Kant was a pretty smart guy and maybe I'm not so smart, but I can't understand what he thought he accomplished with the Prolegomena. Kant's stated purKant was a pretty smart guy and maybe I'm not so smart, but I can't understand what he thought he accomplished with the Prolegomena. Kant's stated purpose was to refute Hume, who had cast doubt on the concept of causation by pointing out that we only observe one event following another and have no reason to conclude that the first caused the second. Kant's solution is posit that all sensory information is subjective. Even so basic information as the spatial and temporal orientation of objects and events is constructed by our minds and bears no necessary relation to reality.
This is a very interesting and influential idea, but as a philosophical solution to Hume's problem, I don't get it. From this starting point, Kant goes on to show that not only causation but other rational constructs are valid. That's nice, but they're only valid in the sphere of ideas. Kant has completely divorced them from any meaningful relationship to empirical reality, because all the information we have about the outside world is a construct of our own minds. Kant allows that there is something out there, but we can't know anything about it as it really is.
Hume, it seems to me, was pointing to a problem with empiricism, which Kant solves by retreating to idealism. That's a kind of solution, but a very unsatisfying one for anyone with any interest in establishing something metaphysical about the world outside one's brain....more
This is not Niebuhr's best work. The basic problem is that the work is hardly theological at all. It's an attempt to write the history or historical sThis is not Niebuhr's best work. The basic problem is that the work is hardly theological at all. It's an attempt to write the history or historical sociology of empire by someone without any training and based, as far as I could tell, on secondary sources that weren't too fresh even at the time of writing. Given that the book is now more than a half century old, it's amazing anything at all in it holds up. Sadly, not much does.
The basic aim of the book is to place the American and Soviet empires of the Cold War in the historical context of other empires in order to more fully understand the latter and urge America to embrace an imperial role as leader of the free world against it. Quite apart from one's possible political objections to this, almost every stage of the argument is flawed. Although I'm not an expert in this field either, Niebuhr's analysis of ancient empires (essentially that they were all based on a universal religious idea) is misguided. His account of the rise of nations in the west is hillariously teleological: he has "nations" as the dominant form of political organization in Europe by the 16th century, which is at least 300 years too early. His description of early modern and modern European imperialism, especially in Asia, is based on the flawed premise that by the 16th century India and China were technically backward (when it was precisely because they were so far ahead of Europe that Europeans wanted to trade with them). Finally, his argument about Soviet imperialism (that it was based on the universal ideas of Marxism) is, perhaps deliberately, very poor. To give just one example, there's no mention of Western intervention in favor of the Whites in the '20s, which to me seems utterly essential to understand subsequent Soviet foreign policy.
As a source of early American cold warrior thought, I found this book interesting. But it has virtually nothing outside that to offer, except perhaps a cautionary tale about the consequences of not understanding history....more
The novels in this collection have all the strengths of the earlier, but add a greater level of character and emotional impact. I had previously readThe novels in this collection have all the strengths of the earlier, but add a greater level of character and emotional impact. I had previously read The Long Goodbye, which I love, but of the others The Lady in the Lake seemed almost as good.
The Long Goodbye seems to be generally regarded as Chandler's best, and it lives up to that reputation for me. It illustrates the argument of several of the essays included at the end of the volume, that a story dependent on a labyrinthine plot, in which the author tries to trick the reader, is the most boring form of mystery. The "mystery" of The Long Goodbye is faily straightforward, and the final revelation is satisfying because of what it means for the characters rather than for the plot. Most of the pleasure comes from the quiet moments that have little to do with the bustle of the plot, like a enjoying a gimlet in a bar before it fills up for the evening....more
I read two chapters of White Teeth a few years ago for a class I TA'd. I enjoyed the episodes in them, and it had been in the back of my mind to checkI read two chapters of White Teeth a few years ago for a class I TA'd. I enjoyed the episodes in them, and it had been in the back of my mind to check out the rest of the book. Now that I've done so, I'd say the way I first experienced it was probably best. The book is very episosdic, with a few big ideas and themes that tie the episodes together.
On a case-by-case basis, the stories in the book are generally enjoyable. Smith creates some memorable characters and is good at coming up with slightly outrageous situations to put them in. The thread that connects the stories is the idea of multi-cultural cultural identity. Almost all the characters, most notably the immigrants, are trying to figure out what it means to be British. The immmigrant experience aspect of the book was interesting, and is what ultimately made it work as a novel rather than a collection of stories about the same characters.
There are some other, clumsier, themes and tropes that Smith uses less successfully. One of them is the emphasis on teeth, which gives the book it's title. Teeth come up quite often, culminating in one of the main characters decision to become a dentist, but this never added up to anything for me. The ending was kind of a mess, with a lot of characters coming back in not very interesting ways and all the characters meeting up at a single event. The problem here was that after a good deal of build-up tracing the trajectories of several groups of characters, most of them don't really have anything to do. This seemed to me to be the novelistic equivalent of the movie that ditches all the clever things about itself and ends with a twenty minute shootout....more
There are some really great stories in this book, but a lot of the early and unpublished stories were just ok. Even the stories I liked best, such asThere are some really great stories in this book, but a lot of the early and unpublished stories were just ok. Even the stories I liked best, such as "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "The Denunciation," and "Under the Ridge" reiterated themes from the novels. For the Hemingway completest, the short story afficianado, or those with short attention spans, these stories are where you want to go. For others, go to the novels first and come back to these....more
**spoiler alert** I've read Tender is the Night twice, the first time many years ago. I remembered only two things. The first was that it was pretty b**spoiler alert** I've read Tender is the Night twice, the first time many years ago. I remembered only two things. The first was that it was pretty bleak. The second was the description of Dick's train journey up the Alps. Both turn out to be true (in fact, a lot of the descriptive language is great), but there's quite a bit more.
Like Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, this is a book about ennui among post-war Americans in Europe. Tender is the Night is a bit more about the perils of too much easy money, which I think is a result of Fitzgerald writing after the crash (1934, vs. 1927 for Hemingway). In particular, the book is about the disintegraton of Dick Diver from promising young psychologist to hard-drinking kept man and ultimately anonymous upstate New York GP. Most of his problems are due to his marriage to Nicole, a wealthy patient with some serious mental problems. Dick loves Nicole, but the strain of being her doctor and her husband is high, as is his resentment of Nicole and her sister's efforts to get him to enjoy some of their money.
I liked this book well enough, but I've been thinking about why I don't like it as much as The Sun Also Rises. One reason is that the doctor marrying patient scenario feels like a device, and is also too obviously going to be the cause of his downfall. More importantly, the characters don't pop for me. We're often told that Dick and Nicole are a sophisticated couple and that Dick is an intelligent analyst, but I never really felt those things to be true. Likewise, Rosemary Hoyt (the other main character) just seems a little boring.
On the other hand, I am eternally grateful that I've read this book if only for the description of the University of Chicago as "the intellectual stockyards of the South Side of Chicago."
I'm only writing about Pnin and Pale Fire, since I first read Lolita separately. The two actually work pretty well together since both contain strongI'm only writing about Pnin and Pale Fire, since I first read Lolita separately. The two actually work pretty well together since both contain strong elements of academic satire. Pnin was kind of painful right now, since the good professor can't get a decent job at an American university. I liked Pale Fire a lot. It's a prologue, a deliberately terrible narrative poem, and lengthy notes. The real story is about the editor, who it quickly becomes clear isn't entirely right. His notes cast the poem, which is actually a banal life story, as an allegory about his own life as an exiled king. It's a pretty funny and original setup....more
The story (novella? it's less than 100 pages in this version) doesn't have a lot of stylistic innovations that FaI only read Spotted Horses this time.
The story (novella? it's less than 100 pages in this version) doesn't have a lot of stylistic innovations that Faulkner features in his novels, although it does involve the Snopes family. In fact, it feels like a relatively slight, somewhat comic effort. That's certainly what the back cover description implies, for what it's worth.
While the story is funny, if it's comic it's pretty dark. It's the story of a seemingly prosperous huckster who comes to town and bilks the locals out of money for uncontrollable horses. After he leaves, two legal cases try to restore some justice to the townsfolk, but perjury and technicalities foil this as well. There's a lot of funny stuff and what you might call local color, but ultimately this is about systematically excluded poor people....more
I was thinking about the last chapter of this book, especially since this edition includes a preface by Burgess explaining its purpose and criticizingI was thinking about the last chapter of this book, especially since this edition includes a preface by Burgess explaining its purpose and criticizing Stanley Kubrick and the American publishers influenced by his movie for leaving it out. Burgess's position is that without the final chapter the book isn't a proper novel because the main character wouldn't change or develop. That's fair, but I'm wondering why everything has to be a novel. After all, as Burgess also notes, it's not the most subtle story in the world. His term is didactic, which is probably right (he does have a way with words). As a fable or parable, however, I think A Clockwork Orange is great. This seems to me to be how Kubrick approached it. Kubrick was rarely interested in exploring the inner lives of his characters, which doesn't make him less of a filmmaker or storyteller, but does make him less "novelistic."
The last chapter of the book detracts from the moral force of the story as a fable. It suggests that everything will work out fine in the end, without really offering any good reason why except for "growing up." But plenty of people exit their adolescence without mellowing, becoming less sociopathic, or better. The ending of the book seems like a cop-out from the moral question posed by the rest of the book. Facing a choice between a good fable and a mediocore novel, Burgess's insistence on the last chapter opts for the latter.
Two other things I really like about this book (besides pretending the last chapter isn't there) are the music and the language. I'm glad Burgess recognizes the violent tendencies of Romantic music, despite the stuffiness of many concert halls. I also find the language endlessly inventive and clever. My current favorite is "gorgeous gorgiousity."...more
I had a hard time putting my response to Eden into words. That's perhaps appropriate, since the characters feel the same way about Eden the planet. LiI had a hard time putting my response to Eden into words. That's perhaps appropriate, since the characters feel the same way about Eden the planet. Like a lot of Lem books, it's about the alienness of aliens, but it didn't connect with me as much as Solaris or His Master's Voice....more
This is a review of the entire Book of the New Sun, which includes this volume and the second volume called Sword and Citadel.
I found this book very uThis is a review of the entire Book of the New Sun, which includes this volume and the second volume called Sword and Citadel.
I found this book very unusual in a number of ways. The first was the genre. The first several chapters appear to be purely fantasy set in a magical-medieval world, but it gradually becomes clear that it's actually a far-future world in which technological knowledge has decayed. I'm about 99% sure that this is supposed to be Earth (Urth, as it's called here). This is one example of the second weird thing: it wasn't clear to me how much I was supposed to be putting together between the lines of the story. Wolfe's narrator almost never explains things, which is not necessarily a problem, but in other books that work like that I've found it a lot easier to pick up on what the author expects you to know. At the end of the book, the narrator says that if you think he has failed to explain something, you should go back and read it again. This statement made me like Gene Wolfe a lot less.
I suppose the fairest statement of my attitude is that I admired the book but did not get deeply engaged in it. I think this is at least in part due to the pacing. Sometimes it takes hundreds of pages for the main character to accomplish what seems like a straightforward task but at other times Wolfe leaps ahead weeks or months with no explanation. You're suddenly in a new place with new characters you've never met before. I found this a little frustrating in its own right and I also think it's part of the reason it was hard to get attached to anyone but the main character.
There's a quote from Neil Gaiman on the front cover that says this is "the best SF novel of the last century." I understand that tastes vary, but that is certainly false. Nevertheless, it's a unique book that's not without some attractions....more
I think I admired this book more than I enjoyed it. Partly that's because I thought the ending kind of petered out. I know there's a sequel or continuI think I admired this book more than I enjoyed it. Partly that's because I thought the ending kind of petered out. I know there's a sequel or continuation, but it seemed that The Parable of the Sower is supposed to stand on its own without The Parable of the Talents.
I really liked the first part of the book, which establishes the general situation in the world and with Lauren, the main character, and her family. Butler is very effective at setting up the necessity of accepting change, one of the major themes of the novel. Set just a few decades in the future, the world she creates is radically different from ours, yet most of the characters are comitted to keeping things the way they are and unable or unwilling to think about more change. This is also very effectively linked to Lauren's adolescence, where everything seems to be changing but no one else can recognize it.
The second part of the book was less satisfactory to me for a couple of reasons. First, Lauren stops developing as a character and seems to be prematurely an adult. Second, and I thought this was especially true in the last quarter of the book, there are so many new characters introduced so quickly that it was hard to me to keep track of them, much less care about them.
Still, I would recommend the book and will probably seek out Talents to continue to story. Butler has created some very interesting characters and a fruitful twist on the usual distopian future scenario. I just wish there was a more fulfilling culmination to the story....more
With Second Foundation we've left psychohistory totally behind and are addressing the very different idea of emotional or mental control. There is a sWith Second Foundation we've left psychohistory totally behind and are addressing the very different idea of emotional or mental control. There is a solid story reason for this, since Seldon's original plan has been changed by the Mule. Asimov also tries mightily to explain that psychohistory and the ability to manipulate individual psychologies are related. Basically, the story now is that the ability to mathematically model the individual brain was, when statistically applied to large numbers of people, the foundation of psychohistory. That's plausible enough (I guess) but it's very different from the way psychohistory was originally described. In the first book Asimov uses the analogy of Brownian motion, where the action of any individual particle (person) is completely random but the behavior of the group is predictable. The difference is that, while the movement of the individual is technically calcuable, it follows different rules from that of the group and is basically unrelated to it.
So we get quasi-magical mindreading and telepathy and it's all pretty silly. But while the science is becoming more unmoored from it's origins in the first book, the stories have gotten better. That's especially true of "Search by the Foundation," which is easily the best in the whole trilogy. There's a large and varied cast of characters, a twisty yet logical plot, and a genuine sense of adventure and importance.
There's also a hint (which, as I recall, gets expanded in the subsequent sequels Asimov wrote much later) that maybe the Foundation and Seldon's Second Empire aren't actually the be all, end all we've heretofore assumed. As far back as the Hober Mallow story in Foundation, we've been introduced to the idea that the government of the First Foundation was growing increasingly despotic and oligarchic, something that was a big theme of Foundation and Empire. But in those stories there was the sense that this state of affairs was a necessary stage in the development of a better system (which raises a whole bunch of other interesting questions that aren't the point here).
In Second Foundation, though, we learn that (at least according to the Second Foundation) the fulfillment of Seldon's Plan involves the First Foundation gaining physical control over the galaxy, at which point the Second Foundation steps in and becomes the ruling class. They justify this on the grounds that, without the plan, human beings would never accept psychologicall informed governance, even though it's what's best for them. They also have few compunctions about brainwashing people into accepting or working for them. This is highly Platonic and pretty disturbing....more