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20 May 11:52

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

by Josh Jones

orwell writing rules

Image via Creative Commons

Most everyone who knows the work of George Orwell knows his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” (published here), in which he rails against careless, confusing, and unclear prose. “Our civilization is decadent,” he argues, “and our language… must inevitably share in the general collapse.” The examples Orwell quotes are all guilty in various ways of “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”

Ultimately, Orwell claims, bad writing results from corrupt thinking, and often attempts to make palatable corrupt acts: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” His examples of colonialism, forced deportations, and bombing campaigns find ready analogues in our own time. Pay attention to how the next article, interview, or book you read uses language “favorable to political conformity” to soften terrible things.

Orwell’s analysis identifies several culprits that obscure meaning and lead to whole paragraphs of bombastic, empty prose:

Dying metaphors: essentially clichés, which “have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”

Operators or verbal false limbs: these are the wordy, awkward constructions in place of a single, simple word. Some examples he gives include “exhibit a tendency to,” “serve the purpose of,” “play a leading part in,” “have the effect of.” (One particular peeve of mine when I taught English composition was the phrase “due to the fact that” for the far simpler “because.”)

Pretentious diction: Orwell identifies a number of words he says “are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.” He also includes in this category “jargon peculiar to Marxist writing” (“petty bourgeois,” “lackey,” “flunkey,” “hyena”).

Meaningless words: Abstractions, such as “romantic,” “plastic,” “values,” “human,” “sentimental,” etc. used “in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.” Orwell also damns such political buzzwords as “democracy,” “socialism,” “freedom,” “patriotic,” “justice,” and “fascism,” since they each have “several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.”

Most readers of Orwell’s essay inevitably point out that Orwell himself has committed some of the faults he finds in others, but will also, with some introspection, find those same faults in their own writing. Anyone who writes in an institutional context—be it academia, journalism, or the corporate world—acquires all sorts of bad habits that must be broken with deliberate intent. “The process” of learning bad writing habits “is reversible” Orwell promises, “if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” How should we proceed? These are the rules Orwell suggests:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

What constitutes “outright barbarous” wording he does not say, exactly. As the internet cliché has it: Your Mileage May Vary. You may find creative ways to break these rules without thereby being obscure or justifying mass murder.

But Orwell does preface his guidelines with some very sound advice: “Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose—not simply accept—the phrases that will best cover the meaning.” Not only does this practice get us closer to using clear, specific, concrete language, but it results in writing that grounds our readers in the sensory world we all share to some degree, rather than the airy word of abstract thought and belief that we don’t.

These “elementary” rules do not cover “the literary use of language,” writes Orwell, “but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.” In the seventy years since his essay, the quality of English prose has likely not improved, but our ready access to writing guides of all kinds has. Those who care about clarity of thought and responsible use of rhetoric would do well to consult them often, and to read, or re-read, Orwell’s essay.

Related Content:

George Orwell’s Five Greatest Essays (as Selected by Pulitzer-Prize Winning Columnist Michael Hiltzik)

George Orwell Explains in a Revealing 1944 Letter Why He’d Write 1984

What “Orwellian” Really Means: An Animated Lesson About the Use & Abuse of the Term

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

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

20 May 11:00

A New Record for Physics Graduates

by Rhett Allain
A New Record for Physics Graduates
Seven people graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a degree in physics. This is a big deal. No, really. The post A New Record for Physics Graduates appeared first on WIRED.
17 May 17:00

The Long Lost Writing Life

by Guia Cortassa

My only real want along the way was to illuminate something about the human condition in a voice and from a point of view that could belong only to me. And if a bid for posterity beats in the heart of every writer, mine is alive with the possibility that long after I’m gone, someone will discover an old paperback of my work and say, “What’s this?” But whether or not that happens is independent of the volume of work a writer publishes, so what’s done is done.

Over at Lit Hub, Jamie Clarke shares why he left the writing world to become a bookstore owner.

Related Posts:

15 May 09:00

AskNature: How can we design better packaging? #Biohacking #Biomimicry

by Jessie Mae

Stripedbass bigredlynx sstock

Interesting article via Greenbiz

Every day, postal workers deliver millions of packages through the mail, trucks full of produce are transported around the globe and billions of dollars worth of packaged products are created, bought and sold.

Packaging is a ubiquitous, necessary aspect of modern consumer cultures. It keeps our products safe, clean and intact. Yet over time, much of this packaging leads to waste and pollution. Isn’t there a better way to package the products and services we use every day?

If we look to nature, there are signs that the answer is yes. This collection aims to explore some of the varied ways in which nature designs and develops life-friendly packaging.

How does nature build breathable containers? What clues from nature might point us toward designing protective packaging that serves an additional use after the item is unwrapped? Much like humans, the rest of nature is continuously on the move and transporting goods. How can nature’s ideas help us design solutions to our most difficult packaging challenges?

Read more

15 May 15:50

Fran Wilde's The Jewel and Her Lapidary is a Wonderful, Bite-Sized Fantasy

by Andrew Liptak

Fran Wilde took home the Andre Norton award for her novel Updraft last night, which makes us think that we’ll see her on an award ballot again before too long for her latest novella, The Jewel and Her Lapidary.


29 Mar 15:33

Tom Wheeler: Bill banning “rate regulation” would kill net neutrality

by Jon Brodkin

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifying before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. (credit: House Energy and Commerce Committee)

Legislation that would ban rate regulation of Internet service providers could prevent the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Although the FCC decided not to regulate the monthly prices charged by broadband providers, the commission's net neutrality rules rely partially on rate-oversight authority over common carriers. The relevant sections of the Communications Act say that the prices charged by common carriers have to be just and reasonable; those sections also ban "unreasonable discrimination" in charges and practices.

This rate-oversight power, along with other authority, was used by the FCC to justify the three so-called "bright-line" rules that prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. That's why the Republican-sponsored "No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act" could threaten the FCC's core net neutrality rules, Wheeler told lawmakers in a letter dated March 14 and posted on the FCC's website last week.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

16 Mar 16:39

Save a person’s life: the fourth sign of a stroke

by Richard Kaufman


2.6 million people die in the United States each year.

Stroke is the fifth leading killer in the United States.

795,000 people have a stroke each year.

I had a friend who had a massive bleeding stroke and froze in mid-stride and mid-sentence, like a statue. He later died after life support was turned off.

The ways for folks like you and me to detect a stroke (aside from the person keeling over) were these until a decade or so ago:

S: Smile — If one side of the face droops or doesn’t move, call 911.

T: Talk — Speak a simple sentence. If it comes out garbled, call 911.

R: Raise — Raise both arms. If the person can’t, call 911.

About a decade ago it was discovered that there is a fourth sign that a stroke is taking place: the behavior of the tongue. Ask the person to stick out his or her tongue: if it doesn’t come out straight, but points off to the side in an odd way, call 911. Oddly this hasn’t received the publicity it should.

If you can get a person having a stroke to a hospital and into treatment within a few hours, there are drugs which, if administered rapidly enough, can mitigate the effects. Who knows … you might save a life.

Image: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

06 Jan 18:12

Carbonate Short Course

by Prof. Christopher L. Liner
After teaching version 1.0 of this course last year in ChinaCarbonate Essentials is being significantly updated and expanded for presentation at SEG/AAPG ICE in Barcelona on Saturday April 2, 2016 and at the EAGE Annual Meeting in Vienna on Monday May 30, 2016. Over the holiday break I reviewed and marked up nearly 80 papers and books on carbonate topics and am working the best of this into the course material. A big shout out to Gerard Wieggerink who directed me to excellent case histories on the Laconia carbonates of Malaysia. 

The figure below shows overall scope of my Carbonate Essentials short course. It is 1 day for now, but I'll be adding 2 and 3 day versions by late 2016 or early 2017. 

10 Mar 18:20

9 Open Source Alternatives To Picasa

by manishs
An anonymous reader writes: After over a decade of ownership of the product, Google announced just a few weeks ago that it will be closing the shutters for good on Picasa, a cross-platform photo viewer and organizer with basic editing capabilities. In the official announcement, Google has set March 15 as the end of support for the desktop client, with changes to the accompanying web-album hosting service set to roll out later in the spring. On, Jason Baker rounded up 9 open source and Linux-compatible alternatives to the popular photo sharing service.

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Read more of this story at Slashdot.

10 Mar 13:59

When Maps Lie

by Jonathan Crowe

Andrew Wiseman’s “When Maps Lie” was posted on CityLab last year, but its importance is evergreen: it’s about map literacy, and how to avoid being fooled by confusing, misleading or simply bad maps. This is very much what Mark Monmonier did in How to Lie with Maps (see my reviewAmazoniBooks); Wiseman updates it for the social media age.

Maps are big these days. Blogs and news sites (including this one) frequently post maps and those maps often go viral—40 maps that explain the world, the favorite TV shows of each U.S. state, and so on. They’re all over Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and news organizations are understandably capitalizing on the power that maps clearly have in digital space: they can visualize a lot of data quickly and effectively. But they can also visualize a lot of data inaccurately and misleadingly.

It’s a must-read. [via]

10 Mar 14:00

The Perfect LEGO Little Black Dress

by Amy Ratcliffe

I’ve seen makers create wearable replicas of LEGO minifigs, but I don’t often see entire outfits made from LEGO bricks. Brian D’Agostine, also known as Dag’s Bricks, designed and made a classic little black dress and matching handbag for his wife to wear at Bricks Cascade. He used Technic movable bricks and the dress came as a result of experimenting with how to make wearable LEGO pieces. Brian explains on his website:

When I first played around with staggering rows of 2L rubber technic axle connectors on axles I had no idea how large that table scrap would grow. That little thought grew until it became a pair of flip-flops. Then they got fancy. Then they needed something more so I played around with the same concept in a different way. I used a bunch of 2L technic liftarms and connected them with 3L pins. Once I figured out the pattern I could run long strings. These strings then were fastened together and suddenly I was a weaver, creating large swaths of cloth. With a little finagling I was able to convert these large chunks into form fitting pieces. Thus, a dress was born.

And the stats: The dress is made from around 12,000 individual Technic pieces and weighs about seven pounds. It’s separated into a skirt and bodice so weight was distributed more evenly.

via CNET

11 Feb 19:24

Facebook's "Free Basics" and colonialism: an argument in six devastating points

by Cory Doctorow

animation (3)

Though India's independent telcoms regulator has banned services like Facebook's "Free Basics" -- which bribed phone companies to exempt Facebook's chosen services from the carriers' punishing data-caps -- the debate rages on, as Free Basics has taken hold through many poor countries around the world. (more…)

11 Feb 15:00

Watch Live as Physicists Make a Big Announcement About Gravitational Waves

by Maddie Stone on Gizmodo, shared by Katie Drummond to io9
Artist’s concept of a black hole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Could the rumors be true? After a month of rampant speculation that physicists have finally discovered gravitational waves , today we learn the truth. Lead scientists from the the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) have assembled at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and they’re about to make a big announcement.


04 Feb 18:33

They promised us a debate over TPP, then they signed it without any debate

by Cory Doctorow


The Trans Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated agreement between 12 countries, including the US, Canada and Japan, which establishes punishing regimes for censoring and controlling the Internet, as well as allowing corporations to nullify safety, environmental and labor laws that limit their profits. (more…)

19 Jan 22:49

Idris Elba Talks “Diversity” in Thought as Well as Media

by Teresa Jusino

Beasts of No Nation‘s Idris Elba recently spoke to his home government at Westminster in front of a body of over 100 British MPs to talk about diversity, primarily in the industry of British media (specifically television), but really about diversity in all industries. You can check out his full 30-min speech in the video above.

What struck me most about it though, which relates to thoughts I keep having regarding #OscarsSoWhite, is that Elba talks about the importance of “people with imagination.” Meaning, it’s not just about getting a more diverse group of people into positions of power – though that’s part of it. It’s about the people who are already in power having imagination enough to see beyond themselves. He talks about diversity, not just in how it relates to race, but how it relates to gender, culture, sexuality, class, and physical ability.

He tells the story of how casting director Nina Gold, a white woman, was doing casting for the British film, Attack the Block, and discovered John Boyega in her casting search, because she was casting a wide net for every character. Then, she was responsible for getting Boyega seen for the role of Finn in The Force Awakens. So while, yes, Gold can be seen as a “diversity hire” as a woman in a male-dominated industry, she also had the aforementioned imagination to look beyond herself racially.

Elba brings up another interesting statistic in this video completely unrelated to film or TV. He talked about the London Olympics, and how the UK placed third as far as number of gold medals on their home turf! Then he said that, of British medalists, 50% of them had attended private school. However, only 7% of all British children go to private school. He then stressed the importance of fishing for talent everywhere, not just in the usual haunts. Because imagine what can be accomplished if you’re drawing talent from over 90% of your children, rather than less than 10%.

The idea that comes up over and over in this speech that I love is that when we talk “diversity,” it’s not just about diversity as it relates to the categories I mentioned above – it’s about “diversity of thought.” In other words, all of us have to make the conscious effort to think differently and entertain a diversity of ideas. Only then can someone like Nina Gold look at someone like John Boyega and think “lead in Star Wars! Of course!”

idris elba

It’s been frustrating for me to watch all the discussion surrounding #OscarsSoWhite, because a lot of the focus seems to be on diversifying the membership body of the Academy. Don’t get me wrong, this is something that needs to happen, but it’s not the only thing that needs to happen. Too often, people in marginalized groups are expected to be the spokespeople for their specific “interest” which only serves to marginalize them more, even as the white/male/cis/straight/able-bodied/financially secure people who hired them feel good about themselves for hiring in a diverse way.

It’s time for those white/male/cis/straight/able-bodied/financially secure people to stop asking marginalized people to take on that work for them, and start taking some of the responsibility on themselves. Fish for talent everywhere. Are the only screeners you’re getting to vote on come Oscar time for films starring cis, straight white people and created by them, too? Maybe…don’t rely entirely on screeners for your voting! Look for films to vote for. Reach out to independent production companies who might not have the budget to be able to get a screener to or host a screening for the entire Academy and ask to see their films. Maybe *gasp* at your own expense! (I mean, it’s not like money buys votes, right? I mean…RIGHT?!)

Don’t just think about the Oscars at Oscar time, and don’t only think about independent film when someone shoves an “indie darling” (which means it already has people supporting it and access to resources a lot of others don’t) in your face. Seek talent out. Everywhere. I realize this will be a lot more work, and no one person can watch everything…but there are 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Surely, y’all can divvy up the hundreds of films that are released each year and make sure everything gets seen.

And then you have to remember that, just because something is culturally important to you, doesn’t mean it’s culturally important to someone else – and vice-versa. You might not enjoy hip-hop, for example, but that doesn’t make a film like Straight Outta Compton worth being taken any less seriously (no, it’s the disregard for Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women that does that!). You might not be a woman, but that doesn’t make stories with nuanced female protagonists “less important” just because you for some reason can’t “see yourself” in her story despite the fact that she’s constantly being asked to see herself in yours. Ditto for LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and the poor. You shouldn’t have to have lived something yourself to see the value in a story being told.

And it’s not just about diverse storytelling. I mean, it’s not as if people of color, or LGBTQ+ people only work on “those films.” People of color work on all sorts of films. It doesn’t, nor should it have to be, a film “about their community” to get them nominated.

What’s more, perhaps the very rules of nomination need to change. After all, in order to qualify, films need to screen in theaters in Los Angeles by a certain time. However, lots of amazing films go straight online and can’t afford a theatrical release. Granted, a lot of independent film is done by first-timers on a low budget, and therefore might not, to some, represent “the best” in film. But that’s subjective, isn’t it? Budget doesn’t dictate quality, talent does. There are films with budgets under a million dollars that are amazing, and there are multi-million dollar blockbusters that are garbage.

I completely respect Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ response to #OscarsSoWhite, and her commitment to diversifying the membership, but that’s not enough. If change is going to happen as quickly as it needs to, we can’t wait for it to happen organically through extrapolated diversity. We need to figure out how to make current members, right now, see the value in the stories and talent they’re ignoring. Members need to be encouraged to do their own outreach, and bring back more diverse choices for nomination – and perhaps they should be penalized if they don’t.

I don’t know the answers – it’s not my organization – but this is bigger than the Oscars, or even the film industry. Decisions made here affect how our nation is shaped, how children grow up seeing themselves, how our country moves forward and is seen in the eyes of the world. Do not take this lightly.

(via The Playlist, image via DFID/Flickr)

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19 Jan 17:40

Great Job, Internet!: This BFI infographic breaks film noir down to its essential elements

by Joe Blevins

The termfilm noir” (literally “black film”) was originally coined by French critic Nino Frank back in 1946 to describe a certain subspecies of American crime movies. But it took the British Film Institute to create an authoritative infographic that defines, quantifies, compares, and rank the masterworks of noir. In a stylish chart called “Darkness Visible,” designed by Melanie Patrick, the BFI identifies the crucial elements of plot, theme, style, and general philosophy of life that truly make a film noir. Not every film about detectives makes the cut, after all. But it does help to start out with an investigator “of relative integrity,” usually operating in an urban setting. Naturally, he’ll get mixed up with a criminal of some sort, probably a murderer. And no film noir would be complete without a dame or two, preferably one who is bad but beautiful and another who is good but ...

02 Dec 20:00

Why I don't flout copyright

by Matt Hall

Lots of people download movies illegally. Or spoof their IP addresses to get access to sports fixtures. Or use random images they found on the web in publications and presentations (I've even seen these with the watermark of the copyright owner on them!). Or download PDFs for people who aren't entitled to access (#icanhazpdf). Or use sketchy Russian paywall-crumbling hacks. It's kind of how the world works these days. And I realize that some of these things don't even sound illegal.

This might surprise some people, because I go on so much about sharing content, open geoscience, and so on. But I am an annoying stickler for copyright rules. I want people to be able to re-use any content they like, without breaking the law. And if people don't want to share their stuff, then I don't want to share it.

Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky, but FWIW here are my reasons:

  1. I'm a content producer. I would like to set some boundaries to how my stuff is shared. In my case, the boundaries amount to nothing more than attribution, which is only fair. But still, it's my call, and I think that's reasonable, at least until the material is, say, 5 years old. But some people don't understand that open is good, that shareable content is better than closed content, that this is the way the world wants it. And that leads to my second reason:
  2. I don't want to share closed stuff as if it was open. If someone doesn't openly license their stuff, they don't deserve the signal boost — they told the world to keep their stuff secret. Why would I give them the social and ethical benefits of open access while they enjoy the financial benefits of closed content? This monetary benefit comes from a different segment of the audience, obviously. At least half the people who download a movie illegally would not, I submit, have bought the movie at a fair price.

So make a stand for open content! Don't share stuff that the creator didn't give you permission to share. They don't deserve your gain filter.

17 Dec 20:17

Watch this paleoanthropologist answer a creationist's question about evolution being "just a theory"

by Mark Frauenfelder

"Why should we base the validity of all of our life's beliefs on a theory?" I'm not even sure what that question means, but the UC Berkeley student who asked it to Dr. White didn't look pleased by his fact-based answer.

From Wikipedia: Timothy Douglas White is an American paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is most famous for his work on Lucy as Australopithecus afarensis with discoverer Donald Johanson.

11 Nov 14:34

Black Midi: compositions so complex humans can't perform them

by Rob Beschizza


Rhizome takes a look at the world of Black Midi, compositions with so many notes that to print them as musical notation would result simply in a giant blob of ink on the page.

We've previously written about Circus Galop, an inhumanly-polyphonic test suite for automatic pianos. This stuff makes it look rather minimalist. [via]

11 Nov 13:00

Kontor: A Souped-Up Pinterest For Office Design

by Diana Budds

"People have been trying to use Google image search or Pinterest, but they really don't fit the needs of a serious design conversation."

Say you want to redesign your office. Type "modern office" into Pinterest or Tumblr, and you'll see a slew of inspiring spaces, but you won't find much practical information like product names and manufacturers; maybe if you're lucky, the images will identify the architecture firm responsible. Kontor, which bills itself as "a visual network for workplace design," seeks to bridge the gap.

Read Full Story

06 Nov 12:42

What is the university for?

by Azra Raza

From Africa is a Country:

AfricaBound at once to a contract with the state and simultaneously to a public sphere, the university has had to reinvent its object of study, abiding by duration and commitments to the formation of students in respect of its reigning ideas. It is in the interstice of these seemingly opposing social demands that the inventiveness of the university as an institution is most discernable. Rather than being given to the dominant interests of the day, whether state, capital or public, the university ought by virtue of its idealism to be true to its commitment to name the question that defines the present in relation to which it sets to work, especially when that question of the present may not appear obvious to society at large. Yet, in naming this question the university is ethically required to make clear that it does not stand above society.

Today there is growing concern that the university has lost sight of its reigning idea – the demands of radical critique and timeliness – and all the contests that ensue from claims made on that idea. In the process its sense of inventiveness has been threatened by an encroaching sense of the de-schooling of society, instrumental reason and the effects of the changes in the technological resources of society that have altered the span of attention, retentional abilities, memory and recall, and at times, the very desire to think and reason. Scholars around the world bemoan the extent of plagiarism and lack of attention on the part of their students; features that they suggest have much to do with the changes wrought by the growth and expansion of new technological resources. What binds the university as a coherent system is now threatened by the waning of attention and the changes in processes of retention and memory. In these times, retention has been consigned to digital recording devices. Students and faculty are now compelled to labor under the illusion that the more that we store and the more we have stored, the more we presumably know.

More here.

06 Nov 11:15

Scientists Have Invented A Real-Life Tractor Beam That Manipulates Objects With Sound

by Charlie Sorrel

Powerful, carefully controlled sound waves could be used to control objects without having to touch them at all—even inside the human body.

This video shows a real live tractor beam in action. It uses an array of small speakers to levitate objects and to move them precisely through the air. The beam can even pull objects from above, just like the tractor beams that aliens spacecraft use to abduct human subjects for their terrifying experiments.

Read Full Story

03 Nov 14:00

NASA is Sending a Robot Geophysicist to Investigate the Interior of Mars

by Mika McKinnon on Earth & Space, shared by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan to io9

What lurks beneath the dusty red surface of Mars? NASA’s InSight Lander is launching next spring to go delving deeper than ever before as the first Martian geophysicist.


06 Nov 18:39

Hear Arthur Miller Read From Death of a Salesman, His Great American Play (1955)

by Ayun Halliday

1949’s Death of a Salesman is one of the most enduring plays in the American canon, a staple of both community and professional theater.

Playwright Arthur Miller recalled that when the curtain fell on the first performance, there were “men in the audience sitting there with handkerchiefs over their faces. It was like a funeral.”

Robert Falls, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Goodman Theater, brings the experience of dozens of productions to bear when he describes it as the only play that “sends men weeping into the Men’s room.”

Small wonder that the titular part has become a grail of sorts for aging leading men eager to be taken seriously. Dustin Hoffman, George C. Scott, and Philip Seymour Hoffman have all had a go at Willy Loman, a role still associated with the towering Lee J. Cobb, who originated it.

(Willy’s wife, Linda, with her famous graveside admonition that “attention must be paid,” is considered no less of a plum part.)

On February 2, 1955, Arthur Miller joined Salesman’s first Mrs. Loman, Mildred Dunnock, to read selections from the script before a live audience at Manhattan’s 92nd Street YMCA. In addition to reading the role of Willy Loman, Miller supplied stage directions and explained his rationale for picking the featured scenes. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s New York accent and brusque manner make him a natural, and of course, who better to understand the nuances, motivations, and historical context of this tragically flawed character?

Miller told The New Yorker that he based Loman on his family friend, Manny Newman:

Manny lived in his own mind all the time. He never got out of it. Everything he said was totally unexpected. People regarded him as a kind of strange, completely untruthful personality. Very charming. I thought of him as a kind of wonderful inventor. For example, at will, he would suddenly say, “That’s a lovely suit you have on.” And for no reason at all, he’d say, “Three hundred dollars.” Now, everybody knew he never paid three hundred dollars for a suit in those days. At a party, he would lie down on his wife’s lap and pretend to be sucking her breast. He’d curl up on her lap—she was an immense woman. It was crazy. At the same time, there was something in him which was terribly moving. It was very moving, because his suffering was right on his skin, you see.

If Miller and Dunnock’s performance leaves you hungry for more, you can see her and Lee J. Cobb reprise their roles on television in a 1966 CBS production. See Act 1 above, and Act 2 here.

Related Content:

Albert Camus Talks About Adapting Dostoyevsky for the Theatre, 1959

Hear Antonin Artaud’s Censored, Never-Aired Radio Play: To Have Done With The Judgment of God (1947)

Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade Pushed the Boundaries of Theater, and Still Does

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, is now playing in New York City . Follow her @AyunHalliday

Hear Arthur Miller Read From Death of a Salesman, His Great American Play (1955) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

03 Nov 18:37

Newswire: Ash Vs. Evil Dead’s first episode is streaming online for free

by Alex McCown

After we all lost our collective minds with happiness over word of the new Ash Vs. Evil Dead series, and then were heartily reassured by the news that it was actually pretty good, all that remained in our minds to cause uncertainty was, “Who the hell actually has a Starz subscription?” Well, it looks like Starz had that same concern. As a way of enticing those of us currently without access to the pay-cable channel to pony up our cash, it‘s made the first episode of Ash Vs. Evil Dead available for free online. Bruce Campbell’s Deadite fighter is currently streaming in all his glory, so you can watch and decide whether you think it’ll be worth investing the money in yet another channel.

Really, those of you who already get Starz should chime in with some comments below about the worthwhile-ness of a cable channel that ...

02 Nov 20:02

Explore the Beauty of Space With the NASA Photo Archives

by Taylor Glascock
Explore the Beauty of Space With the NASA Photo Archives

In a perfect blend of science and art, the NASA's archives still provoke wonder and awe.

The post Explore the Beauty of Space With the NASA Photo Archives appeared first on WIRED.

02 Nov 21:20

Amazon Increases Their Paid Parental Leave Policy on the Heels of Recent Bad Press

by Maddy Myers


Following on the heels of a New York Times investigative piece about the less-than-pleasant working conditions at Amazon, Jezebel reports that the company has quietly been implementing better paid leave policies for their employees. Of course, there’s no mandate here in the United States that would require the company to do this, unlike in other countries; as displayed in The Atlantic‘s research (pictured above), the good ol’ US of A is pretty far behind on this issue. It’s to a point where a massive company deciding to offer paid leave actually will earn them some good press in response. For example, Microsoft, NetflixFacebook, Yahoo, and Google have all revamped their own paid parental leave programs in recent years—to the relief of their employees, no doubt.

This seems like a no-brainer type of popular decision on Amazon’s part, to a point where it feels strange to congratulate them for it—especially given the “convenient” timing, following on the heels of the bad press that the company’s gotten recently. Prime Now workers at Amazon are in the midst of suing the company due to unfair working conditions, such as getting cheated out of wages and break times. Speaking of “convenience,” I guess all of those two-day and one-day shipping speeds came at a cost, huh?

(via Jezebel, image via The Atlantic)

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29 Oct 19:13

David Deutsch: Philosophy will be the key that unlocks artificial intelligence

by S. Abbas Raza

David Deutsch in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_1473 Oct. 29 20.12To state that the human brain has capabilities that are, in some respects, far superior to those of all other known objects in the cosmos would be uncontroversial. The brain is the only kind of object capable of understanding that the cosmos is even there, or why there are infinitely many prime numbers, or that apples fall because of the curvature of space-time, or that obeying its own inborn instincts can be morally wrong, or that it itself exists. Nor are its unique abilities confined to such cerebral matters. The cold, physical fact is that it is the only kind of object that can propel itself into space and back without harm, or predict and prevent a meteor strike on itself, or cool objects to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, or detect others of its kind across galactic distances.

But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality. The enterprise of achieving it artificially – the field of "artificial general intelligence" or AGI – has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.

Despite this long record of failure, AGI must be possible. That is because of a deep property of the laws of physics, namely the universality of computation. It entails that everything that the laws of physics require physical objects to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.

So why has the field not progressed?

More here.

29 Oct 15:33

Stephen King Creates a List of 82 Books for Aspiring Writers (to Supplement an Earlier List of 96 Recommend Books)

by Josh Jones

Stephen King has given writers a lot to think about these past few years in his numerous interviews and in his statement of craft, On Writing. He deems one of his most salient pieces of advice on writing so important that he repeats it twice in his Top 20 Rules for Writers: writers, he says, “learn best by reading a lot…. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” To help his readers discover the right tools, King attached a list of 96 books at the end of On Writing, of which he said, “In some way or other, I suspect each book in the list had an influence on the books I wrote…. a good many of these might show you some new ways of doing your work.”

King’s original list of 96 books for aspiring writers generated a fair amount of comment on Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, who brought it to our attention last year. Later, the same web site brought us another list of 82 books, which King published in the 10th anniversary edition of On Writing. With King’s second list, as with the first, you’ll find that best-selling genre writers sit comfortably next to lit-class staples.

In this list, the spectrum of accessibility is a little narrower. We have fewer classic writers like Dickens or Conrad and fewer commercial novelists like Nelson DeMille. Instead the list is mostly twentieth century literary fiction by mostly living contemporaries, with little genre fiction save perhaps sci-fi/fantasy writer Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, thriller author Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, hugely popular mystery writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Patrick O’Brian’s adventure series. Below, we’ve excerpted a list of 15 books King recommends—books, he says, “which entertained and taught me.”

Kate AtkinsonOne Good Turn
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
Robert Bolaño, 2666
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke
Sue Monk Kid, The Secret Life of Bees
Elmore Leonard, Up in Honey’s Room
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
Philip Roth, American Pastoral
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Donna Tartt, The Little Friend
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace 

King almost shrugs in his short introduction, writing, “you could do worse.” I expect many readers of this post might have suggestions for how they think you could also do better, especially given the five years that have passed since this list’s compilation and some of the blind spots that seem to persist in King’s reading habits. I doubt he would object much to any of us adding to, or subtracting from, his lists—or ignoring them altogether. It seems clear he thinks that like him, we should read what we like, as long as we’re always reading something. See the full list of 82 titles here.

Related Content:

Stephen King Creates a List of 96 Books for Aspiring Writers to Read

Stephen King’s Top 10 All-Time Favorite Books

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

7 Free Stephen King Stories: Presented in Text, Audio, Web Comic & a Graphic Novel Video

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

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29 Oct 15:46

Newswire: Star Wars superfan Stephen Colbert has a theory about The Force Awakens

by Alex McCown

When the official trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released last week, Star Wars fans the world over were sent anew into a frenzy of anticipation, “frenzy” and “anticipation” being the default settings for Star Wars fans when confronted with any news about the series. But perhaps none were as excited as self-proclaimed franchise fanatic Stephen Colbert, who apparently spent the off-time from his show last week putting together some thoughts about the trailer and what it means for the plot of the movie it advertises.

Now that there’s an honest-to-god trailer with “actual chunks of movie flavor crystals in it,” as Colbert puts it, he feels confident unleashing a theory about what’s going to happen in the new movie. Long story short, it involves what was once good becoming evil, what was once evil becoming good, and the Force being stretched almost to its breaking ...