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Showing posts from November, 2013

Russell: Religion and Personal Experience

'[Bertrand Russell's] autobiography occasionally reveals a more complex and ambivalent relationship to religion. In particular, he relates an episode in 1901 when he witnessed the wife of his Cambridge colleague Alfred Whitehead suffer intense pain due to heart problems, causing Russell to have what can only be described as a spiritual insight. "The ground seemed to give way beneath me and I found myself in quite another region," he writes. "Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to t…

Silliness

In a culture of sombre oppression, silliness assumes a radical significance.

The Page

"... what happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page."
James Fenton, The Paris Review Interview

Power Relations - I

Power Relations - I: Advice of an old-school psychiatrist to a young trainee on managing a domineering drug-seeker as Foucault frowns from heaven
Awais Aftab

till he knows who is in charge."
restrain and medicate,
restrain and medicate,
A hint of any more trouble:
Give him a taste of humiliation
You have to take control

How obnoxious is he!
Manipulating other patients into giving him their meds
Shouting at nurses and doctors
The benzos and the opiates
And make us prescribe what he wants
"He thinks he can raise a storm

pastime

pastime
Awais Aftab

shredding lines;
waiting for poetry
to happen

The Absurd, The Revolt, and Love

"By the mid-1940s Camus had begun to speak about his books as being organized according to different "stages" (├ętages) or "cycles" (cycles). The first draft of that organization appears in his notebooks in 1946, just shortly after the publication of The Plague. Camus continued to refine and nuance its formulation well into the fifties. The last version we have occurs in Carnets III and was written in 1955. The version to which most commentators refer when discussing this aspect of Camus' work is usually a synthesis of two separate versions. The 1950 version found in Notebooks, 1942-1951 uses a familiar triptych of Greek myths as its organizing principle. "I. The Myth of Sisyphus (absurd) — II. The Myth of Prometheus (revolt) — III. The Myth of Nemesis. 1951." The final 1955 version does not change this one substantially. Rather it completes it by supplying the governing theme missing from the Nemesis cycle—love..."
Ronald Srigley, Albert Cam…

Camus beyond the Absurd

"In one of his most revealing essays, ‘The Enigma’ (1950), Camus expressed his annoyance at being constantly associated with the philosophy of the absurd. He had only explored a topic much in the air. His analysis of absurdity was always meant to be a starting point, nothing more. It is neither possible nor consistent, he asserted, to “limit oneself to the idea that nothing has meaning and we must despair of everything… As soon as we say that all is nonsense we express something that has sense.” Denying that the world has meaning involves “suppressing all value judgments.” However, living is in itself “a value judgment.”
This essay spoke directly to the contrasting strains in Camus’ thought: the cold materialism of contemporary philosophy, and the warm joy of lived experience. The road beyond absurdity lay close at hand. It had nothing to do with embracing transcendence or abstract absolutes, it was rather a confidence in directly savored experience. He described this path as an…

Pseudo-intellectual as a necessary stage

"Reading through the odds and ends that have been published since [Susan Sontag's] death almost 10 years ago—the two volumes of her journals, in particular—you get the sense of a person who was always working toward an ideal version of herself. The ideal changed in its particulars over time, but the ideal of change remained constant. She’s often a reassuringly pretentious figure in the early diaries, which are themselves a useful reminder that being a pseudo-intellectual is a necessary stage on the way to being a nonpseudo-intellectual, and that the two classifications aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Being an intellectual is often, after all, a matter of getting away with trying to be seen as one."
Mark O'Connell, The Intellectual, review of Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cott.

Moral Psychology and Philosophy

Thomas Nagel reviews Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene, on what moral psychology has to offer to moral philosophy.

Religion through History

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #10: The Law of Religion
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
For Dr Harari, a belief system has to fulfil two criteria for it to be called a religion:
1) Religion must believe in a superhuman (not necessarily supernatural) order 2) Religion establishes norms and values which are derived from the superhuman order
Some religions have argued for a universal order, a set of norms and values which everybody everywhere must follow, but not all religions have made this claim. Universal and missionary religions, in this sense, appeared in the first millennium BC. (It is the third force that contribut…

The Imperial Legacy

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #9: Imperial Visions
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
In last lecture it was discussed that three orders contributed to the historical trend towards global unification: 1) Economic order, 2) Political (Imperial) order, and 3) Religious order. This lecture is about the political order.
Dr Harari defines empires as having two primary characteristics:
1) Cultural diversity: Empires rule over a number of different groups of people with different cultural identities. 2) Flexible borders and an appetite for potentially unlimited growth and expansion.
Crucially, empires are not defined by the sy…

Much Ado About Nothing

Image
Screenshot from Joss Whedon's 2012 adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

Flaws

Often we are too eager to accept our flaws as permanent character traits because it absolves us of the responsibility to change.