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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Wes Anderson Directs & Stars in an Ad Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Montblanc’s Signature Pen

One hard­ly has to be an expert on the films of Wes Ander­son to imag­ine that the man writes with a foun­tain pen. Maybe back in the ear­ly nine­teen-nineties, when he was shoot­ing the black-and-white short that would become Bot­tle Rock­et on the streets of Austin, he had to set­tle for ordi­nary ball­points. But now that he’s long since claimed his place in the top ranks of major Amer­i­can auteurs, he can indulge his taste for painstak­ing crafts­man­ship and recent-past anti­quar­i­an­ism both onscreen and off. For a brand like Mont­blanc, this sure­ly made him the ide­al choice to direct a com­mer­cial cel­e­brat­ing the hun­dredth anniver­sary of their flag­ship writ­ing tool, the Meis­ter­stück.

Shot at Stu­dio Babels­berg in Ger­many, where Ander­son is at work on his next fea­ture The Phoeni­cian Scheme, the result­ing short “fea­tures Ander­son him­self, sport­ing a wispy wal­rus mus­tache, as well as fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors Jason Schwartz­man and Rupert Friend, all pos­ing as a group of moun­tain-climbers with a par­tic­u­lar affec­tion for the free­dom and inspi­ra­tion offered by Montblanc’s prod­ucts,” writes Indiewire’s Har­ri­son Rich­lin.

With­in its first minute, “the ad takes us from the cold, snowy caps of Mont Blanc to a cozy chalet Ander­son announces as The Mont Blanc Obser­va­to­ry and Writer’s Room.” Vogue Busi­ness’ Christi­na Bink­ley reports that this indoor-to-out­door tran­si­tion alone required 50 takes, which was only one of the sur­pris­es in store for Mont­blanc’s mar­ket­ing offi­cer.

Ander­son also turned up with an unex­pect­ed pro­pos­al of his own. “The film­mak­er pre­sent­ed a pro­to­type pen of his own design that he asked the Ger­man com­pa­ny to man­u­fac­ture,” Bink­ley writes. “He’d even named it: the Schreiber­ling, which means ‘the scrib­bler’ in Ger­man. That had not been part of the pitch.” Per­haps con­vinced by the built pro­to­type assem­bled by Ander­son­’s set-design team, Mont­blanc “agreed to pro­duce 1,969 copies of this small, green foun­tain pen to com­mem­o­rate Ander­son­’s birth year, 1969.” At 55 years of age, Ander­son may no longer be the preter­nat­u­ral­ly con­fi­dent young film­mak­er we remem­ber from the days of Rush­more or The Roy­al Tenen­baums, but since then, he’s only grown more adept at get­ting exact­ly what he wants from a com­pa­ny, whether it be a movie stu­dio or a Euro­pean lux­u­ry-goods man­u­fac­tur­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wes Anderson’s Shorts Films & Com­mer­cials: A Playlist of 8 Short Ander­son­ian Works

Mont­blanc Unveils a New Line of Miles Davis Pens … and (Kind of) Blue Ink

Why Do Wes Ander­son Movies Look Like That?

Neil Gaiman Talks Dream­i­ly About Foun­tain Pens, Note­books & His Writ­ing Process in His Long Inter­view with Tim Fer­riss

Has Wes Ander­son Sold Out? Can He Sell Out? Crit­ics Take Up the Debate

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.

Hannah Arendt Explains How Totalitarian Regimes Arise–and How We Can Prevent Them

“Adolf Eich­mann went to the gal­lows with great dig­ni­ty,” wrote the polit­i­cal philoso­pher Han­nah Arendt, describ­ing the scene lead­ing up to the promi­nent Holo­caust-orga­niz­er’s exe­cu­tion. After drink­ing half a bot­tle of wine, turn­ing down the offer of reli­gious assis­tance, and even refus­ing the black hood offered him at the gal­lows, he gave a brief, strange­ly high-spir­it­ed speech before the hang­ing. “It was as though in those last min­utes he was sum­ming up the les­son that this long course in human wicked­ness had taught us — the les­son of the fear­some word-and-thought-defy­ing banal­i­ty of evil.”

These lines come from Eich­mann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banal­i­ty of Evil, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1963 as a five-part series in the New York­er. Eich­mann “was pop­u­lar­ly described as an evil mas­ter­mind who orches­trat­ed atroc­i­ties from a cushy Ger­man office, and many were eager to see the so-called ‘desk mur­der­er’ tried for his crimes,” explains the nar­ra­tor of the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son above, writ­ten by Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Dublin polit­i­cal the­o­ry pro­fes­sor Joseph Lacey. “But the squea­mish man who took the stand seemed more like a dull bureau­crat than a sadis­tic killer,” and this “dis­par­i­ty between Eich­man­n’s nature and his actions” inspired Arendt’s famous sum­ma­tion.

A Ger­man Jew who fled her home­land in 1933, as Hitler rose to pow­er, Arendt “ded­i­cat­ed her­self to under­stand­ing how the Nazi regime came to pow­er.” Against the com­mon notion that “the Third Reich was a his­tor­i­cal odd­i­ty, a per­fect storm of unique­ly evil lead­ers, sup­port­ed by Ger­man cit­i­zens, look­ing for revenge after their defeat in World War I,” she argued that “the true con­di­tions behind this unprece­dent­ed rise of total­i­tar­i­an­ism weren’t spe­cif­ic to Ger­many.” Rather, in moder­ni­ty, “indi­vid­u­als main­ly appear in the social world to pro­duce and con­sume goods and ser­vices,” which fos­ters ide­olo­gies “in which indi­vid­u­als were seen only for their eco­nom­ic val­ue, rather than their moral and polit­i­cal capac­i­ties.”

In such iso­lat­ing con­di­tions, she thought, “par­tic­i­pat­ing in the regime becomes the only way to recov­er a sense of iden­ti­ty and com­mu­ni­ty. While con­demn­ing Eich­man­n’s “mon­strous actions, Arendt saw no evi­dence that Eich­mann him­self was unique­ly evil. She saw him as a dis­tinct­ly ordi­nary man who con­sid­ered obe­di­ence the high­est form of civic duty — and for Arendt, it was exact­ly this ordi­nar­i­ness that was most ter­ri­fy­ing.” Accord­ing to her the­o­ry, there was noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly Ger­man about all of this: any suf­fi­cient­ly mod­ern­ized cul­ture could pro­duce an Eich­mann, a cit­i­zen who defines him­self by par­tic­i­pa­tion in his soci­ety regard­less of that soci­ety’s larg­er aims. This led her to the con­clu­sion that  “think­ing is our great­est weapon against the threats of moder­ni­ty,” some of which have become only more threat­en­ing over the past six decades.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Thought of Han­nah Arendt: Pre­sent­ed by the BBC Radio’s In Our Time

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

Large Archive of Han­nah Arendt’s Papers Dig­i­tized by the Library of Con­gress: Read Her Lec­tures, Drafts of Arti­cles, Notes & Cor­re­spon­dence

Han­nah Arendt on “Per­son­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty Under Dic­ta­tor­ship:” Bet­ter to Suf­fer Than Col­lab­o­rate

Take Han­nah Arendt’s Final Exam for Her 1961 Course “On Rev­o­lu­tion”

Watch Han­nah Arendt’s Final Inter­view (1973)

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.

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.

A New Analysis of Beethoven’s DNA Reveals That Lead Poisoning Could Have Caused His Deafness

Despite the intense scruti­ny paid to the life and work of Lud­wig van Beethoven for a cou­ple of cen­turies now, the revered com­pos­er still has cer­tain mys­ter­ies about him. Some of them he sure­ly nev­er intend­ed to clar­i­fy, like the iden­ti­ty of “Immor­tal Beloved”; oth­ers he explic­it­ly request­ed be made pub­lic, like the cause of his death. The trou­ble is that, for gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, nobody could quite fig­ure out what that cause was. But recent genet­ic analy­sis of his hair, which we first fea­tured last year here on Open Cul­ture, has shed new light on the mat­ter of what killed Beethoven — or rather, what increas­ing­ly ailed him up until he died at the age of 56.

This effort “began a few years ago, when researchers real­ized that DNA analy­sis had advanced enough to jus­ti­fy an exam­i­na­tion of hair said to have been clipped from Beethoven’s head by anguished fans as he lay dying,” writes the New York Times’ Gina Kola­ta.

With the gen­uine sam­ples sep­a­rat­ed from the frauds, a test for heavy met­als revealed that “one of Beethoven’s locks had 258 micro­grams of lead per gram of hair and the oth­er had 380 micro­grams”: 64 times and 95 times the nor­mal amount, respec­tive­ly. Chron­ic lead poi­son­ing, pos­si­bly caused by Beethoven’s habit of drink­ing cheap wine sweet­ened with “lead sug­ar,” could have caused the “unre­lent­ing abdom­i­nal cramps, flat­u­lence and diar­rhea” that plagued him in his life­time.

It could also have has­tened the deaf­ness that had become near­ly com­plete by age thir­ty. “Over the years, Beethoven con­sult­ed many doc­tors, try­ing treat­ment after treat­ment for his ail­ments and his deaf­ness, but found no relief,” Kola­ta writes. “At one point, he was using oint­ments and tak­ing 75 med­i­cines, many of which most like­ly con­tained lead.” Alas, the true dan­ger of lead poi­son­ing, a con­di­tion that had been acknowl­edged since antiq­ui­ty, would­n’t be tak­en seri­ous­ly until the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Accord­ing to the research so far, even this degree of lead expo­sure would­n’t have been fatal by itself. But with a bit less of it, would Beethoven have com­plet­ed his tenth sym­pho­ny, or even con­tin­ued on to an eleventh? Add that to the still-grow­ing list of unan­swer­able ques­tions about him.

via NYTimes

Relat­ed con­tent:

Beethoven’s Genome Has Been Sequenced for the First Time, Reveal­ing Clues About the Great Composer’s Health & Fam­i­ly His­to­ry

The Secrets of Beethoven’s Fifth, the World’s Most Famous Sym­pho­ny

Did Beethoven Use a Bro­ken Metronome When Com­pos­ing His String Quar­tets? Sci­en­tists & Musi­cians Try to Solve the Cen­turies-Old Mys­tery

Beethoven’s Unfin­ished Tenth Sym­pho­ny Gets Com­plet­ed by Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Hear How It Sounds

The Math Behind Beethoven’s Music

Read Beethoven’s Lengthy Love Let­ter to His Mys­te­ri­ous “Immor­tal Beloved” (1812)

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.

Jerry Seinfeld Delivers Commencement Address at Duke University: You Will Need Humor to Get Through the Human Experience

This week­end, Jer­ry Sein­feld gave the com­mence­ment speech at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty and offered the grad­u­ates his three keys to life: 1. bust your ass, 2. pay atten­tion, and 3. fall in love. Then, 10 min­utes lat­er, he added essen­tial­ly a fourth key to life: “Do not lose your sense of humor. You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you’re going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to sur­vive it with­out humor.” “It is worth the sac­ri­fice of an occa­sion­al dis­com­fort to have some laughs. Don’t lose that.” “Humor is the most pow­er­ful, most sur­vival-essen­tial qual­i­ty you will ever have or need to nav­i­gate through the human expe­ri­ence.” Amen.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth Is Life With­out A*Holes

David Fos­ter Wallace’s Famous Com­mence­ment Speech, “This is Water,” Gets Ani­mat­ed on a White­board

Conan O’Brien Kills It at Dart­mouth Grad­u­a­tion

Jon Stewart’s William & Mary Com­mence­ment Address: The Entire World is an Elec­tive

Aldous Huxley Explains How Man Became “the Victim of His Own Technology” (1961)

Just a cou­ple of days ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweet­ed out a video pro­mot­ing, “the new iPad Pro: the thinnest prod­uct we’ve ever cre­at­ed.” The response has been over­whelm­ing, and over­whelm­ing­ly neg­a­tive: for many view­ers, the ad’s imagery of a hydraulic press crush­ing a heap of musi­cal instru­ments, art sup­plies, and vin­tage enter­tain­ment into a sin­gle tablet inad­ver­tent­ly artic­u­lat­ed a dis­com­fort they’ve long felt with tech­nol­o­gy’s direc­tion in the past cou­ple of decades. As the nov­el­ist Hari Kun­zru put it“Crush­ing the sym­bols of human cre­ativ­i­ty to pro­duce a homog­e­nized brand­ed slab is pret­ty much where the tech indus­try is at in 2024.”

One won­ders whether this would have sur­prised Aldous Hux­ley. He under­stood, as he explains in the 1961 BBC inter­view above, that “if you plant the seed of applied sci­ence or tech­nol­o­gy, it pro­ceeds to grow, and it grows accord­ing to the laws of its own being. And the laws of its being are not nec­es­sar­i­ly the same as the laws of our being.”

Even six decades ago, he and cer­tain oth­ers had the sense, which has since become fair­ly com­mon, that “man is being sub­ject­ed to his own inven­tions, that he is now the vic­tim of his own tech­nol­o­gy”; that “the devel­op­ment of recent social and sci­en­tif­ic his­to­ry has cre­at­ed a world in which man seems to be made for tech­nol­o­gy rather than the oth­er way around.”

Hav­ing writ­ten his acclaimed dystopi­an nov­el Brave New World thir­ty years ear­li­er, Hux­ley was estab­lished as a seer of pos­si­ble tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven total­i­tar­i­an futures. He under­stood that “we are a lit­tle reluc­tant to embark upon tech­nol­o­gy, to allow tech­nol­o­gy to take over,” but that, “in the long run, we gen­er­al­ly suc­cumb,” allow­ing our­selves to be mas­tered by our own cre­ations. In this, he resem­bles the Julia of Byron’s Don Juan, who, “whis­per­ing ‘I will ne’er con­sent’ – con­sent­ed.” Hux­ley also knew that “it is pos­si­ble to make peo­ple con­tent with their servi­tude,” even more effec­tive­ly in moder­ni­ty than antiq­ui­ty: “you can pro­vide them with bread and cir­cus­es, and you can pro­vide them with end­less amounts of dis­trac­tion and pro­pa­gan­da” — deliv­ered, here in the twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry, straight to the device in our hand.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Aldous Hux­ley Pre­dicts in 1950 What the World Will Look Like in the Year 2000

An Ani­mat­ed Aldous Hux­ley Iden­ti­fies the Dystopi­an Threats to Our Free­dom (1958)

Aldous Hux­ley Tells Mike Wal­lace What Will Destroy Democ­ra­cy: Over­pop­u­la­tion, Drugs & Insid­i­ous Tech­nol­o­gy (1958)

Aldous Hux­ley to George Orwell: My Hell­ish Vision of the Future is Bet­ter Than Yours (1949)

Hear Aldous Hux­ley Nar­rate His Dystopi­an Mas­ter­piece Brave New World

Aldous Hux­ley, Dying of Can­cer, Left This World Trip­ping on LSD (1963)

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 First Recording of Allen Ginsberg Reading “Howl” (1956)

Allen_ginsberg_erads howl

Image by Michiel Hendryckx, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Occa­sion­al­ly I slip into an ivory tow­er men­tal­i­ty in which the idea of a banned book seems quaint—associated with sil­ly scan­dals over the tame sex scenes in James Joyce or D.H. Lawrence. After all, I think, we live in an age when best­seller lists are topped (no pun) by tawdry fan fic­tion like Fifty Shades of Grey. Nothing’s sacred. But this notion is a mas­sive blind spot on my part; the whole aware­ness-rais­ing mis­sion of the annu­al Banned Books Week seeks to dis­pel such com­pla­cen­cy. Books are chal­lenged, sup­pressed, and banned all the time in pub­lic schools and libraries, even if we’ve moved past out­right gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship of the pub­lish­ing indus­try.

It’s also easy to for­get that Allen Ginsberg’s gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing poem “Howl” was once almost a casu­al­ty of cen­sor­ship. The most like­ly suc­ces­sor to Walt Whitman’s vision, Ginsberg’s orac­u­lar utter­ances did not sit well with U.S. Cus­toms, who in 1957 tried to seize every copy of the British sec­ond print­ing. When that failed, police arrest­ed the poem’s pub­lish­er, Lawrence Fer­linghet­ti, and he and Ginsberg’s “Howl” were put on tri­al for obscen­i­ty. Appar­ent­ly, phras­es like “cock and end­less balls” did not sit well with the author­i­ties. But the court vin­di­cat­ed them all.

The sto­ry of Howl’s pub­li­ca­tion begins in 1955, when 29-year-old Gins­berg read part of the poem at the Six Gallery, where Ferlinghetti—owner of San Francisco’s City Lights book­store—sat in atten­dance. Decid­ing that Ginsberg’s epic lament “knocked the sides out of things,” Fer­linghet­ti offered to pub­lish “Howl” and brought out the first edi­tion in 1956. Pri­or to this read­ing, “Howl” exist­ed in the form of an ear­li­er poem called “Dream Record, 1955,” which poet Ken­neth Rexroth told Gins­berg sound­ed “too for­mal… like you’re wear­ing Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Brooks Broth­ers ties.” Ginsberg’s rewrite jet­ti­soned the ivy league deco­rum.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, no audio exists of that first read­ing, but above you can hear the first record­ed read­ing of “Howl,” from Feb­ru­ary, 1956 at Portland’s Reed Col­lege. The record­ing sat dor­mant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until schol­ar John Suit­er redis­cov­ered it in 2008. In it, Gins­berg reads his great prophet­ic work, not with the cadences of a street preach­er or jazzman—both of which he had in his repertoire—but in an almost robot­ic monot­o­ne with an under­tone of man­ic urgency. Ginsberg’s read­ing, before an inti­mate group of stu­dents in a dor­mi­to­ry lounge, took place only just before the first print­ing of the poem in the City Lights edi­tion.

Note: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in 2013. Over the years, the audio orig­i­nal­ly fea­tured in the post, along with many of the links, went dead. So we gave every­thing a refresh and brought it back.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Allen Gins­berg Record­ings Brought to the Dig­i­tal Age. Lis­ten to Eight Full Tracks for Free

James Fran­co Reads a Dream­i­ly Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of Allen Ginsberg’s Epic Poem ‘Howl’

2,000+ Cas­settes from the Allen Gins­berg Audio Col­lec­tion Now Stream­ing Online

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

13 Lec­tures from Allen Ginsberg’s “His­to­ry of Poet­ry” Course (1975)

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

Watch an Enthusiast Drive the First Car Ever Made, the 1885 Mercedes Benz

In 1885, Karl Benz built what’s now con­sid­ered the first mod­ern auto­mo­bile. Accord­ing to the Mer­cedes Benz web­site, the car fea­tured a “com­pact high-speed sin­gle-cylin­der four-stroke engine installed hor­i­zon­tal­ly at the rear, a tubu­lar steel frame … and three wire-spoked wheels. The engine out­put was 0.75 hp (0.55 kW).” Two years after its inven­tion, Karl Ben­z’s wife Bertha proved that the car was ready for prime time, dri­ving her ear­ly Benz from Mannheim to Pforzheim. After that ground­break­ing dri­ve, the Benz went into pro­duc­tion, becom­ing the first com­mer­cial­ly avail­able auto­mo­bile in his­to­ry.

Above, you can watch a car enthu­si­ast known as “Mr. Benz” take the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry car for a spin. Below, watch a re-enact­ment of Bertha’s his­toric dri­ve.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent

The First 100 Years of the Bicy­cle: A 1915 Doc­u­men­tary Shows How the Bike Went from Its Clunky Birth in 1818, to Its Endur­ing Design in 1890

178,000 Images Doc­u­ment­ing the His­to­ry of the Car Now Avail­able on a New Stan­ford Web Site

A Fly­ing Car Took to the Skies Back in 1949: See the Tay­lor Aero­car in Action



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Read the Uncompromising Letter That Steve Albini (RIP) Wrote to Nirvana Before Producing In Utero (1993)

Today, Steve Albi­ni, the musi­cian and pro­duc­er of impor­tant albums by Nir­vana, PJ Har­vey, the Pix­ies and many oth­ers, passed away in Chica­go, at the all-too-ear­ly age of 61. In trib­ute, we’re bring­ing you this clas­sic 2013 post from our archive. 

Jour­ney­man record pro­duc­er Steve Albi­ni (he prefers to be called a “record­ing engi­neer”) is per­haps the cranki­est man in rock. This is not an effect of age. He’s always been that way, since the emer­gence of his scary, no-frills post-punk band Big Black and lat­er projects Rape­man and Shel­lac. In his cur­rent role as elder states­man of indie rock and more, Chicago’s Albi­ni has devel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as kind of a hardass. He’s also a con­sum­mate pro­fes­sion­al who musi­cians want to know and work with. From the sound of the Pix­ies’ Surfer Rosa to Joan­na Newsom’s Ys, Albi­ni has had a hand in some of the defin­ing albums of the last thir­ty plus years, and there is good rea­son for that: noth­ing sounds like an Albi­ni record. His method is all his own, and his results—minimalist, dynam­ic, and raw—are impos­si­ble to argue with.

So when Nir­vana embarked on record­ing their final, painful (in hind­sight) album In Utero, they asked Albi­ni to steer them away from the more major-label sound of the break­out Nev­er­mind, pro­duced by Butch Vig. True to form, the typ­i­cal­ly ver­bose Albi­ni sent a four-page typed let­ter in response. The let­ter (first page above—see the rest here) is a tes­ta­ment to per­haps the most thought­ful pro­duc­er since Quin­cy Jones and lays out Albini’s phi­los­o­phy in very fine detail. Two sam­ple para­graphs serve as a the­sis:

I’m only inter­est­ed in work­ing on records that legit­i­mate­ly reflect the band’s own per­cep­tion of their music and exis­tence. If you will com­mit your­selves to that as a tenet of the record­ing method­ol­o­gy, then I will bust my ass for you. I’ll work cir­cles around you. I’ll rap your head with a ratch­et…

I have worked on hun­dreds of records (some great, some good, some hor­ri­ble, a lot in the court­yard), and I have seen a direct cor­re­la­tion between the qual­i­ty of the end result and the mood of the band through­out the process. If the record takes a long time, and every­one gets bummed and scru­ti­nizes every step, then the record­ings bear lit­tle resem­blance to the live band, and the end result is sel­dom flat­ter­ing. Mak­ing punk records is def­i­nite­ly a case where more “work” does not imply a bet­ter end result. Clear­ly you have learned this your­selves and appre­ci­ate the log­ic.

Albi­ni decries any inter­fer­ence from the “front office bul­let­heads,” or record com­pa­ny execs (his feuds with such peo­ple are leg­endary), and makes it quite clear that he’s there to serve the inter­ests of the band and their sound, not the prod­uct of a mar­ket­ing cam­paign. While Albi­ni has issued many a surly man­i­festo over the years, this state­ment of his craft is maybe the most com­pre­hen­sive. He is dri­ven by what he calls a “kin­ship” with the bands he works with. And his pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment to musi­cians and to qual­i­ty sound makes him one of the most artis­ti­cal­ly vir­tu­ous peo­ple work­ing in pop­u­lar music today. For more on In Utero, read Dave Grohl’s Rolling Stone inter­view here. Below, see Dave Grohl, Krist Novosel­ic and Steve Albi­ni dis­cuss the now-famous let­ter to Nir­vana.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Music Pro­duc­er Steve Albi­ni, Direc­tor God­frey Reg­gio & Actor Fred Armisen Explain Why Cre­at­ing Is Cru­cial to Human Exis­tence

An Awkward/NSFW Inter­view with Nir­vana Pro­duc­er Steve Albi­ni (Plus B‑52 Front­man Fred Schnei­der)

Vis­it “Mar­i­o­batal­ivoice,” the Cook­ing Blog by Steve Albi­ni, Musi­cian & Record Pro­duc­er

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

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Watch Animations Showing How Humans Migrated Across the World Over the Past 60,000 Years

Ex Africa sem­per aliq­uid novi. Attrib­uted to var­i­ous lumi­nar­ies of antiq­ui­ty, that say­ing (the prob­a­ble inspi­ra­tion for Isak Dine­sen’s poem “Ex Africa,” itself the prob­a­ble inspi­ra­tion for her mem­oir Out of Africa, which in turn was loose­ly adapt­ed into Syd­ney Pol­lack­’s Oscar-lav­ished film) trans­lates to “Out of Africa, always some­thing new.” But it’s per­haps more notable that out of Africa came some­thing quite old indeed: humankind itself, which over the past 60,000 years has been spread­ing ever far­ther across the world. You can see how it hap­pened in the Insid­er Sci­ence video above, which ani­mates those 60 mil­len­nia of glob­al migra­tion in less than two and a half min­utes.

For more detail, con­sid­er sup­ple­ment­ing that video with this one from GeoNo­mad, which tracks the out­ward expan­sion of human­i­ty through DNA research. “Sci­en­tif­ic research has shown that the 7.5 bil­lion peo­ple who occu­py the earth today are the descen­dants of a woman who lived 200,000 years ago,” explains its nar­ra­tion.

“Sci­en­tists call her Mito­chon­dr­i­al Eve,” in ref­er­ence to the DNA locat­ed in mito­chon­dria, a type of ener­gy-pro­duc­ing organelle known as “the pow­er­house of the cell.” Both male and female humans pos­sess mito­chon­dr­i­al DNA, of course, but only female mito­chon­dr­i­al DNA pass­es down to off­spring; hence our not talk­ing about a Mito­chon­dr­i­al Adam.

DNA map­ping has allowed us to trace the genet­ic and geo­graph­i­cal his­to­ry of the Mito­chon­dr­i­al Eve’s descen­dants. Some left for oth­er parts of Africa, and oth­ers for what we now know as the Mid­dle East and India. Whether by wan­der­lust or neces­si­ty — and giv­en the har­row­ing con­di­tions implied by their low sur­vival rate, the lat­ter prob­a­bly had more to do with it — cer­tain groups con­tin­ued on to mod­ern-day south­east Asia and Aus­tralia. It was through west­ern Asia that the first humans entered nean­derthal-pop­u­lat­ed Europe as ear­ly as 56,800 years ago. There, some 546 cen­turies lat­er, Ter­ence would write, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”: a dec­la­ra­tion per­haps made in the sus­pi­cion that, when you go back far enough, we’re all one big fam­i­ly.

Relat­ed con­tent:

New Study Finds That Humans Are 33,000 Years Old­er Than We Thought

How Humans Migrat­ed Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Ani­mat­ed Look

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Mil­lion Years of Human Evo­lu­tion Visu­al­ized in Six Min­utes

The His­to­ry of the World in One Video: Every Year from 200,000 BCE to Today

Hear What the Lan­guage Spo­ken by Our Ances­tors 6,000 Years Ago Might Have Sound­ed Like: A Recon­struc­tion of the Pro­to-Indo-Euro­pean Lan­guage

Cats Migrat­ed to Europe 7,000 Years Ear­li­er Than Once Thought

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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