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Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg Visit the Grave of Jack Kerouac (1979)

Above you can watch a rare 1979 meeting, of sorts, of three hugely influential twentieth-century cultural minds: Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and — in spirit, anyway — Jack Kerouac, who died ten years before. This clip, though brief, would be fascinating enough by itself, but Sean Wilentz provides extensive backstory in “Penetrating Aether: The Beat Generation and Allen Ginsberg’s America,” an essay fron the New Yorker. “On a crisp scarlet-ocher November afternoon at Edson Cemetery in Lowell,” as he describes it, “Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg visited Kerouac’s grave, trailed by a reporter, a photographer, a film crew, and various others (including the young playwright Sam Shepard).” There “Ginsberg recited not from Kerouac’s prose but from poetry out of Mexico City Blues [ … ] invoking specters, fatigue, mortality, Mexico, and John Steinbeck’s boxcar America, while he and Dylan contemplated Kerouac’s headstone.” Why that particular collection? “Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul in 1959,” Wilentz quotes Dylan as having told Ginsberg. “It blew my mind.”

In the piece, which comes adapted from his book Bob Dylan in America, Wilentz goes into great detail describing Dylan as a link between two sometimes compatible and sometimes antagonistic subcultures in midcentury America: the folk music movement and the Beat generation.  “I came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the Beat scene, the bohemian, Be Bop crowd, it was all pretty much connected,” Wilentz quotes Dylan as saying in 1985. “It was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti … I got in at the tail end of that and it was magic … it had just as big an impact on me as Elvis Presley.” Wilentz describes Dylan relating to Kerouac as “a young man from a small declining industrial town who had come to New York as a cultural outsider more than twenty years earlier—an unknown bursting with ideas and whom the insiders proceeded either to lionize or to condemn, and, in any case, badly misconstrue.” The Beats showed Dylan a path to maintaining his cultural relevance, a trick he’s managed over and over again in the decades since. “Even though Dylan invented himself within one current of musical populism that came out of the 1930s and 1940s,” Wilentz writes, “he escaped that current in the 1960s—without ever completely rejecting it—by embracing anew some of the spirit and imagery of the Beat generation’s entirely different rebellious disaffiliation and poetic transcendence.”

Note: Do you want to hear Sean Wilentz read Bob Dylan in America for free? (Find an audio sample here.) Just head over to Audible.com and register for a 30-day free trial. You can download any audiobook for free. Then, when the trial is over, you can continue your Audible subscription, or cancel it, and still keep the audio book. The choice is entirely yours. And, in full disclosure, let me tell you that we have a nice arrangement with Audible. Whenever someone signs up for a free trial, it helps support Open Culture.


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Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely on the Relationship Between Creativity and Dishonesty

“Creativity can help us tell better stories — stories that allow us to be even more dishonest but still think of ourselves as wonderfully honest people.”

The first use of the U.S. Postal Service was to sell products that didn’t exist. Spam dominates global email volume today. Hoaxes and pranks have been ritualized in everyday culture. And yet, we tend to believe that dishonesty and fraud are confined to “bad people,” of whom there are far fewer than the rest of us “good people” — that immoral behavior, as social psychologist Philip Zimbardo puts it, is a case of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely belongs to the rare breed of scientists who are both actively engaged in empirical research, running all kinds of fascinating experiments in the lab, and keenly skilled in synthesizing those findings into equally fascinating insights into human nature, then communicating those articulately and engagingly to a non-scientist reader. That’s precisely what he has previously done in Predictably Irrational, in which he demonstrates through clever experiments that even our most “rational” decisions are driven by our hopelessly emotional selves, and The Upside of Irrationality, where he explores the unexpected benefits of defying logic. Now comes The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves, in which Ariely asks himself a seemingly simple question — “is dishonesty largely restricted to a few bad apples, or is it a more widespread problem?” — and goes on to reveal the surprising, illuminating, often unsettling truths that underpin the uncomfortable answer. Like cruelty, dishonesty turns out to be a remarkably prevalent phenomenon better explained by circumstances and cognitive processes than by concepts like character.

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Memories, Dreams, Reflections: A Rare Glimpse Inside Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s Mind

“…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

In the spring of 1957, at the age of 84, legendary psychiatrist Carl Jung set out to tell his life’s story. He embarked upon a series of conversations with his colleague and friend, Aniela Jaffe, which he used as the basis for the text. At times, so powerful was his drive for expression that he wrote entire chapters by hand. He continued to work on the manuscript until shortly before his death in 1967. The result was Memories, Dreams, Reflections — a fascinating peek behind the curtain of Jung’s mind, revealing a wonderland of wisdom, experience, and self-reflection.

Jaffe writes in the introduction in 1961:

The genesis of this book to some extent determined its contents. Conversation or spontaneous narration is inevitably casual, and the tone has carried over the entire ‘autobiography.’ The chapters are rapidly moving beams of light that only fleetingly illuminate the outward events of Jung’s life and work. In recompense, they transmit the atmosphere of his intellectual world and the experience of a man to whom the psyche was a profound reality.”

Jung’s reflections span everything from the minutia of working for a living to the grand truths of the human condition to the nature of the divine. This particular passage, from the closing of a chapter entitled “Life and Death,” struck me as a powerful lens on consciousness and what it means to be human:

Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But man’s task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.” 

Among the most fascinating elements of the book, especially for a lover of letters such as myself, is the Appendix, which features never-before-published letters from Freud to Jung. In one, dated April 16, 1909, Freud discusses — with an odd blend of reverence for mysticism and keen self-awareness of the selective attention at work — how he became obsessed with the idea that he would die between the ages of 61 and 62, and subsequently started seeing the two numbers everywhere. Freud concludes, with a subtle jab at Jung’s own views on “poltergeist phenomena”:

Here is another instance where you will find confirmation of the specifically Jewish character of my mysticism. Apart from this, I only want to say that adventures such as mine with the number 62 can be explained by two thing. The first is an enormously intensified alertness on the part of the unconscious, so that one is led like Faust to see Helen in every woman. The second is the undeniable ‘co-operation of chance,’ which plays the same role in the formation of delusions as somatic co-operation in hysterical symptoms or linguistic co-operation in puns.I therefore look forward to hearing more about your investigations of the spook-complex, my interest being the interest one has in a lovely delusion which one does not share oneself.”

Though not without faults, Jung’s was one of modern history’s most intriguing minds and Memories, Dreams, Reflections presents a rare, infinitely insightful glimpse of its inner workings.