The chairs were arranged in a semicircle, and when all his guests were seared, Pompey stood. He was, as I have said, no orator on a public platform. But on his own ground, among those whom he thought of as his lieutenants, he radiated power and authority. ... He began by giving the latest deatils of the pirate attack on Ostia: nineteen consular war triremes destroyed, a couple of hundred men killed, grain warehouses torched, two praetors - one of whom had been inspecting the granaries and the other the fleet - seized in their official tobes, along with their retinues and their symbolic rods and axes. A ransom demand for their release had arrived in Rome yesterday. "But for my part," said Pompey, "I do not believe we should negotiate with such people, as it will only encourage them in their criminal acts." (Everyone nodded in agreement.) The raid on Ostia, he continued, was a turning point in the history of Rome. This was not an isolated incident, but merely th most daring in a long line of such outrages ... . What Rome was facing was a threat very different from that posed by a conventional enemy. These pirates were were a new type of ruthless foe, with no government to represent them and no treaties to bind them. Their bases were not confined to a single state. They had no unified system of command. They were a worldwide pestilence, a parasite which needed to be stamped out, otherwise Rome - despite her overwhelming military superiority - would never again know security or peace.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
When was the last time you laughed while reading an introduction to the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas? McInerny must have been wonderful company but I missed my chance. I visited the Notre Dame campus only once, almost 40 years ago, in the company of the professor with whom I was studying analytic philosophy. We were there to hear John Searle speak on Speech Acts, a book we had read together. Campus security escorted us, drunk and disorderly, out of the building before we could hear Searle’s lecture.
There's something admirable about that drunk and disorderly bit.
... A packed-full first novel.
... Debunking a myth about slavery.
... Wise poems chronicling vulnerability of the self.
... A golden couple, flying high and headlong.
... Travel Bookshelf: Guides offer a world of vacation ideas.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
But ... bear this in mind: Moderately Overweight Elderly Live Longer?
Nice to know, especially since I'm less than two years away from the the big Seven-O. Luckily for me I have a high fear threshold. I usually don't get scared until afterward, which in this case is very useful.
I guess my work is quite three dimensional; by that I mean, I describe people in relationship to what is around them. There are tables and chairs and walls and skies and rivers. I don't write essay-like fiction. I've always leaned toward descriptive prose. I want the reader to know what something looks like and sounds like and feels like. It's just the nature of the work I've always done.
Nearly everybody loves “The Catcher in the Rye,” and most readers enjoy Mr. Salinger’s first collection of short stories, “Nine Stories.” But the work that followed, the four long short stories paired together in two successive books as “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction,” were less reader-friendly and provoked more critical comment, leading eventually to the retreat of the wounded author into solitude.
Didn't the ancient Greeks regard the capacity to forget as a blessing from the gods? If do, it is a blessing they have yet to bestow on me.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Christ, they have to have been more interesting than most professors of literature. I was myself in the alcohol and various drugs category, the drugs includingsome serious no-nos. Big deal.
My Jesuit mentor used to say that happiness is for pigs, and the sort of happiness written of here would seem to be just the sort suited to pigs (to whom I mean no disrespect), a kind of psychic torpor. If you have to think about it, you're not happy.
In Cosmopolis, Toulmin started talking up the 16th-century humanist thinker Montaigne as the truly must-read philosopher of the early modern period. Could he have chosen a thinker more likely to drive away the technocrats who dominated professional philosophy at the time? But Toulmin, trained in the hard sciences and mathematics himself, saw through the science worship of less-credentialed sorts. He didn't relent, announcing "our need to reappropriate the wisdom of the 16th-century humanists, and develop a point of view that combines the abstract rigor and exactitude of the 17th-century 'new philosophy' with a practical concern for human life in its concrete detail."
One of the worst trends in the humanities in recent decades has been the insularity of scholarly expression. The conversation is so mannered and self-involved, so insider-like, that it has no readership beyond a few dozen colleagues in the same sub-sub-field. How many people could stomach a sentence like this one, a runner-up in the celebrated Bad Writing Contest a few years back: "Punctuated by what became ubiquitous sound bites—Tonya dashing after the tow truck, Nancy sailing the ice with one leg reaching for heaven—this melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of un-narrativized representative bodies back into recognizable heterovisual codes"?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Here, from Dave, is the NYT obit: J. D. Salinger, Enigmatic Author, Dies at 91.
Here is the Times (of London) obit: J. D. Salinger: Author of The Catcher in the Rye.
Here's Terry Teachout: J.D. Salinger, R.I.P.
Today, students write more words than ever before. They write them faster, too. What happens, though, when teenagers write fast? They select the first words that come to mind, words that they hear and read and speak all the time. They have an idea, a thought to express, and the vocabulary and sentence patterns they are most accustomed to spring to mind; with the keyboard at hand, phrases go right up on the screen, and the next thought proceeds. In other words, the common language of their experience ends up on the page, yielding a flat, blank, conventional idiom of social exchange.
See also: Scientists in stolen e-mail scandal hid climate data.
Guess they weren't behaving like all the rest of us.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Oddly, atonality and aleatory music—both enjoying a vogue, among the elite, in early and mid-20th century—have failed to find any real momentum, even though they were viewed as contributions to musical "progress." In the meantime, earlier styles—from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, for instance—have captured the interest of serious listeners.
Magic Turns to Math and Back by Brenda Shaughnessy.
A Lesson in Ballooning by Joanne Limburg.
I have a copy of A Handful of Dust. I think it's a terrible adaptation. A better bet is the Sword of Honor trilogy starring Daniel Craig.
Speech and music have to be seamless; timing is vital; the mechanism is as precise – and as likely to malfunction if done hamfistedly – as Rossini. The plot moves forward by way of the dialogue: do it badly and the show will grind to a halt. G&S can never work as a series of short, disconnected musical numbers; it is an integrated work of divine lunacy, propelled by an inner logic, or it is nothing.
I think that's right on the money.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Il faut cultiver notre jardin.
He had just had an impacted wisdom tooth pulled and was awaiting delivery of a painkiller from the pharmacy. When the doorbell rang, he was greeted by a beautiful dark-haired girl with a fish pendant on her necklace. "This is the sign used by the early Christians," she said and took off.
Soon after, Dick began having nightmares and visions. He began to sketch out a theory that these were divine interventions. In his new cosmology, what looked like Orange County was actually 1st century Rome. "The Empire never ended," Dick wrote, realizing he was a fugitive Christian in 70 A.D.
As an academic philosopher, McGinn looks at Shakespeare’s plays “expressly from the point of view of their underlying philosophical concerns.” By using that rhetorical approach, McGinn promises (and makes good on his promise) to reveal “the source of their depth.”This sounds well worth reading.
Let us be kind.
Best African American Essays: 2009
290 pp, Bantam. $16.00.
978 0 553 38536 6
The Best African American Essays: 2009 is the first volume in what is intended as an annual celebration of contemporary “black essayistic art” (xviii). Edited by Gerald Early and Debra J. Dickerson, the anthology pays homage to the “grand tradition” (xiii) of Du Bois and Booker T. Washington by showcasing the work of those – including Barack Obama – who have registered their “blackness” (xxi) through non-fiction prose.
The most engaging pieces in the collection tend to be those which confront, and seek in part to remedy, what Early and Dickerson label in their introductory remarks, “the blood-soaked hypocrisy” (ix) of American history. In ‘Jena, O.J. and the Jailing of Black America,’ for instance, Orlando Patterson writes of a “gulag of racial incarceration” (234) in which a full ten percent of African American men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five are imprisoned. The “catastrophic state of black family life” (235), he maintains, has contributed to a cycle of unemployment, anger, and violence. Indeed, the rate at which blacks commit homicides in America is seven times that of whites.
Like Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell addresses the role of the family, noting in a discerning essay on intelligence testing and race that between the ages of four and twenty-four, African American children, nearly seventy percent of them born to single mothers, lose six-tenths of an I.Q. point per year against their white counterparts. For Maxwell, the celebrated author of Blink, the lesson here has less, however, to do with “cognitive disability” (95) than it does the “quality of the world” (101) in which African American youth are raised. As Kwame Appiah remarks in his essay ‘A Slow Emancipation,’ liberation is only the “beginning of freedom” (170).
Despite the occasional inclusion of banal meditations on hip-hop or international aid, the Best African American Essays succeeds in providing a vivid, often jarring, portrait of what it is to be black in America. From Bill Maxwell’s reflection on the state of Historically Black Universities to Hawa Allan’s perceptive analysis of the racial underpinnings of the fashion world, the anthology reaffirms the centrality of the essay in the history of African American writing, and does justice to what Obama refers to in an assessment of pluralistic democracy as the power of the oppressed “to spur social change” (239).
Jesse Freedman holds degrees in history from Amherst College and Hertford College, Oxford.
The student who reads history will unconsciously develop what is the highest value of history: judgment in world affairs. This is a permanent good, not because history repeats--we can never exactly match past and present situations--but because the "tendency of things" shows an amazing uniformity within any given civilization. The great historian, Jacob Burckhardt, said of historical knowledge, it is not "to make us more clever the next time, but wiser for all time."
Truth is power, but only when one has patience and requires of it no immediate effect. And one must have no specific aims. Somehow, lack of an agenda is the greatest power. Sometimes it is better not to think in terms of plans; here months may mean nothing, and also years. Truth must be sought for its own sake, its holy, divine greatness.- Romano Guardini
Monday, January 25, 2010
Naturalism faces what we can call the problem of mind (where this subsumes all the subproblems mentioned above, including intentionality, qualia, etc.) The fact that no naturalist has every solved this problem is never taken by a naturalist as a reason to abandon his naturalism. So why should the problem of evil, which has not been satisfactorily solved either, be taken by a theist as a reason to abandon his theism? If the naturalist can get away with saying 'We are still working on it,' then so can the theist.
Any nation that thinks more of its ease and comfort than its freedom will soon lose its freedom; and the ironical thing about it is that it will lose its ease and comfort too.- W. Somerset Maugham, born on this date in1874.Here is an interview with Maugham:
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Generally speaking ... the distinction between crime and thrillers on the one hand and "literary" fiction on the other lies in their attitude to language. Many crime novelists seem indifferent or unaware that it might be a good idea to have a view of the matter at all, and the result is work that suggests that the writer believes he or she can operate in some medium which exists prior to, or instead of, language.
Bohm pointed out that quantum effects are much more process-based, so to describe them accurately requires a process-based language rich in verbs, and in which nouns play only a secondary role. In the last year of his life, Bohm and some like-minded physicists, including myself, met a number of native American elders of the Blackfoot, Micmac and Ojibwa tribes - all speakers of the Algonquian family of languages. These languages have a wide variety of verb forms, while they lack the notion of dividing the world into categories of objects, such as "fish", "trees" or "birds".
Alan Watts made a similar point many years ago (he also referred to American Indian languages, I believe) - suggesting that we are not so much "people" as "peopling".
Just you don't miss it: Book review: On the Spartacus Road. (I just checked on Amazon, and it seems that Peter's book reaches these shores in June.)
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Also from Maxine: Badfellas, CrimeFest and the International Dagger.
In the comments, David says that "for writers, as writers, there is only one moral obligation: to write well." But do you write well only if what you write is perfectly phrased? Doesn't what you write also have to be, as best you can see, true?
You Are Not a Gadget broadens the argument far beyond the valley. Lanier — rightly, I believe — associates the tyrannous aspects of cybernetic totalism with a much wider ideology. It is, in fact, just one aspect of a package that includes transhumanism — the belief that we should work to escape our biological limitations and make ourselves more than human — and the weird cult of the impending Singularity, the point at which a computer becomes conscious and takes over the running of the world. Lanier even includes the kind of turbocharged Darwinism that claims natural selection must explain everything. These are all just different ways of trashing the human, a contemporary impulse of extraordinarily persuasive power.
... Maugham worked for the Winnipeg spymaster Intrepid, convincing the Americans of the need to support Britain in the early days of the Second World War.
He was an almost constant world traveller. He visited Manitoba for a month in mid-winter 1912, to collect impressions and stories.
"My God, what a life they lead," he wrote, "surrounded by the snowy prairie, cut off from their neighbours & absorbed with the struggle of getting three meals a day... In one house in which I stayed a wife had killed herself, in another there hung a strange gloom of impending madness."
I love these local connections. I was thrilled, years ago, reading John Cowper Powys's description in his autobiography of walking up Germantown Avenue not far from where I then lived.
Link is fixed (thanks to Dave Lull for the alert.)