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Great moments in not-very-obscure rock 'n' roll: AC/DC, "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll," 1976
"A show about nothing": people have described Seinfeld that way for decades, but creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David didn't set out to create anything of the kind. In fact, with Seinfeld himself already established as a stand-up comedian, they originally pitched to NBC a show about how a comic finds material in his day-to-day life. But in its 43rd episode, when the series had become a major cultural phenomenon, Seinfeld's character and Jason Alexander's George Costanza (whom David based on himself) pitch a show to television executives where "nothing happens," and fans seized upon the truth about Seinfeld they saw reflected in that joke.
In the video essay above, Evan Puschak, known as the Nerdwriter, figures out why. It's a cultural and intellectual journey that takes him back to the 19th-century novels of Gustave Flaubert. "Flaubert was a pioneer of literary realism, in large part responsible for raising the status of the novel to that of a high art," says Puschak.
In 1852, Flaubert wrote a letter describing his ambition to write "a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style." Instead of wanting to "string you along with multiple suspense-heightening narrative developments," in Puschak's view, "he wants to bring you into the text itself, to look there for the carefully constructed meanings that he's built for you."
And so, in their own way, do Seinfeld and David in the sitcom that became and remains so beloved in large part with its numerous departures from the traditions the form had established over the past forty years. "It wasn't until Seinfeld that the conventions of the sitcom were deconstructed fully, when all forms of unity, familial and especially romantic, were wholeheartedly abandoned. For Seinfeld, these additional elements were just so much fluff," distractions from telling a story "held together by the internal strength of its comedy." The critic James Wood, quoted in this video, once wrote that "novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring: it really all begins with him." By the same token, two epochs exist for the writers of sitcoms: before Seinfeld and after. Not bad for a show about nothing — or not about nothing.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.
How <i>Seinfeld</i>, the Sitcom Famously “About Nothing,” Is Like Gustave Flaubert’s Novels About Nothing 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 eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
Hear a Complete Chronological Discography of Patti Smith’s Fiercely Poetic Rock and Roll: 13 Hours and 142 Tracks
Patti Smith has always aligned herself with artists who were outsiders and experimentalists in their time, but who have since moved to the center of the culture, where they are often reduced to a few biographical notes. Arthur Rimbaud, Virginia Woolf, William Blake…. As much motivated by art and poetry as by the aggression of rock and roll, Smith’s 1975 debut album reached out to people on the margins of popular culture. “I was speaking to the disenfranchised, to people outside society, people like myself,” she says, “I didn’t know these people, but I knew they were out there. I think Horses did what I hoped it would do. It spoke to the people who needed to hear it.”
It’s hard to imagine who those people were. In the process of its canonization, unfortunately, punk has come to be seen as a rejection of culture, a form of anti-art. But Smith’s amalgam of loose, rangy garage rock brims with artiness, making it “the natural link between the Velvet Underground and the Ramones,” writes Jillian Mapes at Pitchfork, “in the continuum of downtown New York rock.” Pitchfork situates Smith’s first record at the top of their “Story of Feminist Punk in 33 Songs,” more “influential in its attitude” perhaps than in its particular style. “Her presence at the forefront of the scene was a statement in itself,” but a statement of what, exactly?
One of the fascinating things about Smith was her subversion of gendered expectations and identities. In the epic medley “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mar (De),” her protagonist is an abused boy named Johnny. She slides into a sinuous androgynous vamp, portraying a “sweet young thing. Humping on a parking meter” with the dangerous sexual energy she appropriated from idols like Mick Jagger. Yet in her twist on the performance of a classically masculine sexuality, vulnerability becomes dangerous, survival a fierce act of defiance: “Life is filled with holes,” she sings, “Johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin, angel looks down at him and says, ‘Oh, pretty boy, can’t you show me nothing but surrender?”
Johnny shows the angel, in gritty West Side Story-like scene that illustrates the razor edges at the heart of Smith’s musical poetry. He gets up, “takes off his leather jacket, taped to his chest there’s the answer, you got pen knives and jack knives and switchblades preferred, switchblades preferred.” Horses is so foundational—to punk rock, feminist punk, and a whole host of other countercultural terms that didn’t exist in 1975—that it’s unfair to expect Smith’s subsequent albums to reach the same heights and depths with the same raw, unbridled energy. Her 1976 follow-up, Radio Ethiopia, disappointed many critics and fans, though it has since become a classic.
As William Ruhlmann writes at Allmusic, “her band encountered the same development problem the punks would—as they learned their craft and competence set in, they lost some of the unself-consciousness that had made their music so appealing." The music may have become mannered, but Smith was a profoundly self-conscious artist from the start, and would remain so, exploring in album after album her sense of herself as the product of her influences, whom she always speaks of as though they are close personal friends or even aspects of her own mind. Who is Patti Smith speaking to? Her heroes, her friends, her family, her various selves, the men and women who form a community of voices in her work.
We get to listen in on those conversations, and we find ourselves torn out of the familiar through Smith's detournment of classic rock swagger and beatnik poses. You can hear her many voices develop, refine, and sometimes stumble into creative missteps that are far more interesting than so many artists’ successes in the playlist above, a complete 13-hour chronological discography (save some rarities and live albums that aren't on Spotify) of Smith’s work—a lifetime of what her father called a “development of the country of the mind” as she remarked in a 1976 interview. “He believed that the mind was a country, and you had to develop it, you had to build and build and build the mind.”
These are not the kinds of sentiments we might expect to hear from the so-called “Godmother of Punk.” Which might speak to how little we understand about what Smith and her motley compatriots were up to amid the grime and squalor of mid-seventies downtown New York.
Hear a Complete Chronological Discography of Patti Smith’s Fiercely Poetic Rock and Roll: 13 Hours and 142 Tracks 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 eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.
We have finalised arrangements for our third network event on 30 November 2017, 11-1pm in the Jubilee Hall, Westminster which is International Digital Preservation Day (#IDPD17). Details are below.
We’re delighted to have MP and Co-Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Archives Nick Thomas-Symonds open the event and Sir Alex Allan, author of two reports on government recordkeeping, speak in the opening session.
There are a few places still available if you wish to register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/recorddna-developing-an-international-research-agenda-for-the-future-digital-evidence-base-tickets-38459298798. You’ll be able to hear about what we have achieved in the network so far and be able to contribute to shaping the final outputs.
Looking forward to an interesting discussion.
RecordDNA: An AHRC funded international research network 30 November 2017, Jubilee Hall, Westminster
10.00-10.45 Refreshments in the Jubilee Café and then moving to the Jubilee for an 11am start
11.00 Welcome – Julie McLeod and Elizabeth Lomas
Event Introduction – Nick Thomas-Symonds MP and Co-Chair All Parliamentary Archives Group
Aims of the RecordDNA network and this event– Julie McLeod
Relevance of the network in the context of government recordkeeping policies – Sir Alex Allan
Multidisciplinary academic and professional perspectives on the challenge– Steering Committee members
11.45 DNA components of a record
Vision of the ‘ideal’ useable digital evidence base
Including audience interaction
12.15 A research agenda to deliver the vision
Including audience interaction
12.45 Wrap up & next steps– Julie McLeod
12.55 Event ends
Long ago, we showed you some startling footage of an elderly, arthritic Pierre-Auguste Renoir, painting with horribly deformed hands. Today we offer a more idyllic image of a French Impressionist painter in his golden years: Claude Monet on a sunny day in his beautiful garden at Giverny.
Once again, the footage was produced by Sacha Guitry for his project Ceux de Chez Nous, or "Those of Our Land." It was shot in the summer of 1915, when Monet was 74 years old. It was not the best time in Monet's life. His second wife and eldest son had both died in the previous few years, and his eyesight was getting progressively worse due to cataracts. But despite the emotional and physical setbacks, Monet would soon rebound, making the last decade of his life (he died in 1926 at the age of 86) an extremely productive period in which he painted many of his most famous studies of water lilies.
At the beginning of the film clip we see Guitry and Monet talking with each other. Then Monet paints on a large canvas beside a lily pond. It's a shame the camera doesn't show the painting Monet is working on, but it's fascinating to see the great artist all clad in white, a cigarette dangling from his lips, painting in his lovely garden.
Note: This beautiful clip and post originally appeared on our site in 2012.
Rare 1915 Film Shows Claude Monet at Work in His Famous Garden at Giverny 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 eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.