Friday, December 19, 2014

THE WRONG MONKEY Is Now Certified 100% Barnacle-Free!

You know the feeling: you've come home from a long day of curating Belle Époque Austro-Hungarian watches at the local Museum of European Machinery. All you want to do is relax in front of the fireplace with your faithful Irish Setter at your side, contentedly wagging his tail, share a few bottles of Romanee-Conti Grand Cru with some good friends and discuss your favorite philosophical-historical blogs -- and one of the blogs is completely encrusted with barnacles! Chances are, by the time you get them all scraped off your monkey will be too tired to discuss anything. (Am I right, ladies?) As Ödön von Horváth said,

"Der Himmel ist zart, die Erde blaß. Die Welt ist ein Aquarell mit dem Titel April."

And that's why, starting today, THE WRONG MONKEY is completely barnacle-free. Here at THE WRONG MONKEY we know how conscientiously you work for the timepiece-viewing public. Being able to relax in the certainty that from now on, at least one of your favorite philosophical-historical blogs will be barnacle-free all the time is our heartfelt thank-you to you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

How Should I Begin To Study Philosophy?

I'm so glad you asked!

If you want to do this right, you should become proficient in Greek, Latin, German and French at the least, because translations of philosophy into English generally suck. If you want to learn still more languages, it would do you no harm and a world of good. Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Hebrew are all of great relevance to the study of Western philosophy, and heylookit that we haven't begun to address Eastern philosophy yet. Not that there is one homogenous Eastern philosophy corresponding to Western philosophy. Mandarin is relevant to Confucianism and Tao, and Sanskrit and Japanese to Hindu-Buddhism.

I don't really know squat about Eastern philosophy. Back in the West, once you've mastered Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Hebrew, you may begin to keenly feel the lack of Portugese, Catalan, Provencal, Danish, Polish, Coptic and/or Armenian, to name just a very few. And the fact that I've so far mentioned Arabic, Hebrew, Coptic and Armenian only as they related to Western philosophy may have already led you to suspect it, but let me come right out and say it: I know significantly less than squat about Muslim/Arab/Middle Eastern philosophy. Although I may have a vastly greater idea of how much I don't know about it, how much is there unknown by me, than does the average Westerner.

But screw average! Philosophy doesn't have much to do with being average. Not Western philosophy, anyway. So screw the average person giving you advice about studying philosophy and telling you to start with Plato. That advice has cost the world an immeasurable amount of wisdom, because most of us hate Plato. (By "us" I mean "people," whether philosophers or not.) Start with almost anybody except Plato: the Pre-Socratics, or Aristotle, or Zeno, or Diogenes, or Epicurus. Or Machiavelli (Yeah! He'd be a GOOD one to start with!), or Hume, or Nietzsche. Just not Plato. Or Plotinus. Or Hegel.

If you're even the least bit inclined to start with Aquinas, or Augustine, or Barth, leave me alone and go and ask a theologian for advice, and if you want to call what you're studying philosophy, or even the greatest of Western philosophy, that's your own business, and many other theologians will agree with you. Mazel tov.

Okay. Now that we've gotten rid of THOSE jerks -- you're going to have to read Plato at some point if you're to become a great Western philosopher. There's no getting around it because all of the other great Western philosophers from his time to ours also had to deal with him, and if you don't read him you often won't know what they're talking about. Now, if you're unable to summon any enthusiasm for Epicurus or Machiavelli or Nietzsche, you should probably just face the fact that you're not going to become a philosopher. But don't be mad at me, because I saved you from having to study Plato -- and, you're fluent in 15 or more languages, and believe me, that's going to come in handy no matter where life takes you.

And I haven't said a word yet about the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere! Ah, many more languages here to be studied. Probably most of my readers are from the United States, and may not realize the extent to which the languages of the Aztecs and the Incas and the Mayans continue to flourish in Latin America, with several million native speakers each. The most widespread indigenous language in the US, Navajo, is spoken by fewer than 200,000 people. So you can study the more widespread languages because they're more widespread, or the less widespread languages because they need more support -- or both? Who's stopping you?

Not me! But what I actually know about has more to do with the European and Middle Eastern languages, and besides the ones I've mentioned above, you could learn Icelandic and Norwegian and Swedish, and Basque, and Finnish and Estonian and Hungarian, and Czech and Slovak and Slovenian and Serbian and Croatian and Bulgarian, and Gaelic and Welsh and Breton, and Albanian, and Lithuanian and Latvian, and Turkish, and Ukrainian and Belorussian and Macedonian, and Rumanian and Moldavian, and Kurdish, and Maltese. And Georgian! And I've left out a lot, not intentionally, but because the region between Greenland and the Caucasus is an incredibly rich linguistic quilt. And because translations really do suck, or at least especially most translations of philosophy into English. Being multilingual really will open up new worlds for you in a way which monolingual people simply can't imagine. Which means that monolingual native speakers of English are ironically at a disadvantage because of the power of our language, the same way that monolingual native speakers of French were at a disadvantage as late as a century ago when French held an international dominance similar to that held by English today, the same way that monolingual native speakers of Greek were at a disadvantage 2000 years ago in the Graeco-Roman world because everyone adored Greek culture and Greek was the dominant international language and the monolingual Greek-speakers despised Latin without even knowing anything about it, much as many Americans despise Spanish without having a clue about what they're missing, even with the Nobel Prize committee trying mightily to give them a clue by giving Lit prize after Lit prize to authors in Iberia and to the south of us.

Most (not all!) of the ancient Greek philosophers had little knowledge of languages other than Greek. This show us that progress has occurred in philosophy as in other things. Some people might tell you that I'm yankin' ya here, that the title of this post has promised you something I have failed to deliver. But those people are wrong. And the best advice they'll give you is something like urging you to read Will Durant. And that's not very good at all. If you want to have a chance at learning philosophy deeply, and even a chance at becoming a significant philosopher yourself, I'm the kind of guy you need to listen to. Listen up very carefully, kids, here comes the punchline, and it's a good one:

Look at ALL of the great modern Western philosophers: Machiavelli, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Shaw, Heidegger, Santayana, Russell, Sartre -- there is very, very little that all of them agree about. About the main tenets of their various philosophies they are often in the bitterest disagreement: you've got devout Christians alongside atheists, some far Left politically, some far Right, and some with a hearty contempt for both Left and Right. What do they all have in common?

They were all multilingual, that's what. Boom.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Is Science, What Is Philosophy?

To all of you who are so obsessed with precisely determining what is and what isn't science, be aware that science is defined quite differently in different languages, and that the Latin word for "science," "scientia," was in use over 2000 years ago, long before Francis Bacon and Galileo were born, long before there was an English language. In German, the word for "Science," "Wissenscaft," is applied much more broadly than in English. Not only is history a Wissenschaft to ze Chermans -- they even have things like "Literaturwissenschaft," "the scientific study of literature," which sounds very silly even to me, and will presumably make your head explode if you're one of those English-speakers currently very much at pains to label as incorrect all definitions of "science" but the most narrow.

Is philosophy scientific, is science philosophical? Again, it's partly a matter of semantics. The term "φιλοσοφία (philosophia)" is even older than "scientia," and the ancient Greeks who were called philosophers in their day, from Thales to Pythagoras to Plato to Plotinus, we still call philosophers today -- which leads me to suspect that the present-day English-speakers squabbling about the definition of "science," and defining it very narrowly, don't know very much about those ancient Greeks, or they'd be disturbed that one of them who's always been referred to as a philosopher, Thales, acted very much like someone they'd call a scientist, using mathematical principles to determine things such as the height of Egyptian pyramids, the distance of ships seen from the shore, and the size and shape of the Earth. Then there's Pythagoras, whom these strict categorizers today call a mathematician, but in his time was known as a philosopher along with Thales and Plato. The present-day categorizers call Plato a philosopher, but how many have heard that Plato is believed to have put a sign at the entrance to his Academy which asked all those unfamiliar with geometry to go away? But wait, there's still more bad news for those would have clear and clean distinctions between one academic discipline (Did you notice where the term "academic" comes from?) and the next: Although Plato called geometry "γεωμετρία, geometria," it's not at all clear that he or his contemporaries restricted the use of the term anywhere nearly as English-speakers do today. If you break the word into its parts you see "geo" and "meter," "Earth" and "measurer." To the ancient Greeks this could have meant all sorts of things including the study of history and literature and art botany and all other things in categories as diverse as the Earth. Could have, and in the practical everyday use of the word, probably did.

And, finally, to really make the New Atheists swallow their gum: in Medieval universities, theology was often referred to as the "Queen of the sciences."

Except of course that New Atheists are not swallowing their gum: since I'm rambling on about stuff that happened a long time ago when everybody was ignorant, they're impatiently asking, as they impatiently ask whenever I point out that one of their own has said something wildly inaccurate on an historical subject, "So what?"

So Thales and Pythagoras and Euclid and Bacon and Galileo and Einstein and Heisenberg and many others (Many, many others. It's a long time from Euclid to Francis Bacon, and 1 person who knew that science didn't stop in the meantime, and wasn't waiting to be invented, by Francis or by Galileo, depending on which New Atheist yahoo you talk to, was Francis Bacon. I know this because I've read some Bacon and noticed all of the earlier scientists he mentions and praises. He knew he was building on their work, as opposed to having sprung fully-formed from the brow of Zeus.) did what they did while entirely un-plagued by this English-language mania, particularly virulent right now, to section science off from mathematics and and philosophy and history and linguistics and music and art all the other things which have gotten us out of the trees eating grubs and berries and trying in vain to fight off panthers with sticks and made life somewhat more bearable. Yes, science when extraordinarily narrowly defined has helped with that, too. Yes indeed it has, it's helped greatly. But Einstein didn't cordon himself off from the rest of the world. He played the violin, he loved the visual arts and philosophy. Galileo wrote a treatise on Dante. You think that's odd? His contemporaries would have found it odd if an Italian as learned as he had not done so. (Milton published some scientific works.) You want to talk about this supposed division between science and art -- can you say "Leonardo da Vinci"?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The New Atheists Are A Herd Of Turnips!

Yesterday I became embroiled in an online discussion about the New Atheists. I asserted that they constantly show a near-total lack of knowledge of topics which they nevertheless constantly discuss: historical topics having to do with religion. A rather bright person challenged this assertion of mine, and I quickly backed down and said that I should have said that New Atheists do this, not "constantly," but "occasionally."

Upon reflection, I think I was much too quick to back down from my claim that New Atheists "constantly" display an appalling lack of knowledge on historical topics which they nevertheless constantly discuss. Let me review some evidence (And before I do let me state to whom I'm referring when I say "New Atheists." I mean Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, other authors who treat religion similarly, and their fans):

In addition to his bronze age goat herders meme (By the way, Dick, it's "goatherds," not "goat herders." "Goatherds," just like "shepherds"), Dawkins recently tweeted that Trinity College in Cambridge had produced more Nobel Prize winners than "the entire Muslim world." He did not respond to the tidal wave of responses to his tweet which pointed out cultural bias in the awarding of Nobels and in others things. It was rather shocking that such an elephant in the room needed to be pointed out to someone like Dawkins, yet, here we are. We now know Richard a little better.

The subtitle of one of Hitchens' most popular book refers to how religion allegedly "ruins everything." Clutch your pearls, ladies, I'm about to make a very indelicate comparison: Hitchens' entirely indiscriminate and therefore entire senseless use of the term "everything" reminds me of its misuse by the Nazis: you may have seen photographs of Nazis carrying or hanging signs reading "Die Juden sind an allem schuld," which translates to "Everything is the Jews' fault."

There's the fearmongering Islamophobia which was spread by Hitchens and continues to be spread by Harris, Dawkins, PZ Myers and other New Atheists, which routinely refers to Islam as if it were a unified political and cultural unit. It's true that Islam strives to a unit, but Muslims have waged war against other Muslims without cease since not long after Muhammad's death. Islam has not formed anything remotely resembling one united political entity since the 7th century.

There's Harris' characterization of Islam, while being interviewed by Chris O'Donnell on MSNBC, as currently "going through its medieval stage," a conceit which, besides being as quaintly 19th-century as Harris' borrowing of Mills' utilitarianism, again refers to all of Islam, all 1 billion Muslims, as one entity at one stage of development, and implies that the crude aggression of ISIS is inherently characteristic of Islam, when it's as clear as can be that the vast majority of Muslims oppose such aggression, not to mention that almost all of the people currently fighting ISIS are themselves Muslims. Clearly, some things can never be clear enough to be clear to some people.

There's Victor Stenger's 2-word response to being informed that there were some drastic historical inaccuracies in one of his anti-religious tirades -- the same 2-word response often heard from fans of Dawkins when it's pointed out that the oldest parts of the Bible were written in the Iron Age, mostly or entirely by city dwellers, and that those of the Israelites who were rustic raised more sheep than goats: "So what?"

There's Free Inquiry, New Atheism' flagship publication, publishing Michael Paulkovich's utterly ahistorical assertion about 126 ancient authors who should've mentioned Jesus if he'd existed, but didn't. And not having issued a retraction.

A small portion of the above might be dismissed as something which occurs only occasionally, but all together, it shows a clear tendency, an inherent trait: New Atheists don't know Jack Q Shit about history, and they're determined to remain ignorant about it. They claim to be ushering in a new age of enlightenment, to be mounting a strong challenge to religion. They're doing neither. They're not the people to be representing atheists. They're not the intellectual descendants of Epicurus, Hume, Marx, Twain, Nietzsche and Russell. They are turnips, and intelligent atheists ought to join with others in mocking and deriding them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"God Is Dead!" (Nietzsche, Die froehliche Wissenschaft, #125)

The most famous quote by Nietzsche is probably either "God is dead" or "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger," the latter of which Nietzsche himself demonstrated to be untrue early in 1889, when something which didn't kill him left him completely insane and helpless for the remaining 11 years of his life. A third passage, from Also sprach Zarathustra, may have briefly challenged those two for prominence in the mid-1970's, at least within the movie business, because it gave the film The Wind and the Lion its name.

The phrase "God is dead" occurs several times in Nietzsche's works. It occurs most famously in aphorism #125 of Die froehliche Wissenschaft, "la gaya scienze." The Gay Science. Le Gai Savoir. Весёлая наука. Iloinen tiede. Den glada vetenskapen.

Aphorism #125 is much longer than those 3 famous words, and it's very interesting. Nietzsche was right: he was a poet, a great one. I'm going to show the entire aphorism below, then my translation of it, and then add a few remarks.

<<< Der tolle Mensch. – Habt ihr nicht von jenem tollen Menschen gehört, der am hellen Vormittage eine Laterne anzündete, auf den Markt lief und unaufhörlich schrie: "ich suche Gott! Ich suche Gott!" – Da dort gerade Viele von Denen zusammen standen, welche nicht an Gott glaubten, so erregte er ein grosses Gelächter. Ist er denn verloren gegangen? sagte der Eine. Hat er sich verlaufen wie ein Kind? sagte der Andere. Oder hält er sich versteckt? Fürchtet er sich vor uns? Ist er zu Schiff gegangen? ausgewandert? – so schrieen und lachten sie durcheinander. Der tolle Mensch sprang mitten unter sie und durchbohrte sie mit seinen Blicken. "Wohin ist Gott? rief er, ich will es euch sagen! Wir haben ihn getödtet, – ihr und ich! Wir Alle sind seine Mörder! Aber wie haben wir diess gemacht? Wie vermochten wir das Meer auszutrinken? Wer gab uns den Schwamm, um den ganzen Horizont wegzuwischen? Was thaten wir, als wir diese Erde von ihrer Sonne losketteten? Wohin bewegt sie sich nun? Wohin bewegen wir uns? Fort von allen Sonnen? Stürzen wir nicht fortwährend? Und rückwärts, seitwärts, vorwärts, nach allen Seiten? Giebt es noch ein Oben und ein Unten? Irren wir nicht wie durch ein unendliches Nichts? Haucht uns nicht der leere Raum an? Ist es nicht kälter geworden? Kommt nicht immerfort die Nacht und mehr Nacht? Müssen nicht Laternen am Vormittage angezündet werden? Hören wir noch Nichts von dem Lärm der Todtengräber, welche Gott begraben? Riechen wir noch Nichts von der göttlichen Verwesung? – auch Götter verwesen! Gott ist todt! Gott bleibt todt! Und wir haben ihn getödtet! Wie trösten wir uns, die Mörder aller Mörder? Das Heiligste und Mächtigste, was die Welt bisher besass, es ist unter unseren Messern verblutet, – wer wischt diess Blut von uns ab? Mit welchem Wasser könnten wir uns reinigen? Welche Sühnfeiern, welche heiligen Spiele werden wir erfinden müssen? Ist nicht die Grösse dieser That zu gross für uns? Müssen wir nicht selber zu Göttern werden, um nur ihrer würdig zu erscheinen? Es gab nie eine grössere That, – und wer nur immer nach uns geboren wird, gehört um dieser That willen in eine höhere Geschichte, als alle Geschichte bisher war!" – Hier schwieg der tolle Mensch und sah wieder seine Zuhörer an: auch sie schwiegen und blickten befremdet auf ihn. Endlich warf er seine Laterne auf den Boden, dass sie in Stücke sprang und erlosch. "Ich komme zu früh, sagte er dann, ich bin noch nicht an der Zeit. Diess ungeheure Ereigniss ist noch unterwegs und wandert, – es ist noch nicht bis zu den Ohren der Menschen gedrungen. Blitz und Donner brauchen Zeit, das Licht der Gestirne braucht Zeit, Thaten brauchen Zeit, auch nachdem sie gethan sind, um gesehen und gehört zu werden. Diese That ist ihnen immer noch ferner, als die fernsten Gestirne, – und doch haben sie dieselbe gethan!" – Man erzählt noch, dass der tolle Mensch des selbigen Tages in verschiedene Kirchen eingedrungen sei und darin sein Requiem aeternam deo angestimmt habe. Hinausgeführt und zur Rede gesetzt, habe er immer nur diess entgegnet: "Was sind denn diese Kirchen noch, wenn sie nicht die Grüfte und Grabmäler Gottes sind?" –- >>>

<<< The crazy person. -- Haven't you heard of that crazy person who lit a lantern one bright morning, ran to the city square and screamed unceasingly: "I'm looking for God! I'm looking for God!" -- It happened that at the moment many people were standing together there who didn't believe in God, and so he provoked a great wave of laughter. Is he lost? said one. Did he run away, like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Is he on a ship? Has he emigrated? -- so they shouted and laughed all at the same time. The crazy person sprang into their midst and drilled right through them with his gaze. "Where did God go? he shouted. "I'll tell you! We've killed him! -- you and I! We all are his murderers! But how did we do this? How did we manage to drink the ocean dry? Who gave us the sponge that could wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this Earth from its Sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going? Away from all suns? Aren't we continually plunging, backwards, sideways, forward, in every direction? Is there still an up and a down? Aren't we lurching through an endless nothingness? Isn't the empty space blowing on us? Hasn't it became colder? Isn't night and always more night coming? Shouldn't lanterns be lit in the mornings? Do we still hear nothing of the noise made by those who are burying God? Do we still smell nothing of the godly decay -- gods rot too! God is dead! God is going to stay dead! And we've killed him! How can we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? The most holy and the mightiest that the world ever possessed has bled to death under our knives, -- who's going to wipe this blood off of us? With what water can we clean ourselves? What sun dances, what holy games will we have to invent? Isn't the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shouldn't we have become gods just to be worthy of it? There was never a greater deed, -- and whoever's born after us belongs to a higher history than all history ever was, because of this deed!" Here the crazy person fell silent and looked at his listeners again: they were silent as well as looked at him in puzzlement. Finally he threw his lantern to the ground, where it was smashed to pieces and went out. "I came too early," he said, "it's not time yet. This monstrous event is still underway, it's wandering -- it hasn't yet reached people's ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, after they're done, to be seen and heard. This deed is still farther away from them as the farthest stars -- and yet, they've done it!" -- It's said that on the same day the crazy person forced his way into various churches and recited his requiem for eternal God there. Led back outside and forced to account for himself, he always said only this: "What are these churches anymore, except the mausoleums and gravestones of God?" -- >>>

Yeah! Told you it was more than just those 3 little words!

So what does it mean, Perfessor?

Well Sonny, as time goes by I'm less inclined to argue with people that Nietzsche meant this and not that, especially the really dramatic passages like this one which don't necessarily need any more commentary than Here, read this! It's poetry, I tells ya! But since you asked: There's nothing whatsoever unusual about the others in the passages, who at first laugh at the crazy person, and by the end seem as if they may have been struck speechless. The thing to do when you see a crazy person, of course, is to try to help him, not point and laugh. But today's rank-and-file atheists demonstrate every day that you don't need to believe in God in order to be as crude and thoughtless as anyone else. Whatever ever else the crazy person's tirade is, it's unusual. I myself have never heard anything else remotely like it. To me it's seems that if you've come to the realization that there is no God -- the crazy person is just as much an atheist as the others in the passage. No, actually, he's much more of an atheist, because he's really thought about it -- and it doesn't scare the living crap out of you, at least now and then, then you haven't thought about it very deeply, about the consequences of making this abrupt change from the way people have thought -- the way people have lived -- for tens of thousands of years. There's more to religion, much, much more, than just Yes I believe in God or No I don't.

Is the crazy person Nietzsche? I think so. He's Zarathustra in a somewhat less bouyant mood, the Antichrist on a rampage, having forgotten momentarily that his true readers haven't been born yet. The crazy person and Zarathustra and the Antichrist and Nietzsche are all the same brilliant too-lonely man. That's my best guess.

Oh, just one more thing I meant to point out: the crazy person lighting a lantern on a sunny morning to look for God is an obvious reference to Diogenes of Sinope, one of the founders of the Cynical school of philosophy in ancient Greece, who carried a lit lantern around in broad daylight saying he was looking for an honest man.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Existentialism and University Philosophy

"the major existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather uncommon in our own time"

It's uncommon among philosophers of our time, and it was uncommon among philosophers of their own time. And it's certainly missing from this long, tedious description of existentialism. Obviously, different people take different things from existentialist philosophers. I take from existentialism that there's no reason to be as boring as Steven Crowell, who wrote this very nearly pointless description of it.

I really don't know why there should be this incompatibility between universities and philosophy. Plato founded what was more or less the first university, the Academy, and Aristotle made the second one out of the Lyceum. Both institutions thrived for centuries. But a little while before before the man generally counted as the the first existentialist philosopher, Kierkegaard, published his dissertation, Schopenhauer was insisting that real philosophy only existed outside of universities, that universities killed it and that what they called philosophy was no more than a grubby, prosaic jostling for jobs as philosophy professors, which laid much more emphasis on reading and discrediting one's competitors' writings, than on studying the canon of Western philosophy.

After receiving his Doctorate, Schopenhauer made a less than half-hearted attempt to teach philosophy at the University of Berlin, and then spent the rest of his life concentrating on being an author. As for the aforementioned "major existential philosophers," Kierkegaard got his Doctorate and then made no such attempt; and if he had continued in academia it would have been as a theologian and not as a philosopher. Dostoyevsky was a novelist. Nietzsche was awarded an extraordinary Doctorate at the age of 24, and then spent several years teaching at the University of Basel -- but he was teaching Philologie -- Classics, that is. Ancient Greek literature in his case -- and not philosophy. And Sartre and Camus made their livings writing rather than teaching. Heidegger was a professor, but he rejected the label of existentialist. I don't think we need to accept that rejection, but we should note that among the major existentialists, he's the only philosophy professor.

Steven Crowell, who wrote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on existentialism linked near the beginning of this post, has taught philosophy at the university level for over 30 years and currently chairs the Philosophy department at Rice University. Walter Kaufmann, whom Crowell cites in his article as if he were an authority on existentialism (and indeed he is thought of as such by some, although not by me), taught philosophy at Princeton for over half his life, from 1947 until 1980. Besides what they did and do for a living, what's the difference between Crowell and Kaufmann on the one hand and Kierkegaard, Dostoyesvsky, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus on the other? For one, the major existentialists were all brilliant writers. Crowell isn't. Kaufmann wasn't. Crowell and Kaufmann are prosaic. Nietzsche cannot have been thinking of people like these two when he said that one must have chaos inside oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star, although academics in other fields seem to fit the bill much better. Einstein and Heidegger come immediately to mind. (Even outside of the philosophy departments, Einstein didn't have a conventional academic career, going from clerk to honorary PhD to professor.) It's difficult, to say the least, to think of Crowell and Kaufmann embodying Nietzsche's dictum about man being a rope stretched across an abyss.

The major existentialists had huge fires in them which burned whole forests of convention to crisps. Crowell and Kaufmann and most philosophy professors are convention itself. Does it matter whether they're consciously conventional and determined to undermine the chaos of the geniuses whose texts they have their students read, or whether they're simply much too dull to understand what I or Camus is talking about? Either way the result is diametrically opposed to the major existentialists.

Heidegger is an exception, a philosophy professor and at the same time a real no foolin' existentialist philosopher. Heidegger is exceptional in several ways, and mysterious and spooky, and that's about all I have to say about him for now.

William H Gass was a professor of philosophy for a very long time, although he's rarely described as a philosopher, although why not, actually? But in his classes given under the auspices of a philosophy department his student read mostly fiction and poetry. Gass has written mostly fiction and literary criticism (although it's unlike any other literary criticism), and then there's his book On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, a book I was thinking is in a category all by itself, but then I thought of the 3-volume work on spheres by the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk -- who is the chancellor of a university of art & design. The one of them explores human life via a color, the other via a shape. And neither of them fit into any conventional career categories. Just like the major existentialists.

Just like any major artist. A true artist or philosopher or physicist cannot be fit into any categories which exist when they're working, because their work is original. No one else has imagined something like their work, and so no one has yet made a category for it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Oooohhh. Owww. Arrrghhh.

That's me groaning in pain. I'm a 53-year-old man and I've owned my first smartphone for about 48 hours now, a Motorola Droid mini, and I don't know how to work the damn thing. (I'm not exactly sure what PowerPoint is.) I've spent hours on the phone with tech support, I've looked through online support pages. This thing is really cool, but, for instance, I'm not writing this post on my new phone, I'm writing it on my PC as usual, because I don't know how to do it on my phone yet. (Maybe it can't be done on my phone. I don't know.) I have written a couple of things on my phone, like the names of some contacts I put on speed-dial -- you can't imagine how long and painful the process of sort of learning how to do that was -- and I wrote the wrong monkey in the Google search window and saw my blog on my phone, just don't know how to post on my blog from my phone yet. And even if I did, it's going to take a while to get used to using those teeny-tiny keypads. I think I've got them set as big as I can. They're set on "huge." If I can find a way to make them bigger than "huge," that would be great. Cause if you ask me, "huge" is still pretty frickin tiny, and I still hit wrong letters a lot. Machete don't text!

I didn't get into computers at all until 1997. I had had opportunities to familiarize myself with IT before that -- a professor comes to mind who, during my most recent failed attempt at grad school, in 1991-92, frequently urged us grad students to avail ourselves of a certain room full of computers. I think it may have been called a computer lab, I don't remember for sure. I have no idea what I missed by never visiting the place. At that time I was still going out of my way to avoid all computers, and I was proud of it. I'm not proud of it now.

My brother went the other way: got awards for programs he wrote in high school, which he graduated from in 1981, as valedictorian. Got 2 degrees from MIT in the 80's, the first one a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on computer applications. He's literally a rocket scientist.

I took a much more Luddite approach until I first saw the Internet in 1997. Most of my interaction with computers since then has involved -- see, I don't even know now the correct terminology for it. There's online and the WWW and the Internet and email and I don't know what the exact definitions of all of them are and how much overlap there is, but most of my interaction with computers has involved all that stuff. I started this blog in 2009 because 2009 was when someone who had asked me why I eschewed a blog explained to me what a blog was and that Blogspot was one of the user-freindly ways of publishing one.

And now, late in 2014, I cross the smartphone Rubicon. Or drown trying to cross. I'm in pain.