James Baldwin debates William F Buckley

59 minutes

Mercury in transit

1 minute

Romanticism: poetry and philosophy

20 minutes

Forms (process)

2 minutes

Men

17 minutes

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

Watch the rare, awesome spectacle as Mercury passes between the Earth and Sun

Although Mercury orbits the Sun once every 88 Earth days, the three bodies align only about 13 times a century due to the planets’ relative orbital planes. One such ‘Mercury transit’ occurred on 11 November 2019. This short video highlights the rare event as recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in a variety of ultraviolet light wavelengths. The resulting celestial spectacle demonstrates the vast size differences between the Sun and its nearest-orbiting planet to awesome effect. For NASA, however, the observation is more than just public outreach eye candy: scientists use these events to help understand the gravitational interactions of planets and stars in hopes of discovering planets outside our solar system.

Video by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Producer: Genna Duberstein

What can the Romantics teach us about confronting modern problems?

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
From ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ (1798) by William Wordsworth

The Romantic thinkers, poets, composers and artists valued emotion over reason. Reacting to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationalism, they embraced Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s dim view of modernity, expressed in The Social Contract (1762), that ‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ This analysis from the UK video essayist Lewis Waller uses three poems to trace Romanticism across three key movements – the writings of Francophone thinkers including Rousseau, the work of English poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and the ideas of German philosophers, including F W J von Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel. In examining this artistic and intellectual history, Walker draws out several ways in which Romanticism offers a valuable humanistic perspective on urgent contemporary questions, including the climate crisis and poverty. Read more on the need for a new Romanticism in the face of scientism here.

Director: Lewis Waller

Video by Then & Now

Behold the invisible swoosh and swirl of athletic movement in digital art

Forms is a collaboration between the London-based visual artists Memo Akten and Davide Quayolas, and it generates dynamic digital art from the bodies of world-class athletes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Inspired by modernist and early photographic interrogations of bodies in motion, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2 (1912), the project, in Akten’s words, plays with ‘abstract forms, visualising unseen relationships – power, balance, grace and conflict – between the body and its surroundings’. Forms (Process) demonstrates the relationship between the source video imagery and the project’s resulting animations. Watch an excerpt from the final version of Forms here, and learn more about the inspiration behind the piece in this Twitter thread from Akten.

Video by Memo Akten, Quayola

As a debauched weekend comes to its end, a strange grace settles over these young men

A group of young men head out to the woods. They dance around a fire. They ingest mind-altering substances. They shoot sparks into the night sky. They commune with each other. With his documentary Men, the US filmmaker Dane Mainella drops us into the midst of a ritual that is as ancient as it is banal – 20something-year-old male friends having fun. Mainella traces the hours with a suitably dizzying approach, using loose vérité camerawork and abrupt, time-jumping edits to careen through the revelry – or periodically pause on moments of fumbling towards expressions of friendship. The result is an immersive and unvarnished invitation to a party that is both an awkward American show of immature masculinity as it is a timeless tradition of bonding between men.

Director: Dane Mainella

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

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