An infinite number of things happen; we bring structure and meaning to the world by making art and telling stories about it. Every work of literature created by human beings comes out of an historical and cultural context, and drawing connections between art and its context can be illuminating for both. Today’s guest, Stephen Greenblatt, is one of the world’s most celebrated literary scholars, famous for helping to establish the New Historicism school of criticism, which he also refers to as “cultural poetics.” We talk about how art becomes entangled with the politics of its day, and how we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by engaging with stories and their milieu.
Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, is a literary device in which established facts in a fictional work are adjusted, ignored, or contradicted by a subsequently published work which breaks continuity with the former.
This is a kind of manifesto. It’s available for iOS and macOS.
We revisit Bob's conversation with filmmaker Joe Berlinger, about the ethics of HBO's "The Jinx."
Whether Robert Durst confessed on camera will become a relevant legal matter in the real estate figure's upcoming trial. The supposed confession — "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." — at the end of HBO's The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst has recently been revealed to have been seriously, deceptively edited. In 2015 Bob spoke with documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, co-creater of the Paradise Lost trilogy, about modern filmmaker, the responsibility of the artist and different interpretations of "truth." It's a relevant conversation to revisit, this week in particular.
Sheila Nevins has explored the human condition in the thousand or so documentaries she produced for HBO. From more than 30 years of telling us stories about ourselves, to her experience as a woman in the workplace, Sheila has plenty to say about communicating. And she never holds back. In this delightful episode, Alan Alda talks with Sheila about her life, how she feels about aging, the #MeToo movement, sex, divorce, documentaries, storytelling, and just about everything else! This episode is sponsored by Calm. Check out www.calm.com/alda for more details.
She makes an interesting point about humility that people with power (and especially within the entertainment industry) should be aware of and work to improve.
Most shocking was the story she tells about her me too moment and how she viewed it. Definitely a perspective I wouldn’t have expected.
Her perspective about looking at individuals as a way into human problems and making documentaries is similar to a philosophy I remember hearing from Masha Gessen in an interview that Jeffrey Goldberg did with her. The upshot is that, especially for righting wrongs and general atrocities, focusing a story on a particular individual has a lot more power than focusing on the nameless and faceless masses. Sheila’s example of the Holocaust survivor is a particular apt one. (As I think about it Masha would be a great interview for this podcast.)
In fact, I recently watched an immigration related documentary on Frontline and while I didn’t personally find the lead woman very relate-able or sympathetic, I was still pissed off at the process because her individual story was still so powerful.
This general ideal also reminds me of the gut-punch scene at the end of the film A Time To Kill (1996) [spoiler alert] which ends with the command to the jury “Now imagine she’s white.”
"It turns out that people — well, lots of people, anyway — are hungry for substance. Our attention spans are quite intact, ready, and willing."
I just got back from the SF Symphony performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony. It was a most amazing experience, in a most unexpected way. I'm writing this partly as my way of reliving and duplicating what occurred, and partly to keep myself from being stuck in the win of it for the rest of time.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
The speaker made the point that Mahler gives the second violins their own voice, rather than merely having them give depth or support to the first violins. Because of this, he said the conductor (Herbert Blomstedt) had decided to use a placement of the performers that was becoming common in Europe for the Ninth.
Instead of having all the violins on the left of the conductor, with the 1st violins on the outside and the 2nd violins on the inside, he was placing the 1st violins in their usual position, but the second violins would be on the right side of the conductor. This would have the effect of separating the voices so they could be more easily heard. ❧
November 29, 2018 at 11:11AM
The conductor became frozen, with his arms in the air, just as when he was conducting.
And he was still conducting! Only now he was conducting the silence! No one moved, the concert hall was completely enveloped in peace. With the conductor’s arms still up, and the violin bows still poised above the strings, no one dared to applaud. If they were wrong and it was not the end, their clapping would be a rude interruption of the music. And I’m sure that was exactly what the conductor intended! ❧
November 29, 2018 at 11:15AM
Hat tip: Turning Points by Ron Chester
Create interactive video stories on Timelinely. Timelinely empowers people to go beyond just video.
Highlight interesting parts of a video on a timeline with interactive comments, pictures, links, maps, other videos, and more.
Deep inside Google, a small team has been trying to solve a problem that's easy for any schmuck around the watercooler but frighteningly difficult for the world's most data-rich company: telling a story.
Revisionist History goes to Nashville to talk with Bobby Braddock, who has written more sad songs than almost anyone else. What is it about music that makes us cry? And what sets country music apart?
Why country music makes you cry, and rock and roll doesn't: A musical interpretation of divided America.
Beauty and authenticity can create a mood. They set the stage, but I think the thing that pushes us over the top into tears is details. We cry when melancholy collides with specificity.
He then goes on into a nice example about the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses:
And specificity is not something that every genre does well.
This reminds me of a great quote in Made to Stick from Mother Theresa about specificity.
Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
There’s something very interesting about this idea of specificity and its uses in creating both ideas as well as storytelling and creating emotion.
There is one related old country music joke I’m surprised not to have seen mentioned here, possibly for length, tangential appropriateness, or perhaps because it’s so well known most may call it to mind. It plays off of the days of rock and roll when people played records backwards to find hidden (often satanic) messages.
Q: What do you get when you play a country music song backwards?
A: You get your job back, your wife back, your house back, and your dog back.
The episode finally rounds out with:
If you aren’t crying right now I can’t help you…
Thanks Malcolm, I was crying…
In an interview seven days before leaving office, Mr. Obama talked about the role books have played during his presidency and throughout his life.
Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.
Advances in computing power, natural language processing, and digitization of text now make it possible to study our a culture's evolution through its texts using a "big data" lens. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful to us. Here, by classifying the emotional arcs for a filtered subset of 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg's fiction collection, we find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives. We strengthen our findings by separately applying optimization, linear decomposition, supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. For each of these six core emotional arcs, we examine the closest characteristic stories in publication today and find that particular emotional arcs enjoy greater success, as measured by downloads.