Monday, May 17, 2010

But There's No 'S' In Burt Bacharach


The New York Times may have just created a new blog that may become my new obsession, "The Stone," "a forum for contemporary issues both timely and timeless." In their first posting today, Simon Critchley, a professor of philosophy at The New School (which ought to raise immediately warning bells, as the New School has this reputation for being a lefty-liberal-socialist continental school that has the unbecoming practice of letting their doctoral candidates pay for their PhD's. They also have some banging Nietzsche scholars.) writes the column "What Is a Philosopher?" It's a very nice piece, and some of the highlights include:

What is a philosopher, then? The answer is clear: a laughing stock, an absent-minded buffoon, the butt of countless jokes from Aristophanes’ “The Clouds” to Mel Brooks’s “History of the World, part one.” Whenever the philosopher is compelled to talk about the things at his feet, he gives not only the Thracian girl but the rest of the crowd a belly laugh. The philosopher’s clumsiness in worldly affairs makes him appear stupid or, “gives the impression of plain silliness.” We are left with a rather Monty Pythonesque definition of the philosopher: the one who is silly.

Pushing this a little further, we might say that to philosophize is to take your time, even when you have no time, when time is constantly pressing at our backs. The busy readers of The New York Times will doubtless understand this sentiment. It is our hope that some of them will make the time to read The Stone. As Wittgenstein says, “This is how philosophers should salute each other: ‘Take your time.’ ”

This all sounds dreamy, but it isn’t. Philosophy should come with the kind of health warning one finds on packs of European cigarettes: PHILOSOPHY KILLS. Here we approach the deep irony of Plato’s words. Plato’s dialogues were written after Socrates’ death. Socrates was charged with impiety towards the gods of the city and with corrupting the youth of Athens. He was obliged to speak in court in defense of these charges, to speak against the water-clock, that thief of time. He ran out of time and suffered the consequences: he was condemned to death and forced to take his own life.


Nothing is more common in the history of philosophy than the accusation of impiety. Because of their laughable otherworldliness and lack of respect social convention, rank and privilege, philosophers refuse to honor the old gods and this makes them politically suspicious, even dangerous. Might such dismal things still happen in our happily enlightened age? That depends where one casts one’s eyes and how closely one looks.
Interesting stuff, no?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Alma Maters

So both of my alma maters have been busy and in the news recently. First, my undergrad college, Bard, was featured a little while ago on regarding the "Bard Boob Blog." That's right - someone at Bard has created an entire blog devoted entirely to showing topless and headless undergrads in the Hudson River Valley. Of course, this kind of activity is exactly in tune with what you would expect from the kids at Bard; it's funny - the interview on mentions "The Moderater," Bard's homegrown soft-core porn magazine, and many of my friends were a part of the founding of that mag. Ah, the stories I could tell you, young one.

Of course, it's activity such as this that has the Huffington Post calling Bard "the little red whorehouse on the Hudson," and citing us as the #3 hipster school in America on their top 10 list. Eat that Vassar!

Leon has even been on The Colbert Report!

Meanwhile, my much lamer yet more "prestigious" alma mater, UChicago, has also been cited in the HuffPo recently, but not for anything nearly so awesome as Top 10 Hipster school. Huffington ranked Chicago #4 on their "Most Grueling Schools" list, right behind MIT, and added,
"Regarded as one of the most cerebral schools in the country, many factors contribute to Chicago's intensity, including long, dark winters, the possibility of having a future president or supreme court justice as your professor and heavy course loads. At least there's a sense of humor on campus, however indelicate: A few years ago, a group of students made T-shirts that read 'The University of Chicago: If it were easy it would be… your mom.' "

"The University of Chicago: Where Fun Comes to Die"

Of course, the real question is: What does this say about me??? That I would leave one of the top hipster schools in the nation and the "little red whorehouse on the Hudson" to go to a university notorious for its cheerlessness, bad weather, and conservative economics?? Am I a madman?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What I Meant to Say Was....

A letter from Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf:

1st September 1939
Partridge-shooting begins

Virginia darling,
Harold came back. So my Newhaven scheme fell through. I had meant to ring you up and ask if Nigel and I might come to luncheon tomorrow, but my best-laid plans have gone agley and seem likely to go agley-er and agley-er for some years to come. So what can one say? I know you must feel all that I feel, and that millions feel. I keep thinking of Vanessa, with Quentin as a young man and Julian already gone. Perhaps she will now not feel so bitter about Julian's lost life, because he did at least sacrifice voluntarily for a cause he believed in, which is nobler than being conscripted against his will into a general holocaust.
I do sympathise with you in the minor but still exasperating worry of removing from Tavistock to Mecklenburgh Square.
Well, - there it is, - and I must now go and arrange to darken our windows. Luckily there is a certain amount of comic relief always - and I find myself still able to laugh over ludicrous things which occur. This is called "Keeping the brave British smile" by the Daily Sketch, but I find myself keeping it at moments without conscious effort. I wonder how much longer we shall keep it?


I do hope Potto doesn't mind the Second German War too much.
Shall you stay at Rodmell? It would be folly to go to London unnecessarily.

In 1946 Faulkner specifically named Herman Melville as one of the four greatest influences on his work. Yet because no one has shown more than a possible passing knowledge by Faulkner - especially, early in his career - of Melville's writings other than Moby-Dick, commentators have been handicapped in their comparisons of these two literary titans. While the more marked similarities in style and thought have been noted, relatively little has been made of Melville's role as source and inspiration; such analyses are restricted principally to Moby-Dick and the later Faulkner. Since influence presumes awareness, this neglect is understandable.
- Ronald Wesley Hoag, Expanding the Influence: Faulkner and Four Melville Tales

LMM: Regional Finals

Austen v. Bronte

Tolstoy v. Dostoyevsky

Spiegelman v. Woolf

Melville v. Faulkner

Thursday, May 6, 2010

LMM: Only Eight Remain

Thank you to everyone who has continued to vote in our literary tournament, especially as we start to head into the final straight away! We are about set to start the Elite Eight, and only the most elite of all writers have managed to make it to this point, which I will begin to post shortly. The first of these regional finals will be between #1 Jane Austen and #3 Charlotte Bronte. Frankly, Austen has been looking unbeatable so far in this tournament, winning her first three matches by a combined score of 24-4. Maybe Bronte will be able to slow her down a bit, but it will take a lot to oust her!

Beneath them on the bracket is the Russian showdown between #1 Leonid Tolstoy and #3 Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky has been rather dominant, with a score of 18-5 through the first three rounds, but he had a pretty tough time defeating Vladimir Nabokov. I was surprised by how well Nabokov did in this tournament. I may have mentioned this before, but Loilita is one of the few novels - hell, one of the few pieces of art - that I can read and simultaneously think to myself both, "This is an amazing and excellent work of art and craftsmanship," and "This is disgusting and I would rather not be reading it." Maybe some recent war movies like Platoon or Apocalypse Now, but even those can't maintain Lolita's level of poetry and horror.

This is kind of violating my own rule, but I am giving #8 Art Spiegelman the win over #12 Neil Gaiman. You see, I have actually been refraining from voting lately in order to prevent ties (so that, if I do vote, it is only to act as a tie-breaker), but in this case I was stupid and actually just forgot to vote. So I'm voting now, for Spiegelman. So he advances to the regional final against #2 Virginia Woolf, who just barely squeaked by Charles Dickens.

This means that there's just one more bracket to be filled out. Herman Melville is currently battling Franz Kafka, the Whale versus the Bug, both monstrously indescribable. Kafka actually owes a lot to Melville, especially from his existentialist-ish short story Bartleby the Scrivener. The winner of that match will face either William Faulkner or George Orwell. I have always heard that Orwell had originally wanted to call 1984 1948, because that was the year that he wrote it and that was the year it was about, but his publisher wouldn't have it and forced him to change the title. Because the Man can't handle the Truth, man.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010