Friday, July 1, 2016

British poets, composers & politicians in the Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme began one hundred years ago (July 1, 1916) and ended about four-and-a-half months later (Nov. 18) with approximately 1.3 million German, French, and British-Empire casualties. The British forces suffered 419 654 casualties at the Somme, approximately 133 000 of whom were killed. The British ranks at the Somme included both the author and illustrator of Winnie the Pooh, the author of Lord of the Rings, a future Prime Minister and several sitting or former Members of Parliament, as well as many poets, novelists, and composers.

On just the first day of the battle, 18 783 British-Empire troops were killed. The dead included the composers William B. Manson and George Jerrard Wilkinson together with the poets John William Streets, Gilbert Waterhouse, W. N. Hodgson, and Alexander Robertson (who was a Lecturer in History at Sheffield University).

One of J. R. R. Tolkien's closest friends, Robert Quilter Gilson, was also killed in action on July 1, 1916.

(In what follows, a '+' indicates that the individual was killed during the Somme battle.)

Among the British novelists and poets at the battle were Edmund Blunden, Leslie Coulson+, A. A. Milne, H. H. Munro (Saki)+, J. B. Priestley, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Tennant+,and  J. R. R. Tolkien.

Ford Madox Ford (aka Ford Madox Hueffer) was at the Somme. Of Ford, H. G. Wells wrote:
In the 1914-18 war he was a bad case of shell-shock from which he never recovered. The pre-war F.M.H. was torturous but understandable. The post-war F.M.H. was incurably crazy.
On July 20, 1916, Robert Graves was injured by shrapnel at the Somme. He was reported dead but was hospitalized the next day. He later suffered from shell shock.

Painter and poet David Jones was injured at the Somme (at some time in July).

Along with Milne, Winnie the Pooh's illustrator, E. H. Shepard, was there.

The American poet Alan Seeger+, Pete Seeger's uncle and the author of one of JFK's favourite poems, was there as a member of the French Foreign Legion.

Supermac, aka Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, was injured at the Somme. He self-administered morphine and read Aeschylus while lying injured in a shell hole.

Member of Parliament, Charles Duncombe+, was killed at the Somme. So was MP Gerald Arbuthnot+. So was MP (and member of the family behind Barings Bank) Guy Baring+. Several MPs from British-Empire nations were killed in WWI. How many active politicians are nowadays sent to the front lines?

Prime Minister Asquith's eldest son, Raymond Asquith+, was killed at the Somme.

Irish poet, economist, and MP Thomas Michael Kettle+ fought at the Somme, as did B. H. Liddell-Hart.

Here are some British musicians who served at the Somme: Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth+ (shot in the head by a sniper on Aug. 5, 1916), Francis Purcell Warren+ (reported missing on July 3, 1916), Arthur Bliss, and Ivor Gurney. Gurney was also a poet; he was shot and gassed in later battles. Gurney suffered a nervous breakdown and died in 1937 in a London mental hospital.

Australian composer Frederick Septimus Kelly+ was shot in the head on Nov. 13, 1916.

Here is more information about the many composers who served at the Somme.

Historian R. H. Tawney was at the Somme and later wrote about it. Here are some other writings about the battle.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Battlefront trauma and ethical language in early Wittgenstein & Ford Madox Ford

Let's begin with Ford Madox Ford (aka Ford Madox Hueffer until 1919). He suffered the trauma inflicted by a WWI battlefront bombardment at the Somme and in the Ypres Salient. During the War, he tried to write about the experience but found it difficult to do so (though he later wrote novels based on his experience). The resulting document is 'A Day of Battle, Written in the Ypres Salient: 15th Sep. 1916'. It wasn't published until 1980 in Esquire under the title 'Arms and the Mind'. (v. 94 [December, 1980]: pp. 78-80) The document re-appeared in Ford Madox Ford: War Prose, (ed. Max Saunders [New York University Press, 2004], pp. 36-42; 1st published in the UK in 1999 by Carcanet Press, Ltd.]) from which the following quotations are drawn.

In the document, Ford describes his difficulty in writing, or even thinking, about his experience. He says,
I have asked myself continuously why I can write nothing — why I cannot even think anything that to myself seems worth thinking! — about the psychology of that Active Service of which I have seen my share. ... — But, as for putting them — into words! No: the mind stops dead, and something in the brain stops and shuts down. (Saunders, pp. 36-37)
But he perseveres, and the results are interesting. Among his observations is the following:
In battle -- and in the battle zone -- the whole world, humanity included, seems to assume the aspect of matter dominated eventually by gravity. Large bits of pot fly about, smash large pieces of flesh: then one and the other fall, to lie in the dust among the immense thistles. That seems to be absolutely all. Hopes, passions, fears do not seem much to exist outside oneself -- and only in varying degrees within oneself. (Ibid., p. 39)
So soon after the experience, his efforts at recollection leave him stunned and hunkering amid modest observation statements. Even language about mind ('hopes, passions...') is too much. Observed stuff in motion -- that's all his writing can manage at this point. Any attempt to interpret events or discern some meaning behind the history is futile. 'It all seemed to signify nothing.' (Ibid., p. 40) Ford here confines himself to statements of observed fact, eschewing any pronouncements about the sum thereof or about their deeper meaning or value. Even his attempt at explaining his presence in the conflagration strays little from the language of observed matters of fact (here emphasizing colours):
I myself seemed to have drifted there at the bidding of indifferently written characters on small scraps of paper: WO telegram A/R 2572/26; a yellow railway warrant; a white embarkation order; a pink movement order; a check like a cloakroom ticket ordering the CO of one's Battalion to receive one. (Ibid., p. 38)
This passage calls to mind the following bit form Ernest Hemingway's WWI novel, A Farewell to Arms:
There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates. (Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, p. 196)
Hemingway, too, experienced the intensity of a WWI battlefront. He volunteered for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and was wounded on the Italian-Austrian front.

In the above excerpts, Hemingway and Ford put much (if not all) ethical discourse outside the limits of worthwhile language. They favour silence on such larger matters. Wittgenstein did something similar in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.' And what one must be silent about is 'the mystical' (i.e., ethics and metaphysics).

If we agree with Ray Monk's assessment, the Tractatus's topics didn't include the mystical until after Wittgenstein's first experience of an intense battlefront. According to Monk, 'If Wittgenstein had spent the entire war behind the lines, the Tractatus would have remained what it almost certainly was in its first inception of 1915: a treatise on the nature of logic'.(Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius [London: Jonathan Cape, 1990], p. 137) Monk says that the book's scope expanded in June, 1916 to take in 'the mystical'. In that month, Monk adds, Wittgenstein's unit in the Austrian Eleventh Army took part in heavy fighting against the Russians and suffered 'enormous casualties'.(Ibid., p. 140) 'It was at precisely this time,' says Monk, 'that the nature of Wittgenstein's work changed'.(Ibid.)

Of course, the bulk of Wittgenstein's views developed before the War, and he was well acquainted with various pre-War forms of skepticism about language that had circulated in Austria (esp. in the work of Fritz Mauthner and Hugo von Hofmannsthal). But the Tractarian Wittgenstein didn't embrace the more general linguistic skepticism that one finds in Mauthner. For Wittgenstein, scientific language, especially language about observable matters of fact, was okay. His skepticism was more specifically directed at language about the mystical (inc. the ethical). Perhaps the trauma of his battlefront experience brought this side of his thinking to the fore and led to its inclusion in the Tractatus.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Links to philosophy book reviews

Tim Whitmarsh reviews Rowan Williams' On Augustine and Robin Lane Fox's Augustine: Conversions to Confessions.

Five recent reviews with philosophical content from the Bryn Mawr Classical Review:
Matthew V. Novenson reviews Christine Hayes' What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives (2015).

Gerald A. Press reviews The Platonic Art of Philosophy (ed. Boys-Stones, El Murr & Gill, 2013).

Scott Carson reviews Anna Marmodoro's Aristotle on Perceiving Objects (2014).

Anders Klostergaard Petersen reviews G. E. R. Lloyd's Analogical Investigations. Historical and Cross-cultural Perspectives on Human Reasoning (2015).

From Antonio Donato's review of Philosophy and the Ancient Novel (ed. Pinheiro & Montiglio, 2015):
The papers may be taken to reach the following conclusions: 1. Ancient novels provide convincing ways of exploring the challenge of conducting a philosophical life .... 2. Ancient novels offer necessary (Smith) or effective (Fletcher) ways to identify tensions within philosophical theories that abstract analyses may overlook. 3. Ancient novels show that in the Greco-Roman world assessments of philosophical theories often extended beyond the limited confines of philosophical works .... 4. The literary genre of the ancient novel is an excellent vehicle to convey philosophical ideas in more accessible or entertaining ways ....
Anthony Gottlieb reviews James A. Harris' Hume: An Intellectual Biography.


Northwestern University Press has published Thinking with Tolstoy and Wittgenstein (2015) by Henry Pickford. Here is the Table of Contents.

The April, 2016 issue of Philosophy in Review (some items there are not behind a pay-wall).

Michael Lazarus reviews Mehmet Tabak's Dialectic in Hegel’s History of Philosophy, Vol. 1.

Nicholas Lezard reviews Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café, which is also reviewed by Ron Slate and by John Gray and by Andrew Hussey.

Anthony Kenny on Bryan Magee's Ultimate Questions.

Adam Carter reviews Marcus Morgan's Pragmatic Humanism: On the Nature and Value of Sociological Knowledge (2016).

Two items from Literary Hub:
Ed Simon's 'What Was Shakespeare’s Central Philosophy?'

Steve Toutonghi's 'How Science Fiction Redefines Who We Are, and What We’re Becoming'.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Why did Indian philosophy disappear from Mind for about 50 years?

In the late 1800s and the early years of the 20th Century, Mind published several items on Indian philosophy.

Examples:

In 1915, the journal included a paper by P. Narasimham called 'Vedantic Good' (24 [93]). There was an item in 1912 by Homo Leone called 'The Vendantic Absolute' (21 [81]).

There were several pieces by S. Radhakrishnan in WWI and just afterwards (26 [103], 28 [109 and 111]). In 1926 (35 [138]), Mind devoted about 25 pages to Radhakrishnan's review of criticisms of his book on Indian philosophy.

H. N. Randle published pieces on Indian logic in 1924 (33 [132]) and 1926 (35 [137]).

In 1932 (41 [164]), there was a 7-page review (by J. S. Mackenzie) of a book by Radhakrishnan, and in 1937 (46 [183]) a 4-page review by A. T. Shillinglaw of an anthology on Indian philosophy.

After that, as far as I can tell there's nothing very substantive until 1988, when Mind published 'The Context Principle and Some Indian Controversies over Meaning' by B. K. Matilal and  P. K. Sen (97 [385]). In the interval, there are only very brief items on Indian philosophy (e.g., in the book notes that appear in the sections on 'New Books'). (Please let me know if I've missed some lengthier items on Indian philosophy between 1937 and 1988.)

So, Mind's coverage of Indian philosophy trailed off in the 1930s (when G. E. Moore was editor) and didn't really resume until the late 1980s.

What accounts for the roughly 50-year absence? Is it that the earlier coverage was due to some individuals who exercised some influence on Mind but who died in the '30s? My conjecture is that Indian philosophy was associated with British idealism, and that after the analysts had completed their purge of idealism from the journal (mainly by the 1920s), Indian philosophy, too, largely disappeared from Mind.

The journal has recently announced that it is broadening its scope.

Monday, April 11, 2016

French and central European philosophers in WWI

This war has indeed wrought great havoc in scholarship. (Edward P. Buffet, Monist 26, no. 2 [April, 1916], 'Karl Eugen Neumann', p. 319)
In addition to Étienne Gilson and Pierre Rousselot, another French philosopher who served in WWI is Émile Bréhier. Although he was 40 years old in 1916, he was at the Battle of Verdun, as a result of which his left arm was amputated (in October, 1916). Martial Gueroult also was in the army, as was the historian Marc Bloch.

On the German side, in addition to Emil Lask and Adolf Reinach (noted in an earlier post), there is Heinrich Friedemann, who had studied philosophy at Marburg with Paul Natorp and belonged to one of Stefan George's circles. Friedemann had published a book on Plato (Platon; seine Gestalt, 1914) and was, when the War began, habilitating at Heidelberg with Friedrich Gundolf. On Feb. 22, 1915, Friedemann was killed in action.

Another member of George's circle who was killed in the War is Norbert von Hellingrath. He was a Munich philologist who is known for having re-discovered Hölderlin's poetry.

From Ernst Robert Curtius's letter to Friedrich Gundolf (November, 1914):
What is horrifying about modern war is that human beings do not fight against other human beings, but against gruesome impersonal machines. Land mines, machine guns, artillery fire: that is the anonymous horror on which every idealistic perception of the war must founder. (quoted from Robert E. Norton, Secret Germany: Stefan George and His Circle, [Cornell University Press, 2002], p. 530)
Otto Dix - Stormtroopers advancing under a gas attack (1924)
There was also Wilhelm Metzger, who taught at Leipzig. He was a prominent Schelling scholar and had published Die Epochen der Schellingschen Philosophie von 1795 bis 1802, Ein problemgeschichtlicher Versuch. He was drafted into the army and sent to the western front. You will have to excuse my extremely weak German-language abilities, but if I interpret correctly a passage from Peter Hoerres' book (Krieg der Philosophen: die deutsche und britische Philosophie im Ersten Weltkrieg, 2004), Metzger died in 1916 of cancer.

Outside of philosophy but doing work of interest in the philosophy of art, there was Fritz Burger, an art history professor in Munich who was killed on May 22, 1916. Born in 1877, Burger was almost as old as Bréhier.

Robert Staiger, a privatdozent in art history at Göttingen and Felix Klein's son-in-law, was killed in action in August, 1914. Another Göttingen privatdozent who was killed in the War, and who was close to Klein, was the mathematician Wilhelm Behrens.

I learned of Behrens from this incredible source: Placing World War I in the History of Mathematics, by David Aubin and Catherine Goldstein (2013). See also the collection edited by Aubin and Goldstein: The War of Guns and Mathematics, ed. David Aubin and Catherine Goldstein (American Mathematical Society, 2014)

Here's a quotation from Arthur Bauer's piece in the July, 1916 issue of Revue Philosophiques de la France et de l'Étranger. Treat my following attempt at translation more as a paraphrase. According to Bauer, in extended periods of peace, for philosophers who do not attend sufficiently to history,
Humanity is in a state of constant progress and moves ... towards the ultimate end of its evolution: an altruism so natural and so powerful that everyone, forgetting his own interests, would serve his neighbor from inexhaustible reserves of charity. ... The terrible shock of current events wakes from their dream the most obstinate sleepers. By the light of howitzers that ... destroy whole battalions, illusions vanish, and reality appears in a relief so striking that no one can mistake it. (Bauer, 'Le role de la Fôrce' Revue Philosophiques de la France et de l'Étranger 82 [1916], p. 44)
In the Austro-Hungarian forces, in addition to Wittgenstein, philosopher Ernst Mally was in the front lines. Vienna-Circle mathematician Hans Hahn was wounded in the Isonzo region.

There was also a philosophy student and poet, Franz Janowitz, who was killed in 1917 in the Isonzo area. Janowitz, a friend of Franz Werfel's, was from Prague. His poetry was admired by Max Brod and Karl Kraus. He was studying philosophy in Vienna when the War began. One of his older brothers, Hans Janowitz (also a war vet), co-wrote the script for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Jerzy Żuławski
Photo source.

Jerzy Żuławski joined the Polish forces that fought on the Austro-Hungarian side. Żuławski had studied philosophy with Richard Avenarius in Switzerland. The product of that work was a dissertation called The Problem of Causality in Spinoza, which was the basis for a popular-philosophy book on Spinoza that Żuławski later published in Polish (Benedykt Spinoza: człowiek i dzieło, 1902). Żuławski translated several works of German philosophy into Polish. He is now known chiefly for his science-fiction books, especially his Lunar Trilogy (or Moon Trilogy). Stanisław Lem read these books when he was young and continued to admire the first book of the trilogy (The Silver Globe) later in life. Here's a 1985 item that Lem wrote about Żuławski's work. A film version of The Silver Globe was made by Żuławski's grand-nephew Andrzej Żuławski in 1976. The Lunar Trilogy sounds interesting. One of its themes was the transposition of events from the remote past into the language of mythology; the distant historical events in the novels concern the formation of a colony on the moon. While it has been translated into several languages, The Silver Globe hasn't been rendered in English. In WWI, Jerzy Żuławski worked mainly behind the battle front. He died in 1915 from an illness that he caught while visiting the front line.

From F. C. S. Schiller's review of John Dewey's book German Philosophy and Politics:
[The War] revealed that the actual world was a very different thing from the cosmic order they [philosophers] had constructed in their minds....Even though the rational order of human affairs was shattered before their eyes and the belief that thought controls man's feelings and determines his acts should have been among the first of the illusions swept away in the wreckage of the war, they insisted on finding ideal reasons to which to attribute the catastrophe.' (Schiller, Mind 25, no. 98 (Apr., 1916): 250)
Other philosophy students who served in the War and who achieved some distinction as novelists or poets include:
Miloš Crnjanski -- a Serb in the Austro-Hungarian army who wrote the The Journal of Carnojevic, which was recently produced as a play in Belgrade;
Camil Petrescu -- a Romanian who was wounded and taken prisoner by the Austro-Hungarians;
Milutin Bojić -- a poet in the Serbian army who died in May, 1917;
Sima Pandurović -- another poet in the Serbian army, Pandurović was taken prisoner by the Austro-Hungarians and survived the War.
Upddate (April 12): Slobodan Perovic has brought to my attention the Serbian philosopher Branislav Petronijević, who was a friend of Bertrand Russell's. (Thanks to Slobodan for those two links.)

Finally, here's an article by Nil Santiáñez (of St. Louis University) comparing Ernst Jünger's WWI writing with that of communist author Adam Scharrer; the article is called 'Ernst Jünger and Adam Scharrer: Two Global Views of the Great War'.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Some events and quotes from early 1916

February 6: Jan Smuts (future Prime Minister of South Africa) accepts command of a British force, which includes African and Indian soldiers, that is to capture German East Africa. One of Alfred North Whitehead's sons, Thomas North Whitehead (later a professor at Harvard Business School), serves in the east Africa campaign.

February 12: From a letter by Arthur Graeme West:
I got a "Spenser" from T....., and am now travelling through "The Faerie Queen" with the chaste Britomart. Yes, by all means send me "Tom Jones": those long things I can manage very well here, when we are back from the hellish trenches, where I find it hard to read, though I can manage to write letters, more or less.....How bloody people seem to be in England about peace and peace meetings. I suppose they are getting rather Prussian in the country, but are all peace meetings always broken up by soldiers (who've probably never been here at all)? (West, Diary of a Dead Officer, p. 12)
February 23: Étienne Gilson is taken prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun.
Indian troops at Kut Al Amara
Source of above image.

March 1: An excerpt from Abhi Le Baghdad by Sisir Sarbadhikari, who served with the British Indian forces that were trapped in the Siege of Kut Al Amara (about 100 miles south of Baghdad):
A bombardment started on the morning of March 1....A Gurkha was standing outside his tent, smoking, and the bomb fell near him. For a while there was only smoke and dust. When it cleared we saw only chunks of flesh and bone; the earth around there had turned into blood-soaked mud. (Sisir Sarbadhikari, Abhi Le Baghdad, trans. Amitav Ghosh [Calcutta, 1958], p. 80)
On April 27, three British intelligence agents, including Captain Thomas Edward Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), offered the Ottoman commanders a million pounds' worth of gold in exchange for release of the troops at Kut. The offer was refused. The British Indian forces surrendered to the Ottoman forces on April 29, 1916. At the time, it was the largest surrender of troops that the British had made.

March 1: Benito Mussolini promoted to rank of Corporal. From his recommendation:
For his exemplary activity, high Bersaglieresque spirit and calmness. Always first in every enterprise of work or daring. Heedless of discomforts, zealous and scrupulous in the carrying out of his duties.
March 2: Charles de Gaulle is wounded and captured by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun.

Franz Marc, 'Dreaming Horse' - Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

March 4: Artist Franz Marc is killed at the Battle of Verdun. 'In one day at Verdun...7,000 horses were killed by German and French shelling....In one of his last letters before his death, the German painter Franz Marc exclaimed: "The poor horses!"' Shortly after his death, Marc's 1914 paper ('Im Fegefeuer des Krieges') is published with the epigraph 'Im Anfang war die Tat'.

March 8Edmund Husserl's son Wolfgang Husserl is killed at the Battle of Verdun. In a letter to Hugo Münsterberg, Husserl writes, 'In this conflict, they [young Germans] went to fight in a Fichtean spirit, considering it a holy war, and to offer themselves wholeheartedly in sacrifice to the homeland'. (trans. by me from a French translation of the original German in Marc de Launay's 'Professorenkriegsliteratur' Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, no. 3 [2001]: 83-100 [at 96, n. 47])

March 17: Apollinaire receives a head wound from shrapnel, from which he never recovered. He died in 1918.

Apollinaire
 March 20: From Siegfried Sassoon's letter to Edward Dent:
On 18 March 1916 David Thomas was wounded in the jaw and died the same evening, aged 20: ‘an artery went, & he was choked,—drowned in his own blood....When the parson had finished (& the machine-guns kept making his words inaudible) a big thing fell about 150 yds away & burst with a final smash. And so my Tommy went away, happy and stainless.
-Shortly afterwards, Sassoon writes the poem 'Golgotha'.
March 23: Wittgenstein receives orders that transfer him to the eastern front; he takes with him a copy of the Brothers Karamazov. His diary entry for April 6 is 'Life is one'.

March 24: Spanish composer Enrique Granados Campiña is killed when his ship is sunk by a U-boat.

Late MarchEugene Bullard is seriously injured at the Battle of Verdun. Though American, he had joined the French forces. He was the first African-American military pilot, and he later worked as a club owner and as Louis Armstrong's French interpreter.

Christopher Eccleston reading Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce Et Decorum Est':


Also in March: Arthur Graham West writes a poem called 'Night Patrol'.

April 3Ernst Toller suffers from shell-shock and is removed from the front at the Battle of Verdun. On April 29, at a hospital near Strasbourg, he is diagnosed as having suffered a complete nervous collapse and is removed from active service. (F. S. L. Schouten, Ernst Toller: an intellectual youth biography, 1893-1918, Ph.D. dissertation, 2007, pp. 108-110)

April 10: After meeting with David Lloyd-George (then Minister of Munitions), Bertrand Russell writes (in a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell) that Lloyd-George 'was very unsatisfactory & I think only wanted to exercise his skill in trying to start a process of bargaining.' On April 25, Russell reports to Morrell that
I got the impression that Ll. George expects the war to go on for a long time yet; also that he thinks the whole situation very black. He seemed quite heartless. 
Lloyd George had invited Russell and other members of the No-Conscription Fellowship to meet and discuss the situation of conscientious objectors, some of whom were in a legal position no different from that of deserters (who could be shot).



April 22: Siegfried Sassoon writes a poem called 'Stand-to: Good-Friday morning'.

April 24-30: Lenin attends a conference of the International Socialist Commission in Kienthal, Switzerland.

April 28: In a performance at the Bürgertheater in Vienna, Austrian troops on leave re-enact the March 21st Battle of Uscieczko, which they lost to the Russians. Karl Kraus pillories the event in Die Fackel:
As those up there knelt down to pray before the audience, and as those up there saluted, and the vermin down below cheered them and sang patriotic songs, and stood there side by side in their top hats and tails, it struck him as the most terrible of all contrasts, like an infernal battle between the glory of God and the arguments of the devil, and the anguish for a delirious humanity, mocking its own sacrifice.
Audio of Kraus reading from 'Die letzten Tage der Menschheit'; and of Kraus reading a passage about Verdun.

May11: Physicist Karl Schwarzschild dies from an illness that he caught while serving on the Russian front. Albert Einstein is critical of Schwarzschild for having joined the war effort. In a letter to Michele Besso (on May 14), Einstein writes: 'Schwarzchild ... is a real loss. He would have been a gem, had he been as decent as he was clever.' (quoted from Thomas Levenson, Einstein in Berlin [Bantam Books, 2003], p. 130)

May 12: After meeting with Prime Minister Asquith (on May 11), Bertrand Russell reports to Ottoline Morrell that he is 'immensely encouraged'. Asquith was 'very sympathetic' and seemed 'prepared to exert himself to prevent C. O.'s being shot'. On May 12, Asquith sends a note to General Haig, instructing him not to have conscientious objectors shot for disobeying orders.

May 16: Karl Planck (son of Max Planck) is killed at the Battle of Verdun.

May: Edmund Blunden arrives in France as part of the 11th Royal Sussex Battalion.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A no foolin' philosophy link list (now with more videos)

A New Yorker article in which Jill Lepore applies some of the insights of Michael Lynch and Barbara Shapiro.

Joe Gelonesi interviews Noam Chomsky on Aussie radio.

Viggo Mortensen will read Albert Camus' 'The Human Crisis' (part of the festivities commemorating the 70th anniversary of Camus' visit to New York). Robert Zaretsky on NY's Camus festival.

Zadie Smith on Schopenhauer. I've heard that Tolstoy was into Schopenhauer while writing Anna Karenina. Here's a Schopenhauerian passage from that novel (Rosamund Bartlett's translation):
[Vronsky] soon began to feel that the fulfilment of his desires had given him no more than a grain of sand from the mountain of happiness he had been expecting. This fulfilment had shown him the error people invariably make when they imagine happiness to be the fulfilment of desires. In the initial period after joining his life to hers and putting on civilian clothes, he experienced the full delights of freedom in general, which he had not known before, and also the freedom of love, and he was content, but not for long. He soon felt desires for desires, and tedium arising in his soul. Independent of his will, he began grasping at every passing whim, perceiving it as a desire and a purpose. (Oxford University Press, trans. Rosamund Bartlett [2014], p. 467)
Christopher Donohue: 'Herbert Spencer on Instinct and Intelligence: The Background of the “Cambridge Mind”'.

Dwight Garner reviews a new English translation of Carlo Rovelli's physics book. Rovelli was interviewed at Philosophy Bites last November. Rovelli's conversation with Lee Smolin in 2012. And here's Rovelli in 2014 on philosophy's relevance (ht Wayne Myrvold).

At the Edge, Janna Levin on gravitational waves. Also at the Edge, Rebecca Goldstein on 'pursuing a coherent human life' and an entry on the late Verena Huber-Dyson.

At the LARB, Matthew Stanley reviews Marcelo Gleiser's The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning; Daniel Hirschman reviews Harry Frankfurt's On Inequality; and Robert L. Kehoe III reviews Edward Mendelson's Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers. Finally, Aurelian Craiutu on Michael Oakeshott's Notebooks, 1922-1986.

A translation of a 1969 conversation with Adorno from Der Spiegel.


A bio of Angela Davis by Miranda Bain at The Heroine Collective.

'Lev Shestov.: Russia's answer to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche' by Sergei Tseytlin.

Mike Rottmann: 'Reestablishing Philosophy in a Destroyed Country: Karl Löwith’s Return to Germany'.

Stephen Cowley summarizes the introduction to Pierre Osmo's French translation of Rudolf Haym's Hegel and his Time. (German bio for Haym) Here's a blurb on Haym's book from an 1857 issue of The Christian Examiner.

Interesting site on Caroline Schelling. The project was NEH-funded and seems to have run approx. from 2005 till 2007.

'Kant gives love advice to a heartbroken young woman (1791)'.

Cambridge University Press has released a collection of Onora O'Neill's essays on Kant.

In the latest issue of Philosophy and Literature, Theodore Ziolkowski has a brief item called 'Philosophers into Fiction', in which he documents fictional treatments of philosophers (esp. Heidegger and Wittgenstein). Both Pea Soup and (more recently) Daily Nous have threads on philosophers in fiction (to which I contributed under my tag 'praymont'). Here's another instance: Andre Malraux's novel Man's Fate includes a character based on Bernard Groethuysen (according to p. 292 of a piece by Daniel Gordon in History & Theory 36 [1997]).

From Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein (1993), with Karl Johnson as Ludwig and Tilda Swinton as Lady Ottoline Morrell: 


Lady Constance Malleson (Colette), an actress and writer who was romantically involved with Bertrand Russell, wrote a roman à clef which featured Russell, Joad, Lady Ottolline Morrell and others. Here's a decoder key for the novel from John Slater's biographical article (in Russell: the Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies [1975]): 'In fact the book is a very thinly disguised account of her relationship with Russell. He appears as Don Gregorio del Orellano,a Cambridge astronomer;... Lady Ottoline is Magdalena, the Marquesa de Santa Segunda; C.E.M. Joad is Owen West; Dora Black, Russell's second wife, is Gertrude West; T. S. Eliot is T. C. Maynard; Clifford Allen is Jevons; and Maurice Elvey, a director of silent pictures in whose [film] Hindle Wakes Colette starred, ... is Marcus Beazely.'

Julie Crawford reviews Danielle Dutton's novel Margaret the First, which is based on the life of Margaret Cavendish; Dutton's novel is also reviewed by Sian Norris and by Natalie Helberg. Dutton interviewed.

More about Cavendish: Lara Dodds on Virginia Woolf's criticism of Cavendish's style; Woolf wrote about Cavendish in A Room of One's Own and in The Common Reader; and Lisa Sarasohn's review (pdf) of Anna Battigelli's 1998 book, Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind (also reviewed here).

Interview with Luc Foisneau, who directed the publication of the Dictionnaire des philosophes français du XVIIe siècle.

Gary Wills reviews Robin Lane Fox's Augustine: Conversions to Confessions. Fox replies, and so does Wills.

Paul E. Meehl's videos on philosophical psychology.

'Kenneth Garden, Associate Professor at Tufts University, reexamines al-Ghazali’s work from an historical hermeneutical [stance] in The First Islamic Reviver: Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and his Revival of the Religious Sciences (Oxford University Press, 2014)'.

Last 12 minutes of Jarman's Tempest (1979), with a performance by Elisabeth Welch:


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

More about French philosophy's reception of German philosophy after WWI

After WWI, British and French students were awash in the anti-German sentiments of their respective cultures. But French philosophy students were exposed to the corrective influence of the two-Germanies model. Even if that influence was diminished in the post-War years, French students (and established philosophers) were subjected to another corrective influence. To wit, in the 1920s the French professorate was more diverse than that of the UK in at least one crucial respect: it included a number of very able philosophers who had been educated by German philosophy professors shortly before the War, and the former philosophers maintained their engagement with the latter group after the War. Some of the professors in the former group were from Alsace-Lorraine, a territory that belonged to Germany before the War and to France afterwards. Most of them, though, were refugees who had fled the 1917 revolution in Russia. The influence of these figures is particularly striking when one examines how Husserl re-surfaced in French philosophy after WWI.

While there had been some French publications about Husserl before the War, there wasn't much about him in the post-War French literature until 1926, when a French translation of Lev Shestov's 'Memento Mori' appeared in Révue Philosophique. This critique of Husserl drew a reply from Jean Héring, an Alsatian professor in the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Strasbourg.

Héring received most of his education when his Alsatian homeland was part of Germany. He had studied with Husserl in Göttingen (in 1909). With the shift of borders at the end of the War, he became a French citizen. Shestov was born, raised, and educated in Tsarist Russia and fled to France in 1920. He later became a professor of Russian at the University of Paris. Shestov is said to have initiated the invitation for Husserl to lecture in Paris in 1929.

Another influential Russian figure is Alexandre Koyré, a historian and philosopher of science. He, too, had studied with Husserl before the War. After Husserl disapproved of Koyré's research direction, Koyré moved to Paris to continue his education. Koyré fought in the Russian army during the War and then returned to Paris, where he completed his education and taught in the Department of Religious Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. Koyré helped with the translation into French of Husserl's 1929 Paris lectures. (Along with a younger Russian, Alexandre Kojève, Koyré would also help French philosophers to improve their understanding of Hegel.)

There was a third Russian emigré who helped to raise Husserl's profile in France between the wars: the sociologist Georges Gurvitch, who (like Koyré) had received part of his education in German universities. At the Sorbonne between 1928 and 1930, Gurvitch lectured on recent German philosophy, focusing on phenomenology (esp. that of Max Scheler). (Ethan Kleinberg, Generation Existential: Heidegger's Philosophy in France, 1927–1961 [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007], pp. 27-28) These lectures formed the basis of his book Les tendances actuelles de la philosophie allemande, (Paris: Vrin, 1930) which presented the ideas of Husserl, Lask, Scheler, and Heidegger.

Another figure who helped to disseminate knowledge of Husserl in France between the wars was Bernard Groethuysen, a German author who, both before and after the War, divided his time between Germany and France. In Germany, he taught philosophy and history courses. In France, he worked as an editor and essayist.

In the 1920s, Paris had one of the largest populations of Russian refugees. Many of these Russians had received at least part of their post-secondary education in Germany. While few (perhaps none) of the above-named Russian philosophers were employed by French philosophy departments, they were employed by other academic departments in French universities. I don't know of any comparable minority group in the British universities of the day that had both the ability and opportunity to counteract biases against contemporary German academic philosophy. (Isaiah Berlin received his education in the UK, and Wittgenstein had relatively little acquaintance with the German philosophy professors of his time.) It is especially instructive to compare the French engagement with Husserl in the '20s with the chilly reception of Husserl's 1922 lectures in London.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Why French philosophy wasn't as anti-German as British philosophy

After World War I, British philosophy, and not French philosophy, followed a trend of diminished engagement with its German counterpart. What accounts for this difference between the British and French philosophers?

First, note that by the early years of the 20th Century, France had already experienced extreme antipathy towards the Kaiserreich in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. Following that war, academic philosophers in France arrived at a framework that warranted continued engagement with some German philosophy.

In developing a clearer sense of the relations between French and German philosophy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I have found very helpful Martha Hanna's book, The Mobilization of Intellect (Harvard University Press, 1996). According to Hanna, French intellectuals developed a 'two-Germanies' hypothesis after the Franco-Prussian War. They distinguished between the good, high-culture Germany (which ended roughly with Kant) and the bad, militaristic Germany (which began with Hegel).(Hanna, Mobilization of the Intellect, p. 9) In the 1870s, French scholars began to devote more time to studying Kant. In fact, French neo-Kantianism began to grow shortly after France's loss to Prussia and reached its height in the 1890s.(Hanna, Mobilization of the Intellect, p. 35)

In France, neo-Kantianism was one strand in French philosophy's turn from scientism.(Ibid.) Another strand, which came to prominence in French right-wing, Roman Catholic circles during the early years of the 20th Century, was stridently anti-German and regarded German scholars as uncreative technicians who were embroiled in scientism. Hanna describes the activities of this French, conservative school of thought during the War, including the work of Jacques Maritain and Victor Giraud.(Hanna, Mobilization of the Intellect, pp. 184-9) In an essay that Giraud published in 1917, he characterizes 'scientisme' as 'that gross doctrine held by half-scientists or half-philosophers which has come to us from Germany and which consists in making positive science the only type of knowledge and the only rule of action.' (Giraud, 'French Civilisation', in The French Miracle and French Civilisation: Two Essays, trans. H. P. Thieme and W. A. McLaughlin [Ann Arbor, MI: The Ann Arbor Press, 1917], p. 71; first published in French in 1917)

So, in French academic circles during the early years of the 20th Century, any general bias against German philosophy was associated with a conservative, religious orientation, one which had already been disavowed by many secular philosophers. In contrast to the French right, these secular French philosophers (esp. the neo-Kantians) had endorsed a two-Germanies model in the decades before WWI, and this model encouraged the continuing engagement with some German philosophers, especially those who worked in a Kantian vein and who repudiated what the French called 'scientisme'. This might help to explain why Husserl, for instance, enjoyed a favorable reception in post-War Paris. (Husserl lectured in Paris on Feb. 23 and 25, 1929. His lectures in London in 1922 were not so well received.)

British Germanophiles could only dream of inhabiting such a congenial environment. Some of them (e.g., John Muirhead) propounded their own 'two-Germanies' doctrine during the War and its immediate aftermath. Their approach placed Hegel on the safe, good-German side of the boundary and may have been undermined by the fact that its French counterpart had positioned Hegel as a villain.(Hanna, Mobilization of the Intellect, p. 9, p. 23)

Such differences might explain why, as Stuart Wallace says, the post-War years saw 'nothing in Britain to compare with Julien Benda's scathing postwar critique, La Trahison des Clercs (1927)'. (Wallace, War and the Image of Germany: British Academics, 1914-1918 [Edinburgh: John Donald, 1988], p. v) The target of Benda's critique was the anti-German propaganda that French professors had produced during the War. Wallace adds that while similar reckonings with 'the national chauvinism of professors' appeared in Germany (Hans Wehburg's Wider den Anruf der 93! [1920]) and in the USA (H. L. Mencken's articles), no British authors produced a similar repudiation of their own nation's professorial propaganda.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Philosophers reading (and being read in) WWI lit

Here's another philosopher who was a soldier in WWI: Etienne Gilson, who was taken prisoner early in the Battle of Verdun (in February, 1916). Earlier, while on leave from the front, Gilson managed to put together a journal publication.

It's interesting to see how many veterans were critical of the war memoirs and novels that started appearing in the 1920s (esp. in 1929). I've noted Luce's public criticism in a Belfast sermon, which seems to have been aimed chiefly at Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That. Graves' book also drew the ire of Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden, who meticulously documented the book's inaccuracies in Sassoon's copy of it. 

Wittgenstein was mildly critical of R. C. Sherriff's play Journey's End (1928). According to M. O'C. Drury, Wittgenstein read the play in 1936. Drury quotes Wittgenstein as follows:
Nowadays it is the fashion to emphasize the horrors of the last war. I didn't find it so horrible. There are just as horrible things happening all round us today, if only we had eyes to see them. I couldn't understand the humour in Journey's End. But I wouldn't want to joke about a situation like that. (M. O'C. Drury, 'Conversations with Wittgenstein', Ch. VI in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections, ed. Rush Rhees [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981], p. 144)
An early WWI text (1919) was Arthur Graeme West's Diary of a Dead Officer. West was killed on the front in 1917. His diary was edited for publication by his friend, the pacifist and philosopher C. E. M. Joad. There are references to Bertrand Russell in West's Diary (pp. 50-57) . West had been reading Russell's 'A Free Man's Worship' and Justice in War Time. In West, one sees the full disenchantment that is dramatized in many WWI books -- initially a religious patriot who wanted to serve King and country, West became an atheist and seemed on the point of refusing to fight any longer when he was killed by a sniper.