tried to car­ry on their con­ver­sa­tion. At one point François Cavan­na ven­tured a “Bukows­ki ta gueule”; soon there­after, Piv­ot opt­ed for a more direct “Bukows­ki, shut up,” which prompt­ed the guest of hon­or’s unsteadi­ly impromp­tu depar­ture. “Piv­ot bid him au revoir with a Gal­lic shrug,” writes Howard Sounes in Charles Bukows­ki: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life.

“The next day, he didn’t remem­ber any­thing, of course, but the whole of France was run­ning to book shops to buy his books,” says Barfly direc­tor Bar­bet Schroed­er in the doc­u­men­tary The Ordi­nary Mad­ness of Charles Bukows­ki. “In a few hours they were all sold out.” This suc­cès de scan­dale made Bukows­ki even more of a lit­er­ary rock star in France than he’d already become. The episode has also been wide­ly remem­bered in the Fran­coph­o­ne world since the death of Bernard Piv­ot ear­li­er this month, nev­er fail­ing to make the much-cir­cu­lat­ed lists of Apos­tro­phes’ most mem­o­rable broad­casts dur­ing its fif­teen-year run.

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“Six mil­lion peo­ple watched him,” writes Adam Nos­siter in Piv­ot’s New York Times obit­u­ary, “and near­ly every­body want­ed to be on his show. And near­ly every­body was, includ­ing French lit­er­ary giants like Mar­guerite Duras, Patrick Modi­ano, Jean-Marie Gus­tave Le Clézio, Mar­guerite Yource­nar and Georges Simenon.” (One very spe­cial episode even brought on “a hag­gard-look­ing Alek­san­dr Solzhen­it­syn, not long out of the Sovi­et Union.”) Apart from Bukows­ki, Apos­tro­phes’ guest list also includ­ed a very dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can with an equal­ly enthu­si­as­tic French read­er­ship: the late Paul Auster, who — like most of the cul­tur­al fig­ures whose appear­ances on the show you can sam­ple on this Youtube playlist — pre­ced­ed Piv­ot to that great talk show in the sky.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki: Watch a 1975 Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Charles Bukows­ki at the Height of His Pow­ers

“Don’t Try”: The Phi­los­o­phy of the Hard­work­ing Charles Bukows­ki

Hear 130 Min­utes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Record­ed Read­ings (1968)

Charles Bukows­ki Reads His Poem “The Secret of My Endurance”

The Charles Bukows­ki Tapes: 52 Short Inter­views with the Under­ground Poet

Bukows­ki: Born Into This — The Defin­i­tive Doc­u­men­tary on the Hard-Liv­ing Amer­i­can Poet (2003)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Ray Bradbury Wrote the First Draft of Fahrenheit 451 on Coin-Operated Typewriters, for a Total of $9.80

Image by Alan Light, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It sounds like a third grade math prob­lem: “If Ray Brad­bury wrote the first draft of Fahren­heit 451 (1953) on a coin-oper­at­ed type­writer that charged 10 cents for every 30 min­utes, and he spent a total of $9.80, how many hours did it take Ray to write his sto­ry?” (If you’re doing the math, that’s great, but you might be in the wrong class.)

Bradbury’s com­po­si­tion of Fahren­heit 451 demon­strates two of the pro­lif­ic writer’s most insis­tent demands among his many prac­ti­cal nuggets of writ­ing advice: 1. Always write, all the time; a short sto­ry a week, as he told a writer’s sym­po­sium in 2001. And, as he told the same group, 2. “Live in the library! Live in the library, for Christ’s sake. Don’t live on your god­damn com­put­er and the inter­net and all that crap.”

Grant­ed, the library—and the school, and the office, and all the rest of it—now lives in the “god­damn com­put­er” for many of us. But Bradbury’s elab­o­ra­tion of why he end­ed up in the library in the ear­ly 1950s, specif­i­cal­ly the base­ment of UCLA’s Pow­ell Library, will be relat­able to any work­ing par­ent. As he wrote in 1982, he found him­self “twice dri­ven; by chil­dren to leave at home, and by a type­writer tim­ing device…. Time was indeed mon­ey.”

This was a dif­fer­ent time, so you’ll need to adjust the cur­ren­cy for 21st cen­tu­ry infla­tion. Also, Brad­bury had the 50s’ writer-husband’s pre­rog­a­tive to beg off the child­care. As he explains:

In all the years from 1941 to that time, I had done most of my typ­ing in the fam­i­ly garages… behind the tract house where my wife, Mar­guerite, and I raised our fam­i­ly. I was dri­ven out of the garage by my lov­ing chil­dren, who insist­ed on com­ing around to the win­dow and singing and tap­ping on the panes. 

Devot­ed father Brad­bury “had to choose between fin­ish­ing a sto­ry or play­ing with the girls. I chose to play, of course, which endan­gered the fam­i­ly income. An office had to be found. We couldn’t afford one.” Brad­bury did not write all of Fahren­heit 451 in the library base­ment. “He end­ed up with the novel­la ver­sion,” notes UCLA Mag­a­zine, “orig­i­nal­ly called The Fire­man and did not come back to it until a pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny asked if he could add more to the sto­ry.”

The speed at which Brad­bury wrote, both to save mon­ey and to get home to his chil­dren, did not cause him to get care­less. He looked back on the book 22 years lat­er with pride. “I have changed not one thought or word,” wrote Brad­bury in his intro­duc­tion. He did­n’t notice until lat­er that he had named main char­ac­ters after a paper com­pa­ny, Mon­tag, and pen­cil com­pa­ny, Faber.

Brad­bury told the mag­a­zine in 2002, “It was a pas­sion­ate and excit­ing time for me. Imag­ine what it was like to be writ­ing a book about book burn­ing and doing it in a library where the pas­sions of all those authors, liv­ing and dead, sur­round­ed me.” When it came to find­ing the book’s title, how­ev­er, sup­pos­ed­ly the tem­per­a­ture at which books burn, not only did the library fail him, but so too did the university’s chem­istry depart­ment. To learn the answer, and fin­ish the book, Brad­bury final­ly had to call the fire depart­ment.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

When François Truf­faut Made a Film Adap­ta­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 (1966)

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451? A New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Explains

Ray Brad­bury Explains Why Lit­er­a­ture is the Safe­ty Valve of Civ­i­liza­tion (in Which Case We Need More Lit­er­a­ture!)

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

Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality”

In 1963, Philip K. Dick won the cov­et­ed Hugo Award for his nov­el The Man in the High Cas­tle, beat­ing out such sci-fi lumi­nar­ies as Mar­i­on Zim­mer Bradley and Arthur C. Clarke. Of the nov­el, The Guardian writes, “Noth­ing in the book is as it seems. Most char­ac­ters are not what they say they are, most objects are fake.” The plot—an alter­nate his­to­ry in which the Axis Pow­ers have won World War II—turns on a pop­u­lar but con­tra­band nov­el called The Grasshop­per Lies Heavy. Writ­ten by the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, the book describes the world of an Allied vic­to­ry, and—in the vein of his worlds-with­in-worlds thematic—Dick’s nov­el sug­gests that this book-with­in-a-book may in fact describe the “real” world of the nov­el, or one glimpsed through the novel’s real­i­ty as at least high­ly pos­si­ble.

The Man in the High Cas­tle may be Dick’s most straight­for­ward­ly com­pelling illus­tra­tion of the expe­ri­ence of alter­nate real­i­ties, but it is only one among very many. In an inter­view Dick gave while at the high pro­file Metz sci­ence fic­tion con­fer­ence in France in 1977, he said that like David Hume’s descrip­tion of the “intu­itive type of per­son,” he lived “in terms of pos­si­bil­i­ties rather than in terms of actu­al­i­ties.” Dick also tells a para­ble of an ancient, com­pli­cat­ed, and tem­pera­men­tal auto­mat­ed record play­er called the “Capard,” which revert­ed to vary­ing states of destruc­tive chaos. “This Capard,” Dick says, “epit­o­mized an inscrutable ultra-sophis­ti­cat­ed uni­verse which was in the habit of doing unex­pect­ed things.”

In the inter­view, Dick roams over so many of his per­son­al the­o­ries about what these “unex­pect­ed things” sig­ni­fy that it’s dif­fi­cult to keep track. How­ev­er, at that same con­fer­ence, he deliv­ered a talk titled “If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Oth­ers” (in edit­ed form above), that set­tles on one par­tic­u­lar theory—that the uni­verse is a high­ly-advanced com­put­er sim­u­la­tion. (The talk has cir­cu­lat­ed on the inter­net as “Did Philip K. Dick dis­close the real Matrix in 1977?”).

The sub­ject of this speech is a top­ic which has been dis­cov­ered recent­ly, and which may not exist all. I may be talk­ing about some­thing that does not exist. There­fore I’m free to say every­thing and noth­ing. I in my sto­ries and nov­els some­times write about coun­ter­feit worlds. Semi-real worlds as well as deranged pri­vate worlds, inhab­it­ed often by just one per­son…. At no time did I have a the­o­ret­i­cal or con­scious expla­na­tion for my pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with these plu­ri­form pseu­do-worlds, but now I think I under­stand. What I was sens­ing was the man­i­fold of par­tial­ly actu­al­ized real­i­ties lying tan­gent to what evi­dent­ly is the most actu­al­ized one—the one that the major­i­ty of us, by con­sen­sus gen­tium, agree on.

Dick goes on to describe the vision­ary, mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences he had in 1974 after den­tal surgery, which he chron­i­cled in his exten­sive jour­nal entries (pub­lished in abridged form as The Exe­ge­sis of Philip K. Dick) and in works like VALIS and The Divine Inva­sion. As a result of his visions, Dick came to believe that “some of my fic­tion­al works were in a lit­er­al sense true,” cit­ing in par­tic­u­lar The Man in the High Cas­tle and Flow My Tears, The Police­man Said, a 1974 nov­el about the U.S. as a police state—both nov­els writ­ten, he says, “based on frag­men­tary, resid­ual mem­o­ries of such a hor­rid slave state world.” He claims to remem­ber not past lives but a “dif­fer­ent, very dif­fer­ent, present life.”

Final­ly, Dick makes his Matrix point, and makes it very clear­ly: “we are liv­ing in a com­put­er-pro­grammed real­i­ty, and the only clue we have to it is when some vari­able is changed, and some alter­ation in our real­i­ty occurs.” These alter­ations feel just like déjà vu, says Dick, a sen­sa­tion that proves that “a vari­able has been changed” (by whom—note the pas­sive voice—he does not say) and “an alter­na­tive world branched off.”

Dick, who had the capac­i­ty for a very oblique kind of humor, assures his audi­ence sev­er­al times that he is dead­ly seri­ous. (The looks on many of their faces betray increduli­ty at the very least.) And yet, maybe Dick’s crazy hypoth­e­sis has been val­i­dat­ed after all, and not sim­ply by the suc­cess of the PKD-esque The Matrix and the ubiq­ui­ty of Matrix analo­gies. For sev­er­al years now, the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cists and philoso­phers have enter­tained the the­o­ry that we do in fact live in a com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed sim­u­la­tion and, what’s more, that “we may even be able to detect it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Are We Liv­ing Inside a Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tion?: An Intro­duc­tion to the Mind-Bog­gling “Sim­u­la­tion Argu­ment”

Robert Crumb Illus­trates Philip K. Dick’s Infa­mous, Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Meet­ing with God (1974)

The Sim­u­la­tion The­o­ry Explained In Three Ani­mat­ed Videos

An Intro­duc­tion to Jean Bau­drillard, Who Pre­dict­ed the Sim­u­la­tion-Like Real­i­ty in Which We Live

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

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Read 20 Short Stories From Nobel Prize-Winning Writer Alice Munro (RIP) Free Online

Note: Back in 2013, when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, we pub­lished a post fea­tur­ing 20 short sto­ries writ­ten by Munro. Today, with the sad news that Alice Munro has passed away, at the age of 92, we’re bring­ing the orig­i­nal post (from Octo­ber 10, 2013) back to the surface–in part because you can still read the 20 sto­ries free online. Please find the sto­ries at the bot­tom of this post.

Call­ing her a “mas­ter of the con­tem­po­rary short sto­ry,” the Swedish Acad­e­my award­ed 82-year-old Alice Munro the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture today. It is well-deserved, and hard-earned (and comes not long after she announced her retire­ment from fic­tion). After 14 sto­ry col­lec­tions, Munro has reached at least a cou­ple gen­er­a­tions of writ­ers with her psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly sub­tle sto­ries about ordi­nary men and women in Huron Coun­ty, Ontario, her birth­place and home. Only the 13th woman writer to win the Nobel, Munro has pre­vi­ous­ly won the Man Book­er Prize in 2009, the Gov­er­nor General’s Lit­er­ary Award for Fic­tion in Cana­da three times (1968, 1978, and 1986), and two O. Hen­ry Awards (2006 and 2008). Her region­al fic­tion draws as much from her Ontario sur­round­ings as does the work of the very best so-called “region­al” writ­ers, and cap­ti­vat­ing inter­ac­tions of char­ac­ter and land­scape tend to dri­ve her work more so than intri­cate plot­ting.

Of that region she loves, Munro has said: “It means some­thing to me that no oth­er coun­try can—no mat­ter how impor­tant his­tor­i­cal­ly that oth­er coun­try may be, how ‘beau­ti­ful,’ how live­ly and inter­est­ing. I am intox­i­cat­ed by this par­tic­u­lar land­scape… I speak the lan­guage.” The lan­guage she may have learned from the “brick hous­es, the falling-down barns, the trail­er parks, bur­den­some old church­es, Wal-Mart and Cana­di­an Tire.” But the short sto­ry form she learned from writ­ers like Car­son McCullers, Flan­nery O’Connor, and Eudo­ra Wel­ty. She names all three in a 2001 inter­view with The Atlantic, and also men­tions Chekhov and “a lot of writ­ers that I found in The New York­er in the fifties who wrote about the same type of mate­r­i­al I did—about emo­tions and places.”

Munro was no young lit­er­ary phenom—she did not achieve fame in her twen­ties with sto­ries in The New York­er. A moth­er of three chil­dren, she “learned to write in the sliv­ers of time she had.” She pub­lished her first col­lec­tion, Dance of the Hap­py Shades in 1968 at 37, an advanced age for writ­ers today, so many of whom have sev­er­al nov­els under their belts by their ear­ly thir­ties. Munro always meant to write a nov­el, many in fact, but “there was no way I could get that kind of time,” she said:

Why do I like to write short sto­ries? Well, I cer­tain­ly did­n’t intend to. I was going to write a nov­el. And still! I still come up with ideas for nov­els. And I even start nov­els. But some­thing hap­pens to them. They break up. I look at what I real­ly want to do with the mate­r­i­al, and it nev­er turns out to be a nov­el. But when I was younger, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of expe­di­en­cy. I had small chil­dren, I did­n’t have any help. Some of this was before the days of auto­mat­ic wash­ing machines, if you can actu­al­ly believe it. There was no way I could get that kind of time. I could­n’t look ahead and say, this is going to take me a year, because I thought every moment some­thing might hap­pen that would take all time away from me. So I wrote in bits and pieces with a lim­it­ed time expec­ta­tion. Per­haps I got used to think­ing of my mate­r­i­al in terms of things that worked that way. And then when I got a lit­tle more time, I start­ed writ­ing these odd­er sto­ries, which branch out a lot.

Whether Munro’s adher­ence to the short form has always been a mat­ter of expe­di­en­cy, or whether it’s just what her sto­ries need to be, hard­ly mat­ters to read­ers who love her work. She dis­cuss­es her “stum­bling” on short fic­tion in the inter­view above from 1990 with Rex Mur­phy. For a detailed sketch of Munro’s ear­ly life, see her won­der­ful 2011 bio­graph­i­cal essay “Dear Life” in The New York­er. And for those less famil­iar with Munro’s exquis­ite­ly craft­ed nar­ra­tives, we offer you below sev­er­al selec­tions of her work free online. Get to know this author who, The New York Times writes, “rev­o­lu­tion­ized the archi­tec­ture of short sto­ries.”

“Voic­es” - (2013, Tele­graph)

A Red Dress—1946” (2012–13, Nar­ra­tive—requires free sign-up)

Amund­sen” (2012, The New York­er)

Train” (2012, Harper’s)

To Reach Japan” (2012, Nar­ra­tive—requires free sign-up)

“Axis” (2001, The New York­er — in audio)

Grav­el” (2011, The New York­er)

“Fic­tion” (2009, Dai­ly Lit)

Deep Holes” (2008, The New York­er)

Free Rad­i­cals” (2008, The New York­er)

Face” (2008, The New York­er)

Dimen­sion” (2006, The New York­er)

“Wen­lock Edge” (2005, The New York­er)

“The View from Cas­tle Rock” (2005, The New York­er)

Pas­sion” (2004, The New York­er)

Run­away” (2003, The New York­er)

“Some Women” (2008, New York­er)

The Bear Came Over the Moun­tain” (1999, The New York­er)

“Quee­nie” (1998, Lon­don Review of Books

Boys and Girls” (1968)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

29 Free Short Sto­ries from Some of Today’s Most Acclaimed Writ­ers: Mar­garet Atwood, David Mitchell & More

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read Aloud 15 of His Own Works, and Works by 6 Oth­er Great Writ­ers: From The Grave­yard Book & Cora­line, to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven & Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Car­ol

 

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

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George Orwell’s Political Views, Explained in His Own Words

Among mod­ern-day lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives alike, George Orwell enjoys prac­ti­cal­ly saint­ed sta­tus. And indeed, through­out his body of work, includ­ing but cer­tain­ly not lim­it­ed to his oft-assigned nov­els Ani­mal Farm and Nine­teen Eighty-Four, one can find numer­ous implic­it­ly or explic­it­ly expressed polit­i­cal views that please either side of that divide — or, by def­i­n­i­tion, views that anger each side. The read­ers who approve of Orwell’s open advo­ca­cy for social­ism, for exam­ple, are prob­a­bly not the same ones who approve of his indict­ment of lan­guage polic­ing. To under­stand what he actu­al­ly believed, we can’t trust cur­rent inter­preters who employ his words for their own ends; we must return to the words them­selves.

Hence the struc­ture of the video above from Youtu­ber Ryan Chap­man, which offers “an overview of George Orwell’s polit­i­cal views, guid­ed by his reflec­tions on his own career.” Chap­man begins with Orwell’s essay “Why I Write,” in which the lat­ter declares that “in a peace­ful age I might have writ­ten ornate or mere­ly descrip­tive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my polit­i­cal loy­al­ties. As it is I have been forced into becom­ing a sort of pam­phle­teer.”

His awak­en­ing occurred in 1936, when he went to cov­er the Span­ish Civ­il War as a jour­nal­ist but end­ed up join­ing the fight against Fran­co, a cause that aligned neat­ly with his exist­ing pro-work­ing class and anti-author­i­tar­i­an emo­tion­al ten­den­cies.

After a bul­let in the throat took Orwell out of the war, his atten­tion shift­ed to the grand-scale hypocrisies he’d detect­ed in the Sovi­et Union. It became “of the utmost impor­tance to me that peo­ple in west­ern Europe should see the Sovi­et regime for what it real­ly was,” he writes in the pref­ace to the Ukrain­ian edi­tion of the alle­gor­i­cal satire Ani­mal Farm. “His con­cerns with the Sovi­et Union were part of a broad­er con­cern on the nature of truth and the way truth is manip­u­lat­ed in pol­i­tics,” Chap­man explains. An impor­tant part of his larg­er project as a writer was to shed light on the wide­spread “ten­den­cy to dis­tort real­i­ty accord­ing to their polit­i­cal con­vic­tions,” espe­cial­ly among the intel­lec­tu­al class­es.

“This kind of thing is fright­en­ing to me,” Orwell writes in “Look­ing Back on the Span­ish War,” “because it often gives me the feel­ing that the very con­cept of objec­tive truth is fad­ing out of the world”: a con­di­tion for the rise of ide­ol­o­gy “not only for­bids you to express — even to think — cer­tain thoughts, but it dic­tates what you shall think, it cre­ates an ide­ol­o­gy for you, it tries to gov­ern your emo­tion­al life as well as set­ting up a code of con­duct.” Such is the real­i­ty he envi­sions in Nine­teen Eighty-Four, a reac­tion to the total­i­tar­i­an­ism he saw man­i­fest­ing in the USSR, Ger­many, and Italy. “But he also thought it was spread­ing in more sub­tle forms back home, in Eng­land, through social­ly enforced, unof­fi­cial polit­i­cal ortho­doxy.” No mat­ter how sup­pos­ed­ly enlight­ened the soci­ety we live in, there are things we’re for­mal­ly or infor­mal­ly not allowed to acknowl­edge; Orwell reminds us to think about why.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to George Orwell

George Orwell’s Life & Lit­er­a­ture Pre­sent­ed in a 3‑Hour Radio Doc­u­men­tary: Fea­tures Inter­views with Those Who Knew Orwell Best

George Orwell Iden­ti­fies the Main Ene­my of the Free Press: It’s the “Intel­lec­tu­al Cow­ardice” of the Press Itself

George Orwell Explains How “Newspeak” Works, the Offi­cial Lan­guage of His Total­i­tar­i­an Dystopia in 1984

George Orwell Reveals the Role & Respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Writer “In an Age of State Con­trol”

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

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.

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