Tag Archives: literature

Borowski’s Memoir

Observe in what an original world we are living: how many men can you find in Europe who have never killed; or whom somebody does not wish to kill?

But still we continue to long for a world in which there is love between men, peace, and serene deliverance from our baser instincts. This, I suppose, is the nature of youth.

P.S. And yet, first of all, I should like to slaughter one or two men, just to throw off the concentration camp mentality, the effects of continual subservience, the effects of helplessly watching others being beaten and murdered, the effects of all this horror.  I suspect, though, that I will be marked for life.  I do not know whether we shall survive, but I like to think that one day we shall have the courage to tell the world the whole truth and call it by its proper name. 

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You know how much I used to like Plato.  Today I realized he lied.  For the things of this world are not a reflection of the ideal, but a product of human sweat, blood and hard labour.  It is we who built the pyramids, hewed the marble for the temples and the rocks for the imperial roads, we who pulled the oars in the galleys and dragged wooden ploughs, while they wrote dialogues and dramas, rationalized their intrigues by appeals in the name of the Fatherland, made wars over boundaries and democracies.  We were filthy and died real deaths.  They were ‘aesthetic’ and carried on subtle debates.

There can be no beauty if it is paid for by human injustice, nor truth that passes over injustice in silence, nor moral virtue that condones it.


Morality and The Circle by Dave Eggers

The novel The Circle lays bare the trajectory of our culture’s attitude towards online life. It illustrates both a warning and a reflection. Have we incorporated internet “liking,” posting, and commenting into our conception of “activity”? Is this what it means to be “social”? To communicate?

Imagine a fictional corporate entity resembling a magnified combination of Facebook and Google and there you have Eggers’s The Circle. The underscoring logic of the company, the founders claim, is to promote transparency and thereby a heightened sense of morality.

  • If everyone could be tracked and cameras become ubiquitous (and perpetually provide live streaming) then would anyone ever dare to lie, cheat, and/or steal?
  • And, given the idea that information ought to be free for all, would it be “wrong” to withhold all information including personal information?

These questions posed by the novel compel us to examine what is meant by moral action. Eggers’s work here echoes a sentiment elucidated in Camus’s The Fall (la chute). While it may be true that knowledge of being shadowed would nudge one in the direction of being on one’s best behavior, there is something left to be desired insofar as positing a definitive statement about morality. The concept of the moral agent is reduced to one who acts either for recognition or with fear of consequence.

Camus demonstrated the poverty of this line of reasoning through the character Jean-Baptiste in The Fall. Jean-Baptiste devoted a healthy portion of his day to charitable acts intentionally executed in public. He boasted of offering his seat on the bus for the elderly, for instance. One fateful day when no one was looking and he found himself confronted with a situation to help a woman in dire need he froze. His paralysis haunted him because in that moment he realized his past “good” actions could never testify to his character.

Instead, his character unfolded in the singular moment he failed to act. He fooled himself into believing that acting according to “good custom” granted him moral agent status; however, without rules and an audience the truth of his cowardice emerged.

The ancient Greeks focused on character as the cornerstone to morality. Aristotle in particular argued that excellence attained by habit, practice, and the development of reason led to a fruitful and good life. To act justly and bravely, for example, necessarily includes acting with a right disposition.  That is, the thrust of action must be derived from an authentic desire to be “good” and for its own sake.

Public honor, according to Aristotle, renders an inferior motive because it depends on the view of others whereas genuine “good” action is inherently self-sufficient.  “Good” action originates from the agent rather than an external force.

An important distinction regarding character resides between a person who acts bravely for publicity versus a person who acts bravely for no reason other than it was the right thing to do in the circumstance. Notice the end result may appear the same, namely an act of bravery came to the fore; however, the former feels shallow since the act was a means to another end (public honor) and the latter exudes heroism.

FullSizeRenderOn this point, the fictional leaders behind The Circle miss this mark. In the novel, the possibility of public praise or blame serves as the sole impetus for moral action, a Jean-Baptiste manner of thinking. Attention to the inner life of the individual, paramount for Aristotle, falls by the wayside.

The Circle’s constitution additionally chips away at the notion of character development by inducing a hyper attention to a life lived online which amounts to not really living at all. Hours of an employee’s day must be devoted to commenting and “liking” posts, ultimately replacing time for self-reflection and rumination. If one fails to maintain an online presence they become a pariah.

Consequently, a “self” no longer exists. The Circle absorbs all traces of it. The Circle owns it.

The concept of information sharing warps into a compunction to share one’s point of view on social media. “Information” exceeds our normal understanding of news and seeps into personal experience. When one travels, for instance, The Circle insists that pictures and descriptions be posted. To not do so violates their standard of information sharing.

Followers of the company enthusiastically chant “Privacy is theft!”  Keeping an experience such as a vacation to oneself is to steal from others the opportunity to view one’s photos of a place they might be interested in visiting someday.  Nothing may be kept to oneself. Moreover, to not share amounts to lying on one’s social media profile. Shouldn’t everyone know everyone’s interests and hobbies?

This “Privacy is theft!” mentality blindly embraced by the leaders and followers of The Circle resembles the mind bending claim “2 + 2 =5” from 1984.  Both dystopias usher in slogans countering the readers’ sense of normalcy.  But, as I stated at the beginning, Eggers’s book not only warns.  It reflects.  Where are the lines between private and public life blurring and how much of a role are we playing (willingly)?

The irony of posting a review about The Circle is not lost on me.  Have I succumbed to the trappings of The Circle?  I patiently await your comments 🙂

 

 


Bookworm Faces (Nearly) Impossible Request

An impossible question was posed to me via Facebook: What are the top ten books that have made an impact on you?

You mean just ten books?  Mental scrambles. Head scratching. Seeks coffee.

For me, the impact of a book and/or author is rooted in the following:

1) Do I feel more connected to the world?

2) Is my world view broadened by this book?, and

3) Have I been intellectually challenged and invigorated?

 

I settled on this list:

  • Force of Circumstance, by Simone de Beauvoir
  • The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt
  • The Apology, by Plato
  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi
  • The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie (I am a mystery buff after all!)
  • The Doll, by Boleslaw Prus
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

But, of course, I threw my hands up because there are so many more wonderful authors who should be included!  Here are my honorable mentions:

  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Aristotle
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Nelson Mandela
  • George Eliot
  • Jane Austen
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Roberston Davies
  • Zadie Smith

What books have made a great impact on you?

 


Curious about Philosophy?

Hello, friends.  Care to dabble in the study of Philosophy?

I’ve listed four suggestions to add to your summer reading.  If you have read any of these please feel free to leave comments and reflections.  Enjoy!

  1. What Does It All Mean? by Thomas Nagel.  Recommended to accompany any Introduction to Philosophy course.  It is also a fantastic overview of basic philosophical questions.
  2. Existentia Africana by Lewis R. Gordon.  I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Gordon give a keynote address at a recent conference.  His goal is to broaden the discipline of Philosophy.
  3. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.  This is a lovely “story” of philosophy.  It is charming and written in such a way to ease one into major philosophical concepts.
  4. Confessions of a Philosopher by Bryan Magee.  (I’m currently in the throes of reading this autobiography.)

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On Love

Over coffee a few weeks ago, my dear friend Courtney asked me do a reading at her wedding ceremony.  “Of course!” I responded.  Giddy and flattered, I asked, “What would you like me to read?”

“Anything.  Something from Philosophy.  I trust you,” she said.

The lovely couple

The lovely couple: Courtney Bates & Brendon Small.

I picked a piece from Plato’s Symposium:

Plato’s Symposium gives an account of a dinner party where the participants each took a turn to explain Love.  One speech in particular, from the playwright Aristophanes, is the one I wish to share.  Aristophanes said that the human being was originally whole, with two heads, four legs and four arms.  Having upset the gods, the human was divided into two and left wandering the earth craving blindly for the other half.  After some time, Zeus took pity on the beings and turned their heads and arms forward so that they could eventually reconnect with each other.

Aristophanes:

“When one of them finds his other half…the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are they who pass their lives with one another; yet they could not explain the intense yearning for the other.  It is that which the soul desires and cannot tell…

Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and say to them, ‘Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another’s company? For if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together.’

–there is not a man among them when he heard this who would deny or who would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting in one another’s arms, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of an ancient need.

And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were whole, and the desire and the pursuit of the whole is called Love….

Therefore we shall do well to praise the god Love, who is the author of this gift, and who is also our greatest benefactor, leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future…”

 

 


Call for Papers, Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

GSU Phi Sigma Tau

Philosophical Society

Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Georgia Southern University

Statesboro, Georgia

April 11-12, 2014

Conference Topic: Philosophy in Literature and Film

Papers that focus on analyzing the philosophical consequences and implications of film and literature are especially encouraged.  Participation in the conference is open to all undergraduate students regardless of major.  The top papers will be published in Georgia Southern’s undergraduate philosophy journal, The Indefinite Dyad.

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Guidelines:

  • Only full papers will be accepted.
  • Student submissions should be no more than 4,000 words.
  • Group presentations will be accepted.
  • Submissions should contain student’s full name, institution, and contact information (including email).
  • Deadline: March 1, 2014
  • Submit proposals to Geneva Hendrix gsuphisigmatau@gmail.com
  • Questions? Contact Danielle Layne dlayne@georgiasouthern.edu

A Trip Down Memory Lane with Books

The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that forgetting is not solely about forgetting an object but about forgetting yourself in relation to the object, time, and place.  For example, if you cannot remember where you put your keys, you also cannot remember yourself in the context of the last time you held your keys.

The inverse of this, namely calling upon a memory via an object, works similarly.  On a dinner date with hubs I casually mentioned that my books serve as a sort of photo album.  When my eyes scan them memories crop up as to why I bought the book in conjunction with where I was in my life. They even remind me of who was in my life at the time.

Now, there are a lot of books about our home, so hubs took my claim as an exaggeration.  Not at all, I assured him.

As a little test he picked fifteen books at random, without me looking, to see how much memory the books could prompt.  Curious about the validity of my own claim, I took up the challenge:

1. Phenomenlogy of Spirit by Hegel.  Canada, working on my MA, around 2000.  My undergraduate work comprised only of philosophers in the analytic tradition, and I found myself in a terrible struggle to understand Hegel.  The class on Hegel was quite small, we sat around a large horseshoe table with the professor at the front of the room. I hesitated to contribute to discussion, which proved to be taxing since there were only about a dozen of us in the class. I learned to treasure Tim Horton’s coffee.

2. What is Literature? by Sartre.  Belgium, working on my dissertation, around 2003.  I fell in love with existentialism and its connection to literature.  This book was used for my dissertation.

3. I Married a Communist by Philip Roth.  I’m not entirely sure where I bought this, but I recall why.  I had read The Human Stain by Roth and was in awe of it.  Anticipating another great read I picked this up because the title was provocative.  But, I remember not enjoying it and thinking that The Human Stain was a far superior read.

4. On Beauty by Zadie Smith.  I was in the mood to take a break from philosophy in graduate studies, and this book popped up on several reading lists.  I enjoyed it and have recommended it to several friends.

5. The Best of Roald Dahl.  San Diego, undergraduate years, about 1998.  I purchased this after visiting an old high school friend at her university. She lit up when talking about Dahl and highly recommended his short stories.  photo-29

The first in the collection I read was “The Way Up To Heaven.”  I recall thinking that I’d just read a bit before bed, but once I started I couldn’t put it down. Dahl’s twisted sense of irony is marvelous and should probably come with a warning label: “Not for bed time,” or “For wanna-be insomniacs.”   I now have him as required reading for my Intro to Philosophy class.

6. Gone by Mo Hayder.  This is a recent read.  Pasadena, some time this year.  I was in the mood for a mystery and I thought I was going on the recommendation of a friend, but she had actually suggested Gone Girl.  It was a fortunate mistake because I later picked up Gone Girl and felt so-so about it; whereas, Gone captured my attention and was a more satisfying read.  I purchased it while on an evening stroll in Old Town Pasadena with hubs.

7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.  I read this while in the final throws of my Ph.D.  This book is in my top ten favorites.  It poses an incredible contrast from the existentialists’ work in so far as it brings about a neat ending.  Justice exists!  All is right in the world.  I ended up mentioning this contrast in the concluding chapter of my dissertation.

8. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The first time I heard of this book was in Belgium when a friend/classmate of mine (fellow bookworm and now super philosopher) mentioned that he hated it.  We were walking briskly in the cold and he railed against all the fluff about the genius of this work.  Approximately three years later, another friend mentioned that she was reading it.  She couldn’t put it down.  I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about.  It started off a little slow for me, but then I came to like it.  However, his second book Freedom, I think, is much better.

9. Middlemarch by George Eliot.  Guelph, Ontario.  About 2001.  I had read The Mill on The Floss and I wanted to delve into another book by Eliot.  While visiting a friend in Guelph, he introduced me to a delightful little book store called The Book Shelf, and that is where I spotted this gem.  The Book Shelf was part store, cafe, restaurant, and indie movie theatre, and the town’s claim to fame is that it was the first place in North America to begin a recycling program.

What initially drew me to Eliot was the fact that she used a pen name for publication.  photo-29 copyWhat would it be like to be a talented author and believe that gender would hinder the possibility of being read?

10. Anthem by Ayn Rand.  Orange County, high school freshman year english.  This book made such an impression on me that I’m still toying with Rand’s ideas.

11. All Men Are Mortal by de Beauvoir.  Belgium, about 2003, summertime.  I read this while on break from my studies at one of my favorite spots to work in Leuven, The Metropole.  I spent so much time there that my friends would sometimes go to The Metropole to find me instead of ringing me at my flat.  Once I finished the novel, I decided to completely alter the direction of my work to existentialism.

12. Albert Camus Lyrical and Critical Essays. I remember seeing this in a book store while I was home visiting during a holiday.  I thought I’d read everything by Camus and I was shocked that something had escaped my attention.  Orange County, about 2005.

13. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.  I don’t know.  This shouldn’t be on my shelf.  I bought it because I had (well, still do) an obsession with Jane Austen.  I know for certain that this book didn’t resonate with me.  On one long flight this was listed as a movie and I watched only a bit.  Apparently, I couldn’t bear that version either.  Lesson: not all Jane Austen fans are alike.

14. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  When I picked this off the shelf, a store clerk assured me it would be a good read.  I bought this around the time it became big in the states.  My guess is, Orange County, Borders Book Store, about 2009.  My girlfriend told me her father-in-law read it on a flight and apparently there was an extraordinary amount of turbulence, but he was so engrossed in the book he didn’t even notice the shaking.  She said, “That’s the power of Stieg Larsson.”

15. La Cantatrice Chauvre by Ionesco.  My good friend in graduate school, Vlad, is fluent in four languages and proficient in another two. Encouraging me to enhance my French, Vlad selected this for me to read.  Belgium, about 2004.

On a recent trip forming new memories, San Francisco

On a recent trip forming new memories, San Francisco


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