This book is a series of lectures reconstructed from the notes of several students who took this philosophical survey class from Merleau-Ponty in Pari...moreThis book is a series of lectures reconstructed from the notes of several students who took this philosophical survey class from Merleau-Ponty in Paris back in the 1950s. In the introduction, we learn that Michele Foucault treasured his notes, although, unfortunately they were not available for the preparation of this manuscript. For my level of philosophical sophistication, it was rough going. Being written from student's notes, it's a lot like reading Aristotle... telegraphic, concise, not fulsomely explanatory. But Jan Patocka's Body Community Language World is from student's notes and that's extraordinary. The bigger problem for me was that Merleau-Ponty in these lectures was not explicating but criticizing the work of the three philosophers in question, Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson. I am not well versed enough in these philosophers to be able to construct a coherent picture of their philosophy from a text that is essentially trying to poke holes in it. In this regard, I was particularly disappointed in the section on Biran. Merleau-Ponty is particularly sharp in his criticism and it's nearly impossible to get a beat on what exactly Biran's arguments were. The section on Malebrance is better and the one on Bergson contains some real jewels. Only worth the slog for the more sophisticated than I or for the reading masochists who will slog through damn the torpedoes. (less)
I enjoy difficult reading projects and this one got the best of me. In the main, I found it inscrutable, like reading an inside argument about an insi...moreI enjoy difficult reading projects and this one got the best of me. In the main, I found it inscrutable, like reading an inside argument about an inside argument. (less)
As a scientist, I have to say that I enjoyed D'Alembert's Dream even more than the justly famous Rameau's nephew, despite the stilted style of the dia...moreAs a scientist, I have to say that I enjoyed D'Alembert's Dream even more than the justly famous Rameau's nephew, despite the stilted style of the dialogue in D'Alembert's Dream. I'm a huge fan of Darwin and it's salutary to read works like DD to see how these ideas that he brought to their full fruit had such currency pretty long before he arrived on the scene. The discussion on the homologous tissues of the sexual organs and the other sexual issued discussed were shockingly modern. I have not proceeded to Notes on Bouganville's Voyage or any of the other writings. I will, perhaps, later. I mainly got it for Rameau's Nephew, which deserves all its praise. A rollicking trainwreck of a moral dialogue, just like it should be. (less)
Great kids book. I remember being so stoked by this series when I first read it. When later, I learned that...
... the lion was Jesus, I g...moreGreat kids book. I remember being so stoked by this series when I first read it. When later, I learned that...
... the lion was Jesus, I got a bit disappointed. I wasn't an agnostic at the time. (This was still in high school and I was quite devout.) But knowing that it was all a metaphor for Christian cosmology kind of made me recompose the entire series as a reductive literary exercise. This isn't quite fair, I'll be the first to say, but that's how I felt. (less)
Just to be clear, this is not exactly an enjoyable read. I do think it's an important book to read, especially if you're going to read the bible with...moreJust to be clear, this is not exactly an enjoyable read. I do think it's an important book to read, especially if you're going to read the bible with an eye to how the Hebrew texts borrowed literary traditions from the dominant cultures of the area. It makes it a little more fun to read when you keep in mind that the main purpose for scribes in this culture was accounting. That lets you kind of skim through the very accounting-like passages of enumeration and recording, without digging into those for any particularly clever literary device, and get to the storytelling, which mostly comes at the end as I remember. This review was written from my memory of the book from a long, long time ago, so take it with a grain of salt. (less)
I was surprised by this book. I thought it was going to be unstoppably dismal, like a Yankee Thomas Hardy, but his view of Chicago and urbanization, w...moreI was surprised by this book. I thought it was going to be unstoppably dismal, like a Yankee Thomas Hardy, but his view of Chicago and urbanization, while dark, is more grayish than black. As this story of the newly arrived urbanite getting ground down by the city got rewritten again and again, I think it became less nuanced and more stale, not the reverse. This is quite a fresh version of the story.(less)
I read this last year sometime in some electronic form or other. The slow deliberate exploration of character is amazing. Reminds me very much of the...moreI read this last year sometime in some electronic form or other. The slow deliberate exploration of character is amazing. Reminds me very much of the Kafka character in A Letter to My Father. Weak, aware of his own weakness, defiant of the culture that calls him weak, but still unable to rise above. Terrific character study.(less)
I started reading Community Body Language World by [Author: Jan Patocka], but had to take a detour into Kant and then into this before returning to it...moreI started reading Community Body Language World by [Author: Jan Patocka], but had to take a detour into Kant and then into this before returning to it. The Kant really helped set me up for understanding Patocka. And this book is a very helpful guide to his thought. The further I got into it, the more I liked it. In the introduction to Time Travels, Elizabeth Grosz says something about reading authors for what you can learn from them, not reading them and immediately starting to criticize and tear down the arguments. That sounds kind of Pollyanna, but it's more, I think, for the benefit of the reader than a kindness done to the author. Only by doing your best to make the author's case in your own mind can you really benefit from that program of thought, and Findlay constructs the strongest possible case for the reading of Patochka: His efforts to posit a foundation in the problematizing movement of life. Findlay makes Patochka seem almost Machiavellian, as in the Discourses, in his advocacy of conflict as a naturally more authentic reflection of the problematic world that we live in. Patochka makes philosophy responsible for continuing to problematize the world and politics responsible for translating that philosophy into pragmatic solutions to our everyday living. Findlay has translated certain half-finished manuscripts not available in English and really gone the extra mile to make a case for a coherent philosophical program. This defense and presentation is richly deserved by Patochka, who gets treated a bit dismissively by Derrida, in Gift of Death, and even by Patochka's principle translator, Kohac.(less)
I finally finished this book. I came to Patocka through Jacques Derrida's [Book: Gift of Death]. That lead me to Heretical Essays in the History of Ph...moreI finally finished this book. I came to Patocka through Jacques Derrida's [Book: Gift of Death]. That lead me to Heretical Essays in the History of Philosophy, which I read from the UCLA library and only just bought a copy of. There were a couple of years there where all the copies online were $100+. This book is still pretty cheap and very accessible considering it's origin story. It's a compilation of lecture notes by students of his during the one year since 1949 that Patocka was allowed to teach in the Czech university, 1968/69. The lectures start out very hopeful and end up more somber because the Soviets move in halfway through. But that's just a sideshow that you learn about at the end if you read the translators postscript. The philosophy is the star here. This is one of the most cogent, erudite philosophical treatises that I've ever read, not that I've read everybody. I did have to take a detour through Kant and read part of [Book: Caring for the Soul in a Postmodern Age: Politics and Phenomenology in the Thought of Jan Patocka] by [Author: Edward F. Findlay] and come back to really understand it. But don't let that intimidate you. I don't pretend to understand much of what I read in philosophy. I wait for the ah ha moments afforded and enjoy those and Patocka will give you many moments where you just smack your forehead and say, "Oh, that's how the world works! Right! How did I not think of that?!" Just one example and I'll leave this very worthy book to your own perusal. On page 105, Patocka explains that people exist in a state of understanding. Not that we do understand things, just that we approach the world as if we understand it. I work in factories, for instance, and most people do things in a way handed down to them that wasn't very well explained. But if you ask people why they are doing something in a particular way, they will readily offer some folk explanation that they have come up with. Most of this world is inscrutable. Anyone familiar with the basis of scientific knowledge understands that there are always more questions than answers, however, if asked to provide an explanation for how things work, I would come up with one. In my day-to-day, I exist in the consciousness that I pretty well understand how things work, not in perpetual consciousness that I don't in any way understand it. Anyhow, that's just a taste. Quite brilliant. Do pick it up.(less)
This is the final masterwork of a Czech philosopher who was the mentor of Vaclev Havel. He and Havel were arrested together in 1977. Havel survived th...moreThis is the final masterwork of a Czech philosopher who was the mentor of Vaclev Havel. He and Havel were arrested together in 1977. Havel survived the interrogation while Patocka was beaten to death. These six short essays are a real powerhouse. In the first three, he explores the idea of meaning and how we create meaning in our lives. How in prehistory, meaning was naively accepted through myth and religion, but then people rise above subsistence, feel their free time, wander away from the naive belief in the myths they have been given and so history begins and the need to create meaning comes with it. The polis becomes the center-piece of the western solution to the creation of meaning. Meaning and history can only be created by a free people. The last three essays are a virtuosic review of these concepts of history and meaning as played out across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His analysis of WWI and II in the sixth essay are particularly brilliant.
I'll paste below some quotes that I found particularly edifying:
P44 The point of history is not what can be uprooted or shaken, but rather the openness to the shaking.
P46 Heidegger's concept is historical... In rejecting the disinterested spectator as a presupposition of phenomenologizing. Instead, it focuses on an interest in being as the starting point and the condition for understanding deep phenomena. [As in the study of sexuality, one must start from a personal sexual being. The very idea of having an objective view of sexuality is absurdist.:]
For Heidegger, phenomenology is not a content but a method, the name for an investigation which bases all it's claims on direct manifestation and demonstration.
P 47 That is precisely the meaning of the formula that humans in their being are concerned with their being. Their own being is given to them as a responsibility, not as a curiosity. Humans have to carry on their being, carry it out, and they are depending on whether they accept this task or seek to ease it, escaping from it and hiding it from themselves.
P 56 As long as value is understood as an eternal spring of meaningfulness, Idea, or God as that which bestows meaning on things, human acts, and events, it remains possible to interpret the experience of the loss of meaning as a flaw not in that which bestows meaning but of that on which it is bestowed. That is an advantage which represents a barrier against the nihilism of meaning.
p 63 Just as in acting politically humans expose themselves to the problematic nature of action whose consequences are unpredictable and whose initiative soon passes into other hands, so in philosophy humans expose themselves to the problematic being and meaning of what there is.
p 65 From the moment that the perishing of the polis had already been decided, philosophy transformed itself into what was to be its image for millennia, transforming itself into metaphysics in Plato and Democritus, into metaphysics in two modes, from above and from below, a metaphysics of the logos and the Idea on the one hand, a metaphysics of things in their sheet thinghood on the other, both pretending to a definitive clarity and a definitive explanation of things, both grounded in that model of clarity represented by the discovery of mathematics, that germ of the future transformation of philosophy into a science.
[math represents:] the theme of truth seen once and for all time, precisely and by anyone under any circumstances.
p 72 [Science sees in nature:] only an arbitrarily usable reservoir of potencies and powers.
p 87 ...the United States was America europeanized while postrevolutionary Europe was Europe americanized.
p 110 The distancing of humans from"nature," which is no longer the locus of being human but rather something from which humanss are separated by their unique unmediated relation, their relation to God, now enables them to percieve this "nature as an "object."
p 111 That capitalism quickly sheds the constraints of its religious impetus and allies itself fundamentally with a superficial modern rationalism, estranged from any personal and moral vocation. It comes to be characterized by an immensely successful mathematical formalism. It's most successful as it focuses on a mastery of nature, of movement, and of force.
p 113 The more modern technoscience asserts itself as the true relation to what-is, the more it draws everything natural and then even everything human into its orbit, the more the ageless traditions of balancing the authentic and the captivating are set aside and condemned as unrealistic, untrustworthy and fantastic, the more cruel will the revenge of the orgiastic fervor be. It makes itself felt already in the "wars of liberation" and the revolutionary crises of the nineteenth century.
p 115 That humans, unlike all other animals, build dwelling, because they are not at home in the world,, because they lean out of the world and for that reason are charged with a calling within and towards it, anchored in deep layers of the past which have not passed as long as they live on in them--all that vanishes in the face of modern voluntary and enforced mobility, the gigantic migrations which by now affect nearly all the continents.
p 121 The shared idea in the background of the first world war was the slowly germinating conviction that there is nothing such as a factual, objective meaning of the world and of things, and tat it is up to strength and power to create such meaning within the realm accessible to humans.
p 124 [The first world war:] demonstrated that the transformation of the world into a laboratory for releasing reserves of energy accumulated over billions of years can be achieved only by means of wars.
p 130 Peace transformed into a will to war could objectify and externalize humans as long as they were ruled by the day, by the hope of everydayness, of a profession, of a career, simply possibilities for which they must fear and which feel threatened.
p 131 [In war:] the topographic character of the landscape changes so that abruptly there is an end to it and the ruins no longer are what they had been, villages and so on, but have become what they can be at the given moment, shelters and reference points, so the landscape of life's fundamental meanings had been transformed, it has acquired an end beyond which there can be nothing further, higher, more desirable.
p 134 How can the "front-line" experience acquire the form which would make it a factor of history?
p 136 To shake the everydayness of the fact-crunchers and routine minds, to make them aware that their place is on the side of the front and not on the side of even the most pleasing slogans of the day, which in reality call to war, whether they invoke the nation, the state, classless society, world unity, or whatever other appeals, discreditable and discredited by the factual ruthlessness of the Force, there may be.
p 144/145 Here it turns out that not only existence but even the form and content of consciousness are determined by something deeper--their social being.
p 148 [Religion and power are:] the source of empires, but not of politics which is possible only with the conception of bestowing meaning on life out of freedom and for it, and that, as Hegel said, cannot be brought about by a solitary one (a ruler, the pharaoh) being "conscious of freedom." Humans can be that only in a community of equals. For that reason, the beginning of history in the strict sense is the polis.
p 159 [Here is a comment by the editor, Kohák, who likes Husserl, Masaryk and Ricoeur.:] I remain convinced that the categories of good and evil cannot be reduced to categories of mundane and sacred or authentic and ordinary. However I have become convinced that the categories of good and evil--the moral enlightenment of a Comenius crossed with American personalism, Schweitzer's respect for life and Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic--become legitimate once they have fully confronted and transcended the vision of the cosmic night of which the dark romantic philosophers speak. (less)
I enjoyed this as much as I did The Professor and the Madman. As an autodidact, I love the work of men like William Smith, the father of geology, bein...moreI enjoyed this as much as I did The Professor and the Madman. As an autodidact, I love the work of men like William Smith, the father of geology, being celebrated. He's the guy who figured out the idea that the rocks and sediments of the world were deposited in regular strata which could be identified by the fossils found inside the layers. He was a self-educated canal surveyor who worked for 14 years to make the first geological survey map of England, which was the first geological survey map of anywhere. Smith made the map to popularize and disseminate his discovery of the stratification of the earth. It was plagiarized by the aristocrats who ran the geological society and only twenty years later, six years before his death, did he receive his due. An amazing story of the essential step that lead to Darwin and our understanding of the earth.(less)
I suppose what disappointed me about this book was that the writer rammed a three-act structure in the story. He raised the stakes and brought charact...moreI suppose what disappointed me about this book was that the writer rammed a three-act structure in the story. He raised the stakes and brought characters back for a super-tight series of coincidences and did everything but write the screenplay. I could really feel the committee of the writing class airing their complaints and suggestions. Disappointing dilution of what was really a great seed of a story and was still terrific in a lot of ways. (less)
I read this book either immediately before or immediately after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I liked this book very much. The concept of...moreI read this book either immediately before or immediately after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I liked this book very much. The concept of relaxed attention was interesting to me. I remember that for the whole semester after reading this, I would hold books and papers and bags with the minimal amount of force needed to keep them from falling out of my hands, just like the archer should hold the bowstring with the minimal amount of force, waiting for the moment of effortless release.(less)