A Medieval Book That Opens Six Different Ways, Revealing Six Different Books in One

Technology has come so far that we consider it no great achievement when a device the size of a single paper book can contain hundreds, even thousands, of different texts. But 21st-century humanity didn't come up with the idea of putting multiple books in one, nor did we first bring that idea into being — not by a long shot. Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel points, for example, to the "dos-à-dos" (back to back) binding of the 16th and 17th centuries, which made for books "like Siamese twins in that they present two different entities joined at their backs: each part has one board for itself, while a third is shared between the two," so "reading the one text you can flip the 'book' to consult the other."

Not long thereafter, Kwakkel posted an artifact that blows the dos-à-dos out of the water: a 16th-century book that contains no fewer than six different books in a single binding. "They are all devotional texts printed in Germany during the 1550s and 1570s (including Martin Luther, Der kleine Catechismus) and each one is closed with its own tiny clasp," he writes.

"While it may have been difficult to keep track of a particular text’s location, a book you can open in six different ways is quite the display of craftsmanship." You can admire it — and try to figure it out — from a variety of different angles at the Flickr account of the National Library of Sweden, where it currently resides in the archives of the Royal Library.

Four or five centuries ago, a book like this would no doubt have impressed its beholders as much as or even more than the most advanced piece of handheld consumer electronics impresses us today. But when the internet discovered Kwakkel's post, it became clear that this six-in-one devotional captivates us in much the same way as a brand-new, never-before-seen digital device. "With a literacy rate hovering around an estimated 5 to 10 percent of the population during the Middle Ages, only a select few of society's upper echelons and religious castes had use for books," Andrew Tarantola reminds us. "So who would have use for a sextuplet of stories bound by a single, multi-hinged cover like this? Some seriously busy scholar." And he writes that not on a site for enthusiasts of old books, Medieval history, or religious scholarship, but at the temple of tech worship known as Gizmodo.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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 Library of Congress Launches the National Screening Room, Putting Online Hundreds of Historic Films

Public domain fans, pull your noses out of those musty old books on Project Gutenberg, but keep your eyes glued to the screen!

The Library of Congress just cut the ribbon on the National Screening Room, an online trove of cinematic goodies, free for the streaming.

Given that the collection spans more than 100 years of cinema history, from 1890-1999, not all of the featured films are in the public domain, but most are, and those are free to download as well as watch.

Archivist Mike Mashon, who heads the Library’s Moving Image Section, identifies the project’s goal as providing the public with a “broad range of historical and cultural audio-visual materials that will enrich education, scholarship and lifelong learning.”

Can’t argue with that. Those seeking to become better versed in the art of consensual kissing whilst mustachioed will find several valuable takeaways in the above clip.

Personal experience, however, compels me to expand upon Mashon’s stated goal: artists, theatermakers, filmmakers—use those downloadable public domain films in your creative projects! (Properly attributed, of course.)

You can educate yourself about a particular clip’s rights and the general ins and outs of motion picture copyrights by scrolling past the clip’s call number to click on “Rights & Access.”

The Library does emphasize that rights assessment is the individual’s responsibility. Few artists conceive of this as the fun part, but do it, or risk the sort of creative heartbreak animator Nina Paley set herself up for when integrating inadequately checked out vintage recordings into her feature-length Sita Sings the Blues, having “decided (she) was just going to use this music, and let the chips fall where they may.”

A hypothetical example: Liza Minnelli's 2nd or 3rd birthday party at her godfather Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills estate?

It’s adorable to the point of irresistible, but alas “for educational purposes only,” a designation that applies to all the Gershwin home movies.

(Watch em, anyway! You never know when you may be called upon to throw an opulent 1940’s-style toddler party. Forewarned is forearmed! Instagram's gonna LOVE you.)

Copyright-wise, a good way to hedge your bets is to look for material filmed before 1922, like The Newlyweds, DW Griffith’s meet-cute silent short, starring America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford. Look to the leading ladies of that era, if you want to find some worthy tales (and footage) to shoehorn into your #metoo documentary.

Sounds like you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you, friend. But wait, there's more!

Recharge your batteries with a visit to Peking’s Forbidden City circa 1903.

Wouldn't that make a fine backdrop to your band’s next music video!

And dibs on the fabled diving horse of Coney Island, whose feats of derring-do were filmed by Thomas Edison.

I could watch that horse dive all day! And so could the audience of that 8-hour puppet opera I may wind up writing one of these days. It’s set in Coney Island….

Readers, have a rummage and report back. What’s your favorite find in the National Screening Room? Any plans for future use, real or imaginary? Let us know.

If you’re not immediately inspired, don’t despair. Just check back. New content will be uploaded monthly. There are also plans afoot to create educator lesson plans on historical and social topics documented in the collection. Teachers, imagine what your students might create with this classroom tool....

Begin your visit to the National Screening Room here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

130,000 Photographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Available Online, Courtesy of Stanford University

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

It’s taken for granted that every brand or rising star must establish and maintain a constant presence on various social networks. Indeed, the social media star—an entity famous solely for collecting followers and posting glamorous photos with themed commentary—may seem like a phenomenon that could only exist in the internet age, though writers like J.G. Ballard saw such things coming decades ago.

But before obsessive photography saturated the digital environment, Andy Warhol grasped the medium’s central importance in the documentation of everyday life. It just so happened that his everyday life was filled with celebrity actors, models, artists, and musicians.

Warhol, writes James D. Ellis at Light Stalking, “was the proto-hipster,” a restless moth always on the hunt for a flame. “Much like our contemporary culture, Warhol found it difficult to sit and do nothing. He had to leave his house or Factory and experience his immediate surroundings.”

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

And he had to photograph every one of those experiences. Warhol used his Polaroids and 35mm the way we use iPhones. A court case in the early nineties once took up the question of whether Warhol’s photographs could be considered fine art, but the artist himself, writes Patina Lee at Widewalls, “was obviously undecided about their value and meaning,” saying “A picture means I know where I was every minute. That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary.”

Warhol, Lee writes, “took his camera with him wherever he went, documenting practically everything, the highest high class and the lowest trash (literally, he took photos of trash cans and of what they contained)…. This inclusiveness is what made his photographic undertakings border between art and mere obsessive collecting, or as people like to cynically notice, consuming the life around him.” His consumption, and photographs of trash, comes to us as treasure, an extensive record of Warhol’s New York in the seventies and eighties.

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center and Stanford Libraries have collaborated to make their Warhol photo archives available to the public—photos snapped “at discos, dinner parties, flea markets, and wrestling matches. Friends, boyfriends, business associates, socialites, celebrities, and passersby.” This “trove of 3,600 contact sheets featuring 130,000 photographic exposures” documents Warhol’s daily life from 1976 until his death in 1987 and includes candid photos of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Truman Capote, Bianca Jagger, Jimmy Carter, Martha Graham, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Jackie Kennedy, Liz Minelli, Dolly Parton, Elizabeth Taylor, and more.

The archive, writes Sandra Feder for Stanford News, “is the most complete collection of the artist’s black-and-white photography ever made available to the public.” It was acquired by the Cantor in 2014 from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Given that these are all contact sheets, navigating the collecting can be a little bewildering. The Cantor has provided a number of tools to help. Click on Contact Sheets here to explore all 3,600+ contact sheets. Click Negatives to see individual frames, like those of Keith Haring, Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the top, Lou Reed further up, and Annie Leibovitz above. Or start browsing through pictures organized by theme here.

(Image credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.)

Dig deep, and you’ll find the oddest things, like Andy Warhol running in Central Park for charity with Grace Jones and photographer Gordon Parks. Whatever Andy did, whoever he happened to do it with—and a stranger cast of characters you will not find—it’s all in this huge photo archive somewhere.

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

Haruki Murakami Became a DJ on a Japanese Radio Station for One Night: Hear the Music He Played for Delighted Listeners

In his native Japan, Haruki Murakami has published not just fiction but all sorts of essays dealing with a variety of subjects, from travel to music to writing itself. One collection of these pieces came out under the title Murakami Radio, a possible inspiration for a broadcast of the same name this past summer on Tokyo FM. For its 55-minute duration, Murakami took the DJ's seat and spun records (or rather, files from several of his music-filled iPods) from his famously vast personal library, including The Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA," Joey Ramone's version of "What a Wonderful World," Eric Burdon and The Animals' "Sky Pilot," and Daryl Hall and John Oates' version of "Love Train." You can listen to all his selections in the Youtube Playlist above.

"It has been my hobby to collect records and CDs since my childhood, and thanks to that, my house is inundated with such things," wrote Murakami in a message posted by Tokyo FM. "However, I have often felt a sense of guilt toward the world while listening to such amazing music and having a good time alone. I thought it may be good to share such good times with other people while chatting over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee."

He also chatted a bit himself between songs, answering listener questions and explaining the relationship between the music he loves and the books he writes“Rather than learning storytelling technique from someone, I’ve taken a musical approach, while being very conscious about rhythms, harmony and improvisation," he said on-air. "It’s like writing as I dance, even though I don’t actually dance.”

For many of Murakami's fans, Murakami Radio (full recordings of which do exist on the internet) marks the first time they've ever heard his actual voice, and it turns out to have a thing or two in common with his authorial one: take, for instance, his use of boku, the informal personal pronoun favored by most of his narrators. With the broadcast initially announced as a one-off, it might also have seemed like the last chance to hear Murakami speak, but the official Murakami Radio site recently announced two more editions. The next one, scheduled for October 19th, will deal with not just music but another of Murakami's passions, running. Anyone who's read Murakami's 1979 debut novel Hear the Wind Sing will remember the talkative Saturday-night radio DJ who makes occasional appearances in the text — and may wonder if, nearly 40 years later, Murakami channels him again when he gets behind the microphone himself.

via The Vinyl Factory

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

Learn Anatomy Through a Pictorial History of James Bond 007

Remember the scene in Tomorrow Never Dies when sexy double agent Wai Lin handcuffs James Bond to the shower and leaves him there?

Alternately, remember “Table 9” from anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus’ 1749 Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani?

Kriota Willberg, an educator, massage therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and author of Draw Stronger: Self-Care For Cartoonists and Other Visual Artists, is sufficiently steeped in both Bond and Albinus to identify striking visual similarities.

That shower scene is just one iconic moment that Willberg included in her mini-comic, Pictorial Anatomy of 007.

Agent Bond’s sartorial sense is a crucial aspect of his appeal, but Willberg, a Bond fan who’s seen every film in the canon at least five times, digs below that celebrated surface, peeling back skin to expose the structures that lie beneath.

Sean Connery’s Bond exhibits a veteran artist’s model's stillness waiting for the right time to make his move against Dr. No’s “eight-legged assassin.” Even before Willberg got involved, it was an excellent showcase for his pecs, delta, and sternocleitomastoid muscles.

Leaving her flayed Bonds in their cinematic settings are a way of paying tribute to the antique anatomical illustrations Willberg admires for their dynamism:

…sitting in a chair, taking a stroll, holding its skin or organs out of the way so that the reader can get a better look at deeper structures. Some of the cadavers are very flirty. The pictures remind us that we are the organs we see on the page. They do stuff! 

The New York Academy of Medicine selected Willberg as its first Artist in Residence, because of the way she explores the intersections between body sciences and artistic practices. (Other projects include an intricate needlepoint X-Ray of her own root canal and Stitchin’ Time!, a fictional encounter in which Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE), author of  De Medicina, and surgeon Aelius Galenus (129  – c. 200 CE) team up to repair a disemboweled gladiator.

Is there a squeamish bone in this artist's body?

All signs point to no.

Asked to pick a favorite Bond movie, she names Goldfinger for the mythology concerning the infamous scene wherein a beautiful woman is painted gold, but also 2006’s Casino Royale for keeping the torture scene from the book:

I didn’t think they’d have the balls! Sorry! Poor taste but I couldn’t resist. Although Timothy Dalton physically resembled Bond as described in the books, most of the movies make Bond out to be smarter than Fleming wrote him. I think Judy Dench called Daniel Craig, Casino Royale’s Bond, a “blunt instrument” which is pretty much how he’s written. He’s tough and lucky and that’s why he’s survived. Plus the machete fight is great. 

Sometimes people get too prissy about the body. I am meat and liver and sausage and so are you. Your body is inescapable while you live. You should get to know it. Think about it in different contexts. It’s fun!

When From Russia With Love’s Rosa Klebb punches master assassin, Red Grant, in the stomach, she is squishing a living liver through living abdominal muscles.

Hard copies of Kriota Willberg’s anatomy-based comics, including Pictorial Anatomy of 007, are available from Birdcage Bottom Books.

Listen to an hour-long interview with Comics Alternative in which Willberg discusses her New York Academy of Medicine residency, anatomical research, and the ways in which humor informs her approach here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest script, Fawnbook, is available in a digital edition from Indie Theater Now.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why Should You Read Don Quixote?: An Animated Video Makes the Case

In “one of the strangest stories in modern film,” Monty Python alumnus and critically-lauded director Terry Gilliam strove for three decades to make his take on Don Quixote, an ordeal that inspired two documentaries and that did not end in triumph even when the film premiered to acclaim at Cannes this year after its long gestation. Just a few weeks afterward, Gilliam lost the rights to the film in a lawsuit with its former producer. Nonetheless, for all of the serious setbacks on the road to its completion, Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has still mostly fared better than the protagonist of Cervantes’ novel.

But the delusional knight-errant and his much-put-upon squire’s ridiculous and inevitable failures are what constitute the novel’s enduring appeal. Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha has become the best-selling novel of all time, and by the accounts of its most illustrious admirers, the matrix of all modern fiction. “The novelist need answer to no one but Cervantes,” says Milan Kundera. Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes called Don Quixote “the first modern novel, perhaps the most eternal novel ever written and certainly the fountainhead of European and American fiction.”

Such effusive praise for Cervantes is near-universal, but like Gilliam’s film, and the fictional knight's quest, the Spanish writer’s epic adventure came to him late in life, when he was almost sixty, having “spent most of his life as a struggling poet and playwright,” says Ilan Stavans in the TED-Ed video above. He succeeded after a long, undistinguished career with a book that satirized the chivalric romances which “dominated European culture” at the time.

Cervantes’ brilliant idea—conjuring a character who actually believed these stories—gave us the great parodic epic and, in its second volume, a brilliant work of pre-post-modern metafiction in which the characters Quixote meets have already read about his exploits in the first book. The mad hidalgo Don Quixote, unlike the stock figures in popular romances, actually develops and matures as a character, a unique feature of fiction at the time and one reason Cervantes’ book is called the “first modern novel.”

Other foundational features of the novel include the relationship of Quixote and Sancho Panza, a fictional study in contrasts that may be the origin of so many iconic duos since—from Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to Batman and Robin and the Odd Couple. The novel’s commercial success was immediate and global—again marking it as a product of modernity. Pirated copies circulated where it had been banned in the Americas. Asserting his proprietary rights over the character while also meeting reader demand, he wrote and published volume two to preempt spurious sequels.

The TED-Ed video is part of a “Why you should read X” series trumpeting the value of great works of literature. These efforts will, hopefully, inspire many people to pick up the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, and more. But ultimately, great works of literature should speak for themselves. Why should you read Don Quixote? Well, yes, because it is the foundation of modern fiction. But the real answer to the question lies between the novel's covers. Pick up Don Quixote (I like Edith Grossman’s 2003 translation), and find out for yourself.

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

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writers

stephenking

Image by the USO, via Flickr Commons

In one of my favorite Stephen King interviews, for The Atlantic, he talks at length about the vital importance of a good opening line. “There are all sorts of theories,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King’s discussion of opening lines is compelling because of his dual focus as an avid reader and a prodigious writer of fiction---he doesn’t lose sight of either perspective:

We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.

This is excellent advice. As you orient your reader, so you orient yourself, pointing your work in the direction it needs to go. Now King admits that he doesn’t think much about the opening line as he writes, in a first draft, at least. That perfectly crafted and inviting opening sentence is something that emerges in revision, which can be where the bulk of a writer’s work happens.

Revision in the second draft, “one of them, anyway,” may “necessitate some big changes” says King in his 2000 memoir slash writing guide On Writing. And yet, it is an essential process, and one that “hardly ever fails.” Below, we bring you King’s top twenty rules from On Writing. About half of these relate directly to revision. The other half cover the intangibles---attitude, discipline, work habits. A number of these suggestions reliably pop up in every writer’s guide. But quite a few of them were born of Stephen King’s many decades of trial and error and---writes the Barnes & Noble book blog---“over 350 million copies” sold, “like them or loathe them."

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway."

9. Turn off the TV. “TV---while working out or anywhere else---really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book---even a long one---should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

See a fuller exposition of King’s writing wisdom at Barnes & Noble’s blog.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2014.

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

Buckminster Fuller Creates Striking Posters of His Own Inventions


In addition to his formidable body of work in architecture, design, and theory of the kind the world had never known before, Buckminster Fuller also knew how to promote himself. Sometimes this meant appearing on late-night new-age talk shows, but at its core it meant coming up with ideas that would immediately "read" as revolutionary to anyone who saw them in action. But how to put them before the eyes of someone who hasn't had the chance to see a geodesic dome, a Dymaxion House and Car, or even a Geodome 4 tent in real life?

The ascent of graphic design in the 20th century, a century Fuller saw begin and lived through most of, provided one promising answer: posters. The ones you see here show off "Fuller’s most famous inventions, with line drawings from his patents superimposed over a photograph of the thing itself," writes Fast Company's Katharine Schwab.

"While they look like something Fuller aficionados might have created after the man’s death to celebrate his work, Fuller actually created them in partnership with the gallerist Carl Solway near the end of his career."

These posters, "striking with their two-layer design, are Fuller’s visual homage to his own genius — and an attempt to bring what he believed were world-changing utopian concepts to the masses." They're also now on display at the Edward Cella Art + Architecture in Los Angeles, whose exhibition "R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventions and Models" runs until November 2nd. "Fuller’s objects and prints function not only as models of the mathematical and geometric properties underlying their construction but also as elegant works of art," says the gallery's site. "As such, the works represent the hybridity of Fuller’s practice, and his legacy across the fields of art, design, science, and engineering."

You can see more of Fuller's posters, which depict and visually explain the structures of such inventions as the geodesic dome and Dymaxion Car, of course, but also lesser-known creations like a "Fly's Eye" dome covered in bubble windows (individually swappable for solar panels), a submersible for offshore drilling, and a rowboat with a body reduced to two thin "needles," at Designboom. Edward Cella Art + Architecture has also made the posters available for purchase at $7,000 apiece. That price might seem in contradiction with Fuller's utopian ideals about universal accessibility through sheer low cost, but then, who could look at these and call them anything but works of art?

via Curbed

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A Three-Minute Introduction to Buckminster Fuller, One of the 20th Century’s Most Productive Design Visionaries

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The Life & Times of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome: A Documentary

Buckminster Fuller Creates an Animated Visualization of Human Population Growth from 1000 B.C.E. to 1965

Buckminster Fuller’s Collaboration with The North Face Culminates with a New Geodesic Dome Tent, the Geodome 4

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

Noam Chomsky Talks About How Kids Acquire Language and Ideas in an Animated Video by Michel Gondry

These days Noam Chomsky is probably most famous for his consistent, outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy. Yet before the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, Chomsky became internationally famous for proposing a novel solution to an age-old question: what does a baby know?

Plato argued that infants retain memories of past lives and thus come into this world with a grasp of language. John Locke countered that a baby’s mind is a blank slate onto which the world etches its impression. After years of research, Chomsky proposed that newborns have a hard-wired ability to understand grammar. Language acquisition is as elemental to being human as, say, dam building is to a beaver. It’s just what we’re programmed to do. Chomsky’s theories revolutionized the way we understand linguistics and the mind.

A little while ago, film director and music video auteur Michel Gondry interviewed Chomsky and then turned the whole thing into an extended animated documentary called Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?.

Above is a clip from the film. In his thick French accent, Gondry asks if there is a correlation between language acquisition and early memories. For anyone who’s watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you know that memory is one of the director’s major obsessions. Over Gondry’s rough-hewn drawings, Chomsky expounds: “Children know quite a lot of a language, much more than you would expect, before they can exhibit that knowledge.” He goes on to talk about new techniques for teaching deaf-blind children and how a day-old infant interprets the world.

As the father of a toddler who is at the cusp of learning to form thoughts in words, I found the clip to be fascinating. Now, if only Chomsky can explain why my son has taken to shouting the word “bacon” over and over and over again.

To gain a deeper understanding of Chomsky's thoughts on linguistics, see our previous post:  The Ideas of Noam Chomsky: An Introduction to His Theories on Language & Knowledge (1977)

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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2015.

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Director Michel Gondry Makes a Charming Film on His iPhone, Proving That We Could Be Making Movies, Not Taking Selfies

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What Makes Us Human?: Chomsky, Locke & Marx Introduced by New Animated Videos from the BBC

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. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The 10 Commandments of Chindōgu, the Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions

Back in the 1990s I'd often run across volumes of the Unuseless Japanese Inventions series at bookstores. Each one features about a hundred ostensibly real Japanese devices, photographed and described with a disarming straightforwardness, that mash up other consumer products in outwardly bizarre ways: chopsticks whose attached miniature electric fan cools ramen noodles en route to the mouth; a plastic zebra crossing to unroll and lay across a street at the walker's convenience; an inverted umbrella attached to a portable tank for rainwater collection on the go. Such things, at once plausible and implausible, turn out to have their own word in the Japanese language: chindōgu (珍道具), or "curious tool."

"There's an essence to chindōgu that can't be ignored," writes Michael Richey at Tofugu, where you can view an extensive gallery of examples. "They need to be useful, but only just so. Something people could use, but probably won't because of shame," a famously powerful force in Japanese society.

They also adhere to a set of principles laid down by Kenji Kawakami, former editor of the country housewife-targeted magazine Mail Order Life, who first revealed chindōgu to Japan by showing off his prototypes in the back pages. These ten commandments of chindōgu are as follows:

  1. A Chindōgu Cannot be for Real Use — They must be, from a practical point of view, useless.
  2. A Chindōgu Must Exist — A Chindōgu must be something that you can actually hold, even if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. There must be the Spirit of Anarchy in Every Chindōgu — Chindōgu inventions represent the freedom to be (almost) useless and challenge the historical need for usefulness.
  4. Chindōgu Tools are for Everyday Life — Chindōgu must be useful (or useless) to everyone around the world for everyday life.
  5. Chindōgu are Not for Sale — Chindōgu cannot be sold, as this would go against the spirit of the art form.
  6. Humor is Not the Sole Reason for Creating a Chindōgu — Even if Chindōgu are inherently quirky and hilarious, the main reason they are created is for problem solving.
  7. Chindōgu are Not Propaganda — Chindōgu are, however, innocent and made with good intentions. They should only be created to be used (or not used).
  8. Chindōgu are Never Taboo — Chindōgu must adhere to society’s basic standards.
  9.  Chindōgu Cannot be Patented — Chindōgu cannot be copyrighted or patented, and are made to be shared with the rest of the world.
  10. Chindōgu Are Without Prejudice — Everyone should have an equal chance to enjoy every Chindōgu.

These principles resulted in the kind of inventions that drew great fascination and amusement in their home country — you can watch a short Japanese television broadcast showing Kawakami demonstrate a few chindōgu above — but not only there. The Unuseless Japanese Inventions books came out in the West at just the right time, a historical moment that saw Japan's image shift from that of a fearsome innovator and economic powerhouse to that of an inward-looking but often charming nation of obsessives and eccentrics. Of course such people, so Western thinking went, would come up with fashionable earrings that double as earplugs, a cup holder that slots into a jacket pocket, and shoes with toe-mounted brooms and dustpans.

Kawakami has continued to invent and exhibit chindōgu in recent years, and even now his work remains as analog as ever. "There’s always some process in analog products, and these processes themselves can be their purpose,” he told the Japan Times in a 2001 interview. "If you look at digital products, they all isolate people and leave them in their own small world, depriving them of the joy of communicating with others... I can’t deny that they make life more exciting and convenient, but they also make human relationships more shallow and superficial." Those wise words look wiser all the time — but then, you'd expect that degree of insight into 21st-century life from the man who may well have invented the selfie stick.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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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