Thursday, April 24, 2014

Theme: Justin E. H. Smith

  • Herb and Harry were the names of our two steers, the one a Hereford, the other a Holstein. They did not do much but stand, bovine and stoic, from one day to the next. They sculpted strange rolling shapes into the salt lick with their fat blue tongues, and delighted, with minimal expression, in the delivery of fresh hay. My father liked to joke that they were 'out standing in their field', and they were. They excelled in matters of bovinity, one could not dream of surpassing them.Read more
  • On a certain plausible --but ultimately unsatisfactory-- definition, ‘philosophy’ is simply a proper noun. It describes a particular tradition, just like the terms ‘ballet’ and ‘butoh’. It would be odd to claim that there is an indigenous tradition of Polynesian ballet, not because anyone believes that Polynesians are inherently incapable of appreciating or mastering this sort of dance, but simply because, as a matter of contingent historical fact, ballet emerged in Europe.Read more
  • I dreamt last night that I was sharing a taxi with Putin from Moscow to Sheremetyevo airport. He was being very friendly and I could tell he liked me. I felt like a coward and a moral cretin for not saying anything critical that would cause him to not like me, and at the same time I kept trying to convince myself that there were strong pragmatic reasons for maintaining good relations, at least for now, as this would enable me to eventually write more revealingly about him.Read more
  • If I recall correctly, Plotinus was said by his disciple Porphyry to have experienced a total of four mystical visions, in which he, it is reported, became one with the One. The great Platonist philosopher could not relate anything of his visions, however, since they had brought him beyond the boundaries of discursive language, into a realm where the 'true' and the 'false' of propositions no longer hold.Read more
  • Around the same time English-language philosophers were debating whether or not you can know what it is like to be a bat (generally deciding that you can not), the Australian poet Les Murray was busy directly transcribing the thought-world of an imagined representative of this order. Read more
  • Many scholars have noted the broad resemblances between this Cynic gesture, on the one hand, and, on the other, the various universalist, and therefore necessarily transnational, religious movements that appeared in the so-called Axial Age, not least Buddhism and Christianity. Both sought to establish the global validity of their central truth claims, and in so doing to break the historical link to a given culture.Read more
  • Down below, in the shafts of earth, Far removed from the reach of light, The rage and wild push of pain Are the sign of a happy flight. Laid out in our narrow punt, We'll soon arrive at heaven's front.Read more
  • I’m waiting in line, embarrassed to be here by myself. I’ll be turning forty later this month, and here I am at the natural history museum, childless. The ticket lady is going to look at me funny. There is some kid behind me, four years old or so, speaking Swedish to his dad. He is wearing thick, round glasses made of blue plastic, and a colorful backpack with a cartoon image of a Cro Magnon on it. His progenitor is getting a lecture about how birds are, in truth, dinosaurs.Read more
  • The far-right National-Democratic Party of Germany has put up campaign signs in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern with the slogan 'Ausländer raus'. In case you don't believe me, I've provided photographic proof. On closer inspection, the signs in fact read 'Kriminelle Ausländer raus', but this is more a vivid example of the pragmatics of font size, and other elements of graphic design, than it is a mitigation of the political view expressed. The NPD hovers as close as it can to the boundary which, if crossed, would place it in violation of the German constitutional ban on neo-Nazism. Read more
  • The other night I had a dream. It was of a woman I know, whom I would like to keep anonymous. She is an academic, my-age-ish, and a prominent contributor to public debate in her home country. In the dream my mother, sister, and I had just moved into a house previously occupied by this woman's family.Read more
  • I want to say a number of different sorts of thing about Blood Meridian, but I think it will be true to the way Cormac McCarthy himself approached the novel in its creation to move out from the most elementary constituents. Let's start with apostrophes. Read more
  • I am able to read Walt Whitman only in small doses, for fear of being overpowered by a sort of rapturous assent, tears in my eyes, unable to comprehend how it is even possible to agree so fully with someone else. I’ve only known Whitman for a few years. When I was in my twenties, it was all Dostoevsky and Kafka and Beckett and Thomas Bernhard: the period of European literature that extends from that continent’s extreme unction up through its longwinded funeral orations. Read more
  • There is a cat that sits on the sidewalk in front of the bistro Chez Bébert near the Gare Montparnasse in Paris (I snapped his picture just yesterday). He does not greet visitors, but he does give them to know, in his silent occupation of that crucial space before the door, that this is his bistro, and that, whatever the surrounding humans may call him, he is Bébert. Read more
  • There is a trite and obvious thing to say about Iceland, and that is that it looks like the moon. Descending into the Keflavik lava fields the other day, on an Icelandair flight from Paris, I was permitted to feel annoyed and a bit superior when I overheard the virgin French tourists behind me exclaiming as they gawked at the land below: Mais il n'y a rien là! By 'nothing' I thought perhaps they had meant 'no Michelin stars', but then one of them added, as if on cue: C'est comme la lune!Read more
  • Vladimir Nabokov has done pretty much all a human can do, from within the pouch of corporeal experience and the tunnel of time, to trace out the boundaries of the absolute. He has done so entirely without positive beliefs, but armed only with a love of the names of things, and a superhuman power to combine these names according to the rules — which are his own rules — of the art of description.Read more
  • Over the past several years, I have written a number of articles, in Lapham's Quarterly, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere, in which I have questioned some of the features of the emerging mainstream consensus about gay marriage. I have consistently affirmed my support for it, and have at the same time insisted that in the fight to achieve marriage equality, internal critique should be welcomed as having a strengthening effect.Read more
  • The apocryphal story of Phyllis and Aristotle is captivating for a number of reasons. For one thing, it recalls for us a period in the history of culture in which philosophy, and philosophers, were implicated not just in elite disputation, but also in popular lore and moral instruction. The tale of Phyllis and Aristotle is an exemplum, that is, a stock lesson telling you — and here, 'you' is not a subtle follower of philosophical arguments, but a simple fellow influenced by memorable stories accompanied by vivid images — what you ought not to do.Read more
  • I've carried around with me for the past few years this idea that George Saunders discovered a new method for exploring the human soul at hitherto unimagined depths, that he was the culmination of what Nietzsche had in mind when he called Stendhal 'a great psychologist', etc. Read more
  • I've been reading Thomas de Quincey's 1827 essay, The Last Days of Immanuel Kant, which is really little more than a massively long quotation, in English translation, of Ehregott Andreas Wasianski's 1804 work, Immanuel Kant in seinen letzten Lebensjahren. In fact, Wasianski's entire work is cited, after a few paragraphs of framing from de Quincey, and with a few additional footnotes here and there. I am not really certain why this work is attributed to the author of Confessions of an Opium Eater at all. De Quincey is at most the editor. Read more
  • My friends imagined that I was joking, that I was being my usual haughty, hi-culture, Europhile self. How can I get the message across? No matter how often I attempt to explain this, no one believes me: I am essentially a lo-culture kind of guy. Or, rather, I deny the legitimacy of the distinction. I do not believe that there is anything more earnest in Ernstkultur than in Unterhaltung. Read more
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