When I'm feeling stressed out, I head for nature. I found myself driving to Old Rag Mountain in Virginia's Shenandoah range this weekend.

I've done a few amazing hikes in this region: Mary's Rock, Catoctin, Hawksbill, Big Schloss, sometimes with others and sometimes alone. The challenging eight-mile Old Rag hike has been calling out to me for a while. I'm planning to leave Virginia this summer and head north (whether to Washington DC or New York City is still unknown), so I decided the time had come for me to meet Old Rag, an Appalachian mountain famous for "the scramble", a popular and slightly dangerous trail over giant rocks, into tunnels, across crevices, under ponderous overhangs. The scramble leads directly to a set of peaks marked by improbable boulders that you can stand on to get a 360 degree view.

New York City has "the ramble" -- the most beautiful section of Central Park, joining Bethesda Fountain to Strawberry Fields. But Virginia has "the scramble", and I suppose one reason I needed to climb Old Rag before leaving this state is that I couldn't bear to not complete the rhyme.

A nature walk is always a literary experience, if you just allow it to be. "There Is a Mountain" by Donovan happened to come on my shuffle mode as I drove towards the beginning of the trail, and that felt like a good omen. This upbeat 1960s song finds Donovan at his most Zen:

First there is a mountain,
Then there is no mountain
Then there is.

Indeed, yes -- story of my life, in fact. This 3-minute tune from the height of the 1960s hippie era had a second life in 1971: the Allman Brothers loved it so much that they transformed it into "Mountain Jam", a 34-minute Duane Allman/Dickey Betts masterpiece in which they never bothered to sing the words at all. Now that's Zen.

The scramble was as exciting as I had hoped, and much of the excitement came from the spirit of community that necessarily occurs as hikers saunter up together to each new obstacle or wedge or overhang or tunnel, sometimes comparing different ideas about the best way to traverse, helping each other by holding backpacks, swapping camera phones for selfies. Many of the passages between and under rocks offered brilliant contrasts of shade and light. This tunnel made me think of Plato's cave, and of a Leonard Cohen song:

There is a crack in everything
It's how the light gets in.

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit," Edward Abbey once said. Hell yeah, though this is a necessity that many human beings probably get very little of at all. This is one of the narrow passages leading to the peak:

I wasn't sure what to expect from Old Rag, but nobody had told me I would see a giant overhanging rock that looms like Moby Dick, gliding through the ocean:

Ralph Waldo Emerson, striking a chord also found in the Tao Te Ching, once wrote: "Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience." He also once said this: "I found when I had finished my new lecture that it was a very good house, only the architect had unfortunately omitted the stairs.” Rock-hewn staircases tend to suddenly appear on the Old Rag trail at the points where they are most needed.

Nature is often hurtful. At one point I encountered a young woman on the ground worrying over a sprained ankle, surrounded by a large group of friends trying to figure out what the hell to do. I had a feeling she was going to walk it off, and if she couldn't walk it off she had enough friends to handle the situation, so I knew it'd be okay for me to walk on.

There's hazard in the hills, and there is melancholy too. Here's Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods, an enjoyable Appalachian Trail travelogue:

And thus I was to be found, in the first week of June, standing on the banks of the Shenandoah again, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, blinking at a grey sky and trying to pretend with all my heart that this was where I wanted to be.

My favorite mountain novel is probably Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, a romantic Civil War tale in which the North Carolina Smokies blooms with the fresh joyful abundance that echoes the miraculous love between the story's two heroes. The main traveller in Cold Mountain is a fugitive from the Confederate Army. He spends a lot of time hiding out and running from trouble, and doesn't have the luxury to sit and enjoy peak vistas like this one:

Old Rag is more exciting than dangerous, really, and I saw many teenagers and families with small kids on the trail. This family enjoyed a picnic on the peak. That's the way to do it.

So "Mountain Jam" is my favorite mountain song and Cold Mountain is my favorite mountain novel. My favorite single mountain quotation comes from Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums. The narrator is following his expert climber friend Japhy Ryder up a forbidding Sierra Nevada trail. When they reach the main peak, the exhausted narrator only wants to bask in pleasure and relief, but is disconcerted to discover that there are now peaks upon the peaks, and that to truly reach the very, very top of this mountain requires the most treacherous final short climb of all.

The narrator of Dharma Bums is exhausted and decides to refrain from the final difficult scramble to the very peak. He watches Japhy Ryder go up without him, and then has an epiphany when Japhy Ryder returns:

Then suddenly everything was just like jazz: it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world and in that flash I realized it’s impossible to fall off mountains you fool and with a yodel of my own I suddenly got up and began running down the mountain after him doing exactly the same huge leaps, the same fantastic runs and jumps, and in the space of about five minutes I’d guess Japhy Ryder and I (in my sneakers, driving the heels of my sneakers right into sand, rock, boulders, I didn’t care any more I was so anxious to get down out of there) came leaping and yelling like mountain goats … It was great. I took off my sneakers and poured out a couple of buckets of lava dust and said “Ah Japhy you taught me the final lesson of them all, you can’t fall off a mountain.”

The slightly ironic corollary to this great scene is that in fact you can fall off a mountain. But, well, you probably won't. I think that's what Jack Keroauc was trying to say.

You reach Old Rag's peak early in the circular hike, and then follow the blazes onward for a long and relaxing downward jaunt.

I learned about blazes when I was a kid and joined my father and stepmother and siblings on Appalachian Trail hikes. These blazes constitute their own language, but the funny thing is that even though I like looking at them, I never bothered to learn what the different variations of stripes mean. Sometimes there are two blazes together, which signifies something. Sometimes there's a blaze in the shape of an arrow, or a blaze that isn't blue.

I could easily look up this language's rules, but I never do. I find it more exciting to hike dumbly along, knowing that the meaning of every blaze on every trail is really something more primal and immediate: "You are on a path. You are following something. You are not nowhere".

As I figure out where I'm going next, this is all the direction I want, and all the direction I need.


A literary visit to Old Rag in the Shenandoah Mountains.

view /ThereIsAMountain
Sunday, April 19, 2015 10:18 pm
Old Rag Mountain
Levi Asher

A strange kind of anxiety can occur when attending a concert by an artist like Bob Dylan. I was struck by a sense of this anxiety as I stepped into Constitution Hall in Washington DC last night. I began to worry that it would impact my enjoyment of the show.

This can happen. A few years ago I attended an amazing Ralph Stanley show in a smoky nightclub in Virginia. All night long, I felt so overwhelmed by the fact that I was sitting there staring at one of the very inventors of modern bluegrass style, the small craggy old man calmly shredding his banjo strings in front of my eyes, that I forgot to tap my feet.

I think of this sensation as a form of anxiety because it's a self-disturbance, an unwanted reaction. When I have the privilege to hear a musical genius in person, I want to simply sit there and enjoy the music. I want my brain to be quiet while the sound waves soak in. Instead, I sit there pondering the significance to musical history. This happened to me in an especially bad way in 2006 where I luckily found myself at the famous Jay-Z concert in New Jersey where Nas came out to end his beef with Jay, and to share the mic with him on "Dead Presidents".

I was already very pumped at this point in the show, especially since Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, P Diddy, T.I., Freeway, Young Jeezy and Kanye had already been on stage -- so when Nas showed up, what did I do? I pulled out my phone and texted Caryn, and since this was 2006 and I wasn’t very handy with texting yet, this ended up taking a while, which distracted me from living in the moment itself. (Caryn later told me that she never saw the text anyway, as she had already gone to sleep).

But here's the strange thing about last night's Dylan concert in Washington DC: I wasn't feeling this anxiety myself at all. I had already seen Bob Dylan fourteen times. But last night's concert came 24 hours after a shocking judgement from Ferguson, Missouri which had caused an impassioned protest around the world. Emotions were high on November 25 all over the United States of America. I wondered if this would affect the mood of the crowd.

I knew it was unlikely that Bob Dylan would say anything spontaneous this evening, as his onstage demeanor tends to be opaque. He does not engage with audiences, and he does not strive to put on a crowd-pleasing show. As we all entered the hall -- people of all ages, and many parents with children -- I had a strong sense that this crowd would be expecting a sermon, or maybe a rendition of "The Death of Emmett Till".

Well, that's not how Bob Dylan runs his show, and I have seen him enough times now now that I always set my expectations at "whatever" before I walk in the door. Happily, he put on a wonderful show in Washington DC last night, exceeding expectations for both Caryn and myself.

He had selected a bunch of songs with a narrative thread vaguely about sweet love, tragic heartbreak and eventual peaceful reconciliation: "Things Have Changed", "She Belongs To Me", "Waiting For You", "Pay In Blood", "Love Sick", "High Water", "Spirit In The Water", "Scarlet Town". He changed the words to "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate". He closed the show with a beautiful and melodic performance of a Frank Sinatra song, "Stay With Me", that seemed to hush the crowd with the same power as "Forever Young" or "To Make You Feel My Love".

Dylan plays with a crackerjack blues/country band including a standup bass, a pedal steel guitar, and a lot of hollow-body six-strings. His voice is in fine sandpaper-y form, and he even seemed to be attempting to dance at some points during the evening's second set.

The show was more rehearsed than the looser sets of recent years, which can be both good and bad. He's moved away from the jamband concept of rotating setlists, but in exchange is providing a coherent and meaningful arrangement of songs that actually tells a story.

"Workingman's Blues" and "Early Roman Kings" provided some of the heavy messages for the night, and a pre-closer encore of "Blowin' In The Wind" was the closest thing we had at Constitution Hall for the Ferguson, Missouri moment of recognition many of us in the audience frankly felt we needed. I'm glad Bob Dylan played that song.

This was my fifteenth Bob Dylan concert, and easily one of the very best. I do recommend his shows to others, even though I am cautious about this after having heard from many people (including several close friends and family members) who saw Bob Dylan in concert and absolutely hated it. You have to show up for a Bob Dylan concert with an open mind, and it helps if you can sit and simply enjoy some hard-hitting country jamming and blues shoutin', because that's the main thing a Bob Dylan concert delivers.

Bob Dylan has matured very well, and in his later years he seems to be affecting a gentle, Hank Williams-like affability on stage, even as his bitter lyrics to songs like "High Water" and "Scarlet Town" undercut the sincere smile. The more he manages to escape the anxiety of influence, the prison of expectation, the better a performer Bob Dylan seems to become.

Why do we come to Bob Dylan concerts so overladen with expectation, only to allow it to interfere with our enjoyment? Well, I think it’s because Dylan’s historical significance really is that impressive that we can’t help but be disappointed when he shows up as a mere human. We don’t want to be this close to genius. If any of us were to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we’d be happy to look at an exhibit of Bob Dylan’s boots inside a glass case. But when you go to a Bob Dylan concert in 2014, you are standing there looking at Bob Dylan’s boots, and Bob Dylan is in them. Sometimes that’s too much Bob Dylan.

Last night's concert, I'm happy to say, was Bob in top form, a night to remember. Here's the setlist, and here are some more detailed reviews of the show I saw.


Bob Dylan and his traveling band delivers a powerful performance at Constitution Hall in Washington DC on November 25, 2014.

view /DylanDC2014
Wednesday, November 26, 2014 09:50 am
Bob Dylan concert in Washington DC 2014
Levi Asher

Nothing I can write today will be as relevant as an event that took place in New York City and various other places around the world today: the biggest climate march in history, attended by over 300,000 people. The Huffington Post has the scoop.

The specific policy mission of this march is to deliver a message of solidarity before the beginning of the United Nations Climate Summit. This large group of concerned human beings seems to be doing a great job of making its voice heard.

We haven't written much about ecology here on Philosophy Weekend, a strange omission considering the writers and philosophers we like best here on Litkicks: Henry David Thoreau, William James, Yoko Ono, Gary Snyder.

As a political writer, I tend to focus on pacifism, but in fact pacifism and environmentalism are sibling philosophies. Both spring from a consciousness of the natural world, and from an appreciation for the gifts of human existence. It's hard to imagine how somebody could be a pacifist and not an environmentalist.

However, I've recently become aware that USA presidential candidate Rand Paul, the only conservative candidate brave enough to support a pacifist philosophy, has taken stands against sane environmental regulations. I'd love to hear from any Litkicks reader who understands Rand Paul's politics how it is that the only candidate who can clearly see the folly of our military policies can fail to see the folly of our lack of environmental regulation. One would think that the same awareness of common sense concerns (nature, and our freedom to enjoy it) would make any libertarian a natural environmentalist. What am I missing here?

Are there interesting literary or philosophical angles of environmentalism that we can explore here on Literary Kicks? Of course there are, and since I feel bad that I didn't make it up to New York City for today's big march, I am going to pledge to try to make this happen. I hope we can explore the meaning of ecology both from spiritual and political angles. If somebody can post a comment answering my question above about the Rand Paul position on ecology, which really ought to be smarter than it is, that might get things off to a good start ...


Nothing I can write today will be as relevant as an event that took place in New York City and various other places around the world today: the biggest climate march in history, attended by over 300,000 people.

view /ClimateMarch2014
Sunday, September 21, 2014 06:56 pm
Climate March September 21 2014 New York City
Levi Asher

A Roxana Robinson novel will never waste your time with characters who are fashionably bored.

Robinson's characters are always in trouble -- are nearly or literally in extremis. Her early novel This Is My Daughter is a piercing study of a second marriage besieged by child problems. Cost is a bitter tale of a young heroin addict and his family. The new Sparta is about a Marine returning to his suburban New York home after a bad tour of duty in Iraq. In all three novels, we meet people who are pushed beyond the limit, who are facing the worst moments of their lives. Sometimes they survive, sometimes they don't.

Conrad is a bright, arrogant college kid from a liberal Westchester, New York family who breaks free from his household's enveloping hold by joining the Marines. It's an impressive gesture, but he has the bad luck to join in time to invade Iraq in 2003. Now back home in his family's hearth, he is a destroyed person, seeing and hearing threats everywhere, unwilling and unable to return to "at ease".

He takes grad school courses and can't concentrate. He goes to a restaurant and can't stop waiting for the plate glass window by his seat to explode. Through the course of Sparta, we are led step by step into this once-promising young man's condition, and as the story reaches a pinnacle of bleakness we are made to understand it fully.

You didn't need to be or love a heroin addict to appreciate Robinson's Cost, and you don't need to be or love a veteran of the Iraq War to appreciate Sparta. It's a novel about post-traumatic stress disorder, but it's really about the broad post-traumatic stress disorder known as American Capitalism. It's also about the alienation that lives among us and within us, that sometimes cuts more deeply than we want it to.

Here's Conrad in what should be a sweet family moment with his younger sister, who adores him. But Conrad's brain betrays him in these attempted sweet family moments. He keeps thinking ugly thoughts.

As a kid, he'd once watched a polar bear at the Central Park Zoo. The bear was close, only fifty feet away. He was walking across a huge outcropping of stone. Conrad was mesmerized by him, his huge padded feet, his narrow, snaky muscle, his creamy pelt, his massive, dangerous size. The bear stopped and turned, looking straight at Conrad. The small rounded ears were pricked, the black eyes focused. For a long, locked moment they looked at each other. The deep gaze seemed to link them. The watching boy returned the look. He felt an awed kind of kinship, a primal recognition.

But he'd misunderstood. Between them was a sheer granite drop and a deep chasm, a high metal fence, wire netting. They were in different worlds. The bear, seeing Conrad and pausing in his endless quest, had thought, simply, 'Prey'. Conrad realized that later. There was no kinship. Now when Jenny told him he could tell her anything, there was that same kind of drop between them. A chasm.

Roxana Robinson is a deeply well-read traditional novelist who has been proudly inspired by her direct lineage from Henry Ward Beecher. Perhaps because I know her to be so well-read, her pages always seem to me to burst with literary allusions, though these allusions may or may not exist. When I interviewed Robinson about Cost, I was sure the whole thing was elaborately based on Shakespeare's King Lear -- until the author coolly told me that I was dreaming it all up (I'm still not convinced I didn't have it right).

Like her other novels, Sparta wears some of its literary references in plain sight -- mainly, Conrad's fascination with the ancient militant Greek society that gives the book its title, and also Conrad's love for Homer's Iliad. Tellingly, his affection for both the US Marines and for his college girlfriend is grounded in Homeric revery. His romantic notions of noble war call to mind the life of Lord Byron (who also didn't fare as well in his first real war as he expected).

This ex-Marine's first name seems significant, and Roxana Robinson even admitted to Ed Champion in a recent Bat Segundo interview that Sparta's main character is named for the author of Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer.

Perhaps the passage at the Central Park Zoo above is meant to subconsciously evoke Holden Caulfield (who liked to hang out in the same spot, and also had a loving gang of siblings he couldn't quite relate to). More ominously, Sparta's lost military hero also resembles J. D. Salinger's tragic Seymour Glass.

Read Sparta for literary immersion, or read it because it tells the very, very important story of what has been happening to soldiers in our country for the past ten years.

But read it. With Sparta, Roxana Robinson has proven once again that she is one of the most powerful and effective novelists of our age.


Roxana Robinson's powerful novel about a Marine returning to his New York home after a bad tour of duty in Iraq.

view /SpartaRobinson
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 06:50 pm
Sparta, a novel by Roxana Robinson
Levi Asher

This seems to be a primal aspect of human nature: we always believe ourselves to be ethically correct. It would be very surprising to hear a person openly declare that he or she lives without moral principle, and it would be even more surprising to find any society or group of people that openly declares itself to be amoral.

This fact provides a stunning contradiction that ought to be endlessly fascinating to ethical philosophers who wish to deeply challenge their own belief systems. Every past as well as current society believes itself to be moral, and yet when we discuss history we can easily identify various past societies that seem to have been highly immoral. If we examine the ways in which these bygone societies convinced themselves of their high ethical principles, we can glimpse the powerful engine of delusion itself, and discover the mechanics that make it so effective in clouding intelligent minds. We may even discover that some delusions still drive our thinking today.

One great example is provided by the nation that briefly called itself the Confederate States of America, a nation that was defeated in the United States of America's Civil War between 1861 and 1865. I'm beginning a road trip this week to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to take part in the 150th anniversary of the most dramatic extended battle of the entire war. This anniversary provides a nice opportunity for us to pause and look closely at the philosophical underpinnings of the entire secession movement in the Southern states. This philosophical system can be broadly represented by the voice of a once-great politician, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who was a legendary United States Senator, and was the Vice President of the United States for two terms. He died before the Civil War began, but his inspiration was present for the entire period of the war, and he was taken seriously as a brilliant scholar, a passionate orator and a principled ethical thinker by both his compatriots and his enemies.

John Calhoun defended the institution of human slavery with words like these:

I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good -- a positive good. I feel myself called upon to speak freely upon the subject where the honor and interests of those I represent are involved. I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other. Broad and general as is this assertion, it is fully borne out by history. This is not the proper occasion, but, if it were, it would not be difficult to trace the various devices by which the wealth of all civilized communities has been so unequally divided, and to show by what means so small a share has been allotted to those by whose labor it was produced, and so large a share given to the non-producing classes. The devices are almost innumerable, from the brute force and gross superstition of ancient times, to the subtle and artful fiscal contrivances of modern. I might well challenge a comparison between them and the more direct, simple, and patriarchal mode by which the labor of the African race is, among us, commanded by the European. I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe–look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse. But I will not dwell on this aspect of the question; I turn to the political; and here I fearlessly assert that the existing relation between the two races in the South, against which these blind fanatics are waging war, forms the most solid and durable foundation on which to rear free and stable political institutions. It is useless to disguise the fact. There is and always has been in an advanced stage of wealth and civilization, a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the South exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict; and which explains why it is that the political condition of the slaveholding States has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North.

John Calhoun's defense of slavery does not represent his loftiest attempts at political philosophy. During his own lifetime he was known more for a more positive approach to representative democracy that stressed the dangers of simple rule by majority. Identifying the slave-holding Southern states as a minority interest within the USA's federal government, he constructed a system of political thought that stressed the importance of a "concurrent majority" -- a majority based upon consensus -- rather than a numerical majority. If Calhoun's words about slavery appear frightening today (indeed, the fact that the person who wrote the words above was once Vice President of the USA may seem even more frightening than the fact that torture enthusiast Dick Cheney was also recently Vice President of the USA, or that Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan nearly ascended to the office just last year), his words about the democratic process may appear more soothing and more familiar. It is true that we should expect a wise democratic government to rule by more than a simple numerical majority, and the question of how a nation may obtain a majority of consensus as well as a numerical majority is one that vexes us still today.

As I study the life and words of John Calhoun -- a man who was vastly respected during his lifetime as a man of principle, a man who is now remembered along with Daniel Webster and Henry Clay as a representative of a golden age of oratory in 19th Century America as well as a representative of a sublime religious and cultural awakening within the southern states that once rivaled the northern-based American Transcendentalist movement for intellectual prestige -- I am most impressed not by his words themselves, but rather by what he represented to the people who stood on his side.

These were not stupid people. These were not thoughtless and uneducated people. These were not brutish or callous people, though when we look at the effects of the African slave trade today we can clearly see that slavery was brutish and callous to its victims.

I'm not sure how much value can be obtained by studying the ethical philosophy of John Calhoun today. But I think great value can be obtained by studying the fact that John Calhoun existed, and the fact that the Confederate States of America, so often maligned in historical memory today, did strongly believe itself to hold ethical principles of the kind presented by John Calhoun.

We should study John Calhoun today -- not in order to rediscover the values he represented, but rather in order to question the values we ourselves now hold. Do we also sometimes cling to lofty words when we need to justify brutal behaviors? If we assume that 19th Century Southern society and the Confederate nation of 1861 to 1865 existed without valid moral principles, but that we ourselves hold excellent moral principles today, we are probably letting ourselves off much too easily.


The words of John Calhoun, a brilliant politician and orator from South Carolina who defended human slavery in lofty terms, provide a great opportunity for us to challenge our own confidence in our own moral principles today.

view /JohnCalhoun
Sunday, June 30, 2013 08:30 pm
John Calhoun, intellectual inspiration for the Confederate States of America
Levi Asher

If you're trying to analyze F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age novel The Great Gatsby and you're not thinking about Dante's Inferno, you're missing an obvious connection.

The connection is easy to spot and hard to dispute, though it rarely comes up in discussion of the book. I haven't heard it mentioned at all during the big media buildup to the bombastic new Baz Luhrmann/Leonardo DiCaprio Great Gatsby movie that's opening this weekend, though I have read a few clueless movie-tie-in articles that strain to explain the enduring cultural significance of Fitzgerald's novel. These articles usually miss the point by describing The Great Gatsby as a novel about the American dream of wealth and success, or something pedestrian like that.

Explanations of Gatsby as a Randian epic about a businessman don't illuminate the book very well, and neither do theories that Nick Carraway was gay or that Jay Gatsby was African-American. I tend to stick with the standard approach: The Great Gatsby is a chic and tawdry tale of love and romantic illusion. It's written in lush but light poetic prose in a heated tone that evokes a dramatic sense of spiritual hazard. The spiritual hazard is where Dante comes in.

As a writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald liked to paint modern society in starkly religious or biblical terms. He does not appear to have been very religious, but he was raised Catholic, viewed Christian ideals warmly, and seems to have been especially fascinated with concepts of Satanic guilt and damnation. This is most clear in his titles: his first novel was called This Side of Paradise, his second The Beautiful and Damned. His short stories include: Babylon Revisited, Jacob's Ladder, Absolution.

But The Great Gatsby, the novel he intended as the pinnacle of his mature literary achievement, is also his most ambitious spiritual work, as it apppears to be loosely grounded upon Dante's Inferno, the first and most famous part of the Italian poet's epic The Divine Comedy, in which a traveler is escorted on a colorful guided tour of Hell.

In The Great Gatsby, the journey from East Egg to New York City is the journey into Hell, and the passages that describe the Valley of Ashes that lies between the opulent North Shore of Long Island and Manhattan's den of sin are as Danteesque as can be:

About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes -- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight. But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

The romantic plight of poor Jay Gatsby -- stuck in a karmic cycle of want and pain, constantly borne back upon himself -- is another Dante touch. In the Inferno, sinners are seen in tableaus of torture. The main method of torture in Hell, according to Inferno, is to be forced to repeat a desperate act of yearning or suffering through eternity. The sharpest pain is in the repetition. Damned souls stand in boiling muck, choking as they try to raise their heads, or they are forced to stand and push stones against each other, never giving ground. Lost souls are shot by arrows over and over, or are eaten away by beasts and then reconstructed the next day so they can be eaten again, or walk in circles with their heads turned backwards so they can only see their pasts.

This, in Fitzgerald's novel, is the fate of Jay Gatsby, who is doomed to love (and be whipped by) Daisy Buchanan over and over, who yearns and hopes and proudly declares "You can't repeat the past? Why of course you can." It's also the fate of thoughtless Daisy, and bigoted Tom, and foolish George Wilson, and demonic Meyer Wolfsheim, and almost everybody Nick Carraway meets. (The aptly named Jordan Baker may be an exception, along with Carraway himself.)

I'm not sure why the Danteesque interpretation of The Great Gatsby has never taken wide root, but I'm sure that Fitzgerald had the inspiration in mind. In echoing a classical work, he was following a fruitful literary trend of his time. Immediately preceding The Great Gatsby in 1926, James Joyce's 1922 Ulysses was a modernist nod to Homer, and T. S. Eliot's 1922 The Waste Land hearkened back to the medieval legends of King Arthur and the Fisher King.

Thus, The Great Gatsby was intended to be classical in a trendy way. In characterizing New York society in such wide-eyed diabolical terms, Gatsby is also the kind of urban portrait that only an outsider like F. Scott Fitzgerald, the eternal Midwesterner, could write. It is a harsh picture of New York City, of course; the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue is apparently the ninth circle of Hell.

But, then, Fitzgerald also paints his infernal city as beguiling and magnetic. He clearly adores the place. Always in doubt about the moral condition of his own soul (The Crack-Up would follow Gatsby), Fitzgerald clearly sympathized with and related to the suffering lost souls of his novel, even as his moralistic narrator looks away in disgust. Dante Alighieri did the same thing in The Inferno.

* * * * *

I've written on this blog about The Great Gatsby before, especially regarding my search for the real-life locale of the Valley of Ashes, and about the sign factory that stands mysteriously at the spot to this day. I'll be sure to write about it again after I see the much-hyped new Baz Lurhmann movie that's about to open this weekend. (My expectations are mixed: I like Baz Lurhmann, I think Leo DiCaprio is an awful actor, and I don't get why 3D is a good idea.) Until I get a chance to write about the film, I'd love to hear from you about it -- have you caught the flick yet?


If you're trying to analyze F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age novel 'The Great Gatsby' and you're not thinking about Dante's 'Inferno', you're missing an obvious connection.

view /GatsbyDante
Monday, May 6, 2013 08:25 pm
A Danteesque scene from The Great Gatsby
Levi Asher

The last time I saw Yoko Ono in concert, which was just a year ago, I was handed a small blue plastic puzzle piece in a small fabric bag as I entered the club. It was a very Yoko Ono gesture, and I'm sure the piece symbolized a lot of things: the sky, world peace, an artist's anxiety in facing an audience.

Yoko Ono is a brave performer, but her anxiety and shyness is often evident when she stands on stage. It must be this shyness that drives her exhibitionism and displays of aggression; as a young experimental artist (before she met John Lennon), she created her famous "Cut Piece" (it's described in Ellen Pearlman's recent book Nothing and Everything) in which she invited viewers to cut off pieces of her clothes while she sat still. This gesture wouldn't have been as moving as it was if her anxiety were not so palpable on her face as she sat.

Today is Yoko's 80th birthday, and she remains highly active as a pacifist, musician and public philosopher, her positive message never wavering over time. Many people think of her career as a joke or refuse to take her seriously, but she is one of the few living public figures today (Nicholson Baker is another) whose courage reminds me of Henry David Thoreau. Her life's work and amazing career is now the subject of a new art book and authorized biography, Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky.

If you buy only one expensive coffee-table book a year, this book would be a good choice for it. Happy birthday from the world to Yoko Ono! We're lucky to have you here.


The last time I saw Yoko Ono in concert, which was just a year ago, I was handed a small blue plastic puzzle piece in a small fabric bag as I entered the club ...

view /YokoVisionary
Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:46 pm
A Yoko Ono puzzle piece.
Levi Asher

(Today's blog post is by a guest philosopher, Tim Hawken, who lives in Western Australia and is the author of two novels, 'I Am Satan' and 'Hellbound'. Tim holds a Bachelor of Arts from Deakins University with a triple major in Philosophy, Literature and Journalism.

The image of an Immanuel Kant tattoo is by Aron Dubois.)

Picture yourself walking into a bookstore with a friend. You pick a copy of Les Misérables off the shelf, party because of the shiny ‘movie edition’ cover, party because you’re curious to see what all the fuss is about. Turning to a random page you read the quote:

When love has fused and mingled two beings in a sacred and angelic unity, the secret of life has been discovered so far as they are concerned; they are no longer anything more than the two boundaries of the same destiny; they are no longer anything but the two wings of the same spirit. Love, soar.

Stunned by the beauty of the words you read them out loud to your companion. He snorts in derision and picks up Ann Coulter's latest book. Running his fingers across the jacket photo, he says to you, without a hint of sarcasm: "Now, she’s beautiful."

How could you both be so convinced that you’re right, yet be so wrong in the other’s opinion? More importantly, how can you argue your case that ‘NO, this is beauty; you’re just confused.’ At this point, the trite phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ might spring to mind. But, when something is repeated ad nauseum it just loses all meaning, becoming nothing more than postcard fodder for the brain-dead. We need to think for ourselves, or at least enquire into what great minds thought before us, so we can better form a real case of our own.

The ancient Greek philosophers spoke at length about Beauty, waxing lyrical ridiculous things, like there being a perfection of beauty in the Forms – that there is such a thing as Beauty with a capital B that exists, and that all beautiful things strive toward being like it, but can never be anything but a poor substitute. Again, this lands us with a steaming pile of nothing in our hands. It’s not until the great Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant developed his version of aesthetics that we could start to really talk about what Beauty is in any meaningful way (or at least to argue properly that he was barking up the wrong tree as well).

The first thing you need to know about Kant is that he loved making up his own scientific terms for things. This means that reading his work often leads to gathering a bunch of jargon and trying to figure out what he’s saying. Never fear, however -- it is possible to break down what Kant is getting at, without resorting to big words that only obfuscate things (cue canned laughter).

In The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, Kant explores the notion of beauty and how it relates to the human experience. This work is broken into four separate ‘moments’, each of which gives an explanation of beauty in a different, yet connected way.

In the first moment, Kant states that beholding beauty is a subjective experience felt directly within the person's mind. He holds it is much like a taste, in that we pass judgment immediately and without thinking. For example, if we eat tub of chocolate ice cream, we feel the pleasure of its taste automatically. If we see something beautiful, we feel a similar internal burst of pleasure immediately upon viewing the object. However, unlike ice cream, when it comes to beauty we do not have an interest in the object. In other words we don’t care whether the beautiful object is real or not, just that it is beautiful. When it comes back to the ice cream, we cannot say its flavor is beautiful, because it is linked to our bodily desire of hunger. It is here that Kant makes an important distinction between what is agreeable, what is good and what is beautiful:

The agreeable is what GRATIFIES a man; the beautiful what simply PLEASES him; the good what is ESTEEMED (approved), i.e., that on which he sets an objective worth.

In other words, when something is agreeable it is linked with some kind of desire, such as hunger or lust, and when something is good, it is linked to our sense of moral judgment, i.e. whether something is good or bad. Beauty on the other hand is free of these ties and is therefore more pure -- it lies between our desires and our morality. We are disinterested in the object itself.

Now, alarm bells might be ringing already. This would mean that in terms of beauty to Kant, Ann Coulter must be struck off the list. Shocking, right? More protests might come when we realize that people like Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum could only be described as agreeable, because of our bodily desires to rub up against them in dirty ways. Nietzsche would be the first to object to this, saying:

When our aestheticians never weary of maintaining, in favour of Kant, that under the spell of beauty one can view even undraped female statues "without interest", we may laugh a little at their expense.

However, despite this objection, there is something to be learned in Kant’s distinction of beauty as an aesthetic taste. We do feel beauty immediately upon witnessing it, and there is something special in this feeling that is apart from other desires and the like. But, Kant isn’t done yet! He continues to narrow his definition of beauty.

In the second moment, Kant proposes that if something is to be deemed beautiful, it must also be free of any logical ideas. He refers to these as ‘concepts’. This means, for Kant, that there can be ‘no personal conditions’ that can be placed by logic upon the object. I cannot, therefore, talk my friend into thinking Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine Chapel roof is beautiful because it represents the wonder of God. It must simply be self-evident that it is beautiful to both of us because of its aesthetic form without reason. In this way, Kant displays that a sense of beauty must be universal:

For where any one is conscious that his delight in an object is with him independent of interest, it is inevitable that he should look on the object as one containing a ground of delight for all.

That is to say if I were to feel something is beautiful within myself, it is because it is devoid of any relation to a thought. Therefore, I would pronounce confidently to anyone else ‘this is beautiful’, knowing in myself they must feel the same way; the object does not rely on my personal experience, but one that is universal to anyone else beholding the same thing. I would hence be incredulous if someone were to disagree with me, because I am not pronouncing this thing is beautiful ‘to me’, but that it is beautiful to everybody.

It is here that I have the most problem with Kant’s theory. Much in the same way as Nietzsche condemns Kant for saying we should be indifferent to our desires and emotions when it comes to beauty, I would say we cannot possibly separate our thought totally from an aesthetic experience. For example, we ask: Is a sunrise beautiful? Of course we must answer with a resounding yes! It is universal enough that anyone experiencing the golden strands of light of a new day being born into the world, with its dusty shades of pink pushing back the dark blue of night, would have to feel its intrinsic beauty. However, it is impossible to separate ourselves firstly from the emotion that we feel when seeing the sun, but also with the idea that it is shedding light and safety onto our world, that it brings life to the planet and that it brings warmth to the cold. Don’t these emotions and thoughts pervade the purity of the beauty? Knox would agree with me whole-heartedly:

To break the continuity in man from the natural to the ideal, and between man and his environment is to shatter the unity of the self with its emotional, cognitive, and volitional phases and to demolish the possibility of interaction between man and this world.

We cannot be asked to simply amputate ourselves from our emotional and logical reality just to figure out if something is truly beautiful. This is asking too much.

To be fair, I don’t think Kant is saying we always need to shut off our thoughts and emotion, but that there is something unique about the beautiful that doesn’t depend on these things. However, I would counter that beauty is deepened by these additional elements. In addition, there are many things in this world that I would deem beautiful that do depend on concepts.

Take our previous passage from Les Misérables. The reason you might find it beautiful is that it relates to your experience and seems to expose a reality that would be felt by everyone in the same situation. Kant, however, would say that because Victor Hugo’s statement depends on a concept of both companionship and also on a command of language (which in itself is a concept), that it couldn’t be beautiful, but rather simply ‘good.’ Again, he may have a point, but what if we take this example a step further into poetry? Surely poetry must be deemed beautiful! Jacques Derrida, who described poetry as ‘the highest of the liberal arts’ would agree, as would Heidegger, who also placed a strong importance on the power of the purity of poetry. The greatest poetry also speaks to us on a deep level personally about life’s experience within a cultural setting. If we have no concept of this culture then we do not understand it, therefore poetry cannot be either universal or without a dependence of concept.

In his third moment Kant provides the extra definition:

Beauty is the form of finality in an object, so far as perceived in it apart from the representation of an end.

What he means here is that when we experience a beautiful object, it can only be beautiful as a complete thing its totality of form. We cannot say a valley is beautiful simply because of its lustrous green color, but rather because of the entire way the green interacts with how the ground slopes, how the trees sway and how it gives us pleasure to view it. Further, this pleasure must be free from our comprehension of the purpose of the object. For example, a car cannot be beautiful in relation to how it drives, only in how it looks. However, to be purely beautiful the concept of the end use of the object must not even enter our minds because:

Just as it is a clog on the purity of the purity of the judgement of taste to have the agreeable (of sensation) joined with beauty to which properly only the form is relevant, so to combine the good with beauty (the good, namely, of the manifold to the thing itself according to its end) mars its purity.

So, if we know what something is intended for when we look at it, then we cannot conceive of it as purely beautiful. It would then follow that when we see a painting and know that it’s a painting, which might be looked at or sold for gain, then we cannot say it is purely beautiful, but only ‘dependently beautiful.’ This is something that seems to defy what many feel defines art: It is beautiful for beauty’s sake.

Kant does try to provide some kind of recompense to this, when at the end of The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement he makes a distinction between mere art and ‘fine-art.’ But really, he’s just confusing himself, confusing us and being a snob all at the same time.

So, where does this leave us?

Kant defines beauty as being judged through an aesthetic experience of taste. This experience must be devoid of any concept, emotion or any interest in the object we are describing as beautiful. Most of all, the experience of beauty is something that we feel. Whether you think this definition is too narrow, too wide or completely bat-shit crazy, you now have at least something to think about and come up with your own ideas. The most redeeming feature, I think, in Kant’s definition is that beauty is universal: It is the only experience on this earth that can be felt by all of us, without a need for communication. In this way it gives humanity a ‘sensus communis’ or a sense of harmony, because of common feelings that transcend race, religion or politics when we see something purely beautiful.

If we truly recognize this one aspect (rather than over-intellectualize the subject entirely) maybe we can find a way to maintain peace with each other through the beauty of art. But that is another topic all in itself: What is art?


Tim Hawken investigates Immanuel Kant's notions of beauty.

view /HawkenKant
Thursday, January 31, 2013 08:11 pm
Tattoo of Immanuel Kant
Tim Hawken

1. This looks to be pretty special:

The Tenant’s Association of the Chelsea Hotel presents a rare screening of Andy Warhol’s 1966 masterpiece, Chelsea Girls, introduced by poet and Warhol superstar Rene Ricard.

Rene Ricard is one of the few surviving members of the cast, and was a close friend and associate of Warhol from 1965 until the artist’s death in 1987. In a rare public appearance, Rene Ricard will discuss the making of the film and offer reflections on Warhol’s larger career as painter, author, publisher and wit.

Chelsea Girls was shot in various rooms in the Hotel Chelsea (and the Warhol Factory) over three weeks in the summer of 1966. Rene Ricard lived in the hotel at the time, and he remains a current resident.

Appearing in the film, amongst others, are Nico, Ondine, Brigid Berlin, International Velvet, Mario Montez, Ingrid Superstar, and Marie Menken, with music by the Velvet Underground.  Filmed at a cost of $3,000.00 The film grossed $130,000.00 in its first five months of its release, making it perhaps the most successful underground film of all time It has since earned cult status as one of the most stunning and provocative cultural documents of the 1960s, and is considered by many to be Warhol’s filmic masterpiece.

Filmed in black and white and color and shown on two screens simultaneously, the film runs three hours and fifteen minutes.

At the premiere of the film at Jonas Mekas' Cinematheque, the film sequences were listed on the program accompanied by fake room numbers at the Chelsea Hotel. These had to be removed, however, when the Chelsea Hotel threatened legal action.

Today the residents of the Chelsea Hotel are fighting to retain and preserve one of the great cultural landmarks of New York City. The Chelsea Hotel is not only a historic landmarked building, but also a living national treasure, and a vital part of the intellectual and artistic heritage of New York. Residents have incurred great expense fighting evictions and what they consider to be the illegal demolition of over a hundred rooms in the historic hotel.

2. The first of May is also International Workers Day, and should be a big day for the Occupy movement around the world.

3. The PEN World Voices Festival is about to begin, and has a fantastic lineup.

4. New York City's Center for Fiction presents Mothers on the Verge including Leora Skolkin-Smith (Hystera) and Jessica Keener, whose sensitive 1970s memory novel Night Swim I've recently enjoyed.

5. I had a very negative initial reaction to the news that a team of transcendentalist video game designers from the University of Southern California has created an electronic interactive version of Thoreau's Walden (still and always my favorite book in the world). But the preview visible at the link above really doesn't look so bad. And while it's true that playing a video game is nothing like living in a cabin in the woods for two years -- well, come to think of it, reading a book is nothing like living in a cabin in the woods for two years either. So I guess I won't judge this project until I get to see it for myself.

5. Nice cover art concept for four novels by Clarice Lispector.

6. Check out the trailer for Hemingway and Gellhorn, HBO's new spin on Ernest Hemingway's early marriage, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. I don't think John Irving will be watching it.

7. You can watch the entire 1962 Orson Welles movie version of Franz Kafka's The Trial on YouTube. Anthony Perkins stars as Joseph K.

9. Inspiring! Here's the story of how a single glowing review of Sergio De La Pava's self-published novel A Naked Singularity in The Quarterly Conversation led the University of Chicago Press to publish the novel, so far to much acclaim.

10. Poignant as all hell. "I like that guy! I wish I knew him." Years ago, when I was in college, I attended a poetry reading by Robert Bly that knocked my socks off, and definitely helped to set me on the crazy creative writing/philosophy/poetry/blogging path that I have continued to follow through my life. Here's daughter Mary Bly's report on how the spirited poet is coping with Alzheimer's disease.

view /ChelseaRedux
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 09:07 am
Levi Asher

"On Sunday, April 27, 1913, in her Yonkers, New York, home, sixty-seven-year-old Jennie Hintz tried a new way of practicing her piety. She did not need the assistance of clergy, nor did she need to go to church, as she had given up her faith almost a half century earlier. The kind of devotion she experimented with had nothing to do with institutional Christianity, or Jesus, or the sacraments of her youth. It simply required her to put pen to paper and express in unguarded prose what Friedrich Nietzsche meant to her.

Her writing took the form of a long handwritten letter to Nietzsche's sister and literary executor, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, to give thanks and praise for her brother's life and though. Hintz, a self-described "spinster", introduced herself as a "great admirer of your brother's philosophy and his morals." She explained that she had been reading Nietzsche's works for over a year and a half, starting with "Beyond Good and Evil", the only Nietzsche volume in her local library at the time ... She said she felt drawn to Nietzsche because "in many points I had already arrived at these truths before he expressed them, but I remained mute keeping them for myself." She did so, she explained, because in dealing with people more educated than she, Hintz found she was not listened to or taken seriously. But reading Nietzsche let her know that there was someone she could relate to."

Friedrich Nietzsche, that strange, alluring bird. His prose could soar, but what happened when this bird landed on the earth? I knew as soon as I heard about the new American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that this book would be valuable, and I could barely wait to read it. I'm a gigantic fan of Friedrich Nietzsche, but his outrageously original books (some of the best include The Birth of Tragedy, Beyond Good & Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Ecce Homo) often leave readers in a state of vertigo. His slashing rants against phony moralists and smug academics were clearly designed to reverberate, but exactly how did they reverberate? To understand a philosopher so conscious of conflict, we must understand the conflicts his own ideas created, because these conflicts are the very manifestation of the philosophy. The fact that this sickly German professor became a celebrity and an icon seems as unlikely as his works themselves, and just as laden with meaning.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen establishes her knowledge of and passion for her subject quickly in this book (for whatever it's worth, a glance at the Acknowledgements section reveals that her young son's middle name is Friedrich). She opens with a discussion of Nietzsche's strong admiration for the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and then skips past the familiar details of the odd professor's life story to arrive at his sad final years, when the great thinker languished madly under the care of his sister, barely able to comprehend the fact that, after a lifetime of being ignored, his books were finally being discovered by a new generation. He died in August 1900, just as readers around the world were beginning to understand the powerful mission that had gripped and possessed him his entire life.

During and immediately after the years of Nietzsche's final decline, as if in the blink of an eye, he became a worldwide sensation. The initial shock of the Nietzsche phenomenon centered around his attacks on religion, his phrases "beyond good and evil", "ubermensch" ("superman"), and "God is dead", and his sickly persona itself. William James could barely see past the sensational persona and the rumors of his awful health and personal habits, and perhaps never realized how much common ground could be found between his own ideas and those of the Saxon madman (a later section in the book explores Nietzsche's points of contact with the philosophy of Pragmatism, with regard to both James and the later Richard Rorty). Many of the earliest American readers, fascinated by the Nietzsche cult, could also not see past what Susan Sontag would later call "illness as metaphor", and assumed that the philosopher's severe mental illness was the natural culmination of his philosophy. This did not impair their fascination with him or his philosophy at all.

The book's second chapter deals with the way various hearty American Christian movements welcomed the opportunity to debate Nietzsche on open grounds (indeed, it's thrilling to realize that, a century ago, America's Christian leaders were eager for open debate, and confident enough in their positions to see Nietzsche's alleged atheism as an opportunity to buttress their own positions clearly and intelligently; American religious fundamentalism does not have to be anti-intellectual, and once was not). Different churches freely appropriated the parts of his message that they liked best: to Catholics, the apostasy of this son of a Protestant pastor stood as proof of the final depravity of Luther's break from the real church, while to Protestants and Social Gospelers, Nietzsche's protests against the inanity and conventionality of organized religion were a reminder that a faithful soul must never rest on comfortable customs from the past, but must instead strive to constantly reinvent the sources of faith.

It emerges from American Nietzsche that the post-Darwinian intellectual world was completely ready and primed for somebody to write a book called On The Genealogy of Morals, either because they liked the message or because they hated the message and needed a clear opportunity to refute it. This is why Nietzsche became a sensation (though one wonders why this couldn't have taken place when he was still young and healthy enough to appreciate and enjoy his fame; what if Nietzsche had lived long enough to argue back?!).

The thematic chapters in American Nietzsche incorporate brief or lengthy vignettes about the many American thinkers who were deeply inspired by Nietzsche, including H. L. Mencken, Jack London, Emma Goldman, Eugene O'Neill, Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair and, later, Harold Bloom and Huey Newton (though another influential Nietzsche fan, Ayn Rand, is strangely not mentioned in this book). One of the book's later chapters highlights the heroic work of German-Jewish American emigre Walter Kaufmann in rescuing Nietzsche's reputation from the Nazi-connected inflections provided by the philosopher's sister and literary executor, as well as from the negative appraisals of Theodor Adorno and Crane Brinton after World War II.

On April 8, 1966, the cover of Time Magazine famously asked "Is God Dead?". By this time, Nietzsche may have seemed as American as cherry pie to many philosophical observers. But the larger point this excellent book delivers is not really about America at all, and in fact I suspect the focus of the book was restricted to a single continent mainly to provide a manageable volume to read. We also need books called European Nietzsche, Asian Nietzsche, African Nietzsche. If Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen chooses to oblige, I'll read them all.


Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen examines the rising reputation of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the United States of America after his lonely death.

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Friday, March 2, 2012 06:28 pm
American Nietzsche by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen
Levi Asher