"Centuries of wildly differing interpretations of Machiavelli – tyrant or republican, revolutionary or fascist – fractured his thought from his life. His early biographers, Roberto Ridolfi most wonderfully, as well as feminist political theorists like Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, put the two back together again. (This revisionism hasn’t quite entered the popular imagination: trolls in the more nihilistic corners of the internet still debate whether Machiavelli was, in fact, an incel.) Today, Machiavelli’s ruthlessness and cynicism are mostly embraced by those at the contemptible end of the political spectrum: members of the Trump administration have adopted him as a patron saint; in the UK, we have Dominic Cummings, ‘the Machiavel in Downing Street’. But the Succession fans and trolls who revere Machiavellian shrewdness mistake his cynicism for insensitivity to the world, when in fact it reflected precisely the opposite. His cynicism developed from an almost unbearable clarity of insight (it is true that, more often than not, he was disgusted with what he saw). He obviously wasn’t a feminist – Fortuna, remember, was a woman to be mauled – but his ruthless self-inquiry is bracing to read at a time when the right has claimed a monopoly on political realism and popular feminism confuses the cheap pang of emotional recognition for thought."
Houellebecq wants to show that Schopenhauer’s philosophy is about more than vitality and passion. Schopenhauer did not write to make readers better, more self-aware people but to explain the world’s cruelty and to provide them with an escape hatch. The book is at its most enjoyable when Houellebecq displays Schopenhauer’s lucid prose, which can be “as deep as the abyss, majestic in its desolation and horror,” such as this description of the food chain, which Houellebecq dedicates “especially to ecologists”:
"Junghuhn recounts how in Java he saw a stretch of ground covered with bones, extending as far as the eye could see, that he took for a battlefield: these were actually just the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long, three feet wide and tall; when they leave the sea, these turtles take this path to lay their eggs, and are then assaulted by wild dogs … which combine their efforts to tip them onto their backs, tear off the lower carapace and the small scales on their bellies, and devour them alive. But a tiger often then pounces on the dogs."“
For what fault must they endure such a torment?” Schopenhauer asks. “There is only one answer: in this way the will to live objectifies itself.”
To be radical, then, in the sense that I am after, is to return all the way back to the source of an argument, to dig all the way down to its foundation. To go with the Latinate metaphor, we are radical when we refuse to follow a particular tree along the course of its growth and development, because we think that it has been planted in the wrong place all along. Ditching the metaphor: We refuse to accept a dispute as it has been presented to us, because we know that by then far too much has been presumed already. This, I want to suggest to you, is the stance that we Catholics ought to take towards practically all the debates going on around us today. Rather than taking sides, we need to step back, see what the sides have in common, and, most probably, take sides against that.
As Roger Angell approached his 100th birthday, the Friend Memorial Library on August 8 honored him, its best-known and probably oldest supporter, with a band, a governor, a proclamation, a parade, a speech and plenty of well wishes.
His actual centennial doesn’t happen until September 19. “I crossed my fingers,” he said from the steps of the library to the hundred or so people gathered below him.
“Roger Angell Day” wasn’t the first time Brooklin honored the writer. When he was just 90, the town held a parade to honor veterans, which he described in his book, This Old Man: All in Pieces. He wrote that he got to doff his cap at the appropriate moment, having served in the Air Force during World War II.
The description of a Brooklin parade in This Old Man could almost have described the scaled-down version that celebrated his birthday. “Families of every size walked in from their cars, parked along Route 175,” he wrote. They watched the “fire trucks…shined-up ancient roadsters and kid- and Lab-laden pickups” that, “honking all the way, streamed slowly past.”
Angell’s centennial parade came after a concert by The Treble Makers and the speech-making on the library lawn. Gov. Janet Mills read a proclamation honoring Angell as he sat above her on the porch. She listed some of the baseball stars Angell had profiled, mangling many of the names. “Mordecai Brown,” she said, using the pitcher’s given name. Angell shouted out his better-known nickname, “Three Finger!”
“Bill Mazurski,” said the governor. “Mazeroski,” corrected Angell.
“Dizzy Vance,” she said. “Dazzy,” he yelled.
“Always the editor,” Mills said. “Jeezum.”
"Scholars in both digital humanities and media studies have noted an apparent disconnect between computation and the interpretive methods of the humanities. Alan Liu has argued that literary scholars employing digital methods encounter a “meaning problem” due to the difficulty of reconciling algorithmic methods with interpretive ones. Conversely, the media scholar Friedrich Kittler has questioned the adequacy of hermeneutics as a means of studying computers. This paper argues that that this disconnect results from a set of contingent decisions made in both humanistic and mathematical disciplines in the first half of the nineteenth century that delineated, with implications that continue to resonate in the present day, which aspects of human activity would come to be formalized in algorithms and which would not. I begin with a discussion of Nicolas de Condorcet, who attempted, at the height of the 1789 revolution, to turn algebra into a universal language; his work, I argue, exemplifies the form of algorithmic thinking that existed before the Romantic turn. Next, I discuss William Wordsworth’s arguments about the relationship of poetry and science. While Wordsworth is sometimes viewed as a critic of science, I argue that his polemic is specifically targeted at highly politicized projects like Condorcet’s that sought to supplant existing modes of thought with scientific rationality. Finally, I demonstrate the importance of Romantic thought for George Boole, creator of the logic system that would eventually form the basis of digital electronics. The reason Boole was able to succeed where Condorcet had failed, I argue, was that Romantic notions of culture enabled him to reconcile a mechanical view of mathematical reasoning with an organic view of the development of meaning—a dichotomy that remains a key assumption of computer interfaces in the twenty-first century."
When we look at pictures of others, we may sense things in them that aren’t visibly present, such as the person’s mood or the encompassing cultural scene. That photograph of Michel Gallimard’s sports car smashed into a tree, seemingly split in two, feels like an archetypal image of the car crash itself, the extravagant violence of the wreckage emblematic of the spectacular death of a literary playboy.
In a passage near the end of The First Man, Camus describes the way that he, as a boy, could distinguish “with his eyes closed” the scent of books released by different publishers: “Each book […] had a specific smell, according to the paper on which it was printed, so singular, and secret.” My edition of The First Man conjures up no smell to my memory, but thinking back on that old copy, still tucked away in my library back home, I do recall a fanciful, impossible, daydream image: pages of the manuscript, those photographic reproductions on the endpapers, splattered with blood.
Throughout the 2016 US presidential election, pundits repeatedly described Donald Trump as a performance artist and his campaign as performance art. Meanwhile, his alt-right supporters were mounting performance art shows, debating the meaning of Marina Abramović’s work, and developing their own theories of political performance. For experts in performance theory, such punditry and provocation is like the image in a funhouse mirror. It’s hard to make sense of such bizarre, distorted images—let alone to recognize ourselves in them. This article insists that, nonetheless, we should try. Trump and his movement pose special challenges to American political culture—and also to academic performance theory. His rise has revealed the limitations of a politics (and performance theory) based on norms and their transgression. It has also given the lie to politicians’ false belief that they (and only they) are not performing their politics. The challenge now—for academics, activists, citizens, and journalists alike—is to articulate how performance works, how it provides models of cultural power.
One’s view of God may be congenial when things are going well and yet largely inadequate when one is facing the fundamental challenges that suffering and death pose to our sense of meaning and well-being. The large, “cosmic” questions of meaning that can seem too “abstract” and “distant” in normal times will become very concrete and immediate when crisis threatens. Will the comfortable, distant, non-demanding God be adequate to shed light on the deep questions of meaning in such times of darkness? So unbearable was Augustine’s grief, so incapable was he of bearing this burden, that it caused him to flee his hometown and return to Carthage.
Like all created things, friends are good, but incomplete. They are finite, and we have been created for an infinite good, and only it can fulfill us. To expect that created things, even friends, can fulfill us in ways that only God can is to expect more than they can give and to miss the good they can be. Like all created things, friends are meant to point us toward the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us. Our perseverance in truth, goodness, and love depends upon this. Without these, we become useless, and perhaps worse than useless, to those we call “friends.”
Which brings us to another question. How good a friend was Augustine? He was using his friendship with others to seduce them away from the faith and into a life of illusion and arrogant worldliness. And not merely this one nameless young man. There are also his other, more famous friends whose names we know: Alypius, Nebridius, and Romanianus. Augustine was clearly the intellectual ring-leader of the group, and he led them all into the errors of Manicheanism, before later leading them back out.
More contemporary fiction like this, please:
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor