I'm going to read you these poems she said Okay I said She read me one I preferred his pictures I said You don't understand she said They are exactly likeI'm going to read you these poems she said Okay I said She read me one I preferred his pictures I said You don't understand she said They are exactly like the pictures Except there are no pictures ...more
Warning: contains major spoilers for the film Paterson
This is the second of Iris Murdoch's philosophical works that I've read in the last month. It isWarning: contains major spoilers for the film Paterson
This is the second of Iris Murdoch's philosophical works that I've read in the last month. It is not quite as good as The Fire and the Sun, written a bit later, but I still liked it very much. I can see why people are currently reevaluating her as a philosopher and taking her work there more seriously. She examines the same core themes in both books: what does it mean to be a good person, what is the nature of art, does art help us to become good people.
Murdoch's answers to these questions are quite simple. We do not ultimately know what it means to be a good person, but it is not anything mysterious. It's about the obvious moral challenges you see all around you: being unselfish, loving the people who are close to you, seeing the world as it is rather than as you wish it were. Needless to say, all of these things are very difficult to do, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. In general, she takes the commonsense position, unfashionable with many philosophers, that what you think and feel are as important as what you do. Maybe the thinking and feeling have no immediate effect; but it changes the kind of person you are, and when the moment comes to act it will determine what you end up doing. With regard to art, and in particular with regard to literature, she unambiguously says that it's a good thing. Indeed, in an age where religion has largely become debased, she argues that reading literature is now the only spiritual exercise that many people have access to. By learning to tell the difference between good, truthful literature and bad, lying literature, moving towards the former and away from the latter, you will gradually refine your sensibilities and become a better person.
People who spend a lot of time hanging out on Goodreads may find this just a little too comforting. It is also, of course, impossible to forget that Murdoch spent a large part of her life writing novels, and is more or less obliged to defend that as a praiseworthy activity. But if you're doubtful, Jim Jarmusch's wonderful new film Paterson could almost have been made to support Murdoch's line of reasoning. Paterson seems, on the surface, to be an unexceptional and even boring person. He gets up at 6.10 every morning, eats a bowl of cereal, and goes off to do his job driving a bus. He arrives home in the evening, has dinner with Laura, his girlfriend, and then takes the dog for a walk. He drinks a beer at the local bar and comes home again. But Paterson's life is rich and exciting. He is a poet; all the time, as he walks to work or drives his bus, he is composing poems in his mind. He writes things down in a little notebook when he has a spare moment. No one except Laura knows about his poetry.
Paterson, we come to realize, is a good man. Near the end, an incident happens which gives him a severe moral test. Laura is happy and excited; her project to bake cupcakes and sell them at the market has been a success and she's made several hundred dollars. She impulsively tells Paterson that she's taking them out for dinner and a movie. They have a pleasant romantic evening. But when they come home, there's a horrible surprise. Disappointed by not getting his evening walk, the dog has gone crazy and shredded Paterson's precious notebook. He has no copy, despite the fact that Laura has begged him several times to make one.
Most people, seeing a year of their life destroyed like this, would instinctively have lashed out at whoever was closest. If Laura hadn't changed their usual routine, the dog wouldn't have done it. But Paterson, despite his anguished face, says nothing. He in no way tries to give Laura even a small part of the blame; he just says that he forgot to put the notebook in its usual place. It's only when you think about it afterwards that you realize how remarkable his actions are: not what he does, but what he doesn't do. You understand why this beautiful girl loves him.
I must be terribly unobservant; despite having read the Mumintroll series on and off for several decades, I had somehow not noticed that SnusmumrikenI must be terribly unobservant; despite having read the Mumintroll series on and off for several decades, I had somehow not noticed that Snusmumriken and his father Joxaren are Zen masters. But this passage was so obvious that even I couldn't miss it:
När Fredrikson avlöste mig vid rodret i gryningen nämnde jag i förbigående Joxarens förvånande och fullkomliga brist på intresse för omgivningen.
Hm, sa Fredrikson. Kanske han tvärtom bryr sig om allting? Vi bryr oss om en enda sak. Du vill bli. Jag vill göra. Mitt brorsbarn vill ha. Men Joxaren bara lever.
Äsch, leva! Det kan ju vem som helst, sa jag.
Hm, sade Fredrikson.
Hur som helst, Joxarens inställning förefaller mig på något sätt slarvigt, jag menar det där att bara leva. Leva gör man väl i alla fall? Som jag ser saken är man hela tiden omgiven av massor med viktiga och betydelsefulla saker som borde upplevas och tänkas ut och erövras, det finns så fullt av möjligheter att nackhåret reser sig på ända när jag tänker på dem - och i mitten sitter jag själv och är naturligtvis det allra viktigast.
When Fredrikson relieved me at the tiller towards dawn, I mentioned in passing Joxaren's inexplicable and total lack of interest in what went on around him.
Hm, said Fredrikson. Maybe, on the contrary, he cares about everything? We only care about one thing. You want to become something. I want to do something. My nephew wants to own something. But Joxaren just exists.
Fiddle-de-dee, exist! I said. Anyone can do that.
Hm, said Fredrikson.
At any rate, Joxaren's attitude seems somehow irresponsible to me, I mean this business of just existing. We all exist anyway, don't we? The way I see it, you're constantly surrounded by any number of important and meaningful things that need to be experienced and thought about and conquered, there are so many possibilities that the hair on the back of my head stands on end when I just think about them - and in the middle, here I am, needless to say the most important thing of all.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed Everybody knows the war is over Everybody knows the good guys lost Ev
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed Everybody knows the war is over Everybody knows the good guys lost Everybody knows the fight was fixed The poor stay poor, the rich get rich That's how it goes Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking Everybody knows that the captain lied Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died...
He could have written it yesterday. Goodbye, Mr. Cohen. Thank you for everything. ...more
Using his inimitable Salvador-Dali-meets-Hieronymus-Bosch-meets-Doctor-Seuss style, Tan produces another apparently effDon't forget to read Shaun Tan.
Using his inimitable Salvador-Dali-meets-Hieronymus-Bosch-meets-Doctor-Seuss style, Tan produces another apparently effortless masterpiece. Surely the best children's book author/illustrator in the world. I can't think who else is even in the running....more
This is a beautiful novel about memories, and the sea, but above all about absences. It many times refers to the traditional German children's song JeThis is a beautiful novel about memories, and the sea, but above all about absences. It many times refers to the traditional German children's song Jetzt fahrn wir übern See, which I had never heard of before; but since listening to it here, I've been unable to get it out of my head. The unusual thing about Jetzt fahrn wir, which differentiates it from every other children's song I know, is that now and then it stops for a few beats. You have to fill in the missing words silently. Jenny, the heroine of the book, loves the song and spends a long time learning how to sing it. As she says, the difficult thing is the pauses. But when you can do them right, it works.
Jenny is a strange child, and she grows up to be a strange adult. She isn't really a girl. She wants to be a boy, because then she could be a sailor. Is she a lesbian, you probably wonder? She isn't that either. She isn't anything. As she says in one of the book's most memorable passages, she is not part of the ordinary world at all. Life is something that happens to other people. And in the same way, this book, which I have so far been calling a novel, isn't really a novel. It isn't a memoir or a history or a scrapbook either. It isn't anything, which is perhaps why so few people seem to have read it.
I wish I could hear the absences properly, but my German still isn't quite good enough. Maybe when I reread it.
I have always wanted to meet a muse, that fabled creature of legend. Probably influenced by the 1999 movie, which I once watched on a plane and remembI have always wanted to meet a muse, that fabled creature of legend. Probably influenced by the 1999 movie, which I once watched on a plane and remember very little about, I expected her to be a sultry blonde vaguely resembling Sharon Stone, full of irrational whims and caprices but capable of inspiring the most remarkable leaps of creativity.
Well, I should have known better. I have finally come across a real-life muse. Rowie is admittedy blonde, and she's not too bad on the whims and caprices, but she's five years old and has an inordinate fascination with princess books. Having, as far as I can tell, exhausted the genre, she is using her powers to get the people around her to write more of them. This book was created by her grandfather, with some help from her grandmother and a friendly illustrator (the powerful muse spell can evidently work even at one remove). It is quite the best book about princesses and cat vomiting I have ever seen. I am sure it's only a matter of weeks before a major publisher launches it towards the public it deserves.
What's next? Beatrice was nine when she met Dante and set him on the path which ended with The Divine Comedy, so Rowie has plenty of time to get warmed up. I'll be following her career with great interest. ...more
THE STORY SO FAR: After a whirlwind romance, octogenarian media mogul Rupert Murdoch is marrying the beautiful ex-supermodel Leggy Hall. Now read on..THE STORY SO FAR: After a whirlwind romance, octogenarian media mogul Rupert Murdoch is marrying the beautiful ex-supermodel Leggy Hall. Now read on...
"Fourth time lucky, eh, sir?" ventured Jimbo nervously, always worried about saying the wrong thing.
His indulgent father laughed happily. Nothing could dampen his triumphant mood. Here he was, a jaunty jackaroo in a bonzer blue suit, with a sharp crease in his strides and the smartest pair of brown shoes this side of Digger's Bum Creek, made from finest Dundee Crocodile.
"Excellent choice of footwear, sir." It was Witherspoon, the editor of the London Times of London, helping his boss into the nave of the famous "journalist's church" where, in days of yore, so many practitioners of that noble profession had gone to pray before being sacked or arrested.
"Nearly as leathery as your face, you dirty old bastard," joked a familiar antipodean voice. It was Barry McKenzie, Rupert's irreverent old mate from the Land of Oz.
"Didn't recognise you there, Barry, because you're not dressed up as a sheila, you pommy poof!" retorted Rupert, with the sort of quickfire repartee that had dazzled the world's boardrooms for over a century....more
This book, which I had had recommended to me by many friends both on Goodreads and in real life, says plenty of useful and worthwhile things. Using thThis book, which I had had recommended to me by many friends both on Goodreads and in real life, says plenty of useful and worthwhile things. Using the words not quite in the sense common among academic psychologists, Susan Cain distinguishes between "extroverts", whom she characterizes as loud, thick-skinned people who prioritise social interaction, assertiveness and gregariousness, and "introverts", quiet, thin-skinned people who prioritise sensitivity, harmony and understanding. She points out that a third to a half of all people are introverts; though many of them have learned how to masquerade successfully as extroverts, since American society encourages extrovert behavior to the point where many introverts feel there is something wrong with them. Why do they prefer to sit and read a book when they could be out making useful business contacts? Cain give reasons to believe that the difference between introversion and extroversion may well be related to underlying brain physiology, and hence beyond the individual's control. But more importantly, she argues that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being introverted. Society needs sensitive, risk-shy introverts just as much as it needs brash, risk-tolerant extroverts. In fact, it may need them more.
I find most of the above plausible, though I don't know enough about neurophysiology to be able to say how solid those parts are. What disquiets me most is that the book needed to be written in the first place. It seems to me to say more about modern American society than it does about the differences between introverts and extroverts. As Cain says, many societies - she particularly singles out Asian societies - do not place the same premium on extroverted behavior. If you're an Asian teen, it's regarded as normal to spend your time studying rather than partying. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of many European societies.
Cain's approach is gentle and indirect, but she certainly succeeds in showing how grotesquely skewed the US has become. When a member of an evangelical church says he is only interested in recruiting extroverted people and adds that he's sure Jesus was extroverted, I can't help feeling that something has gone horribly wrong. Even more memorably and presciently (the book was published in 2012), Cain asks at one point how America could have got the idea that the ideal personality type is that of a successful real estate salesman.
I'm already enjoying watching the stagnant waters of business-as-usual politics drain out of the DC swamp, leaving a ree[Original review, Dec 20 2016]
I'm already enjoying watching the stagnant waters of business-as-usual politics drain out of the DC swamp, leaving a reeking, fetid mass of... er... I'm sorry, I seem to have had a metaphor failure. Don't worry, my highly-trained rhetorical support staff is correcting the problem as I speak. Where was I? Oh yes, draining the swamp. As I was saying, encouraging first signs here as Donald Trump's sons openly sell access to the new President at a million dollars a pop in a manner totally unlike the pay-to-play shame of the Clinton Foundation, which... er... I'm sorry, the system hardly ever does this, I just don't know what's wrong with it today. Bear with me a minute... __________________
I know what you're thinking. But you're wrong. With a few well-timed tweets, Donald Trump has decisively solved the problem. His children will NOT be allowed to sell access to the President for high six-figure sums, and Congress will NOT dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics. Tomorrow, he will at the last moment repeal the bill that would have allowed Muslim congressmen to eat Christian babies for breakfast.
Well, that ought to silence the sneering liberals who keep saying that Trump isn't going to do what he promised. In view of the goodwill he's already shown, it would be downright unreasonable to expect him to stop running his highly successful businesses or release his tax returns so that people can see that he's not in the pocket of Vladimir... er... I'm sorry, let me just check something... __________________
[Update, Jan 14 2017]
I'm sorry about all the problems, but when you're testing new technology that's what happens. I'll start again. Isn't it a frightening thought that the US nearly elected Hillary Clinton? Before we all forget, let me remind you that there were some pretty serious accusations being made against her.
Perhaps nothing was ever proven, but suppose it were all true? Imagine the idea of the President being under the constant threat of impeachment literally from their first day in... er... wait a minute... ...more
Toutes les fois qu’avec le livre de Philidor ou celui de Stamma j’ai voulu m’exercer à étudier des parties, la même chose m’est arrivée; et après m’être épuisé de fatigue, je me suis trouvé plus faible qu’auparavant. Du reste, que j’aie abandonné les échecs, ou qu’en en jouant je me sois remis en haleine, je n’ai jamais avancé d’un cran depuis cette première séance, et je me suis toujours retrouvé au même point où j’étais en la finissant.
Every time I tried to study the game using the books of Philidor or Stamma, the same thing happened; after tiring myself out, I found I played even worse than I had previously. And in general, whether I stopped playing or tried hard, I never got further than I had during that first session, and always found myself at the point I had reached on finishing it.
I had not even heard of Olof Lagercrantz's book about Dante until I inherited a copy a few months ago from Gio's late aunt - but it is very good, andI had not even heard of Olof Lagercrantz's book about Dante until I inherited a copy a few months ago from Gio's late aunt - but it is very good, and I have been carrying it around all week and reading it while shopping and making social calls. Appropriately, I finished it early on Christmas morning.
It is impressive to see how much work Lagercrantz has done. He has not only read all of Dante's works many times in the original, but also most of the important translations and a great deal of critical literature, in Italian, English, French, German and (of course) Swedish. He must have been tempted to write a monstrous, unreadable tome which showed off his vast learning, but he has exercised restraint and kept it down to 200 elegant pages. As an amateur - I have only read the Divine Comedy once, in the Dorothy Sayers version - I was able to read the book in a few days, enjoy it, and learn many things I should have known but didn't. Lagercrantz is inspiring rather than overpowering; he quotes the Italian often enough that he made me very curious to attempt it myself, but not so often that I started skipping it. I wish more people would write this way.
Two things stood out for me. First, I had always had the feeling that Dante, in the Inferno, is referring just as much to his own sins as to those of the damned spirits he meets, but I'd never been very sure I could say why. Lagercranz develops this as one of his major themes. The clearest example is perhaps the meeting with Ulysses in the circle of the False Counselors. It had completely escaped my attention that Ulysses drowns when in his pride he undertakes the impious voyage to the Island of Purgatory; of course, Dante is doing the very same thing in his poem, and will arrive there a few Canti later. And second, I had not properly understood that Beatrice is simultaneously Christ, who descends from Heaven to save Dante's soul. This is a very beautiful and powerful image, but it is also shockingly close to blasphemy. Dante, needless to say, knows this: he is well aware of the tightrope he is walking, and I had not grasped how extraordinary it is that he manages to reach the other side without falling into the bottomless pit beneath.
I suspect that Från helvetet till paradiset has had a considerable influence on recent Scandinavian literature, where there have been a remarkable number of books structurally based on the Divine Comedy. The most obvious example is Burman's Den tionde sånggudinnan, where there is no reasonable doubt. At least to me, there is also strong evidence that the fifth volume of Knausgård's Min kamp is patterned on Dante. But the most interesting example is Jan Kjærstad's Jonas Wergeland trilogy, where the key ideas, in particular the identification of Beatrice with Christ, are developed in a wonderfully unexpected and creative way. I think I will have to reread Kjærstad next year. Maybe I'll finally be able to understand just how it all fits together. ...more
Okay, it's that time of year again. Here are my prizes for books first read in 2016, split up by category:
I thought I'd see if I could reOkay, it's that time of year again. Here are my prizes for books first read in 2016, split up by category:
I thought I'd see if I could read books in Russian and Italian - I did a couple of years of Russian at school during the 70s, and my mother is Italian, though she never taught me her language. How hard could it be?
Answer: Italian does in fact seem pretty easy, though so far I've only read a few children's books. Russian is considerably harder! I did however manage to get through a long chess book, Защита Алехина, and I'm sure it's improved my command of the language a great deal. More Italian and Russian in 2017!
I've been working on German for two or three years now, and I'm starting to feel more confident. I can read books for children and younger teens without difficulty, and adult books if I'm prepared to guess a fair number of words. For people who don't already know, there is some wonderful German children's literature. I think my favorite was Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer, which I'd barely even heard of before I found a copy on a Berlin bookstall, but there were several others that ran it close.
A big thank you to all my Germanophone Goodreads friends, especially Matt, who have been amazingly kind and supportive towards this newbie's efforts!
We unexpectedly inherited a bunch of Swedish books from the aunt of a Geneva friend - he didn't know anyone else who read Swedish, so I was the lucky recipient. Thank you Gio! As a result, I finally got around to reading Ingmar Bergman's Laterna Magica, which was indeed just as extraordinary as I'd been led to believe. I have plenty more interesting Swedish books on the shelf! I only read one Norwegian book, but Pan was utterly brilliant. I must get back to reading Hamsun.
I read sixteen French books this year. The one I liked best was La carte et le territoire; unlike many novelists, Michel Houellebecq seems to be improving as he gets older. I thought this was a wonderful black comedy, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the world of modern art. Soumission, the book that followed it, is even better.
I didn't read a huge amount of English fiction, but Geoff finally persuaded me to pick up Against the Day. Geoff, you were right... it's as good as you said. It was the first book I read this year, and I was going to read some more Pynchon, but we're already in mid-December. Oh well... more Pynchon in 2017, I think!
I read 26 non-fiction books - it's difficult to pick a clear winner, and I think I'm going to have to share first place between Helge Kragh's Niels Bohr and the Quantum Atom and Catherine MacKinnon's Towards a Feminist Theory of the State. The first one convinced me that I had to carry on with quantum mechanics; the second, that I needed to start on feminist theory. My 2017 list gets longer...