OK, so this may not become a monthly feature, but it’s always fun to turn to inanimate objects lying around as a source of inspiration — particularly when they can be so animating. This venue has always been a bit bookish, so if that’s not your thing, just keep moving…
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, trans. J.M. Cohen (London: Penguin, 1953 ).
This has been compared to St. Augustine’s work of the same name as a groundbreaking piece of autobiography. There’s certainly some damning evidence of Rousseau’s contradictory conduct in this work. And yet, a couple of paragraphs in particular are fascinating to me, illustrating two interesting themes — Rousseau’s early education and the impact of the novel on it (this as irony, for he is an educational philosophy pioneer) and his “conviction” that he was, in some sense, “born” a romantic. To wit:
“I felt before I thought: which is the common lot of man, though more pronounced in my case than in another’s. I know nothing of myself till I was five or six. I do not know how I learnt to read. I only remember my first books and their effect upon me; it is from my earliest reading that I date the unbroken consciousness of my own existence. My mother had possessed some novels, and my father and I began to read them after supper. At first it was only to give me some practice in reading. But soon my interest in this entertaining literature became so strong that we read by turns continuously, and spent whole nights so engaged. For we would never leave off till the end of the book. Sometimes my father would say with shame as we heard the morning larks: ‘Come, let us go to bed. I am more of a child than you are.’
In a short time I acquired by this dangerous method, not only an extreme facility in reading and expressing myself, but a singular insight for my age into the passions. I had no idea of the facts, but I was already familiar with every feeling. I had grasped nothing; I had sensed everything. These confused emotions which I experienced one after another, did not warp my reasoning powers in any way, for as yet I had none. But they shaped them after a special pattern, giving me the strangest and most romantic notions about human life, which neither experience nor reflection has ever succeeded in curing me of.” (pp. 19-20).
Rousseau: A self-confessed self-deluder…And the culprit? The novel.
Eric T. Jennings, Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).
Looks interesting. This is “homework” for me — as I have been charged with producing a credible response to it. I’ll surely read it first. Since I haven’t yet, all you get is an intriguing title…
Richard M. Fried, Nightmare In Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
An old “textbook-y” thing I was thumbing through today. Good introduction to the history of McCarthyism and its associated hysterias — enough at least to know why Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss are important figures in U.S. history. Actually, that sells this little well-written book short…
George Sarton, The Life of Science: Essays in the History of Civilization (New York: Henry Schuman, 1948).
This is “old school” history of science, written by one of the field’s conceivers. In this work, one of many, Sarton tackles Ernest Renan’s crisis of faith in the mid-nineteenth century and his subsequent devotion to science (and positivism), the deeply artistic dimensions of medicine, and the history of East-West cross-fertilzation in scientific ideas. In this light, perhaps it is no surprise that he dubbed the classic journal in the field Isis. Fine, maybe it has something to do with the symbolic relationship between science, knowledge and light. But still, you see in Sarton’s writing how he could become pretty enamoured of the ancient symbolism. It makes him fun to read. That, and the fact that he appears to know everything.
Kathleen Taylor, Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
I ran into the hardcover version of this at the library when tentatively investigating Cameron and the Allen Memorial Institute (see “mind control”), so when I saw it in softcover the other day I thought it deserved another look. Looks quite exhaustive — something to digest over a few months…
Arthur Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence (London: Hutchinson, 1972).
A writer and promulgator of alternative thought, Koestler has since lent his namesake to a premier parapsychology research institute at Edinburgh University. This book is in parts physics, parapsychology, Jungian synchronicity and, like most of the rest of his non-fiction, a stand-up critique of mechanism and reductionism as “thought styles”. Koestler is probably best understood as a vitalist. His book The Sleepwalkers (1959) is a monumental classic in the history of science — Koestler’s take on Kepler gives the famed mathematician’s life deep nuance, suggesting that in spots he was as sensitive and self-reflexive as someone like Rousseau. How romantic…
A theme emerged from all of these books, somewhere between romanticism, education and programming. I’ll just write that off as a synchronicity. This list is also a little shorter than the last one, but I have an excuse since most of my books are elsewhere, gathering dust. Hey, it’s better than “my dog ate it.”