Oct 11 2017

The Life of Books in 18th Century Autobiography

porticos in Bologna, Italia

The Life of Books in 18th Century Autobiography

From the Autobiography (1795) of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794):

It is whimsical enough, that as soon as I left Magdalen College my taste for books began to revive; but it was the same blind and boyish taste for the pursuit of exotic history. Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved—to write a book.

From the Autobiography (1731?) of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744):

In a conversation which he had with Vico in a bookstore on the history of collections of canons, he asked him if he were married. And when Vico answered that he was not, he inquired if he wanted to become a Theatine. On Vico’s replying that he was not of noble birth, the father answered that that need be no obstacle, for he would obtain a dispensation from Rome. Then Vico, seeing himself obliged by the great honor the father paid him, came out with it that his parents were old and poor and he was their only hope. When the father pointed out that men of letters were rather a burden than a help to their families, Vico replied that perhaps it would not be so in his case. Then the father closed the conversation by saying: “That is not your vocation.”

The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico, translated by Max Harold Fisch & Thomas Goddard Bergin, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1944) 134-35.


Oct 9 2017

Spending Sundays with Susan Sontag

porticos in Bologna, ItaliaSpending Sundays with Susan Sontag

Rebecca Chace’s “Regarding the Pain of Trump” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, September 30, 2017, has several nods and references to Susan Sontag.  And I was reading some Sontag these last two weeks: Where the Stress Falls (2001) and At the Same Time (2007), and came across this observation in the latter book:

The writer in me distrusts the god citizen, the “intellectual ambassador,” the human rights activist—those roles which are mentioned in the citation for this prize, much as I am committed to them. The writer is more skeptical, more self-doubting, than the person who tries to do (and to support the right thing).  –“Literature is Freedom”

Milkweed seeds #nature #Texas #wildflowers

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Oct 7 2017

A Pair of Thoughts on Empty Rooms

book spines

A Pair of Thoughts on Empty Rooms

empty room

Upton House (Joseph Lister/Wikicommons)

First from the Irish writer James Stephens (1880-1950):

At last the room was as bare as a desert and almost as uninhabitable. A room without furniture is a ghostly place. Sounds made therein are uncanny, even the voice puts off its humanity and rings back with a bleak and hollow note, an empty resonance tinged with the frost of-winter. There is no other sound so deadly, so barren and dispiriting as the echoes of an empty room. The gaunt woman in the bed seemed less gaunt than her residence, and there was nothing more to be sent to the pawnbroker or the secondhand dealer.

–The Charwoman’s Daughter, (London: Macmillan & Co., 1912) “Ch. XVI,” 100.

Next, 102 years later, from Wilfred M. McClay of the University of Oklahoma:

An ordinary but disquieting phenomenon: the translation of place into space—the transformation of a setting that had once been charged with human meaning into one from which the meaning has departed, something empty and inert, a mere space. We all have experienced this, some of us many times. Think of the strange emotion we feel when we are moving out of the place where we have been living, and we finish clearing all our belongings out of the apartment or the house or the dorm room—and we look back at it one last time, to see a space that used to be the center of our world, reduced to nothing but bare walls and bare floors. Even when there are a few remaining signs of our time there—fading walls pockmarked with nail holes, scuffs in the floor, spots on the carpet—they serve only to render the moment more poignant, since we know that these small injuries to the property will soon be painted over and tided up, so that in the fullness of time there will be no trace left of us in that spot.

–“Introduction: Why Place Matters.” Why Place Matters,

Edited by McClay and Ted V. McAllister, (New York, NY: New Atlantis Books, 2014) 4.


Sep 29 2017

Recently in Russia: four links

la casa

Recently in Russia: four links

I guess (readingwise) we’re going to Russia this weekend. Here are four interesting reads today:

 


Sep 26 2017

The Religious Diplomacy of Joseph P. Kennedy

Graves at Glasnevin Cemetery - Dublin, Ireland

The Religious Diplomacy of Joseph P. Kennedy

Religion is opinions and actions, determined and restricted with stipulations and prescribed for a community by their first ruler, who seeks to obtain through their practicing it a specific purpose with respect to them or by means of them.

––Al-Farabi (872–951 AD), The Book of Religion[1]

Al Smith’s presidential loss in 1928 and Jack Kennedy’s Houston speech in 1960 concerning religion and government have both been run through the ringer aplenty. There are shelfs and stacks of books that compare and contrast (and exhaust) those two events, and I’m honestly not very interested in reading more about them.

But after reading Robert Dalleck’s A Life Unfinished: John F. Kennedy, 19171963 (2001), I was struck that the most interesting character was Kennedy’s father Joseph Patrick Kennedy.

So soon enough I began reading David Nasaw’s The Patriarch: the Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (2012), and soon enough, I came upon these two quite remarkable passages:

Opposing or remaining neutral to Jack’s candidacy, as the church leaders now appeared to be doing, was, Kennedy believed, a betrayal not only of him, his son, and his family, but of the millions of American Catholics who stood to benefit from the election of one of their own to the presidency of the United States. For perhaps the first time in his life, certainly for the first time since the death of Joe Jr., Joseph P. Kennedy was forced to reconsider, to reevaluate, the ties that bound him to his church. “My relationship with the Church will never be the same,” he confessed to Galeazzi in an April 17 letter,” and certainly, never the same with the hierarchy. But that will not make any difference to them, I am sure, and I can assure you that it will not make any difference to me. For the last few years which I have left, I will indulge myself at least in continuing to believe that friends are friends when you need them. Please do not be upset yourself about my attitude. I would not want anything to annoy you.” [2]

And:

[Billy] Graham, on arriving at the Palm Beach house in mid-January, was greeted by the president-elect. “My father’s out by the pool. He wants to talk to you.” At poolside, the two shook hands, then Kennedy, Graham recalled in his autobiography, “came straight to the point: ‘Do you know why you’re here?’ ” Kennedy told the evangelist (and Nixon supporter) that he and Father Cavanaugh had been in Stuttgart, Germany, when Graham lectured through an interpreter to an audience of sixty thousand. “When we visited the pope three days later, we told him about it. He said he wished he had a dozen such evangelists in our church. When Jack was elected, I told him that one of the first things he should do was to get acquainted with you. I told him you could be a great asset to the country, helping heal the division over the religious problem in the campaign.’” [3]

So what’s happening to Joseph Patrick Kennedy (1888–1969) in these two instances? If we apply Al-farabi’s formulation to these two instances, the first thing to consider is what we interpret Al-farabi to mean by “first ruler.” A literal interpretation would mean George Washington, and one could elaborate and discuss Washington’s deism and any sense of “civil religion” stemming from that which might’ve later been prescribed to the country’s citizenry. A contextual interpretation would mean John Kennedy, and one could elaborate and discuss Jack’s Catholicism and any sense of “civil religion.”

In the first instance, Kennedy has lost tremendous faith in the administrators of American Catholicism following the election of his son to the presidency.

In the second, we see that, despite that loss of faith, Kennedy still wants what (he sees) as best for American Catholicism, and the best he could see for that Catholicism in 1960 was for it to attempt to reconcile, understand, and begin a dialogue with American Protestantism.

Nearly sixty years later, it is easy to say––particularly with the rise and fall of the Religious Right––that that reconciliation was never absolute. There seem to be more significant divisions within the American Protestantism of 2017 and within the American Catholicism of 2017 than the divisions between the two.

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[1] Alfarabi, The Political Writings, Translated by Charles E. Butterworth. (Cornell UP, Ithaca, NY), “Book of Religion” p. 93, § 1.

[2] Nasaw, David. The Patriarch: the Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, (New York, NY: Penguin, 2012) 724.

[3] Nasaw 757.


Sep 19 2017

Howdy from Saudi: Two Recent Pieces on the Kingdom

London - Georgian ApartmentsHowdy from Saudi: Two Recent Pieces on the Kingdom

One long:

The Saudi Trillions” by Malise Ruthven, London Review of Books, September 2017.

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One short:

Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable” by Jamal Khashoggi, Washington Post, September 18, 2017.

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Update:

Saudi Columnist in Exceptional Commentary on Saudi Regime’s Efforts to Silence ‘September 15 Movement’: It’s a Mistake to Restrict Citizens’ Freedom of Thought” by editors of MEMRI [Middle East Media Research Institute], September 19, 2017.


Sep 11 2017

Things Read Over the Weekend: Vikings, Dickens, Russia

pencil shavings

Things Read Over the Weekend

Famous Viking warrior burial revealed to be that of a woman,” by Jamie Seidel, News.com.au, September 10, 2107.

***

How guest Hans Christian Andersen destroyed his friendship with Dickens,” by Vanessa Thorpe, The Guardian, September 9, 2017.

***

Girls and Men: On Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘The Unwomanly Face of War‘,” by Oksana Maksymchuk, Max Rosochinsky, Los Angeles Review of Books, September 8, 2017.

***

Traveler Restaurant: this small-town Connecticut restaurant gives each diner a free book from its vast library,” Atlasobscura.com.


Aug 14 2017

The Limits of Limiting Ourselves

pencil shavingsThe Limits of Limiting Ourselves

No, I can’t hope to embrace the whole world in my verses,
no not though I had a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths,
and a voice made of iron. Be with me, sail down the coastline––
land lies in sight. Nor shall I hold you back with improptu
songs, untoward wandering, and windy introductions.

–Virgil, Georgics II, 41­-46. Translated by Janet Lembke. New Haven, CT: Yale UP. 2005.

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Suffice it now to say that [G.E.] Moore attacked the fog that secondhand Hegelians had spread over the British universities. A therapeutic effort was unquestionably called for; but the cure of a disease should not be taken for a panacea, let alone salvation. The limits of its [analytic philosophy’s] applicability should be recognized.

–Walter Kaufmann. Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP. 1958. p. 26.

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Economy and constraint are companion concepts, for the more highly constrained a system of multiple elements, the more economically it may be described and understood.

–Philip Converse, “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics” (Originally published in David E. Apter, ed. Ideology and Its Discontents. NY: The Free Press of Glencoe. 1964. Republished in Critical Review. Vol. 18. No. 1-3. (2006). pp. 1-–4 at 11–12.)


Aug 7 2017

Three Weekend Reads


Palazzo de Enzo, Bologna

Three Weekend Reads

Three reads I came across this weekend:

The True American [Henry David Thoreau],” by Robert Pogue Harrison, New York Review of Books, August 17, 2017.

The Most Anthologized Essays in the Last 25 Years: in which Joan Didion Appears More than Once,” by Emily Temple, Lithub.com, July 31, 2017.

Nazi-looted books found in German libraries,” Deutsche Welle, August 6, 2017.

 


Aug 4 2017

List of Books I Read in July

London - Georgian Apartments

List of Books I Read in July

It’s July. It’s too hot. Gonna just stay inside and take it easy by reading some books.

Americana

Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920-1960 (1987) by Jack Kirby

The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (1992) by Edward Ayers

The Growth of Southern Nationalism, 1848-1861 (1953) by Avery O. Craven

The New Midwest: a Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains and Rust Belt (2016) by Mark Athitakis

Lone Star Land: Twentieth-century Texas in perspective (1955) by Frank Goodwyn

Philosophy

Intention (1957) by G.E.M. Anscombe

Old Europe

Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Foundation of the City: I-V) (27-9 B.C.) by Titus Livius

The Final Pagan Generation (2015) by Edgar J. Watt

Richard Rolle: Prose and Verse (1340s?) by Richard Rolle

The Maid of France (1909) by Andrew Lang

The Virgin Warrior: the Life and Death of Joan of Arc (2009) by Larissa Juliet Taylor

Joan of Arc: and Sacrificial Authorship (2003) by Ann W. Astell

The Life of Thomas More (1557) by William Roper

The Life and Death of Sir Thomas More, Knight (1582?) by Nicholas Harspfield

John Bull’s Other Island (1906) by George B. Shaw