Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dystopic bliss

Emily Witt's diary entry in the latest issue of the LRB has left me seeking a handy label for articles that effectively say 'Aldous Huxley's dystopia is here now', but in which the author affects an innocence of all such critique by mimicking the unknowing, sensation-seeking obsessions of a naif in an Aldous Huxley dystopia.

I'm sure there's more to Burning Man, but Witt makes it sound like a Pleasure Dome for millionaires

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quoting Bertrand Russell (on Harvard in 1914)

I miss in the professors the atmosphere of meditation and absent-mindedness which one associates with thought -- they all seem more alert and business-like and punctual than one expects very good people to be. And they are all overworked; President Lowell, whom I find utterly loathsome, is determined to get his money's worth out of them and throw them on the scrap heap when they are used up. -- From Russell's letter to Lucy Donnelly (March 20, 1914) (reproduced on p. 41 of Bertrand Russell's America: His Transatlantic Travels and Writings. Volume 1 1896-1945, ed. Barry Feinberg, Ronald Kasrils [Routledge, 1973])


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Link roundup mostly on literary Prussians & Berliners

Brecht portrait by Rudolf Schlichter (1926)
Michael Hofmann on Wolfgang Koeppen:
The one exception, the single oasis in thirty-five years of literary-commercial desert, the very last of the Sibylline books, is Jugend (Youth), which was first published in 1976 as number 500 in the iconic Bibliothek Suhrkamp series (there was really no limit to Unseld's generosity and thoughtfulness), when Koeppen turned seventy. "Dear Wolfgang," wrote the gallant [and long suffering Siegfried] Unseld as late as 1 July of that year, "I'm awaiting Youth every day, with the sort of intensity with which one only and always waits for youth." This time, for whatever reason, Koeppen didn't disappoint him. 
Adam Thirlwell on Michael Hofmann's translation of Gottfried Benn's poems:
Benn’s late style is one of literature’s great inventions, and the composition of this selection conditions its reader to concentrate on that phenomenon: from 1912 to 1947, a period of 35 years, Hofmann offers just twenty-four poems, while from 1949 to 1955, the last six years of Benn’s life, there are a lavish forty-eight.
Rebecca Schuman has three posts this week on Heinrich von Kleist. She focuses on his Kant crisis and the Marquise of O.

Steven Howe remarks on Kant in connection with Kleist's Schroffenstein Family:
Here one can detect the influence of Kleist’s encounter with Kantian philosophy, which appears to have shattered his faith in the possibilities of absolute truth and knowledge. The fallibility of perception emerges, as a consequence, as a dominant theme and subject of reflection in Kleist’s work, and remains so across his entire literary corpus. In Schroffenstein, this manifests itself through the frequent recurrence of error and confusion, bred by the characters’ inability to communicate and their attendant susceptibility to misreading reality.
Trevor Berrett on Theodor Fontane's Irretrievable.

Last year, H. B. Nisbet published a 736-page book on Lessing. Reviewed in the LRB by Jonathan Rée.

In BOMB, Richard Foreman reviews Philip Glahn's new book on Bertolt Brecht. Here's the publisher's site for the book. It's also reviewed by Gregory Sholette at Brooklyn Rail.


A bigger Brecht book, by Stephen Parker, is reviewed by Donald Sassoon, and by John Yargo, and by David Blackbourn, and by Alison Flood.

Ingrid Rowland reviews Emily J. Levine's Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School:
Focusing on Aby Warburg’s library and two of its most illustrious users, the philosopher Ernst Cassirer and the art historian Erwin Panofsky, [Levine] reveals the ways in which the distinctive qualities of a single place conditioned the development of ideas in a larger sense to create a “Hamburg School” of thought, a school intimately connected with Jewish experience in Imperial and Weimar Germany.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hempel's influence on the DSM

Ever on the lookout for philosophers' influence on other disciplines, I was intrigued to find this 2013 publication by Massimiliano Aragona about Carl Hempel's influence on the early editions of the DSM. Hempel gave a paper in 1959 at the Work Conference on Field Studies in the Mental Disorders (which was organized by the American Psychopathological Association). The paper formed the basis of Hempel's paper 'Fundamentals of Taxonomy' in his collection Aspects of Scientific Explanation (1965). According to Aragona, Hempel's 'neopositivist' approach to psychiatry's taxonomy helped to shape the DSM via the influence of the Anglo-Austrian psychiatrist Erwin Stengel (among others).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Quoting C. Wright Mills

One key thing about American mass culture ... is that it is not an "escape" from the strains of routine, but another routine, which in its murky formulations and pre-fabricated moods ... deprive the individual of his own fantasy life. ... And I would of course impute the leveling and the frenzy effects of mass culture in this country not to "democracy" but to capitalist commercialism which manipulates people into standardized tastes and then exploits these tastes and "personal touches" as marketable brands. -C. Wright Mills ('Our Country and Our Culture', Partisan Review [1952]: 446-7)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Quoting Stephen Marche

Stephen Marche on Capital in the Twenty-First Century and contemporary US fiction:
The arc of Franzenite fiction goes from leaving the bosom of an institution to finding a place in the world of markets and neighbors....Universities are natural subjects for the bourgeois novel of the moment because they have become expensive ways of replicating privilege, of falling in with the right sort of people, of learning the prerequisite social codes....An American Ivy League education is, first and foremost, a class marker....College has essentially replaced the debutante ball and the presentation at court....The characters in all these novels strive to understand society’s codes and then to obey them....The novel of the second gilded age is a novel for hoop-jumpers....This was the 1990s on campus: educated in the panvictimology of alternative culture, people of privilege learned to hate the source of their privilege while maintaining their own status in perfect working order. -Stephen Marche ('The Literature of the Second Gilded Age')

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Quoting Marie Jahoda

Otto Neurath let me participate in a seminar devoted to the translation of Freud's Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse into positivist language. I need hardly say that the attempt failed. The conclusion I drew from it was that the tasks of social psychology should be tackled empirically, not philosophically. -Marie Jahoda ('The Emergence of Social Psychology in Vienna', British Journal of Social Psychology 22 (1983): 345)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quoting a Victorian cleric

Children, we all know, are the clearest and most merciless of logicians. The only fault in their reasoning about the conduct of their elders is, that it is too mathematical. They allow nothing for the friction of actual life. They do not understand the difficulty of working abstract principles into conduct. -The Rev. Professor E. Johnson ('On "Bishop Blougram's Apology"', 1882)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Poetic Berkeley, prosaic Hume

Wolfgang Breidert has a paper about some of the many poems that refer to Bishop Berkeley ('Berkeley Poetized' in Reexamining Berkeley's Philosophy, 2007) . Berkeley's referred to in poems by Alexander Pope, C. H. Sisson, Kenneth Rexroth, etc.

There's this bit from one of Lord Byron's poems: 
When Bishop Berkeley said "there was no matter,"
       And proved it—'twas no matter what he sald:
They say his system 'tis in vain to batter,
       Too subtle for the airiest human head  (from Don Juan, Canto 11)
And Berkeley pops up in two poems by W. B. Yeats: 'The Seven Sages' and 'Blood and the Moon'.
And God-appointed Berkeley that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme  (from 'Blood & the Moon', 1928)
All of these poems are noted by Breidert. 

Breidert doesn't discuss poetic invocations of David Hume, but my own googling has turned up few lyrical mentions of the great skeptic. Poor Hume is 'ungrateful Hume' in a poem about whist (Whist: a poem in twelve cantos by Alexander Thomson, 1791); and, in a poem written upon his demise, Hume is condemned as 'the modern Midas' ('On the Death of David Hume' by William Julius Mickle, 1776) chiefly because he had bad-mouthed Spenser's poetry. Thomas Blacklock sang Hume's praises but that doesn't count -- Blacklock was impoverished and received financial support from Hume.

Granted, Paul Muldoon's Madoc: a Mystery has sections headed 'Berkeley' and 'Hume' (and 'Kant', and 'Frege', and 'Meinong', and 'Husserl', and 'Putnam', etc.etc.), but those headings seem to have little to do with the poetry.  

Percy Bysshe Shelley was inspired by Hume but seems not to have let this show in his poetry. Was Hume too toxic even in Shelley's day? If so, couldn't Shelley have fit Hume into a private poem (with an eye to posthumous publication)?

If I'm not mistaken, Berkeley has had more attention from the poets than most other early modern philosophers. Is the attraction due to his philosophical views? If so, one would expect Hume to have featured in more poems owing to the similarity between his and Berkeley's ideas. Or does Berkeley get the poetic limelight because he drew Dr. Johnson's ire?

Update (June 22, 2014): Byron's Don Juan is loaded with philosophers. Locke's referred to in the 15th and the 17th cantos. Other philosophers in the poem are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Machiavelli, both Bacons (Francis and Roger), and 'Professor Kant'. No Hume, though. I guess in Byron's time, Hume was primarily remembered (if at all) as a historian rather than as a philosopher (even though it was Hume's philosophy that influenced Shelley). 

Here's a nifty site where you can enter searches for "poems about...." For example, poems about Kant, about Hegel, and about Hume. Only 6 of the 10 search results for Hume are about David Hume. Four of the remaining poems are of little interest and two are by George Crabbe. Hume gets no love from the poets. I don't see Thomson's, Mickle's, or Blacklock's lyrics among the search results.

Update (June 23, 2014): John Koethke mentions Hume in a poem called 'The Constant Voice' (2002), which has a line about Hume on sympathy. Koethke's a philosophy professor. (In 'Like Gods' Koethke refers to David Lewis and Frank Jackson. Koethke's 'Book X' is about Plato and quotes a line of J. L. Austin's.)

Quotations about Hume by 2 economists, an epidemiologist, Borges & Hamann

Amartya Sen:
Hume's influence on the nature and reach of modern thinking has been monumental. From epistemology to practical reason, from aesthetics to religion, from political economy to philosophy, from social and cultural studies to history and historiography, the intellectual world was transformed by the enlightening power of his mind. ('The Boundaries of Justice' New Republic [December 14, 2011])
Mervyn Susser:
Like Plato and George Berkeley who epitomize idealist philosophy, Hume constructed a view of the world that gives primacy to the sentience and thought of the individual: truth can be said to exist only in the subjective perceptions of an observer. For Hume, the apparent sequence of events in the external world is in fact the sequence of perceptions in the mind. ('Rational Science Versus a System of Logic' in Causal Inference, ed. K. J. Rothman [Epidemiology Resources, 1988], p. 190)
Jorge Luis Borges:
It is a bit like what Hume says of Berkeley: “His arguments admit of no refutation and produce no conviction.” Solipsism admits of no refutation and produces no conviction. (“Merely a Man of Letters” Jorge Luis Borges: an interview, Philosophy and Literature 1 (1977): 337-41)
Robert E. Lucas, Jr.:
From the beginnings of modern monetary theory, in David Hume’s marvelous essays of 1752, Of Money and Of Interest, conclusions about the effect of changes in money have seemed to depend critically on the way in which the change is effected. [p. 246] .... The passages on dynamics that I cited from Hume in Section 1 could be slipped into Keynes’s Treatise on Money (1930) or Hayek’s Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle (1933 ) without inducing any sense of anachronism. [p. 253] (Lucas' Nobel Prize Lecture, 'Monetary Neutrality', Dec. 7, 1995)
Johann Georg Hamann:
This much is certain that without Berkeley there would have been no Hume, just as without Hume no Kant. Yet finally everything comes down to tradition just as all abstraction comes down to sensuous impressions. (from a letter to Herder, 1782)