Thursday, March 31, 2011
Diana, like any sensible fiction writer, regarded this rush of academic activity with a complex mixture of interest, embarrassment and perhaps a little ridicule. Actually, make that a lot of ridicule. Diana, as many of the memorials will tell you, was kind, warm, and generous—the web is now teeming with anecdotes from fans who met her at conventions in the 1980s before her travel jinx cut in*—but she was also very witty and sardonic and more than one of us flinched at her comments on our interest. To an extent the academic interest reflected the growing wealth of children’s literature criticism, and fantasy criticism, but again the age profile of the academics interested in her work was noticeable. These too were readers Diana Wynne Jones had grown.
Hardy might encourage us to think it an “irony” that he was himself not a companionable person. It is no reflection on the learning and expertise represented in these pages that you feel at times as though the subject of the book has slipped out the back while you were otherwise occupied with some fascinating piece of context. Probably any author worth writing about will finally elude the criticism that gets written about him, but if so, then Hardy seems the extreme case of a general law, somehow intrinsically tricky to capture ...
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
All artistic discoveries are discoveries not of likenesses but of equivalencies which enable us to see reality in terms of an image and an image in terms of reality.- Ernst Gombrich, born on this date in 1909Dave Lull sends along this, from Modern American Usage by Wilson Follett.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
... there are also two structural causes of big government. First, productivity in the state sector, especially in fields such as education and health, has lagged behind the private sector. And second, there has been a huge increase in "social transfers," especially benefits for the middle classes and the elderly.
Between Winton Dean's assertion that neither true religion nor any serious engagement with Christianity is to be found in Handel and the idea that he was essentially a religious and Christian composer there is a lot of elbow room, and it properly includes the reaction of Christians who from the first until now have found Messiah to be a prayerful meditation on the mysteries of faith ...
Really, doesn´t everything make sense? There are, of course, things from which we more or less recover, although some of them are too harsh even for saints. But that is no reason to accuse God. Even if there are reasons to doubt him, the fact that he did not arrange the world like a well-ordered parlor is not one of them. It speaks rather in his favor. This used to be much better understood.- Ernst Jünger, born on this date in 1895
Monday, March 28, 2011
In the fullness of time, Aristotle’s sea battle gave rise to modal logic—the branch of formal logic concerned with possibility and necessity—and thereby to David Foster Wallace’s youthful attempt to use modal logic to refute arguments in favor of fatalism. Sea battles are full of accident and adventure, and thus the sort of thing that generally appeals to budding novelists. Modal logic, however, is a rarer taste, and requires some special explanation. Readers of academic philosophy may be interested in the modal logic, but what is there for Wallace’s literary fans in his thesis? A ready answer is nothing whatsoever. But a better, if hidden, one is that in it is the most important idea of all, the one that links together all his works, all his most passionate thinking: the idea of how truly to be free, or, as he more colorfully expressed it, of how to be “a fucking human being.”
Perhaps Butler is worried that being known as a Jew will efface her connections to feminism and the Left, but the worry is misplaced. The notion that Jewish identity somehow cancels out any other identification is so numbskulled that only an intellectual ambivalent about her own identity could come up with it. A human being is a convergence of identities; she is the experience in which her loyalties and commitments overlap. My children belong to their mother and me, but they also belong to the Jewish people, the student body of the school they attend, their teams and scout troops, the United States of America. Belonging to a people or an institution is nothing like investing all of your retirement savings in just one stock.
The Impossible Generalized Man today is the critic who believes in loving those unworthy of love as well as those worthy - yet believes this only insofar as no personal risk is entailed. Meaning he loves no one, worthy or no. This is what makes him impossible.- Nelson Algren, born on this date in 1909
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Optical illusions such as the Penrose triangle ... demonstrate that you do "create" an imagined reality out of the raw material of vision, what Mr. Humphrey calls a "magical mystery show that you lay on for yourself," yourself being the rest of the brain.
Ms. Clark knows and caters to her sales demographic. She holds book signings not just in bookstores but in big-box stores, club warehouses and grocery stores, where she regularly draws 500 people. To mark the coming April 5 release of her 43rd book, "I'll Walk Alone," a suspense novel about a woman whose identity is stolen and who stands accused of kidnapping her own son, she'll meet fans at a Wegmans grocery store in Collegeville, Pa. She'll hold signings in seven more states and in France, where her books have sold 24 million copies.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Hidden Treasure. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Mr. Armstrong is firmly on the side of the popularizers. Unlike many intellectuals, who resent any linking of wealth and culture, he sees the two as intimately connected, but they need to be integrated, he says, since wealth by itself does not compel admiration. Thus he looks for "the sweet spot where luxury and spiritual prosperity meet." In no age was this more the case than in the Renaissance, which went back to classical times for the best in literature, sculpture and architecture and confidently built upon it with the riches of a newly mercantile age. "What is striking," Mr. Armstrong finds, "is how well money was spent."
Anscombe’s international reputation as a debater had early roots. At Oxford in 1948, at age 29, she took on — and trounced — C.S. Lewis in a debate that is still discussed now, more than six decades later. Their debate focused on the third chapter of Lewis’s book Miracles. Everyone present — including Lewis — recognized that the young woman’s critique had completely unraveled his arguments. Yet she didn’t disagree with Lewis’s conclusions; she just thought his arguments were too loose, too easy to pull apart. She wanted a more rigorously tough-minded defense of miracles.
Incidentally, she and Lewis remained on friendly terms, and Lewis rewrote the disputed chapter, taking her criticism into account. Anscombe considered this an act of admirable intellectual honesty.
Dave also sends along this:
Walter Hooper wrote a letter to The Telegraph in which he points out that:
In her [book] Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind, she wrote: "The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter . . . shows his honesty and seriousness. The meeting of the Socratic Club at which I read my paper has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience . . .
"My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms, which Lewis' rethinking and rewriting showed he thought were accurate. I am inclined to construe the odd accounts of the matter by some of his friends . . . as an interesting example of the phenomenon called 'projection'."
And Jenny Teichman in her "Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, 1919-2001" for the Proceedings of the British Academy (v115, pages 31-50) quotes Anscombe:
"The meeting ... has been described by several of his friends as a horrible and shocking experience which upset him very much. Neither Dr Havard (who had Lewis and me to dinner a few weeks later) nor Professor Jack Bennett remembered any such feelings on Lewis's part. My own recollection is that it was an occasion of sober discussion of certain quite definite criticisms ... some of his friends seem not to have been interested in the actual arguments or the subject matter." (page 44)
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Holroyd describes this unusually compendious volume as “my last book”, and it acts as a sort of coda to his life's work, in which he takes the opportunity to consider the literary form in which he has made his career. As in A. J. A. Symons’s The Quest for Corvo, his pursuit of these minor and not altogether attractive figures becomes part of the story ...
I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.- Malcolm Muggeridge, born on this date in 1903 (one man who told the truth about the Ukrainian famine, thus becoming a model for what all journalists should be)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
For thousands of miles around the Roman Mediterranean, foreign slaves were as much a part of the landscape as the fields and farms on which they worked, their presence as undisputed as sea, clouds, and mountains. Anyone might be a slave or might be free. Many in their lifetimes would be both. It was a matter of mutable fortune, part of the conditions of life for rich and poor, black, brown, and white, for Germans, Africans, and Gauls, a status so ubiquitous and little challenged that it leaves a huge challenge now to anyone who wants to comprehend it. Poetry and pottery, theater and history books can all play their variously deceptive parts in our imaginations. None gives a picture that is complete.
In one experiment, some people read a passage from Francis Crick, the molecular biologist, asserting that free will is a quaint old notion no longer taken seriously by intellectuals, especially not psychologists and neuroscientists. Afterward, when compared with a control group that read a different passage from Crick (who died in 2004) these people expressed more skepticism about free will — and promptly cut themselves some moral slack while taking a math test.
Well, Crick also cut himself some moral slack when it came to using Rosalind Franklin's purloined photo of a DNA molecule.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
After creating two antiheroines, probably inspired by Hemingway’s view of woman-as-death, Cain paid homage to his friend’s indomitable spirit. He set out to explore what one of his characters would call “the great American institution that never gets mentioned on the Fourth of July, a grass widow with two small children to support.” As he was writing, employing the third person and creating a female protagonist for the first time, Cummings stood over him, prodding him to revise whenever she felt that his perceptions of a working mother did not ring true. When “Mildred Pierce” was finally published, in 1941, Cain’s alternately stilted and full-bodied portrait of a striving woman was well received, but few reviewers noted the fact that the novel was also a study of a woman who, time after time, subjugates her own needs to those of her child.
Twenty years is a long time between gigs, and before I could clear out the cobwebs and reacquaint myself with music’s interconnected disciplines, I had to do battle with fear. What would musicians who knew me as a critic think if I caused a train wreck onstage? Eventually, I worked up the nerve to call an in-demand guitarist I’d written about several times — mostly favorably, but the last time was in a scathing negative review of a band that later broke up. I left a message that said I didn’t expect a return call, and that I understood completely if he wanted no part of me.
Once again today we are living through a geographical shift in the world’s center of gravity. This time the shift is from Europe and the Atlantic toward Asia and the Pacific. The great European powers whose exploits ring down the centuries of modern history are now secondary powers — as Athens and Sparta were at the time of Hannibal, and as Florence and Venice were in the time of Machiavelli.
Monday, March 21, 2011
"Unlike the position that exists in the physical sciences, in economics and other disciplines that deal with essentially complex phenomena, the aspects of the events to be accounted for about which we can get quantitative data are necessarily limited and may not include the important ones," [Hayek] said. That makes it impossible to produce simple and reliable forecasts.
"While I did not have the opportunity to attend Judith Butler’s lecture on Kafka in person, I read its reproduction with considerable interest. To say that I was disappointed would be a severe understatement. Ms. Butler commits the opening stages of her essay less to Kafka and his literary remains and far more to a polemical assault on the state of Israel. What issues pertaining to the the Galut, for instance, or the ‘Occupied Territories’ have to do with Kafka remain a mystery. Equally mysterious is Ms. Butler’s foray into the theoretical. What, for example, does she mean by ‘a non-Zionist theological gesture’? Or worse, ‘the poetics of non-arrival’? In her attempt to cast Kafka as marginally Jewish, and to read his stories as meditations on displacement, Butler seems, ultimately, to be offended by the idea that Israel might benefit from the monetization of Kafka’s legacy. The sad part, of course, is that in her attempt to prove this point, Butler fails to recognize what she herself is up to - which is, in short, the hijacking of Kafka for the sake of a political argument against Israel. One need not look further than the start of Butler’s essay to find evidence of this thinly-veiled prejudice: for it is here that she suggests - seemingly with a snicker - that the ‘public good’ is, for all intents and purposes, dictated by the priorities of the ‘Jewish people.’ Unfortunately, this is not the only reference of this sort which Ms. Butler makes to Jews and Judaism."