The Radical Artistic & Philosophical World of William Blake: A Short Introduction

Over the years, we’ve fea­tured the work of William Blake fair­ly often here on Open Cul­ture: his own illu­mi­nat­ed books; his illus­tra­tions for every­thing from the Divine Com­e­dy to Mary Woll­stonecraft’s Orig­i­nal Sto­ries from Real Life to the Book of Job; pairs of Doc Martens made out of his paint­ings Satan Smit­ing Job with Sore Boils and The House of Death. Blake con­tin­ues to cap­ture our imag­i­na­tions, despite hav­ing lived in the very dif­fer­ent world of the mid-eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry to the mid-nine­teenth — but then, he also lived in a world well apart from his con­tem­po­raries.

“Blake belonged to the Roman­tic age, but stands utter­ly alone in that age, both as an artist and as a poet,” says gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above. “He is some­one who invent­ed his very own form of graph­ic art, which organ­i­cal­ly fused beau­ti­ful images with pow­er­ful poet­ry, while he also forged his own dis­tinc­tive philo­soph­i­cal world­view and cre­at­ed an orig­i­nal cos­mol­o­gy of gods and spir­its designed to express his ideas about love, free­dom, nature, and the divine.” It would­n’t be an exag­ger­a­tion to call him a vision­ary, not least since he expe­ri­enced actu­al visions through­out almost his entire life.

Not just a visu­al artist but “one of the great­est poets in the Eng­lish lan­guage,” Blake pro­duced a body of work in which word and image are insep­a­ra­ble. Though it “address­es con­tem­po­rary sub­jects like social inequal­i­ty and pover­ty, child exploita­tion, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, and reli­gious hypocrisy,” its world­li­ness is exceed­ed by its oth­er­world­li­ness. What com­pels us is as much the pow­er of art itself as the “vast and com­pli­cat­ed mythol­o­gy” under­ly­ing the project on which Blake worked until the very end of his life. His ide­al was “lib­er­ty from tyran­ny in all forms,” polit­i­cal, reli­gious, sci­en­tif­ic, and any oth­er kind besides; in pur­su­ing it, he could hard­ly have lim­it­ed him­self to just one plane of exis­tence.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Oth­er­world­ly Art of William Blake: An Intro­duc­tion to the Vision­ary Poet and Painter

William Blake: The Remark­able Print­ing Process of the Eng­lish Poet, Artist & Vision­ary

Enter an Archive of William Blake’s Fan­tas­ti­cal “Illu­mi­nat­ed Books”: The Images Are Sub­lime, and in High Res­o­lu­tion

William Blake’s Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Illus­tra­tions of John Milton’s Par­adise Lost

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

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.

Stephen King Names His Five Favorite Works by Stephen King

Stephen King has no doubt for­got­ten writ­ing more books than most of us will ever pub­lish. But even now, in his pro­lif­ic “late career,” if you ask him to name his own most favored works, he can do it with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Stephen Col­bert tried that out a few years ago on The Late Show, when the writer made an appear­ance to pro­mote his then-lat­est book Bil­ly Sum­mers. The first of Stephen King’s top five by Stephen King is “Sur­vivor Type,” a 1982 short sto­ry about “a physi­cian who gets strand­ed on a lit­tle island, and he’s smug­gling hero­in, and he’s starv­ing, so he eats him­self piece by piece.”

Sur­vivor Type” may be a deep cut — and one that ini­tial­ly strug­gled for pub­li­ca­tion, being so dis­turb­ing that King remem­bers “even men’s mag­a­zines” turn­ing it down — but it’s nev­er­the­less been adapt­ed into five dif­fer­ent films since the twen­ty-tens alone. King may have enjoyed mas­sive book sales through­out almost the entire­ty of his career, but it cer­tain­ly has­n’t hurt his brand that so many of his works have become movies and tele­vi­sion shows, many of them cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na in their own right. Take the case of Mis­ery, anoth­er of King’s selec­tions, the 1990 fea­ture-film ver­sion of which gave us Kathy Bates’ Oscar-win­ning per­for­mance as a crazed fan who kid­naps her favorite nov­el­ist.

Mis­ery was direct­ed by Rob Rein­er, who’d worked with King’s mate­r­i­al before: in 1986, he turned the sto­ry “The Body” into Stand by Me, which is now con­sid­ered a high point in the cat­e­gories of eight­ies teen-star vehi­cles and ear­ly-six­ties nos­tal­gia pic­tures. After see­ing its first screen­ing, King declared it “the best film ever made out of any­thing I’ve writ­ten” — before char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly adding, “which isn’t say­ing much.” (That same year, recall, King not just wrote but direct­ed Max­i­mum Over­drive, a spec­ta­cle of malev­o­lent machines tak­ing over a truck stop that he lat­er described as a “moron movie.”)

King also enthus­es about his 2006 nov­el Lisey’s Sto­ry, as well as its Apple TV+ series adap­ta­tion, which had just come out at the time. Also still-new was the sec­ond tele­vi­su­al ren­di­tion of The Stand, King’s 1978 nov­el set in the after­math of an apoc­a­lyp­tic pan­dem­ic. “Any sim­i­lar­i­ties to what’s going on now are just too close for com­fort,” he says to Col­bert in this COVID-era clip, though it’s ambigu­ous whether the book actu­al­ly makes his top five. Col­bert sug­gests fill­ing out the list with Bil­ly Sum­mers, pre­sum­ably on the prin­ci­ple that every writer favors his most recent work. But where would King rank the three nov­els he’s cranked out since?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Stephen King’s 22 Favorite Movies, Packed with Hor­ror & Sus­pense

Stephen King Cre­ates a List of His 10 Favorite Nov­els

Stephen King Rec­om­mends 96 Books for Aspir­ing Writ­ers to Read

How Stan­ley Kubrick Adapt­ed Stephen King’s The Shin­ing into a Cin­e­mat­ic Mas­ter­piece

Pret­ty Much Pop #18 Dis­cuss­es Stephen King’s Media Empire

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.

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.

How Well Does Medieval Armor Actually Stand Up to Medieval Arrows?: A Historical Re-Creation Lets You See

The pop­u­lar image of the medieval suit of armor looks for­mi­da­ble enough that any of us could be for­giv­en for assum­ing that, with its steel-plat­ed pro­tec­tion, we’d emerge from even the most har­row­ing bat­tle with­out a scratch. Yet if we real­ly found our­selves trans­port­ed to, say, the French side in the Bat­tle of Agin­court, we’d prob­a­bly feel a keen sense of just where those Eng­lish arrows could nev­er­the­less land a fatal hit. This is the mat­ter inves­ti­gat­ed in detail in the video above, a pro­duc­tion of Tod’s Work­shop, a British mak­er of “accu­rate and detailed his­tor­i­cal repro­duc­tion cross­bows, sword scab­bards, swords, dag­gers and oth­er medieval weapons, and arti­facts.”

This isn’t some back­yard tar­get-prac­tice ses­sion for Medieval Times habitués, but a gath­er­ing of experts in a vari­ety of rel­e­vant fields. Tod’s Work­shop pro­pri­etor Tod Tode­s­chi­ni brings on both the com­pa­ny’s armor­er and fletch­er (that is, mak­er of arrows), as well as arms-and-armor his­to­ri­an Toby Cap­well and a high­ly skilled archer named Joe.

It is Joe’s task to shoot a great many of the work­shop’s faith­ful­ly craft­ed ear­ly-fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry arrows at its faith­ful­ly craft­ed ear­ly-fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry suit of armor in order to pro­vide a visu­al — and, in slow motion, vis­cer­al — demon­stra­tion of just how well it could real­ly hold up against the mighty Eng­lish long­bow.

In some respects, the suit acquits itself nice­ly: many of Joe’s arrows sim­ply bounce off plate armor, some­times snap­ping in the process. But when­ev­er a shot hits some­thing oth­er than a plate, things get con­sid­er­ably dici­er. The lay­ers of chain­mail in the gaps between hel­met and breast­plate or breast­plate and paul­dron (which cov­ers the shoul­der) turn out to be more vul­ner­a­ble than they look, and as for the whol­ly un-plat­ed groin area, the less said the bet­ter. The year 1415, the hosts explain, was before the devel­op­ment of the head-to-toe suit of armor that comes to mind today when we think of medieval knights — a devel­op­ment no doubt inspired in part by the fate of the numer­ous but hope­less­ly out­gunned French army at Agin­court.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ancient Greek Armor Gets Test­ed in an 11-Hour Bat­tle Sim­u­la­tion Inspired by the Ili­ad

What It’s Like to Actu­al­ly Fight in Medieval Armor

How to Get Dressed & Fight in 14th Cen­tu­ry Armor: A Reen­act­ment

How to Make and Wear Medieval Armor: An In-Depth Primer

What’s It Like to Fight in 15th Cen­tu­ry Armor?: A Sur­pris­ing Demon­stra­tion

How Well Can You Move in Medieval Armor?: Medieval­ist Daniel Jaquet Gives It a Try in Real Life

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.

Sci-Fi Author J.G. Ballard Predicts the Rise of Social Media (1977)

Say you were a fan of Steven Spielberg’s mov­ing com­ing-of-age dra­ma Empire of the Sun, set in a Japan­ese intern­ment camp dur­ing World War II and star­ring a young Chris­t­ian Bale. Say you read the auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el on which that film is based, writ­ten by one J.G. Bal­lard. Say you enjoyed it so much, you decid­ed to read more of the author’s work, like, say, 1973’s Crash, a nov­el about peo­ple who devel­op a sex­u­al fetish around wounds sus­tained in staged auto­mo­bile acci­dents. Or you pick up its pre­de­ces­sor, The Atroc­i­ty Exhi­bi­tion, a book William S. Bur­roughs described as stir­ring “sex­u­al depths untouched by the hard­est-core illus­trat­ed porn.” Or per­haps you stum­ble upon Con­crete Island, a warped take on Defoe that strands a wealthy archi­tect and his Jaguar on a high­way inter­sec­tion.

You may expe­ri­ence some dis­so­nance. Who was this Bal­lard? A real­ist chron­i­cler of 20th cen­tu­ry hor­rors; per­verse explor­er of—in Bur­roughs’ words—“the non­sex­u­al roots of sex­u­al­i­ty”; sci-fi satirist of the bleak post-indus­tri­al waste­lands of moder­ni­ty? He was all of these, and more. Bal­lard was a bril­liant futur­ist and his dystopi­an nov­els and short sto­ries antic­i­pat­ed the 80s cyber­punk of William Gib­son, explor­ing with a twist­ed sense of humor what Jean Lyotard famous­ly dubbed in 1979 The Post­mod­ern Con­di­tion: a state of ide­o­log­i­cal, sci­en­tif­ic, per­son­al, and social dis­in­te­gra­tion under the reign of a tech­no­crat­ic, hyper­cap­i­tal­ist, “com­put­er­ized soci­ety.” Bal­lard had his own term for it: “media land­scape,” and his dark visions of the future often cor­re­spond to the vir­tu­al world we inhab­it today.

In addi­tion to his fic­tion­al cre­ations, Bal­lard made sev­er­al dis­turbing­ly accu­rate pre­dic­tions in inter­views he gave over the decades (col­lect­ed in a book titled Extreme Metaphors). In 1987, with the film adap­ta­tion of Empire of the Sun just on the hori­zon and “his most extreme work Crash re-released in the USA to warmer reac­tion,” he gave an inter­view to I‑D mag­a­zine in which he pre­dict­ed the inter­net as “invis­i­ble streams of data puls­ing down lines to pro­duce an invis­i­ble loom of world com­merce and infor­ma­tion.” This may not seem espe­cial­ly pre­scient (see, for exam­ple, E.M. Forster’s 1909 “The Machine Stops” for a chill­ing futur­is­tic sce­nario much fur­ther ahead of its time). But Bal­lard went on to describe in detail the rise of the Youtube celebri­ty:

Every home will be trans­formed into its own TV stu­dio. We’ll all be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly actor, direc­tor and screen­writer in our own soap opera. Peo­ple will start screen­ing them­selves. They will become their own TV pro­grammes.

The themes of celebri­ty obses­sion and tech­no­log­i­cal­ly con­struct­ed real­i­ties res­onate in almost all of Ballard’s work and thought, and ten years ear­li­er, in an essay for Vogue, he described in detail the spread of social media and its total­iz­ing effects on our lives. In the tech­no­log­i­cal future, he wrote, “each of us will be both star and sup­port­ing play­er.”

Every one of our actions dur­ing the day, across the entire spec­trum of domes­tic life, will be instant­ly record­ed on video-tape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rush­es, select­ed by a com­put­er trained to pick out only our best pro­files, our wit­ti­est dia­logue, our most affect­ing expres­sions filmed through the kind­est fil­ters, and then stitch these togeth­er into a height­ened re-enact­ment of the day. Regard­less of our place in the fam­i­ly peck­ing order, each of us with­in the pri­va­cy of our own rooms will be the star in a con­tin­u­al­ly unfold­ing domes­tic saga, with par­ents, hus­bands, wives and chil­dren demot­ed to an appro­pri­ate sup­port­ing role.

Though Bal­lard thought in terms of film and television—and though we our­selves play the role of the select­ing com­put­er in his scenario—this descrip­tion almost per­fect­ly cap­tures the behav­ior of the aver­age user of Face­book, Insta­gram, etc. (See Bal­lard in the inter­view clip above dis­cuss fur­ther “the pos­si­bil­i­ties of gen­uine­ly inter­ac­tive vir­tu­al real­i­ty” and his the­o­ry of the 50s as the “blue­print” of mod­ern tech­no­log­i­cal cul­ture and the “sub­ur­ban­iza­tion” of real­i­ty.) In addi­tion to the Vogue essay, Bal­lard wrote a 1977 short sto­ry called “The Inten­sive Care Unit,” in which—writes the site Bal­lar­dian—“ordi­nances are in place to pre­vent peo­ple from meet­ing in per­son. All inter­ac­tion is medi­at­ed through per­son­al cam­eras and TV screens.”

So what did Bal­lard, who died in 2009, think of the post-inter­net world he lived to see and expe­ri­ence? He dis­cussed the sub­ject in 2003 in an inter­view with rad­i­cal pub­lish­er V. Vale (who re-issued The Atroc­i­ty Exhi­bi­tion). “Now every­body can doc­u­ment them­selves in a way that was incon­ceiv­able 30, 40, 50 years ago,” Bal­lard notes, “I think this reflects a tremen­dous hunger among peo­ple for ‘reality’—for ordi­nary real­i­ty. It’s very dif­fi­cult to find the ‘real,’ because the envi­ron­ment is total­ly man­u­fac­tured.” Like Jean Bau­drillard, anoth­er pre­scient the­o­rist of post­moder­ni­ty, Bal­lard saw this loss of the “real” com­ing many decades ago. As he told I‑D in 1987, “in the media land­scape it’s almost impos­si­ble to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1953, a Tele­phone-Com­pa­ny Exec­u­tive Pre­dicts the Rise of Mod­ern Smart­phones and Video Calls

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

The Very First Film of J.G. Ballard’s Crash, Star­ring Bal­lard Him­self (1971)

Hear Five JG Bal­lard Sto­ries Pre­sent­ed as Radio Dra­mas

Philip K. Dick Makes Off-the-Wall Pre­dic­tions for the Future: Mars Colonies, Alien Virus­es & More (1981)

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

When the CIA Studied Psychic Techniques to Alter Human Consciousness & Unlock Time Travel: Discover “The Gateway Process”

By now, it’s wide­ly known that the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency ran a decades-long pro­gram of exper­i­ments involv­ing LSD and oth­er psy­choac­tive drugs called MKUl­tra from the nine­teen-fifties to the sev­en­ties. As one might sus­pect, that was­n’t the only research project into the manip­u­la­tion of human con­scious­ness the CIA had going on in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Anoth­er, a study of some­thing called the Gate­way Process, has more recent­ly come to wide atten­tion through an unlike­ly chan­nel. The rel­e­vant doc­u­ments “had been declas­si­fied for decades — but a new, younger audi­ence was intro­duced to the Gate­way when Tik­Tok caught on in 2021.”

So writes Elle’s Han­nah Sum­mer­hill, a self-described “long­time seek­er” recep­tive to the Gate­way Process’ con­cept of har­ness­ing not drugs but sound to “the art of becom­ing more con­scious of one’s par­tic­u­lar inner resources, inner abil­i­ties, and, most of all, one’s inner guid­ance.” The doc­u­men­ta­tion breaks down the lev­els of focus thus the­o­ret­i­cal­ly achiev­able into a series of lev­els: Focus 10 is “a med­i­ta­tive state con­ducive to heal­ing, psy­chic abil­i­ties, and remote view­ing (the abil­i­ty to ‘see’ objects in real time from a dis­tance). In the deep­er Focus 12 state, par­tic­i­pants report meet­ing their high­er selves; in Focus 15, they can manip­u­late time and chan­nel a ‘strong and guid­ing’ God-like fig­ure.”

All this was orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived by for­mer radio exec­u­tive Robert Mon­roe, whose self-exper­i­men­ta­tion with the effect of sound on human con­scious­ness — the same phe­nom­e­na exploit­ed by study-and med­i­ta­tion-assist­ing “bin­au­r­al beats” — led to his found­ing the Mon­roe Insti­tute. “In the late stages of the Cold War, con­vinced that the Sovi­ets were research­ing psy­chic abil­i­ties for espi­onage, the CIA tapped the Mon­roe Insti­tute to explore these meth­ods for them­selves,” writes Sum­mer­hill. You can read Lieu­tenant Colonel Wayne McDon­nel­l’s declas­si­fied July 1983 report on Mon­roe’s tech­niques here, as well as Thobey Cam­pi­on’s break­down of its main points at VICE here.

“A project like Gate­way that mar­ries sci­ence with the human yearn­ing for mean­ing seemed awful­ly promis­ing,” writes Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics’ Susan Lahey. “But, as it turned out, the process was not a gate­way between mate­ri­al­is­tic sci­ence and expe­ri­en­tial con­scious­ness; it was more like an effort to write a tech­ni­cal man­u­al for the inef­fa­ble.” Even if it sounds plau­si­ble to you that a bin­au­r­al beat-like sound record­ing “syncs the hemi­spheres of the brain into a sin­gle, pow­er­ful stream of ener­gy, like a laser,” you may feel less con­fi­dent when the report posits “a giant cos­mic egg with a nucle­us in the mid­dle where the Absolute spews mat­ter from a white hole into one side of the ovoid-shaped uni­verse.” It seems that the CIA nev­er did fig­ure out a way to reli­ably engage in time trav­el, remote view­ing or com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the divine, but maybe the Tik­Tok­ers will fig­ure it out.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Inside MK-Ultra, the CIA’s Secret Pro­gram That Used LSD to Achieve Mind Con­trol (1953–1973)

How the CIA Secret­ly Used Jack­son Pol­lock & Oth­er Abstract Expres­sion­ists to Fight the Cold War

How the CIA Fund­ed & Sup­port­ed Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zines World­wide While Wag­ing Cul­tur­al War Against Com­mu­nism

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

12 Mil­lion Declas­si­fied CIA Doc­u­ments Now Free Online: Secret Tun­nels, UFOs, Psy­chic Exper­i­ments & More

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.

This 392-Year-Old Bonsai Tree Survived the Hiroshima Atomic Blast & Still Flourishes Today: The Power of Resilience

Image by Sage Ross, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The beau­ti­ful bon­sai tree pic­tured above–let’s call it the Yama­ki Pine Bonsai–began its jour­ney through the world back in 1625. That’s when the Yama­ki fam­i­ly first began to train the tree, work­ing patient­ly, gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, to prune the tree into the majes­tic thing it is today.

No doubt, over the cen­turies, the ancient bon­sai wit­nessed many good and bad days in Japan–some highs and some lows. But noth­ing as low as what hap­pened on August 6, 1945, when the Unit­ed States dropped an atom­ic bomb on Hiroshi­ma, dev­as­tat­ing the city and leav­ing 140,000 civil­ians dead. The bomb explod­ed less than two miles from the Yamak­i’s home. But defy­ing the odds, the Yama­ki Pine sur­vived the blast. (It was pro­tect­ed by a wall sur­round­ing the Yamak­i’s bon­sai nurs­ery.) The fam­i­ly sur­vived the blast too, suf­fer­ing only minor cuts from fly­ing glass.

Three decades lat­er, in a rather remark­able act of for­give­ness, the Yama­ki fam­i­ly gift­ed the pine (along with 52 oth­er cher­ished trees) to the Unit­ed States, dur­ing the bicen­ten­ni­al cel­e­bra­tion of 1976. Nev­er did they say any­thing, how­ev­er, about the trau­mas the tree sur­vived. Only in 2001, when a younger gen­er­a­tion of Yamakis vis­it­ed Wash­ing­ton, did the care­tak­ers at the Unit­ed States Nation­al Arbore­tum learn the full sto­ry about the tree’s resilience. The tree sur­vived the worst mankind could throw at it. And kept its beau­ty intact. Sure­ly you can do the same when life sends less­er chal­lenges your way.

You can get a clos­er look at the Yama­ki pine in the video below.

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.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “Shad­ow” of a Hiroshi­ma Vic­tim, Etched into Stone, Is All That Remains After 1945 Atom­ic Blast

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

The Art of Cre­at­ing a Bon­sai: One Year Con­densed Con­densed Into 22 Mes­mer­iz­ing Min­utes

The Art & Phi­los­o­phy of Bon­sai

 

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Ancient Greek Armor Gets Tested in an 11-Hour Battle Simulation Inspired by the Iliad


By Greek law, every male cit­i­zen over the age of eigh­teen must spend from nine months to a year in the Hel­lenic Armed Forces. As in every coun­try with such a pol­i­cy of manda­to­ry con­scrip­tion, this is sure­ly not a prospect rel­ished by most con­scripts-to-be. But then, it can’t be all bad, at least for those enthu­si­asts of Mediter­ranean mil­i­tary his­to­ry who hap­pened to be serv­ing when researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Thes­saly came by offer­ing the chance to don a suit of armor from the fif­teenth cen­tu­ry BC and have a very — and faith­ful­ly — old-fash­ioned bat­tle.

The repli­ca was mod­eled on an exam­ple from the late-Bronze-age Myce­naean civ­i­liza­tion “dis­cov­ered in the south­ern Greek vil­lage of Den­dra in 1960,” writes Smithsonian.com’s Son­ja Ander­son, describ­ing it as “one of the old­est com­plete suits of Euro­pean armor in exis­tence.”

Com­posed of fif­teen “cop­per-alloy sheets held togeth­er with leather, which cov­ered the wear­er from neck to knees,” the suit is “com­plete with arm and leg guards and a hel­met dec­o­rat­ed with pieces of boar tusk.” Clunky though it may look, it stands as evi­dence that, as the researchers put it in their paper, the “Myce­naeans had such a pow­er­ful impact in East­ern Mediter­ranean at least part­ly as a result of their armor tech­nol­o­gy.”

But first, they had to put the armor itself to the test. “They gath­ered vol­un­teers from the 32nd Marines Brigade of the Hel­lenic Army,” Ander­son writes, “fed them the pre-bat­tle meal of a Myce­naean sol­dier: bread, beef, goat cheese, green olives, onions and red wine. The marines were out­fit­ted in repli­cas of the Myce­naean suit, giv­en repli­cas of Myce­naean cru­ci­form swords, and placed in a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled room set to a geo­graph­i­cal­ly accu­rate 64 to 68 degrees Fahren­heit.” There com­menced eleven hours of sim­u­lat­ed bat­tle, all “chore­o­graphed based on descrip­tions of the Tro­jan War from Homer’s Ili­ad, which was fought a few cen­turies after the Den­dra armor was made.”

“We now under­stand, despite its cum­ber­some appear­ance at first sight, that it is not only flex­i­ble enough to per­mit almost every move­ment of a war­rior on foot but also resilient enough to pro­tect the wear­er from most blows,” the researchers write in their con­clu­sion. And though their research sub­jects “showed a high lev­el of fatigue, sore upper body due to the weight of the armor, and foot pain due to walk­ing, run­ning, rid­ing a char­i­ot, and fight­ing bare­foot,” it must have been a more stim­u­lat­ing expe­ri­ence than the aver­age day in the Hel­lenic Armed Forces — espe­cial­ly if there was any post-bat­tle goat cheese and wine avail­able.

via Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed con­tent:

What It’s Like to Actu­al­ly Fight in Medieval Armor

How to Make and Wear Medieval Armor: An In-Depth Primer

How Well Can You Move in Medieval Armor?: Medieval­ist Daniel Jaquet Gives It a Try in Real Life

Bronze Age Britons Turned Bones of Dead Rel­a­tives into Musi­cal Instru­ments & Orna­ments

Why Civ­i­liza­tion Col­lapsed in 1177 BC: Watch Clas­si­cist Eric Cline’s Lec­ture That Has Already Gar­nered 5.5 Mil­lion Views

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.

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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Watch Philosophy Lectures That Became a Hit During COVID by Professor Michael Sugrue (RIP): From Plato and Marcus Aurelius to Critical Theory

If we ask which phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor has made the great­est impact in this decade, there’s a sol­id case to be made for the late Michael Sug­rue. Yet in the near­ly four-decade-long career that fol­lowed his stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go under Allan Bloom (author of The Clos­ing of the Amer­i­can Mind, lat­er immor­tal­ized in Saul Bel­low’s Rav­el­stein), he nev­er pub­lished a book, nor took a tenured posi­tion. His last place of employ­ment as a lec­tur­er was Ave Maria Uni­ver­si­ty, a small Catholic insti­tu­tion found­ed by the man behind Domi­no’s Piz­za. After his death ear­li­er this year, his work might have lived on only in the mem­o­ries of the stu­dents with whom he shared class­rooms.

That would have been the case, at least, if Sug­rue’s daugh­ter had­n’t uploaded his lec­tures to Youtube dur­ing the COVID pan­dem­ic, when view­ers the world over were more than ready for a dose of philo­soph­i­cal wis­dom. “The lec­tures were record­ed as part of the Great Minds of the West­ern Intel­lec­tu­al Tra­di­tion series,” writes John Hirschauer in a 2021 Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tive pro­file, “a col­lec­tion of talks on the West’s great­est authors and thinkers” pub­lished by The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny in 1992. “Sugrue’s first lec­ture in the series is on Pla­to, the last on crit­i­cal the­o­ry. His remark­able ora­to­ry skill is on dis­play through­out.” What’s more, “he does not car­ry a note card or read from a prompter. There is hard­ly a stut­ter in 37 hours of footage.”

Sug­rue was diag­nosed with can­cer in the ear­ly twen­ty-tens, and “doc­tors at the time gave him five years to live. He said the thought of Mar­cus Aure­lius had tak­en on new mean­ing since his diag­no­sis.” Indeed, Sug­rue’s lec­ture on the Roman emper­or and Sto­ic icon is the most pop­u­lar of his videos, with over one and a half mil­lion views at the time of this writ­ing. Over the years, we’ve fea­tured dif­fer­ent intro­duc­tions to Sto­icism here on Open Cul­ture, as well as the work of oth­er Sto­ics like the states­man-drama­tist Seneca the Younger. But Sug­rue’s 42-minute exe­ge­sis on Mar­cus Aure­lius — not just “the most inter­est­ing of the Sto­ics,” but also “the one exam­ple of an absolute ruler who behaves him­self in such a way as not to dis­grace him­self” — has res­onat­ed unusu­al­ly far and wide.

Then, as now, Mar­cus Aure­lius serves as “a stand­ing reproach to our self-indul­gence, a stand­ing reproach to the idea that we are unable to deal with the cir­cum­stances of human life.” He ful­ly inter­nal­ized the cen­tral Sto­ic insight that there are “only two kinds of things: there are the things you can con­trol and the things you can’t.” Every­thing falls into the lat­ter group except “your inten­tions, your behav­ior, your actions.” And indeed, just as Sug­rue kept look­ing to the exam­ple of Mar­cus Aure­lius — return­ing to his text Med­i­ta­tions as recent­ly as a webi­nar he gave two years ago — stu­dents of phi­los­o­phy yet unborn will no doubt find their way to the philo­soph­i­cal guid­ance that he him­self has left behind.

Below, you can watch a playlist of Sug­rue’s lec­ture series, Great Minds of the West­ern Intel­lec­tu­al Tra­di­tion.

via NYTimes

Relat­ed con­tent:

What Is Sto­icism? A Short Intro­duc­tion to the Ancient Phi­los­o­phy That Can Help You Cope with Our Hard Mod­ern Times

How to Be a Sto­ic in Your Every­day Life: Phi­los­o­phy Pro­fes­sor Mas­si­mo Pigli­uc­ci Explains

Three Huge Vol­umes of Sto­ic Writ­ings by Seneca Now Free Online, Thanks to Tim Fer­riss

The Sto­ic Wis­dom of Roman Emper­or Mar­cus Aure­lius: An Intro­duc­tion in Six Short Videos

Oxford’s Free Intro­duc­tion to Phi­los­o­phy: Stream 41 Lec­tures

A His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy in 81 Video Lec­tures: A Free Course That Explores Phi­los­o­phy from Ancient Greece to Mod­ern Times

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.


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