Some books get all the luck. When a reader is first exposed to a perspective never before seen, or an effort of creation never imagined, that book thaSome books get all the luck. When a reader is first exposed to a perspective never before seen, or an effort of creation never imagined, that book that triggered this will loom larger, regardless of its merits.
Wood's book is the first litcrit book I've ever read; or at least that I can recall (there are plenty of books I read twenty or thirty years ago that would surprise me now).
I got lucky, since this is a engagingly written and passionate work of a bibliophile, but what earned it that extra star was that I hadn't studied the craft of writing before, so it hadn't occurred to me that it would refine my craft of reading as well. As others here have complained, this makes pedestrian prose a bit harder absorb, but Wood also remind us that there is probably still plenty of excellent fiction that can be turned to instead.
The overwhelming majority of books I read come from the public library -- San Francisco's main is only a ten minute walk. This will be one of the very rare books that makes it to my 'buy' shelf. I think it will also be that even rarer book, one that I'll hope to re-read often -- although my infatuation may lessen if and when I find other (perhaps better?) litcrit books.
I just took a look at that shelf, and it reminded me that Wood's frequent references to books I haven't yet read, or to books I read as a less enlightened reader brought back to mind Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road. I don't recall anything about Hanff's skill as a writer, but she must be one of the most delightful readers of the past century. If you haven't read her short, epistolatory memoir, then you are missing out on a classic. (The movie is a conceptual sacrilege: a story about readers should be read, not watched!)
It has been so many years that I read this that I really should revisit it. I recall it as a very difficult book that required effort to trudge througIt has been so many years that I read this that I really should revisit it. I recall it as a very difficult book that required effort to trudge through many very slow sections in order to glean the fascinating underlying conceit.
There are huge portions of the book I barely recall, including the personal travails of the narrator and the culture of the boardinghouses for the children being raised to play the Game. What I recall best is the Game itself.
whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell. The rules of the game are only alluded to, and are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. Essentially the game is an abstract synthesis of all arts and scholarship. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.
Devoting one's life to seeking subtle connections within all knowledge would probably seem like hell to most; it comes close to heaven for me.
That aside, I think the Game should also be of interest to people examining how the internet is altering the would today. We've recently seen a minor avalanche of essays and books on these multifaceted changes. Some bemoan how our individual and collective attention spans are withering, how the web's anarchic nature subverts objectivity for subjectivity, or how it is causing the collapse of intellectual property rights. Others applaud some of these same changes and point to others, such as the lower cost of entry into the world of information exchange, once the costs of publishing and distribution are diminished. A good article that revisits many of these themes is the New York Times essay Texts Without Context. Towards the end of the essay (and, tellingly, hinted at in the URL), the author discusses the emergence of mash ups. The final paragraphs quote Jaron Lanier, who is dismissive of the phenomena:
To Mr. Lanier, however, the prevalence of mash-ups in today’s culture is a sign of “nostalgic malaise.” “Online culture,” he writes, “is dominated by trivial mash-ups of the culture that existed before the onset of mash-ups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.”
He points out that much of the chatter online today is actually “driven by fan responses to expression that was originally created within the sphere of old media,” which many digerati mock as old-fashioned and passé, and which is now being destroyed by the Internet. “Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn,” Mr. Lanier writes. “There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the Web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.”
I disagree with his overall assessment in many ways (caveat: I haven't yet read Lanier's diatribe manifesto). The first and obvious response is that any new medium is immediately used to examine and explore previous media. That early films mined the treasures of written literature is obvious. Why should the internet be any different? That these derivatives simultaneously reach into multiple media is a fascinating innovation, not a sign of decline. A look back at how film and television evolved over decades tells us that it will be quite some time before the internet finds its own voice.
Another response is that today's infantile mash-up might be the beginning of the Glass Bead Game itself. Obviously the internet means it will not have anything like the form Hesse envisioned, but that is a minor point. The ability of the internet to link disparate sources and forge a synthesis isn't new, but the ability to do so within a collaborative structure is.
Consider the Broadway musical West Side Story. This mashed a Shakespearean tragedy with a story about New York gangs into a musical. In the Glass Bead Game, this would exist at a nexus of links back to several antecedents; among them would be Romeo and Juliet, foremost but not alone. In today's internet culture this would quickly breed numerous tributes and satires, almost all of which would be of trivial lasting important. But their persistence could allow later links to be made that are more subtle and ingenious. Perhaps someone would note that an ancient Persian poem had a similar theme to R&J, and that it was later set to music in a folk ballad. An academic might stumble over this and carefully examine the parallels between the Sondheim musical and the ballad.
We can consider the potential that a network could have previously existed as analogous to something in the oral tradition, and the actuality of such a network within the Web as akin to being within the written tradition. This persistent connectivity is radically new: to switch metaphors, previously the informational constructs that make up our media existed in atomic form; mash-ups are the first of the molecules we have constructed of those atoms.
The Glass Bead Game involves the exploration of the history and the discovery of ever more complex and intriguing molecules. And explicitly documenting these molecules instantiates them as new "beads" within the game. ...more
(See Trevor's review. I already have a Compete Shakespeare, but annotations are sweet. Actually, the in-text annotations done as footnotes can be rea
(See Trevor's review. I already have a Compete Shakespeare, but annotations are sweet. Actually, the in-text annotations done as footnotes can be really annoying, since I keep getting waylaid glancing down at them to see if there is something I'm missing, but after a lifetime of reading Shakespeare I'm comfortable with the lingo. So mostly they just yank me out of the flow of the language. Currently also a curse in my reading of Milton. But those introductions that provide historical background are great, and the criticisms and analyses that alert me to other ways of reading expand my neocortex in a very satisfying manner. Must buy an annotated copy of The Sonnets, and Trevor approves of The New Cambridge edition.)
An excellent source of information on pretty much any "drug". Even chocolate.
On a related note, wanna learn about "The History of the Non-Medical UseAn excellent source of information on pretty much any "drug". Even chocolate.
On a related note, wanna learn about "The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States", by Charles Whitebread, Professor of Law, USC Law School, in a speech to the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference—check this out. Amusing and informative. Thankfully, even 14 years later we haven't succumbed to his prediction that we'd make tobacco illegal. ...more
This book is about cognitive frameworks, or, more precisely: about two frameworks that plausibly explain many of the differences between liberals andThis book is about cognitive frameworks, or, more precisely: about two frameworks that plausibly explain many of the differences between liberals and conservatives.
Oddly enough, I'm still struggling with how this book interacts with my own cognitive framework. I have several pages of notes that should eventually go into a review, but Lakoff's focus on those two political perspectives was so ultimately frustrating that the book left me incredibly frustrated.
As far as the book goes, it is a fascinating dissection at how personalities can share deep similarities across a broad spectrum of society due to those frameworks.
But so many questions: are these supposed to be the innate two? Or are these just the current dominant pair due in our evolving culture? If the latter, what other frameworks have been used by, say, the founding generation of the United States? Or of the Socratic Greeks? How does one research such questions?
In our own time, do these dominant two account for 99% of everyone in the United States? Eighty percent? Fifty-one percent? I know it isn't 100%, because I'm certain I don't fit either framework. How many hyper-rationalists like me are there out there?
The problem is that I've left the book sitting on my desk for so long un-reviewed that I have to return it to the library tomorrow: no more renewals.
So some notes that might help me do a better job after I've read Lakoff's Philosophy in the Flesh, currently holding down my bedside table.
» P. 72: Morality is Strength (thus, Meta-morality is morality): "One consequence of this metaphor is that punishment can be good for you, since going through hardships builds moral strength. Hence, the homily, 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. By the logic of this metaphor, moral weakness is in itself a form of immorality. The reasoning goes like this: A morally weak person is likely to fall, to give in to evil, to perform immoral acts, and thus become part of the forces of evil. Moral weakness is thus nascent immorality, immorality waiting to happen." What does this say about the myth of pure evil? Is the prospect of moral weakness and nascent immorality illuminated in Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray or Conrad's Heart of Darkness?
» P. 76: Moral Authority: "... Within the Strict Father model, the parent (typically the father) sets standards of behavior and punishes the child if the standards are not met. Moral behavior by the child is obedience to the parent's authority...." This incorporates the profoundly disturbing implication that the parent is always right. Actually, the model has the caveat that the parent must be acting in the child's best interest and have "the ability to know what is best for the child", but these still blithely ignore what happens when the parent is well-meaning yet wrong. My personal framework demands that all authority is contingent, and that a very high priority goes to every individual's responsibility to be capable of evaluating the demands of authority and considering, when necessary, whether the consequences of denying such authority is worth the entailed costs. While I believe I see evidence of Lakoff's "Strict Parent" model throughout society, my personal framework directly contradicts it. What framework is the "Question Authority" bumper sticker a reflection of?
» P. 109: Nurturant Parent Morality: "... Open, two-way, mutually respectful communication is crucial. If parents' authority is to be legitimate, they must tell their children why their decisions serve the cause of protection and nurturance. The questioning of parents by children is positive, since children need to learn why their parents do what they do, since children often have good ideas that should be taken seriously, and since all family members should participate in important decisions. Responsible parents, of course, have to make the ultimate decisions and that must be clear." Sounds good (and consistent with "Question Authority") but also sounds incredibly naive, much like communist idealism. This completely ignores the less mature reasoning abilities of children, and ignores the limited patience of normal parents. Seems like a caricature.
» P. 112: "What does the world have to be like if people like this are to develop and thrive? The world must be as nurturant as possible and respond positively to nurturance. It must be a world that encourages people to develop their potential and provides help when necessary. And correspondingly, it must be a place where those who are helped feel a responsibility to help others and carry out that responsibility. It must be a world governed maximally by empathy, where the weak who need hep get it from the strong." Oh, please, what world are we living in? Human nature is both cooperative and competitive. ('What's so great about being among "the strong" if that just means you have to do more work', he was heard to whine.) What about when people don't want to "develop their potential"? Plenty of people spend hours online, but how many of them are taking the free online classes at the Open University, etc.? Folks don't seem to optimize themselves to meet society's needs; free-riding behavior kicks in far too easily. Always remember: we've all descended from the people that won their wars; genes that say "turn the other cheek" are too easy to take advantage of to last long.
» P. 127: "In Nurturant Parent morality, the virtues to be taught—the moral strengths—are the opposites of the internal evils: social responsibility, generosity, respect for the values of others, open-mindedness, a capacity for pleasure, aesthetic sensitivity, inquisitiveness, ability to communicate, honesty, sensitivity to feelings, considerateness, cooperativeness, kindness, community-mindedness, and self-respect." Again the caricature of the liberal. This reminds me of the "always cooperate" tactic used in iterative Prisoner's Dilemma: a naively nice strategy that is quickly wiped out by any predators. Of course, the Strict Father morality is paranoid and easily falls into predatory patterns — and we know who wins that battle. Will Lakoff ever find elements of a cognitive framework that mimic the best PD strategy, tit-for-tat? Actually, *generous* tit-for-tat beats tit-for-tat in a chaotic environment, and it is that element of generosity that appears to have been seized upon as the core of the NP morality. But this only survives in a highly benevolent environment, and probably isn't stable even then.
» P. 242: Re: the culture wars and the possibility teaching pluralism: "There may be a problem in taking this route to teaching morality and avoiding partisan moral and political indoctrination. Many conservatives believe that there is only one possible view of morality—Strict Father morality. Many religious conservatives believe that teaching both moral systems is itself immoral." Well, no duh. Witness the quote I found while reading Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past:
An officer of the Daughters of the Colonial Wars, for instance, complained about books that “give a child an unbiased viewpoint instead of teaching him real Americanism. All the old histories taught my country right or wrong. That's the point of view we want our children to adopt. We can't afford to teach them to be unbiased and let them make up their own minds.”
Ecumenicalism logically can't include zealots that want to burns the others at the stake.
» P. 261: After a somewhat labored exploration of how Christianity as each of the two paradigms interpret it: "Finally, the two forms of Christianity have very different understandings of what the world should be like so that such ideal persons can be produced. Strict Father Christianity requires that the world be competitive and survival difficult if the right kind of people (strong people) are to be produced and rewarded. Nurturant Parent Christianity requires that the world be as interdependent, nurturant and benign as possible, if the right kind of people—nurturant people—are to be produced." Sounds like Warriors for Christ versus Mother Teresa, eh?
» P. 269: In the chapter on Abortion, Lakoff points out the variants of each model exist. For example, if the "Men are dominant over Women" aspect of the Strict Father model is removed, one gets conservative feminism. Lakoff plausibly argues that this indirectly removes a crucial condition for requiring opposition to abortion, and thus these conservatives "are not bound by the logic of their morality to be either pro-life or pro-choice. In short, the model predicts that there should be conservatives who are pro-choice, and that they should be those who do not rank men above women in the moral order." One of the glaring holes of Lakoff's book is the lack of empirical evidence or even a research program that would produce testable hypotheses. This is understandable, since research on human ethics and morality can't easily be separated from the messy world in which we live. The book is largely a thoughtful exposition based on plausible initial assumptions, and is no more scientific than Plato's Dialogs. That Lakoff shows that this model can explain or predict counter-intuitive beliefs is the only sign of scientific rigor I recall.
» P. 280: Liberal often castigate the conservative morality for whipping up anger and outrage, thus creating social conditions that foster immoral behavior. The relatively recent assassination of a doctor who performed abortions is one example; another is even more recent example of the militant who flew his small plane into a government building, killing himself and one government employee. "To the conservative, immoral behavior is attributable to individual character, not to social causes: What is right and what is wrong are clear, and the question is whether you are morally strong enough to do what is right. It's a matter of character. Conservatives believe that if an extreme conservative commits a crime, say killing people, in the name of vigilante justice, then conservatism itself cannot be held to blame, nor can those who spew hate over the airwaves. The explanation instead is that that individual had a bad character, that is, a bad moral essence. ...explanations on the basis of social causes are excluded."
» P. 296: Good example of when the cognitive frameworks can be intermixed even within one person.
Consider someone who is a thorough going liberal, but whose intellectual views are as follows: • There are intellectual authorities who maintain strict standards for the conduct of scholarly research and for reporting on such research. • It is unscholarly for someone to violate those standards. • Young scholars require a rigorous training to learn to meet those scholarly standards. ... • Students should not be "coddled." They should be held to strict scholarly standards at all times. ...
» P. 356: In his chapter "Raising Real Children", Lakoff discusses research that shows strongly that children raised within the Strict Fatherr morality tend to be more dysfunctional than those raised in the Nurturant Parent morality, even by the standards of the former: "This overall picture is quite damning for the Strict Father model. That model seems to be a myth. If this research is right, a Strict Father upbringing does not produce the kind of child it claims to produce. Incidentally, this picture is not from one study or from studies by one researcher. This is the overall picture gathered from many studies by many different researchers (see References, B2)." Yes... but...
Lakoff starts his book claiming he will be as non-partisan through most of the book, only explaining his conclusions the beliefs fostered by those conclusions in the final chapters. Yet, despite being a liberal myself I couldn't help but feel throughout the book that his bias was evident. I had the impression that his examples were chosen to highlight the failures of the Strict Father model and hide, or at least not address, those of the Nurturant Parent model.
Moreover, the picture Lakoff presents is that of a strict dichotomy, and I have reasons (someone eccentric ones) to think this is fundamentally flawed. Years ago I read a book on game theory which hinted that the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma was a thought experiment that provide astonishing insight into the eternal conflict between cooperation and competition. Sophisticated iPD models shows that blind "niceness" fails quickly in the face of predation; it also shows that predation fails more slowly, but no less inevitably when there are no more nice "suckers" around to prey on; the winning strategy is nice, but cautious, and strikes a middle ground between the two poles.
That Lakoff has formulated a model of cognition that somehow manages to completely ignore this golden mean makes me deeply suspicious. Certainly our genetic heritage from millions of years of cognitive development should provide the underpinnings that assist not just in "Strict Father" competitiveness or "Nurturant Mother" cooperation, but what lies between, what has allowed us to muddle through eons of flawed civilizations.
These comments, lengthy as they are, don't even tap into the several pages of notes I've got. They are only comments triggered by the post-it-note bookmarks I use to highlight specific passages.
It should be clear that this is, at least to me, a very important book. It is very flawed as well; even beyond the preceding complaints, Lakoff's style is pedantic and verbose, and often repetitive. I wish he had written a better book, however what he gave us still will be a source of deep thinking and surprising insights for those willing to wade in. ...more
Great and enthusiastic review in the NY Times: Mushroom Magic (published November 17, 2011). While I whole-heartedly agree with the t-shirt aphorismGreat and enthusiastic review in the NY Times: Mushroom Magic (published November 17, 2011). While I whole-heartedly agree with the t-shirt aphorism “Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder,” I am trying to switch away from meat for reasons of environmentalism, ethics and health. Even though I was dismayed to learn recently that experts discourage eating mushrooms raw, I still would like these delicious fungi to be a greater part of my diet, but I think I need a book like this to really push myself in that direction....more
The problem with books that collect comic strips is that they are inevitably too short.
But Kate Beaton is brilliant. I mean, how many books of comicsThe problem with books that collect comic strips is that they are inevitably too short.
But Kate Beaton is brilliant. I mean, how many books of comics need an index so you can find that great strip that shows the real reason Icarus flew too close to the sun (page 95), or discern which of the ten strips about MacBeth show poor Banquo's tragic misunderstanding....more
Does anyone out there have access to the Indiana Magazine of History?
Apparently there was a review of Woodard's book in Vol. 108, No. 4 (December 20Does anyone out there have access to the Indiana Magazine of History?
Apparently there was a review of Woodard's book in Vol. 108, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 424-426, by James Rubenstein. I've been trying to find reviews by historians to see if there are any substantial complaints of the history that he portrays here, but haven't found much yet.
Buying the book and formulating review. But: get a copy of this. It will explain so much of what is perplexing in U.S. politics and culture, as well as illuminate some of the contrary-to-received-history of the founding of the country — such as: the word "United" in "United States" was more wishful thinking than realistic. Fascinating. Very highly recommended.
The NY Times did a study of where it is tough to live, and the conservative south has it much worse than the conservative midwest. The why behind that is probably connected to the chapters in the book dealing with the ideology of the south. Sad, and scary. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/26/ups...