This Craft Of Verse: lectures by Jorge Luis Borges (1967 – 1968)

SFFaudio Online Audio

Jorge Luis Borges - This Craft Of Verse

Recorded in 1967 and 1968, at Harvard, these Jorge Luis Borges lectures on poetry are a wondrous treasure.

A part of the long running “Charles Eliot Norton Lectures” the collection is entitled This Craft Of Verse.

Introduction |MP3|
The Riddle Of Poetry |MP3|
Metaphor (part 1) |MP3|
Metaphor (part 2) |MP3|
The Telling Of The Tale |MP3|
Word-Music, And Translation |MP3|
Thought And Poetry (part 1) |MP3|
Thought And Poetry (part 2) |MP3|
A Poet’s Creed |MP3|

And here’s a podcast feed:

[via Open Culture]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World with Eric Rabkin

SFFaudio News

Our good friend, Professor Eric S. Rabkin, is teaching one of the free summer Coursera courses. It’s entitled Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World and all of the required readings, except for two of the novels, are available free online!

Here’s the official description:

Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale to kiddie lit to myth; from “Cinderella” to Alice in Wonderland to Superman; from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. From a practical viewpoint, of all the fictional forms that fantasy takes, science fiction, from Frankenstein to Avatar, is the most important in our modern world because it is the only kind that explicitly recognizes the profound ways in which science and technology, those key products of the human mind, shape not only our world but our very hopes and fears. This course will explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art and as insights into ourselves and our world.

This course comprises ten units. Each will include a significant reading, typically a novel or a selection of shorter works. I will offer video discussions of each of the readings and also of more general topics in art and psychology that those readings help illuminate. Each unit will include online quizzes and ask you to write a brief essay offering your own insights into the reading. In order, the units are:

Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales
Carroll — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Stoker — Dracula
Shelley — Frankenstein
Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems
Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star
Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
Doctorow — Little Brother

In Unit I, the specific stories are the ones in the Lucy Crane translation (1886) which was published by Dover and is available online through Project Gutenberg ( In Unit V, the specific readings are: Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” and “The Artist of the Beautiful“; Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Bells,” “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee.” All the readings except Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness will be available online at no charge.

[thanks Jenny!]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: The Ethics Of Torrents

SFFaudio Commentary

Look at this screenshot. Just look at it!

The Pirate Bay - Ethics

It’s screenshot of a torrent for an audiobook about ethics. The audiobook in question (one from Recorded Books’ The Modern Scholar series) is entitled Ethics, A History Of Moral Thought. It’s a course by Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College and the uploader is listed as “anonymous”.

Why did he or she upload it?

Why did he or she do so anonymously?

Was uploading it wrong?

Am I wrong to download it?

Am I wrong to even point it out?

You may have answers to these questions. If you do they’re probably swirling around somewhere inside of you – but if they are of the sort of answers that are ready to latch on to just about any reasonable sounding analogy, the kind of analogy that matches the conclusion you want to come to, I’m betting they are the wrong answers.

If your answers to those questions don’t originate in your brain (figuratively) as much as they do your gut (again figuratively) we’d probably call those answers moral answers.

If, on the other hand, your answers have a structure to them, are logically argued towards (rather than just intuitively felt) and have some basis in experience we’d probably call those ethical answers.

Let’s go through the old argument:

1. Theft is wrong.
2. Using torrents is stealing.
3. Therefore torrents are wrong.

This argument sounds good. It is simple and has a morally satisfying conclusion.

But if the premises have something wrong with them, we must reject the conclusion.

The problem is with premise #2 .

Torrents are/is a technology, like podcasts and email. Technology doesn’t usually come in only one flavour, just good or wholly evil. Torrents are the same. Copyright owners torrent their own material – that isn’t wrong. Public domain material is torrented – that isn’t wrong. So torrents themselves aren’t the problem. Even if we associate 99% of all torrenting with wrongful behavior that doesn’t make the technology wrong. Etc. Etc.

So what is wrong exactly? Is it that copying is theft?

Let’s go through that argument:

1. Theft removes a thing from someone’s use.
2. Digital copying does not destroy the original.
3. Therefore digital copying is not stealing.

Makes sense right? So theft, at least the precise meaning of it isn’t the problem. How about this argument:

1. Harm is wrong.
2. To infringe upon copyrighting causes harm.
4. Therefore copyrights shouldn’t be violated.

I like this one. I think a lot of other people like it to. My only problem is with premise #2. What does it mean exactly?

Does it mean that someone is physically wounded? Clearly not. I’m betting this isn’t a physical thing at all. Maybe it is something else, or maybe it’s purely financial.

Is there a financial harm?


Let’s have a look at that one such argument:

1. Copyright generates revenue for copyright holders.
2. Infringing on copyright subverts copyright.
3. Therefore not infringing copyright helps copyright holders financially.

And if you believe #1 I’ll happily lease this post for 1¢ per day (minimum 100 days please). Premise #1 in the above argument just isn’t true. It can be true, but it sure doesn’t make for as compelling an argument:

1. Copyright can generate revenue for copyright holders.
2. Infringing on copyright subverts copyright.
3. Therefore not infringing copyright could help copyright holders financially.

That’s enough to start with.

If you would definitely not have paid for Ethics, A History Of Moral Thought would it have helped the copyright holder?

If you definitely would have paid for Ethics, A History Of Moral Thought, then why haven’t you?

If you once considered it, but didn’t buy it, I’m betting it is either price or convenience that’s prevented you.

Both can influence ethical arguments, but often don’t because they complicate matters.

$49.95 + shipping used CD on Amazon (no DRM but slightly inconvenient format) – copyright remuneration $0.00
$38.95 on Audible (with DRM) – copyright remuneration UNKNOWN
$30.36 + shipping used on cassette (no DRM but inconvenient format) – copyright remuneration $0.00
FREE on Audible for first time customers (with DRM) – copyright remuneration UNKNOWN
FREE on (with no DRM and no inconvenience) – copyright remuneration $0.00
FREE at your public library (variable formats and convienience) – copyright remuneration UNKNOWN

What we end up with is a lot of question marks. And if you suspect that the answers to the three UNKNOWNS above aren’t likely to be equal I agree with you. But what I find more interesting is that two of those $0.00 answers actually don’t generate any moral disgust in most people and I think that may be where our answer lies.

Yeah, I said it. The used versions of books are neither immoral nor unethical!

And why is it exactly that the arguments in favour of making the purchase of used books unethical have all failed to change our minds?

Now weigh those variable UNKNOWNS against these knowns:

Negatives regarding download of copyrighted material via torrent:

1. Copyright holders do not directly benefit monetarily.
2. You may be, depending on jurisdiction, in violation of a law – which may be scary.
3. You may feel guilty.

Positives regarding download of copyrighted material via torrent:

1. Convenience – torrents are fast and easy, they are often better labelled versions of the content, they lack DRM.
2. Price – torrents are free.
3. Intangibles – sharing makes you feel good, other torrent users benefit, copyright holders may benefit indirectly.

If our reasoning happens inside a big bag of blackness our reasoning is going to be poor. Ethics is hard. I’d like to hear some arguments.

What’s your answer to these questions?

Posted by Jesse Willis

New Releases: The Teaching Company

New Releases

The Teaching CompanyWe’ve talked about The Teaching Company before on SFFaudio, we’ve even had one of their professors on our podcast (Eric S. Rabkin). But I’d never gotten one of their catalogues before. I found this one…

The Teaching Company 2011 |PDF|

…abandoned, back in January. I began pouring over it, looking for more great listens. Sadly I’m afraid I didn’t get my new scanner in time for you folks to enjoy the amazing sale prices in it, but if I promise that if I get another catalogue I will scan it in a more timely manner.

There are dozens of amazing educational options in there. Among the many lecture series that stuck me are:

The Story of Human Language by Professor John McWhorter
Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning by Pofessor David Zarefsky
The Joy of Science by Professor Robert M. Hazen
The Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos
A History of Hitler’s Empire by Professor Thomas Childers
Classical Mythology by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver
The Great Ideas of Philosophy by Professor Emeritus Daniel N. Robinson
No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life by Professor Robert C. Solomon

Posted by Jesse Willis

Naxos Audiobooks: The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum & Other Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

SFFaudio Online Audio

In lecture #4 of The Teaching Company’s Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works professor Eric S. Rabkin argues:

“The writing of Edgar Allan Poe has too often been dismissed for reasons that do not hold up under scrutiny. … The idea that he was an alcoholic is supported by the fact that he was found lying unconscious in an alley by a bar in his relatively young adulthood, in his 40s, and ultimately, a few days later died. In fact modern evidence that Richard Thompson at Purdue University has uncovered suggest that it is quite possible that Poe was allergic to alcohol, rather than an alcoholic. We have no evidence that he actually drank a lot. But even if he were an alcoholic claiming that his writing is nothing but the outpourings, as it were, of an alcoholic, is clearly foolish because if drinking alcohol made one a great and lasting writer the world would be full of them.

The idea that he was a pervert is based on the fact that he married his first cousin, who was only thirteen at the time, and that he never married again after her early death. It’s important to know that this first cousin, Virginia Clem, was of legal age when he married her, that marrying first cousins was not only legal but somewhat common at the time. His marriage was public, it was blessed by her mother. It was legal. It was devoted and it ended only with her death in 1847. They married in 1836, but in 1842, that is six years into the marriage, but five before her death, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. And so for half of his marriage he lived in fear, in the knowledge, that his bride would come to an early demise. This does not sound to me like a pervert, it sounds to me like a deeply saddened man.”

On a happier note, Naxos Audiobooks, in cooperation with Audiofile magazine, are giving away an audiobook full of melancholy Poey goodness. It’s only available until midnight on October 31, 2009 (when the link will presumably turn into a 404 pumpkin) so get downloading!!

Naxos Audiobooks - The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum & Other Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edgar Allan PoeThe Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum & Other Tales Of Mystery And Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe; Read by William Roberts
45 Zipped MP3 Files – Approx. 4 Hours 52 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Naxos Audiobooks
Published: 2003
ISBN: 9789626342831
The horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, with its dungeon of death, and the overhanging gloom on the House of Usher demonstrate unforgettably the unique imagination of Edgar Allan Poe. Unerringly, he touches upon some of our greatest nightmares – premature burial, ghostly transformation and words from beyond the grave. Written in the 1840s, they have retained their power to shock and frighten even now.

Stories included:
The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Masque of the Red Death, Ligeia, The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Premature Burial, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

Posted by Jesse Willis

UCSD: LTWL 124 Science Fiction (a university course on SF)

SFFaudio Online Audio

QUICK! grab this podcast and its MP3s before they’re gone forever!

LTWL 124 (a first year course in the “Literatures of the World” department) is available now, but not for long. The University of California San Diego, which put out this course, takes its podcasts down shortly after a semester ends. Also note, all the files in this feed are completely unedited – this means there are long silences (often an hour of longer) and some files are a completely empty 2 hour block of silence. But, don’t let this deter you. Soldier on, start with lecture 2 (as it is the first file with content).

UCSD Department Of LiteratureLTWL 124 – Science Fiction (Literatures of the World)
Professor Stephen Potts
18 Lectures – Approx. 24 Hours [UNIVERSITY LECTURES]
University: UCSD
Semester: Fall 2008


Introduction: A History of the Future.
Science Fiction: Origins to Golden Age
The Weird World of PKD: Ubik by Philip K. Dick
SF History: The New Wave
New Wave SF:The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
Hard Science Fiction: Timescape by Gregory Benford
SF Onscreen: 1900-1970s
SF Onscreen: After Star Wars
Guest Lecture: David Brin
Cyberpunk. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Guest Lecture: Vernor Vinge
The Graphic Novel. Reading: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Podcast feed:

[via The DIY Scholar blog]

Posted by Jesse Willis