the contextual life

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Posts Tagged ‘philosphy

On the Shelf: Paying for Events, Funny on Twitter, and Overlooking Flaws

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I’ve just started watching Doctor Who, the new version, so I was super excited this weekend when I saw that the latest episode of ABC Radio National’s Philosopher’s Zone was an interview with Robin Bunce, a contributor to Doctor Who and Philosophy, on evil using the show’s Daleks as an example. Whether you are a fan of science fiction shows or evil, I suggest you listen to it—and then subscribe to the weekly podcast.

While discussing e-readers on episode 17 of the Bookrageous podcast, Jenn Northington asked her fellow podcasters if they saw pictures or words when they read—or at least I think it was this episode. As a lover of symbolic logic, I was so psyched when she said this and couldn’t help but give it a good amount of thought—and you should too.

Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel of the New York Times caused quite a stir in the literary community this week with their article Come Meet the Author that ran on Tuesday. In it they interview independent bookstore owners about the possibility of charging money for their events. Some events now have a ticket price, usually if the reading is held off-site in a rented space. However this brought of the question of charging for in-store events across the board. I’m sympathetic towards independent bookstores and probably wouldn’t mind some sort of exchange—a $5 entrance fee that is then put on a reusable gift card. I’m going to spend money in the store anyway, if not that night, so I don’t see much harm in it. Would you pay for author events? Under what terms?

And now onto the books of the week!

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
I’ve been waiting to talk about this one all week. Ten Thousand Saints was the book featured on the cover of this past week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. I was sold on the second line of the review: “In nearly 400 pages, Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus. She is never ironic or underwhelmed; her preferred mode is fierce, devoted and elegiac.”

Here’s what the publisher has to say:
Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, restless, marginal Jude Keffy-Horn spends much of his youth getting high with his best friend, Teddy, in their bucolic and deeply numbing Vermont town. But when Teddy dies of an overdose on the last day of 1987, Jude’s relationship with drugs and with his parents devolves to new extremes. Sent to live with his pot-dealing father in New York City’s East Village, Jude stumbles upon straight edge, an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical aggression of hardcore punk and a righteous intolerance for drugs, meat, and sex. With Teddy’s half brother, Johnny, and their new friend, Eliza, Jude tries to honor Teddy’s memory through his militantly clean lifestyle. But his addiction to straight edge has its own dangerous consequences. While these teenagers battle to discover themselves, their parents struggle with this new generation’s radical reinterpretation of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll and their grown-up awareness of nature and nurture, brotherhood and loss.

I’m all about angsty, screwed up coming-of-age tales and this one sounds like a lot of fun.

Pym by Mat Johnson
Mat Johnson is highly entertaining on Twitter (@mat_johnson). For example: “In Spain, Aquaman is known as Waterhombre,” “Never did find out who let the dogs out,” and “Spent the morning at the DMV. It’s like all the sadness of a dive bar, but with no liquor and bright florescent lights.” He also participates in fun hashtags like #hiphopnovels where he offered “Last of the Puerto Ricans” and “Lord of the Fly”

I hate to admit it but the premise of his book didn’t capture my attention at first. However, people keep raving about it and he’s hysterical, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

Here’s the official summary from Mat’s site:
In PYM, recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. When Jaynes discovers an old manuscript of a memoir that seems to confirm the reality of Poe’s fiction, he conspires to get to Antarctica, the setting for Poe’s book, in hopes of discovering Tsalal, the remote and mythic land of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes with horror. Jaynes imagines it to be the last untouched bastion of the African Diaspora and the key to his personal salvation.

They’re at it Again: Stories from Twenty Years of Open City
Open City is a non-profit literary magazine edited by Thomas Beller and Joanna Yas, originally founded in 1990 by Beller and Daniel Pinchbeck. It has ceased to publish in print but continues to live online. I recently picked this one up from my local indie. It was on the front table and the names on the cover were impossible to ignore. I didn’t realize how many amazing writers have contributed to Open City over the years. This collection includes writing from Jonathan Ames, Sam Lipsyte, David Foster Wallace, Richard Yates, Singrid Nunez,  Edmund White, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and Phillip Lopate.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I’ve been reading up on science fiction for the past year and was excited to read this one in the next week or so but when I went to look for a quote from Card I came across something disconcerting. This: “Laws against homosexuals should remain on the books.” As someone with a strong moral compass in a certain direction, I’m now conflicted as to whether or not I should read this wildly popular series—not to mention pay for it. In my mind handing over money for it would be a form of condoning his opinions. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while in a larger context. In order to have heroes must we overlook flaws? Many of the Beats were horribly misogynistic yet I loved Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady while growing up and still defend my infatuation to this day. Yet I will not read Heidegger because he was an anti-Semite. I’m sure I’ll end up reading Ender’s Game—with a healthy amount of contempt for doing so. Have you ever overlooked an author’s personal flaw in order to read their book? Have you ever refused to read a book because of an author’s stance on an issue?

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Written by Gabrielle

June 24, 2011 at 6:18 am

books for readers :: how to write a sentence / stanley fish

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Chapter 1
Why Sentences?

In her book The Writing Life (1989), Annie Dillard tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked by a student, “Do you think I could be a writer?” “ ‘Well,’ the writer said, ‘do you like sentences?’ ” The student is surprised by the question, but Dillard knows exactly what was meant. He was being told, she explains, that “if he liked sentences he could begin,” and she remembers a similar conversation with a painter friend. “I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, ‘I like the smell of paint.’ ” The point, made implicitly (Dillard does not belabor it), is that you don’t begin with a grand conception, either of the great American novel or a masterpiece that will hang in the Louvre. You begin with a feel for the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other.

But wouldn’t the equivalent of paint be words rather than sentences? Actually, no, because while you can brush or even drip paint on a canvas and make something interesting happen, just piling up words, one after the other, won’t do much of anything until something else has been added. That something is named quite precisely by Anthony Burgess in this sentence from his novel Enderby Outside (1968):

And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.

Before the words slide into their slots, they are just discrete items, pointing everywhere and nowhere. Once the words are nestled in the places “ordained” for them—”ordained” is a wonderful word that points to the inexorable logic of syntactic structures—they are tied by ligatures of relationships to one another. They are subjects or objects or actions or descriptives or indications of manner, and as such they combine into a statement about the world, that is, into a meaning that one can contemplate, admire, reject, or refine. . . .

. . . Here is Dillard again: “When you write you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it and it digs a path you follow.” And when you come to the end of the path, you have a sentence.

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One / Stanley Fish / ©2011

::[vocab]::

syntax: the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)
syntactical: of, relating to, or according to the rules of syntax or syntactics
inexorable: not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped
syntactic structures: good definition not found
ligature: a) a printed or written character (as æ or ƒƒ) consisting of two or more letters or characters joined together;
b) something that is used to bind
subject: a) one that is acted on; b) an individual whose reactions or responses are studied
object: a) a noun or noun equivalent (as a pronoun, gerund, or clause) denoting the goal or result of the action of a verb;
b) the goal or end of an effort or activity
actions: things done
descriptives: serving to describe
indications: serving to point out
::[bonus]::
stanley fish on ABC radio national’s the book show

Written by Gabrielle

March 27, 2011 at 10:51 am

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bertrand russell is my math teacher

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Principles of Mathematics (Routledge Classics)i was a complete slacker in high school… i was distracted, bored, angsty, and whatever else kept me from caring about arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and calculus. it turns out, i never learned math. i can barely multiply and just the other day, i learned, or relearned something long forgotten, that when you multiply two negatives, you get a positive. i’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

given all this it might seem odd that i am now reading Betrand Russell’s 500 page book, Principles of Mathematics. i blame Badiou, who i have spoken of before on this blog. basically, Badiou claims that all thinkers worthy of being called philosophers must know math. since reading – or attempting to read – Badiou, i have felt strangely inadequate when it comes to understanding the world around me – and an unusual disatisfaction with the usual political philosophy books that i’ve accumulated over the past year or two.

Betrand Russell claims, according to the back of his book, that math and logic are identical and what is commonly thought of as math is just a bunch of deductions from logical premises. i’m willing to entertain the idea but it’s becoming pretty clear pretty fast that it’s going to take a bit of effort on my part to decipher how Russell plans to prove this. it’s a whole lot of vocabulary i’ve never had to grapple with before and so what will follow is my attempt to decode the language of math and logic to see if Russell makes any sense.

in the meantime, if you’re like me and need to start with – or should start with – the basics, The New York Times Opinionator blog has started a great series on math that does just this. Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University has started  a weekly series that breaks down math for the common high school slacker. his first post can be read here: from fish to infinity.
and the subsequent posts are here: rock groups, and the enemy of my enemy.

Written by Gabrielle

February 17, 2010 at 6:38 am

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what do we tell the children?

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i was thumbing through a collection of essays by the incredibly prolific Betrand Russell the other week when i came across the section on education. he mentioned that most theorists have been childless, which i thought was interesting – yet incredibly believable. while i am far from what anyone would consider a philosopher, i am a theory-junkie and i could never imagine having a kid. i’d rather use my time to read. that being said, in what seems to be a theme among many philosophers, i love thinking about education and society. while reading kant’s introduction to logic i came across a great paragraph, which is now underlined and starred. it goes:

Reason is an active principle which ought not to borrow anything from mere authority of others – nay, not even from experience, in cases where the pure use of reason is concerned. But the indolence of very many persons makes them prefer to tread in the footsteps of others rather than to exert their own understandings. Such persons can never be anything but copies of others, and if all men were of this sort the world would forever remain in one and the same place. It is, therefore, highly necessary and important not to confine the young, as is commonly done, to mere imitation. pg.68

Written by Gabrielle

February 8, 2010 at 6:34 am

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from Descartes to Wittgenstein and back

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there are few more satisfying feelings than the one i get from finishing a book, which i just did this morning.

i picked up A Short History of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton the other week and started reading it right away. it never even touched my bookshelf, which is more than i can say for the scores of titles i have waiting for me.

roger scruton, according to his bio, is a leading conservative philosopher, which basically means that his chapter on Marx was full of smirky scoffing. other than that, i didnt find much in the way of total bias and i have to say, i really enjoyed this one.

it’s a basic overview of modern  philosophy – as the title claims – starting from Descartes (predictably) and ending with Wittgenstein, less predictably (at least for me). although it says one would think that it was an introduction, it was at times challenging – but not impossible. it was a satisfying read that boosted my philosophical vocabulary, introduced me to some new names, and hammered out some key concepts that had previously eluded me. it might be a bit daunting for a first-timer looking for an easy way to wade into the brain pool of intellectual giants but for someone with a bit of background – but really not too much – it is quite possibly what they’ve been looking for.

throughout the different sections – with names like ‘Rationalism,’ ‘Empiricism,’ ‘Kant and Idealism,’ etc. i found myself making mental – and physical – notes as to what i wanted to read next. i had a pretty decent list going until i got to the end and came across the section on phenomenology – founded by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century. it was a surprising turn of events because up until the latter part of the 200 pages i was leaning more toward political philosophy. – i was looking forward to Althusser’s For Marx or Fromm’s Beyond the Chains of Illusion but instead, the broad realm of knowledge – of what we know, how we know it, and how we can trust that knowledge seemed much more interesting than theories of economics and The State.

one line that stood out – and possible the sole reason for the derailment of my future reading plans – was “Our attitude towards other people… is fundamentally distinct from and even opposed to the scientific attitude. We seek to understand their actions not by explaining them in terms of external causes, but ‘from within’, by an act of rational self-projection…” pg. 268 scruton goes on to say that we look for people’s reasons as to why they do things and in doing so, we attempt to view the world as the other person does. empathy is a decent way to explain this. you see someone get hurt and while you’re not feeling that pain, you can imagine the pain the other person is feeling so you can understand their tears, screams, etc.

pretty freakin cool if you ask me. so i’m going back to basics and have started Kant’s Introduction to Logic. stay tuned…

Written by Gabrielle

January 27, 2010 at 6:56 am

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truth and method

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there are a few good philosophy series out there that i trust. one of them is from Continuum Books called Continuum Impacts, described on their site as:

… seminal works by the finest minds in contemporary thought, including Adorno, Badiou, Derrida, Heidegger and Deleuze. They are works of such power that they changed the philosophical and cultural landscape when they were first published and continue to resonate today. They represent landmark texts in the fields of philosophy, popular culture, politics and theology.

i’ve been known to buy one or two strictly because of their design, later finding that i can barely understanding what’s written inside. the font they use is big and bubbly :: inviting:: yet bold and confident. they say, ‘i’m fun and cuddly’ when in fact they are some of the hardest texts out there – which is not to say that they arent fun, just not in the way their choice of presentation would lead you to believe.  

right now i’m reading Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method (written in the 1960s), which is described as:

… Gadamer’s magnum opus. Looking behind the self-consciousness of science, he discusses the tense relationship between truth and methodology. In examining the different experiences of truth, he aims to “present the hermeneutic phenomenon in its fullest extent.

Gadamer would not be expected to be well-known to amatuer philosophy buffs outside of germany -and maybe france. as an american, you have to dig a little deeper for him – but not too much. i think i saw his name mentioned by people who i’ve read but i couldnt tell you the specifics – maybe zizek, it would make sense.

at the point where i had read two prefaces and 20 pages of the first chapter, i grasped that his focus was going to be somewhere in the realm of ontology, which is basically the study of being as being and what i have taken to be the study of what we know and how we know it. Gadamer uses the term hermeneutics, which sounds a lot like ontology to me but because he uses a different term, i assume he would shake his head and think me unworthy of his book. for the record, hermeneutics is defined as the study of our methods of interpretation.

anyways, Gadamer is a name-dropper. he uses aristotle, kant, hume, and hegel – to name the bigger names –  to discuss aethetics, which now 180 pages in, i can tell you has a lot to do with the study of art in all of its forms. my  handy dictionary of philosophy defines it as what is immediately pleasing to our perception – visually, auditorally, or to our imagination. it’s the theory of taste and criticism in the creative and performing arts.

so far, apart from the times when i wonder if i am wasting my life on such nit-picking, i am enjoying the exploration into how we view art, how we should view art, and what art is beyond how it appears.

Written by Gabrielle

January 2, 2010 at 9:53 am

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shortest book review ever…

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312 pages in and i think i know a little more about Descartes. it’s more like i get the essence of descartes’s works right after the renaissance. apparently, the whole “renessaince project” failed and the new bourgeois class freaked out. they lost what little control they had and werent sure how to deal with it. antonio negri, an italian marxist who spent some time in jail*, and the reason why i decided to read the book, talks about how Descartes handled the whole failure. i couldnt tell you coherently exactly how he did handle it but it had something to do with believing in god even though His existence isnt provable and figuring that you cant really know if anything exists besides yourself and you only know that because you’re thinking. i think he was trying to beat the skeptics at their own game.

so that’s what i got out of this book. it was a lot to take in and most of it went over my head but it was a fun challenge. i cant imagine this being the best introduction to antonio negri but it’s probably essential if you want to consider yourself a fan.

Political Descartes
Antonio Negri
Verso Press
$12.95 US

*major street cred

Written by Gabrielle

December 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm

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