High-Tech Analysis of Ancient Scroll Reveals Plato’s Burial Site and Final Hours

Even if you can name only one ancient Greek, you can name Pla­to. You can also prob­a­bly say at least a lit­tle about him, if only some of the things human­i­ty has known since antiq­ui­ty. Until recent­ly, of course, that qual­i­fi­ca­tion would have been redun­dant. But now, thanks to an ongo­ing high-tech push to read hereto­fore inac­ces­si­ble ancient doc­u­ments, we’re wit­ness­ing the emer­gence of new knowl­edge about that most famous of all Greek philoso­phers — or at least one of the most famous Greek philoso­phers, matched in renown only by his teacher Socrates and his stu­dent Aris­to­tle.

Up until now, we’ve only had a gen­er­al idea of where Pla­to was interred after his death in 348 BC. But “thanks to an ancient text and spe­cial­ized scan­ning tech­nol­o­gy,” writes Smithsonian.com’s Son­ja Ander­son, “researchers say they have solved the mys­tery of Plato’s bur­ial place: The Greek philoso­pher was interred in the gar­den of his Athens acad­e­my, where he once tutored a young Aris­to­tle.” This loca­tion was record­ed about two mil­len­nia ago “on a papyrus scroll housed in the Roman city of Her­cu­la­neum,” which was entombed along with Pom­peii by the explo­sion of Mount Vesu­vius in 79 AD.

Like much else in those cities, this scroll was pre­served for cen­turies under lay­ers of ash. It was just one of many scrolls dis­cov­ered in a vil­la, which may have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, back in 1750. But for long there­after, those scrolls were more or less unread­able, hav­ing been so thor­ough­ly charred by the explo­sion of Mount Vesu­vius that they crum­bled to dust at any attempt to unroll them. But “recent break­throughs have allowed researchers to read the frag­ile texts with­out touch­ing them”: wit­ness the projects involv­ing par­ti­cle accel­er­a­tors and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

The research project that has deci­phered part of this scroll, a text by the philoso­pher Philode­mus called the His­to­ry of the Acad­e­my — that is, Pla­to’s acad­e­my in Athens — is led by Uni­ver­si­ty of Pisa pro­fes­sor of papy­rol­o­gy Graziano Ranoc­chia. Using a “bion­ic eye” tech­nique involv­ing infrared and X‑ray scan­ners, he and his team have also dis­cov­ered evi­dence that Pla­to did­n’t much like the music played at his deathbed by a Thra­cian slave girl. “Despite bat­tling a fever and being on the brink of death,” writes the Guardian’s Loren­zo Ton­do, he “retained enough lucid­i­ty to cri­tique the musi­cian for her lack of rhythm.” Even if you know lit­tle about Pla­to, you’re prob­a­bly not sur­prised to hear that he was point­ing out the dif­fer­ence between the real and the ide­al up until the very end.

via Smith­son­ian Mag

Relat­ed con­tent:

Researchers Use AI to Decode the First Word on an Ancient Scroll Burned by Vesu­vius

How Ancient Scrolls, Charred by the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius in 79 AD, Are Now Being Read by Par­ti­cle Accel­er­a­tors, 3D Mod­el­ing & Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

2,000-Year-Old Man­u­script of the Ten Com­mand­ments Gets Dig­i­tized: See/Download “Nash Papyrus” in High Res­o­lu­tion

Orson Welles Nar­rates an Ani­ma­tion of Plato’s Cave Alle­go­ry

Plato’s Dia­logue Gor­gias Gets Adapt­ed into a Short Avant-Garde Film

How 99% of Ancient Lit­er­a­ture Was Lost

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.

RIP Paul Auster: Hear the Master of the Postmodern Page-Turner Discuss How He Became a Writer

In the Louisiana Chan­nel inter­view clip from 2017 above, the late Paul Auster tells the sto­ry of how he became a writer. Its first episode had appeared more than twen­ty years ear­li­er, in a New York­er piece titled “Why Write?”: “I was eight years old. At that moment in my life, noth­ing was more impor­tant to me than base­ball.” After the first big-league game he ever went to see, the New York Giants ver­sus the Mil­wau­kee Braves at the Polo Grounds, he came face-to-face with a leg­end-to-be named Willie Mays. “I man­aged to keep my legs mov­ing in his direc­tion and then, mus­ter­ing every ounce of my courage, I forced some words out of my mouth. ‘Mr. Mays,’ I said, ‘could I please have your auto­graph?’ ”

Mays says yes, but there was a prob­lem: “I didn’t have a pen­cil, so I asked my father if I could bor­row his. He didn’t have one, either. Nor did my moth­er. Nor, as it turned out, did any of the oth­er grownups.” Even­tu­al­ly, the young Auster’s idol “turned to me and shrugged. ‘Sor­ry, kid,’ he said. ‘Ain’t got no pen­cil, can’t give no auto­graph.’ And then he walked out of the ball­park into the night.” From that point on, as the mid­dle-aged Auster tells it, “it became a habit of mine nev­er to leave the house with­out mak­ing sure I had a pen­cil in my pock­et.” Even in this child­hood anec­dote, read­ers will rec­og­nize some of Auster’s sig­na­ture ele­ments: the icons of mid-cen­tu­ry New York, the life-chang­ing chance encounter, the state of bit­ter regret.

But it takes more than a pen­cil to become a writer. “The thing about doing this, which is unlike any oth­er job, is that you have to give max­i­mum effort, all the time,” Auster says. “You have to give every ounce of your being to what you’re doing, and I don’t think there are many jobs that require that. You see lazy lawyers, lazy doc­tors, lazy judges. They can get through things. You even see lazy ath­letes.” But “you can’t be a writer or a painter or a musi­cian unless you make max­i­mum effort.” Even after pro­duc­ing noth­ing usable in one of his usu­al eight-hour writ­ing shifts, “I can at least stand up and say, at the end of the day, I gave it every­thing I had. I tried 100 per­cent. And there’s some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about that, just try­ing as hard as you can to do some­thing.”

There’s some­thing thor­ough­ly Amer­i­can about these words, as indeed there’s some­thing thor­ough­ly Amer­i­can about Auster’s twen­ty post­mod­ern page-turn­ers (to say noth­ing of his many vol­umes of non­fic­tion and poet­ry). Yet he also had one foot in France, where he lived in the ear­ly nine­teen-sev­en­ties, and sev­er­al of whose respect­ed writ­ers — Sartre, Mal­lar­mé, Blan­chot — he trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. He gained his first and most fer­vent fan­base there, becom­ing a beloved écrivain amer­i­can of long stand­ing. The announce­ment of his death on April 30th must have set off some­thing like a nation­al day of mourn­ing, and an occa­sion to remem­ber what he once said to France Inter: just as a writer should always car­ry a pen­cil, “cha­cun doit être prêt à mourir n’im­porte quand.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear Paul Auster Read the Entire­ty of The Red Note­book, an Ear­ly Col­lec­tion of Sto­ries

Paul Auster Reads from New Nov­el Sun­set Park

Read and Hear Famous Writ­ers (and Arm­chair Sports­men) J. M. Coet­zee and Paul Auster’s Cor­re­spon­dence

Philip Roth Pre­dicts the Death of the Nov­el; Paul Auster Coun­ters

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.

Artist Draws 9 Portraits on LSD During 1950s Research Experiment

Dur­ing the 1950s, a researcher gave an artist two 50-micro­gram dos­es of LSD (each dose sep­a­rat­ed by about an hour), and then the artist was encour­aged to draw pic­tures of the doc­tor who admin­is­tered the drugs. Nine por­traits were drawn over the space of eight hours. We still don’t know the iden­ti­ty of the artist. But it’s sur­mised that the researcher was Oscar Janiger, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Irvine psy­chi­a­trist known for his work on LSD.

The web site Live Sci­ence has Andrew Sewell, a Yale Psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor (until his recent death), on record say­ing: “I believe the pic­tures are from an exper­i­ment con­duct­ed by the psy­chi­a­trist Oscar Janiger start­ing in 1954 and con­tin­u­ing for sev­en years, dur­ing which time he gave LSD to over 100 pro­fes­sion­al artists and mea­sured its effects on their artis­tic out­put and cre­ative abil­i­ty. Over 250 draw­ings and paint­ings were pro­duced.” The goal, of course, was to inves­ti­gate what hap­pens to sub­jects under the influ­ence of psy­che­del­ic drugs. Dur­ing the exper­i­ment, the artist explained how he felt as he worked on each sketch. You can watch how things unfold­ed below (or above):

20 Min­utes After First Dose. Artist Claims to Feel Nor­mal

5IOEa - Imgur

85 Min­utes After First Dose: Artist Says “I can see you clear­ly. I’m hav­ing a lit­tle trou­ble con­trol­ling this pen­cil.”

dyR0C - Imgur

2 hours 30 min­utes after first dose. “I feel as if my con­scious­ness is sit­u­at­ed in the part of my body that’s now active — my hand, my elbow… my tongue.”

jyr3B - Imgur

2 hours 32 min­utes: ‘I’m try­ing anoth­er draw­ing… The out­line of my hand is going weird too. It’s not a very good draw­ing is it?”

MUu3y - Imgur

2 hours 35 min­utes: Patient fol­lows quick­ly with anoth­er draw­ing. ‘I’ll do a draw­ing in one flour­ish… with­out stop­ping… one line, no break!”

H0Uxo - Imgur

2 hours 45 min­utes: Agi­tat­ed patient says “I am… every­thing is… changed… they’re call­ing… your face… inter­wo­ven… who is…” He changes medi­um to Tem­pera.


4 hours 25 min­utes: After tak­ing a break, the patient changes to pen and water col­or. “This will be the best draw­ing, like the first one, only bet­ter.”

eUdua - Imgur

5 hours 45 min­utes. “I think it’s start­ing to wear off. This pen­cil is mighty hard to hold.” (He is hold­ing a cray­on).

eUdua - Imgur

8 hours lat­er: The intox­i­ca­tion has worn off. Patient offers up a final draw­ing.

NGCEf - Imgur

Relat­ed Con­tent:

R. Crumb Describes How He Dropped LSD in the 60s & Instant­ly Dis­cov­ered His Artis­tic Style

The Pol­ish Artist Stanisław Witkiewicz Made Por­traits While On Dif­fer­ent Psy­choac­tive Drugs, and Not­ed the Drugs on Each Paint­ing

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

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A 5‑Hour Journey Through North Korean Entertainment: Propaganda Films, Kids’ Cartoons, Sketch Comedy & More

Over the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, South Korea became rich, and in the first decades of the twen­ty-first, it’s become a glob­al cul­tur­al super­pow­er. The same can’t be said for North Korea: after a rel­a­tive­ly strong start in the nine­teen-fifties and six­ties, its econ­o­my foundered, and in the famine-strick­en mid-nineties it prac­ti­cal­ly col­lapsed. For that and oth­er rea­sons, the coun­try has nev­er been in a posi­tion to send forth its own BTS, Squid Game, Par­a­site, or “Gang­nam Style.” But what­ev­er the dif­fi­cul­ties at home, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea has always man­aged to pro­duce enter­tain­ment for con­sump­tion by its own peo­ple: movies, ani­ma­tion, tele­vi­sion shows, music, and more besides.

Then again, “enter­tain­ment” may be too strong a word. A few years ago, attend­ing a North-South cul­tur­al exchange group in Seoul, where I live, I had the chance to watch a recent movie called 우리집 이야기, or The Sto­ry of Our Home. It told its sim­ple tale of a fam­i­ly of orphans try­ing to sur­vive on their own with sur­pris­ing tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence — at least com­pared to what I’d expect­ed — albeit with what I remem­ber as occa­sion­al jar­ring laps­es into flat pro­pa­gan­da shots, stern nation­al anthem, flap­ping red-starred flag and all. Accord­ing to “Enter­tain­ment Made By North Korea,” the new five-and-a-half-hour analy­sis from Youtu­ber Paper Will, that sort of thing is par for the course.

In order to put North Kore­an enter­tain­ment in its prop­er con­text, the video begins before there was a North Korea, describ­ing the films made on the Japan­ese-occu­pied Kore­an penin­su­la between 1910 and the end of the Sec­ond World War. Though the expul­sion of the defeat­ed Japan end­ed colo­nial rule in Korea, many more hard­ships would vis­it both sides of the new­ly divid­ed coun­try. But even dur­ing their strug­gles to devel­op, the rulers of both the devel­op­ing North and South Korea under­stood the poten­tial of cin­e­ma to influ­ence their peo­ples’ atti­tudes and per­cep­tions. Watched today, these pic­tures reveal a great deal about the coun­tries’ pri­or­i­ties. For the DPRK, those pri­or­i­ties includ­ed the encour­age­ment of unstint­ing hard work and alle­giance to the state, embod­ied by its founder Kim Il Sung.

Lat­er, in the sev­en­ties and eight­ies, came some diver­si­fi­ca­tion of both media and mes­sage, as ser­i­al dra­mas and chil­dren’s car­toons, some of them craft­ed with gen­uine skill and charm, dis­cour­aged indi­vid­u­al­is­tic atti­tudes, sym­pa­thy for for­eign­ers, and thoughts of defec­tion. Under Kim Il Sung’s movie-lov­ing Kim Jong Il, North Kore­an films became more watch­able, thanks in large part to his kid­nap­ping and forcibly employ­ing South Kore­an direc­tor Shin Sang-ok. Under his son Kim Jong Un, the coun­try’s pop­u­lar cul­ture has flirt­ed with the very out­er reach­es of cool, assem­bling the likes of instru­ment-play­ing girl-group Moran­bong. Nev­er­the­less, in North Korea, enter­tain­ment con­tin­ues first and fore­most to enforce the pre­ferred ide­ol­o­gy of the rul­ing class, some­thing that — per­ish the thought — could sure­ly nev­er hap­pen in the West.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Read Dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il’s Writ­ings on Cin­e­ma, Art & Opera: Cour­tesy of North Korea’s Free E‑Library

A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Per­formed by North Kore­an Kids with Accor­dions

How to Defeat the US with Math: An Ani­mat­ed North Kore­an Pro­pa­gan­da Film for Kids

North Korea’s Cin­e­ma of Dreams

Watch More Than 400 Clas­sic Kore­an Films Free Online Thanks to the Kore­an Film Archive

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.

Google Launches a New Course Called “AI Essentials”: Learn How to Use Generative AI Tools to Increase Your Productivity

This week, Google announced the launch of Google AI Essen­tials, a new self-paced course designed to help peo­ple learn AI skills that can boost their pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Taught by Google’s AI experts, and assum­ing no pri­or knowl­edge of pro­gram­ming, the course ven­tures to show stu­dents how to “use AI in the real world,” with an empha­sis on help­ing stu­dents:

  • Devel­op ideas and con­tent. If you’re stuck at the begin­ning of a project, use AI tools to help you brain­storm new ideas. In the course, you’ll use a con­ver­sa­tion­al AI tool to gen­er­ate con­cepts for a prod­uct and devel­op a pre­sen­ta­tion to pitch the prod­uct.
  • Make more informed deci­sions. Let’s say you’re plan­ning an event. AI tools can help you research the best loca­tion to host it based on your cri­te­ria. You can also use AI to help you come up with a tagline or slo­gan.
  • Speed up dai­ly work tasks. Clear out that inbox faster using AI to help you sum­ma­rize emails and draft respons­es.
Google AI Essen­tials fea­tures five mod­ules (the video above comes from Mod­ule 1) and takes about 9 hours to com­plete. The tuition is cur­rent­ly set at $49, and those who com­plete the course will earn a Google cer­tifi­cate that they can share with their pro­fes­sion­al net­work.
Google AI Essen­tials fol­lows up on anoth­er course recent­ly-fea­tured here on OC, Gen­er­a­tive AI for Edu­ca­tors. Find it here.
Note: Open Cul­ture has a part­ner­ship with Cours­era. If read­ers enroll in cer­tain Cours­era cours­es and pro­grams, it helps sup­port Open Cul­ture.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Google & Cours­era Launch New Career Cer­tifi­cates That Pre­pare Stu­dents for Jobs in 2–6 Months: Busi­ness Intel­li­gence & Advanced Data Ana­lyt­ics

Google & MIT Offer a Free Course on Gen­er­a­tive AI for Teach­ers and Edu­ca­tors

Google & Cours­era Cre­ate a Career Cer­tifi­cate That Pre­pares Stu­dents for Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty Jobs in 6 Months

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André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto Turns 100 This Year

Peo­ple don’t seem to write a lot of man­i­festos these days. Or if they do write man­i­festos, they don’t make the impact that they would have a cen­tu­ry ago. In fact, this year marks the hun­dredth anniver­sary of the Man­i­feste du sur­réal­isme, or Sur­re­al­ist Man­i­festo, one of the most famous such doc­u­ments. Or rather, it was two of the most famous such doc­u­ments, each of them writ­ten by a dif­fer­ent poet. On Octo­ber 1, 1924, Yvan Goll pub­lished a man­i­festo in the name of the sur­re­al­ist artists who looked to him as a leader (includ­ing Dada Man­i­festo author Tris­tan Tzara). Two weeks lat­er, André Bre­ton pub­lished a man­i­festo — the first of three — rep­re­sent­ing his own, dis­tinct, group of sur­re­al­ists with the very same title.

Though Goll may have beat­en him to the punch, we can safe­ly say, at a dis­tance of one hun­dred years, that Bre­ton wrote the more endur­ing man­i­festo. You can read it online in the orig­i­nal French as well as in Eng­lish trans­la­tion, but before you do, con­sid­er watch­ing this short France 24 Eng­lish doc­u­men­tary on its impor­tance, as well as that of the sur­re­al­ist art move­ment that it set off.

“There’s day-to-day real­i­ty, and then there’s supe­ri­or real­i­ty,” says its nar­ra­tor. “That’s what André Bre­ton’s Sur­re­al­ist Man­i­festo was aim­ing for: an artis­tic and spir­i­tu­al rev­o­lu­tion” dri­ven by the rejec­tion of “rea­son, log­ic, and even lan­guage, all of which its acolytes believed obscured deep­er, more mys­ti­cal truths.”

“The real­is­tic atti­tude, inspired by pos­i­tivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Ana­tole France, clear­ly seems to me to be hos­tile to any intel­lec­tu­al or moral advance­ment,” the trained doc­tor Bre­ton declares in the man­i­festo. “I loathe it, for it is made up of medi­oc­rity, hate, and dull con­ceit. It is this atti­tude which today gives birth to these ridicu­lous books, these insult­ing plays.” He might well have also seen it as giv­ing rise to events like the First World War, whose grind­ing sense­less­ness he wit­nessed work­ing in a neu­ro­log­i­cal ward and car­ry­ing stretch­ers off the bat­tle­field. It was these expe­ri­ences that direct­ly or indi­rect­ly inspired a wave of avant-garde twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry art, more than a few pieces of which star­tle us even today — which is say­ing some­thing, giv­en our dai­ly diet of absur­di­ties in twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry life.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to Sur­re­al­ism: The Big Aes­thet­ic Ideas Pre­sent­ed in Three Videos

Europe After the Rain: Watch the Vin­tage Doc­u­men­tary on the Two Great Art Move­ments, Dada & Sur­re­al­ism (1978)

A Brief, Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Sur­re­al­ism: A Primer by Doc­tor Who Star Peter Capal­di

The For­got­ten Women of Sur­re­al­ism: A Mag­i­cal, Short Ani­mat­ed Film

Read and Hear Tris­tan Tzara’s “Dada Man­i­festo,” the Avant-Garde Doc­u­ment Pub­lished 100 Years Ago (March 23, 1918)

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.

Behold The Drawings of Franz Kafka (1907–1917)

Run­ner 1907–1908

Runner 1907-1908

UK-born, Chica­go-based artist Philip Har­ti­gan has post­ed a brief video piece about Franz Kaf­ka’s draw­ings. Kaf­ka, of course, wrote a body of work, most­ly nev­er pub­lished dur­ing his life­time, that cap­tured the absur­di­ty and the lone­li­ness of the new­ly emerg­ing mod­ern world: In The Meta­mor­pho­sis, Gre­gor trans­forms overnight into a giant cock­roach; in The Tri­al, Josef K. is charged with an unde­fined crime by a mad­den­ing­ly inac­ces­si­ble court. In sto­ry after sto­ry, Kaf­ka showed his pro­tag­o­nists get­ting crushed between the pin­cers of a face­less bureau­crat­ic author­i­ty on the one hand and a deep sense of shame and guilt on the oth­er.

On his deathbed, the famous­ly tor­tured writer implored his friend Max Brod to burn his unpub­lished work. Brod ignored his friend’s plea and instead pub­lished them – nov­els, short sto­ries and even his diaries. In those diaries, Kaf­ka doo­dled inces­sant­ly – stark, graph­ic draw­ings infused with the same angst as his writ­ing. In fact, many of these draw­ings have end­ed up grac­ing the cov­ers of Kafka’s books.

“Quick, min­i­mal move­ments that con­vey the typ­i­cal despair­ing mood of his fic­tion” says Har­ti­gan of Kafka’s art. “I am struck by how these sim­ple ges­tures, these zigza­gs of the wrist, con­tain an econ­o­my of mark mak­ing that even the most expe­ri­enced artist can learn some­thing from.”

In his book Con­ver­sa­tions with Kaf­ka, Gus­tav Janouch describes what hap­pened when he came upon Kaf­ka in mid-doo­dle: the writer imme­di­ate­ly ripped the draw­ing into lit­tle pieces rather than have it be seen by any­one. After this hap­pened a cou­ple times, Kaf­ka relent­ed and let him see his work. Janouch was aston­ished. “You real­ly didn’t need to hide them from me,” he com­plained. “They’re per­fect­ly harm­less sketch­es.”

Kaf­ka slow­ly wagged his head to and fro – ‘Oh no! They are not as harm­less as they look. These draw­ing are the remains of an old, deep-root­ed pas­sion. That’s why I tried to hide them from you…. It’s not on the paper. The pas­sion is in me. I always want­ed to be able to draw. I want­ed to see, and to hold fast to what was seen. That was my pas­sion.”

Check out some of Kafka’s draw­ings below. Or def­i­nite­ly see the recent­ly-pub­lished edi­tion, Franz Kaf­ka: The Draw­ings. It’s the “first book to pub­lish the entire­ty of Franz Kafka’s graph­ic out­put, includ­ing more than 100 new­ly dis­cov­ered draw­ings.”

Horse and Rid­er 1909–1910

Horse and Rider 1909-1910

Three Run­ners 1912–1913

Three Runners 1912-1913

The Thinker 1913

The Thinker 1913

Fenc­ing 1917

Fencing 1917

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:

Franz Kaf­ka Says the Insect in The Meta­mor­pho­sis Should Nev­er Be Drawn; and Vladimir Nabokov Draws It Any­way

Vladimir Nabokov’s Delight­ful But­ter­fly Draw­ings

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

The Draw­ings of Jean-Paul Sartre

Flan­nery O’Connor’s Satir­i­cal Car­toons: 1942–1945

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

How Édouard Manet Became “the Father of Impressionism” with the Scandalous Panting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863)

Édouard Manet’s Le Déje­uner sur l’herbe (1863) caused quite a stir when it made its pub­lic debut in 1863. Today, we might assume that the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing the paint­ing had to do with its con­tain­ing a nude woman. But, in fact, it does not con­tain a nude woman — at least accord­ing to the analy­sis pre­sent­ed by gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above. “The woman in this paint­ing is not nude,” he explains. “She is naked.” Where­as “the nude is posed, per­fect, ide­al­ized, the naked is just some­one with no clothes on,” and, in this par­tic­u­lar work, her faint­ly accusato­ry expres­sion seems to be ask­ing us, “What are you look­ing at?”

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Manet’s even more scan­dalous Olympia, which was first exhib­it­ed in 1865. In both that paint­ing and Déje­uner, the woman is based on the same real per­son: Vic­torine Meurent, whom Manet used more fre­quent­ly than any oth­er mod­el.

“A respect­ed artist in her own right,” Meurent also “exhib­it­ed at the Paris Salon six times, and was induct­ed into the pres­ti­gious Société des Artistes Français in 1903.” That she got on that path after a work­ing-class upbring­ing “shows a for­ti­tude of mind and a strength of char­ac­ter that Manet need­ed for Déje­uner.” But what­ev­er per­son­al­i­ty she exud­ed, her non-ide­al­ized nudi­ty, or rather naked­ness, could­n’t have changed art by itself.

Manet gave Meuren­t’s exposed body an artis­tic con­text, and a max­i­mal­ly provoca­tive one at that, by putting it on a large can­vas “nor­mal­ly reserved for his­tor­i­cal, reli­gious, and mytho­log­i­cal sub­jects” and mak­ing choic­es — the vis­i­ble brush­strokes, the stage-like back­ground, the obvi­ous clas­si­cal allu­sions in a clear­ly mod­ern set­ting — that delib­er­ate­ly empha­size “the arti­fi­cial con­struc­tion of the paint­ing, and paint­ing in gen­er­al.” What under­scores all this, of course, is that the men sit­ting with her all have their high­ly eigh­teen-six­ties-look­ing clothes on. Manet may have changed the rules, open­ing the door for Impres­sion­ism, but he still reminds us how much of art’s pow­er, what­ev­er the peri­od or move­ment, comes from sheer con­trast.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Scan­dalous Paint­ing That Helped Cre­ate Mod­ern Art: An Intro­duc­tion to Édouard Manet’s Olympia

Édouard Manet Illus­trates Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” in a French Edi­tion Trans­lat­ed by Stephane Mal­lar­mé (1875)

A Quick Six Minute Jour­ney Through Mod­ern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Paint­ing The Lun­cheon on the Grass to Jack­son Pol­lock­’s 1950s Drip Paint­ings

Watch Icon­ic Artists at Work: Rare Videos of Picas­so, Matisse, Kandin­sky, Renoir, Mon­et, Pol­lock & More

The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 90,000 Works of Mod­ern Art

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, 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.

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

In 1973, Richard Davies direct­ed Bukows­ki, a doc­u­men­tary that TV Guide described as a “cin­e­ma-verite por­trait of Los Ange­les poet Charles Bukows­ki.” The film finds Bukows­ki, then 53 years old, “enjoy­ing his first major suc­cess,” and “the cam­era cap­tures his rem­i­nis­cences … as he walks around his Los Ange­les neigh­bor­hood. Blunt lan­guage and a sly appre­ci­a­tion of his life form the core of the pro­gram, which includes obser­va­tions by and about the women in his life.”

The orig­i­nal film clocked in at 46 min­utes. Then, two years lat­er, PBS released a “heav­i­ly-edit­ed 28-minute ver­sion of the film,” using alter­nate scenes and a rearranged struc­ture. Renamed Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki, the film aired on Thurs­day, Octo­ber 16, 1975. And, true to its name, the film fea­tures footage of Bukows­ki read­ing his poems, start­ing with “The Rat,” from the 1972 col­lec­tion Mock­ing­bird Wish Me Luck. You can watch Bukows­ki Reads Bukows­ki above, and find more Bukows­ki read­ings in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

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

Charles Bukows­ki Reads His Poem “The Secret of My Endurance

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukows­ki

Four Charles Bukows­ki Poems Ani­mat­ed


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The Origins of Anime: Watch Early Japanese Animations (1917 to 1931)

Japan­ese ani­ma­tion, AKA ani­me, might be filled with large-eyed maid­ens, way cool robots, and large-eyed, way cool maiden/robot hybrids, but it often shows a lev­el of dar­ing, com­plex­i­ty and cre­ativ­i­ty not typ­i­cal­ly found in Amer­i­can main­stream ani­ma­tion. And the form has spawned some clear mas­ter­pieces from Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra to Mamoru Oishii’s Ghost in the Shell to pret­ty much every­thing that Hayao Miyaza­ki has ever done.

Ani­me has a far longer his­to­ry than you might think; in fact, it was at the van­guard of Japan’s furi­ous attempts to mod­ern­ize in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The old­est sur­viv­ing exam­ple of Japan­ese ani­ma­tion, Namaku­ra Gatana (Blunt Sword), dates back to 1917, though much of the ear­li­est ani­mat­ed movies were lost fol­low­ing a mas­sive earth­quake in Tokyo in 1923. As with much of Japan’s cul­tur­al out­put in the first decades of the 20th Cen­tu­ry, ani­ma­tion from this time shows artists try­ing to incor­po­rate tra­di­tion­al sto­ries and motifs in a new mod­ern form.

Above is Oira no Yaku (Our Base­ball Game) from 1931, which shows rab­bits squar­ing off against tanukis (rac­coon dogs) in a game of base­ball. The short is a basic slap­stick com­e­dy ele­gant­ly told with clean, sim­ple lines. Rab­bits and tanukis are main­stays of Japan­ese folk­lore, though they are seen here play­ing a sport that was intro­duced to the coun­try in the 1870s. Like most silent Japan­ese movies, this film made use of a ben­shi – a per­former who would stand by the movie screen and nar­rate the movie. In the old days, audi­ences were drawn to the ben­shi, not the movie. Aki­ra Kurosawa’s elder broth­er was a pop­u­lar ben­shi who, like a num­ber of despon­dent ben­shis, com­mit­ted sui­cide when the pop­u­lar­i­ty of sound cin­e­ma ren­dered his job obso­lete.

Then there’s this ver­sion of the Japan­ese folk­tale Kobu-tori from 1929, about a woods­man with a mas­sive growth on his jaw who finds him­self sur­round­ed by mag­i­cal crea­tures. When they remove the lump, he finds that not every­one is pleased. Notice how detailed and uncar­toony the char­ac­ters are.

Anoth­er ear­ly exam­ple of ear­ly ani­me is Ugok­ie Kori no Tate­hi­ki (1931), which rough­ly trans­lates into “The Mov­ing Pic­ture Fight of the Fox and the Pos­sum.” The 11-minute short by Ikuo Oishi is about a fox who dis­guis­es him­self as a samu­rai and spends the night in an aban­doned tem­ple inhab­it­ed by a bunch of tanukis (those guys again). The movie brings all the won­der­ful grotes­queries of Japan­ese folk­lore to the screen, drawn in a style rem­i­nis­cent of Max Fleis­ch­er and Otto Mess­mer.

And final­ly, there is this curi­ous piece of ear­ly anti-Amer­i­can pro­pa­gan­da from 1936 that fea­tures a pha­lanx of fly­ing Mick­ey Mous­es (Mick­ey Mice?) attack­ing an island filled with Felix the Cat and a host of oth­er poor­ly-ren­dered car­toon char­ac­ters. Think Toon­town drawn by Hen­ry Darg­er. All seems lost until they are res­cued by fig­ures from Japan­ese his­to­ry and leg­end. Dur­ing its slide into mil­i­tarism and its inva­sion of Asia, Japan argued that it was free­ing the con­ti­nent from the grip of West­ern colo­nial­ism. In its queasy, weird sort of way, the short argues pre­cise­ly this. Of course, many in Korea and Chi­na, which received the brunt of Japan­ese impe­ri­al­ism, would vio­lent­ly dis­agree with that ver­sion of events.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of Hand-Drawn Japan­ese Ani­me: A Deep Study of How Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra Uses Light

The Aes­thet­ic of Ani­me: A New Video Essay Explores a Rich Tra­di­tion of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion

How Mas­ter Japan­ese Ani­ma­tor Satoshi Kon Puhed the Bound­aries of Mak­ing Ani­me: A Video Essay

“Evil Mick­ey Mouse” Invades Japan in a 1934 Japan­ese Ani­me Pro­pa­gan­da Film

Watch the Old­est Japan­ese Ani­me Film, Jun’ichi Kōuchi’s The Dull Sword (1917)

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


What Would Happen If a Nuclear Bomb Hit a Major City Today: A Visualization of the Destruction

One of the many mem­o­rable details in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb, placed promi­nent­ly in a shot of George C. Scott in the war room, is a binder with a spine labeled “WORLD TARGETS IN MEGADEATHS.” A megadeath, writes Eric Schloss­er in New York­er piece on the movie, “was a unit of mea­sure­ment used in nuclear-war plan­ning at the time. One megadeath equals a mil­lion fatal­i­ties.” The destruc­tive capa­bil­i­ty of nuclear weapons hav­ing only increased since 1964, we might well won­der how many megadeaths would result from a nuclear strike on a major city today.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nobel Peace Prize, film­mak­er Neil Hal­lo­ran address­es that ques­tion in the video above, which visu­al­izes a sim­u­lat­ed nuclear explo­sion in a city of four mil­lion. “We’ll assume the bomb is det­o­nat­ed in the air to max­i­mize the radius of impact, as was done in Japan in 1945. But here, we’ll use an 800-kilo­ton war­head, a rel­a­tive­ly large bomb in today’s arse­nals, and 100 times more pow­er­ful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshi­ma.” The imme­di­ate result would be a “fire­ball as hot as the sun” with a radius of 800 meters; all build­ings with­in a two-kilo­me­ter radius would be destroyed, “and we’ll assume that vir­tu­al­ly no one sur­vives inside this area.”

Already in these cal­cu­la­tions, the death toll has reached 120,000. “From as far as away as eleven kilo­me­ters, the radi­ant heat from the blast would be strong enough to cause third-degree burns on exposed skin.” Though most peo­ple would be indoors and thus shel­tered from that at the time of the explo­sion, “the very struc­tures that offered this pro­tec­tion would then become a cause of injury, as debris would rip through build­ings and rain down on city streets.” This would, over the weeks after the attack, ulti­mate­ly cause anoth­er 500,000 casu­al­ties — anoth­er half a megadeath — with anoth­er 100,000 at longer range still to occur.

These are sober­ing fig­ures, to be sure, but as Hal­lo­ran reminds us, the Cold War is over; unlike in Dr. Strangelove’s day, fam­i­lies no longer build fall­out shel­ters, and school­child­ren no longer do nuclear-bomb drills. Nev­er­the­less, even though nations aren’t as on edge about total anni­hi­la­tion as they were in the mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry, the tech­nolo­gies that poten­tial­ly cause such anni­hi­la­tion are more advanced than ever, and indeed, “nuclear weapons remain one of the great threats to human­i­ty.” Here in the twen­ty-twen­ties, “coun­tries big and small face the prospect of new arms races,” a much more com­pli­cat­ed geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion than the long stand­off between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union — and, per­haps, one beyond the reach of even Kubrick­ian­ly grim satire.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

Why Hiroshi­ma, Despite Being Hit with the Atom­ic Bomb, Isn’t a Nuclear Waste­land Today

When the Wind Blows: An Ani­mat­ed Tale of Nuclear Apoc­a­lypse With Music by Roger Waters & David Bowie (1986)

Inno­v­a­tive Film Visu­al­izes the Destruc­tion of World War II: Now Avail­able in 7 Lan­guages

The Map of Doom: A Data-Dri­ven Visu­al­iza­tion of the Biggest Threats to Human­i­ty, Ranked from Like­ly to Unlike­ly

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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