I sucked dick In exchange For a free Copy of HST Quarterly. No honest Review was Required. Arthur said It was great, Anyway.
Well-Bred Poets KnitFull Disclosure
I sucked dick In exchange For a free Copy of HST Quarterly. No honest Review was Required. Arthur said It was great, Anyway.
Well-Bred Poets Knitting Circle
Dare I say it, my only qualm with this book is that it wasn't horrible, sleazy or trashy enough. To my untrained eye, it actually stands as a collection of reasonably good contemporary poetry. To the extent that occasionally so-called objective standards might lapse, it's usually compensated for by a sense of humour or (self-) parody (i.e., it's fun!). The book is both well laid and well laid out. The whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. I enjoyed the whole and much more than some of the parts. It made me want to pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs and read more HST poetry. I can't wait for the next quarterly to come! Hopefully, one more swallow will make a spring of good reading....more
The three protagonists of this 1969 novel "moved disinterestedly in the floating world centred loosely upon the art school, the universiBristol Gothic
The three protagonists of this 1969 novel "moved disinterestedly in the floating world centred loosely upon the art school, the university and the second-hand trade and made their impermanent homes in the sloping, terraced hillside where the Irish, the West Indians and the more adventurous of the students lived in old, decaying houses where rents were low."
We aren't expressly told the name of the city, although Angela Carter refers to it as "provincial" and it's generally believed to be Bristol (where Carter was living at the time).
Like the psychiatric hospital in which Annabel ("the mad girl") eventually finds herself, their flat is in a Gothic "house [that] was built in the Age of Reason but now it has become a Fool's Tower."
And so we have the set-up of a Gothic novel that charts the decline and fall of 60's English counterculture.
Annabel starts off as a middle class virgin, "a sparse, grotesquely elegant, attenuated girl"...whose "movements were spiky, angular, and graceful" (she actually sounds more proto-punk than hippy to me). She's determined not to be "common" (like her parents) and jealously guards her privacy. She rarely speaks or reveals anything about her psyche. For all her secretive introversion and lack of energy, she's still incredibly self-centred (she thinks of herself as the "helpless pivot of the entire universe as if sun, moon, stars and all the hosts of the sky span round upon herself, their volitionless axle.")
Liberty for Lee
When her parents discover that she's living with Lee, they force them to get married, even though they don't think his prospects are good (being a school teacher from a modest working class background).
Neither is particularly committed to marriage, especially Lee:
"Lee expressed a desire for freedom; in the last years of his adolescence, freedom was his grand passion and a principal condition of freedom, it seemed to him, was lack of possessions.
"He also remained cool and detached in his dealings with women for freedom from responsibilities was another prerequisite of this state. So his sentimentality found expression in the pursuit of a metaphysical concept of liberty."
Mythic Flicker Book
Annabel is little better:
"She saw, in everyday things, a world of mythic, fearful shapes of whose existence she was convinced although she never spoke of it to anyone; nor had she ever suspected that everyday, sensuous human practice might shape the real world. When she did discover that such a thing was possible, it proved the beginning of the end for her for how could she possess any notion of the ordinary?"
This mythic world is one of her own construction, not one imposed on her by culture, society or the outside world. It's a product of her own imagination, which can produce both dreams and nightmares:
"I don't know from one minute to the next what it is that exists for her, it's like a flicker book."
We learn little of the physicality of the relationship. It matters not to Annabel, who's more concerned with her own mythic world. Meanwhile, Lee indulges in a number of extramarital affairs in a quest for simple pleasures.
Carter alerts us in the first paragraph to the fact that a catastrophe is coming, and come it does.
As if the chemistry between Annabel and Lee isn't explosive enough, they share their flat with Lee's brother, Buzz, a photographer who reeks of "incense and chemicals."
Inevitably, there is a greater psychic rapport between Annabel and Buzz: "Your brother seems to take your wife's fantasies for granted, as if they were real."
Even then, the relationship is a shadowy diffuse one of surface and surface:
"Everything is subtly out of alignment. Shadows fall awry and light no longer issues from expected sources...
"They represented, now, a fissure of tiny cracks in her scrupulous imaginary edifice."
This is a world of diffused dreariness that has started to disintegrate. Nothing purports to hold it together:
"...though she did not long for him, she waited for his physical return with a certain irritation that it was delayed so long.
"On the other hand, he might return to her in some other shape. Sometimes she thought of him as a mean, black fox and sometimes as a metamorphic thing that could slip in and out of any form he chose..."
The disintegration of their shared world is reflected in Carter's mode of story-telling. She gives us a kaleidoscopic perspective on an emotional labyrinth:
"There is a condition of shared or, rather, mutually stimulated psychotic disorder known as 'folie a deux'...
"In time, the principal actors (the wife, the brothers, the mistress) assembled a coherent narrative from these images but each interpreted them differently and drew their own conclusions which were all quite dissimilar for each told himself the story as if he were the hero except for Lee who, by common choice, found himself the villain."
And so it is that Angela Carter creates a contemporary myth that reveals how the Gothic mansion of the sixties became a Fool's Tower. Things ain't what they're supposed to be. This ain't the Summer of Love! But it is the aftermath.
This 1884 novel is a wonderful assemblage of prescient and decadent rants.
Something Huysmans says of another book of rantsDecadent Rants and Harangues
This 1884 novel is a wonderful assemblage of prescient and decadent rants.
Something Huysmans says of another book of rants could apply equally to his own work:
"Conceived as harangues, they contained a certain strong muscular energy and were astonishing in the intolerance of their convictions."
Scoundrels and Imbeciles
Jean Des Esseintes (I'll call him Des E for short) fills his life with literature, art, music, furniture, jewelry, flowers, perfumes, food and liquor.
His journey started as a child:
"Immersed in solitude, he would dream or read far into the night."
Educated by Jesuits, he acquires a "bold and independent spirit".
He grows to scorn his fellow man:
"His contempt for humanity deepened. He reached the conclusion that the world, for the most part, was composed of scoundrels and imbeciles...Already, he was dreaming of a refined solitude, a comfortable desert, a motionless ark in which to seek refuge from the unending deluge of human stupidity."
Des E the Eccentric Dandy
Des E's taste is anything but mainstream, even if he's familiar with it. The thing is he has consumed enough to know what he doesn't like and to be able to discriminate.
He becomes an eccentric dandy. Huysmans writes about the sensuous with a style that has both an economy and a sensuality of its own:
"Out of black-edged plates they had drunk turtle soup and eaten Russian rye bread, ripe Turkish olives, caviar, smoked Frankfort black pudding, game with sauces that were the color of licorice and blacking, truffle gravy, chocolate cream, puddings, nectarines, grape preserves, mulberries and black-heart cherries; they had sipped, out of dark glasses, wines from Limagne, Roussillon, Tenedos, Val de Penas and Porto, and after the coffee and walnut brandy had partaken of kvas and porter and stout."
Whatever we might think of Des E, that's a meal I'd love to have shared with him!
Artifice against Nature
One consequence of Des E's lifestyle is that, the more he discriminates, the more he moves away from other people, until eventually he lives an almost hermit-like existence on the outskirts of Paris, surrounded only by the objets of his own immaculate taste and artifice. It's almost as if his subjectivism has become a form of solipsism.
His aesthetic opposes the artificial against nature. It elevates the dreamlike above the realistic, fantasy above naturalism:
"The secret lies in knowing how to proceed, how to concentrate deeply enough to produce the hallucination and succeed in substituting the dream reality for the reality itself. Artifice, besides, seemed to Des Esseintes the final distinctive mark of man's genius...Nature had had her day...Really, what dullness!...There is not one of her inventions, no matter how subtle or imposing it may be, which human genius cannot create..."
Gustave Moreau - Study of Salome for "Salome Dancing before Herod"
The Consoling Beacons of Ancient Faith
90% of the novel documents Des E's taste. We learn exactly what he likes and what he dislikes. From a literary point of view, you could assemble from the details of his library a reading list more erudite and filled with "the consoling beacons of ancient faith" than anything compiled by den Grossenlistengenerator Steven Moore (view spoiler)[(it's telling that it could be said, even then, as now, that the compilers of such lists (like the work of one of Des E's idols, Ernest Hello) have often "affected inordinate pretensions of profundity. There were some fawning and complacent people who pretended to consider him a great man, the reservoir of learning, the encyclopedic giant of the age. Perhaps he was a well, but one at whose bottom one often could not find a drop of water.")(hide spoiler)]
Nevertheless, the choice of books for his "breviary of decadence" compounds a sense of what can only be described as narcissism:
"...they lifted him far above this trivial life which wearied him so. In them he entered into a perfect communion of ideas with their authors who had written them when their state of soul was analogous to his own."
The Cowardly and the Servile
Inevitably, it seems, the last 10% of the novel witnesses his rapid decline in health. It's almost as if his discrimination is the cause of a social illness, his individualism the cause of a quasi-syphilitic social disease, and he must return to bourgeois Paris, the Church and its conformist flock, in order to cure his hallucinations, nightmares, melancholia, and ennui.
Towards the end, Des E proclaims, "I am certainly on the road to recovery."
Yet, as in many cases of mental illness, recovery comes at the cost of authenticity and individualism:
"...nowadays, nothing genuine exists, since the wine one drinks and the liberty one boldly proclaims are laughable and a sham...For what could [I] hope, if not new disillusionments...?
"To think that all this is not a dream, to think that I am going to return into the cowardly and servile crowd of this century!"
The Consolation of Long Forgotten Books
How little has changed! Maybe we, too, are in need of the "consoling beacons of ancient faith" contained in long forgotten books.
Only, Huysmans leaves us with a scintilla of doubt as to whether these very books are not the cure, but a cause, of Des E's dissolute condition.
Still, I'm confident they contain more tonic than virus.
Huysmans' 1903 Postscript/Preface
"As result of this brief review of each of the special articles exhibited in the show-cases of 'Against the Grain' the conclusion is forced upon us - the book was priming for my Catholic propaganda, which is implicit in it in its entirety, though in embryo...
"In all this hurly-burly, a single writer alone saw clear, Barbey d'Aurévilly, who... wrote:-
"'After such a book, it only remains for the author to choose between the muzzle of a pistol [and] the foot of the cross.'
"The choice has been made."
[Huysmans converted (or reverted) to Catholicism in 1892.]
YO, DES E!
"Yo, this is Des E, don't call me with any guest list requests, that ain't my department. Anything else, leave a message."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's rumoured that Luke disappeared and sought refuge at Hogwarts after the final destruction of the new Jedi Academy and before he went in search of the First Jedi Temple. Luke had a small role in the Battle of Hogwarts (credited as Darth Vadermortson), in which he exchanged his lightsaber for a wand. It's anticipated that he will return in Episode VIII.
Only a small part of my reading this year consisted of books published in 2015.
It was a year of playing catch up: like most GoodWHAT I READ THIS YEAR:
Only a small part of my reading this year consisted of books published in 2015.
It was a year of playing catch up: like most GoodReaders, my to be read list expands at a rate significantly greater than my read list. I decided I should read some of the old ones before I bought (too m)any more new ones:
The first books I owned as a child were an encyclopaedia, a dictionary, a compilation of Greek and Latin roots, and an atlas. Much later I would acquire a thesaurus and an etymological dictionary.
The atlas inspired me to go forth into the material world, the others into the world of language, and all to explore and find myself and others.
My first experience of fiction was reading Biggles, Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens, the latter in a beautiful leather-bound set featuring marbled endpapers.
This year was split between two reading projects (literary fiction and philosophy) I started in 2012.
In a way, they continued and updated my reading interests from uni: literature and political philosophy (at the intersection of which was an interest in aesthetics).
I've always been a dyed in the wool advocate of Modernism (including its Post-Modernist tributary, even if I don't agree that it is a separate stream). You could always find me around the Picador stand at bookshops. My current reading is trying to update me on later works of authors I had enjoyed, new voices and authors who've been influenced by my favourites.
Continental philosophy is the focus of my second project, much of it being published in English after I finished uni.
GoodReads as Virtual Magazine
As a music fan, I've long been a fan of the quality of knowledge and criticism contained in the All Music Guide (though, regrettably, for every album, there is usually only one great and insightful review).
I hoped that GoodReads could somehow replicate the All Music Guide (only with more contributors per book) and that a GoodReads update would be like reading a virtual magazine. It hasn't always lived up to my expectations (not everybody aspires to criticism, even if they write fluently and intelligently). Still, there is some fantastic criticism, the equal of professional critics, particularly when it's not driven by a purely promotional agenda or ideology.
The Serendipitous Discovery of a Book via an Old Review
My reviews are just personal opinions or impressions upon which, perchance, a curious reader might stumble when one day they investigate a book I might have read, even if it's years later. They aspire to be nothing more than the first step in a serendipity, an invitation to read a book whose lepidopterous pleasures I tried to capture, document and preserve in my review.
The following books and authors stood out for me, for whatever reason.
The Most Deeply Buried Book by a Woman Writer of Note Award
His excesses hint at where our minds could have gone together. If only his was still functioning, we might learn that the Great American Novel (if there is such a thing) will probably be written in the Other America. The United States, like its inhabitants, is no longer representative nor symbolic of our world, if it ever was. It clings desperately to empire and imperiousness, when we probably need a little more humility.
The Best Use of Dialogue in Post-Modern Fiction Award
The Most Unwarranted, Outdated & Overbloated Reputation as the Greatest Sentencemeister in the Universe Award
William H. Gass
Gass' facility with sentences has diminished markedly since "Omensetter's Luck ", but the same tired accolade gets rolled out by his five-starrers. The truth is, his prose has become as banal and mundane as the anger that preoccupies him. Perhaps it's true that, without Gass, there would be no Vollmann. If only David Foster Wallace were still alive and well, to convince us that there could be something better.
The Best Post-Modern Imitation of a Seventeenth Century Novel Award
I invite you to enter Theroux' world for reasons other than length.
This Generation's Norman Mailer Award
William T. Vollmann
In a world increasingly marked by aspiration, it's perhaps inevitable that a writer is lauded by his five-starrers for ambition rather than achievement. It would be great to see him realise his potential, but I fear his gargantuan ego and self-definition will forever remain in the way. For all the talk about empathy, I don't think he has ever written about a human relationship that was functional, mutual or happy. Nor, then, I suppose, has Gass or Franzen. But Gaddis, Pynchon and Bolano have.
I returned here after 40 years. Both the work and my ability to appreciate it had improved. English Modernism claimed by Post-Modernism.
The Author Most Frequently Lauded as the Best Author of Any Generation Whenever Wherever Whatever Award
He is very good most of the time, but not that good. Once upon a time, comparative judgements revealed some knowledge, not just of the writer who was being elevated, but of the writers with whom they were being compared. Now, it's the opinion that counts, the louder and more imperious the better.
Borges worked out early that the universe consists of lots of small things (some of them being books that act like a portal into biggger or universal things). Perhaps that makes him the God of small things?
The (Post-Modern) Runt of the Litter Award
More polite than the rest of the tenured loudmouths. Presumably an effective teacher as a result.
The Biggest and Most Blatant Philosophical Suck-Up to a Fascist Regime Award
Largely overlooked by those keen to pedestalise Heidegger. It's not that Sartre misunderstood Heidegger, he just disagreed with him. It's interesting to compare Sartre's dalliance with communism with Heidegger's embrace of Nazism. Sartre never surrendered his individuality. Like Hegel before him, Heidegger was subsumed into the Absolute.
The Artist Whose Middle Name is Formally Known as Prince Award
Joseph Prince McElroy
THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY: [Expressions Added in 2015]
Typing characters in an online form for the purpose of being liked by other readers.
A capsule review that talks up a five star book in the hope it will one day appear on the back cover.
The creation of a list from which readers infer the lister has an intimate knowledge of its subject matter.
An enhanced version of listing, but with numbers placed in the list in ascending arithmetical order, so that readers infer that considerable judgment has been applied to the composition of the list.
An expression of agreement with the author of a review who has captured your thoughts about a book exactly, even though you hadn't thought about it or written a review.
An expression of agreement with the author of a comment in a thread, which you're prevented from liking by the fascist design of the GoodReads website (ostensibly because "the sound effects would drown out the utterance of lips", to paraphrase the judge with the clammy handshake).
Liking only those reviews that vindicate your own opinion.
Writing a long adjectival and effusive review of a friend's review in their review thread.
Liking a review that consists of no more than a star rating.
Liking an unfinished review, so you don't have to return and read/like it when it's finished (and longer).
Bookmarking a long review so that you have something to read offline on a desert island with no books. Also, telling the reviewer you have bookmarked their review, so that they don't feel bad you haven't read it.
A reader who likes your reviews or nods in agreement with your every comment. Also, a reader whose reviews you like and with whose comments you agree, in the hope they will reciprocate.
A reader who is afraid to like your reviews.
A "friend" who doesn't like your reviews all the time.
Not engaging with another reader, unless they like your reviews or nod in agreement with your every comment.
Commenting adversely on readers you purport to ignore, in your update or Twitter feed.
Preventing another reader having access to your profile, so their ignorance won't be alleviated by your supreme wisdom.
Group Book Discussion
A book club in which you can read and write about a book without having to read or review it, let alone turn up and eat cheese.
The Buried Book Club
A book club that encourages you to place books you've never heard of on a list of books you'll never read.
Any one of 1.3 million books you've never heard of. Often blamed on the Evil Canon or a massive publishing and promotional conspiracy to confine the number of books purchased (and therefore on our read and to be read lists) to any of the top 5,000 books they currently have in print or are trying to flog to us.
The act of publishing, promoting, purchasing, reading or reviewing a book that is not on a Buried Book List, the consequence of which is that a book deemed more worthy is buried.
The act of unearthing or exhuming a book you'd never heard of and placing it on top of the books you've already bought in your to be read pile. AKA flogging a dead book, or flogging a buried book.
The act of purchasing an unearthed or exhumed book and proceeding not to read or review it.
To Be Read List
A fashion accessory that allows you to define yourself not by what you are or have read or written, but by what you could be if you lived in a parallel world where you had enough money and time to read what you aspired to.
A photograph of your bookshelf.
Any book on your read or to be read list that you've five-starred.
The act of ordaining or canonising an author as a five star author, as a result of which every book they have ever written or will ever write must be rated five stars.
An expression of frustration with the fascist GoodReads five star rating system by which you award your own ratings on the basis of ever decreasing and more sophisticated fractional star ratings.
Constructing a family-like web of support around a five-starred author.
Conducting an interview with a five-starred writer in which the focus is primarily on the interpretation of the interviewer, and the interviewee is restricted to agreement because of the level of inordinate flattery.
Being interviewed by Michael Silverblatt.
Finding and circulating any reference to William Gaddis in the media.
Creating a list (why stop at 50?) of your favourite sentences by a five-starred author.
I first encountered the 17th century philosopher Hugo Grotius in 1978, when I briefly studied the international law and polRegime Change, 1970's Style
I first encountered the 17th century philosopher Hugo Grotius in 1978, when I briefly studied the international law and political philosophy with respect to unilateral declarations of independence (UDI's) and what has since become known as "regime change".
There was a UDI on 11 November, 1965 in Rhodesia. Soon after, legal cases started to emerge in which there were jurisdictional issues about what government, what courts and what laws were applicable immediately after the declaration.
I was particularly interested in these issues, because exactly ten years later on 11 November, 1975 (towards the end of my first year at university in Canberra) Australia experienced its own version of an extra-parliamentary regime change, in which Malcolm Fraser replaced Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister, after his dismissal by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. (I had dinner with Gough and a number of other students in October, when he was quite bullish about his prospects of enduring the crisis.)
Many speculated (and still speculate) that there was some CIA involvement in the regime change. There was a precedent. Two years earlier in Chile, President Salvador Allende was ousted in a coup d'état staged with CIA support.
The CIA has subsequently been complicit in coups in Honduras and Venezuela, amongst many others.
De Facto Control
Coups have become part of contemporary Realpolitik.
Following any coup d'état, there is always a question with respect to the legitimacy of the new government.
Theoretically, there is a distinction between "de jure" and "de facto" control of a state.
Historically, the concept of de jure control reflected the reliance of the concept of sovereignty on the divine as the source of legitimate power and authority. If the new government doesn't derive its power from this source, it cannot be legitimate. The original government remains de jure.
However, as recent events such as these showed, de jure control means nothing in the absence of de facto control.
There inevitably comes a point when de facto control manifests itself as de jure control.
The old government can only pretend it's in control and still legitimate for so long.
Now, arguably, a coup d'état just needs to survive to become legitimate.
These arguments are influenced by the thinking of Grotius, who created a learned moral calculus of war and peace in 1625.
GROTIUS' MORAL CALCULUS OF WAR AND PEACE:
What is War?
Cicero styled war a contention by force.
What Constitutes the Justice of War?
Any thing is unjust, which is repugnant to the nature of society, established among rational creatures. Thus for instance, to deprive another of what belongs to him, merely for one’s own advantage, is repugnant to the law of nature.
Florentinus, the Lawyer, maintains that is impious for one man to form designs against another, as nature has established a degree of kindred amongst us. On this subject, Seneca remarks that, as all the members of the human body agree among themselves, because the preservation of each conduces to the welfare of the whole, so men should forbear from mutual injuries, as they were born for society, which cannot subsist unless all the parts of it are defended by mutual forbearance and good will.
Natural right is the dictate of right reason, shewing the moral turpitude, or moral necessity, of any act from its agreement or disagreement with a rational nature, and consequently that such an act is either forbidden or commanded by God, the author of nature.
The civil right is that which is derived from the civil power. The civil power is the sovereign power of the state.
The Law of Nations
But the law of nations is a more extensive right, deriving its authority from the consent of all, or at least of many nations.
War Between Sovereign Powers
No war is considered to be lawful, regular, and formal, except that which is begun and carried on by the sovereign power of each country.
Declarations of War
To make a war just, according to this meaning, it must not only be carried on by the sovereign authority on both sides, but it must also be duly and formally declared, and declared in such a manner, as to be known to each of the belligerent powers.
The Sovereign’s Subjects
A declaration of war, made against a sovereign, includes not only his own subjects, but all who are likely to become his associates, as thereby they make themselves accessories in the war.
Just Causes of War
The justifiable causes generally assigned for war are three, defence, indemnity, and punishment.
Means of War
Wars, for the attainment of their objects, it cannot be denied, must employ force and terror as their most proper agents.
Alternatives to War
There are three methods, by which independent nations may settle their disputed rights without coming to the decision of the sword.
The first method is that of conference.
The other method is that of compromise, which takes place between those, who have no common judge.
A third method of terminating disputes, without hostilities, was by lot.
Nearly related to the last named method is that of single combat, a practice recommended under the idea that by the risque of two lives a quarrel might be decided, which would otherwise have cost the blood of thousands.
Destruction and Rapine
War “will authorise mutual acts of destruction and rapine.”
The annoyance of an enemy, either in his person or property, is lawful.
This right extends not only to the power engaged in a just war, and who in her hostilities confines herself within the practice established by the law of nature, but each side without distinction has a right to employ the same means of annoyance.
Killing an Enemy
To kill a public enemy, or an enemy in war is no murder.
The persons of natural-born subjects, who owe permanent allegiance to a hostile power may, according to the law of nations, be attacked, or seized, wherever they are found.
Even women and children are frequently subject to the calamities and disasters of war.
There is nothing repugnant to the law of nature in spoiling the effects of an enemy, whom by the same law we are authorized to kill.
Nor does the law of nations, in itself, considered apart from other duties, which will be mentioned hereafter, make any exemption in favour of things deemed sacred.
Conquest of Lands
Lands are not understood to become a lawful possession and absolute conquest from the moment they are invaded. For although it is true, that an army takes immediate and violent possession of the country which it has invaded, yet that can only be considered as a temporary possession, unaccompanied with any of the rights and consequences alluded to in this work, till it has been ratified and secured by some durable means, by cession, or treaty.
Now land will be considered as completely conquered, when it is inclosed or secured by permanent fortifications, so that no other state or sovereign can have free access to it, without first making themselves masters of those fortifications.
After a place has surrendered, and there is no danger to be apprehended from the prisoners, there is nothing to justify the further effusion of blood.
UNITED NATIONS CHARTER
Article 2 (4)
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Article 2 (7)
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state...
The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.
Grotius analysed war from the point of natural law, rational laws that didn't necessarily have to derive their authority from divine law.
Much of his analysis is relevant to issues that confront us today in Syria:
* on what basis can one state start a war against another?
* must a war be based on a just cause?
* what is a just cause?
* must there be a formal declaration of war?
* if there is effectively a civil war in the other nation, which party is in control and has sovereign power?
* can you attack an opposition or rebel group without compromising the sovereignty of the legitimate government?
* do you need the consent of the sovereign government to attack a rebel group on its territory?
* if the opposition or rebel group is in de facto control of a particular area within the territory, does it become a government or state in its own right?
* does this allow another state to attack that group without the consent of the legitimate government, even if that government wishes to regain control of that territory?
* how are these concepts of natural law affected by the United Nations Charter?
* does the resolution of the UN Security Council about ISIS expressly or implicitly condone military action?
* is the motive of ousting the Assad regime an act of war? Does it make the intervention an unjust war insofar as it concerns the Assad regime (as opposed to ISIL)?
Mourning Becomes the War, Mourning Becomes the Law
...so now, the West is at war. We're at war...
Well, of course we're at war, even if we haven't formally declared it yet (so that we must comply with the laws of warfare). We haven't stopped being at war since the beginning of the twentieth century (or was it the nineteenth century?)...
One of the problems is that recently we've got used to fighting wars with technology: planes, drones, no men on the ground, except perhaps proxy combatants...
We're used to fighting the Other, but more importantly, we've got used to fighting the Other Elsewhere.
During the First and Second World Wars, we experienced war on our own territory, in our own streets, in our own neighbourhoods, close to our own homes.
The Other still experiences this Elsewhere, only the Other has decided to bring our war on its territory to our neighbourhood.
The moment war emerged from the trenches and from being fought by professional combatants, the real victims of a decision to declare war have been the innocents, the civilians.
Whether or not these innocents sympathise with the combatants, they don't deserve death or injury or destruction or involvement, not on their territory, nor on ours. They don't deserve to be collateral damage.
We should grieve for the innocent victims of war, wherever they suffer, whoever they sympathise with.
We have forgotten what it means to suffer on our own territory, what it means to be shot and killed by a ricocheting bullet while at a desk in our own home.
The Other who suffers Elsewhere has decided it is time to bring the experience of war, the experience of suffering to our neighbourhood.
This is what war has become, this is what war is like. We can't hide, as if innocent, behind technology and proxy combatants and mere training and supply of armaments to opposition or rebel groups.
We can't continue to manufacture and supply the weapons of war and feign innocence.
If we are at war, we are guilty of being at war.
We have to acknowledge that, if we participate in a war, anywhere, that war will be brought home to us, onto our territory, adjacent to our terraces, outside our cafes and bars, close to our homes, no matter how secure our borders.
This is the way wars will be fought in the 21st century. Not on computers alone.
People suffer, values are implicitly attacked. Ours as well as theirs.
For whom do we grieve? Only our innocents? Or their innocents as well?
How little do we ask why this war is being fought at all.
We are no more civilised than where and how and why we fight our wars.
SOUNDTRACK: [For Those who Danced Too Briefly to the Music of Time]
Let them have their Caliphate, their state, their culture, their economy (even if it ceases to be a market for our economies). Let us respect their sovereignty, their borders, their independence, their difference. Let's stand silent at the border, and welcome anyone who wants to cross to our side and live and love and dance in our neighbourhood.
"Pseud's Corner" is a long-running column in the UK magazine "Private Eye" that digests examples of pompous, pretentious aPseuds Espied by Private Eye
"Pseud's Corner" is a long-running column in the UK magazine "Private Eye" that digests examples of pompous, pretentious and pseudo-intellectual writing in the media, literature and academia, usually spotted and submitted by its readers.
Although many of the targets are offended by the inclusion of their writing, some strive for the cachet of an appearance.
Barry Humphries admits that he has submitted examples of his own work under a pseudonym on numerous occasions, but never earned publication.
With the increasing focus on brand development, there's more and more pseudery in advertising and marketing.
Here's a recent example from the business section:
Untouched by the Reminessence, Dear
Re-reading these extracts from the period up to 1973, they didn't seem to be that unusual or as amusing as I recalled them.
There are three possible explanations. One, that more and more people write like this nowadays and it no longer stands out. Maybe the column and this book have been mistaken for a style guide?
Two, the examples are so terrible that we assume that the writers must have been ironic?
Or three, perhaps, dog forbid, I now write like this, even without trying.
Paragons of Divine Exemplarism
But best to leave you with some examples from 1973:
"[A chair] is a philosophical dichotomy: required to be positive in trinity. It must say what it has to say and do what it has to do whilst being what it has to be...The Epsom combines a series of rhythmic interacting curved forms which yield without changing. It takes a sophisticated plain material, or leather, real or man-made, and contrasts it with the satin-smooth arrogance of highly machined surfaces."
William Plunkett Ltd. - Publicity Handout
"Marioni's own earliest 'sound piece' (which, incidentally, held an unseen time element since it involved drinking beer all afternoon beforehand) was the act of urinating into a galvanised bucket from the top of a ten-foot ladder."
Cordelia Oliver - "The Guardian"
"The best songs (Beatles Double LP) for me are the love songs in which lyrical pentatonic innocence is modified but not destroyed by rhythmic ellipsis or harmonic ambiguity."
Wilfred Mellers - "New Statesman"
"Getting back into a Mini after some years of not having driven one is like crawling back into the womb."
Judith Jackson - "Sunday Times"
"There is nothing that does not happen to Jacqueline Bisset in 'The Grasshopper'. She runs away from home, suffers a broken marriage to a Negro, is beaten up by a crude, self-made tycoon, befriended by a homosexual and turns to drugs. She becomes a call girl and then a rich man's mistress. Finally, a musician who pimps for her runs off with all her money, leaving her alone and finished at the age of 22.
'I know so many girls like Christine,' Jacqueline Bisset says of the character she plays. 'The theme is so modern; so much part of today.'"
Unity Hall - "The Sun"
"The goal was as simple and as impressive as the Parthenon."
Malcolm Winter - "Sunday Times"
"Beethoven plays the key note, repeats it three octaves down the scale, jumps up to the diminished 7th, then plummets to the key note of the dominant 7th. That last note is the bluest note you ever heard - and he wrote it in 1801, 60 years before the American Civil War."
James Greenwood - "Daily Mail"
"As she sang, her nose looked very like that of Bob Dylan."
Geoffrey Cannon - "Grauniad"
"Easily appreciable dialectically is the contradictory inter relationship between repetition and variants leading to a stepwise process which, with a certain acceleration, gives rise to a chain of more and more radical transformations of the structure originally established which seems therefore to have been 'dissolved' by progressive negations in a Hegelian sense."
Heinz-Kloll Metzge - DGC Record Sleeve
"What welded these manifestations of individualism into an enigmatic parable of universal fatality was the fact that each victim had been shot in the base of the skull – a method of execution which the German language, so capable of inventing words for all eventualities, names a Nackenschuss."
Michael Moorcock - "The Final Programme"
"Except for one sudden flurry of excited question-marks...the only punctuation is the full-stop. What a haggard stoical gait that gives to Beckett's prose, never to indulge in a comma or dash or semi-colon or colon. His style stiffens towards death; his full-stops, daunting but undaunted, take up all his time and space. His, and ours. Time must have a stop."
Christopher Ricks - "The Sunday Times"
"All myths explore the richness of systematic ambiguity."
Geoffrey Cannon - "The Guardian"
But Which One?
One of these extracts isn't strictly correct...but which one?
Plus one more recent example in honour of the well-deserved All Blacks victory in the final of the Rugby World Cup 2015:
Duane Delacourt - Secretary of Symbolism under President Carter (later Executive Symbolist and Press Secretary for California Governor and presidential candidate Jerry Brown)(Doonesbury character)
Prolegomena to a Polemic on the Republic
One of the things that is so fascinating about terrorism as a political strategy is that relatively small groups of terrorists (one, two, three, six individuals) can take on a civilisation and its military might by targeting its symbols.
The attack on the World Trade Centre was effectively an attack on a symbol of the centre of world trade. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on the symbolic status of free speech, just as much as it was motivated by revenge for continuous acts of blasphemy against Islam. The attack on a kosher supermarket was an attack on Judaism and Jewish culture.
Such a precise attack on a symbolic target guarantees that it will be seen and watched as a major spectacle, which is what the terrorists want to achieve (after all, we live in the society of the spectacle). It would be of no value as an act of aggression or protest, if it was hushed up by the government and the media, if we simply pretended that it never happened.
Satire of the Charlie Hebdo type equally attacks power, self-righteousness and pretension, usually by attacking symbols important to the target (e.g., the prophet Mohammed in the case of Islam).
A lot of the immediate concern of this book is the public response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, in particular, the marches in which up to four million people are supposed to have participated.
No doubt each participant had a sincere personal reason for doing so, even the politicians.
However, collectively, they created a symbol of the refusal to bow down to militant, jihadist Islam and terrorism.
Emmanuel Todd questions this symbol, in words, with the precision of a social terrorist or a satirist. As a result, there has been a significant backlash from many people who had gathered around the symbol, bought the t-shirt, tweeted that they were Charlie, and been heroes just for one day.
It's ironic that these people have been just as protective of their symbol as many Moslems have been of theirs. What emerges, then, is an understanding of how seriously we take our symbols and values, and how we react when they come under attack.
However, the real value of this book is how it attempts to analyse what was really going on in January, 2015 and why.
A Beautiful Polemic
This book is a classic polemic, and what a beauty it is, too!
Born in 1951, Emmanuel Todd is a French academic who is qualified in multiple related areas: anthropology, sociology, demographics, political science and history.
He describes himself as "a Frenchman exasperated by his own society." Written in 30 days, his polemic betrays the spontaneity of something written this quickly. However, it also reflects Todd's view that the Charlie Hebdo attack and response can be analysed within a socio-political framework that he had developed over the course of 40 years. There are frequent references to two earlier books that he has co-written. Thus, this is a subject matter that he has thought and written deeply about for a long time. It's like inviting an exceptional mind to get up on the podium and speak about his favourite topic. The words are there, the structure, the rhetoric. It's left to us to decide whether we're convinced by his arguments.
One question mark I had relates to how Todd deals with both international and domestic French issues. On the one hand, Islamic extremism and the domestic response to it has become a global issue. On the other, much of the anthropo-sociological analysis concerns the unique social fabric of France, if not possibly the European Union. The question is to what extent some of this analysis can be applied outside Europe.
Family, Religion and Republican Values
The overall analysis is based on the anthropology of family structures and the sociology of religions. The analysis is clearly indebted to both Weber and Durkheim.
Todd focusses, firstly, on the values of the French Republic (liberty, equality, fraternity) and the extent to which they have been embraced by different religions, and secondly, on how different family and social structures relate to equality and egalitarianism.
The latter subject was the most unfamiliar to me and therefore the most interesting part of the book. However, it was also the part most specifically based on an examination of local or European conditions (e.g., the influence of the Roman Catholic Church).
While I was aware that France had been one of the more Catholic countries in Europe, I wasn't aware of the extent to which Catholicism has apparently broken down as a social force in France.
Todd believes that Catholicism is less of an influence in the central part of France ("la France centrale") than the peripheral parts. Even on the periphery, there is less observance of Catholic rituals and beliefs. However, Todd suggests that many of the cultural traits of Catholicism have survived post-religion and have shaped what he calls a life after death or "zombie Catholicism", which in a later manifestation has resulted in a shift towards the left on the part of the right-wing Catholic electorate:
"We gave the name ‘zombie Catholicism’ to the anthropological and social force that emerged from the final disintegration of the Church in its traditional bastions. I will later be examining other phenomena, in education and the economy, which provide evidence of the survival of this residual form after the death of the peripheral Catholic subculture. This cultural survival is probably the most important social phenomenon of the years from 1965 to 2015. It eventually led France into a multifaceted ideological venture, including the rise of a new kind of socialism, decentralization, a surge of pro-European feeling, a masochistic monetary policy, a deformation of the nature of the Republic and, as we shall later see, a particularly shifty form of Islamophobia and, probably, of anti-Semitism."
Authority and Inequality
Todd uses the term to help explain two different views of authority and inequality that he finds present in the people who supported Charlie Hebdo by marching on 11 January:
"Charlie...works in two ways, the one conscious and positive, liberal and egalitarian and republican, while the other is unconscious and negative, authoritarian and inegalitarian, dominating and excluding."
The latter view he associates with zombie Catholicism. It pervades the middle class who have come from a Catholic background. It has left them with a residual Islamophobia, which Todd described above as "shifty".
On the other hand, the former view is more a product of the secular tradition of the French Republic. It seems that Todd associates this view with the old left before it was appropriated and changed by the zombie Catholics.
Liberty and Equality
In contrast to the French periphery, Todd believes that the people in the Paris basin are more concerned with equality and egalitarianism. For them, also, "equality in the family was linked to liberal values."
However, the current problem from Todd's point of view is that the left has been contaminated by the arrival of the zombie Catholics.
On the one hand, he recognises that the "the Socialist Party that has been revitalized by the absorption of refugees from Catholicism".
On the other, he questions whether "zombie Catholics, in joining the Socialist Party rather than converting to the egalitarianism of the central regions, have brought their inegalitarian mental baggage with them and deposited it in the heart of the left."
The result is a cultural division within the left, which manifests itself in the different attitudes towards Moslems (see also Nick Cohen for a living example of the divisiveness of this issue in England).
Todd's preferred view seeks an accommodation with Islam, although he is at pains to point out that "there is no naively idealistic Islamophilia in this book."
In order to lend credence to his own view, Todd recognises the cultural phenomenon that, having suffered prejudice from zombie Catholics, some young Moslems have responded by attacking Jews. Thus, they are not without fault.
The other view is the Islamophobia of zombie Catholicism. While he doesn't say so expressly, he seems to imply that the zombie Catholic support for the Charlie marches was motivated more by Islamophobia than a commitment to free speech.
Whether or not you are convinced by this analysis, the significance is that the Charlie marches were a composite of both views.
In Todd's opinion, they didn't necessarily represent any unanimous confirmation of the Republican values of liberty, equality or fraternity. Individuals were there for different reasons and motives. There was even an attempt to stage manage how the march was perceived: the National Front wasn't allowed to participate, and the Russian representative was relegated to the margins where he couldn't be seen.
A System Broken Down
While the march seemed to bring together diverse forces in recognition of the value of freedom of speech, Todd believes that what divides French politics now, why "the French political system has so spectacularly broken down", is the fundamentally different views on equality and inequality, egalitarianism and inegalitarianism, which reflect different family and religious backgrounds.
The left that has emerged is an unstable coalition. It risks stumbling from issue to issue, unable to command a constant majority with respect to the most fundamental item on its agenda, that of equality.
The Meaning of Equality
It was a surprise, then, that there didn't seem to be a robust definition of the type of equality under discussion.
Some on the left seem to demand equality of outcome (in terms of income), whereas others would be content with equality of opportunity. The latter agenda leaves scope for significant differences in wealth and income, as long as there is a safety net for the lowest income earners. This might include higher minimum wages, as well as a redistribution of income by a combination of social security benefits and differential taxation (both dependent on the maintenance of a welfare state).
It's interesting that Todd seems to remain on the left of the left (e.g., even further left than the Socialist Party), especially in relation to inequality and how to deal with it. Even Thomas Piketty appears to be a little too conservative for his liking. Todd seems to hint at a nostalgia for aspects of the old French Communist Party (the PCF) that existed before the collapse and evaporation of (Euro-)Communism as a popular social and political movement in France.
The Absence of Fraternity
Also absent is any substantive mention of the third Republican value of fraternity (which is the foundation of social harmony). I had hoped that any discussion of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism would touch on this value, particularly as the Charlie Hebdo issue for me was always an example of how liberty and fraternity might occasionally come into conflict, and a compromise between the two values might be required.
That said, the book contains a sophisticated, interesting and insightful attempt to judge different national cultures in terms of the balance between liberty and equality:
"La France centrale combines liberty with equality; England combines liberty with the absence of equality; Germany combines authority with inequality. Russia joins equality with authority."
Getting the Balance Right
Whether or not you agree with Todd's analysis or conclusions, he has made significant progress in getting the focus back on the Republican values (albeit equality moreso than liberty or fraternity), who supports them and for what reason.
Ultimately, there is more at stake in the French Republic than the right to blaspheme a religion associated with people many of whom are currently trapped in the lowest stratum of French society, even if this has become a powerful symbolic issue in a post-Charlie Hebdo world.
Article I - Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.
Article II - The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.
Article III - The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.
Article IV - Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.
Article V - The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.
Article VI - The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.
The bulk of this book was first published in 1953 (and was the first of Iris Murdoch's books to be pub"Rested Upon A Consideration of Sartre’s Novels"
The bulk of this book was first published in 1953 (and was the first of Iris Murdoch's books to be published). She wrote the introduction much later - in 1987.
I read it as a breather or an in-betweenie in the course of reading some of Sartre's works (next on the list - "Nausea"). There's a sense in which it tries to define Sartre's philosophical and literary approach. However, Murdoch herself was both a philosopher and a novelist, so her perspective is that of someone trying to confront similar challenges and define her own approach.
The body of the book consists of ten short idiosyncratic chapters. The whole adds up to something like an introductory guide. It doesn't tell you too much about each book or so little that you can't understand Murdoch's perspective. It deals briefly with all of Sartre's major works. However, it's clear that Murdoch's main interest was Sartre's fiction:
"I have tried to rest what I have to say about Sartre upon a consideration of his novels."
I'd recommend this book if you plan to read any Sartre, especially "Nausea" or "Being and Nothingness".
Sartre demanded of fiction that it be engagée or committed, yet while Murdoch's own fiction would be equally serious, she felt that this was Sartre's weakness:
"His inability to write a great novel is a tragic symptom of a situation which afflicts us all. We know that the real lesson to be taught is that the human person is precious and unique; but we seem unable to set it forth except in terms of ideology and abstraction."
His problem was that he was too much of a rationalist to be a good novelist, even if he might have been a good dramatist:
"The novels are problematic and analytical; and their appeal does in part depend upon our being initially moved by the intellectual conflicts which they resume. All who felt the Spanish War as a personal wound, and all disappointed and vainly passionate lovers of Communism will hear these novels speak to them. But those who, without any pressing concern with these problems, seek their human shape and weight in Sartre's array of people may be left with a sense of emptiness."
Murdoch believes that Sartre placed his fiction too much at the service of his philosophical and political theories. He doesn't leave enough scope for the possibility that "art may break any rule." Sartre's vision is too analytical, disciplined and confined.
Paradoxically, Murdoch states in the introduction that "the metaphysical imagery of 'Being and Nothingness' was, for popular purposes, easily grasped...Existentialism was the new religion, the new salvation."
Murdoch describes how she first read it in Brussels in 1945, when she briefly met Sartre, whose "presence in the city was like that of a pop star." The only other occasion when she saw a philosopher "being hailed as a prophet was in California in 1984 when [she] attended a lecture by Jacques Derrida."
Sartre's philosophy carried an overt political message that she found charming and energising. His "obsessive and hypnotic world picture" also appeared in his philosophical novel, "Nausea".
She describes his fiction in terms of late romantic literature, in which "authentic being is attained in extreme situations, and in revolt against society."
For all the flaws she points out, Murdoch concludes that:
"Sartre, thinker and artist, so versatile, so committed, so serious, industrious, courageous, learned, talented, clever, certainly 'lived' his own time to the full, and, whatever the fate of his general theories, must survive as one of its most persistent and interesting critics."
The Experience of Freedom
Murdoch identifies freedom as the touchstone of Sartre's philosophy and fiction.
Yet it is trapped in the mind of the individual and unconsummated in society:
"The individual is the centre, but a solipsistic centre. He has a dream of human companionship, but never the experience. He touches others at the fingertips. The best he can attain to is an intuition of paradise..."
"It seemed from 'Being and Nothingness' that what Sartre meant by 'freedom' was the reflective, imaginative power of the mind, its mobility, its negating of the 'given', its capacity to rise out of muddy unreflective states, its tendency to return to an awareness of itself. For this sense of freedom, needless to say, stone walls make no prison; we are potentially free so long as we are conscious."
Freedom becomes the basis of all value. In the words of Sartre:
"The ultimate meaning of the actions of men of good faith is the pursuit of freedom as such...I cannot take my own freedom as an end without also taking the freedom of others as an end."
Freedom "becomes a weapon to use against the soul-destroying ossifications of both capitalism and communism."
Murdoch explains the title of her book in stages:
"Sartre is a rationalist; for him the supreme value is reflective self-awareness...Sartre prizes sincerity, the ability to see through shams, both social shams and the devices of one's own heart...The rationalism of Sartre is not geared on to the techniques of the modern world; it is solipsistic and romantic, isolated from the sphere of real operations...His reason is not practical and scientific, but philosophical. His evil is not human misery or the social conditions, or even the bad will, which may produce it, but the unintelligibility of our finite condition...
"What Sartre does understand, the reality which he has before him and which he so profoundly and brilliantly characterises in 'Being and Nothingness', is the psychology of the lonely individual. The universe of 'Being and Nothingness' is solipsistic. Other people enter it, one at a time, as the petrifying gaze of the Medusa, or at best as the imperfectly understood adversary in the fruitless conflict of love..."
"The general impression of Sartre's work is certainly that of a powerful but abstract model of a hopeless dilemma, coloured by a surreptitious romanticism which embraces the hopelessness."
A Pleasing Likeness
Murdoch continues, "It is patent that what many readers of Sartre find in his writings is a portrait of themselves. A likeness is always pleasing...; and to be told that one's personal despair is a universal human characteristic may be consoling...We can no longer formulate a general truth about ourselves which shall encompass us like a house...
"Sartre described very exactly the situation of a being who, deprived of general truths, is tormented by an absolute aspiration...Sartre is enough of a humanist to find this aspiration touching and admirable, enough of a romantic to enjoy adding that it is fruitless, and enough of a politician to introduce a theoretical contradiction for immediate practical ends. His philosophy is not just a piece of irresponsible romanticism; it is the expression of a last ditch attachment to the value of the individual, expressed in philosophical terms."
Having read "Being and Nothingness", I didn't find it as pessimistic or despairing about humanity as Murdoch seems to think it is. It was actually far more positive and liberating than I had anticipated. In particular, I didn't feel that Sartre's concept of "nothingness" was as negative as popular imagination would have you believe. Perhaps, the pessimism is more inferred from Sartre's fiction than his philosophy?...more
This collection of five short stories was first published in French in 1939.
At the time, Sartre had already written his first nIntimations of Intimacy
This collection of five short stories was first published in French in 1939.
At the time, Sartre had already written his first novel, “Nausea”, and several philosophical works.
My copy of the English translation was published by Panther Books and was marketed as“the brilliant study of the corruption of love”.” There are four photos of a naked brunette woman only partly cloaked by her bedsheets, as if viewed in an oval mirror (the frame of which could also pass for a large keyhole).
I’m not sure how well it sold in the English-speaking world. However, I don’t think either of these pitches gets at the appeal of the book.
On the other hand, it does sequence the stories in a way that adds to the appeal (compared with what I understand was the order of other versions):
2. “The Wall”
3. “The Room”
5. “The Childhood of a Leader”.
Exercises in Voice Projection
A couple of stories into the book, I started to wonder about the best way to approach the book as a whole. How would I review a collection?
Was there a linking theme? Was there an overarching style? Did the book consciously or unconsciously anticipate any of Sartre’s later works?
Ultimately, I abandoned these approaches.
What was fascinating about all five stories was how different they were in subject matter and how differently they were written in style.
In a way, the stories were partly exercises in style. “The Wall” reminded me of Camus and Orwell; “Erostratus” of Dostoyevsky; “The Childhood of a Leader” was Proustian.
Sartre seemed to be experimenting with different voices.
I found this story the most difficult, and therefore recommend that you read it first.
The story is a strange combination of third and first person narration. The protagonist is a woman, Lulu, whose perspective dominates the story. However, midway through a third person omniscient narration, she seems to intrude in the first person. I searched for a pattern, and the only one that I could find was that the first person seemed to arrive after a colon or a semi-colon. Here’s what I mean, though I love this passage about a torn sheet:
”Lulu was sleeping on her back, she had thrust the great toe of her left foot into a tear in the sheet...It annoyed her: I’ll have to fix that tomorrow, still she pushed against the threads so as to feel them break.”
My other query about this passage is the translation: do you have a great toe or a big toe? (In the third story, a woman opens the door and “penetrates” the room, rather than entering it. Did the publisher’s marketing department manage the translation?)
Still, the story itself is an interesting illustration of how somebody can attempt to seize freedom, only to turn back to the relative security of domesticity.
This story is a first person narrative by Pablo Ibbietta, a member of the International Brigade who has been captured by pre-war Spanish fascists. He’s one of three anarchists who will be taken out and shot against a wall the following morning.
Pablo tells us a little about himself:
“I took everything as seriously as if I were immortal.”
However, now, confronted with his mortality, most of what he tells us concerns the actions around him, with the exception that, having accepted his fate, he now has only one wish (which he keeps to himself and us):
“I want to die cleanly.”
Nevertheless, he’s given the opportunity to live if he betrays a superior. He decides to play a game with those who will ultimately kill him regardless:
“I found that somehow comic; it was obstinacy. I thought, ‘I must be stubborn!’ And a droll sort of gaiety spread over me.”
I like the fact that one of Sartre’s characters is both stubborn and gay in the light of inevitable death, even if it is destined to be tomorrow.
This is real black humour in confrontation with absurdity. But you’ll have to read it to find out why!
While Eve’s mother sits quietly at home consuming Turkish delights, her own husband (Pierre) is confined to a room with advanced dementia.
Early, a character warns, “One must never enter the delirium of a madman.” Only Sartre does exactly that, without necessarily entering the mind of the madman. The effect on others is enough for us to see: for example, Pierre now only knows Eve as Agatha.
Eve's parents want her to abandon Pierre to an institution, as if he had ceased to be a person, let alone a spouse. On the other hand, she maintains a brave face: “I love him as he is.”
Eve is sustained by the belief that one day it will all end, and that she might have one more role to play in Pierre's life before then.
This is another first person narrative that adopts the form of the classic myth of the man who, in a quest for notoriety, set fire to the temple of Diana in Ephesus, on the day Alexander the Great was born.
Self-styled anti-humanist Paul Hilbert sets out to shoot five people, then himself. We see everything as if it’s been filmed by a headcam. Even now, there are only two ways a story like this can end.
“The Childhood of a Leader” (This Odd Disquietude)
This, the longest and most psychologically insightful of the stories, concerns the childhood of Lucien Fleurier, the son of a regional captain of industry.
His father employs 100 people. He regards himself as bound by noblesse oblige, his privilege governed by a sense of responsibility rather than entitlement.
Lucien is a Proustian character whose sensitivity sees him slide down a slippery slide of peer group pressure that leads from self-doubt, “disorder”, anguish and nihilism to social inadequacy, self-pity, anti-Semitism and paternalism (all examples of bad faith):
“I have rights...[the right] to command...I exist because...I have the right to exist...You belong to me!”
Inevitably, he turns his back on his leftish mistress, Maud, who might have been his best chance of happiness and success. You have to wonder to whom Sartre was referring (Simone de Beauvoir or the third person in their triad to whom he dedicated the collection, Olga Kosakiewicz/Kosakievicz?) when he described her as follows:
”...her narrow, closed face which seemed so unattainable, her slender silhouette, her look of dignity, her reputation for being a serious girl, her scorn of the masculine sex, all those things that made her a strange being, truly someone else, hard and definitive, always out of reach, with her clean little thoughts, her modesties, her silk stockings and crepe dresses, her permanent wave.”
What Exit from Existence?
Some might question Sartre’s (like any man’s) ability to get inside the mind of a woman. However, in the majority of these stories, women take centre stage.
Like de Beauvoir’s own writing, these stories are relatively dry in their style. However, their power derives from the dilemmas in which Sartre positions his characters and out of which he then allows them to work their way (or not).
In a way, then, these stories are concerned with the existence (or otherwise) of an exit.
"Situations have ended sad Relationships have all been bad Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud But there's no way I can compare All those scenes to this affair You're gonna make me lonesome when you go."
The Wall/Muri (short film) - An adaptation of the story "The Wall/Le Mur"
Milan Kundera wrote this, his first, novel in his early 30's.
I had already read and loved two later works, and was expecting it to be somehoThe Set Up
Milan Kundera wrote this, his first, novel in his early 30's.
I had already read and loved two later works, and was expecting it to be somehow inferior, as if he was still learning the ropes. However, it's an amazingly mature novel, and could fit anywhere in his body of work.
For all its metaphysical concerns, the writing style is very much concerned with the material world and the dynamism within it. Philosophy derives partly from the activity of external factors. The first person narrators discover what people are thinking indirectly from their actions. Kundera observes and describes a character's behaviour rather than dwelling directly on their psychology. We see what characters have done, then we see them come undone. Bit by bit, by accumulation of knowledge, we start to understand why.
The novel plays out like a tense game of chess. Every move is precisely choreographed. Kundera sets the characters off on their journey, then follows them with his camera. And we follow him. Sometimes the work reads like a novelisation of a film or play. It portrays exactly what we see. Not a word is wasted.
The concept of a joke pervades the novel. The title derives from a postcard the protagonist, Ludvik, writes to Marketa, the target of his affection, while she is studying Marxism in a Czech summer school in the early 60's:
"Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!"
The postcard is discovered by the Communist authorities, and after a brief investigation, hearing and vote, Ludvik is expelled from the Party, sacked from his teaching position at a university and sent off to work in a mine with enemies of the state.
Despite her beauty, Marketa is credulous, intellectually dull and lacking in a sense of humour. Ludvik's postcard is an attempt to play a silly joke on Marketa. However, the joke is lost on both Marketa and the state.
In his preface, Kundera denies that the novel was designed to be a "major indictment of Stalinism". Instead, he argues that it's a love story. It is that, but I think he's being just a little ingenuous. Kundera pays equal attention to the political. Whether or not society had similar problems under Communism and Capitalism, Kundera describes a rigidity and humourlessness that affects both individuals and the state. Later, he would write of "the trap the world has become".
The underlying problem is both social and political: the tendency of both the individual and the state to be overly serious, inflexible, self-protective and punitive.
Whatever the political system, a sense of humour is a safety valve that allows pent up personal and social pressures to escape. Humour can relax, relieve and release tension (not to mention pretension).
If humour isn't possible or it doesn't work in the circumstances, the person, the collective remains too highly-strung, too highly sprung. The joke is a spring, a coil that allows the situation to uncoil and the tension to dissipate. A joke is what allows a tree to bend and sway in the wind.
Kundera tells his tale in seven separate parts, each of which is divided into sub-parts. Each part is narrated by one of the major characters, three men, and one woman (Helena). One of the other characters, Lucie, is a trigger point for much of the action. However, she doesn't tell her own story. Instead, the other characters shine a light on her from outside. We are never confident that we have gotten to know her. She remains elusive.
After publication, a Czech critic observed that there was a mathematical structure to the novel (that wasn't apparent to Kundera himself). If you broke the novel into 18 parts, Ludvik's monologue took up 12, Jaroslav three, Kostka two, and Helena one. I can't help picturing this as a fern-like fractal that furls and unfurls in the telling. Thus, the coiling and uncoiling of the joke (and its aftermath) is reflected in the structure of the novel.
The Punch Line
Apart from the joke, as Kundera states, the novel is a love story. We see most of it from Ludvik's twenty/thirty-something point of view. We see what he does to women and why. It's not always a pretty picture, but it is truthful. Ludvik's goal isn't always his own sexual pleasure or that of his companion. His relationship with Helena (whose story we hear from her) is motivated by revenge on a rival (which proves to be misconceived).
Some readers might complain about Ludvik's or Kundera's sexism and cruelty. However, overall, the design of the novel allows us to witness different perspectives in a polyphonic manner. When we see the situation from the other side(s), we learn that Ludvik might equally have been the victim of a cosmic joke.
[Both photos are stills from the 1969 film of the novel directed by Jaromil Jireš.]
"The Joke" is effectively a caveat against egotism, a warning against selfishness, especially in sexual relationships. In the Communist polit-speak used against Ludvik, it's a reproach of "traces of individualism" and "intellectual tendencies", the refusal to submit to the greater good (whether of the couple or of society). However, these traces and tendencies go further than Communist society, hence the broader ambitions Kundera had for his novel.
Whatever the political environment, Kundera describes a "depression over the bleakness of our erotic horizons".
How men in particular deal with this bleakness and depression reflects in their sexual behaviour. It's too easy for men to take it out on the woman closest to them.
Ludvik comments on "the incredible human capacity for transforming reality into a likeness of desires or ideals..." He describes the women in his life as angels and goddesses. There's a lack of reality in his perspective. Inevitably, it compromises the relationship itself:
"...a man may ask anything of a woman, but unless he wishes to appear a brute, he must make it possible for her to act in harmony with her deepest self-deceptions."
So women, equally, have desires and ideals that might misguide them. For both genders, then, desire is often founded in self-deceit, if not also the deceit of others.
The Vain Pursuit
Ludvik defines women in relation to himself and his own needs. Lucie's truth is hidden from Ludvik, because his gaze is single-mindedly selfish:
"I'd always taken comfort in seeing Lucie as something abstract, a legend and a myth, but now I realised that behind the poetry of my vision hid a starkly unpoetic reality; that I didn't know her as she actually was, in and of herself. All I'd been able to perceive (in my youthful egocentricity) was those aspects of her being touching directly on me (my loneliness, my captivity, my desire for tenderness and affection); she had never been anything more to me than a function of my situation, everything she was in her own right, had escaped me entirely."
Ultimately, Lucie reveals to Ludvik and via him to all men how much of their love is mere "vain pursuit". By extension, Kundera suggests that, both in our vanity and in our pursuit, we are the brunt of our own joke. ...more
This is only the second of Saramago's novels that I've read (the other being "The Elephant's Journey"). Both were puAttending to His Own Conventions
This is only the second of Saramago's novels that I've read (the other being "The Elephant's Journey"). Both were published after he won the Nobel Prize, so I'm unable to make any assessment of the merits of the award.
However, I'd like to start this review with some comments on Saramago's style, before discussing some of the themes of the novel.
The first comment relates to sentence and paragraph length.
I stopped counting after a while, but some of Saramago's sentences are up to half a page long, and many of his paragraphs are at least four pages long. This length doesn't service any sense of stream of consciousness or any other literary goal. The overwhelming tone is one of rational abstraction, so the length seems to reflect the thought that inspired the language.
Punctuation is a product of printing technology. It marks pauses in the sentence that guide or mimic how it would be spoken aloud.
Many of Saramago's sentences are punctuated by commas, where we would otherwise expect a full stop to end the sentence. In some cases, the first word of the next part of the sentence following the comma begins with a capital letter. Thus, pretty soon, a comma becomes a mere substitute for a full stop:
"The blind man raised his hands to his eyes and gestured, Nothing, it's as if I were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea. But blindness isn't like that said the other fellow, they say that blindness is black, Well I see everything white, That little woman was probably right, it could be a matter of nerves, nerves are the very devil, No need to talk to me about it, it's a disaster, yes a disaster, Tell me where you live please, and at the same time the engine started up."
Punctuation is conventional. Saramago is unconventional, but he nevertheless establishes his own conventions that parallel or replace social ones. Nothing about his punctuation truly disorients the reader.
I was away from school the day they taught paragraph structure, so my comprehension is impressionistic at best. Given the size and content of some of Saramago's paragraphs, it's difficult to ascertain whether he utilises any rules to divide one paragraph from another.
They just seem to go on, they flow. Once I stopped thinking about it as a challenge, I imagined that the paragraphs were like clouds, abstractions that blew across the sky that is the page. Each paragraph was a dash of whiteness. Occasionally, their contents would come down to earth, falling like torrents of rain, thus becoming grounded or less abstract.
Words and Sayings
My second comment relates to the use of sayings, proverbs and allegory.
There is a moral or ethical dimension to the novel that I will explore in the second part of my review.
However, to some extent, this is conveyed not just by the narrative, but by Saramago's use of language, including pre-existing words and phrases.
Here Saramago comments on the performative nature of language:
"But I am still blind, she replied, It doesn't matter, I'll guide you, only those present who heard it with their own ears could grasp how such simple words could contain such different feelings as protection, pride and authority."
"...And why those words rather than any others, I don't know, they came into my head and I said them, The next we know you'll be preaching in the square we passed along the way, Yes, a sermon about the rabbit's tooth and the hen's beak..."
"...Here one can see that the true eternal return is that of words, which now return, spoken for the same reasons..."
"The doctor's wife was not particularly keen on the tendency of proverbs to preach, nevertheless something of this ancient lore must have remained in her memory..."
What's of interest is the social construction of language. It organises human behaviour, thought and action, even before it takes on any overt moral or pedagogical character.
To a certain extent, language rules us from within, even without us knowing:
"...we cannot tell what presentiments, what intuition, what inner voices might have roused them, nor do we know how they found their way here, there is no point searching for explanations for the moment, conjectures are free."
Language effects "the harmonious conciliation between what she had said and what she thought..."
Still, language is mutable and must change:
"...if sayings are to retain any meaning and to continue to be used they have to adapt to the times."
"Blindness” is in part an adaptation or updating of historical, even biblical, allegories.
Language and books are a repository for stories or history:
"There being no witnesses, and if there is no evidence that they were summoned to the post-mortems to tell us what happened, it is understandable that someone should ask how it was possible to know that these things had happened so and not in some other manner, the reply to be given is that all stories are like those about the creation of the universe, no one was there, no one witnessed anything, yet everyone knows what happened."
Who Are the Blind?
My third comment relates to the naming of the characters. Nobody is given a name. Saramago only refers to people by their qualities: the first blind man, his wife, the doctor, the doctor's wife, the girl with dark glasses, the boy with the squint, the old man with the black eyepatch.
There is no suggestion that every character is representative of some class or category. What unites them is their blindness. Each has their own story as to how they became blind, so this is ultimately what differentiates them (other than the description they are given).
These characters are simply amongst the first to go blind in an "epidemic" of blindness from which everybody eventually suffers.
As we witness more and more people go blind, we inevitably ask what significance blindness is meant to have. We are never definitively told its true significance.
The epigraph to the novel is a quotation from the "Book of Exhortations":
"If you can see, look. If you can look, observe."
To look might mean to look with a purpose or on a quest.
To observe might mean to look or see with a mindfulness or critical ability.
In a way, we are being exhorted to notice more than what we see in front of us, to look more deeply and less superficially.
What then if we are blind and cannot see? Does it mean that we can neither look nor observe? If so, what can we be exhorted to do?
"Blindness" doesn't so much exhort us to do anything, as investigate the possibilities of what might happen if we all suddenly turned blind.
Blind People Who Can See, But Who Don’t See
Who then are the blind? The most obvious answer is all of us. A more precise answer comes at the end of the book:
"Why did we become blind, I don't know, perhaps one day we'll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see."
Perhaps the blind are we who are willfully blind, or are blinded by an external cause, such as religion (the church) or the state.
Saramago imagines a church in which all the statues have a white bandage covering their eyes. (This reminds me of the apocryphal story that some room in the Vatican contains all of the genitals that have been chiselled off statues at the direction of the Pope, and one day will have to be matched to the statues from which they've been removed.)
Food to Survive
Another answer could be that the blind represent poor people or the working class/proletariat.
This possibility arises from the fact that what the characters in the novel lose when they become blind is the ability to find food and to survive.
Blindfolded in a sense, they return to John Rawls' hypothetical "original position" in which they don a "veil of ignorance" that blinds people to their personal and social characteristics and enables them to negotiate and formulate a social contract without partiality.
Here, the blind people appoint leaders and delegates to perform particular tasks on behalf of the community.
They form themselves into some kind of organisation to replace the state that has ceased to function.
This organisation is against the state, without being animalistic or anarchistic:
"Unless we organise ourselves in earnest, hunger and fear will take over here...
"The state of mind which perforce will have to determine social conduct of this nature cannot be improvised nor does it come about spontaneously."
Cover by Belgian designer Levente Szabó
Like Human Beings
The doctor's wife (who is not blind) verbalises it:
"If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like human animals, words she repeated so often that the rest of the ward ended up by transforming her advice into a maxim, a dictum, into a doctrine, a rule of life, words which deep down were so simple and elementary...propitious to any understanding of needs and circumstances..."
Observe the performative function of words again.
Blind Bourgeois Hoodlums
The greatest social threat to this little community is a gang of blind hoodlums, who take over control of the distribution of the food and start to charge for it.
By expropriating the means of distribution, they mimic the role of the bourgeoisie, and in effect start a class war that only the doctor's wife can end (with the aid of a pair of scissors).
A Great Hero to Me
Before she is able to do this, the women in the community are subjected to rape and abuse by the hoodlums, in exchange for the food that is to be supplied to their hospital ward. Some readers have expressed distaste about these scenes. However, they are fundamental to Saramago's implied argument that capitalist society had turned women into a property right and a commodity of exchange.
This contributes to the status of the doctor's wife as a saviour. No less than Ursula Le Guin has said:
"The woman who is the central character of Blindness is truly a great hero to me." ...more
Let A Young Christian Declare What He Seeth [Dedicated to E.L. James]
Jean Louise got out of her train seat and went to the toilet to get changed. She tLet A Young Christian Declare What He Seeth [Dedicated to E.L. James]
Jean Louise got out of her train seat and went to the toilet to get changed. She took off her slacks and put on her Maycomb clothes: gray skirt, a black sleeveless blouse, white socks, and loafers. She admired herself in the mirror, then removed her panties and placed them in her handbag.
She tried to turn the handle, but it was jammed, so she pounded on the door.
Luckily, the porter happened to be patrolling the corridor: "I'll get you out, Miss."
"No please," she said. "Just tell me how to get out."
"I can do it with my back turned," he said, and he did. But he turned his head as well.
Outside the station, she saw a tall man standing on the steps of the adjacent courthouse. He ran to meet her. She ran to meet him.
He grabbed her in a bear hug, put her from him, kissed her hard on the mouth, then kissed her gently. It wasn't her father.
"Not here, Christian," she murmured, much pleased and moistened.
"Hush, girl," he said, holding her face in place. "I'll kiss you on the courthouse steps if I want to."
The possessor of the right to kiss her on the courthouse steps was Christian Grey, her lifelong friend, her brother's comrade, and if he kept on kissing her like that, her husband. Love whom you will but marry your own kind was a dictum amounting to instinct within her. Christian Grey was Jean Louise's own kind.
"Want to drive?" said Christian.
"Don't be silly," she said.
With green envy, she watched Christian's effortless mastery of the automobile. Cars are his servants, she thought. They've made a master of him.
"Power steering? Automatic transmission?" she said.
"You bet," he said.
"Well, what if everything shuts off and you don't have any gears to shift. You'd be in trouble then, wouldn't you?"
"But everything won't shut off."
"How do you know?"
"That's what faith is. Come here...Tired of New York?" he said, gliding his spare arm around her shoulders, briefly glancing the unyielding nipple on her right breast.
"No," she responded, equally unyielding.
"Give me a free hand for these two weeks and I'll make you tired of it."
"Is that an improper suggestion?"
"Go to hell, then."
"Honey, do you want me to put it like a gentleman?"
"Christian, I'll have an affair with you, but I won't marry you."
"Don't be such a damn child, Jean Louise!"
"Slow pickup, isn't it?" she said, going on the attack, but moving back to her side of the car. "No good for city driving."
Christian glared at her, wondering what she had learned about fast pickups in Manhattan. "What do you mean by that?"
"Where'd you get that appalling tie?" she said.
He looked hurt, momentarily. He was still vain, even if his business was doing well. Very well. Extraordinarily well, in fact.
"Honey, I'm sorry, truly sorry," she said, and she was. She raised her left leg and placed it in his lap.
"That's okay," said Christian, and slapped her knee. "It's just that I could kill you sometimes."
He slid his hand up her thigh. He didn't meet any resistance.
"I know I'm hateful."
Christian looked at her. "You're an odd one, sweet. You can't dissemble."
She looked at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, as a general rule, most women, before they've got 'em, present to their men smiling, agreeing faces. You never hide anything."
"Isn't it fairer for a man to be able to see what he's letting himself in for?" She put her other leg in his lap.
"Yes, but don't you see you'll never catch a man that way?"
She parted her legs, so that, if he looked, he could see the whole way up to his expectations. He looked, he saw, he declared, "Wow."
She said, "How do I go about being an enchantress?"
"That's a pretty good start." Christian warmed to his subject. So did Jean Louise. She moved over and unzipped the fly on his trousers.
At thirty, Christian was a good adviser. And he had the makings of a successful public speaker, if a little stiff. Maybe because he was a lawyer.
"First," he said dispassionately, "hold your tongue."
"Second, don't argue with a man, especially when you know you can beat him."
She squeezed him harder, as if she was going to beat him there and then.
"Smile a lot," he said, though he himself was wincing.
"Make him feel big."
"Right. That's something I'm good at." She pulled back, then went down again.
"Tell him how wonderful he is, and wait on him."
She lifted her head, smiled brilliantly and said, "Christian, I agree with everything you've said. You're the most perspicacious individual I've met in years, and you're charming, good looking, strong...not to mention six feet, nine inches..."
"You got that wrong, sweet. I'm only six feet in my socks."
"I know that, honey. The nine inches don't measure what's in your socks."
He pulled into the office car park.
"Do you like it when I light your cigarette? How was that?"
If life (or a life) can be construed as a text, then the universe might be (analogous to) a library:
"The universe (which others cThe Universal Library
If life (or a life) can be construed as a text, then the universe might be (analogous to) a library:
"The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries."
This early, 1941 collection is a mini-gallery of Borges stories that revolve around construction and interpretation, imagination and understanding, of the universe. On the way, it takes in time, space, meaning, truth, consciousness, our selves and our relationship with the universe.
Vast and Ambitious
For Borges, Man is a reader or librarian trying to read, interpret and understand the Library.
It's a vast project. Like its object (and perhaps its subject), it's infinite. Vast books can and have been dedicated to the project.
Borges makes this project his own, from a fictional point of view. However, he works under a self-imposed constraint:
"It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books - setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.
"A more reasonable, more inept, and more lazy man, I have chosen to write notes on imaginary books."
Levity and Brevity
The result is one of enormous brevity, yet it's no less intellectually challenging and stimulating.
Borges jokingly blames laziness, but it's actually an amazing facility to hint at in five minutes of our reading time what could take writers and philosophers 500 pages to labour through (and not communicate so clearly).
Besides, we can safely assume that Borges was familiar with some actual vast works on his subject matter, not just imaginary ones.
The Appearance of Reality
Borges doesn't need to be encyclopaedic in his approach to the universe. He just pretends to be encyclopaedic. He uses detail, citation, criticism to feign plausibility, verisimilitude, truth and comprehensiveness.
His aim is to create a fictitious world that appears to be real. He hopes his fragments will convince us that they contain the essence of the entirety.
However, the whole project remains fictional and illusory.
In one of the worlds that he creates, there is a belief that "all books are the work of a single author who is timeless and anonymous."
In a way, it seems, there is only one book, and one act of creation.
Borges the Builder
We've become accustomed to authors "world building". They strive to build a fictional world that convinces us of its veracity.
On the other hand, religions posit that God created the world, the entirety of the universe.
Borges might be a writer, but he seems to place himself somewhere between the conventional writer and God.
While God might have created the material world, Borges creates an abstract and imaginary world.
However, in the process, he self-consciously draws attention to the process and method of creation. He is a master of metafiction.
Equally, Borges is interested in the interpretation and understanding of the universe, the Library, the book.
He works at the boundary of the imagination, philosophy and hermeneutics. Indeed, his writing suggests that philosophy is fundamentally a work of imagination and interpretation of the Library of the universe.
Writers and philosophers alike are trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe.
Once we accept this metaphor, this truth, Borges invites us to have some fun with the universe he has created.
In a world otherwise preoccupied with the pursuit of order, sense and truth, he introduces play and games that involve hoaxes, fraud, fallacy, artifice, illusion, unreality, illogic, mirrors, mazes, labyrinths.
A World Deciphered by Detectives
This places the curious reader in the role of a detective who must sift through the evidence in order to determine the meaning of life:
"Tlön may well be a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth forged by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men."(view spoiler)[At least in the English translation, the word "forged" might be used in its two different senses in this sentence. (hide spoiler)]
This decipherment is not as easy as it sounds. There is no certainty that any path taken will lead to the truth.
Like one of Borges' narrators, we all work at "the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopaedia."
For all the detail that the encyclopaedia might contain, the mirror reminds us that the universe (like our minds) is infinite, recurring and self-reflexive.
Making Sense of Books
Because a book is a mere fragment of the universe, there should be no reason to believe that the truth can be found in a book, either easily or at all. One of the narrators refers to "the vain and superstitious habit of trying to find sense in books, equating such a quest with attempting to find meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of the palm of one's hand..."
Nevertheless, Borges implies that a book, (precisely) because it contains a fragment of the universe, can also reflect its entirety or, at least, its infinity:
"I had wondered how a book could be infinite. The only way I could surmise was that it be a cyclical, or circular, volume, a volume whose last page would be identical to the first, so that one might go on indefinitely."
The Chaotic Library
Still, insofar as the books Borges writes about contain aspects of the universe, they reflect the chaos of the universe as a whole. Perhaps a book is like a mirror held up to the universe, even if it is refracted through author and reader.
This focus on chaos is part of the significance of the last story, "The Garden of Forking Paths". The paths lead to "several futures" (though not necessarily all).
We are accustomed to believing that a choice of paths represents a spatial decision (e.g., which direction to head down).
However, "the garden of forking paths was the chaotic novel; the phrase 'several futures (not all)' suggested to me the image of a forking in time, rather than in space."
Erik Desmazières - "Library of Babel, Hall of Planets"
The Labyrinth of Time
The mysteries of the universe are equally and inevitably mysteries about time and the nature of time:
"All things happen to oneself, and happen precisely, precisely now. Century follows century, yet events occur only in the present."
Hermeneutically, the Library, the universe is a "labyrinth of symbols. An invisible labyrinth of time."
There is much in the stories about rival philosophies of time:
"[One school of philosophy] denies the existence of time; it argues that the present is undefined and indefinite, the future has no reality except as present hope, and the past has no reality except as present recollection...
"[Another school asserts that] all time has already passed, so that our life is but a crepuscular memory, or crepuscular reflection, doubtlessly distorted and mutilated, of an irrecoverable process."
We aren't asked to choose between these alternatives. Borges lets us explore many forked paths:
"The Garden of Forking Paths is a huge riddle, or parable, whose subject is time."
In the Borgesian world, our imagination can experience what it might be like if any one of these theories of time was true.
Five Minutes of Vastness
Ironically, Borges gifts us an experience of the vastness of infinity, of the labyrinth of time, in stories that rarely take more than five minutes to read. For Borges, this is the true pleasure of the imagination: to derive infinite pleasure from something infinitesimal.
Still, this world is capable of being simultaneously vast, illusory and mischievous.
Borge jokingly warns that some won't be able to get their heads around his Library:
"Since not everybody is capable of experiencing [the pleasure of the imagination,] many will have to content themselves with simulacra."
Even if we can get into the Borgesian world, we might find, like one of the narrators, that our historical grip on reality is illusory:
"With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he realised that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him."
If only we could be certain that we are the dreamer, not the dream!
But is this just the ego vainly trying to master an infinite universe of which it has no real comprehension and over which it has no real power?
For Borges, as well as us, the questions have vast and entertaining implications.
“Merely a Man of Letters” - An Interview with Jorge Luis Borges by Denis Dutton, Michael Palencia-Roth and Lawrence I. Berkove
"Dutton: Why don’t you tell us about some of the philosophers who have influenced your work, in whom you’ve been the most interested?"
"Borges: ...I have no personal system of philosophy. I never attempt to do that. I am merely a man of letters. In the same way, for example that — well, of course, I shouldn’t perhaps choose this as an example — in the same way that Dante used theology for the purpose of poetry, or Milton used theology for the purposes of his poetry, why shouldn’t I use philosophy, especially idealistic philosophy — philosophy to which I was attracted — for the purposes of writing a tale, of writing a story? I suppose that is allowable, no?
Dutton: You share one thing certainly with philosophers, and that is a fascination with perplexity, with paradox.
Borges: Oh yes, of course — well I suppose philosophy springs from our perplexity. If you’ve read what I may be allowed to call “my works” — if you’ve read my sketches, whatever they are — you’d find that there is a very obvious symbol of perplexity to be found all the time, and that is the maze. I find that a very obvious symbol of perplexity. A maze and amazement go together, no? A symbol of amazement would be the maze.
Dutton: But philosophers seem not content ever to merely be confronted with perplexity, they want answers, systems.
Borges: Well, they’re right.
Dutton: They’re right?
Borges: Well, perhaps no systems are attainable, but the search for a system is very interesting.
Palencia-Roth: Would you call your work a search for a system?
Borges: No, I wouldn’t be as ambitious as all that. I would call it, well, not science fiction, but rather the fiction of philosophy, or the fiction of dreams. And also, I’m greatly interested in solipsism, which is only an extreme form of idealism. It is strange, though, that all the people who write on solipsism write about it in order to refute it. I haven’t seen a single book in favor of solipsism. I know what you would want to say: since there is only one dreamer, why do you write a book? But if there is only one dreamer, why could you not dream about writing a book?"
Valeria Munarriz - "Alguien le dice al Tango (Jorge Luis Borges/Astor Piazzola )"
Causa sui denotes something which is generated within itself. This concept was central to the works of Baruch Spinoza, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ernest Becker, where it relates to the purpose that objects can assign to themselves. In Freud and Becker's case, the concept was often used as an immortality vessel, where something could create meaning or continue to create meaning beyond its own life.
Parmenides:“Being appears as the pure fullness of the permanent, gathered within it, untouched by unrest and change.”
Heraclitus:“EvPERMANENCE AND FLUX
Parmenides:“Being appears as the pure fullness of the permanent, gathered within it, untouched by unrest and change.”
Heraclitus:“Everything is in flux. There is no being. Everything "is" becoming.”
Pindar:“Mayest thou by learning come forth as what thou art.”
BEING AND BECOMING
What becomes is not yet. What is need no longer become. What "is", the being, has left all becoming behind it if indeed it ever became or could become. What "is" in the authentic sense also resists every onsurge of becoming.
The realm of emerging and abiding is intrinsically at the same time a shining appearing. There are three modes of [appearing or] "Schein":
1. Radiance and glow;
2. Appearing, coming to light; and
3. Mere appearance or semblance.
...for the Greeks, standing-in-itself was nothing other than standing-there, standing-in-the-light. Being means appearing. Appearing is not something subsequent that sometimes happens to being. Appearing is the very essence of being.
The essence of being is physis. Appearing is the power that emerges. Appearing makes manifest… being, appearing, causes to emerge from concealment. Since the being as such is, it places itself in and stands in unconcealment, aletheia...The being is true insofar as it is. The true as such is being. This means: The power that manifests itself stands in unconcealment. In showing itself, the unconcealed as such comes to stand. Truth as un-concealment is not an appendage to being.
Truth is inherent in the essence of being. To be a being - this comprises to come to light, to appear on the scene, to take one's/its place, to produce something. Non-being, on the other hand, means: to withdraw from appearing, from presence.
Beings display themselves as the momentary and close-at-hand. In appearing it gives itself an aspect, dokei. Doxa means:
1. Regard as glory;
2. Regard as sheer vision that offers something;
3. Regard as mere looking-so: appearance as mere semblance;
4. View that a man forms, opinion.
Doxa means aspect, regard...to place in the light and thus endow with permanence, being. [I show myself, appear, enter into the light. Here the emphasis is on sight and aspect, the regard in which a man stands...esteem.] For the Greeks glory was not something additional which one might or might not obtain; it was the mode of the highest being...appearing belonged to being, or more precisely...the essence of being lay partly in appearing.
Because being, physis, consists in appearing, in an offering of appearance and views, it stands, essentially and hence necessarily and permanently, in the possibility of an appearance which precisely covers over and conceals what the being in truth, i.e., in unconcealment, is. This regard in which the being now comes to stand is Schein in the sense of semblance.
"The Tragedy of Appearance"
It was in the Sophists and in Plato that appearance was declared to be mere appearance and thus degraded. At the same time, being, as idea, was exalted to a suprasensory realm.
A chasm…was created between the merely apparent being here below and real being somewhere on high. In that chasm, Christianity settled down, at the same time reinterpreting the lower as the created and the higher as the creator.
[It is] necessary to secure the priority of truth as unconcealment, of discovery over occultation and distortion.
BEING AND THINKING
Thinking sets itself off against being in such a way that being is placed before it and consequently stands opposed to it as an object...being takes on its entire interpretation from thinking.
In the seemingly unimportant distinction between being and thinking, we must discern the fundamental position of the Western spirit, against which our central attack is directed.
Thinking refers to the future as well as the past, but also to the present.
Thinking brings something before us, represents it. This representation always starts from ourselves, it is a free act, but not an arbitrary one, for it is bound by the fact that in representing we think of what is represented and think it through by dissecting it, by taking it apart and putting it together again. But in thinking we not only place something before ourselves, we not only dismember it for the sake of dismembering, but, reflecting, we pursue the thing represented. We do not simply accept it as it happens to fall to us; no, we undertake, as we say, to get behind the thing. We find out how it stands with the thing in general. We get an idea of it, we seek the universal.
Three Characteristics of 'Thinking'
1. Representation 'of our own accord' - considered as a uniquely free act;
2. Representation as analytical synthesis; and
3. Grasp of the universal through representation.
Separation of Logos and Physis
How did the separation between logos and physis come about? How did the logos (the 'logical') become the essence of thinking? [Hegel: 'the logical is the absolute form of truth and, what is more, it is also the pure truth itself.'] How did this logos in the sense of reason and understanding achieve domination over being in the beginning of Greek philosophy?
Being in the sense of physis is the power that emerges. As contrasted with becoming, it is permanence, permanent presence. Contrasted with appearance, it is appearing, manifest presence.
What else can logos mean but statement, discourse, word?
Heraclitus' doctrine of the logos was regarded as the forerunner of the logos that figures in the New Testament...the logos is Christ…the God-man.
Noein is understood as thinking, an activity of the subject. The thinking of the subject determines what being is. Being is nothing other than the object of thinking, that which is thought. But since thinking remains a subjective activity, and since thinking and being are supposed to be the same according to Parmenides, everything becomes subjective. Nothing is in itself. But such a doctrine, we are told, is found in Kant and the German idealists. Essentially Parmenides anticipated their teachings.
According to Heraclitus what man is is first manifested (edeixe, shows itself) in polemos, in the irruption of being itself. For philosophy what man is is not written somewhere in heaven. Only where being discloses itself in questioning does history happen and with it the being of man, by virtue of which he ventures to set himself apart from the being as such and contend with it.
Only as a questioning historical being does man come to himself; only as such is he a self. Man's selfhood means this: he must transform the being that discloses itself to him into history and bring himself to stand in it. Selfhood does not mean that he is primarily an 'ego' and an individual. This is no more than he is a ‘we’, a community.
The initial separation between logos and physis led to the secession of the logos, which became the starting point for the domination of reason [i.e., in the contest between rationalism and irrationalism].
This secession of the logos which started logos on its way to becoming a court of justice over being occurred in Greek philosophy itself. Indeed, it brought about the end of Greek philosophy.
In the end the word idea, eidon, 'idea', came to the fore as the decisive and predominant name for being (physis). Since then the interpretation of being as idea has dominated all Western thinking throughout the history of its transformations down to the present day. This origin also explains why, in the great and definitive culmination of the first period of Western thinking, in the system of Hegel, the reality of the real, being in the absolute sense, is conceived as 'idea' and expressly so called.
In our first introductory characterisation of the Greek experience of being, we listed idea, eidos among other names for it… In reading the philosophy of Hegel or of any other modern thinker, or in studying medieval Scholasticism, we frequently run across the use of the word 'idea' for being.
The word idea means that which is seen in the visible, the aspect it offers. What is offered is the appearance, eidos, of what confronts us. The appearance of a thing is that wherein, as we say, it presents, introduces itself to us, places itself before us and as such stands before us, that wherein and as such it is present, i.e., in the Greek sense, is.
This standing is the stability of that which has emerged from out of itself, of physis. But from the standpoint of man this standing-there of the stable and permanent is at the same time the surface of what is present through itself, the apprehensible. In the appearance, the present, the being, presents its what and how. It is apprehended and taken, it is in the possession of an acceptance, its property, it is the accessible presence of the present: ousia. Thus ousia can signify both: the presence of something present; and this present thing in the what of its appearance.
Herein is concealed the source of the subsequent distinction between existentia and essentia.
Thus the idea constitutes the being. But here idea and eidos are used in an extended sense, not only for that which is visible to the physical eye; but for everything that can be perceived. What a being is lies in its appearance, but the appearance presents (makes present) the what.
The crux of the matter is not that physis should have been characterised as idea; but that the idea should have become the sole and decisive interpretation of being. [The idea, as the appearance of the being, came to constitute its what.]
Physis is the emerging power, the standing-there-in-itself, stability. Idea, appearance as what is seen, is a determination of the stable insofar and only insofar as it encounters vision. But physis as emerging power is by the same token an appearing. Except that the appearing is ambiguous…Appearing means, first: that which gathers itself, which brings-itself-to-stand in its togetherness and so stands. But second it means: that which, already standing-there, presents a front, a surface, offers an appearance to be looked at.
Being and Apprehension
But does not Parmenides' maxim say: being and apprehension - that which is seen and the act of seeing - belong together? Yet, to be sure, the thing seen belongs to seeing, but from this it does not follow that being-seen alone determines, or could determine, the presence of the thing seen. Parmenides' maxim does not say that being should be understood on the basis of apprehension, i.e., as something merely apprehended; it says rather that apprehension should be considered for the sake of being. Apprehension should so disclose the being as to put it back in its being; it should consider that the being presents itself and as what. But in the interpretation of being as idea, not only is an essential consequence twisted into an essence, but the falsification is once again misinterpreted. And this too occurred in the course of Greek experience and interpretation.
Being as Idea
As soon as the essence of being resides in whatness (idea), whatness, as the being of the being, becomes that which is most beingful in a being. It becomes the actual being, ontos on. Being as idea is exalted, it becomes true being, while being itself previously dominant, is degraded to what Plato calls me on, what really should not be and really is not, because in the realisation it always deforms the idea, the pure appearance, by incorporating it in matter. The idea now becomes a paradeigma, a model. At the same time, the idea necessarily becomes an ideal. The copy actually 'is' not; it merely partakes of being, it is a methexis. The chorismos, the cleft, has opened between the idea as what really is, the prototype and archetype, and what actually is not, the copy and image.
From the standpoint of the idea, appearing now takes on a new meaning. What appears - the phenomenon - no longer physis, the emerging power, nor is it the self-manifestation of the appearance; no, appearing is now the emergence of the copy. Since the copy never equals its prototype, what appears is mere appearance, actually an illusion, a deficiency. Now the on becomes distinct from the phenomenon. And this development brings with it still another vital consequence. Because the actual repository of being is the idea and this is the prototype, all disclosure of being must aim at assimilation to the model, accommodation to idea. The truth of physis, aletheia as the unconcealment that is the essence of the emerging power, now becomes homoiosis and mimesis, assimilation and accommodation, orientation by..., it becomes a correctness of vision, of apprehension as representation.
Correctness and Un-distortion
The being is disclosed in the logos as gathering. This is first effected in language. Consequently the logos becomes the essential determinant of discourse. Language - what is uttered and said and can be said again - is the custodian of the disclosed being. What has once been said can be repeated and passed on. The truth preserved in it spreads, and in the process the being originally gathered and disclosed is not each time experienced for itself. In the transmission the truth detaches itself as it were from the being.
Logos in the sense of discourse and utterance becomes the realm and the scene of decision concerning the truth, i.e., originally, the unconcealment of the being and hence its being. Initially the logos as gathering is the event of unconcealment, grounded in unconcealment and serving it. Now logos as statement becomes the abode of truth in the sense of correctness. And this process culminates in Aristotle's proposition to the effect that logos as statement is that which can be true or false. Truth that was originally unconcealment, a happening of the dominant being itself, governed by gathering, now becomes an attribute of the logos. In becoming an attribute of statement, the truth not only shifts its abode; it changes its essence as well. From the standpoint of statement, the truth is achieved if discourse adheres to what it speaks of; if the statement follows the being. The truth becomes the correctness of the logos.
Physis becomes idea, truth becomes correctness. Logos becomes statement, the locus of truth as correctness, the source of the categories, the fundamental principle in regard to the possibilities of being. 'Idea' and 'category' become the two terms that dominate Western thought, action, and evaluation, indeed all Western being-there.
From the standpoint both of the idea and of statement, the original essence of truth, aletheia (unconcealment) has changed to correctness. For unconcealment is that heart and core, i.e., the dominant relation between physis and logos in the original sense. The very essence of dominance is emerging-into-unconcealment. But apprehension and gathering govern the opening up of unconcealment for the being. The transformation of physis and logos into idea and statement has its inner ground in a transformation of the being of truth from concealment to correctness.
Unconcealment [is] the space created for the appearing of the being.
Ever since idea and category became sovereign, philosophers have tormented themselves in vain, seeking by every possible and impossible stratagem to explain the relation between statement (thinking) and being - in vain, because they never again carried the question of being back to its native ground and soil, thence to unfold it.
The Greek for 'to distort something' is pseudesthai. Thus the struggle for the unconcealment of the being, aletheia, became a struggle against pseudos, distortion and perversion. But it is in the very nature of struggle that whether a contestant wins or loses, he becomes dependent on his adversary. Because the battle against untruth is a battle against the pseudos, the battle for the truth becomes - from the standpoint of the combated pseudos - a battle for the a-pseudos, the undistorted, unperverted.
This transformation of unconcealment by way of distortion to undistortion and thence to correctness must be seen in one with the transformation of physis to idea, of logos as gathering to logos as statement.
Being signifies permanent presence, already-thereness. What actually has being is accordingly what always is, aei on.
Apprehension, noein, is taken over by the logos in the sense of statement. Thus it becomes the apprehension which, in determining something as something, thinks-through what it encounters, dianoeisthai. This discursive thinking-through defines the understanding in the sense of evaluating representation. Apprehension becomes understanding.
Ousia (permanent presence) now began to be interpreted as substantia. Ousia has become the decisive term for being.
In opposition to becoming stands eternal permanence. In opposition to appearance as mere semblance stands what is actually seen, the idea which, as the ontos on, is again the permanent and enduring as opposed to changing appearance. But becoming and appearance are not determined only on the basis of ousia, for ousia in turn has been essentially defined by its relation to logos, discursive judgment, dianoia. Accordingly, becoming and appearance are defined in the perspective of thought.
From the standpoint of evaluating thought, which always starts from something permanent, becoming appears as impermanence. In the realm of the already-there, impermanence is manifested primarily as not remaining in the same place. Becoming is seem as change of place, transposition. All becoming is regarded as motion, and the decisive aspect of motion is change of place.
BEING AND THE OUGHT:
Plato conceived of being as idea. The idea was a prototype and as such set the measure. What seems more plausible than to take Plato's ideas in the sense of values and to interpret the being of the Being from the standpoint of value? [Thus, History came to be regarded as a realisation of values.]
Insofar as the ideas constitute being, ousia, the idea tou agathou, the supreme idea, stands, beyond being. Thus being itself, not as such but as idea, comes into opposition to something other, on which it, being, is dependent. The supreme idea has become the model of the models.
Being itself, interpreted as idea, brings with it a relation to the prototypical, the exemplary, the ought. As being itself becomes fixated as idea, it strives to make good the resulting degradation of being. But by now this is possible only if something is set above being, something that being never is yet but always ought to be.
The ought is opposed to being as soon as being defines itself as idea.
In statement the 'is' serves as a copula, as a 'little word of relation' (Kant). But because statement, logos as kategoria, has become a court of judgment over being, it defines being on the basis of its own 'is', the 'is' of statement.
When ultimately ousia, meaning permanent presence, became the basic concept of time, what was the unconcealed foundation of permanence and presence if not time?
Time had to be taken as something somehow present, ousia tis. Consequently time was considered from the standpoint of the 'now', the actual moment. The past is the 'no-longer-now', the future is the 'not-yet-now'. Being in the sense of already-thereness (presence) became the perspective for the determination of time. But time was not the perspective specially chosen for the interpretation of being.
The essential is not number; the essential is the right time, i.e., the right moment, and the right perseverance....more
"Heidegger's philosophy is fascist right down to its innermost components." (January, 1963)
Being and Time
I read "Being and Time", sensitive to the possibility that I might encounter these Fascist connotations.
The only context in which I felt there were any conceivable Fascist undertones was Heidegger's discussion of the authenticity of the individual in society.
Ironically, it seemed to suggest that the individual might become inauthentic in the face of peer group pressure from "das Man" or "the they".
The discussion used the language of community and the people (which might have been translated from "das Volk").
I would have expected a Fascist to suggest that authenticity might be found in "das Volk", but it seemed to me that Heidegger was saying that it was a potential source of the loss (not a gain) of authenticity.
To the extent that Fascism might have somehow derived a benefit from his philosophy, I even speculated that Heidegger might have been unknowingly lured into personal inauthenticity (i.e., into views with which he did not otherwise agree).
I certainly never suspected that Heidegger might willingly submerge his individual identity in the social apparatus of the Fascist state.
There is too great a sense of ego, even egotism, in his writing.
"The Fundamental Question"
The first lecture in this compilation was delivered in mid 1933.
For the first half of it, I was struck by the beauty of Heidegger's words and rhetoric.
He seemed to be the ideal teacher to get a student interested in philosophy.
In many ways, his explanation of the basis of "Being and Time" was more lucid, comprehensible and persuasive than in the book.
Here, he seemed to use words and ideas to even greater effect. Here, he seemed to be phenomenally charismatic.
Two thirds of the way through the lecture, however, there is a turn. Heidegger's tone changes.
In order to achieve contemporary relevance, he mentions a conversation between the German chancellor (Fuhrer), Hitler, and the British foreign minister, Sir John Simon.
It's fairly innocuous, but it relates to the negotiation of a deal whereby Germany agreed to limit its naval fleet to 35% of the size of the British fleet.
Two pages later, he starts a polemic that lasts the rest of the lecture. It's worth setting out Heidegger at length in his own words:
"This Europe, in its ruinous blindness forever on the point of cutting its own throat, lies today in a great pincers, squeezed between Russia on one side and America on the other.
"From a metaphysical point of view, Russia and America are the same; the same dreary technological frenzy, the same unrestricted organisation of the average man...
"The spiritual decline of the earth is so far advanced that the nations are in danger of losing the last bit of spiritual energy that makes it possible to see the decline (taken in relation to the history of "being"), and to appraise it as such...
"We are caught in a pincers. Situated in the center, our nation...is the most endangered. With all this, it is the most metaphysical of nations...our people will only be able to wrest a destiny from it if within itself it creates a resonance...
"All this implies that this nation, as a historical nation, must move itself and thereby the history of the West beyond the center of their future 'happening' and into the primordial realm of the powers of being...
"...we have related the question of being to the destiny of Europe, where the destiny of the earth is being decided - while our own historic being-there proves to be the center for Europe itself.
"...does what is designated by the word 'being' hold within it the historical destiny of the West?
"...We have not yet come to the essential reason why this inherently historical asking of the question about being is actually an integral part of history on earth.
"We have said that the world is darkening. The essential episodes of this darkening are: the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the standardisation of man, the pre-eminence of the mediocre...
"What do we mean by the world when we speak of a darkening of the world?
"World is always world of the spirit...Darkening of the world means emasculation of the spirit, the disintegration, wasting away, repression, and misinterpretation of the spirit...
"What makes the situation of Europe all the more catastrophic is that this enfeeblement of the spirit originated in Europe itself and - though prepared by earlier factors - was definitively determined by its own spiritual situation in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was then that occurred what is popularly and succinctly called the 'collapse of German idealism'.
"...Spirit is neither empty cleverness nor the irresponsible play of wit, nor the boundless work of dismemberment carried on by the practical intelligence; much less is it world-reason; no, spirit is a fundamental, knowing resolve toward the essence of being.
"Thus, the inquiry into the being as such and as a whole, the asking of the question of being, is one of the essential and fundamental conditions for an awakening of the spirit and hence for an original world of being-there. It is indispensable if the peril of world darkening is to be forestalled and if our nation in the center of the Western world is to take on its historical mission."
The Naiveté of Egotism
I was quite shocked to read this blend of Spengler, Hegel and Hitler from a philosopher who is still so influential.
Moreso, to read defences of his work that seem to deny that he ever said such things or that deny that his work was intrinsically capable of manipulation in the cause of Fascism.
These words came from the horse's mouth. Heidegger knew what he was saying. He was the one doing the manipulating. He was manipulating himself and his philosophy in the service of Fascism.
Heidegger aspired to the ranks of great "poets, thinkers and statesmen." His literary and rhetorical style is to suggest that something important (an understanding of Being) has been lost, and he is the one who has found and repatriated it.
Here, he elects to make an offering of his discovery (or was it an invention?) to the German state.
He is like an architect who needs a client to realise his plans. If the client has the will and the resources, then that is enough. Why look a gift horse in the mouth? So it was that Heidegger granted Fascism entry into the realm of his philosophy.
The architect believed that his client would allow him to construct and fortify the historical destiny of Europe.
Unfortunately, Heidegger wasn't the only one to suffer as a result of his naiveté.
Heidegger and Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse was a postgraduate student of Heidegger's from 1928 to 1932.
He admired his teacher so much that he endeavoured to integrate Heideggerian Phenomenalism into his own Marxist analysis.
Because his family was Jewish, they departed Germany for Switzerland and ultimately America in early 1933.
Before Hitler's election as Chancellor in 1933, Marcuse was requested to act as an intermediary in the offer to Heidegger of the Fichte-Hegel-Schelling Chair at the University of Berlin. It is speculated that Heidegger declined the position, because he anticipated that Hitler would be elected and he didn't want to be associated with the previous government.
Marcuse and Heidegger attempted to discuss their differences after the War.
You can see Marcuse desperately trying to avoid the assessment that Adorno would make in 1963. There is a sense in which Marcuse is trying to give his teacher the benefit of the doubt, if only to excuse his own naiveté. (These lectures hadn't been published at the time, but their content was the subject of rumour.)
Below are some extracts from the correspondence that followed their post-war meeting.
Heidegger to Marcuse, January 20, 1948
"Concerning 1933: I expected from National Socialism a spiritual renewal of life in its entirety, a reconciliation of social antagonisms and a deliverance of western Dasein from the dangers of communism."
Marcuse to Heidegger, May 12, 1948
"The difficulty of the conversation seems to me rather to be explained by the fact that people in Germany were exposed to a total perversion of all concepts and feelings, something which very many accepted only too readily.
"Otherwise, it would be impossible to explain the fact that a man like yourself, who was capable of understanding Western philosophy like no other, were able to see in Nazism "a spiritual renewal of life in its entirety," a "redemption of occidental Dasein from the dangers of communism" (which however is itself an essential component of that Dasein!).
"This is not a political but instead an intellectual problem - I am tempted to say: a problem of cognition, of truth.
"You, the philosopher, have confused the liquidation of occidental Dasein with its renewal? Was this liquidation not already evident in every word of its "leaders," in every gesture and deed of the SA, long before 1933?"...more
It helps to have read Heidegger's "Being and Time" before this volume that some descriIMMERSE ME IN YOUR SPLENDOUR!
"This is the one!"
[The Stone Roses]
It helps to have read Heidegger's "Being and Time" before this volume that some describe as a companion, others as a critique (it's both, actually).
Heidegger writes like someone who is a reader; Sartre like someone who is both a reader and a writer. This is not to deny that Heidegger is a good writer. Just that Sartre is a better one.
Sartre wrote while Heidegger's ideas were still fresh. He agreed with many, disagreed with some, fine-tuned others, and finished the project that Heidegger set himself, but failed to complete. Naturally, Sartre accomplished something that was different from what Heidegger had intended at any stage of his career. Two philosophers, at least two opinions.
Sartre described his work as "an essay on phenomenological ontology," its goal to set down "the basis for a general theory of being."
It is a systematic, analytical work. It has the hallmarks of the type of system that Heidegger envisaged but failed to achieve, because he segmented his project, stopped at the first phase (which was enough to gain him a professorial post), started to question and doubt subsequently, revised, and went on to other interests (including the reconciliation of his philosophy with National Socialism).
Ontology is an extremely speculative, subjective, arbitrary and even metaphorical study.
Sartre doesn't accord Heidegger any particular privileged status. He is simply one more philosopher trying to address issues posed by philosophy in general and Husserl in particular. Both are trying to feel their way in the dark, recording their perspectives and impressions as they progress.
You might not agree with everything that Sartre (or Heidegger, for that matter) wrote. At least, unlike "Being and Time", you can tell from the text of "Being and Nothingness" itself, what ideas and arguments belong to Sartre, what he has adopted from his predecessors (who are acknowledged), and what his differences and disagreements are. This is an argumentative work which tries to tease out the truth, rather than one that simply proclaims its truth imperiously and ex cathedra.
Ultimately, I found Sartre's work to be a more honest and accountable study than "Being and Time".
Notwithstanding its length, it is also a more engaging literary experience for a reader, once (if at all) you become comfortable with the terminology of phenomenology and ontology.
"Being and Nothingness" works hard to be both a philosophical and a literary experience. As a result, it is a source of greater illumination.
THE INSISTENCE OF THE CARTESIAN SUBJECT [A Subjective Précis]:
Consciousness is what negates, differentiates, separates, determines, designates. It differentiates the Subject from the Object, and the Self from the Other. In order to identify itself, consciousness in the form of Being-for-itself turns inward and negates the Being-in-itself. Yet, Being-for-itself is nothing other than Being-in-itself. It is one and the same thing. Being is separated by nothingness. Consciousness identifies and chooses possibilities for being. Freedom is action in pursuit of possibilities. Freedom is the burden or responsibility of making our own choices. Freedom is the recognition and embrace of the possibilities of our own being. Bad faith occurs when consciousness eschews its responsibility to itself.
Heidegger and Sartre were both 38 at the time of publication of their respective works, "Being and Time" and "Being and Nothingness".
Meredith Joy Ostrom (Miriam) in "The Ninth Cloud"
THE MERE POSSIBILITY OF A RENASCENCE:
The Extreme Radicalisation of a Potentiality
"...Sartre's convictions are really closer to Heidegger's than to anyone else's. Indeed, the least inadequate capsule classification is to make of him the extreme radicalisation of a potentiality inherent in Heidegger's 'Sein und Zeit'.
"The passion with which he has expressed his convictions has given his philosophy a hard-hitting tone and has tended to spill over into the most exciting literature written by any philosopher since 'Zarathustra'."
The Post-structuralist Project
"It has been an unspoken goal of the post-structuralist project to render Sartre history -- and thereby to free itself from the weight of his thinking. Yet, to leave Sartre unspeakable through silence is silently to call attention to him as somehow fundamental; it is to suggest his having been given a reading, and call for a rereading."
"In sharp contrast to Heidegger, then, Sartre has no interest in conferring a meaning on (or otherwise deifying) being at the expense of the meaning conferring subject, for he believes (and not without good reason) that the individual’s conscious experience of the world is at the heart of the phenomenological impulse.
"Accordingly, Heideggerians such as Hubert Dreyfus, who believe that the “theory of consciousness” offered in Being and Nothingness is only a “misguided reformulation of Being and Time,” miss the point.
"Sartre does not aim to reformulate Being and Time any more than Heidegger aimed to reformulate Husserl’s phenomenology.
"Like all philosophers, he only aims to take from his predecessors what is useful for his own project, which, in Sartre’s case, revolves around the phenomenological freedom of the subject."
Understood for the First Time
"In 1946 in 'Letter on Humanism' Heidegger presented what is sometimes thought of as a devastating critique of Sartre, but only a year earlier in a note to himself he endorsed Sartre's reading of 'Being and Time'.
"Heidegger wrote in relation to Corbin's translation of 'What is Metaphysics?': 'Decisive effect on Sartre: from there 'Being and Time' understood for the first time.'
"Indeed on October 28, 1945 Heidegger wrote to Sartre, not only acknowledging that in 'Being and Nothingness' Sartre had shown a level of understanding of 'Being and Time' that he had not found elsewhere, but also recognising him as an independent thinker in his own right.
"Acting completely out of character, Heidegger told Sartre that he accepted Sartre's critique of the account of 'Mitsein' in 'Being and Time' and he acknowledged the legitimacy of Sartre's insistence on being-for-others...
"It was a remarkably conciliatory letter, even if one cannot avoid the suspicion that Heidegger was soliciting Sartre's help during what after Germany's defeat was a difficult time for him."
A SEA OF POSSIBILITIES: A SUBJECTIVE [DI-] VERSIFICATION OF VARIOUS SARTRESIAN MEDITATIONS [Mostly in the Words of Sartre]:
What are we to say is The being of man who has The possibility of Denying himself?
The For-itself is nothing But the pure nihilation Of the In-itself; It is like a hole of being At the heart of Being. The For-itself is The nothingness Of the In-itself.
The Existing Moon
What the crescent moon lacks, In order to be a full moon, Is a fragment of moon.
Nothingness Is a crack In the egg Of being.
The end and the goal Of the nihilation Which I am Is the in-itself.
Without this In-itself Which I deny, I should vanish Into nothingness.
Consciousness of Being
Nothing is in Consciousness Which is not Consciousness Of being.
The Nihilation of the Past Being
Consciousness continually Experiences itself As the nihilation of Its past being.
The Nihilation of the Existent
Aspiration is The denial Of the existent In favour of The possible.
Separated by Nothingness
Human reality carries Nothingness within itself As the nothing which Separates its present From all its past.
Between the nihilated In-itself and The projected in-itself, The for-itself Is nothingness.
The for-itself Cannot escape The in-itself, Because the for-itself Is nothing, And it is Separated From the in-itself By nothing.
Nothing is like The nothingness That is The cleavage Between Two breasts.
Keeping Abreast of Time [or Two]
The past and the present Are separated By nothingness And as unalike As two breasts.
Being, Possibility and Time
All being strives to Become possibility In the course of time.
The Future is not, It is possibilised. The Future is The continual Possibilisation Of possibilities.
Future Perfect Possibility
To be its own possibility, To be defined by it, Is to be defined by That part of itself Which it is not, To be defined by An escape from itself Towards a future possibility.
The Projected Future
What I project As my future being Is always nihilated And reduced To the rank Of possibility, Because the future Which I am remains Out of my reach.
A Meaning Out of Reach
From the moment I define myself Insofar as I am what I am not, And am not what I am, I am thrown towards a meaning That is out of reach.
In the Mode
I am the self Which I will be, In the mode of Not being it.
A Certain Coincidence
Each for-itself is haunted By the presence of that With which it should coincide In order to be itself.
A Tale of Two Halfs
Possibility is The glass half full, While nothingness is The glass half empty.
The possible is the something Which the for-itself lacks In order to be itself.
To be is to be My own possibilities. It is a mode of being In which I make myself be.
Being and Possibility
Each being-for-itself Strives towards the possibility Of being what it is not, Which (contra Sartre?) Is not nothingness, But possibility.
Consciousness of the World
What I seek In the face of the world Is the coincidence With a for-itself Which I am and which is Consciousness of the world.
The Horizon of the World
It is in time That the for-itself is Its own possibilities In the mode of not being. It is in time That my possibilities appear On the horizon of the world Which they make mine.
Present is Opposed to Absent, As well as To past.
(Condemned) To Be Free
The For-Itself Is free. Its freedom Is to itself Its own limit. To be free Is to be Condemned To be free. I am condemned To be wholly Responsible For myself.
Consciousness Constitutes itself In its own flesh As the nihilation Of a possibility Which another Human reality projects As its possibility. Instead of directing Its negation outward, It turns it toward itself.
Flight and Pursuit
The for-itself Attempts to escape Its factual Existence. This flight Takes place toward An impossible future. Thus the for-itself Is both a flight And a pursuit.
The object is That which is not My consciousness.
I make the Other Lose himself In the world Which is mine By the sole fact that He is for me the one Who I have to not-be. I make the Other be In the midst of the world.
The Other is The indispensable Mediator between Myself and me.
The road of Interiority Passes through The Other. As I appear To the Other, So I am. Since the Other Is such as He appears To me, And my being Depends upon The Other, The way in which I appear Depends on The way In which The Other Appears To me.
The Other's Look
To be looked at Is to apprehend oneself As the unknown object Of unknowable appraisals.
I am ashamed Of myself Before the Other.
Vanity impels me To get hold Of the Other, So that I may Discover there My own object-state, So that he may Release to me The secret of my being.
I have fallen Into the world In the midst Of things. Through the world I make known To myself What I am.
Being in the Midst of the World
The ultimate project Of Being-for-itself Is being-in-the-midst-of-the-world.
The Absolute Flow
My senses are In the midst Of a world; They are in and through The absolute flow Of my world Toward the Other.
IX-SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS
I live my selfness In its concrete projection Toward this or that Particular end. I exist only As engaged.
The freedom Of the for-itself Is always Engaged.
The for-itself is The foundation Of all negativity And of all relation. The for-itself is Relation.
The essence Of the relations Between consciousnesses Is not the Mitsein; It is conflict.
To die is To lose all Possibility Of revealing Oneself as Subject to an Other.
The flesh is the Pure contingency Of presence.
The body is the Contingent form Which is taken up By the necessity Of my contingent form.
The Other's Body
The Other's body Is the pure fact Of the Other's presence In my world As a being-there Which is expressed As a being-as-this.
A Body Known
I exist For myself As a body Known by The Other. I feel myself Touched by The Other In my factual Existence. It is my Being-there-for-others, For which I am Responsible.
Making Itself Body
The being which desires Is consciousness Making itself body.
By seduction I aim At constituting myself As a fullness of being, A meaningful object, And at making myself Recognised as such.
Each of the lovers Is the captive Of the Other.
The one who wants To be loved, By the mere fact Of wanting someone To love him, Alienates his freedom.
I am the Accomplice Of my own Desire, Which has fallen Wholly into Complicity With the body.
Desire is not Only the desire Of the Other's body; It is the lived project Of being swallowed up In the body. Consciousness allows itself To go over to the body, Wishes to be the body, And to be only body.
Desire is The ensnarement Of a body By the world. Consciousness Is ensnared In a body Which is engulfed In the world.
In desire, I incarnate My consciousness, I incarnate myself, In order to realise The incarnation Of the Other.
The caress is The ensemble Of those rituals Which incarnate The Other.
Double Reciprocal Incarnation
The caress causes The Other's body To be born, Through pleasure, For the Other - And for myself - In such a way That my body Is made flesh In order to touch The Other's body, That is, by Caressing itself with The Other's body, Rather than by Caressing her/him.
The Mode of Not Being
Anguish is my consciousness Of being my own future, In the mode of not-being.
The for-itself Apprehends Itself in anguish As a being Compelled to decide The meaning of being Within it and Everywhere Outside of it. The one who realises In anguish his condition As being thrown Into a responsibility Has no longer either Remorse or regret or excuse. He is no longer Anything but a freedom. Most of the time We flee anguish In bad faith.
Anguish Manifests Our freedom To our Consciousness. Anguish is a consequence Of taking your Self Seriously.
My knowledge Extends my nausea Toward that which It is for others. For it is The Other Who grasps My nausea, Precisely as flesh And with the Nauseous character Of all flesh.
XIV-OXEN OF THE SUN
Work as a Mode of Alienation
The worker - servile or not - Experiences in work his Being-an-instrument for others. Work, when not strictly destined For the ends of the worker himself, Is a mode of alienation.
The education And reflection Necessary To conceive Of a social state In which suffering Would not exist.
To act is to Modify the shape Of the world.
To be is to act, And to cease to act Is to cease to be. The act is The expression Of freedom. I am an existent Who learns His freedom Through his acts.
The present Is the upsurge Of the act.
For the for-itself, To be is to Nihilate The in-itself Which it is. Freedom is Nothing other Than this nihilation.
Freedom is Not free Not to exist Or not to be free. Freedom Cannot escape Its existence.
The Choice of an End
Freedom is the choice Of an end In terms of the past. Conversely, The past is what it is, Only in relation to The end chosen.
The Illumination of the End
The end Illuminates What is. What-is Takes on its meaning Only when it is surpassed Toward the future.
We are fully Conscious Of the choice Which we are.
Freedom implies The existence Of an environment To be changed. To be free is To be free-to-change.
To be free Is to be free-to-do, To be free-in-the-world.
The for-itself By its upsurge Causes the in-itself To come into the world. It is our freedom Which is responsible For the fact that There are things And that we are Separated from them.
Desire is a Lack of being.
Human reality Is the desire Of being-in-itself.
Desire to Be
It is not enough That I be; I must desire To be.
I desire To apprehend My thought As a thing, And the thing As my thought.
To-be-in-the-world Is to form the project Of possessing The world.
What I Have
I am What I have.
To know Is to have. The known Is transformed Into me.
The Lover’s Dream
The lover's dream Is to identify The beloved object With himself And still preserve Its individuality; Let the Other Become me Without ceasing To be the Other.
To Be God
Man is the being Whose project Is to be God. To be man Means to reach Toward being God. Man is the desire To be God. Man makes himself man In order to be God.
"Their Objects Were the Only Way I Could Invoke Them"
Patti takes a shot of some solitary thing (view spoiler)[a possession, a relic, a fragment(hide"Their Objects Were the Only Way I Could Invoke Them"
Patti takes a shot of some solitary thing (view spoiler)[a possession, a relic, a fragment(hide spoiler)] that is personal, intimate, private, obscure, useful, valuable relating to an artist (view spoiler)[a life mask, a bandana, a bed, a chair, a tea cup, a guitar, a typewriter, a mirror, a grave, a cane, a hat, shoes, slippers, eating utensils, paint brushes(hide spoiler)] and leaves us with an image that is precious, emblematic, iconic, reverent, sacred, talismanic (view spoiler)[a thing that captures and embodies love(hide spoiler)].["br"]>["br"]>...more