Sunday, October 10, 2010

Geometrique vs Finesse

This is why philosophers and non-philosophers are unable to communicate with one another:

"Et ainsi il est rare que les géomètres soient fins, et que les fins soient géomètres ; à cause que les géomètres veulent traiter géométriquement les choses fines, et se rendent ridicules, voulant commencer par les définitions, et ensuite par les principes, ce qui n'est pas la manière d'agir en cette sorte de raisonnement. Ce n'est pas que l'esprit ne le fasse ; mais il le fait tacitement, naturellement, et sans art ; car l'expression en passe tous les hommes, et le sentiment n'en appartient qu'à peu.

Et les esprits fins au contraire ayant ainsi accoutumé de juger d'une seule vue, sont si étonnez quand on leur présente des propositions où ils ne comprennent rien, et où pour entrer il faut passer par des définitions et des principes stériles et qu'ils n'ont point accoutumé de voir ainsi en détail, qu'ils s'en rebutent et s'en dégoûtent."
From Pascal, Pensees.

Monday, August 23, 2010

De me fabula narratur

"Probably the clearest example of this separation, which prevents social scientists from putting into the scientific practice the practical understanding they have of the logic of practice, is what Voloshinov calls philologism, the propensity to treat words and texts as if they had no other raison d'etre than to be decoded by scholars. Nothing is more paradoxical, for example, than the fact that people whose whole life is spend fighting over words should strive at all costs to fix what seems to them to be the one true meaning of objectively ambiguous, overdetermined or indeterminate symbols, words, texts, or events which often survive and generate interest just because they have always been at stake in struggles aimed precisely at fixing their 'true' meaning. This is true of all sacred texts, which, being invested with a collective authority, like sayings, maxims, or gnomic poems in pre-literate societies, can be used as the tools of a recognized power over the social world, a power which one can appropriate by appropriating them through interpretation."
-Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Circles Drawn in Water

Things in nature are only immediate and single, while man as spirit duplicates himself, in that (i) he is as things in nature are, but (ii) he is just as much for himself; he sees himself, represents himself to himself, thinks, and only on the strength of htis active placing himself before himself is he spirit. This consciousness of himself man acquires in a two-fold way: first, theoretically, in so far as inwardly he must bring himself into his own consciousness, along with whatever moves, stirs, and presses in the human breast; and in general he must see himself, represent himself to himself, fix before himself what thinking finds as his essence, and recognize himself alone alike in what is summoned out of himself and in what is accepted from without. Secondly, man brings himself before himself by practical activity, since has the impulse, in whatever is directly given to him, in what is present to him externally, to produce himself and therein equally to recognize himself. This aim he achieves by altering external things whereon he impresses the seal of his own inner being and in which he now finds again his own characteristics. Man does this in order, as a free subject, to strip the external world of its inflexible foreignness and to enjoy in the shape of things only an external realization of himself. Even a child's first impulse involves this practical alteration of external things; a boy throws stones into the river and now marvels as the circles drawn in the water as an effect in which he gains an intuition of something that is his own doing.
-G.W.F Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Heaven help us:
"Of all the passions, the one about which we ourselves know least is laziness, the fiercest and most evil of them all, though its violence goes unperceived and the havoc it causes lies hidden. The repose of laziness has a secret charm for the soul, suddenly suspending its most ardent pursuits and most obstinate resolutions. To give, in fine, some idea of this passion, it should be said that laziness is like a state of beautitude, in which the soul is consoled for all its losses, and which stands in lieu to it of all its possessions." -La Rochefoucauld

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hungarian Poem

Saltier are the tears here
And the pains hurt more
The Magyar Messiahs are Messiahs
A thousand times, and more

They die a thousand deaths,
But their crosses bring no salvation,
For they could do nothing,
They were condemned to achieve nothing.
-Endre Ady

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cursive Q

Recently I wrote the letters "QFE" on my whiteboard; they have some meaning, but it is irrelevant. The relevant point is that, out of boredom, I wrote the Q in cursive. None of my coworkers with offices near me recognized it, except for one, who said he thought he might have learned it at some point. Most said it looked like a 2. Which, of course, it does, only, a lower-case L is quite the same with one.

Later that day, none of them knew Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." I waxen sad.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Samoas are the best girl scout cookies

This is one of those indisputable truths, like the complimentary nature of tomatoes and red pepper, or the superiority of waffles. Trefoils have a great name, and are delicious with tea. You can't argue with the peanut buttery goodness of Tagalogs or Do-Si-Dos, but Samoas are by far the best. I don't even have the slightest understanding of why anyone would begin to suspect that Thin Mints are worthy of mention or merit. They are an irrelevant snack, only suitable as a palate cleanser. Too sweet to be enjoyed, too pedestrain to be an indulgence, and notably inferior in comparison to the alternatives.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A tragic discovery

I purchased an excellent Everyman's Library edition of Democracy in America a week or so ago. Today, as my mom continues to ship me my books from Chicago, I found that I had been given a very nice paperback printing of the same. I am so sad. I could have bought one of the nice editions of Austen instead! Calamitous

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An experiment I must attempt

Pickled sun-dried tomatoes. Also, pickled potatoes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A distressing discovery

So my favorite variety of Yoplait is Thick & Creamy, which I had for breakfast this morning. I am now eating a birthday cake a coworker brought it. The icing is nearly identical in every respect to the yogurt. I don't how I should deal with this. I will first finish the cake, but what then?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Such chutzpah!

Larry Kudlow, writing for The National Review, gives what is possibly the most hilarious interpretation of our current financial doldrums:
Right now capital is on strike. So are investors. Supply-side incentives will bring them back. This is where the GOP must go.
Capital is on strike? Does that even make sense? Jesus, Larry, is the Reality Principle on strike too?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Italian Discipline

From Giordano Bruno: Philosopher, Heretic (2008) by Ingrid Rowland:
"Ficino's essay On Living the Heavenly Life contained a great deal of astrological advice, showing how to attract the influence of the various stars by arranging their favorite stones, colors, and gems; how to maintain youth by drinking the milk of young mothers; and how to stave off nearly every bodily ill by eating sugar, marzipan, or almond cookies. His Neoplatonism was no ascetic's creed, and neither was the Nolan philosophy."
Marzipan and almond cookies? Sign me up.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The World Must Know

I'm having a love-affair with Trinidadian food. Bakes, doubles, rotis...bring it on! I can't get enough of this stuff. My favorite is the fry bake made with fish and cabbage. Yum....

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Maxim Gorky Remembers Vladimir Lenin

Haha, this is great:

“I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!”

Wrinkling up his eyes, he smiled rather sadly, adding:

“But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things and pat the heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. They ought to be beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people.

Monday, January 5, 2009


From the life of Ferdinand Lasalle according to Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station (1940):

"He set himself up in a splendid establishment with, as he boasted, four great reception rooms and with an immense stock of books and wines. And here he entertained those members of the nobility and the fashionable and learned worlds who had the courage to come to see him. A young lady whom he wanted to marry, the daughter of a Russian official, has left an account of his house. The general effect, she says, was not attractive; it was cluttered with a great mixture of furnishings, obviously intended for effect: Turkish divans, wall brackets, bronzes, enormous mirrors, heavy satin hangings, great Japanese and Chinese jars; but his study was serious and simple and showed a more decent taste. He had just published a work on Heraclitus, on which he had been working for years and in which he tried to trace to the Greek philosopher the principles expounded by Hegel, but of which Marx and others have said that it had more bulk and show of learning than content; and he wrote also a blank-verse tragedy on a subject from the Peasant War, an Hegelian work on jurisprudence, and a pamphlet on foreign policy which, though intended to promote the interests of revolution, anticipated Bismarck's design of weakening the power of Austria. He speculated on the Stock Exchange, paid a visit to Garibaldi in Italy, thrashed with his cane a jealous official with whom he had come into conflict over the affections of a married lady, and courted the young Russian lady, whom he had met at Aix-la-Chapelle, writing her a forty-page letter and summoning the Countess back to him, at a time when he could hardly get around except in a wheelchair. He had caught syphilis at twenty-two; it had got into the secondary stage and had never been satisfactorily cured, and now the bones in one of his legs were going. He had as yet no real political role and could only throw his energies away. This was already the end of 1860.

My bad

Right now I'm reading To the Finland Station (1940) by Edmund Wilson, a history of important figures in European revolutionary and socialist thought up to Lenin. The biographical and straight historical parts are great -- both piquant and informative, so good job Edmund Wilson.I particularly enjoyed the parts about Michelet, Babeuf (poor, brave Babeuf!), and the utopian movement in America. I look forward to the section on Bakunin. (But where is the section on Alexander Herzen?!) The philosophical parts, on the other hand, are pretty terrible. Either Wilson didn't read Hegel or he didn't understand him.

What's funny though, and what I'm blogging about really, is Wilson's 1971 Introduction (remember the book was published in 1940). Wilson basically makes two points in the entire introduction. Here's my paraphrased version of them:

1. So apparently there's this thing called the Grundrisse? I hope that wasn't important for understanding Marx.

2. So apparently my hagiographic portrait of Lenin was incorrect. Apparently, he was a pretty awful guy. Damn! -- def. did not see that coming. That's what happens when you use Soviet sources. Yup, now that I think about it, that's definitely where I went wrong -- using Soviet sources for my account of Lenin's life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Rapier Wit

From Venice Observed (1956) by Mary McCarthy:
'Months after the settlement, when all was supposed to be friendly, Sarpi came close to martyrdom, at the hands of the pope's hired assassins, who set upon him as he was coming home one evening to his monastery near Santa Fosca, accompanied only by a lay brother and an aged nobleman. The streets were empty because the inhabitants of the district at that hour were -- as usual -- at the theatre. Repeated blows were struck at him, and he was left for dead, with a dagger skewered through his head, from the right ear to the cheekbone. But he was carried into his monastery, while some women on a balcony fired harquebuses at the murderers, and eventually he recovered. He was shown the dagger while he still lay between life and death, and he greeted it with a sally as sharp as the weapon itself. "I recognize the style of the Roman Curia," he observed, in Latin, punning on the word, stylum, which means both style and dagger.'
Sic Paolo Sarpi.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spoonbill & Sugartown Bookstore

1. I like Spoonbill, I do -- I like being in it, I like browsing the store, and I enjoy buying books there. I will continue to patronize them in the future. The only problem, as I see it, is that they have like fifty books total in their store. I probably have more books in my apartment than they have in their store. This makes it impossible to browse for more than five or ten minutes. There's simply no comparison between Spoonbill and larger stores like McNally Jackson, Housing Works, or BookCourt -- all of which, unlike for instance the Strand, maintain an intimate bookstore atmosphere while managing to offer a much greater depth and variety of books. I find the paucity of books at Spoonbill to be a limiting factor in my enjoyment of the store.

2. To the charge that Spoonbill has a paucity of books, Marina counters, "But all their books are good." This is true. The books on sale at Spoonbill tend to form a sort of exquisite trove. Every one has been selected with care, and although my "browsing" is negatively impacted by the paucity of books, it is also positively affected by the high frequency of congenial books hit upon. Indeed, there's an economic rationale for the "exquisite" quality of Spoonbill's stock: the work of long discernment and careful selection done by the bookstore constitutes one of the forms in which it adds value to the books on sale. Their browsing obviates mine. Spoonbill itself seems to recognize this. Its website boasts, "the most significant factor here is the element of serendipity: you never know what you might find." Clearly, they take a great deal of care in deciding what will appear in their store. To this end, therefore, one could classify Spoonbill as a sort of book-boutique which sells both books difficult to obtain elsewhere and more "high-quality" (as interpreted by the reading demographic Spoonbill serves) books than easily found elsewhere. This is clearly a desirable function to perform.

3. On the other hand, by assembling the perfect trove of books ahead of time -- so rare, authentic, balanced, well-researched, well-seasoned, etc. -- I think Spoonbill risks falling into one of the pathologies of Williamsburg and "hipster" culture as a whole, which is, while claiming to uphold values like authenticity, uniqueness, and the forgotten charms of cultural praeterita, all in contradistinction to "pre-fab" mass pop style, to nevertheless fall prey to a form of market submission as it congeals around "alternative" venues, stores, goods, or even looks. By obviating and expediting the work of browsing, Spoonbill destroys its spontaneity and life. If every book Spoonbill offers is "collectible," then so much the worse for book collections, which have always existed as mirrors of the specific idiosyncrasies and interests of the collector, the nooks and grottoes of their personalities, the values Lichtenberg purported to behold in one's mistress, "weaknesses and dreams" -- and not the neighborhood bookstore he or she happened to frequent. The lifelong career of book-pursuer evolves two products, each the dialectical obverse of the other, the collecting self and the collection itself. If the second is handed over as a fait accompli, then the development of the first is aborted in ovo. Indeed, considered in this way, what is the very "serendipity" of Spoonbill's book-collection but mass market irrationalism sub specie alternitatis?

4. In this light, my original complaint of the paucity of books seems vindicated. In order to preserve the spontaneity and life pursuant to book-browsing -- and by extension the well-developed collector and well-rounded collection -- a bookstore must offer enough space in which to lose oneself and find oneself again/anew. The exquisiteness of the trove on display is immaterial if this basic condition is not met, and indeed, so I maintain, the paucity of books at Spoonbill will always be a limiting factor of my enjoyment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review of Ratatouille

1. The movie Ratatouille is an allegory for the Hispanic underclass at work in the back of every kitchen. "Not everybody can become a great chef, but a great chef can come from everywhere." This conclusion delivered at the movie's end reveals Ratatouille to be, despite its hexagonal setting, just another movie built around the American dream -- albeit one which promises in addition to social mobility the marriage of that mobility with one's original class/group affiliation (Remy becomes a great chef, and he does it all without losing touch with the rat clan).

The function of the classic American dream narrative was to mystify the unjust disposition of classes through sprinkling the magic dust of upward class mobility over the class-system. With a kind of perverse Rawlsian logic, the system as a whole was rendered just since anyone could become top dog, if only he or she tried hard enough, swept enough chimneys, or shined enough shoes. (No wonder the mass take-over of the kitchen by rats at one point in the film inspires such total revulsion in everyone who sees it: it portends a revolutionary reversal beyond all decency.) The particular justifies the whole, here as everywhere, and ultimately Remy's front-kitchen prominence, culinary self-development, and successful trajectory only expiate the concomitant extermination of his back-alley brethren.

If they ever do a remake of Ratatouille, I think they should set it in Wilhelmine/Weimar Germany and call it Rathenau after the German-Jewish industrialist Walter Rathenau who pulled the strings of Germany's war economy until he was assassinated by anti-Semites in 1922.

2. Whenever Disney wants to tell us that a character is pretty and/or good, they give that person these big, wet doe-eyes with lots of nictitation, in this case: Colette. Why is that? Is it a kind of physiognomic legibility that just works? Are big eyes supposed to be a sign of conscientiousness or empathy maybe? What's the deal here? (And how about the opposite -- squinty eyes? Are they bad because they're always trying to appraise and size things up -- to "eyeball" them in the parlance of petty drug dealers? Is this why David Paterson looks so sinister? And why is that man trying to take away my soda?)

3. Colette's comment about the dish ratatouille, "But that's peasant food!" is the most French moment in the film. I love it.

4. Someone should do a study of movies about rats. There sure have been a lot of them.

5. Ratatouille: 5/5 stars.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is inconsistent behavior funny?

To whit: while perusing the BBC, I found a story about citizens of Ireland traveling to North Ireland due to highly favorable exchange rates between the Euro and the Pound, and there was the predictable, obligatory invocation by an Irish government type person of the patriotic duty to buy from their own borders for tax reasons. Meanwhile, one would rather hope that wherever one has invested money is taking full advantage of the opportunity for arbitrage. Is this funny?