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Posts Tagged ‘Plato’

Five Public Cases

July 19, 2016 | by

What is poetry for? 

madrid2

Page from The Consolation of Philosophy (detail), by Boethius, 1395.

Note: Earlier this year, Anthony Madrid began composing quasi-koans on the theme “What is poetry for?” a first collection of which was published in the summer issue of The Point. This post includes the first of two sets of additional gongan, or public cases, that will appear during his stint as a Daily correspondent. The second set will appear in September. (The original title of this piece, too long even for the infinite web, was: “Both Speech and Silence Are Involved in Transcendent Detachment and Subtle Wisdom. How Can We Pass Through Without Error?”) Read More »

What Kind of Name Is That?

February 8, 2016 | by

How to name your fictional characters.

Characters in need of names.

To me the most embarrassing part of writing fiction, aside from telling people about it, is naming your characters. Of course, even “real” names are made up, but in life our names are things we can alter only with a great deal of paperwork; in fiction, writers can line up names and identities as they please, dropping or trading them on a whim. Contriving a name for a contrived person seems terribly precious to me, akin to naming a doll. You want your characters to have names that aren’t too convenient but still memorable and meaningful, which isn’t easy. I spent about a year with a manuscript populated by memorable characters like [[ROOMMATE]] and ???????’s dad, swapping dozens of potential monikers in pursuit of the perfectly natural, unforced, graceful name. After rupturing a few blood vessels that way, I tried to figure out what other writers were doing.

The question of what names mean, what they’re for, has been around in the West since at least 500 B.C., when the Pythagoreans developed a few rules of onomancy to divine human traits from things like the number of vowels in one’s name. (Even numbers signaled an imperfection in the left side of the body.) One of the earliest discussions about naming comes from Plato’s dialogue “Cratylus,” in which Socrates oversees a debate about whether a name is “an instrument of teaching and distinguishing natures” or whether it’s just a matter of “convention and agreement.” More recently, psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Stekel and Carl Jung posited that the “compulsion of the name” not only reflects but determines one’s future: that we’re all engaged, from birth, in a nominative determinism. (Anyone quick to dismiss this as Freudian bunk should look at the abundance of Shaquilles now entering professional sports.) Read More »

Special Effects

December 24, 2015 | by

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!

District_9_vector_poster_by_butterflyka

From a District 9 poster, 2009.

 Sharia law goes to the movies.

In 2009, halfway through my second deployment as an infantryman in Iraq, I was made company armorer. Instead of spending days in the field or going on patrols at odd hours, I had a set schedule repairing our company’s guns and night vision goggles—a normal nine-to-five, in many ways, except that I was stuck on a military compound in the Diyala Province and my office was a shipping container. As a newly ordained soldier of leisure, I decided to reconnect with American culture by watching a couple of new movies.

I chose The Wrestler and District 9 for arbitrary reasons: friends back home had mentioned them and they were for sale in stacks at my base’s knickknack shop, run by locals. The Wrestler, I discovered, is a Darren Aronofsky film starring Mickey Rourke as a washed-up professional wrestler haunted by his past fame, torn between focusing on building a new life outside of wrestling and rekindling some of his former glory. The film crackles with the dark intensity of the knowledge that Rourke’s character will have to make a choice—the violence of the wrestling ring or domestic tranquility. I thought The Wrestler triumphed in the end by leaving the character’s fate up in the air; the film culminates in a poignant hospital scene where the broken wrestler’s love interest pleads that he not agree to a reunion matchup with his old rival, the Ayatollah. Read More >> 

Special Effects

May 12, 2015 | by

 Sharia law goes to the movies.

District_9_vector_poster_by_butterflyka

From a District 9 poster, 2009.

In 2009, halfway through my second deployment as an infantryman in Iraq, I was made company armorer. Instead of spending days in the field or going on patrols at odd hours, I had a set schedule repairing our company’s guns and night vision goggles—a normal nine-to-five, in many ways, except that I was stuck on a military compound in the Diyala Province and my office was a shipping container. As a newly ordained soldier of leisure, I decided to reconnect with American culture by watching a couple of new movies.

I chose The Wrestler and District 9 for arbitrary reasons: friends back home had mentioned them and they were for sale in stacks at my base’s knickknack shop, run by locals. The Wrestler, I discovered, is a Darren Aronofsky film starring Mickey Rourke as a washed-up professional wrestler haunted by his past fame, torn between focusing on building a new life outside of wrestling and rekindling some of his former glory. The film crackles with the dark intensity of the knowledge that Rourke’s character will have to make a choice—the violence of the wrestling ring or domestic tranquility. I thought The Wrestler triumphed in the end by leaving the character’s fate up in the air; the film culminates in a poignant hospital scene where the broken wrestler’s love interest pleads that he not agree to a reunion matchup with his old rival, the Ayatollah. Read More »

October Surprise; or, How to Follow a Perfect Season

October 2, 2012 | by

My grandfather died in St. Louis last year on October eighth. The following night, Chris Carpenter pitched a three-hitter against the Phillies, lifting the Cardinals into the NLCS and alerting the nation that rather than just a squad of plucky underdogs, the Cardinals might be a team touched by something phenomenologically greater than a hot streak. For certain members of my family, my grandfather’s mid-playoff death offered a locus for the sense of destiny awakening around the Cardinals; in the weeks to come, as the team mounted increasingly improbable victories, more than one relative offered comments in the vein of, “Wally had something to do with this!” or “Wally was watching over the Cardinals last night!” Being a skeptical and ragged Catholic, I responded to these remarks with quiet derision, as I do to all suggestions that the Almighty would choose to meddle in the outcomes of our mortal diversions.

But as the weather here in St. Louis finally cools after a boiling, interminable summer—a summer that saw the maddening Cardinals muddle their way to a fragile hold on one of the devalued wild-card spots—I find it difficult not to look back on last fall’s championship run and see a team touched by divinity, or magic, or fate—a moment when a higher realm reached through the portal of sport and touched this mortal plane. The Cardinals may well make the playoffs this year, but I have to confess that I’m finding it hard to care. Whatever illumed last season, it’s gone, and here in St. Louis, we’re learning to live in its aftermath.

“Baseball,” as Michael Chabon observed in McSweeney’s no. 36, is “a game that somehow seems to offer more room, a greater scope than other sports, for the consciousness of failure and defeat—has always been associated, in its own history and my own, with a sense of loss, the idea of the lost arcadia, the last patch of green folded into a pocket of the world of brick and asphalt.” The sport is a dissonant blend of nostalgia and modernity. On the one hand, as Chabon says, it is a sport stubbornly resistant to change. The unhurried pace, the managers in uniform, the persistence of Fenway and Wrigley, the timeless sound of vendors calling out over the chatter of multitudes—these are all dogged holdouts, boulders in the stream of capital-P Progress, a refuge of familiarity in a world that often feels bent upon making itself unfamiliar from one day to the next. As George Carlin once put it, the objective of baseball is to go home.

Read More »

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Happy Hour with Gian

February 7, 2012 | by

John Haskell. Photo by Ryan Field.

John Haskell, Dec. 13, 2011. Sparks Steak House, East Forty-sixth Street.

John and I met for dinner at Sparks Steak House on East Forty-sixth Street. He was writing a piece on city restaurants where mobsters have been gunned down. Sparks has fine steaks but an even finer history of murder under its front awning. (Mob boss Paul Castellano and his guard were shot out front by mobsters wearing white trench coats and black Russian ushanka hats.) I live on West Forty-sixth, so I walked through Times cytotec mexico Square and crossed a few more avenues to the restaurant. I passed through the thirty-year-old murder scene out front, came inside, and a rambunctious party filled the reception area. John was already there, in the middle of the party. He waved me his way and we were shown to our table.

John Haskell: I was walking down the street, singing some Christmas carol, like a Nat King Cole thing ...

Gian: Out loud?

JH: Yeah, kind of singing, people walking around. The weather’s nice, it’s Christmas time, and I was feeling happy. Happiness is appreciation. I think appreciation has something to do with the fact that you’re going to die. It’s like, “This is life, and it’s going to be over, but this is the moment now.”

Talking around the idea of happiness is holy stuff. Its definition and how to attain it is what Aristotle would ask of Plato in a dusty Athenian salon thousands of years ago. But today, happiness is rarely a topic of discussion outside of a therapist’s office or a sorority dorm room. To be happy, we have learned, we must also be naive. Read More »

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