Mark Reece's Blog

February 12, 2019

Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another's MisfortuneSchadenfreude: The Joy of Another's Misfortune by Tiffany Watt Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I think that this book would have worked well either as a list of funny instances of schadenfreude/ schadenfreude gone wrong, or as a serious philosophical/scientific examination of the subject. As it is, the book tries to do both but achieves neither.

The book does have some funny moments, but Smith has several annoying habits. The first of these is the pseudo intellectual quirk of quoting great thinkers saying trivial things. There is no point to this, except to add a pretended gravitas. It's as if one was constantly greeted by a colleague who said things like: "As Aristotle used to say: 'good morning'", "would you like a drink, as Einstein often asked". The worst example of this is when she accuses Nietzsche of hating Jews, black people, and gays, and being Hitler's favourite philosopher. The latter accusation is demonstrably false, whereas no quotes or evidence are supplied for the former, extraordinary claims.

Smith is also fond of starting chapters with generalizations about what 'we' think or feel about various issues. No evidence is ever provided for this 'we', and it often feels as if she's simply assuming that everyone has similar feelings to her on the subject. These statements are irritating in the same way as articles in newspaper supplements that begin with "we're all liberals/socialists/dog lovers/social media addicts/other thing nowadays". Plainly, we're not all anything, and I'd prefer not to be told that I am.

It might have been better to have defined schadenfreude more clearly at the start, as some of the examples given don't seem to fit. Is laughing at the sight of someone with toilet paper stuck to their shoe really taking pleasure at their discomfort? It seems to me more like laughing at something incongruous.

Hopefully, there are no grammatical errors in this review that would enable anyone to feel schadenfreude out of a demonstration of my foolishness. Because I don't like to look foolish, as Socrates used to say.



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Published on February 12, 2019 14:15

February 6, 2019

Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)Neuromancer by William Gibson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Although this book is considered a classic, I could not finish it. The prose comprises strings of techno jargon with little explanation, meaning that it's very difficulty to work out what's going on. I'm not sure that I'd be too interested to find out- the characters seem very flat- the grifter type, the enforcer type, etc.

There's not much else to say.



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Published on February 06, 2019 11:41

February 3, 2019

Tales of IranTales of Iran by Feridon Rashidi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a collection of sixteen short stories, most of which are set in modern Iran. The writing is hyper realist in the spirit of Gogol, whereby sights, smells, and sounds are described in minute detail until the descriptions become overwhelming and absurd. There are some extraordinary scenes, particularly during one story where a religious festival turns into a brawl, complete with rioting villagers and donkeys having sex nearby.

The stories focus very little on the psychology of the protagonists, but this does not prevent the characterization having depth and interest. The stories tend toward absurdity, with misunderstandings between people and private obsessions being commonplace.

One of the other things I liked about these stories was the realistic way that they depicted people living in a society where religious precepts are omnipresent. Some characters take them seriously, others repeat homilies while engaging in all the usual vices. There can be a tendency when depicting people in a religious milieu to assume that people act in a certain way because such and such religious texts says such and such. The characters in Rashidi's stories have all too human motivations, and he is to be commended for this.

One criticism I would make is that there are occasions where the author editorializes too much. One of the stories, 'Operation Ajax', which is set during the 1953 Iran coup, contains sections that read like an extended commentary, and is thus much the weakest story in the collection. However, this is a small point. These stories are finely written, absurdist, and stick in the memory long after the reading is over.



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Published on February 03, 2019 14:22 • 17 views

January 27, 2019

I've recently had an article published on the 'Mass Movement' website. Link below:

http://massmovement.co.uk/technology-...
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Published on January 27, 2019 08:33 Tags: mass-movement-article
I'll be doing a reading of my novel, 'The dreams of the eternal city', on 16 Feb at the Meadow Inn, Buildwas Road, Ironbridge, TF8 7BJ, 2.30–4pm

For more details, see:

http://offaspress.co.uk/events/
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Published on January 27, 2019 08:22 Tags: reading

January 21, 2019

The Fall of Public ManThe Fall of Public Man by Richard Sennett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a great work of sociology, demonstrating enormous scholarship and erudition. It is unusual for a modern work of sociology to be so discursive- the book ranges from discussions of theatre, architecture, literature, philosophy, psychology, and child development, amongst others. This makes it a difficult book to understand, and one that benefits from repeat reading. However, the ideas under discussion make such time well spent. Sennett is an engaging writer, although in the earlier sections of the book, he perhaps could have defined the terms he uses more clearly. However, this is a quibble.

In The Fall of Public Man, Sennett sets out his critique of the 'intimate society', in which, as he describes it, what is good is defined as personal, and the bad as impersonal. In this schema, 'warmth' is praised over things that are 'cold' or 'aloof'. Ways of thinking about society are transformed into psychological terms- a good political leader is one who is 'principled' or 'authentic'. As Sennett points out, the rationality of thinking about politics in this way is unclear, as those terms rely upon assessing an individual's character, which is not only almost impossible for people who don't know them personally, but also irrelevant to whether the political leader can achieve something for the public that puts them in power.

However, Sennett also points out deeper problems implicit in this way of thinking. In particular, he describes how the intimate society tends towards de-politicization- if 'impersonal forces' are not emotionally gratifying, then they are not considered important in the way personal things are. A person may not wish to conceive of the position they occupy in a social class hierarchy because that would undermine their 'personality'. This prevents them from acting in concert with others to improve their conditions.

Furthermore, Sennett describes how interacting with others on an impersonal basis can lead to people becoming expressive and open, whereas when people come to need to interact on the basis of a personal connection, sectarianism and closed mindedness often result, as personal connections usually imply connections with the like minded. To demonstrate this, several sections of the book are devoted to comparing public life in London and Paris at different points in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sennett favorably points to practices that existed to build an impersonal public sphere, such as forms of dress that drew attention from personal characteristics, that he claims lead to greater sociability than social practices that depend on emotional interconnectedness.

To demonstrate the irrationality of considering politics in personal terms, Sennett also gives an entertaining and very perceptive analysis of Zola's J'Accuse. I'd always considered this a rather strange document, but had not considered it in the way Sennett described.

The book is a very impressive example of how sociology can be a philosophy of everyday life and is highly recommended.



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Published on January 21, 2019 18:19

December 26, 2018

Please check out my new website- www.markreece.co.uk

This gives details of my recent debut novel, information about upcoming events, and samples of my previously published stories.
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Published on December 26, 2018 12:33 • 1 view