A good but not great partial translation of Chandrakirti's Prasannapadā, it's the best we have for now, and for now it will do. Obviously one of the mA good but not great partial translation of Chandrakirti's Prasannapadā, it's the best we have for now, and for now it will do. Obviously one of the most important Madhyamaka treatises to come out of India, and a vital key to understanding Nagarjuna's cryptic masterpiece, the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Unfortunately this book is rare and tends to be expensive - I'd be embarrassed to admit what I paid for it.
Years ago I heard a rumor that John Dunne was working on a complete translation, and I fervently hope that that's true, and it appears soon. It would be an invaluable addition to the scholarship. ...more
In this book, Jeffrey Hopkins writes informally and with great warmth about the Tibetan tradition of mind-training. He presents techniques of contemplIn this book, Jeffrey Hopkins writes informally and with great warmth about the Tibetan tradition of mind-training. He presents techniques of contemplation for cultivating detachment from the mundane concerns of life, and for developing a warm, compassionate heart which extends feelings of well-being impartially to all beings.
Unlike most of his writings, which are extremely academic and philosophical, this work is disarmingly personal and jargon-free. I don't believe he even mentions that the specific set of practices he offers in this book are mostly drawn from Jowo Atisha's seven point mind training, but if that means something to you, there it is.
I appreciated and enjoyed this book very much, and I found it a support to my practice to some degree, though truthfully, a lot of Atisha's approach doesn't resonate with my style. Some of the practices are irreducibly abstract, and don't quite hit the mark for me, and others are based on beliefs I simply cannot profess. For example, it is hard to entertain the idea of all sentient beings as your mother in past lives if you do not believe in reincarnation.
As an accessible guide to many of these practices by a devoted practitioner who has studied with some of the greatest Tibetan teachers of the last few generations, this book is a useful and enjoyable read. I believe most beginning and experienced practitioners would get something out of it....more
One can and many have written volumes on Plato's Republic, so what can one say about this cornerstone in the intellectual history of humanity?
To awarOne can and many have written volumes on Plato's Republic, so what can one say about this cornerstone in the intellectual history of humanity?
To award it five stars is not to endorse its total perspective, but to recognize its towering importance. In my view, that importance consists, first and foremost, in the fact that it constitutes what is to my knowledge the first systematic philosophy in the history of thought. That is, in this work, Plato seeks to describe all aspects of experience in an internally-consistent and coordinated account that brings the pieces together into a single, complete harmony - one which encompasses questions of being and knowledge, social organization, ethics, and aesthetics.
And, crucially, all of Plato's conclusions are delivered and validated by critical reason alone. There is no appeal to sanctity, tradition, revelation, et cetera. In practice, then, all aspects of human experience are therefore opened to dialectical analysis, and the foundations of knowledge and praxis are ultimately grounded in rational legitimacy.
We could stop right there and already have a volume that belongs to the highest ranks of human thought. But I would point to another contribution that I do not believe is necessarily commonly appreciated. Plato's Republic, I submit, crystalizes what has been and will be one of the quintessential aesthetic visions delivered and held by European culture. There is a particular constellation of images of clear knowing and pure being coordinated in an orderly array that forms a singularly beautiful vision of the cosmos that is quite unique to the western idiom and, probably by virtue of its Greek influences, Islam.
The vision is something as follows - the numerical regularities the Pythagoreans detected underlying the principles of musical harmony and consonance are taken as paradigmatic for the deep structure of the cosmos as a whole, in which all things move in an endless dance, guided by an intellectually- and ontologically-pure realm of mathematics and geometry, which plays out in the concordant relationship of parts to the whole, and which may be seen in the structure of the natural world, in the and in the movement of the stars. The soul responds to images of order of this kind because they speak the soul's language, which recognizes in the structure of the cosmos an outer reflection of the inner logic of virtue and goodness, which likewise consists of an orderly comportment of all things.
This vision is not explicitly thematized by Plato in his Republic, but it forms the basis of all branches of his argument. I would submit that this vision of the harmonious interaction of parts forms the deepest aesthetic insight of the European tradition at least through the High Middle Ages, when it reached its quintessential expression in Dante's Commedia.
Now this dialog will contain something for everyone to marvel at, and just as surely something for everyone to despise. Much of its focus is upon Plato's concept of the ideal state and how to run it, and his vision will probably strike most readers as profoundly totalitarian, stunningly naive in its psychological and historical consciousness, and extremely odious.
There is entirely too much to say about the repugnance of his political vision, but one aspect that I will focus on is its bizarreness. In his analysis of the ideal state, Plato returns repeatedly and at great length to three themes which, I believe, have no particular right to the centrality he affords them. They are the importance of carefully controlling the education of children, the importance of creating a class of pure and effective guardsmen for the city, and the damage done to the state by what he identifies as the wrong kind of art, such as most types of music and "imitative poetry," the latter of which he dwells on at great length.
His concern with the education of children is psychologically interesting, as Plato's desire to carefully control what children are exposed to in order to make them into good citizens has some of the clearest resonances with odious repressive governments of our own time. In Plato's case, he believes that if we don't give children "bad examples" to take into their souls, they will not grow up to be bad people.
Of all the many classes of people he acknowledges in this dialog, the one that concerns him far more than any other viz. the welfare of his imaginary state is the watchmen - much of the architecture of the state is concocted so it will be well-protected by a strong and virtuous guard. The single-mindedness of his interest in this aspect of state is likewise psychologically instructive. Surely a strong guard is important to a city-state, but are not its ship-builders, farmers, merchants, educators, doctors, and mothers also important? To be sure, some of these receive some consideration, but at nothing like the length he affords to his guard.
Also scrutinized at bewildering length is the terrible poets with their imitative verse and stories of morally impure heroes who do things that children may not safely emulate. Here I really have to protest.
The key factor Plato analyzes in the Republic regarding social organization is justice. Now, in Plato's time, as we know from Thucydides, the people of Athens invaded the island of Melos, one of their allies, and, having killed all the men, took all the women and children as slaves. This caused a moral crisis for the Athenians that was carefully analyzed by Euripides, for example, in his "Trojan Women."
Here we have what must have been a ready-to-hand example for Plato of a state at its most unjust. Now I ask his Socrates, are you really saying the thing that we should be most concerned about, the thing that drove the slaughter and enslavement of innocent friends, was poetry?
With respect to all of these issues, both in terms of the strangeness of his conclusions and the grossly disproportionate attention Plato pays to them, I submit we have here chiefly an illustration of a fairly authoritarian psychology, which as an empirical hypothesis we can observe tends to perseverate on these same themes out of all proportion to their actual importance.
I daresay there will be something in here for everyone to love, and to hate. But Republic is an inalienable part of our intellectual heritage, and a masterwork of critical reason. It deserves to be read and re-read, for that reason if for no other. Certainly I would not call it my favorite Platonic dialog - I would sooner spend my time with Symposium, Parmenides, Timaeus, or Theaetetus....more
This short and timely book is invaluable for bringing conceptual clarity to the analysis of populism, an often murky and poorly-defined concept that seems to be having a heyday in Europe and the Americas.
In brief, Müller persuasively argues that populism has two primary features: 1) it purports to be "anti-elitist" and claims a popular mandate from a disenfranchised people, and 2) it claims unique authority to speak on behalf of "the people," which does not mean "all people," but rather "the real people," which is morally, not empirically, defined. It is therefore anti-pluralist as such, as it always seeks to marginalize and delegitimize all other points of view. It is also anti-democratic as such, as it overtly rejects the norms and mechanisms of democratic governance in favor of direct action by a specially-authorized set of representatives whose popular mandate supersedes all constraints.
This enormously useful definition and analysis of populist parties assists in answering questions such as, is Bernie Sanders properly considered a populist? (Müller says no) Can populism in fact be corrective to the limits of representation in democratic societies? (Müller again says no)
The book includes a lengthy middle chapter occupied with the question of whether populism can rightly be interpreted as a form of "illiberal democracy," which is not particularly interesting to me, and which can safely be skimmed by any other reader who is not concerned with it.
The conclusion analyzes several strategies for dealing with populists, though it should be emphasized that they are essentially analytical and conceptual strategies. One noteworthy point is that many mainstream parties have refused to engage with populists, but this backfires, because it feeds into the core populist complaint that their views are being ignored by the political elite.
This book was published in late 2016 and contains a lot of useful information about the Trump campaign. It is eerie how on-point his analysis is - I was reading this book during Trump's inaugural address, and believe that his speech should be added to future editions of this book as an appendix. It's a textbook illustration of Müller's analysis. ...more
Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" is an uneven book that is generally solid and occasionally searingly brilliant, though it is hampered by a narrownessRalph Ellison's "Invisible Man" is an uneven book that is generally solid and occasionally searingly brilliant, though it is hampered by a narrowness of vision and a derivative quality that, in my estimation, keep it from belonging to the first rank of great literature. Nonetheless, there are things I learned from this book that I very badly needed to know, and on the whole I appreciate its artistry.
There are a few words that will have to appear in any review of this novel - Bildungsroman, modernism, existentialism. Here goes.
The book is the life story of a nameless narrator who learns the ways of society and his relationship to it, particularly viz. race, and in that sense, it is a Bildungsroman. Presumably the author's intention is to hollow out the narrator to allow the reader to more easily project themselves into our protagonist's shoes - a device I found artificial, and not particularly effective.
Ellison's extravagant debt to James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist is obvious enough, even had it not been telegraphed by an overt reference to Joyce's novel. Its debt to Ulysses is perhaps less obvious - at least until the attentive reader realizes that fully a third of the book is largely a paraphrase of the Cyclops episode.
We see a great deal of Kafka and Beckett, and, I think, his use of symbolism is marked by Wagner. There is a kind of leitmotif in the way symbols and themes appear and reappear, tracing an evolution of consciousness by the gradual accumulation of meaning and reference. To some degree the lack of originality in form, style, and philosophy was a little distracting.
Our narrator begins with life at college and moves on eventually to the city - to Harlem, specifically, where he encounters the realities of the labor market, the street, and then city politics in a highly episodic progression of life lessons, all to do with his social consciousness.
The book is highly didactic and has something of the flatness of the pamphleteer - many characters are little more than stock types, who wander on stage to deliver to the reader the appropriate lesson about what certain types of people "are like," and how they fit into the racial history of America.
That kind of didacticism is always flattening, and this is one of the central limitations of the novel. Ellison's vibrant command of character, voice, and setting is in constant tension with his urge to project his action onto the allegorical stage, and to instruct us on how to understand the world. His characters are an uneasy mix of specific and general.
He likewise tends to veer between naturalistic genre writing and the occasional expressionistic scene that verges on magical realism. His plurality of styles is unevenly applied, and he does not always feel in control of the overall effect. I often felt like he never really settled on a single vision for the book, and the parts don't cohere.
Individual moments are electrifying, and his words are often captivating. The narrator's series of revelations and breakthroughs of consciousness, which often take somewhat longer to achieve than I would like, recapitulate the core tenets of existentialism - he learns about responsibility, freedom, absurdity, and the transcendence of the ego in roughly that order, as the culminations of a series of set pieces.
Sometimes Ellison produces haunting images, like when the narrator smokes marijuana and listens to Louis Armstrong, and sinks into the music like Dante sinking into Hell, with Louis guiding him like Virgil through the layers of the history of America's exploitation of blacks. Incredibly powerful stuff.
Or the lyrical interlude on the campus when the bells toll at twilight, or when the streets of Harlem are abuzz with agitation late in the novel. There are some spellbinding passages here, which only sometimes imply an overzealous use of Eliot's "Four Quartets" as a guiding principle.
There are some tedious moments as well - I was most put off by characters who are little more than caricatures, such as his union thugs or, worse, his women. His women in particular are reduced to pieces on the board, and his character has a bizarre, Calvanistic abhorrence of their sexuality, which is always depicted as enervating, cynical, and obscene. There is a long bit toward the end with a female character that was stomach turning, and I think a strong case could be made that his treatment of the feminine is not just conservative, but misogynistic. He seems to have some really weird unresolved issues here.
My principle complaint about this book is its relentless narrowness of vision. There is scarcely a single page, a single paragraph, a single reflection, character, or idea, that is not monopolized by the narrator's single-minded focus on social questions. He never connects to other people for their own sake, and never values things in themselves.
He also displays what felt to me like deep resentment - once his narrator sees through the limitations of various characters or institutions, he moves on from them with a complete lack of sympathy for their own limitations and contradictions. He didn't have a single good word to say about his university, for example, where he obviously learned so much.
Much of the book is focused on the degree to which he feels trapped and used, but I think much of that comes from his failure to develop a personality, and connect with a sense of value. I can't imagine why he bothers with the great struggle of history, when nothing in his life seems to have any meaning to him.
Obviously Ellison learned a great deal from Joyce and Eliot, but he didn't learn the cardinal lessons - especially from Joyce, from whom he should have learned that there is more to life than your work. He seems only to care about one or two hours in Leopold Bloom's long day - he seems to care nothing for love, or art, or poetry, or music, or nature, or the sky, or the beach, or sex, or family, or birth. It's all just politics and struggle.
No wonder he feels trapped in a little basement room underground, and says at one point that he feels more dead than alive - he has built no life worth living for, and it never occurs to him to do so, right through the end. ...more
Mark Frost, co-creator of the legendary psychological noir series Twin Peaks, here presents an amusing curiosity for the serious fan. The book is presMark Frost, co-creator of the legendary psychological noir series Twin Peaks, here presents an amusing curiosity for the serious fan. The book is presented as a case file given to FBI agent TP, presumably the protagonist of the forthcoming Showtime continuation of the show. The file is a collection of documents and historical records pertaining to the history of Twin Peaks and environs gathered by a character identified as the Archivist. I'll play along by not revealing their identity, though I found that withholding it detracted rather than added. I guess it's a "mystery."
The lovely-looking book presents itself as a collection of photocopied documents with a running commentary by the Archivist and occasional annotations by TP, who helpfully indicates which material is "verified" - that is, there is a great deal of material in here that is actually historical, and it is nice to know what is real.
The first major episode reconstructs exploration in the region by the Lewis and Clark expedition and grounds the mysterious "Black Lodge" a bit in an invented Native American folklore. We then see articles and documents tracing the establishment of the town of Twin Peaks, and the development of industry in the area by the families Martell, Packard, and Horne.
Then we go on something of a romp through the mainstream of 20th century conspiracy theory, tying the modest mythology of the show to everything from Roswell to the founding of Dianetics. We learn a bit more about the relationship, for example, between the town of Twin Peaks and Project Bluebook, which was alluded to at the end of the second season of the original series.
This material is of uneven interest - some of it is genuinely historically fascinating, and I was particularly edified reading about Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and their struggles with the US Army.
But the vast majority of the book was, for me at least, pretty dull stuff. Much of the book focuses on marginal characters from third-tier subplots, such as the brothers Dwayne and Doug Milford, who are inexplicably the focus of a few hundred pages of the book and are retconned far beyond recognition. I seriously doubt even any huge fans of the original series picked up this book hoping to learn more about the doddering mayor and his brother Douglas, the latter of whom had a combined screen time of about 5 minutes in the original series in a trivial story about a vamp who marries old people.
With respect to the characters who matter, there is not much here. We get more details on Hank Jennings and what went down with Packard's boat accident. There is some interesting background on Josie Packard, and anyone hungering for more details and the chronology of Big Ed's marriage to Nadine will come away happy.
The only actual revelation deals with the aftermath of the bank vault incident in the series finale - which again is retconned. Audrey's actions and motivations have been completely repurposed in way that is quite at odds with what was clearly established by the show.
In any case, as may be obvious, I am one of those huge fans of the series, and I guess this book is for people like me, but mostly I found it mildly amusing and not very interesting. We learn virtually nothing about Cooper, Gordon, Annie, Bob, MFAP, Windom Earle, Chester Desmond, Agent Jeffries, or Harry Truman - in other words, any of the really interesting characters. In its hundreds of pages I would have liked just a little bit of the mystery and magic of the series, but it neither evokes nor deals in any meaningful way with the esoteric character of the series. To me it felt primarily like fan service with the depth of a coffee table book. If you are a fan and have to get it, go ahead, it's fun enough I suppose. ...more
Excellent brief introduction to Van Gogh's life and work. I was motivated to read this after having a very positive experience with the author's alsoExcellent brief introduction to Van Gogh's life and work. I was motivated to read this after having a very positive experience with the author's also excellent introduction to Rembrandt. Bonafoux provides a readable overview of his biography supplemented by numerous quotations drawn from his letters, and amply illustrated by the artist's principle works. ...more