Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Life and Childhood

September 8, 2014

“Life begins with childhood, and by a thousand devious paths through maturity attains its single goal, once more to be a child, and the one and only difference between people lies in the fact that some grow childish, and some childlike.”

From Georg Groddeck, The Book of the It, Intro. Lawrence Durrell (New York: Vintage, 1961[1923]), 13.

PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE HORSES

September 1, 2014

Horse1

Breathing’s for the Meek?

July 3, 2014

Lovely satirical poem in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s The Sirens of Titan:

Break every link with air and mist,
Seal every open vent;
Make throat as tight as miser’s fist,
Keep life within you pent.
Breathe out, breathe in, no more, no more,
For breathing’s for the meek;
And when in deathly space we soar,
Be careful not to speak.
If you with grief or joy are rapt,
Just signal with a tear;
To soul and heart withing you trapped
Add speech and atmosphere.
Every man’s an island as in
lifeless space we roam.
Yes, every man’s an island:
island fortress, island home.

From Kurt Vonnegut Jr., The Sirens of Titan (New York: Delta, 1971), 152-53.

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

March 23, 2014

Much of what gets posted on this blog is essentially ephemera — random thoughts, idle speculation, little morsels of meaning, and the occasional snapshot. But I do also produce more cohesive work in my “real life” as a historian and philosopher of science. Believe me, in the age of the corporate university, that’s a lot less glamorous than it sounds.

Anyway, without further ado (well, maybe a bit more ado) here’s a link to a semi-popular piece that I wrote last spring in the literary e-magazine Berfrois about breathing, mindfulness and their simple transformative potential.

So take a deep breath and dive right in!

The Philosophy of Slack 9: Slack and Success

March 8, 2014

Slack states unequivocally that it remains sedated in the face of success stories. There is no success, only survival. In a Darwinian struggle for existence replete with killer asteroids, super bacteria, mutagenic cosmic rays, environmental toxicity, dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, and oncoming buses just making it through the day unscathed is success.

Slack is inured to the inundation of insights offered by an unending stream of success gurus. In any event, these all boil down to a conspiracy on the part of “management” to just get you to work harder.

There is no “secret” to success. Success is an illusion – there is no success, as thing out there in the world. We are all Holden Caulfield, and the brass ring will always be out of reach. Success, rather, is perspective. Getting out of bed is success. Alas, even here slack is sometimes unsuccessful…

Slack understands that success is, quite definitely, not directly related to effort. The winds of fate and fortune blow hither and yon, and for some, success is an innate function of being. Would anybody listen to Anthony Robbins if he were 5’7” and had crooked teeth?

Slack is its own success. In just letting go and being, slack has succeeded where most fail. Success, after all, can only be measured, never truly felt. Success is a function of comparisons – with others – and judgments of those around us by often arbitrary and obtuse standards. In its dependence on judging, success is actually by definition failure.

Slack grows weary of the whole self-help and self-improvement craze. Taking a page out of Alan Watts, slack knows that “self-improvement is a hoax.” Better how? Better when? Better than what?

In embracing each moment and languishing in it like a lizard sunning itself on a rock, slack happily waves goodbye to success as it speeds by on the highway of life, always moving towards its next goal, objective, meeting or coronary.

Besides, success in a contemporary context amounts to the acquisition of larger and larger quantities of stuff, which is really just a drag (c.f. “Slack and Stuff”).

Self-Improvement is a Hoax

January 24, 2014

“Here is the situation: the whole idea of self-improvement is a will-o’-the-wisp and a hoax. Let us begin where we are. What happens if you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better? Well, it is a kind of relief. I am what I am, there it is. So you say, ‘Now what will I do?’, and there is a little fidget that comes up because we are so used to making things better — ‘leave the world a little better than when you found it’ sort of thing, or ‘I want to be of service to other people,’ and all such dreadfully hazy ideas. There is that little itch still. But if we realize that there really is nothing we can do to improve ourselves or improve the world, it gives us a breather in the course of which we may simply watch what is happening. No one ever does this. It sounds terribly simple, it sounds so simple that it looks almost as if it is not worth doing. But have you ever just watched what is happening, and what you are doing by way of reaction to it? Just watch it happen, and do not be in a hurry to think you know what it is. People look and say, ‘Well, that is the external world.’ How do you know? The whole thing, from a neurological point of view, is just happening in your head. That you think there is something outside the skull is a notion in your nervous system. There may or may not be. That this is the material world, is someone philosophical idea. Or maybe you think the world is spiritual; that, too, is someone’s philosophical idea. The world is not spiritual, it is not material, the real world is simply as it is.”

From Alan Watts, The Way of Liberation: Essays and Lectures on the Transformation of the Self (New York: Weatherhill, 1983), 69-70.

The Sorcerers

December 1, 2013

The Sorcerers

L. Sprague de Camp

They say the men of magic are all dead.
No more does the diviner in his swoon
Perceive the future in his mystic smokes;
No more the reckless sorcerer invokes
A demon fell to serve him. Xaltotun,
Imhotep, Merlin, and the rest, it’s said
Are gone from modern life.

But yesteryear, one who, the tale relates,
Was called MacGregor Mathers, Kabbalist,
Had built his Order of the Golden Dawn,
Donned robes, and struggled with the Devil’s spawn –
The wizard Crowley, skulking Satanist –
And, exiled, played at four-men chess with Yeats,
A ghost, and Mathers’ wife.

Then, too, in London sat, with cigarette
In hand, unkempt and testy, azure-eyed,
The uncrowned empress of the occult world –
Huge Helena Blavatsky. Round her swirled
A horde of chelas who, though daily plied
With dicta from Mahatmas in Tibet,
Were locked in frenzied strife.

And what bewhiskered Alchemist of yore
Made gold from lead with such astute address
As Mrs. Eddy, Hubbard, and their kind
Turn doctrines full of gibberish refined
To fortunes from the dupes that they impress?
With such, as in the mystic times before,
The world will long be rife.

From Anne McCaffrey, ed., Alchemy & Academe (New York: Ballantine, 1970), 41-2.

[N.B. Synchromystically, this is the 666th post on this blog...]

The Philosophy of Slack 8: Slack and Chaos

October 5, 2013

Slack accepts, even thrives, on the idea of chaos. Most fear chaos. Chaos reminds us of the laws of thermodynamics and entropy, of the breakdown of all things. For living things, this implies death and decay; that which lives naturally avoids death, and, by extension, chaos.

But avoiding something requires effort. This is antithetical to slack. As Epicurus reminds us “Don’t worry about death.” “Death is nothing to us,” he says, for “when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist.”*

Thus, slack should not concern itself with the apparent perils of chaos. This particularly since slack is instinctually opposed to order. Order implies law and justice. And control. These are all inimical to slack. Control requires effort, often of monumental proportions. Justice gives one what one is due, but is contrary to the principle of slack, which holds that things “just happen,” sometimes — even often — unjustly. Law is the instrument of this unjustness.

Order is an illusion; a notion that we can impose structure with effort. But the real order is beyond us, and exists regardless of the outer appearance of chaos. Slack accepts this, and by extension takes chaos at face value.

*Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson, eds., The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), viii.

[N.B. This is part of a series. Here's the last one I posted. And here's the first.]


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