Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
And, just in case you missed it, here's my brief against a certain brevity: Putting the classics on a diet.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
"Funny how when we think of ourselves as a thing, we truly come to acquire the attributes of that thing."
Well, I tried it with Jacques Brel, listened to him live singing "Les Bourgeois," which was followed by a Leonard Cohen song that sounded interesting. I will have to play with it some more. I listen mostly to classical music, so I guess it has less to offer me - though I'd be interested in learning how it tracks my tastes.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I think it worth noting that around the same time as Parmenides - earlier, in fact - Heraclitus had introduced the term logos, which actually has much the same meaning as the Chinese term tao, itself introduced at around the same time by the Lao-tse. Parmenides and Heraclitus are thought of proto-philosophers, but there seem to religious implications in what they were saying.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Parmenides matters not just for philosophy. One of the effects of the moribund state of intellectual enquiry that Tallis worries about is found in science. Physics is reaching an 'arrest of understanding', in say the extremes of string theory. Or in neurobiology, the study of consciousness has hit a brick wall, for all that its exponents engage in elaborate strategies of denial: we are being led towards a third-person understanding of ourselves, when we have first-person consciousness; as if we were machines not minds. That is dangerous.
Another part of Tallis' concern is that along with this scientism, though diametrically opposed to it, comes an 'oppressive supernaturalism'. You see it in the confrontation between bleak, deterministic Darwinism and fundamentalist, Christian creationism. They compete for the right to respond to our deepest human needs, to understand, forcing out the infinitely more subtle Parmenidian spirit in the process.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Edward O. Wilson is mentioned in the article linked to above. He is interviewed in today's Sunday Times by Bryan Appleyard: We’re not as selfish as we think.
Since Maxine has brought up Christopher Fry in the comments, I thought it might be worthwhile to post a link to his obituary: Christian humanist playwright who brought a spiritual elan to the drab world of postwar theatre.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Three years ago, I reviewed Philip Stephens's Tony Blair:The Making of a World Leader. Here is part of what I wrote:
An Oxford philosopher, Macmurray (1891-1976) was a personalist, holding the view that what is real is the personal, that the characteristics of personality - consciousness, freedom, purposefulness - are also the fundamental characteristics of reality itself. For Macmurray, religion is fundamental to human life and the essence of religion involves the creation of community. This, Blair has said, makes "sense of the need to involve the individual in society without the individual being subsumed in society. "
In an essay he wrote in 1993, Blair declared that the Christian faith is about "the union between individual and community. . . . The act of Holy Communion is symbolic of this message. It acknowledges that we do not grow up in total independence, but interdependently. " Sounds almost as if Jesus is Blair's favorite political philosopher.
I now agree with Jeff McDonald's comment here, since I happen to agree that "the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature." In other words, science is about how nature works. Religion is about something else.
Dave Lull sent me what Ben Stein has to say about the Times piece. It's only available on subscription, but I think it only to quote a bit of it:
But then why am I in the article? I didn't schedule the interviews. No
one I interviewed ever asked me what the movie was about. So far as I
know, all of the people interviewed were paid and paid well. None of
them ever complained to me. So why am I in that article?
First, because I told the reporter that I thought Darwinism sometimes
led to racism and to the Holocaust as evil people believed they would
just help along "survival of the fittest." This, according to the
reporter, is a view commonly held by Creationists. So now I am a
Creationist, you see, a knuckle-dragging Creationist like the William
Jennings Bryan character in Inherit the Wind. ("Mr. Stein, do you now
or have you ever believed in a God of Creation?")
Second, because I denied that I ever misled anyone. So there's a photo
of me in a silly outfit with the caption, "Ben Stein denies he misled
anyone." The caption--of course-implies that I did mislead someone but
that I deny it. Now here comes the great part: NO ONE IN THE ARTICLE
ACCUSES ME OF MISLEADING HIM OR HER.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
... pondering a world with readers. I like this: “an enthralling tour of the world … anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like.” Well, it wouldn't be "like" anything, since there would be no one to make the comparison. Further evidence that D.H. Lawrence may have been right and that many who warn against apocalypse deep down yearn for it.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
This is a very good article (despite this preposterous assertion: "His early years were shaped by fundamentalist religion." I'm a year older than Eagleton and had much the same sort of education as he had. It was Catholic, not fundamentalist. And damned good, I might add.) I hardly agree with Eagleton across the board, but it is hard not to sense - and admire - how passionately engaged he is.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Chris Berg begs to differ: Bookish pessimists are elitist and wrong: the internet is good for you. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)
Good point: "Doris Lessing and Andrew Keen compare the best of the past with the average of the present. With a formula like that, it's no wonder today always loses."
Friday, December 14, 2007
I like this from John Polkinghorne: ". . . the order and disorder which intertwine in the process of the world show that the universe upheld by the divine Word is not a clear cold cosmos whose history is the inevitable unfolding of an invulnerable plan. It is a world kept in being by the divine Juggler rather than by the divine Structural Engineer ..." And having had the privilege of meeting and interviewing John Polkinghorne, I can attest to what Archbishop Hapgood says of him. A wonderful man.
The principal problem I have with goose - and I've cooked a good number - is that, when all is said and, there isn't a lot of meat to be had from one. So it takes a good deal of effort to make a meal for a relatively small dinner party.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Why post this on a book blog? Because it has to do with humanity and that is what literature is all about. And also because Richard Rodriguez's is one of the most civilized voices in America.
(All three links come courtesy of the intrepid Dave Lull.)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I don't think there was much impact around here when, a few weeks ago, John Timpane and I weighed in on Latin (Seize the Latin, or fun with a dead language and The epic, and relevant, story of the Latin language), but maybe now that the Washington Post has noticed something similar to what I mentioned, that " 'there's a bit of a revival going on.' In 1977, only 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam. By 2005 that number had soared to 134,873" - well, who knows?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
From BooksForKids: Spoofing Santa: A Cajun Night Before Christmas and Other Downhome Sendups.
From Debra Hamel: Somoza, José Carlos: Zig Zag.
From the Emerging Writers Network: Book Review: 2007-015 The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck.
Monday, December 10, 2007
As Scalzi says:
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Teilhard was also convinced that a further and even more profound change had taken place. On the one hand we could see humanity simply swept along in a evolutionary stream into the future over which he had no control. Or, we could see that an evolution conscious of itself could also direct itself. "Not only do we read in our slightest acts the secrets of [evolutions] proceedings; but for an elementary part we hold it in our hands, responsible for its past to its future." (p. 226) Noogenesis moves ever more clearly toward self-direction; it is now something we determine.
Teilhard was a major influence on me when I was in college. I believe in evolution, but I think it is purposeful.
"It took years for a consensus on the existence and causes of climate change to emerge."
I, too, have not read Karen Armstrong, but that is because of the impression I got from what was written about her books - an impression different from the one I get from this post. Though I think genuine religion is grounded in experience, from which the trust referred to derives. After all, they must be some ground for the trust.
Also, Carlin Romano talks to Peter Gay: History of 'heresy' as artistic triumph. (Here is Terry Teachout on Gay: The Cult of the Difficult. And here is Tim Rutten: Exploring what makes defiant artists tick.)
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
I have been drinking coffee, yes, since I was four years old. I would not give it up even it I were told that continuing to drink it would shorten my life. I wouldn't want to live without coffee. And I've given enough up. So there.
Today cameras are ubiquitous and production software is easy enough to use that nearly any American with an interest in doing so can put together a film and post it online for public viewing. That many of the videos showing up on the Internet are just as or even more compelling to watch than what Tinsel Town throws up on the silver screen is both an indictment of Hollywood as well as an opportunity. It's of little mystery now what kind of war films consumers want to see. Most of them involve the good guys winning.
I think this is true of more than just film. People don't want a "take" on the information so much as the information itself.
I did think Elliott Weinberger's treatment of Bruce Bawer when the NBCC nominations were announced was uncalled for - because it was rude and because I think Weinberger thinks he knows more about geopolitics than he actually does.
By the way, I don't think reading has declined as much as we are often told it has and I certainly don't think this has anything to do with liberal vs. conservative. I will have more to say about this in the spring issue of Boulevard - but that's all I'm saying now. I'm stressed out.
My thanks to all who wished me well.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
When I was an adolescent and even as a young man I thought of myself as melancholic. But it was delicious sort of melancholy, a kind of sweet sadness - I think of Tchaikovsky's line, that "it is all so sad and yet so sweet to muse upon the past" - but nothing remotely like the truly crippling depression I have known others to truly suffer from. In my case, even that passed with age. I have a certain dispassionate interest in things and persons that makes of life a continuing pageant. Then again, I may just be shallow.
More here: Half as Much Fun. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
I didn't see this until just now (I was preoccupied last night and this morning with finishing a review for Sunday.)
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
"... Ms. Rule retreated to her bed in the middle of November with a bottle of Queen Anne whisky and a bar of good chocolate on her bedside table, hundreds of love letters from friends and admirers and a circle of friends and family who cared for her physical needs."
Bravo, I say.
I don't think The Birds is one of Hitchcock's better films, actually, and I didn't much like The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (the film; I never read Benchley's book). I didn't like Carrie, either.
My colleague Carrie Rickey had a relevant blog post of her own about this recently: Tell Me Why You Cry.
Monday, December 03, 2007
See also The moral agent.
I think J.B. Priestley got it right when he described Conrad as "the novelist of lonely men who find themselves hard-pressed and try to do their duty, of unfamiliar and unfashionable heroes who, with some tragic exceptions, are genuinely heroic."
“When I complicate the proceedings with a superimposition of marginalia reaching across a distance of fifty years and written while traveling in cities as unlike one another as Chicago and Havana, I can begin to guess at what the physicists have in mind when they talk about the continuum of space and time.” What can we say? Mr. Lapham has mastered the art of transforming sentences into little semantic train wrecks: They begin on track, but then swerve unpredictably.
Dip your oar, my beloved,
And let me touch my strings.
"It is impossible to plumb the shallows of this."or this:
"Let me leave you with a typical Gibran aphorism:
"The flowers of spring are winter’s dreams related at the breakfast table of the angels."
"If that doesn’t nauseate you, you must subsist on a diet of marrons glacés: though there is, in fact, a big difference between Kahlil Gibran and marrons glacés. It is that the first mouthful of marrons glacés is delicious."I once saw a television interview with Alfred Knopf during which that great publisher made a sort of confession. It seems there was only one book published by Knopf that he did not himself read beforehand. When that one book sold its millionth copy, he felt he ought to read it. And so he did. It was The Prophet. "I would never have published that book," Knopf told the interviewer. Its appeal is perplexing. It's the sort of thing that's so sweet that - to borrow a phrase from Alexander King - it makes every aperture in your body pucker.
There's more than just this one link. So click on the main page and scroll down.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
... so I thought I'd post a poem of mine that I wrote on the subject. It's a villanelle and it was published in Boulevard last year. The painting is by Sassetta.
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear
(Though winter’s scheduling an arctic flight).
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.
Some say a telling sign will soon appear,
Though evidence this may be so is slight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
Pale skeptics may be perfectly sincere
To postulate no ground for hope, despite
The rumor that a rendezvous draws near.
And, looking up, behold a striking light:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
The king, his courtiers, and priests, all fear
Arrival of a challenge to their might:
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.
The wise in search of something all can cheer
May not rely on ordinary sight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
Within a common place may rest one dear
To all who yearn to see the world made right.
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.
Online aficionados may want to pay particular attention to Visit to LibraryThing can bring together readers and collectors.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 29, 2007
"Over the years, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to figure out which bits of Daniel Dennett’s stuff are supposed to be the arguments and which are just rhetorical posturing."
I think that, over the years, Dennett's "reasoning" has increasingly come to resemble thought disorder.
I like this, too: "... metaphors like ‘evolution selects for what Mother Nature intends it to’ have to be cashed. The rules of the game require respectable adaptationists to give an account of selection-for that doesn’t appeal to agency."
The Beautiful Cigar Girl
Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and the Invention of Murder
By Daniel Stashower
Dutton. 326 pp. $25.95
"The ingenious are always fanciful," Edgar Allan Poe proclaimed, "and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic. " Fascinated with deductive thinking, Poe wrote "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in 1841, introducing readers to the brilliant, logical and reclusive detective C. Auguste Dupin, who enjoyed "the infinity of mental excitement" generated by his powers of observation.
Although he had written a masterpiece - a milestone in the genre of crime fiction - Poe understood the story's limitations. "Where is the ingenuity in unraveling a web," he asked, "which you yourself have woven for the express purpose of unraveling? " So, a year later, he gave himself a more challenging assignment: get Dupin to discover the murderer of real-life victim Mary Rogers before the New York City police solved the crime.
Well-crafted and suspenseful, Daniel Stashower's The Beautiful Cigar Girl recounts the lurid coverage of the crime by New York newspapers, which circulated rumors that Mary Rogers was alive and rushed to judge Joseph Morse, an engraver with muttonchop whiskers who beat his wife and was seen arguing with a young woman who looked like Mary. Parallel chapters describe a depressed, disputatious, dissolute but daring Poe as he (and Dupin) raced to trump reporters, cops and prosecutors with the factually fictional story "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt. " As the third installment of the tale went to press, Stashower reveals, investigators announced a break in the case. Rogers, they now believed, had died after a botched abortion at Nick Moore's Tavern, not far from Weehawken, N.J. And the perpetrator(s) had made it look as if she had been raped and strangled.
Stashower shows how Poe struggled to incorporate these developments into "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" without contradicting Dupin's already published analysis of the evidence. After a dazzling demonstration that the crime had been committed by a single individual and not a gang, the detective speculated that a naval officer was implicated in the murder. Marie (and Mary) had disappeared briefly three years before her death - and then returned to work at the tobacco emporium. The villain had, in all likelihood, seduced her, gone off to sea, and then returned to reclaim her. In dressing the victim after her death, he had used a sailor's knot to fasten her bonnet under her chin. Poe ended the story by alluding to but not identifying a clue that Dupin used to trace and apprehend the killer.
In an Agatha Christie-ish epilogue, Stashower rounds up the usual suspects - and points an accusing finger at each of them. John Anderson, the proprietor of the emporium where Mary had worked, he suggests, may have impregnated her - and then paid Poe to write "Marie Rogêt" to divert attention from him. Daniel Payne, Mary's fiance, who later committed suicide, may have killed her when she broke off the engagement after a successful abortion. Payne had an airtight alibi, but perhaps the murder did not take place until two days later. Perhaps Poe had inside information, gleaned from reporters, that a naval officer had indeed committed the crime. And then again there is the "intriguing speculation" that Poe himself did away with the cigar girl in a fit of "alcoholic insanity. "
Stashower, it seems, is exercising his Poetic license. Not long after he wrote "Marie Rogêt" Poe published a mock scientific treatise entitled "Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences. " "Rightly considered," Poe observed, diddling "is a compound, of which the ingredients are minuteness, interest, perseverance, ingenuity, audacity, nonchalance, originality, impertinence, and grin. " Daniel Stashower is a diddler. And in The Beautiful Cigar Girl he makes murder a beguilingly edifying and entertaining subject.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin professor of American Studies at Cornell University.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
"People were impressed that not only do I know Frank Wilson, evidently a highly respected and popular figure, but that I've reviewed books for his publication, the Philadelphia Inquirer."
Imagine that. I doubt if many people here can.
Here's a link to The Hemingway Society.
View from the lab: Science's debt to William Blake.
Face to faith.
Happy 250th, Bill.
Monday, November 26, 2007
It certainly is uncharted territory for whoever wrote that editorial, which reads like a number of such that were written last year, or maybe the year before.
Where is Choderlos de Laclos, now that we really need him?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Those who think blogging is easy, something you can just do in an odd few minutes, ought to consider this post and others like it that seem to pooping upo with increasing frequency. Or maybe they ought to try blogging for a while. At any rate, I think we can all agree that Michael's is, hands down, one of the absolutely best book blogs.
Interesting how intellectuals so often talk a good game about aggression.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
"... both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
"... the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency."
But suppose there is an external agency?
Friday, November 23, 2007
These poems were never collected into one volume during Cavafy's lifetime. They mostly circulated privately. They have a purity to them that most poems lack. For Cavafy, it seems, poetry was not a profession, but a vocation, a way of crystallizing experience in all its complexity and ambiguity and emotional resonance. And because nothing is more personal than experience, the effect of reading his poems is an uncanny sense of the poet's own presence. The cover of the Haviaras translation is a segment of a photo of the poet, showing only his eyes peering through his spectacles. It is a perfect illustration of what one can look forward to in the book: the world as seen by C.P. Cavafy. It's an enriching view.
It is interesting, by the way, to compare Cavafy's Ithaka with Auden's Atlantis. I can't help thinking Auden's poem owes something to Cavafy's.