Images of inspiration: The visual genealogy of Kon, Jodorowsky and Friedrich

Watch this video essay by Tony Zhou about filmmaker and animator Satoshi Kon (h/t Robin Sloan on Snarkmarket).

First off, Zhou’s piece is absolutely wonderful.

One thing I find particularly fascinating is when you’re shown the original scene and a scene inspired by it — e.g. Inception and Black Swan.

The documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” which I watched last weekend thanks to Sandro Mairata, offers similar examples in the context of science fiction, which are mentioned near the end of the trailer (1:42) — e.g. Alien, Blade Runner and The Matrix.

It also reminds me of “The 19th Century Painting That Most Blockbuster Movie Posters Are Based On.”

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich (Courtesy Wikipedia)

It would be awesome to have a tool that maps the genealogy of visual imagery. Maybe something to incorporate into the Visipedia project.

Tell me: What are some other works that reveal the visual inspiration of a painting or a movie scene?

This piece is based on my comment on Robin’s Snarkmarket post.

Of aquariums and arcades: John Cage and Walter Benjamin

An interesting remark in the preface to avant-garde composer John Cage’s 1969 book, Notations:

A precedent for the absence of information which characterizes this book is the contemporary aquarium (no longer a dark hallway with each species in its own illuminated tank separated from the others and named in Latin): a large glass house with all the fish in it swimming as in an ocean.

This aquarium metaphor immediately reminded me of another work: Walter Benjamin‘s Arcades Project.

Both represent examples of literary montage — collections where the author’s primary contribution is the compilation of materials for the works.

In the case of Notations, Cage assembled a complete compendium of graphical music scores submitted by composers. For the unfinished effort known as The Arcades Project, Benjamin researched and cited works to create, in a way, his own arcade: an arrangement of windows into 19th century France for the reader to stroll through and explore.

What are similar examples of this that you’ve seen?

View the full Notations book on

Path of discovery

I first learned about Notations (and John Cage, though I had to formally discover him independently more than a year later) by reading Theresa Sauer’s Notations 21. I came upon that  and purchased it after being captivated by a post on Brain Pickings. (Although only very expensive re-sell or used copies are on Amazon, it appears to still be available directly from Sauer for $34.)

As for The Arcades Project, Max Fenton featured it during his week of the Snarkmarket Seminar in March 2013. He also kindly gave me a copy of the book (thanks again!) during the in-person gathering last November,  which I reciprocated by giving him a copy of Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius.

And, to close the loop: I knew Max was interested in Kenneth Goldsmith, whom I learned about when fellow seminarian Tim Carmody recommended Uncreative Writing. Goldsmith, who references Unoriginal Genius early on in Uncreative Writing, helped bring Cage to my attention and rediscover the Notations connection.

Seinfeld’s “nothing” and John Cage’s “silence”

Seinfeld called itself a “show about nothing.” The following video (via Lauren Rabaino) captures this cleverly by compiling moments of “nothing.”

As I watched, the stark “nothingess” compressed together in such a literal way reminded me of John Cage‘s concept of “silence.”

The experimental composer’s piece 4’33” is generally referred to as his “silent” piece. But, like Seinfeld, it is — despite its label — not silent at all.
For Cage, it’s about the shifting the focus from the performer to the audience and sounds of the environment in which the piece is performed.

With the general Seinfeld-Cage connection in mind, I thought:

Doing a quick search after this, I found that Joel Garten previously made a similar connection in a piece about MoMA’s current Cage exhibit.

As a longtime Seinfeld fan and someone who visited that Cage earlier this year, I never made the connection until sparks by that video.

Searching further, I found the connection to be even stronger when I stumbled across Cage’s 1949 “Lectures on Nothing:”

I have nothing to say and I am saying it


Let me know if you’ve seen anything about this connection before. I’d be very interested to read more or hear your thoughts.

P.S. Speaking of Cage, who used indeterminacy (a.k.a. chance operations) in his music, I’m also very interested to know if anyone has written about chance in Mallarmé’s poem Un coup de des as it relates to Forrest Gump: