Saturday, January 31, 2009

Notable Notes Unnotably Annotated

* An interesting article (with comments) on the mystery of the Piraha: Daniel Everett, Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Piraha (PDF)

* A discussion about how to make higher education more inclusive, at "Feminist Philosophers".

* Keith Thomas discusses the ideas of luxury and taste, and their relation to capitalism, in the early modern period. (ht)

* Eartha Kitt sings in Turkish. As usual, she shows her sense of humor. I hadn't realized she died just this last Christmas. We just don't have any singers today who have the mix of sultriness, intelligence, and humor that Eartha had. (ht)

* By just about every measure, the CPSIA appears to be a very bad law; it's not lucid (although that's hardly to be expected), it is excessively sweeping in its provisions, and it will put a great many people out of a job in a way that won't clearly contribute to the law's aim (protecting children from hazardous materials), etc. At the very least it should have established a list of presumed-safe materials that wouldn't require testing unless sold in greater than some standard amount; requiring just about everything to be tested is going to push out crafters and small manufacturers. And you can tell just how bad it is by the fact that the strongest argument I've found in favor -- the one in the article linked above -- is that these small craftspersons and manufacturers are too small to be a priority for enforcement. If your best defense of a law is that it's easy to get away with breaking it if you do it in small ways, that's a sign of something. Peculiar notes that it's probably a good idea for U.S. Citizens to contact your elected officials.

* Apparently the Doukhobors are the religious group that have commited the most acts of religious terrorism in Canada. I imagine that was not what Tolstoy had in mind when he helped pay for their migration from Russia with the proceeds from Resurrection (which, of course, is a pacifist work).

* The Mor Gabriel monastery, founded in 397 and usually considered to be the oldest functioning Christian monastery in the world, is being harrassed by lawsuits, and may end up being shut down. One of the charges, that the monastery is on the site of a former mosque, would be funny if it weren't so serious a matter. It's a beautiful monastery, too (some interior photographs as well). (ht)

* St. Jerome on interpreting Scripture

* I've seen a number of sources talk about the recent lifting of excommunications on SSPX bishops as 'receiving them back into the Church'. It's easy enough to see what is meant, but lifting excommunications is not 'receiving people back into the Church.' In the strict sense, they were never outside the Church -- the very fact that there were excommunications and they could be lifted is proof of it. Excommunications don't undo baptism, they don't throw you out of the Church; only Christ can do that. Excommunications are penalties in which participation in communion (and a few things connected with it) is restricted. And, on the other side, the looser sense is too loose. If you are excommunicated, and the excommunications then lifted, that doesn't mean that all has been made right; it just means that it is judged no longer to be an appropriate measure for handling you. This sloppy way of treating excommunication is one of my pet peeves, probably right after cases when being raised to the cardinalate is referred to as being promoted (it is a way of being honored, and it can increase your responsibilities, but 'cardinal' is not a level above 'bishop') and, worst of all, when Roman Catholics talk about privileges of the Pope as if they were their own privileges (merely because the Bishop of Rome is first among bishops doesn't mean that Roman Catholics are first among Catholics).

As to the whole problem with the Holocaust-denier among the four, I honestly am surprised people are surprised; the Vatican is notoriously good at doing good things clumsily. There are reams of jokes among Catholics about it. (For example: "Interacting with the Vatican is like dancing with the most beautiful girl in the world and finding she has two left feet." "The Holy See is doubly infallible: infallibly right in faith and morals and infallibly wrong in tact and timing." "God gave the Church the Roman Curia for the purpose of working miracles: only by miracle could anything survive it." "Millers grind grain, bishops grind teeth.") But the straightforward fact is that stupidity is not a sufficient reason for excommunication, and therefore is not a sufficient reason for keeping excommunication in place.

The Nursery School Guide to Politics, Part IV

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a bird:
How absurd to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cat:
Imagine that, to swallow a cat!
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a dog:
What a hog to swallow a dog!
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a goat:
Just opened her throat to swallow a goat!
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a cow:
I don't know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
I guess she'll die.

There was an old woman who swallowed a horse:
She's dead, of course!

MORAL: The first question to ask of any government solution to a problem, such as a bailout, is this: "What will it make worse?" And it just might make sense to ask why you swallowed the fly at some point before you start swallowing the horse.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Guardian Science Fiction List

The Guardian is putting together a list of '1000 novels everyone must read'. This is their science fiction and fantasy list. It's a bizarre list, more odd choices than you would expect even for a list like this, but a lot of classics that don't make it here end up on some of the other supplementary lists. Susanna Clarke, for instance, has very good taste. (Michael Moorcock, unsurprisingly, has very mediocre taste. Anyone who thinks that The Handmaid's Tale is a particularly good example of a dystopia has low standards for both dystopian and feminist fiction genres. You could pick just about any other feminist dystopia at random and find one better on both accounts. If you want a truly chilling feminist dystopia, read Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night. It does suffer from the unexpected twists of history -- it occasionally reads slightly oddly because Burdekin, of course, did not know all that we know about Nazis, having published the book in 1937, and because the feminism is not exactly what you'd expect, being one kind of feminism in the 1930s, one much more focused on consolidation than activism or critique.) Two obvious names that should be more prominent: Jules Verne and Emilio Salgari.

1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000) -- Honestly, what I've read of Atwood virtually guarantees that I'll never read her ever again. She's just a bad storyteller, and it mystifies me that people like her.
5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
11. Greg Bear: Darwin's Radio (1999)
12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979) --This one I haven't read; some of her others are good (e.g., Patternmaster)
22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872) -- Keep meaning to get around to it
23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
25. Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)
30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) Must Read!
31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004) More rambling than it should have been, but all in all good; much better than most of the junk that gets served up as fantasy these days.
32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
39. Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988) -- Worth reading, but The Name of the Rose is better.
40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984) -- I think I started but never finished it (for reasons that had nothing to do with the book)
45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915) -- I'm very glad someone was bright enough to put this on the list; it's actually fairly good, and is one of the great science fiction classics.
46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)
49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) -- Not my favorite Heinlein work, by a long shot; just about any other work you can name is better.
50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)
51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932) -- I read this in high school, and still vividly remember scenes from it
56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961) -- This is one of those strange cases where the movies are much better than the book, and probably inevitably so. Tarkovsky's version in particular takes a bland and unoriginal plot and makes it shine. It's a slow, complex movie, but is one of the great masterpieces of science fiction cinema. So (and I rarely say this) don't bother with the book; just watch the movie -- Tarkovsky is better than Soderbergh.
68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002) -- Miéville is good, but The Scar is easily his worst book. If you don't mind sordid and grotesque (and a world in which those are really the only two shades of evil that are recognized), Perdido Street Station is good, as is Iron Council.
79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) Must Read!
81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)
88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
90. Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman (1967) -- This book takes a certain taste, but I have absolutely loved it from the very first time I ever read it. Highly recommended.
91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943) -- A lovely book everyone should read and take to heart.
104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818) Must Read!
107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989) -- It has some good points, but is bloated and overrated. He gets points for ambition, though.
108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937) Quite striking. This is a surprisingly beautiful book, which takes the whole of history in its sweep.
109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889)
114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83) -- I keep trying to get into Gene Wolfe, since everyone seems to like him; but so far, he hasn't kept my interest.
122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Poem Re-Draft and Three New Poem Drafts

"Meeting" is based on a poem by Sappho, usually called "Ode to a Loved One". Catullus has a poem, much better than mine, based on the same.

When You Are Old

When you are old, and your flowing hair
glows silver in the twilight,
and in the evening you prepare to sleep
unto darker sleep and night,
hold close this fragment to your heart,
recite the words aloud;
remember one who saw your face
rise sun-like from the crowd;
and know that as this little world
turns to mist and falls away
that nonetheless your shining path
grows brighter towards the day.

When you are old, and your gentle eye
turns shy and hides from light,
recall again these faded words
from old days of force and fight.
Call to mind how once my eye
saw more in you than clay --
that gem still glows with truth's own fire
though dust has washed away;
and when its light no more to sight
is brought, through tiredness and care,
from darkness rescue then these words:
light always will be there.

When you are old, and your arm is weak,
and you sadly face the grave,
this poem and these words I write
from oblivion still save;
they are words of flawless omen, heavy laid
with the burden of the Lord,
and will not fade when the bright bowl breaks,
at the snapping of silver cord:
You were a marvel, a wonder once,
and a wonder still you'll be,
though fire consume the works of man
and the stars drown in the sea!

Treasures and Dragons

No treasures are lacking dragons,
no roads devoid of sphinx;
dark riddles shroud gates of cities,
dark sirens still lure and sing:

O men! Such foolish folly,
crying "Peace!" where there is none!
Making war against the dragons
is the way the prize is won.

Iliad V, 770ff

As far as man can see,
eyes to hazy distance,
seated on mountain peak
looking over wine-dark sea,
so far is the lordly leap
of loudly-neighing god-steeds.


I gazed on you one moment:

my voice fled its master,
my tongue ceased, ashamed,
my eyes lost their vision,
my ears filled with roar;

soft flame coursed over me:

my limbs were all in tremble,
my color pale aurora-fire,
strength fled from every part,
I stood and began to die.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hui Shi on Analogy

Someone said to the King of Liang, 'Hui Tzu is very good at using analogies when putting forth his views. If your Majesty could stop him from using analogies he will be at a loss what to say.'

The King said, 'Very well. I will do that.'

The following day when he received Hui Tzu the King said to him, 'If you have anything to say, I wish you would say it plainly and not resort to analogies.'

Hui Tzu said, 'Suppose there is a man who does not know what a tan is, an dyou say to him, "A tan is like a tan," would he understand?

The King said, 'No.'

'Then were you to say to him, "A tan is like a bow, but has a strip of bamboo in place of the string," would he understand?'

The King said, 'Yes. He would.'

Hui Tzu said, 'A man who explains necessarily makes intelligible that which is not known by comparing it with what is known. Now your Majesty says, "Do not use analogies." This would make the task impossible.'

The King said, 'Well said.'

[Quoted in Mencius, D. C. Lau, tr., Penguin (New York: 1970) 262-263 (Appendix 5).]

Huizi was one of the major figures in the School of Names; none of his writings are extant, but he was famous enough for his use of paradoxes and cleverness with argument that stories about him appear scattered throughout Chinese philosophical literature. This one is from Liu Xiang's Shuo yüan, a collection of anecdotes and sayings.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Misak as Provost

Cheryl Misak has been appointed Provost of the University of Toronto. This is a very good choice; Cheryl is one of those rare academics who manages to well on both the administrative and scholarly sides of modern academia, and she has a good practical knack for putting things in working order.

She has done some excellent work on pragmatism; her work on the relation between Peircean pragmatism and deliberative democracy is especially interesting. Thanks to Edinburgh University Press and Episteme, you can read some of her work in that area.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Better Art o' Hidin

Rebecca put up "Holy Willie's Prayer" in celebration of Burns's birthday yesterday. Here's one of my favorites, which is another one of his scathing critiques of Presbyterianism as he saw it.

Address to the Unco Guid, Or the Rigidly Righteous

My Son, these maxims make a rule,
An' lump them aye thegither;
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
The Rigid Wise anither:
The cleanest corn that ere was dight
May hae some pyles o' caff in;
So ne'er a fellow-creature slight
For random fits o' daffin.
Solomon.-Eccles. ch. vii. verse 16.

O ye wha are sae guid yoursel',
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neibours' fauts and folly!
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,
Supplied wi' store o' water;
The heaped happer's ebbing still,
An' still the clap plays clatter.

Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals
That frequent pass douce Wisdom's door
For glaikit Folly's portals:
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
Would here propone defences-
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.

Ye see your state wi' theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment's fair regard,
What maks the mighty differ;
Discount what scant occasion gave,
That purity ye pride in;
And (what's aft mair than a' the lave),
Your better art o' hidin.

Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop!
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop!
Wi' wind and tide fair i' your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way;
But in the teeth o' baith to sail,
It maks a unco lee-way.

See Social Life and Glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrified, they're grown
Debauchery and Drinking:
O would they stay to calculate
Th' eternal consequences;
Or your more dreaded hell to state,
Damnation of expenses!

Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor Frailty names,
Suppose a change o' cases;
A dear-lov'd lad, convenience snug,
A treach'rous inclination-
But let me whisper i' your lug,
Ye're aiblins nae temptation.

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark, -
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Research into the Nazi Intellectual Milieu

Graham Harman of "Object-Oriented Philosophy" has an interesting response to my musings in the previous post, which is worth reading, and makes a fair enough point. I want to consider it not so much with regard to Heidegger but, using Heidegger as an example, to say something about my view of how a large region of history of philosophy specializing in the twentieth century is likely to turn out. In it he argues:

The reason Heidegger is in permanent political trouble is because of the Rectorate and its many “Sieg Heil!” speeches. He’s not in hot water because of “the fact that [he] seems from the beginning to share themes and, occasionally, language with Nazi intellectuals.”

I can see the point, but I think this underestimates the extent of the 'hot water' in which Heidegger is found. There are two sense in whihc you could say that Heidegger is in trouble "because of the Rectorate":

(1) That it is only the Rectorate (and his later handling of his relation to the Rectorate) that provides material for those critical of Heidegger on this point;

(2) That the Rectorate accelerated the development of the controversy with regard to Heidegger because (a) it removed a great deal of ambiguity by establishing a clear link not just Nazism generally but to Hitler's Nazism directly; and (b) having established a clear link, it has forcefully raised the question of how extensive the links are due to the implausibility of the Rectorate Nazism simply springing out of nowhere.

When understood in the sense of (2) I think the claim that Heidegger is in trouble because of the Rectorate is quite right; I think there are reasons to think that it is false if understood in the sense of (1), not least because of expanding research into pre-Rectorate links to Nazi and Nazi-associated intellectual movements which have (very slowly) started to play a larger and larger role in the controversy. Without the Rectorate such links on their own could never be regarded as unambiguous: the controversy would be less heated, due to judgment calls about degrees of similarity and extent of influences. But sooner or later, for any German intellectual in this period, the question will be raised as to where their position is located relative to various Nazi and Nazi-related streams of thought, and where questions are raised research will be done, arguments framed, and controversies developed. Such research is necessarily slow; it requires extensive examination of these Nazi strands of thought, and, as anyone knows who has had to dip into it in order to inquire into some point or other, this is not something just anyone can do, since it requires a certain sort of stomach and capacity to endure. Even with the Rectorate establishing that Heidegger was at one point not just intellectually associated with Nazi thoughts but was a Nazi it has only developed very slowly. It is even possible that the question would not yet have been raised in that alternative reality in which Heidegger died in 1930. But pressure of research would itself guarantee that it had been raised, and mere ambiguity of evidence is enough for controversy.

So I do agree entirely that without the Rectorate what we'd have would be "a far cry from the current, permanent, grinding Heidegger political scandal", which has been massively intensified by the fact that Heidegger was, in fact, a Nazi explicitly advocating Hitlerist principles, by everyone's admission, and, as I noted before, I think the argument at "Object-Oriented Philosophy" is entirely right to this extent. But this only mitigates a problem that comes up for any German intellectual in the 1920s and 30s who was not unequivocally in some sort of opposition to the lines of thought we find in Nazi intellectual movement. There is something of a cloud, for instance, over völkisch thinkers who seem to have had nothing to do with National Socialism, and who, as far as can be determined, did nothing worse than inherit (as Nazi thinkers themselves did) a particular set of late Romantic problems and concepts. That's how hot this water is, how extensive the cloud: even mere intellectual proximity raises questions and controversies. It may well be that the question of Heidegger's politics might no longer be "How Nazi is Heidegger?" but simply, "How Nazi-like is Heidegger?" But the latter question is an serious enough to cause problems. The controversy of Heidegger's politics even now is, after all, not one of guilt; there's no real dispute over whether Heidegger was a Nazi, or supported Hitler, or associated both of those things with his philosophical work, since all three are explicit facts and suffice for any and all question of guilt. But guilt doesn't really tell us much of anything on its own; the grinding controversy is not about guilt but vitiation, how much of Heidegger is vitiated by the link. But questions of vitiation automatically arise for any German intellectual in the period who wasn't obviously in some kind of opposition; being a German intellectual in the period whose claims have thematic and occasional verbal similarities to those of Nazi intellectuals will raise them more insistently, however much ambiguity there might be to suggest charitable readings. And, again, there are strands of thought -- for instance, pre-Nazi intellectual movements that are probably not even actual ancestors to Nazi intellectual movements -- where some controversy has been raised over this question of how much they are vitiated by similarity of problems and themes.

So, again, I don't think there's any way of avoiding such a controversy in Heidegger's case (as there would be if we had reasonably clear evidence that Heidegger opposed the Nazis); it might be delayed, it might be weakened, but such controversies are automatic if there is nothing to prevent them -- and in Heidegger's case there is nothing to prevent them, and, indeed, as noted in the posts at "Object-Oriented Philosophy," some weak but definite testimonies that would tend to encourage them.

But (to put the point in terms more obviously related to the topic of 20th-c. HoP, which is my primary topic here) I freely admit that part of my insistence on this is due to the fact that I think academics have slowly been building, whether they have noticed or not, toward a rather massive inquiry into the Nazi intellectual milieu in all its ramified parts, one that has been pretty much inevitable given the seriousness of Nazism, and I don't think there are many German intellectuals of the time who will be spared severe scrutiny down to the niggling details. Arguments have already been raised across a very wide and very diverse array of intellectuals, some significant preliminary skirmishes have taken place with more obvious cases, and they are only likely to increase. The dispute over Heidegger, in other words, is not an isolated event, to be explained solely with reference to Heidegger's explicit convictions at some point of his life; it is merely a prominent part of a massive front of controversy and debate, one in which death in 1930 might have made him less prominent, but one which certainly would still have overtaken him sooner or later. And I think that it's pretty much inevitable that association with Nazism, whether by influence, or by support, or by similarity, will end up being a long-running set of questions and problems for the history of the philosophy of this period; indeed, a set that will eventually be raised for everyone not in sharp opposition; and, for all we can tell at the moment, the questions may well be raised for as long as people doing history of philosophy spend any time on the twentieth century.

Notes and Links

* Can you name the 100 most used words in the English language, in only twelve minutes? I got 74, although I completely lucked out on at least five or six of them; #87, which I missed, surprised me most, but it makes sense because it gets a lot of use as a verb. There were also a few words whose absence surprised me. Don't just do the quiz, though; take a moment to think of just how much you can manage to say with just these 100 words. (ht)

* Ummyasmin at "Dervish" recently had a post on ilm al-tasawwuf. I took a course on Islamic philosophy in graduate school with a fellow student who was doing her work on al-'Arabi; he's a fascinating, if sometimes difficult, thinker.

* A post at "Praeter Necessitatum" discusses pseudonymous authorship and the Internet.

* I had meant to mention it before, but Tom has been doing some interesting things at "Blogicum" on boundary mathematics, sets, and his notation:

Boundary mathematics and algebra of sets
Compendium of Peirce's Existential Graphs
Bricken's boundary logic
Peirce and Bricken accommodated
Implicative context introduced
First act of intellect

Very interesting, as I said. Tom can run circles around me on matters of logic, so it's taking me a while to work through some of the ideas here.

* A discussion of the early Great Books movement. Both Beam and the reviewer overlook, I think, the fact that a movement can still have influence in hybrid forms, and while there may not be many Great Books colleges, there are a lot of smaller liberal arts college that have hybridized some aspects of the Great Books movement with more ordinary features of college education. The movement more or less dissolved, but dissolving is not the same as simply evaporating.

* Lindsay Beyerstein has been hired by Washington Independent; many congratulations to her, and to the Washington Independent for hiring her.

* An interesting sort of venture at "Object Oriented Philosophy": What if Heidegger had died at 40? (ht). It's often interesting to ask similar sorts of counterfactual questions in order to speculate how things might have been different. I'm not so sure the Heidegger's politics issue is so easily cut out, however; it's based not merely on the rectorate period but also on the fact that Heidegger seems from the beginning to share themes and, occasionally, language with Nazi intellectuals; and, indeed, Heidegger's Nazism even from the rectorate period is often more in line with pre-Hitler Nazism than with Hitlerism itself, and his growing dissatisfaction with the Nazi party was arguably due to his inability to find the way to fuse the two. He makes an interesting comparison and contrast in that regard with another, less original, philosopher of this type, Kurt Huber. Huber is often regarded as a hero because of his participation in the White Rose Society, which was an anti-Nazi resistance movement; but Huber's own views were Nazi, just of a kind that opposed the views that flourished under Hitler: a kind that in its own way was just as anti-semitic, for instance, but more Volk and land and Geist than Führer and blood and Reich. (The National Socialist movement had a number of strands like these, all clearly Nazi, with the basic nasty physiognomy, but not all the same, and not at all inclined to agree on practical matters; Hitler didn't invent National Socialism, but pushed one version of it, his own, into power. There was much in-fighting, and many of the early Nazi intellectuals were pushed out, or given the cold shoulder, or went into active rebellion, when conflict rose between their views and those of Hitler and those closely connected to him. Huber was one of those; Heidegger was another; Dinter was another; one might also include the Strassers. Even Schmitt ran into problems. Outside of Germany itself matters were even more diverse.) Eventually some graduate student or other would push into this territory, and word would spread, and we would be back into it again, although perhaps not as acutely. But I think the author is right inasmuch as the case of Heidegger's politics would be more like the case of Huber's politics than like it actually turned out to be.

* An interesting argument on quasi-sacramental aspects of Islam.

* Kenny discusses Kant on Copyright.

* James discusses politics as an art vs politics as political prudence.

* The Pope has lifted the excommunications for the original SSPX bishops. This is a significant move, but less significant than it might appear. Father Zuhlsdorf clarifies.

* The Vatican YouTube channel.

The Nursery School Guide to Politics, Part III

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain,
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.

MORAL: In politics, what seems like a small problem is always a deep problem.