This week, it was my great privilege to visit the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California. The beautiful Muir family home was restored from dereliction by the National Park Service, and pays tribute to the father of modern environmental conservation.
“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to.”
— Toni Morrison, Tar Baby
Delighted to see that my review of Cynthia Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard is included among the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Year in Review: The Best Books of 2018.
“In 1983, the publisher Einaudi asked [Primo] Levi to translate Kafka’s The Trial. Infinite interpretations of The Trial have been offered; some underline the novel’s prophetic political character (modern bureaucracy as absolute evil) or its theological dimension (the court as the unknown God) or its biographical meaning (condemnation as the illness from which Kafka believed himself to suffer). It has been rarely noted that this book, in which law appears solely in the form of trial, contains a profound insight into the nature of law, which, contrary to common belief, is not so much rule as it is judgment and, therefore, trial. But if the essence of the law – of every law – is the trial, if all right (and morality that is contaminated by it) is only tribunal right, then execution and transgression, innocence and guilt, obedience and disobedience all become indistinct and lose their importance. “The court wants nothing from you. It welcomes you when you come; it releases you when you go.” The ultimate end of the juridical regulation is to produce judgment; but judgment aims neither to punish not to extol, nether to establish justice nor to prove the truth. Judgment is in itself the end and this, it has been said, constitutes its mystery, the mystery of the trial.”
— Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive.
A new documentary on the fantasy and science fiction author Usula K. Le Guin explores the evolution of her writing and the ideas that shape and define her work. Source: Bust.
The editors of The New York Times Book Review choose the best fiction and nonfiction titles this year.
In With A Side of Knowledge, a podcast from the University of Notre Dame, Marilynne Robinson talks to Ted Fox about her novel Gilead, and shares her thoughts on faith, meaning, and the writing process.
“Jacques Derrida is widely regarded as the most important French philosopher of the late twentieth century. Yet when his name was put forward for an honorary degree at Cambridge University in 1992, a significant portion of the Anglo-American philosophical establishment was outraged. Eighteen philosophers from nine countries signed a letter to The Times opposing the award on the grounds that Derrida’s work consisted of “tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists or of the concrete poets” and amounted to ‘little more than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship’. Understanding Derrida’s legacy, then, must also involve understanding why he should have been the target of such vitriol.”
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
— Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
I really do think with my pen, for my head often knows nothing of what my hand is writing. MS 112 114:27.10.1931
Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened & will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For ‘recognition of sin’ is an actual occurrence & so is despair & so is redemption through faith. Those who speak of it (like Bunyan), are simply describing what has happened to them; whatever gloss someone may want to put on it! MS 118 56r c: 4.9.1937
If I am thinking just for myself without wanting to write a book, I jump all around the topic; that is the only way of thinking that is natural to me. Forcing my thoughts into an ordered sequence is a torment for me. Should I even attempt it now??
I squander untold effort making an arrangement of my thoughts that may have no value whatsoever. MS 118 94v c: 15.9.1937
One cannot speak the truth; – if one has not yet conquered oneself. One cannot speak it – but not, because one is still not clever enough.
The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it; not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, & does not more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness. MS 162b 37r c: 1939-1940
Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when hiking through snow. You doze off & die in your sleep. MS 162b 42v c: 1939-1940
Thoughts at peace. That is the goal someone who philosophizes longs for. MS 127 41v: 4.3.1944
Words are deeds. MS 179 27: ca. 1945
If people did not sometimes commit stupidities, nothing intelligent at all would ever happen. MS 131 219: 8.9.1946
“The pragmatist philosopher William James had a crisp and consistent response when asked if life was worth living: maybe”
“Wittgenstein’s grave is not easy to find. It is a flat stone bearing the words Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889 – 1951 in a sans serif modern font. It has the same stark simplicity as the Modernist house he designed for his sister in Vienna in the 1920s. The grave was recently restored: there is an interesting article with many photographs and details about the grave on the British Wittgenstein Society website. Ray Monk, the interviewee for this episode of Philosophy Sites, is the author of a justly celebrated biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.”
“Freud surrounded himself with visual sources of inspiration that made their way into his manuscript pages, confining the thousands of objects he stockpiled to the consultation room and study that constituted his workspace. The rest of his home was conventionally bourgeois, decorated with family photographs and fin-de-siecle furnishings. The Wolf Man later recalled that Freud’s study didn’t have the look of ‘a doctor’s office but rather of an archaeologist’s study.'”
“English Heritage this week asked for suggestions to increase the number of women honoured by its blue plaques. The current proportion is 14%, though a sizeable band of female writers will soon be eligible: Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Jane Howard, PD James, Sarah Kane, Doris Lessing, Ruth Rendell and Muriel Spark.”
The Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading has announced that the next Beckett Research Seminar will take place on Saturday, 24 November 2018.
Tickets can be purchased on the door on the morning of the seminar, but they need to know numbers for catering so please email Mark Nixon at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday 15 November if you wish to attend. As such please notify the organiser if you have any dietary requirements.
The event will include talks by Julie Bates (Trinity College Dublin), Pim Verhulst (University of Antwerp), Lucy Jeffery, and Shane Weller (University of Kent). You can find out more about the event on the The Samuel Beckett Society website.