Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2010

The authors, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, also wrote Plato and a Platypus walk into a Bar – both books are about understanding and exploring philosophy through jokes. Heidigger is more specifically about exploring what philosophy has to say about death and the hereafter. The style is just a little too corny for me, and I got really sick of their imaginary straight man, the so-called “Daryl,” who asks dumb questions and is terrified of death. Still, some of the jokes and New Yorker cartoons are really funny, and I was able to glean a little philosophy from the pages. For instance, I don’t think I ever heard of Ernest Becker whose Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Denial of Death, explores how  the objective knowledge of our own mortality doesn’t stop us from inventing ways to avoid dealing with it through what Becker called “immortality systems.”  Per Becker, the problem with these culturally-sponsored immortality systems is that we invest ourselves in them to the extent that we have to defend them against other culture’s immortality systems; in addition, he says they don’t actually save us from what Cathcart and Klein describe as two sides of the same coin: the “life is meaningless-and-then-you -die problem…or its flip side, the anxiety of facing a life that is finite and can never satisfy our yearning for infinity.” Becker’s advice is to face up to the angst as a way out of this conundrum, drawing on Soren Kierkegaard’s contention that “angst is our ultimate teacher.” Avoiding angst by being detached, being hyper-busy, or trying to “be someone” are dead ends.  To quote C and K again, “It’s only when we’re willing to let go of all of our illusions and admit that we are lost and helpless and terrified that we will be free of ourselves and our false securities and ready for what Kierkegaard calls ‘the leap of faith.’  (Not quite sure what is meant by this.)  The chapter on Schopenhauer seemed vague or at least I am vague on what Schopenhauer was saying about death, but Heidigger seems to be saying that we need to confront death without illusion in order to live authentically – similar to Kierkegaard and ultimately, Becker, I think.  Was Heidigger an existentialist, too? I think so, since the chapter on Heidigger (or, Heidi, as they call him) leads directly to Sartre.  As my muddled description indicates, this book is fun and accessible, but doesn’t give you a solid foundation in philosophy – obviously! Maybe it will help as a way to start thinking about some of these writers and their works…we shall see.  I’ll try to summarize the existentialists in another post.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

After listening to the Teaching Company course on the History of Hitler’s Empire, I felt somewhat enlightened on how the Nazis came to power, even somewhat on why.  I understood as well the reasoning behind Hitler’s seemingly incomprehensible attack on the Soviet Union (hadn’t he heard of Napoleon?).  Since he was ideologically driven, he was obsesssed with crushing the s0-called Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy. With Britain weakened after Dunkirk and America not yet in the war, he turned his attention East, which was his main goal anyway. His racial theories caused him to denigrate the “mongrel” Russians and have the confidence that his army could be in Moscow before winter struck (rather than diminish German moral about the effectiveness of the “lightning war,” or blitzkrieg, he issued only summer uniforms to the troops entering Russia).  Interestingly, if he had been less ideological, he might have won many Russians, fed up with Stalin’s ruthless tyranny, to join his forces. Instead, he managed to unite the Russians against the German advance.  In City of Thieves, a novel by David Benioff, we learn what the Russian resistance meant. “You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold” begins this compelling, breathtaking novel.  I was in an agony of suspense as the mismatched protagonists are sent on an absurd errand by a corrupt Soviet Colonel.  Tragedy and comedy intermingle to devasting effect.  I have read many “quest” novels, most in the science fiction or fantasy genre, where on one level you know that the good guys are going to win, no matter how many giant spiders are on the move.  This had the elements of a fantasy novel, backed by the horror of the truth.  As Stalin abandoned Leningrad, thousands died of starvation, tainting the waters of the Neva with the stench of death.  There were cannibals.  On the other side were the Einsatzgroupen, the Nazi death squads.  This is no fantasy novel.

Read Full Post »

A cat may look at a queen, and a lowly Parisienne concierge may revere Tolstoy, read St. Augustine and Schopenhauer, and look down on the wealthy, but mostly vapid denizens of the apartment building where she lives and works. The concept is heavily belabored, to the point where you are tired of the ‘diamond in the rough’ theme. Manuela, the cleaning woman, is another “natural aristocrat,” whose boots her employers are not fit to wipe. Ho hum. Then along comes the fabulously wealthy Japanese filmmaker, whose films our heroine, Renee, has seen and appreciated, who shares her love of Tolstoy, and who sees through her immediately, as an almost instant bond is formed. Renee seems oddly terrified of being discovered to be intelligent, maybe it’s a French class thing? The link between the cats, hers named Leo, his Kitty and Levin, is rather clever, but otherwise I didn’t believe a word of it. LIkewise the rapidly formed friendship between these two and the suicidal pre-teen, Paloma, who has decided that, based on the adults around her, life is not worth living and is plotting to kill herself on her 13th birthday. This was a good plot twist and kept me reading many rather pointless diary entries of Paloma. Everything is on the surface and hammered home without, it must be said, elegance. This is unfortunate as there were many good things about the book, including the ending.  Maybe there were some translation issues?

Read Full Post »

      In the October 25th issue, I was engrossed in Ian Frazier’s article about the invading Asian carp that are (apparently) poised to ruin the Great Lakes. Frazier is always good, even if the news of invasive species leaves one slightly depressed. The “Letter from California” about the noise pollution caused by leaf-blowers in an upscale neighborhood was amusing, but also relevant to all neighborhoods where people obsessively blow their leaves around, on peaceful Saturday afternoons when you’re trying to read out on the porch. This was a good issue; I even liked the fiction (“The Tree Line, Kansas 1934”).  The keeper for me though was the review of a new translation of Giacomo Leopardi’s poetry, very depressing, apparently, but also beautifully written. The October 4th issue had Nancy Franklin’s review of Sorkin’s movie, The Social Network. The article about John Cage was interesting. October 18th had an insightful piece about the tea party movement’s admiration for Glenn Beck (scary) and the roots of his and their philosophy (even scarier), plus an excellent overview by Adam Gopnik of Adam Smith biographies, pointing out some interesting facts about Smith and capitalism (not so laissez faire as he is often portrayed). The October 11th issue (the Money Issue as it happens) had another great money-themed story by Alice Munro, Corrie, plus a funny piece by Nora Ephron about a near inheritance.

Read Full Post »