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.

A Bicycle Trip: Watch an Animation of The World’s First LSD Trip in 1943

On August 16, 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hof­mann was syn­the­siz­ing a new com­pound called lyser­gic acid diethy­lamide-25 when he got a cou­ple of drops on his fin­ger. The chem­i­cal, lat­er known world­wide as LSD, absorbed into his sys­tem, and, soon after, he expe­ri­enced an intense state of altered con­scious­ness. In oth­er words, he tripped.

Intrigued by the expe­ri­ence, Hof­mann dosed him­self with 250 micro­grams of LSD and then biked his way home through the streets of Basel, mak­ing him the first per­son ever to inten­tion­al­ly drop acid. The event was lat­er com­mem­o­rat­ed by psy­cho­nauts and LSD enthu­si­asts as “Bicy­cle Day.”

Ital­ian ani­ma­tors Loren­zo Veraci­ni, Nan­di­ni Nam­biar and Mar­co Avo­let­ta imag­ine what Hof­mann might have seen dur­ing his his­toric jour­ney in their 2008 short A Bicy­cle Trip.

The film shows Hof­mann rid­ing through the Swiss medieval town as he sees visions like a trail of flow­ers com­ing off a woman in red, cob­ble­stones com­ing alive and scur­ry­ing away, and a whole for­est becom­ing trans­par­ent before the mar­veling scientist’s eyes. The film also shows Hof­mann slam­ming into a fence, illus­trat­ing why it’s nev­er a good idea to dri­ve under the influ­ence of hal­lu­cino­gens.

After his ear­ly exper­i­ments, Albert Hof­mann became con­vinced that LSD is not only a pow­er­ful poten­tial treat­ment for the men­tal­ly ill but also a valu­able bridge between the spir­i­tu­al and the sci­en­tif­ic. He called the sub­stance “med­i­cine for the soul.”

If you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about the tur­bu­lent his­to­ry of the drug, check out below the 2002 doc­u­men­tary Hofmann’s Potion, by Cana­di­an film­mak­er Con­nie Lit­tle­field, which traces Hofmann’s inven­tion from being a promis­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ment, to coun­ter­cul­ture sym­bol, to banned sub­stance. The 56-minute doc fea­tures footage and inter­views with such psy­che­del­ic lumi­nar­ies as Aldous Hux­ley, Stanislav Grof, Richard Alpert (AKA Ram Dass) along with Hof­mann him­self.

Hof­mann was always uncom­fort­able with the casu­al way the ‘60s coun­ter­cul­ture used his inven­tion. “[LSD] is not just fun,” he says in Littlefield’s movie.  “It is a very seri­ous exper­i­ment.”

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her at @jonccrow.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ken Kesey’s First LSD Trip Ani­mat­ed

Artist Draws Nine Por­traits on LSD Dur­ing 1950s Research Exper­i­ment

Aldous Huxley’s LSD Death Trip

Take a Trip to the LSD Muse­um, the Largest Col­lec­tion of “Blot­ter Art” in the World

Download 131,000 Historic Maps from the Huge David Rumsey Map Collection

The world has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the past 500 years, albeit not quite as dra­mat­i­cal­ly as how we see the world. That’s just what’s on dis­play at the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, whose more than 131,000 his­tor­i­cal maps and relat­ed images are avail­able to browse (or down­load) free online. Since we last fea­tured it here on Open Cul­ture, the col­lec­tion has added at least 40,000 items to its dig­i­tal hold­ings, mak­ing it an even more valu­able resource for not just under­stand­ing how human­i­ty has viewed the world through­out the ages, but how we’ve imag­ined it — and, for that mat­ter, how we’ve imag­ined oth­er worlds from Mars to Nar­nia to Kryp­ton.

“Imag­i­nary maps” is just one of the cat­e­gories through which you can explore the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion. There are also tags for news­pa­per maps, time­lines, city maps, celes­tial maps, data visu­al­iza­tions, chil­dren’s maps, and more vari­eties besides.

If you’d pre­fer a more tra­di­tion­al form of orga­ni­za­tion, you can search for maps of spe­cif­ic geo­graph­i­cal regions: North Amer­i­caSouth Amer­i­caEurope, Asia, Africa, Aus­tralia, Antarc­ti­ca, the Pacif­ic, the Arc­tic, and of course, the world. If it’s the last item you’re inter­est­ed in, apart from the con­sid­er­able two-dimen­sion­al hold­ings, the inter­ac­tive globes con­sti­tute a gallery of their own, and there you can view ones made between the mid-six­teenth cen­tu­ry and just last year from every pos­si­ble angle.

Among the site’s new fea­tures is a “search by text-on-maps” fea­ture, which you can acti­vate by click­ing the “by Text on Maps” but­ton next to the search win­dow at the top of the page. This lets you com­pare and con­trast the ways par­tic­u­lar places have been labeled on the vari­ety of maps in the col­lec­tion: not just prop­er names like Cairo, Madrid, and Yosemite, but also more gen­er­al terms like “gold mine,” “light­house” or “drag­ons.” Arguably, we look at maps more often here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry than we ever did before, though sel­dom if ever do we depart from whichev­er map­ping app we hap­pen to keep on our phones. It’s worth step­ping back in car­to­graph­i­cal time to remem­ber that there were once as many ways of under­stand­ing the world as there were depic­tions of it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Oculi Mun­di: A Beau­ti­ful Online Archive of 130 Ancient Maps, Atlases & Globes

40,000 Ear­ly Mod­ern Maps Are Now Freely Avail­able Online (Cour­tesy of the British Library)

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, Baby­lon, Rome, and the Islam­ic World

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

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.

4 Franz Kafka Animations: Watch Creative Animated Shorts from Poland, Japan, Russia & Canada

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guat­tari thought of Kaf­ka as an inter­na­tion­al writer, in sol­i­dar­i­ty with minor­i­ty groups world­wide. Oth­er schol­ars have char­ac­ter­ized his work—and Kaf­ka him­self wrote as much—as lit­er­a­ture con­cerned with nation­al iden­ti­ty. Aca­d­e­m­ic debates, how­ev­er, have no bear­ing on how ordi­nary read­ers, and writ­ers, around the world take in Kafka’s nov­els and short sto­ries. Writ­ers with both nation­al and inter­na­tion­al pedi­grees such as Borges, Muraka­mi, Mar­quez, and Nabokov have drawn much inspi­ra­tion from the Czech-Jew­ish writer, as have film­mak­ers and ani­ma­tors. Today we revis­it sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al ani­ma­tions inspired by Kaf­ka, the first, above by Pol­ish ani­ma­tor Piotr Dumala.

Trained a sculp­tor, Dumala’s tex­tur­al brand of “destruc­tive ani­ma­tion” cre­ates chill­ing, high con­trast images that appro­pri­ate­ly cap­ture the eerie and unre­solved play of light and dark in Kafka’s work. The Pol­ish artist’s Franz Kaf­ka (1992) draws on scenes from the author’s life, as told in his diaries.

Next, watch a very dis­ori­ent­ing 2007 Japan­ese adap­ta­tion of Kafka’s “A Coun­try Doc­tor” by ani­ma­tor Koji Yama­mu­ra. The sound­track and monot­o­ne Japan­ese dia­logue (with sub­ti­tles) effec­tive­ly con­veys the tone of the sto­ry, which John Updike described as “a sen­sa­tion of anx­i­ety and shame whose cen­ter can­not be locat­ed and there­fore can­not be pla­cat­ed; a sense of an infi­nite dif­fi­cul­ty with things, imped­ing every step.” Read the orig­i­nal sto­ry here.

Russ­ian-Amer­i­can team Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­er cre­at­ed the 1963 ani­ma­tion above using a “pin­screen” tech­nique, which pho­tographs the three-dimen­sion­al move­ment of hun­dreds of pins, mak­ing images from real light and shad­ow. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly writ­ten on just “how demand­ing and painstak­ing an effort” the ani­ma­tors made to cre­ate their work. Their pre­vi­ous efforts got the atten­tion of Orson Welles, who com­mis­sioned the above short as a pro­logue for his Antho­ny Perkins-star­ring film ver­sion of The Tri­al. And yes, that voice you hear nar­rat­ing the para­ble “Before the Law,” an excerpt from Kafka’s nov­el, is Welles him­self.

Kafka’s most famous sto­ry, The Meta­mor­pho­sis, inspired Cana­di­an ani­ma­tor Car­o­line Leaf’s 1977 film above. Leaf’s Kaf­ka ani­ma­tion also takes a sculp­tur­al approach to the author’s work, this time sculpt­ing in sand, a medi­um Leaf her­self says cre­at­ed “black and white sand images” with “the poten­tial to have a Kaf­ka-esque feel—dark and mys­te­ri­ous.” How­ev­er we inter­pret the con­tent of Kafka’s work, the feel of his sto­ries is unmis­tak­able to read­ers and inter­preters across con­ti­nents. It’s one that con­sis­tent­ly inspires artists to use a spare, high con­trast style in adapt­ing him.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vladimir Nabokov (Chan­nelled by Christo­pher Plum­mer) Teach­es Kaf­ka at Cor­nell

Hunter S. Thomp­son and Franz Kaf­ka Inspire Ani­ma­tion for a Book­store Ben­e­fit­ing Oxfam

Kafka’s Famous Char­ac­ter Gre­gor Sam­sa Meets Dr. Seuss in a Great Radio Play

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

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What Is Religion Actually For?: Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury Weigh In

In the nine­teen-six­ties, the music media encour­aged the notion that a young rock-and-roll fan had to side with either the Bea­t­les or their rivals, the Rolling Stones. On some lev­el, it must have made sense, giv­en the grow­ing aes­thet­ic divide between the music the two world-famous groups were putting out. But, at bot­tom, not only was there no rival­ry between the bands (it was an inven­tion of the music papers), there was no real need, of course, to choose one or the oth­er. In the fifties, some­thing of the same dynam­ic must have obtained between Ray Brad­bury and Isaac Asi­mov, two pop­u­lar genre writ­ers, each with his own world­view.

Brad­bury and Asi­mov had much in com­mon: both were (prob­a­bly) born in 1920, both attend­ed the very first World Sci­ence Fic­tion Con­ven­tion in 1939, both began pub­lish­ing in pulp mag­a­zines in the for­ties, and both had an aver­sion to air­planes. That Brad­bury spent most of his life in Cal­i­for­nia and Asi­mov in New York made for a poten­tial­ly inter­est­ing cul­tur­al con­trast, though it nev­er seems to have been played up. Still, it may explain some­thing of the basic dif­fer­ence between the two writ­ers as it comes through in the video above, a com­pi­la­tion of talk-show clips in which Brad­bury and Asi­mov respond to ques­tions about their reli­gious beliefs, or lack there­of.

Asi­mov may have writ­ten a guide to the Bible, but he was hard­ly a lit­er­al­ist, call­ing the first chap­ters of Gen­e­sis “the sixth-cen­tu­ry BC ver­sion of how the world might have start­ed. We’ve improved on that since. I don’t believe that those are God’s words. Those are the words of men, try­ing to make the most sense that they could out of the infor­ma­tion they had at the time.” In a lat­er clip, Brad­bury, for his part, con­fess­es to a belief in not just Gen­e­sis, but also Dar­win and even Jean-Bap­tiste Lamar­ck, who the­o­rized that char­ac­ter­is­tics acquired in an organ­is­m’s life­time could be passed down to the next gen­er­a­tion. “Noth­ing is proven,” he declares, “so there’s room for a reli­gious del­i­catessen.”

One sens­es that Asi­mov would­n’t have agreed, and indeed, would have been per­fect­ly sat­is­fied with a reg­u­lar del­i­catessen. Though both he and Brad­bury became famous as sci­ence-fic­tion writ­ers around the same time — to say noth­ing of their copi­ous writ­ing in oth­er gen­res — they pos­sessed high­ly dis­tinct imag­i­na­tions. That works like Fahren­heit 451 and the Foun­da­tion tril­o­gy attract­ed such dif­fer­ent read­er­ships is explic­a­ble in part through Brad­bury’s insis­tence that “there’s room to believe it all” and Asi­mov’s dis­missal of what he saw as every “get-rich quick scheme of the mind” ped­dled by “con men of the spir­it”: each point of view as thor­ough­ly Amer­i­can, in its way, as the Bea­t­les and the Stones were thor­ough­ly Eng­lish.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Wit­ty, Eru­dite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

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

Isaac Asi­mov Explains His Three Laws of Robots

Carl Sagan Answers the Ulti­mate Ques­tion: Is There a God? (1994)

50 Famous Aca­d­e­mics & Sci­en­tists Talk About God

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.

Leonard Bernstein Introduces the Moog Synthesizer to the World in 1969, Playing an Electrified Version of Bach’s “Little Fugue in G”

When Wendy Car­los released Switched-On Bach in 1968, her “great­est hits” com­pi­la­tion of the Baroque composer’s music, played entire­ly on the Moog ana­log syn­the­siz­er, the album became an imme­di­ate hit with both clas­si­cal and pop audi­ences. Not only was it “acclaimed as real music by musi­cians and the lis­ten­ing pub­lic alike,” as Bob Moog him­self has writ­ten, but “as a result, the Moog Syn­the­siz­er was sud­den­ly accept­ed with open arms by the music busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty.” There’s some exag­ger­a­tion here. Stars like the Doors, the Mon­kees, and the Byrds had already record­ed with Moogs the year before. And some clas­si­cal purists (and clas­si­cal Lud­dites) did not, in fact, hail Switched-On Bach as “real music.”

But on the whole, Carlos’s inno­v­a­tive demon­stra­tion of the elec­tron­ic instrument’s capa­bil­i­ties (and her own) marks a mile­stone in music his­to­ry as the first clas­si­cal album to go Plat­inum, and as the first intro­duc­tion of both Baroque music and the Moog syn­the­siz­er to mil­lions of peo­ple unfa­mil­iar with either.

Were it not for Carlos’s “use of the Moog’s oscil­la­tions, squeaks, drones, chirps, and oth­er sounds,” as Bruce Eder writes at All­mu­sic, it’s unlike­ly we would have the video clip above, of Leonard Bern­stein giv­ing his own demon­stra­tion of the Moog (dig his hip “HAL” ref­er­ence from the pri­or year’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), dur­ing one of his pop­u­lar tele­vised “Young People’s Con­certs.”

Hav­ing just begun mov­ing out of the stu­dio, the Moog was still a col­lec­tion of mod­u­lar box­es and patch cables—an engineer’s instrument—and it takes four men to wheel it out on stage. (The eas­i­ly portable, self-con­tained Min­i­moog wouldn’t appear until 1970.) Most peo­ple had no idea what a Moog actu­al­ly looked like. But, its for­bid­ding appear­ance aside, the sounds of the Moog were every­where.

Bern­stein men­tions Car­los, and those stuffy purists, and makes a few more sci-fi jokes, then, instead of sit­ting at the key­board, hits play on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. This pre-record­ed ver­sion of Bach’s “Lit­tle Fugue in G” was actu­al­ly arranged by Wal­ter Sear, and the record­ing lacks some of the panache of Carlos’s play­ing while the tin­ny play­back sys­tem makes it sound like 8‑bit video game music. But for this audi­ence, the musi­cal wiz­ard­ly was still decid­ed­ly fresh.

The choice of Bach as Moog mate­r­i­al was not just a mat­ter of taste—his music was unique­ly suit­ed for Moog adap­ta­tion. As Car­los explains, “it was con­tra­pun­tal (not chords but musi­cal lines, like the Moog pro­duced), it used clean, Baroque lines, not demand­ing great ‘expres­si­vo’ (a weak­ness in the Moog at the time), and it was neu­tral as to orches­tra­tion.” The Moog could also, it seems, make Bach’s fugues fly at almost super­hu­man speeds. Hear the “Lit­tle Fugue” played at a much more state­ly tem­po, on a tra­di­tion­al pipe organ, fur­ther up, and hear it break into a run in the majes­tic per­for­mance just above.

Organs and harp­si­chords, strings and horns, these are still of course the instru­ments we think of when we think of Bach. Despite Carlos’s inven­tive foray—and its fol­low-up, The Well-Tem­pered Syn­the­siz­erthe syn­the­siz­er did not rad­i­cal­ize the clas­si­cal music world, though its avant-garde off­spring made much use of it. But it sure changed the sound of pop music, and wowed the kids who saw Bernstein’s pro­gram, some of whom may have gone on to pop­u­lar­ize both elec­tron­ic instru­ments and clas­si­cal themes in prog-rock, dis­co, and yes, even video game music.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Moog Syn­the­siz­er Changed the Sound of Music

A BBC Sci­ence Show Intro­duces the Moog Syn­the­siz­er in 1969

Bob Moog Demon­strates His Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Moog Mod­el D Syn­the­siz­er

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

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