Walter Benjamin is a name, a thinker that I've encountered over and over throughout my years of reading--yet, I've never read his work directly. This,Walter Benjamin is a name, a thinker that I've encountered over and over throughout my years of reading--yet, I've never read his work directly. This, then, was my first experience with the German polymath. Hannah Arendt's 51-page introduction is one of the finest introductions I've ever read-scholarly, compassionate, engaging; it is not to be skipped, though I suggest that it be read after the compendium of Benjamin's essays. Arendt sheds light on the crucial fact that Benjamin was nearly unclassifiable, especially in his lifetime. He did literary criticism but was not a literary critic; he engaged in theological discourse, but was not a theologian, etc. This (or perhaps Harry Zohn's translation) could account for what I feel to be a lack of congruence in these essays. Out of all 10 essays, I felt that I was in a jungle of thoughts, only to happen upon shining treasure once in a while. I've included some examples below. Overall, his thoughts were stimulating, though they may not last. The best of the lot were his essay on Proust and the essay on art during the age of mass-production, the latter of which I will be returning to when I concentrate on William Gaddis's The Recognitions for my dissertation.
Unpacking My Library - "...the mild boredom of order" (59). - "Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the [book] collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories" (60). - "Writers are really people who write books...because they are dissatisfied with the books which they...do not like" (61). - A theme in this essay, as in others, is that the collector exists inside the collection; the collection possesses the collector.
The Task of the Translator - "Languages are not strangers to one another, but are, a priori and apart from all historical relationships, interrelated in what they want to express" (72). - "Where a text is identical with truth or dogma, where it is supposed to be the 'true language' in all its literalness and without the mediation of meaning, this text is unconditionally translatable. In such case translations are called for only because of the plurality of languages" (82).
The Image of Proust - "...from the honeycombs of memory he built a house for the swarm of his thoughts" (203).
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction - "A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it...the distracted mass absorbs the work of art" (239)....more
As other viewers have noted, this is not a book in the same mode of A Brief History of Time; it is a compendium of assorted essays and interviews andAs other viewers have noted, this is not a book in the same mode of A Brief History of Time; it is a compendium of assorted essays and interviews and talks from 1976-1992. If you're curious to discover more of Stephen Hawking the man and evolving physicist (essays 1-6, and the interview at the end), this is your book. If you're look for more popular science, this is probably not it--though the science essays (7-13) are still devoid of the complex formulae found in whitepapers.
Hawking emerges from these pages a brilliant man who has persevered and maintained a solid character of balance and optimism in the face of detrimental physical limitation. He states that, after diagnosis, he "felt somewhat of a tragic character" and "took to listening to Wagner," but he also clears up the media-marketed rumors that he drank heavily (23). He presents his position that the physicist view of "reality" is really just a mathematical model used to describe observations--further, "[i]t is no good appealing to reality because we don't have a model independent (sic) concept of reality" (44).
In one essay, he cleverly refutes the anthropic principle (53); in another he makes clear that physicists, i.e. "the people who actually make the advances," do not think in terms of the categories that historians and philosophers subsequently assign to them (42); and in yet another he says that his desert island music would be Mozart's Requiem and his desert island book would be George Eliot's Middlemarch (keeping in mind that Shakespeare and the Bible are implied).
My head turned at this book selection. Stephen Hawking reading Middlemarch? Alas, he is a dynamic human being after all. ...more
How could I not love Montaigne? He lived the life I wish I could live: locked away in a far turret within the fortified walls of his family's château,How could I not love Montaigne? He lived the life I wish I could live: locked away in a far turret within the fortified walls of his family's château, Montaigne spent his later years basically cloistered in his library, reading and writing, and eventually spawning the form known as the essay. One looks at pictures of the famous tower and dreams.
Having only known Latin until the age of 6, Montaigne's influences are to be expected, especially in light of the historical era of the Renaissance: Virgil, Seneca, Cicero, Lucan, Horace, Catallus, Lucretius, Petrarch, Ariosto, Ovid, Martial, and Juvenal, to name a few.
[The following are my running notes to eventually be crafted into a sort of review.]
1. By diverse means we arrive at the same end:
"Truly man is a marvelously vain, diverse, and undulating object. It is hard to found any constant in uniform judgment on him" (5).
2. Of sadness:
"All passions that allow themselves to be savored and digested are only mediocre" (8-9).
3. Our feelings reach out beyond us:
"We are never at home, we are always beyond. Fear, desire, hope, project us toward the future and steal from us the feeling and consideration of what is, to busy us with what will be, even when we show no longer be" (9-10).
4. How the soul discharges its passions on false objects when the true are wanting:
"And we see that the soul in its passions will sooner deceive itself by setting up a false and fantastical object, even contrary to its own belief, than not act against something" (16).
7. That intention is judge of our actions:
"If I can, I shall keep my death from saying anything that my life has not already said" (24).
8. Of idleness:
"The soul [or mind] that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere" (24).
9. Of liars:
"But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field. The Pythagoreans make out the good to be certain and finite, evil infinite and uncertain. A thousand paths miss the target, one goes to it" (28).
"And how much less sociable is false speech than silence" (28).
10. Of prompt or slow speech
"I have little control over myself and my moods. Chance has more power here than I. The occassion, the company, the very sound of my voice, draw more from my mind than I find in it when I sound it and use it by myself" (31).
"Living by Proverbs" is by far the best of this lot. In the vein of Eco's penchant for discovering and philosophizing on lists, this essay at once sum"Living by Proverbs" is by far the best of this lot. In the vein of Eco's penchant for discovering and philosophizing on lists, this essay at once summarizes an anonymous, rare pamphlet about a utopian community that attempted to live by proverbs and uses a list of the proverbs to delivery one of the cleverest essays I've ever read. As for the rest of the book, we mostly get a peek into the famous, vast home library of Italy's most renown scholar, which is more awe-inspiring and confounding (which, in one of the essays, is more Eco's point)thank enlightening or thought-provoking....more
I can't but marvel at Barthes's talent as a critical thinker, and there are a handful of short articles in this book that really sparked my intellectuI can't but marvel at Barthes's talent as a critical thinker, and there are a handful of short articles in this book that really sparked my intellectual senses. At the same time, reading books like this one reminds me why I didn't pursue further efforts in criticism. After a few essays, it's starts to get tiresome and even irritating having everything dissected--usually to point out the negativity in everything. In my days of applying literary theory and other critical lenses to different subjects, you eventually find that you can't really sit down and enjoy anything, be it a book, movie, shopping trip, travel, etc., because you're so busy wanting to point out all the flaws and patterns that seemingly no one else sees....more