Somewhat out of date now on some points, and some of his research is inaccurate on incredibly minor points, but overall this is one of the best "big hSomewhat out of date now on some points, and some of his research is inaccurate on incredibly minor points, but overall this is one of the best "big history" books I've ever read. Very approachable, anything but dull. The narrator for the Audible audiobook is also incredibly good, adding the requisite British acerbicness, which is funny I know because Bryson is American. But really, it sounds right with a British accent. ...more
The Lifespan of a Fact caught my attention recently, in the course of a number of project-related conversations about truth and journalism. Overall, IThe Lifespan of a Fact caught my attention recently, in the course of a number of project-related conversations about truth and journalism. Overall, I would say that it delivers on exactly what it promises: a discussion, sometimes debate, about the nature of literature and fact. The Talmudic formatting is interesting, and allows the conversation to flow around the central text. The only way I think you're liable to be disappointed by this book is if you're looking for any final conclusions. But this is not a subject that can — or should! — have a final conclusion. It is meant to be struggled with.
I think all writers that have worked in "nonfiction" wrestle with this issue — how narratives can't help but manipulate an audience. Literary journalism is kind of inherently manipulative, certainly you can bring out nuances and the complexity of a character, but ultimately you're painting a sympathetic or unsympathetic picture. The closest you can get to the facts would be to read out a list of data points — at this time, according to this source, this thing happened.
The further we stray from that, the more it's didactic. But I think that narrative speaks directly to how we actually engage with the world. We aren't, fundamentally logical creatures, so that "pure fact" approach is actually more alien in some ways than appealing to people through a narrative that you've constructed out of a *particular evaluation* of the facts.
The main issue with full out gonzo journalism is that it was often used to intentionally lie, or use people's ignorance against them. Like when Hunter S. Thompson went after Muskie by making a wild claim about ibogaine, knowing people take the mere suggestion of a possibility, frequently repeated, as fact. We can laugh about that, but I'm not sure there's much difference between that and what Fox News does, except that we might personally agree with Hunter's politics more.
So there's a kind of contradiction here, the understanding that we make sense of our day-to-day world primarily through narrative, that journalism should play to that, and yet on the other hand, recognizing that narratives are inherently misleading, if not outright duplicitous. There are many ways of dealing with this complexity. My inclination is to own a bias, rather than try to cover it up with feints toward "fair and balanced objectivity." But there is no one, or easy solution. ...more
It's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social mediIt's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social media, where the mediated space is on equal footing with our lived experience. In fact, the virtual seems positioned to entirely replace the material in the course of history, a point at which we can truly say would be the end of history. More anecdotally, (and prosaically), it has been somewhat disturbing to me of late that the few times I've left my Facebook account, many people have ceased contact. When I returned, caving into what has increasingly felt like a Stockholm Syndrome like situations, the refrain was "I'm happy you're back, now we can talk to you again." The virtual is increasingly the world in which we exist in, socially. What then is the fleshy present? The mechanism of mediation is increasingly the "lived world." To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessity. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep. Couched in the sort of "pomo speak" that seems to be less in vogue these days, it's not likely to be a top seller anytime soon. The tone almost strikes one as the bullet points read off through a bullhorn at a rally by a chain-smoking Frenchman with a megaphone. There are countless ways that we can critique, interrogate, and ultimately narrate technology. Whether it is our salvation or damnation is almost a literary conceit. But that makes this particular critique no less lucid, or downright prescient.
Next up I'm going to start looking into how Situationism influenced Debord's work. And dig back at the anarchist primitive movement that was fire-bombed in Philadelphia. I'll report back what thoughts seem worth sharing.
Years of meditating and reading books on philosophy, psychology, years of lucid dreams and night terrors, do not make a person unique. But it is singuYears of meditating and reading books on philosophy, psychology, years of lucid dreams and night terrors, do not make a person unique. But it is singularly unique to find what feels like your own thoughts reflected back at you when you didn't pen them. As I read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, I had a strange feeling, as if Deja vu and vertigo had somehow been blended together. Had I read this before, if I hadn't written it?
Yet that disturbing familiarity regards an utterly useless process. Reading or writing about philosophy has long had a negative connotation in the United States, thanks to a long anti-intellectual culture in some corners. But here the useless, and indeed the negative, have an absolutely finality that have nothing to do with anti-intellectualism. This is ontological uselessness, the nightmare of being.
Ligotti's core thesis — the self as we know it is a contrivance of evolution, self consciousness an accident. To be deceived into thinking we are a self, that's the situation we find ourselves in, without hope of reprieve or reprisal. Of course, he isn't the first pessimist to set pen to paper, but he is the first to do so starkly, with such uncompromising clarity, without back pedaling or that ultimate cop out, the happy ending, "it was all a dream."
There is a certain intentional irony here, as indeed our waking lives are a type of dream, and the self we grant some sense of ultimate reality is nothing other than a character in that dream. But to the extent anything is real, that dream character's suffering is legitimate.
Our choice as he sees it is simple — self deception, or insanity. He shows us the basis of horror, rooted not in the supernatural beyond, but much closer to home. It stares back at us in the mirror. The supernatural in a sense gives us a glimpse of our own uncanny ghoulishness, without requiring identification with the absolute truth of the matter. We can close the book, and shake off that chill, for after all, it was just a story.
But this is not merely a thought experiment. It isn't satirical hyperbole, like A Modest Proposal. There is no hope or happy ending to soften the blow. Because the game of life is all fixed anyway, it couldn't matter less if you deceive yourself and write this book off as pessimistic belly aching. Whatever it takes to get you through another day, and prop up the illusion that you are a self in the first place.
Although some may argue about what constitutes "serious philosophy" — as Ligotti himself says, he eschews the circuitous argumentation that generally grants a work that unapproachable aura of seriousness — I would argue that this book belongs within any introductory study of nihilism and even post-modernism. To do so I'd like to demonstrate what I mean. Those purely interested in The Conspiracy Against The Human Race may as well stop here, but I believe this claim demands a little context and backtracking. You'll forgive me if I need to broaden the scope to come back to task.
Post modernism and nihilism both are subjects of derision. So many people wave off, dismiss it, or make fun of it, because what? Reason "can't" merely delineate the contours of our prison cell? Our psychology "can't" be the determining factor in our philosophical theories? The world as we know it "can't" just be the product of our narratives about it?
Suffice it to say, I'm not convinced. And neither is Ligotti. According to him, these dismissals are rooted in an underlying fear of pessimism. Even further, that fear may cover up the very existential terror that these theories hope to lay bare, even if it will quickly become clear to any ‘student’ that the effort itself is probably entirely counter-productive.
Another barrier is a sort of pop-cultural understanding of nihilism that throws most people off the scent. For this I need to turn to Vattimo, in a passage of The End of Modernity where he more or less paraphrases Nietzsche, "The project of nihilism is to unmask all systems of reason as systems of persuasion, and to show that logic — the very basis of metaphysical thought -- is in fact a kind of rhetoric. All thought that pretends to discover truth is but an expression of the will to power ... of those making the truth-claims over those being addressed by them; in particular, the disinterested, scientific, rational search for the objective, neutral truth of a proposition is an illusion produced by metaphysical thought for its own benefit."
I would actually specify here that it is the narrative doing this, and it is in the process of making narrative ("sense ") from " pure" data / research that this comes about. It's not that there is no objective world or neutral facts, it's that humans are incapable of direct interaction. Everything is mediated. And mediation is where myth/narrative is king. Lyotard defined postmodernism as “skepticism toward all meta-narratives,” and this bookends all these points on the subject, by saying, in essence, that it recognizes we only understand the world through narratives, and it demands we be skeptical of them all.
(My own little mea culpa: this is what I've dedicated like 10 years of work/research to, so I guess you could say I've got some skin in the game.)
The critique of logic that is perhaps most damning comes from Wittgenstein's commentary and later disavowal of his own Tractatus, and how it kind of turned the tables on logical positivism. There is a terrific accounting of that in "Wittgenstein's Vienna," possibly one of my favorite works of philosophical history.
More prosaically, it was the project of Enlightenment Reason that postulates "progress", which underlies all our technology (see Heidegger's essays on tech, such as “The Questions Concerning Technology,” which are even more damning in hindsight of where we are now), technology is the proverbial case in point of pure logic, at least in itself as a matter of engineering. If not so much how we interact with it, which remains more or less sociological and psychological, logic playing much less of a role in that engagement.
So, we might say nihilism is inherently skeptical of Enlightenment Reason as a project, of progress as a given — and in this regards there's some overlap with many stated postmodern "projects" (objectives). All are critical of logic as an end in itself, especially as a cultural project, and in this regard Conspiracy fits in quite well. There’s much to be found on this subject in Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, though he'll also wander off topic and rant about jazz music. But he has some good points, despite all that.
These projects are not themselves outside of time, which is maybe one of the ironies of post-modernism as a term. This is the subject of many lengthy works, but in short, nihilism and postmodernism both got much of their manna from the second world war, though the first had really already set that in motion-- the massive projects that had promised an idealized Utopian future brought instead war, death, genocide, and then after, the process of man being turned into machine. So the apparent obsession with critique and even, as some have claimed, pessimism within nihilistic and post-modernist philosophies comes as much from the lives of those that created it as any other philosophy. Again, we come to know and interact with the world only through the meditation of our narratives, and much recent neurological research backs this up. Ligotti deals with this directly, without getting sidetracked in “philosophical quibbling,” and indeed this work stands shoulder to shoulder with other works of this nature. But it seeks to one up them all — because they, and indeed this work as well, are ultimately nothing more than sublimation. Conspiracy will show us the truth, but only by dint of demonstrating that it doesn’t actually matter.
My own issue with much postmodern theory, especially the most pessimistic like Ligotti, is it's much easier to tear down an idea than build a new one. Years of working with this sort of material have left me essentially skeptical of everything, including my own memories. The cost of absolute honesty is ultimately paralysis. Only by having faith in the things we can't know, even in blatant fictions, can we take any action. This too he predicts. But he insists we must distance ourselves with denials or false narratives. There seems little room for Kierkegaardian leaps of faith. Getting out of bed is an act of faith. And, given all the things that might happen, possibly a stupid one. But I still take it.
And that's the only place where we might take some issue with Ligotti’s certainty, one may even call it faith, in futility. And that human, all too human trait is curiosity.
I grant nearly every single premise in Conspiracy, but at the end of day sheer curiosity at what lies behind the next rock keeps us going. This fits into his schema well enough as a form of sublimation, or perhaps mere distraction from the existential truth that we are puppets dancing at the call of some invisible master. Picture Sisyphus happy? Perhaps not. But we can imagine him wandering off to the horizon, just to see what happens next. The only certainty — death — does not undermine the great wealth of uncertainties life gives us along the way.
One of the best graphic novels I've ever read. It's subtle, psychological without deferring to rote symbol, like the real faded images of a memory thaOne of the best graphic novels I've ever read. It's subtle, psychological without deferring to rote symbol, like the real faded images of a memory that you had. But they're someone else's. ...more
I'm about halfway through at the moment. This is incredibly well researched and should be required reading on the subject. There are a few issues I woI'm about halfway through at the moment. This is incredibly well researched and should be required reading on the subject. There are a few issues I would raise that very well could be seen as the mere result of the book being 20 years out of date -- such as the ongoing subtext that 'war PTSD' is a man's affliction while domestic abuse is the woman's version of the same -- although on the one hand it is made clear that these are often the same underlying issue, that is after all the premise of the book, that narrative is then re-affirmed through the wording and organization of the book to follow. Further, PTSD is hardly relegated to the experience of war, (just as people's reaction to trauma can't be meted out, ranked, or understood in a quantitative way. The very same experience may traumatize one person for life, without ample treatment and even possibly with it, while another person may not be effected at all.) This also is stated fairly clearly, but then, at least thusfar, not fully developed as something more or less independent of gender.
I'll likely update this review when I've finished. ...more
I find the lack of works cited somewhat problematic, but as all history of this sort is narrative anyhow (and narrative is functionally fictive), it'sI find the lack of works cited somewhat problematic, but as all history of this sort is narrative anyhow (and narrative is functionally fictive), it's only a matter of providing a passage toward how your own narratives were formed. The writing is very clear and engaging for material of this sort, and the underlying thesis--of the correlation between American and Russian imperialism--is well explored and I think spot on.
Absolutely hilarious how many reviewers here seem to be offended at the idea of America being imperialist. (It's also oligarchic). But I guess some delusions die hard....more
It was an interesting coincidence that the publisher for "The Hope We Seek" offered an ARC right around the time when my general research was leadingIt was an interesting coincidence that the publisher for "The Hope We Seek" offered an ARC right around the time when my general research was leading me back to the history and myth of the American West. This book fits very soundly within the current, as it is essentially an exploration of those symbols--mining, in some sense, for an American myth, rather than gold.
The prose is at its best when it describes the land itself as an outpouring of the human spirit; at times the craft actually reaches the sublime that the author is clearly reaching for throughout. However, the flip side of this is that at times it feels as though we aren't so much coming along on the journey as watching someone else's religious experience from afar. That goes a way toward saying that my experience of the book is that it isn't nearly as gripping or even interesting as it is good -- and this raises a big question for me of what "good" even means, in this context.
But that question will have to wait for another day. I applaud the effort invested in plumbing the shared psychological history of hope and loss which represents not only the best and worst of the West, but also all of our own personal journeys. That it doesn't seem to speak to the heart as much as it seeks, however earnest the effort seems, is the only flaw in what might otherwise be a five star effort.
David Mack is one of the very few artist/authors that whenever I write about them it comes out almost fanboyish. The reason should be plain enough forDavid Mack is one of the very few artist/authors that whenever I write about them it comes out almost fanboyish. The reason should be plain enough for anyone who has put in the energy to explore his work: it's really top rate, original (although you can certainly see many influences, nothing creative occurs in a vacuum), and you can see real humanity in all of it-- beauty, fragility, etc. Also, there are artists that you encounter or work with that are incredibly talented but make you feel a sort of despair towards your own work. I remember after reading Lolita (Nabokov) I wondered why I bother with prose at all. David's work, on the other hand, is generally inspirational. It asks you to dig a little deeper and find your voice. Which is really one of the greatest gifts an artist can give.
In a sense, this book is about running. In another sense, it's covertly about writing. (Especially novel writing, which is a beast I'm personally moreIn a sense, this book is about running. In another sense, it's covertly about writing. (Especially novel writing, which is a beast I'm personally more acquainted with than the running part.) In another sense, it's not really a book about either.
The truth is, I don't much care for running and I still enjoyed it. So that's something. ...more