Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’
June 10, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in simulacra, simulation, and other heavy Baudrillard-type shit: Why are so many tech bros convinced that reality is an illusion created by our futuristic descendants? “Many people have imagined this scenario over the years, of course, usually while high. But recently, a number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists—people who share a near-religious faith in technological progress—have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable … ‘Maybe we should be hopeful that this is a simulation,’ [Elon] Musk concluded, last week, since ‘either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.’ If you hope that humanity will survive into the far future, growing in power and knowledge all the while, then you must accept the possibility that we are being simulated today.”
- Fun pretentious dinner-party trick: ask if anyone has read Byron’s memoirs and mock anyone who answers in the affirmative, because those memoirs don’t exist, duh. “Byron’s memoirs—which might have finally provided the ‘truth’ about his life—were destroyed soon after his death. The story goes that three of his closest friends (his publisher, John Murray; his fellow celebrity poet, Thomas Moore; and his companion since his Cambridge days, John Cam Hobhouse), together with lawyers representing Byron’s half-sister and his widow, decided that the manuscript was so scandalous, so unsuitable for public consumption, that it would ruin Byron’s reputation forever. Gathered in Murray’s drawing room in Albemarle Street, they ripped up the pages and tossed them into the fire. The incident is often described as the greatest crime in literary history. It has certainly served to fuel curiosity and conjecture about Byron’s personal life for another couple of centuries. What was the damning secret his friends needed to protect? Domestic abuse? Sodomy? Incest? Probably all three, we imagine.”
- “Starchitects” like the late Zaha Hadid present themselves as benevolent aesthetes, designing public works that revitalize moribund cities around the world. But really they’re just helping rich people and promoting globalization: “Many leading architects, and most architecture critics, fail to acknowledge the basic reality that architecture isn’t just a vacuum of aesthetic virtues and vague adjectives—it is a product of its political, economic, and social context … Because architects are largely beholden to their clientele, their predilection for designing luxury lodging is partly attributable to changes in the housing market and the global economy. But we shouldn’t let them off the hook that easily. By and large, elite architects have disengaged from efforts to make the most fundamental unit of architecture available to all … Prime movers in gentrification, Hadid and her fellow starchitects have deployed their talents in service of an urban development model that erects symbolic monuments for elites rather than improve the lives of ordinary people.”
- Contrary to popular belief, Milan in the sixties was no place to wear a miniskirt. Just ask Valentina Rosselli—she’s fictional, but she’ll tell you anyway: “Inspired by American silent screen star Louise Brooks, Valentina Rosselli is the heroine of illustrious Italian comic book artist and graphic novelist Guido Crepax, who started drawing the famous character in 1965. Through his outstanding technique, cinematic compositions, and subtle use of ink and line, Crepax created an introspective and consciously sensual character, a photographer living in the midst of a feminist revolution, that would become his trademark. Through Valentina, Crepax unhinged the sexual taboos of Italian society dominated by the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”
- Finally, let’s talk about history’s oldest cuss words: “Latin obscenity was in some ways much like our own, being based around sexual and excretory taboos. The Roman sexual schema was quite different from ours, however, leading to some distinctive swearwords. It was socially acceptable for a Roman man to have sex with anyone of any gender, in any way, as long as he was the active partner. To insult someone, then, a Roman would not use futuo (the Latin f-word)—he would more likely say ‘Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,’ as the poet Catullus does to critics who have accused him of effeminacy. He threatens them with oral rape and anal rape, basically—he will humiliate them by putting them in the passive position. The worst insult you could throw at a Roman man was that he practiced cunnilingus—this was to be passive with respect to a woman, a shame almost not to be borne.”
May 20, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in things to do with your extra $600,000: buy a rambling 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. It’s sixteen thousand words … it’s on paper … any more questions? “The missive, known as the Joan Anderson letter, after a woman with whom Cassady described an amorous relationship, had been known only from a fragment, apparently retyped by Kerouac, that was published in 1964. In an interview in 1968, Kerouac said he had got the idea of the ‘spontaneous style’ of On the Road from ‘seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters) … It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves,’ Kerouac said. After receiving the letter Kerouac lent it to Allen Ginsberg, who passed it along to another poet, who was living on a houseboat, who ‘lost the letter, overboard, I presume,’ Kerouac said.”
- What if you’re a bad writer? It can happen to anyone, at anytime, without warning. Toby Litt teaches you the warning signs: “It’s possible that you’ve never had to read 80,000 words of bad writing. The friend of a friend’s novel. I have. On numerous occasions. If you ask around, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a really bad novel easily enough. I mean a novel by someone who has spent isolated years writing a book they are convinced is a great work of literature. And when you’re reading it you’ll know it’s bad, and you’ll know what bad truly is … Often, the bad writer will feel that they have a particular story they want to tell. It may be a story passed on to them by their grandmother or it may be something that happened to them when they were younger. Until they’ve told this particular story, they feel they can’t move on. But because the material is so close to them they can’t mess around with it enough to learn how writing works. And, ultimately, they lack the will to betray the material sufficiently to make it true.”
- Everyone wears clothes, which would seem to suggest that they’re important to the whole human gestalt. And yet philosophers give them short shrift—why? “How could we ever pretend that the ways we dress are not concerned with our impulses to desire and deny, the fever and fret with which we love and are loved? The garments we wear bear our secrets and betray us at every turn, revealing more than we can know or intend. If through them we seek to declare our place in the world, our confidence and belonging, we do so under a veil of deception … Dress can bind and constrain us; its regulated repertoire is a bondage estranging us from truer, freer, more naked realities. E. M. Forster wryly cautions us to ‘Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes,’ but his own prim English Edwardian elegance was the keeper of his undisclosed confidence, sexual and otherwise.”
- The Chinese director Bi Gan’s debut, Kaili Blues, contains among other cinematic oddities a forty-one-minute single take through the windshield of a car. (Don’t worry, the car is in motion.) “Bi, who was twenty-six when he made Kaili Blues, seems primarily concerned with developing a film language that treats memory as a tangible thing. Objects here are pieces of time. In addition to searching for the boy, Chen agrees to look up a man who had once been his elderly co-worker’s lover and present him with several remembrances—including a shirt that had long ago been intended as a gift and a tape cassette of old pop songs. Bi is hardly the first director to dramatize temporal space or to seek to replace chronology with simultaneity. Alain Resnais and Chris Marker come immediately to mind. Bi is, however, less analytical and more intuitive. Kaili Blues is prefaced with a quote from the Diamond Sutra to the effect that Everything is Now. Past thought cannot be retained, future thought cannot be grasped, and present thought cannot be held. Go with the flow. It’s a fair warning.”
- Whit Stillman’s new film is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. And though it shocks me to report this, I’m afraid he had the audacity to make the movie without ever having read Austen’s handwritten manuscript for the novel. I know. He must’ve just read some paperback edition or something. Fortunately The New Yorker remedied that: “Stillman met me at the Morgan Library to inspect one of the collection’s treasures: Austen’s handwritten manuscript of Lady Susan, which also happens to be the world’s only full surviving manuscript of any of her works of fiction … Even among ardent Austen fans, Lady Susan is pretty obscure. Austen wrote it when she was about twenty, as a family amusement, not intended for publication. The novella is epistolary in form, which sets it apart from her later novels, as does its heroine—if ‘heroine’ is even the right word for Lady Susan Vernon, a lovely, penniless young widow who ruthlessly manipulates handsome men to serve her amorous needs and rich men to handle her financial ones … ‘There are people who are passionately admiring of her real juvenilia, but I’m not one of them,’ he said, breezily, when asked about Austen’s even earlier novella Love and Friendship, the source of his film’s title. ‘A fifteen-year-old wrote that. Great. But I think it does a disservice to Jane Austen to make a big deal about those things. I think this’—he gestured toward the pages before us—‘is when she started writing really seriously, you know, and really beautifully.’”
May 16, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- I find novels starring people—or any animate creatures, really—to be unthinkably dull. For this reason I do most of my reading in the mid to late eighteenth century, when novels with inanimate objects at their centers enjoyed a brief but memorable time in the literary limelight. The most famous one was told from the perspective of a coin: “Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea thrilled contemporary readers with ‘Views of several striking Scenes,’ an insider’s account of the scandalous doings of the ‘most Noted Persons in every Rank of Life,’ and tales from the gold mines of Peru, the streets of London, the canals of Amsterdam, the ports of the Caribbean, and the front lines of the Great War … It was a tipping point for what are frequently referred to as ‘it-narratives.’ It-narratives, also called ‘novels of circulation’ or ‘object narratives,’ are novels or stories that take an inanimate object or an animal as its narrator … With a market proven, writers for hire began churning them out with variable quality. By 1781, a bored reviewer in The Critical Review complained, ‘This mode of making up a book, and styling it the Adventures of a Cat, a Dog, a Monkey, a Hackney-coach, a Louse, a Shilling, a Rupee, or—any thing else, is grown so fashionable now, that few months pass which do not bring one of them under our inspection.’ ”
- In which Nabokov, talking to us from 1926, attempts to make sense of his exile: “There is a very seductive and very dangerous demon: the demon of generalities. He captivates man’s thought by marking every phenomenon with a little label, and punctiliously placing it together with another, similarly carefully wrapped and numbered phenomenon. Through him a field of human knowledge as changeable as history is turned into a neat little office, where this many wars and that many revolutions sleep in folders—and where we can pore over bygone ages in complete comfort. This demon is fond of words such as idea, tendency, influence, period, and era. In the historian’s study this demon reductively combines in hindsight the phenomena, influences, and tendencies of past ages. With this demon comes appalling tedium—the knowledge (utterly mistaken, by the way) that, however humanity plays its hand or fights back, it follows an implacable course. This demon should be feared. He is a fraud. He is a salesman of centuries, pushing his historical price list.”
- Today in dramatic acts of digital preservation: if ever the Daily shuts down, we hope to survive in a kind of bardic oral tradition, having former readers pass down our stories one at a time through the generations, at great length and with little regard for accuracy. The website hi.co, which I’d never heard of before about ten minutes ago, is taking fewer chances. Instead of vanishing into the mists of time, they’re keeping their users’ contributions “in a nickel-plate ‘book’ designed to be readable for the next 10,000 years … Everything on the site—roughly two million words and fourteen thousand photos—will be etched in microscopic size onto a series of nickel plates. Everything will be readable with an optical microscope.” (One of the site’s founders notes that the plates are “fire resistant” and “deal well with saltwater.”)
- Some drink to remember, some drink to forget. Pour yourself a glass of marc and you can do both: “With marc, my favorite digestif, both the mortality and the miracle are there in the glass: sip it and you taste the pulverized remains (stems, grape skins, pips) of the wine refined to make it, as well as experiencing resurrection through distillation, in those unpromising oenological afterthoughts given new life. A marc is like a vanitas, the skull that artists once included in paintings to deliver a warning that no pleasure, however great, can last. Behind the smooth sophistication of strong, well-made alcohol, there is the musty hint of old grape skins—a pungent reminder that even the magic of alcohol cannot make a grape, or a drinker, eternal.”
- Philosophy departments are among the most Eurocentric in all of academe—which is fine, as long as they practice truth in advertising. Write to your congressman: “Any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself ‘Department of European and American Philosophy’ … We hope that American philosophy departments will someday teach Confucius as routinely as they now teach Kant, that philosophy students will eventually have as many opportunities to study the Bhagavad Gita as they do the Republic, that the Flying Man thought experiment of the Persian philosopher Avicenna (980–1037) will be as well-known as the Brain-in-a-Vat thought experiment of the American philosopher Hilary Putnam (1926–2016), that the ancient Indian scholar Candrakirti’s critical examination of the concept of the self will be as well-studied as David Hume’s, that Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), Kwasi Wiredu (1931– ), Lame Deer (1903–1976) and Maria Lugones will be as familiar to our students as their equally profound colleagues in the contemporary philosophical canon. But, until then, let’s be honest, face reality and call departments of European-American Philosophy what they really are.”
March 28, 2016 | by Iris Murdoch
December 28, 2015 | by Ryan Ruby
We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!
In an unremarkable section of Paris, Roger Caillois saw hiding places for “floating beings.”
Pity the Fifteenth! Paris’s most populous arrondissement is also one of its least celebrated. Stretching from the Front de Seine high-rises in the northwest to the Tour de Montparnasse in the southeast, the Fifteenth is sleepy, residential, and architecturally undistinguished. Home to minor government agencies and the headquarters of various corporations, its streets and thoroughfares are named for military officers, former colonial possessions, inventors, and Émile Zola, France’s dullest great novelist. Rue des Entrepreneurs intersects Rue de Commerce, where it branches off into Rue de l’Église and Rue Mademoiselle, which gives a good indication of what was on the minds of the men who incorporated the small suburban villages of Grenelle, Javel, and Vaugirard into the metropolis in the early years of the Second Empire. To make matters worse, the Fifteenth is tantalizingly adjacent to some of Paris’s genuine landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower, located just across the Avenue de Suffren in the Seventh, the Cimetière Montparnasse, on the other side of the neighborhood’s eponymous and much-reviled skyscraper, or the tony apartment buildings on right bank of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.
Yet this is Paris, and even the most unremarkable stretches of Zone 1 have their devoted mythographers. Born in 1913 in Reims, the jack-of-all-genres Roger Caillois knew something about being fame-adjacent. If you were to look at the faded group photographs of some of the most important avant-garde literary movements of the twentieth century, you would see him, in the background, with his thick eyebrows and chubby cheeks, manuscript in hand, ready to launch into a lecture about his latest intellectual obsession: mimicry, ludology, the sacred, gemstones, secret societies, science fiction, the City of Light. As a student at the prestigious École pratique des hautes études, Caillois became acquainted with the works of pioneering philosophers and anthropologists like Alexandre Kojève and Marcel Mauss. He was a member of the surrealists until a disagreement with André Breton over the nature of a Mexican jumping bean got him kicked out of the movement. He went on to found a discussion group, the Collège de Sociologie, with fellow excommunicant George Bataille, contributing articles to Bataille’s journal Acéphale while skipping the meetings of his secret society, one of which notoriously involved a serious discussion about a ritual sacrifice of one of the members. Walter Benjamin loathed him, but nevertheless included several citations from his writings on Paris in The Arcades Project. In Buenos Aires, where Caillois, a militant antifascist, spent the war years, he met Victoria Ocampo, the editor of the journal Sur. Ocampo was responsible for publishing some of the leading lights of what would become known as the Latin American Boom. Upon his return to France, Caillois took up a position at UNESCO, using his influence there to introduce the French reading public to his new friends Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and Silvina Ocampo. Read More >>
December 22, 2015 | by Spencer Robins
We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!
What the philosopher learned from his time in elementary-school classrooms.
Every philosophy major has at some point had to answer the standard challenge: “What are you going to do, teach?” It’s especially frustrating after you realize that, for someone with a humanist bent and a disinterest in worldlier things, teaching is a pretty good career choice. Unemployables in the humanities might take comfort from the fact that one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, made the same choice. He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”)
By the time he decided to teach, Wittgenstein was well on his way to being considered the greatest philosopher alive. First at Cambridge, then as an engineer and soldier, Wittgenstein had finished his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, at once an austere work of analytic philosophy and—for some readers, Wittgenstein apparently included—an almost mystical experience. In it, he claimed charmingly and not without reason to have solved all the problems of philosophy. This was because of the book’s famous “picture theory of meaning,” which held that language is meaningful because, and only because, of its ability to depict possible arrangements of objects in the world. Any meaningful statement can be analyzed as such a depiction. This leads to the book’s most famous conclusion: that if a statement does not depict a possible arrangement of objects, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Ethics, religion, the nature of the world beyond objects … most statements of traditional philosophy, Wittgenstein contended, are therefore nonsense. And so, having destroyed a thousand-year tradition, Wittgenstein did the reasonable thing—he dropped the mic and found a real job teaching kids to spell. Read More >>