Alain de Botton discussion

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Question to Alain de Botton

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message 1: by Daan (new)

Daan (patisson) My first question to Alain de Botton is about the moment he chose to stop writing his PhD and started writing for the 'general audience', the other question is about travelling in a globalised world.

Which factors were responsible for your choice to begin writing for a general audience and how did these factors suddenly attract your attention (you already started writing your PhD)? Also, how confident were you at the time with this decision?

I read The Art of Travel and have The Architecture of Happiness waiting for me on the bookshelf. I found the thinkers mentioned in the Art of Travel really interesting and it gave me a deeper consciousness of my surroundings. I do think that the way we travel is changing though, in a more drastic way than the book explores. I see more and more of my fellow students taking their Grand Tour which must ultimately affect the places they visit. They won't even have the time to read about the art of travelling. How should we deal with the fact that after all these exchanges of people and commodities, truly authentic places almost no more exist? Is it just a matter of believing in the authenticity of your own experience?

Kind regards,

Daan


message 2: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 1 comments Dear Alain,
I've been very interested in the various concepts you choose to explore in your books. What is the latest thing that you are knocking around for a possible tome? Is it political? Socioeconomic? Something lighter?
Thanks again for taking part in this discussion with us.
Best,
Elizabeth


message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim (tarnmoor) I guess this is less of a question than a suggestion. More and more, I feel as if I belonged to the last generation of people who actually read books (in my case, around 8-12 a month), and I feel sometimes like a dinosaur among people whose lives are buoyed up solely by the pop culture around them, whereas I never even watch television.

Perhaps what I'm suggesting is a book on how the rules are changing, the tools are changing ... but how much are we changing as a result?


message 4: by Karissa (new)

Karissa (ksmischke) | 1 comments Not certain how this works but I'd like to know if you have any plans to write any more fiction? Enjoy what is already out there and hope there will be more but love the non-fiction topics you've currently been exploring.


message 5: by Erin (new)

Erin (erinsayscheese) First and foremost, I want to say I enjoy your writing so much, both as fiction and non-fiction. I first became a fan of your work with "On Love", and have read your books since, in the order they have been published. As an avid reader, I love your attention to detail, and how you seamlessly capture and analyze the peculiarities of relationships and people in your fiction. As a sociologist (I'm currently working on my PhD), I enjoy your work on social life--specifically how broader constructs impact individual aspects of our being, in your non-fiction.
Moving to my question, the last few of your books have been non-fiction. What fostered that shift from fiction to non-fiction in your particular career? And, do you have any plans to return to fiction at any point?


message 6: by Yooperprof (last edited Oct 19, 2010 09:32PM) (new)

Yooperprof | 2 comments I'm looking forward to reading your new Heathrow Book! It sounds like the modern equivalent of the philosopher in the agora.

Do you blog?

If Proust were alive today, do you think that he would be a blogger?

Yours,

Chet


message 7: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Daan wrote: "My first question to Alain de Botton is about the moment he chose to stop writing his PhD and started writing for the 'general audience', the other question is about travelling in a globalised worl..."

Thanks for your question, the reason I gave up my PhD was that I couldn't imagine any university giving me a job long-term. My interests are just too diffuse. I love the idea of universities, but I fear that I wouldn't fit in. Who knows, perhaps in the future I might one day be admitted to one - but then allowed a little more freedom about what I'd be able to teach.

About travel, I agree on the dangers but I do place faith in the way in which people can experience places. It isn't in the end the place that has to be authentic or unspoilt, but the nature of one's response to it.


message 8: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "Dear Alain,
I've been very interested in the various concepts you choose to explore in your books. What is the latest thing that you are knocking around for a possible tome? Is it political? Socio..."


Hi,
I'm just looking at religion at the moment. I'm fascinated not so much by religious ideas, but by the way religions structure our experiences, the way they schedule encounters with important feelings - in the way that the secular world finds it hard to do.


message 9: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Karissa wrote: "Not certain how this works but I'd like to know if you have any plans to write any more fiction? Enjoy what is already out there and hope there will be more but love the non-fiction topics you've c..."

I'd love to write another novel one day, but at the moment am exploring how to write books of ideas which at the same time have novelistic touches (evocations of character, place etc.)


message 10: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "First and foremost, I want to say I enjoy your writing so much, both as fiction and non-fiction. I first became a fan of your work with "On Love", and have read your books since, in the order they ..."

Thanks so much for your kind comments - I guess I shifted to non-fiction because I realised that what holds my books together are threads of ideas rather than developments of character. This was a simple-sounding but rather fundamental realisation for me.


message 11: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Yooperprof wrote: "I'm looking forward to reading your new Heathrow Book! It sounds like the modern equivalent of the philosopher in the agora.

Do you blog?

If Proust were alive today, do you think that he wo..."


Thanks so much - I don't blog, but I do tweet! @alaindebotton


message 12: by Daan (new)

Daan (patisson) Alain wrote: "Daan wrote: "My first question to Alain de Botton is about the moment he chose to stop writing his PhD and started writing for the 'general audience', the other question is about travelling in a gl..."

Thank you, I found your answers interesting.


message 13: by Alessandra (new)

Alessandra | 1 comments Referencing the Architecture of Happiness which portrays a strong sense of observance and influence from the external world. Do you think it is possible to be too "open" to the effects of the world around us? To what extent should we be sensitive to external cues and understandings as opposed to our inner-self? How do you personally delineate between the two?


message 14: by I (new)

I | 1 comments Alain, well done on your latest book. I read it on the way to Malaysia earlier this year. It is, I think, amongst some of your best work. What is it about travel that fascinates you?


message 15: by Spencer (new)

Spencer | 2 comments Alain de Botton,

First of all, let me also say that I enjoy your writing immensely. I've been wanting to read your "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" since it seemed related to a project I was working on with a Commuter's Walden inspired by my time as a commuter. I finally got the chance as I was traveling for a sibling's wedding and a conference and found airports, planes, and hotel rooms a perfect setting to immerse myself in reflections of the content of the book. It reminded me of years ago reading--and I am finally getting to an actual question here--Jorge Luis Borges' "Labyrinths" on a beach in Costa Rica. The endlessly varied repetitions of the waves and weather went perfectly with the book.

This leads me perhaps to two questions, are there any books you've read that through timing or whatever else have fused with the circumstances around reading it, and who are your favorite/most influential authors?


message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark (captaintoews) | 1 comments I marshmallow you.
The "Architecture of Happiness" says that buildings are significant. They can even evoke ideals. What does that say about us? Human nature is to identify symbols and patterns. But are we creative enough to make and share the symbols we need in a world that has none?


message 17: by Amy Beth (new)

Amy Beth (amybethharrison) | 1 comments I have found your books really helpful to me in the last year. The Consolations of Philosophy was comforting to me during my first year out of graduate school. After reading How Proust Can Change Your Life, I’ve been giving Proust a try and am really enjoying the overflowing, minutely detailed listing of his character’s nuanced feelings. I also enjoyed the comparison of religion and bohemia in Status Anxiety; as both a religious person and artist I’ve seen how both points of view are really helpful.

Not only do I find the text useful in your books, but I also am always fascinated by how you use images. I’ve never seen an author use them so well. They are not mere illustration; they hold ideas themselves, add humor, and have as much importance as a page of text in rolling forth your ideas. As a visual artist, I really appreciate this fusion between text and image. How do you view the images in your books i.e. what role do they play for you? What is your process in bringing word and image together?


message 18: by ann (new)

ann (mishi) | 2 comments Hi Alain,
As an architectural student and aspiring architect, I truly appreciated The Architecture of Happiness. It helped reset my aesthetic perspective. I know you are more of a history buff and you wanted to cover the origins of Gothic and Victorian architecture, but I wish you had spent more time tackling modern architecture.

Although you passed over it lightly, your book helped me understand the origins of the ubiquitous glass office block. In school they taught us that these were knock-off imitations of Mies buildings and a degraded imitations of the International Style. Still, even when I see the real thing, I still find it a higher quality, more expensive version of cartesian blandness and a kind of cold indifference to human scale.
I guess what I failed to appreciate during school was the aesthetic value an elegant grid was supposed to convey in the middle of the last century after two wars. A gridded monolithic cube suggests homogeneous interior and a kind of compact unity.

Perhaps it is no accident that it is this same form used to shelter the increased specialization and fractured reality of our working lives: floors leased out to different companies that have nothing to do with each other and whose employees don't interact. There is nothing as anonymous as working in an office building, and yet you might think from the look of them, that everyone entering them might be Borg soldiers getting on their starship for a mission. You might not appreciate the Star Trek reference, but the United Nations building in NYC is a good example of pristine cartesian beauty on the outside and dysfunction on the inside.

No questions for you, but would love to see you chase modern architecture some day. It has become more of a fashion industry in the past couple decades. Cities don't build cathedrals, but they do raise funds for an "iconic" building to put their city on the cultural map.
Love your books. Maybe another one on architecture?
Thanks!


message 19: by Rima (new)

Rima (rima_gerhard) | 1 comments Alain, thank you for being so kind and replying to us here. I have read all your books. I was always curious whether a particular personal experience triggered your thoughts for "On Travel" - especially the notion that we somehow forget that the person tanning on a Carribbean beach is still just our same old self, not that beautiful model we saw on a travel prospectus.


message 20: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Alessandra wrote: "Referencing the Architecture of Happiness which portrays a strong sense of observance and influence from the external world. Do you think it is possible to be too "open" to the effects of the world..."

Yes, you're right; Though artists generally are on the side of increasing our sensitivity, there's no doubt when denial, repression, shutting down and not noticing are in fact survival strategies rather than negligence.


message 21: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
I wrote: "Alain, well done on your latest book. I read it on the way to Malaysia earlier this year. It is, I think, amongst some of your best work. What is it about travel that fascinates you?"

Thanks so much - I like travel for its power to dislocate us and in the process, to get us to look at our own lives and ambitions and assumptions in a new way. It usefully confuses us.


message 22: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Spencer wrote: "Alain de Botton,

First of all, let me also say that I enjoy your writing immensely. I've been wanting to read your "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" since it seemed related to a project I was wo..."


I'm delighted you enjoyed the book. A book influence for me was Norman Mailer's OF A FIRE ON THE MOON, a meditation of the 1969 moon landing that is really an essay about technology, racism, God, Mailer's marriage and countless other digressions. The book gave me freedom to by myself while discussing economic and business matters.


message 23: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Mark wrote: "I marshmallow you.
The "Architecture of Happiness" says that buildings are significant. They can even evoke ideals. What does that say about us? Human nature is to identify symbols and patterns. Bu..."


I agree that there's a challenge but yes, we are able to create meaning for ourselves. Humans are immensely skilled at this. After all, depending on how you look at matters, we may have 'made' religion...


message 24: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Amy Beth wrote: "I have found your books really helpful to me in the last year. The Consolations of Philosophy was comforting to me during my first year out of graduate school. After reading How Proust Can Change..."

I'm so glad you enjoy the images. They are really important to me. I am frustrated graphic designer - and think there's a whole level of communication you can have on a visual level and that is generally neglected by all but a few writers (like, notably, the wonderful W. G. Sebald). So to conclude, I'm happy you have noticed the visual emphasis: a lot of love and thought goes into creating it.


message 25: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
ann wrote: "Hi Alain,
As an architectural student and aspiring architect, I truly appreciated The Architecture of Happiness. It helped reset my aesthetic perspective. I know you are more of a history buff an..."


Yes, I agree, I'd love to write more about contemporary architecture. Much of my energy in this area has gone into creating a new organisation: www.living-architecture.co.uk - which builds modernist houses that can be rented by anyone. This was a project that grew out of my book and attempted to change rather than merely reflect architectural reality. I will be writing a book about this project and modernist houses more generally, probably at the end of 2011.


message 26: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Rima wrote: "Alain, thank you for being so kind and replying to us here. I have read all your books. I was always curious whether a particular personal experience triggered your thoughts for "On Travel" - espec..."

The Art of Travel was a loose collection of essays around themes of travel: i guess what started it off was noticing that so many thoughts that I wanted to analyse belonged under the rubric of 'travel' - so I yoked them all together and the result was this rather odd, but on a good day quite pleasing book.


message 27: by ann (new)

ann (mishi) | 2 comments Thank you. Looking forward to reading that book when it arrives.
-ann


message 28: by Rona (new)

Rona | 1 comments Dear Alain,

You are with out a doubt my favorite writer and the person I wish to meet face to face one day.
I love following your tweets as much as reading your books. Do you plan to gather them as a book?
I'm also curious if you have written an autobiography what would you name it?

Thank you so much for creating and sharing with us,
.rona


message 29: by Brigitte (new)

Brigitte Zabak (brigittez) | 1 comments Alain,

I distinctly remember the first time I came across your work. I was in a book store in Santa Fe, NM and the bright pink cover of On Love was shouting at me from across the room. I've been hooked ever since.

I'm curious about what your motivation behind On Love was and what your process was for writing that book. I read a bit of Stendhal after reading your book because I was fascinated with the psychology of love more than the emotionality of it.

I appreciate the opportunity to interact with you and look forward to your insight.


message 30: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Saba wrote: "Alain, your comment about Mailer's 'Of a Fire on the Moon' reminded me of a Richard Baker talk on 'Pleasures and Sorrow' (at the MHS in Oxford) where it seemed like you both shared a very symbiotic..."

Thanks so much - you're right, Richard and I do very much share a common view of a lot of things.
Another photographer I love is Sophie Calle and I would love to work with her on a project.


message 31: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Rona wrote: "Dear Alain,

You are with out a doubt my favorite writer and the person I wish to meet face to face one day.
I love following your tweets as much as reading your books. Do you plan to gather them ..."


I'm delighted - no plans yet to collect tweets and one day I might write a short piece about my life, mostly for my two sons.


message 32: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "I have selected a couple of your books (The Art of Travel and Status Anxiety) for the book club I coordinate at a Seattle bookstore. Without fail, your books seems to generate interesting discussio..."

Yes, I think dislocation is key: artists dislocate themselves so as to be able to use their creative energies to return a sense of order to the world.


message 33: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
Brigitte wrote: "Alain,

I distinctly remember the first time I came across your work. I was in a book store in Santa Fe, NM and the bright pink cover of On Love was shouting at me from across the room. I've been ..."


My motives were shockingly simple - a desire to understand my own troubles in love and to make sense of them on the page so that others might either confirm my feelings or learn from them


message 34: by L (new)

L (loidissima) | 2 comments Mr. De Botton

How will you address human interactivity involving technology, such as social networking such as Twitter & Facebook be integrated into future works?

I often wonder how such methods of communicating & interacting will carry over into your writings on relationships. (I have in mind On Love & Status Anxiety).


message 35: by Alain (new)

Alain Botton (alaindebotton) | 24 comments Mod
I think one can drop in that people now communicate in new ways without that necessarily unbalancing everything: ie. when the telephone was invented, it quickly found its way into books by Proust or Virginia Woolf - but didn't overwhelm them.


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