Thursday, April 28, 2016

'The Path' (2016): Journey II

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Another thin slice of radish . . .

This is right on:  "By making concrete, defined plans, you are actually being abstract, because you are making these plans for a self that is abstract: a future self that you imagine based on who you think you are now, even though you, the world, and your circumstances will change" (pages 77-78).

All things interrelated, not isolated -- sounds like a Dr. Bronner soap bubble saying.

"The Way [Dao] isn't something we reach while walking in the woods on the weekend. It's something we bring about actively through our daily interactions" (pages 94-95). 

Start anywhere: you're already here -- or there.

Mind your Ps and Qis. 

Qi, which I first heard about as chi or ch'i (akin to Prana) is vibrancy and life force. 

Do anything new -- or anew -- and feel a tingling, like some culminating moment of acupuncture. 

Songs in the qi of Life [bad pun, sorry Mr. Wonder].

"We nourish [there's that word again] our qi . . . when we marvel over a painting in a museum or feel transported by a piece of music. Anything that inspires awe refines qi by training the senses to respond more profoundly to the world around us. When we are more aware of the world in all its dimensions, we are more open to all that we can potentially feel about it and are better able to react to it" (page 134).  

Hence my interest in just about anything that refines qi -- a broad spectrum, indeed. 

Today's Rune: Movement.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

'The Path' (2016): Journey I

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Like a radish, this book tastes best when thinly sliced.

"Heart-Mind" imbalance. You can see this just about anywhere: people's life-paths obstructed by their own emotion. 

Emotion can obscure otherwise clear thinking and, thanks to paralysis, prevent good action.  

In the long term, an effective approach is this: "respond to people in ways that we have cultivated, instead of through immediate emotional reaction" (page 27). 

Don't let your EQ muddle your IQ.

"A Confucian approach . . . note your patterns and . . . work actively to shift them . . . (page 43).  ". . . just as the world is fragmented, we are, too. Instead of . . . single, unified selves . . . complex arrays of emotions, dispositions, desires, and traits . . . often pull us in different and contradictory ways" (Ibid.).

Somewhere in the text, the authors note that we choose to "nourish" certain relationships (and interests) -- or not. Here it is: different "trajectories exist all around us. . . Your neglect is an active choice that will set things on a certain path" (pages 64-65). This is true: by not doing, we are doing, and by doing, we are not trying something different. Don't be so stubborn about not branching out. 

And last thought for now: "Use your mind to cultivate your emotions. Become aware of . . . patterned habits . . . entrenched narratives . . ." (page 71).  

I've been reading daoist and other Chinese philosophy in English translation since I was about twelve or thirteen, only then it was called taoist in English; Laozi and Dao de jing were more often spelled Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. 

None of The Path is entirely new, but the old is given a few new twists, possibly because of more refined translations and additional contemplation. Kind of clunky, but interesting. 

Today's Rune: Possessions.   

Friday, April 22, 2016

Party Like It's 2033: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), directed by Frederick Francis Sears. Starring Joan Taylor as Carol Hanley Marvin and Hugh Marlowe as her newly minted husband, Dr. Russell Marvin. 

This streamlined film is so bare-bones it might seem ludicrous at first, but it works. The aliens are compelling, as is their back-story. The way they understand time and distance is plausible and cool. Ranging from spaceships to weaponry, spacesuits to mind de-scrambler and universal translator, the alien technology is nicely designed. 

A weakness in the story is in how earthlings quickly pull together implausible counter-measures, but that hardly matters. It's all imaginative good fun.
Carol is the only woman in the whole movie as far as talking parts. Most of the characters -- talking or silent -- are men, and they are almost all depicted as technocratic drones with no more flexibility than the spacesuited aliens, which in turn are of indeterminate gender (assuming they have such distinctions). 

Carol, the daughter of a general, is sharp and daring as well as resilient and reliable. We even find her doing what in more recent decades of pop culture imagery is a man's prerogative. On screen, one's now more likely to see a Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) or Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) flipping burgers and hot dogs than any woman at all. What does it mean?  I have no idea. I do hold that Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is pretty cool, though.  

P.S. Bowie and Prince are probably piloting their own spaceships now, so never fear of their eternal return. 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sarah Bakewell: 'At the Existentialist Café' (2016): Part Two

Photo by Alberto Korda: March 5, 1960, Havana.
Finished a first read-through of Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others (New York: Other Press, 2016).

Let's pick it up with Jean-Paul Sartre. Though he loved to be free, “[i]t seemed that Sartre would rarely be as relaxed and happy again as he had been as a prisoner of war” (page 143). Think about that! And this: he escaped the POW camp and made his way back to Paris. 

As for Simone de Beauvoir, she “seemed more sensitive than Sartre to . . . subtle interzones in human life. The Second Sex was almost entirely occupied with the complex territory where free choice, biology and social and cultural factors meet and mingle to create a human being who gradually becomes set in her ways as life goes on. Moreover, she had explored this territory more directly in a short treatise of 1947, The Ethics of Ambiguity” (page 228). To backtrack a little, “existentialism is always a philosophy of freedom in situation” (page 228).
We make our choices within given circumstances, and we also make them within historical time. If we lived in North Korea now or the American South in 1840, our options (even our imagined options) would be different. Much depends on our socio-economic position – including literacy and knowledge of alternate possibilities. In both cases, powerful obstacles would block many of our choices in life.  

Our physical condition will also help determine the limit of our options within a spectrum of finite possibilities. 
What is our gender identification, what is our age? 

Throw in revolution, war, famine and pestilence and all bets are off. 

Today's Rune: Movement. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sarah Bakewell: 'At the Existentialist Café' (2016): Part One

Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others (New York: Other Press, 2016) delivers a masterful blend of biographical details and ideas. Fantastic! This is already my favorite ever book on the Existentialists and their "fellow travelers" -- and I haven't even finished reading it yet.

You want just a little bit of Søren Kierkegaard or Friedrich Nietzsche to get you in the mood? Check out Chapter 1: "SIR, WHAT A HORROR, EXISTENTIALISM!"

Additional teasers: "The topic of philosophy is whatever you experience, as you experience it" (page 16). You think about things, don't ya? You do live beyond making pitter patter, right? 

Sarah Bakewell: "I think philosophy becomes more interesting when it is cast into the form of a life. Likewise, I think personal experience is more interesting when thought about philosophically" (page 32).

And how about that time when Jean-Paul Sartre wanted to experience the effects of mescaline in the 1930s?  "The results were dramatic. While [Aldous] Huxley's drug adventure would be mystical and ecstatic . . . Sartre's brain threw up a hellish crew of snakes, fish, vultures, toads, beetles, and crustaceans . . . For months, lobster-like beings followed him just out of his field of vision, and the facades of houses on the street stared at him with human eyes . . . (page 99).

Seriously, comrades, anyone seriously interested in these folks and their experiences and ideas would, or will, love this book. 


Today's Rune: Defense.    

Thursday, April 07, 2016

'The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale' by Leona Francombe (2015)

I finished reading a quietly poetic, subtly philosophical and imaginative novel of life and war, past and present told from the perspective of the Hougemont bunnies. Leona Francombe's The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) empathizes and sympathizes with her rabbits, yes, but she also muses about people and horses, birds and landscapes, architecture and moonlight. I found it refreshing and engaging.  

Besides her rabbit characters -- Old Lavender, William, Spode, Caillou, Boomerang, and others -- Francombe makes a compelling case for women writing about war. More, please.

"The 'glory' of war is often manufactured afterwards by male writers, after all, and not by the women, who are invariably left behind to pick up the pieces of their broken men, but who can read entire human stories in the torn sleeve or bloody hat in which men can only comprehend victory or defeat" (pages 197-198). 

In describing some of the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815), Francombe notes that 10,000 horses died. I wondered. Doing a little extra research, I came across this same figure, and another account that claims, given that wounded horses were almost invariably "put out of their misery," a total of 20,000 horses died as a result of the battle. (See here).
The Battle of Waterloo was so cataclysmic that no one seems to be able to figure out how many human beings perished as a result of it, let alone horses and bunnies. 

Paul O'Keeffe is helpful in setting the scale via Waterloo: The Aftermath (N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 2015), page 50:

". . . the actual fighting was confined to a front just two miles long. This meant that for little more than ten hours, some 200,000 men, 60,000 horses and 537 guns [artillery pieces] were in action on a piece of land measuring five square miles . . .

See also Bernard Cornwell's Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles (Harper, 2014), page 324:

"As night fell on 18 June [1815] there were probably around 12,000 [human] corpses on the battlefield and between thirty and forty thousand wounded men, all within three square miles. Many of the wounded were to die in subsequent days." 

Any way you dice it, Waterloo was brutal -- as Belgian bunnies know so well.

Today's Rune: Warrior. 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman: 'Derrida' (2002)

Deconstructing Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman's Derrida (2002). 

In this documentary, we can see layers of Jackie Élie "Jacques" Derrida (1930-2004) over time - sometimes he looks refreshed and relaxed, at other times pensive and taciturn.

Overall, Derrida thinks through words and ideas carefully. 

At times in certain frames he looks like Norman Mailer, then Richard Burton, then Ralph Nader, then Peter Falk -- like a human kaleidoscope.
Derrida was born in Algeria. He was of Sephardic lineage with Jewish-Spanish origins dating back to before the 1492 and later expulsions of Jews and Muslims from Spain. As a boy, Derrida was expelled along with other Jewish students and teachers from "normal" Algerian schools, but he survived the Second World War. This background shaped his outlook as a philosopher. Increasingly, he became attuned to the power of words in discourse and their link to social action. 

In this desultory, entertaining documentary, Derrida speaks about biography, autobiography, history, texts, recording devices, archives, memory, reconstruction, deconstruction, mirrors.

He speaks of the "eye" of the spectator and audience: "between fiction and reality, a phantom eye." (Eg., Facebook)

Seeing his own portrait at one point, he quips: "It's uncanny. It's bizarre." (Iggy Pop expresses similar thoughts in "Success:" upon seeing someone wearing a t-shirt with his face on it approaching him, Iggy sings: "Here comes my face . . . It's plain bizarre . . .")

Derrida speaks of historical dots: "These are facts. Raw facts."

The Story of One's Life: facts vs. autobiography or a biography "in the mode of a story . . . I don't write a narrative. . . I'd love to tell stories, but I don't know how to tell them . . ."

Jackie and Marguerite Aucouturier Derrida, his spouse of many years, decline to say much about their relationship beyond the "raw facts." 

Upon being asked to speak of certain things, he replies, "You need to pose a question."

Of love: "Fidelity is threatened between the who and the what." Initially, one may be seduced by certain of a person's qualities, and later become disillusioned (or as a former brother-in-law once put it: "Love is blind; Marriage is an eye-opener). Or, one loves the "singularity" of another person beyond their most charming traits. 

During a visit to South Africa, after seeing Nelson Mandela's small jail cell when he'd been confined for eighteen years of his life, Derrida speaks of different types of forgiveness and reconciliation.

He delivers general observations and advice: "I am blind to myself . . . It's for others to see. To speak is not to see."

And to the intellectually lazy: "Do your homework and read."
On his archives: "urns in a graveyard . . . An archive is . . . a question for the future."

Of other philosohers: "I'd love to hear something about what they refuse to talk about."

On editing this film, to the directors: "Editing will be your signature, your autobiography."

Fun stuff for a Sagittarian. This post is in honor of Jeron Jackson, RIP. 

Today's Rune: The Self.