This article is part of the Big Thinking series. The next post in the series is Big Thinking: Wittgenstein, Language Games and Presidential Debates.
Yeah, I got my hands on a real-life Amazon Kindle e-book reader for a few minutes. Did I "feel the power"? Hell no. The physical packaging reminds me of the Coleco Adam. I tried to read a story by P. G. Wodehouse and I felt like I was playing Pong.
So let’s say you wanted to read something by the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. You might go to Amazon, where you’d find that, aside from four books published by noncommercial presses -- including only two of his novels, Wandering Star, published by Curbstone Press in 2004, and Onitsha, published by Bison Books in 1997, along with The Round, and Other Cold, Hard Facts, a collection of stories published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2003 -- there’s almost nothing available in the US.
Well, let's not forget Words Without Borders!
Milan Kundera's novels are punctuated by philosophical asides, and whether you agree with him or think he's full of crap (or fall somewhere in between), he provides plenty of fodder for keeping the hamsters running on the wheels in your brain. Like his other books, his novel Immortality contains several digressions. Or at first they seem like digressions, but in the end, they serve the whole in a maddeningly perfect way.
This article is part of the Big Thinking series. The next post in the series is Big Thinking: Tolstoy and Guerrophilia. The previous post in the series is Big Thinking: Wittgenstein, Language Games and Presidential Debates.
Every once in a while East Village poet Richard Hell gets invited to write for the New York Times Book Review, and when he does he usually shows the other critics how it's done. His unenthusiastic review of Edmund White's biography Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel is witty, lush and elegant, especially when he ignores White's book and spins his own appreciations:
He learned very much from Baudelaire, and in many ways Baudelaire remains his master, but Baudelaire was a poet of ennui (and dreams), while Rimbaud reels with the most robust -- if often contemptuous -- vitality (and dreams).
1. Art Spiegelman's new comic autobiography Breakdowns is out and looks great. I don't have room for the fairly gigantic book in my apartment, so I'll have to read it at Barnes and Noble. You'll find me in the Graphic Novels aisle.
John McCain's been taking a beating lately for, let's see, his choice of Sarah Palin, his impulsive behavior, his lack of a finely-tuned economic plan. I'm glad Obama's message is finally breaking through to a critical mass of voters, and I just pray the momentum continues until November 4, when we can rest easy in our choice of a stabilizing leader.
But none of the raging criticisms directed against John McCain address my own biggest beef with him. John McCain's most offensive trait of all is his unabashed love of war. He proudly describes himself as a former hot-dog Navy pilot in endless autobiographies and speeches, and if you read between the lines of these endless autobiographies and speeches you realize that he's still the same hot-dog today. He uses military metaphors constantly -- even five years in a Hanoi prison hasn't shaken the military out of him. He grew up in a military family, studied at a military school, and clearly likes to make decisions in an adrenaline-choked, sweaty "blood and guts" manner. This is why his speeches on the economy turn out to be such a mess.
John McCain is a guerrophile (a word I seem to have virtually made up, but it's a good word, and I plan to keep using it). Guerrophilia runs rampant in world politics. It's what George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden have in common. Saddam Hussein had a bad case of it, and Vladimir Putin's the newest member in the club. Extreme fondness for war is a trait George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Teddy Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Mao Zedong all had in common. To a guerrophile, war is exciting and wholesome. War builds profits, war builds nations, war builds character.
This week it was reported that in 1950, author Milan Kundera allegedly informed on Miroslav Dvoracek, and as a result, Dvoracek ended up serving 14 years in communist prison camps. (Story here.) In many ways, the news is reminiscent of the story of German author Gunter Grass and his admission that he served in the Nazi Waffen SS as a young man.
Plato's Republic is often described as a book about politics, a philosophical discussion of the ideal state. It's an odd fact, though, that the book only uses politics as a metaphor for the individual human soul, and that the book is intended as a work of psychology rather than politics.
The Republic consists of several long conversations culminating in Socrates (Plato's mouthpiece) describing five different types of governments, and then describing the five personality types that correspond to each type of government. The book constructs, finally, a "republic" -- but it is the republic of your soul.
The idea that each human being is a government resonates with many other psychological or spiritual models and ideologies. Jesus may have been thinking of something similar when he said "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." Or, in Buddhist cosmology, one might say that the invididual desires that bedevil a confused person are like "citizens" that must be made peace with. An enlightened person governs his owns needs, goals and ideas with wisdom and care.
Plato's Republic presents a model for the ideal human soul as a city-state ruled by a truly wise, loving and attentive "philosopher king". The concept of the "philosopher king" has been much quoted as Plato's prescription for good government, but in fact the actual text develops the idea only as a metaphor, and never states whether or not Plato or Socrates believe such a state to be possible or desirable in the real world. The concept of the "Philosopher King" describes Plato's (and Socrates's) prescription for being a good person, not being a good government.
1. When I was 14 and a freshman in high school, we did a production of The Music Man. Before auditions I watched the movie and decided I wanted the part of Eulalie McKecknie Shinn, the mayor's wife, mainly because there's a musical number, "Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little" in which the ladies of the town go off on indecent literature, and there's the famous refrain, "Chaucer! Rabelais! BaaaaalZAC!" and the one who got to bellow "BaaaaalZAC!" was the mayor's wife. Plus she got to wear great hats.
Taxation is an intense, emotional issue in the news and on the streets these days. I had an argument about it with a guy at work who advocated a flat income tax.
"But no politician, not even McCain, is calling for a flat income tax," I said. "The only person calling for a flat income tax is Joe the Plumber."
Here are some links I've been saving up ...
1. How would Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, vote today? His daughter Erica Heller tells us her guess, charmingly.
2. Sean Quinn of FiveThirtyEight.com sneaks in a neat On The Road reference.