Archive for June, 2009
A funky book review of Isaiah Berlin‘s letters (1946-1960) in Literary Review, which reveals an introspective scholar who challenged conventional historical sensibilities. I mentioned Berlin a while ago in one of my rambling book posts. Berlin’s ideas about romanticism are seminal, his influence on the profession of history profound. Humanism, liberalism, criticism. A broad swath.
Another find by way of the always energizing Arts & Letters Daily.
It has been over a year since the last time I did this, so it’s arguably overdue. Everybody’s got a gimmick.
William S. Burroughs, Nova Express (New York: Grove Press, 1992 ).
One of the elder beat’s classics. Weirdness and wordplay of a higher order. His oeuvre is also in an exhaustive assembly with the catchy title Word Virus. Burroughs, who dabbled in the realm of sci-fi, is compared to the satirist Jonathan Swift (well, at least Kerouac makes this comparison), but his genius is truly unique. I think he’s among the most important American writers.
Lucretius, Sensation and Sex, trans. R.E. Latham (New York: Penguin, 2005).
Excerpts from the work of this seminal epicurean philosopher. Text includes ideas about the function of the senses rooted in an early Greek atomistic perspective. Lucretius also talks about love, and its blindness. To wit:
“…How often do we see blemished and unsightly women basking in a lover’s adoration! One man scoffs at another and urges him to propitiate Venus because he is the victim of such a degrading passion; yet as like as not the poor devil is in the same unhappy plight himself, all unaware. A sallow wench is acclaimed as a nut brown maid. A sluttish slattern is admired for her ‘sweet disorder’. Her eyes are never green, but grey as Athene’s. If she is stringy and woody, she is lithe as a gazelle. A stunted runt is a sprite, a sheer delight from top to toe. A clumsy giantess is ‘a daughter of the Gods divinely tall’. She has an impediment in her speech — a charming lisp, of course. She’s as mute as a stockfish — what modesty! A waspish, fiery-tempered scold — she ‘burns with a gem-like flame’. She becomes ‘svelte’ and ‘willowy’ when she is almost too skinny to live; ‘delicate’ when she is half-dead with coughing. Her breasts are swollen and protuberant: she is ‘Ceres suckling Bacchus’. Her nose is snub — ‘a Faun’, then, or ‘a child of the Satyrs’. Her lips bulge: she is ‘all kiss’. It would be a wearisome task to run through the whole catalogue…”
Charles Rycroft, Reich (London: Fontana, 1971).
A critical biography of the outsider psychiatrist and (to my mind) vitalist philosopher Wilhelm Reich. A fascinating man whose notion of the Orgone has been adapted and adopted by many others. It was also, coincidentally, of interest to beats like Burroughs and Kerouac. Reich ended his life in a pitched battle with the US Government by way of the FDA, and died in prison in 1957.
Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris (New York: Grove Press, 1966).
Another beat book. An erstwhile travelogue and rambling thought-piece about Kerouac’s two week “research” junket in Paris and Britanny in quest of the origins of his name. While history and nomenclature eluded him, Kerouac achieved satori — a Japanese term for enlightenment — in and among his many slugs of Cognac. Can’t say I had the same experience. Then again, I ain’t a beat. Too much of a fan of the sun, sand and heat.
Kerouac comes off as a real talker and people person, appearing to have had more bizarre encounters in his two weeks in France than I did in two months. Sounds like he was also half drunk most (all) of the time…
Stuart Sim, Lyotard and the Inhuman (Cambridge: Icon Books, 2001).
A treatment of philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s view of humanity and inhumanity. Lyotard popularized the concept of post-modernity. Interestingly, he initially understood it in terms of “paganism”. This slight book focuses on Lyotard’s preoccupation with the inhuman and the dehumanizing potentialities of modern “techno-science”. As Lyotard poignantly asks: “What else remains as ‘politics’ except resistance to the inhuman?” Indeed.
This last quote makes me think I should give up blogging altogether in favor of something useful, like organic gardening. Alas, I’m not much in the green thumb department.
Shrewdness incarnate, Chinese historian and philosopher Lao Tzu talked about “the Way”, a kind of direction-less path synonymous with Tao. I’ve always appreciated the principles of Tao, especially since there essentially aren’t any…
Returning from two months in Paris and finding myself in Victoria, it seems I have lost my “Way”. Not sure I ever had it. Taoism is an odd thing in today’s world. Alan Watts used to philosophize that Westerners were incapable of understanding or following its path. In a society so preoccupied with doing and producing it seems antithetical to cultivate the ideas of “not-doing”.
Of course Lao Tzu didn’t really mean doing nothing, rather I think he meant doing without pretense or expectation; acting in the moment, in accordance with nature (that which is around us and our own).
It’s all very Wu-wei wishy-washy…Not stepping into the same river twice, finding “the Way” without having direction, etc…The wisdoms of the Tao Te Ching are based on the dichotomous and dualistic nature of language. Like the Greek Heraclitus, they are parlances designed to free you up, and get you to think. But how do you think beyond language? That was the old master’s trick. A conundrum beyond conundrums. A riddle wrapped in an enigma. A tree falling in the woods. All that jazz.
All this to say that perhaps the first step to finding “the Way” is to stop worrying where you’re going and just get lost in yourself.
That’s my advice to everyone today. There is, however, no guarantee I will follow it myself…
Relax. Everything is under control. The Necromancer has been anticipating (precipitating?) the zombie apocalypse for years now, and is ahead of the rotting flesh curve. Alas, it appears as though the living dead have well and truly become a part of mainstream popular culture. At least according to The Guardian. Does this mean a book or movie deal for their overlord and master? Unlikely. But you’re advised to stayed tuned to this (dark and satanic) source for new and inspiring cultural content.