kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Whales, Nazis, Big Ideas

OK: I took my own Spring Break off, but little did I know how little time was allowed me during my own childrens' Spring Break. So I took that week off, too. I'm back.

Ms. Cokesbury, of frequent mention here, asked me the other day what I was reading. This seemed to be sufficiently boring to discuss here; I'd be interested in hearing what others are reading, so let me know.

I have a tendency to read a bit eclectically, so if you are looking for a pattern or "strategy," I'll make it easy: I buy a lot of books--even better, I let my university and various presses buy me books; if I really want to read it, I go for it when it arrives or I get home with it. Otherwise, it goes through the aging process, just as does a fine wine. Hence, Iso Kern's Husserl und Kant continues to age, along with Hobbes's translation of Thucydides' History. (It doesn't mean I won't get to them, but eventually can be a long time.) Someday I might be walking around my house, or spot something in my office; I say "that looks interesting," and then I read it. One could call this a strategy; one could call it utter randomness. Personally, I think there is plenty of room in this world for stochastic intentionality.

So here is what I've just finished or am currently engaged in.

Christopher Moore

I just read three of his novels--Lamb : The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. I compare him a bit to Carl Hiassen, although he has better metaphors. (E.g.: "it made a sound like an ambulance driving through pudding.") He has what one might call an "offbeat" sense of humor and plot; Lamb is his version of "Jesus: the Missing Years" (he quotes John Prine for an epigraph), with some interesting stuff, as well as a very hot Mary Magdalene, and a particularly hilarious version of early drafts of the Beatitudes, including the suggestion that the meek--rather than inheriting the earth--shall be given fruitbaskets. Jesus also wants to know what follows "Blessed are the dumbfucks," in that they, just as the poor, are always with us. That one got edited out.

His books are fun to read, and occasionally you learn weird things, about whale penises, the three wise men, or the possibility that your dog thinks of you exclusively as "food guy." They go fast, as well. I'm looking forward to his new one, A Dirty Job; for those of you in the Dayton area, he is reading at Books and Company April 12, at 7 (p.m.). I hope he doesn't mind that I've never actually bought one of his books; all library copies.

Kevin Phillips

Phillips is an interesting character; not particularly loved by the Republican Right (especially the Bushes, about whom he wrote the interesting American Dynasty), but he has some credentials in having been largely responsible for devising the "Southern Strategy" that led to the traditional Solid Democratic South to becoming the most loyal Republican section of the U.S.. (I don't think he should be held responsible for such things as Reagan beginning his 2nd Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, MS, site of the deaths of 3 civil rights workers, an act that I think speaks volumes about Reagan, the Republican Party, and racism.) Phillips has a standard sort of trope: viewing contemporary America through a historical lens, largely through the events of Imperial Spain, the Dutch of the 18th century, and the British Empire. In his new American Theocracy, he argues that three things--oil consumption, religious fervor, and debt--threaten U.S. hegemony just as similar kinds of economic and ideological views threatened those earlier world powers. Well worth reading, if open to a wide variety of critiques (such as from international economists who might have a different view of trade deficits and so much paper being held by the People's Republic of China); it is nice to see someone suggest how scary, when taken to its logical conclusion, is the combination of the eschatology of the Left Behind series and the power and implicit overweening violence of the military-industrial-complex (hey, it was Eisenhower!).

It makes very interesting reading as a complement to Thomas Franks' What Happened to Kansas? Franks wants to figure out why people--such as poor and working class people who have lost their jobs--vote against their economic self-interest. I didn't think he answered this as well as he can--and has--but he does make the good point that someone in Sedgwick County Kansas should regard Monsanto or Archer Daniels Midland as more of a threat than a lesbian in Palo Alto wanting to get married, or some Salvadoran trying to get into the U.S. to improve his "material conditions." Phillips' take on it is nicely summarized here:

Economic conservatives often warm to sects in which a preoccupation with personal salvation turns lower-income persons away from distracting visions of economic and social reform.

Juliet Schor

I'm currently just starting a book she edited, with D.B. Holt (a marketing professor!), that contains a fairly wide (albeit leftish) range of views on consumption in America, how it drives the economy, determines values, and structures not just our thought but those of our friends, enemies, and/or children. Starting with, unsurprisingly, Horkheimer and Adorno, it ends with folks such as bell hooks and the above-mentioned Thomas Franks.

I like Schor because she writes well, and thinks about interesting questions, such as why have we developed a country that is, allegedly, so damn pious and all, but seems to be so invested in buying, in consumption, and in upgrading that consumption? What does it accomplish, and what does it tell us about ourselves? In some sense, this is more-or-less Thorstein Veblen goes to the mall and watches TV, but it is good to be reminded how our souls are at stake here. It is also worth remembering that the Religious Right, which likes to pound "liberal" heads for its moral failures, rarely--RARELY--ever speaks to the message of their boy Jesus:

What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
(Mt. 16:26)

Or, as Socrates puts it in the "Apology" (29e):

are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?

These are good questions.

Tom Rockmore

Finally, just to keep my head in the game, I'm reading Tom Rockmore's On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy. There are friends of mine who think Heidegger is the most important philosopher of the 20th century, if not since Aristotle. There are friends of mine who regard him as the P.T. Barnum of philosophy, relying on the fact that there is an ontological (or is that ontic?) sucker born every minute. I have a little trouble taking him seriously, but that may be because I have yet to reveal the hidden Seinsfrage relative to Dasein, and thus remain benighted and tragically Sorgefrei. Or maybe I just think he is overrated, gets Kant (and probably Nietzsche, and almost certainly Herakleitos) wrong, and the fact that he was a Nazi doesn't exactly make me think more of him.

I just started this, and it makes me wonder not just about Marty, but the wider range of philosophers who failed to resist the NSDAP and its rise to power. Rockmore cites a book--almost exclusively for his information on this period--the name of which I have conveniently forgotten (auf Deutsch). Clearly, a good history of German philosophy (say, from 1924 [the death of Hermann Cohen] to 1944) would be a valuable study.

Rockmore mentions that some of Heidegger's students and/or acolytes are unwilling to criticize the "master," by employing what analytic philosphers (and others) would reject (correctly) as a horrible argument: one must understand Heidegger extremely well to see that he wasn't "really" a Nazi; if one insists that he is a Nazi, that just means the understanding is insufficient.

I don't think any philosopher should have "disciples": they should have informed, smart, and energetic critics, who can read well and engage the relevant texts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"it made a sound like an ambulance driving through pudding"

that sums it up

a large, unyielding steel cage on wheels -painted moral- pillaging through a silent, eloquent, seemingly harmless mass.

but I wonder if the pudding is strong enough, in its silence, to make the ambulance SKIIIIIIIIID!

3:27 PM  
Blogger Bazarov said...

Given i get bored rather easily, i'll usually have half a dozen books going at once or so. I may put one down for a while before getting back to it...if ever. Finally have an appreciation for fiction now; it seemed like such a waste of time before.

Recently read:

The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester. Book about Krupp family that was in the arms game. Sometimes the truth is funnier than fiction, like when your family produces arms that kills your family members. Good stuff.

The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Nothing new but plenty that needs to be said.

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett. Nothing new really, but plenty that needs to be said.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett. He actually removes the diplomatic manner for a few pages and rips some ignoramus ass! I wish he'd do that more often...but then he'd probably stop looking like Santa Claus.

The Technology of Orgasm : "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel P. Maines. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction. I loved this book as it was absolutely hilarious. Rather informative and I think the world would be a much more relaxed place if more men read that book.

Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut. So it goes...

Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. Good crapper book.

The Story of B by Daniel Quinn. About the coming of the antichrist, so you know it's good.

Notes from Underground (Reread) by Dostoyevsky (sp?) Me likey this one a lot.

The Double by Dostoyevsky. This one just confused me and the pace is really slow in the middle. Wouldn't recommend it.

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins. Finally finished this one. Got it two xmases ago. Not bad but not as forceful or commanding as Selfish Gene or Blind Watchmaker.

Currently reading:
The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American Stories Since 1970.

Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

Monkeyluv by Robert Sapolsky. A collection of essays from one of my favorite neuroscientists.

In the queue:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. I've heard very good things about this and that once you start it you can't stop it. We'll see...

5:55 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

i've read the harris and (of course, he said in his professorial tone) dennett's "dangerous" book. liked it a lot; the harris had some really nice things in it, and some rather ludicrous things as well. one can never go wrong with dostoevsky; joseph frank has a fabulous biograph of him i highly recommend; the good news is how informed and fascinating it is; the bad news is that it's five volumes.

you might check out a relatively recent book called the "closing of the western mind." it is by an author whose name he remembers, but i don't.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Bazarov said...

Thanks! I'm always interested in finding new books i'd never have come across on my own.

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