Feb 7 2019

On Writing: How to Avoid Materials

Western book stack

Currently I’m working on the first of a series of essays that deal with the idea of tolerating the intolerant. For the first one, I’ll be using some old family stories. I’ve also picked out some recent headlines and current events for it. I plan to weave them in and make it all freshly relevant. Some literary comparisons from Camus and Cervantes will also be used.

And even though Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) (1915) can be read in ways quite relevant to the topic of tolerating the intolerant, I don’t want to use it for this project, and I have refrained from rereading it.

Yes, Kafka’s story is in most English language short story anthologies. It’s often the first story by Kafka that students in the United States are exposed to. Yes, as the story progresses Gregor Samsa’s family grows less and less tolerant as their son changes into an insect. They grow so intolerant that, by the end, they celebrate Gregor’s demise by having a picnic. Yes, Kafka had a tremendous influence on Camus,[1] and Kafka took Cervantes very seriously, yes, yes, yes….

So Kafka’s tale might seem relevant to use.

But I don’t want to. In this particular story–or at least my multiple memories of reading it–Kafka exhausts me in a way Camus and Cervantes do not.

Maybe it’s that drab Prague apartment … and that dry humor … dry like the crust and crunch of salt crystals. Abrasive….

Restoration versus reservation: Perhaps if one leaves Kafka’s story in mental reserve for a while, its relevance will one day be restored and written about.  Or perhaps the tale is musty–like an old rug that’s been in the family for generations. Perhaps Kafka’s story needs to be taken to the yard and beaten with a broomstick until it is properly aired out.

Yet I don’t feel like the one to do the butler’s duties.

wood

[1] Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) (1942), trans. Justin O’Brien, (New York: Vintage Books, 1959) pp. 127, 130, 138; LÉtranger (The Stranger) (1942), trans. Stuart Gilbert, (New York: Vintage, 1954) pp. 11, 21, 99–100.



Jan 18 2019

A Shout-Out to all the Creative People in My Life

book spines

A Shout-Out to all the Creative People in My Life

I’m still recovering/glowing/musing/recollecting from a trip to Europe, where I had Germany for a main course and London for dessert.

It was great to undergo a pilgrimage toward creativity, to Goethe’s house and Schiller’s house in Weimar, Bach’s churches in Leipzig, as well as Samuel Johnson’s and Charles Dickens’s houses in London.

(Charles Dickens’s desk – London)

Let 2019 be a creative year for me and all the creative folk in my life:

(Berlin Cathedral/ Berliner Dom)

(Goethe’s house, Weimar)


Dec 21 2018

The Gospel of Honor (or “Honour”)

bookshelf

The Gospel of Honor (or “Honour”)

I’m very glad to have my essay/review of Tamlar Sommers’s Why Honor Matters (2018) published in the Fortnightly Review.

It explores what Aristotle, Boethius, Machiavelli, and others, such as Martha Nussbaum have to say about the concept of honor.

But beware, it’s a long read (4100 words):


Dec 19 2018

Things I’ve been Reading the Past Decade to Prepare for a Trip to Germany (Part II)

la casa

Things I’ve been Reading the Past Decade
 to Prepare Writing a Novel about for a Trip to Germany (Part I)

Read Part I here.

Martin Buber, Erzählungen der Chassidim (Tales of the Hasidim) (1948)

Solomon Maimon, Autobiography (1800)

Johann Herder, God, Some Conversations (1787)

Isaiah Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (1978)

Correspondence between Schiller and Goethe from 1794 to 1805

Friedrich Schiller, Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794)

–––––. “On Simple and Sentimental Poetry,” (1795)

–––––. William Tell (1804)

Charles E. Passage, Friedrich Schiller: World Dramatists (1975)

Johann Goethe, Goethe’s Letters to Zelter

–––––. Götz von Berlichingen (1773)

–––––. Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) (1774)

–––––. Iphigenieauf Tauris (Iphigenia in Tauris) (1779)

­­­–––––. Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) (1816–17)

–––––. Aus Meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth from My Own Life) (1811–1830)

–––––. Novella (1828)

–––––. Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors), “Preface to the First Edition of 1810.”

–––––. Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) (1795)

–––––. Faust Part I (1808)

–––––. Faust Part II (1832)

Rudolf Steiner, Goethe’s Weltanschauung (1897)

–––––. Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung (A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception) (1886)

–––––. Nietzsche, ein Kämpfer gegen seine Zeit (Friedrich Nietzsche: Fighter for Freedom) (1895)

–––––. Education as a Social Problem (1919)

–––––. The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1922)

–––––. Mysticism and Modern Thought (1928)

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, “Preface to Phenomenology” (1807)

Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms [taken from Parerga and Paralipomena] (1851)

Nietzsche, Writings from the Early Notebooks, (1870-1873)

––––-. The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit ofMusic (1872) (1886)

–––––. On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873)

–––––. Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (Untimely Meditations) (1873–1876)

­­­–––––. Toward a Genealogy of Morality (1886)

Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher,Psychologist, Antichrist (1950)

–––––. Discovering the Mind Vol. IINietzsche, Heidegger, Buber (1981)

***

Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Community and Society) (1887)

Wilhelm Dilthey, Selected Works Vol. III: The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences [~1865-1911] (2002)

Max Weber, Essays in Sociology [~1900-1920] (1946)

Jürgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere) (1961)

Benedetto Croce, Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx (1900)

E. M. Butler, The Tyranny of Greece Over Germany (1935)

Oscar Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (1929)

Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)

Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere (Selections from the Prison Notebooks) (1929–1935)

****

Victor Lefebure, The Riddle of the Rhine: Chemical Strategy in Peace and War (1923)

Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (1902–1908)

Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (1917)

Heinrich Mann, Im Schlaraffenland (Berlin: in the Land of Cockaigne) (1900)

Heinrich Mann, Der Untertan (Man of Straw) (1918)

Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks (1901)

–––––. “Germany and the Germans” (1945)

Nigel Hamilton, The Brothers Mann (1979)

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1923)

Martin Buber & Franz Rosenzweig, Die Schrift und das Wort (Scripture and Translation) (1926)

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)

Arnold Zweig, Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa (The Case of Sergeant Grischa) (1927)

Erich Maria Remarque, Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) (1929)

Jaroslav Hasek, Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka zasvětové války (The Good Soldier: Schweik) (1930)

Karl Kraus, Half-truths & One-and-a-half truths: selected aphorisms [~1900-1936] (1976)

Sigmund Freud, Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (1900)

Carl Jung, The Jung Reader [1918-1930] (2012)

Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (1940)

Moritz Julius Bonn, The Wandering Scholar (1940)

Stefan Zweig, The Royal Game and Other Stories (1941)

H.G. Atkins, German Literature Through Nazi Eyes (1941)

Ernie Pyle, This is Your War: The Story of G. I. Joe (1943)

Martin Foss, The Idea of Perfection in the Western World (1946)

Karl Jaspers, The Way to WisdomAn Introduction to Philosophy (1951)

Elie Wiesel, Night (1960)

Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (1971)

Walter Laqueur, Weimar: a Cultural History, 1918–1933 (1974)

–––––. The Terrible SecretAn Investigation into the Suppression of Information about Hitlers Final Solution’ (1980)

–––––. Best of Times, Worst of Times: Memoirs of a Political Education (2009)

Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers (1974)

Günter Grass, Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk) (2002)

Fritz Stern, Five Germanys I Have Known (2006)

George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy (1961)

–––––. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (1975) 

–––––. The Portage to San Cristóbal of A. H. (1981)


Dec 6 2018

8 Thoughts on the “New York Times’ ” Article about the Demise of “The Weekly Standard.”

8 Thoughts on the New York Times Article about the
Demise of The Weekly Standard.

London - Georgian Apartments

So Jim Rutenberg wrote this article in the New York Times. In that article you will not find out that:

1. I think most casual readers of The Weekly Standard [TWS] would agree it has been going downhill since, at least, Bush 43’s second term.

2. For a time TWS was a strong voice of neoconservatism–which itself emerged in the 1970s as a theory, but only matured into an applied political praxis during a post-Clinton presidency–and even then–only after September 10, 2001.

3. When Clinton lost to Trump, TWS lost a lot of its original enemies, hence its original purpose.

4. For most non-Jewish observers, Commentary is the nation’s premier conservative, political Jewish magazine–something TWS might’ve been at one point (that’s neither here nor there)–and it appears this country has room for only one commercially viable publication for such a niche market.

5. Sometime during the Obama administration, TWS put up a great paywall to keep out invaders. This was Chinese-esque in its ambitions: TWS’s RSS feed was minimized, while giant pop-ups to “subscribe now” began to bombard any would-be reader on any subject–carnival-barker style. Basically TWS’s online presence became as technically unreader-friendly as a MySpace page.

6. With regard to topics TWS covered and the writers it chose to publish, all of the above adds up to it being an insular institution that seemed less than interested in outsiders’ opinions, submissions (I never did), and subscriptions (ditto).

7. When was the last time TWS had an article at the top of Memeorandum?

8. None of Much to none of the above is mentioned or considered in the New York Times‘ article by Jim Rutenberg.

Conclusion: Even a casual reader of TWS would know it is much more plausible to use the trope that Trump’s election was a “final nail in the coffin” for TWS than to say the Donald is the reason for TWS’s demise, as the NYT’s headline implies. 



Nov 30 2018

Things I’ve been Reading the Past Decade to Prepare for a Trip to Germany (Part I)

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Things I’ve been Reading the Past Decade
to Prepare for Writing a Novel about a Trip to Germany (Part I)

Read Part II here.

Germany before Goethe and Schiller:

  • Julius Gaius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War (58–50 BC)
  • Tacitus, Agricola and Germania (98 AD)
  • Jordanes, History of the Goths (551 AD)
  • Anonymous, The Book of Settlements (Landnámabók) (~800–900 AD)
  • Anonymous, The Poetic Edda (~1200 AD)
  • Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival (~1200)
  • Anonymous, The Song of the Nibelungen (Nibelungenlied) (~1300)
  • Johannes von Tepl, The Ploughman and Death (Der Ackermann und der Tod) (1401)
  • Sebastian Brant, The Ship of Fools (Das Narrenschiff) (1494)
  • Conrad Celtis, Poems (~1490–1500)
  • Erasmus, In Praise of Folly (1509)
  • Thomas Müntzer, Various Works (1520s)
  • Martin Luther, The Book of Vagabonds and Beggars (Liber Vagatorum)(1509)
    • –––––.To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (An Den Christlichen Adel Deutscher Nation) (1520)
  • Sebastian Lotzer, The Twelve Articles of Peasantry (Das Zwölf Artikel Gehören Zu Den Forderungen) (1525)
  • Gottfried Leibniz, Shorter Works and Political Writings (1680–1715)
  • Immanuel Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seeker (Träume Eines Geistersehers) (1766)
    • –––––.Perpetual Peace (Zum Ewigen Frieden) (1795)
  • Honoré Gabriel Riqueti comte de Mirabeau, Memoirs of the Courts of Berlin and St. Petersburg (1787)
  • Georg Lichtenberg, Aphorisms (~1750s–1800)
  • The Brothers Grimm, Children’s Stories and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen)(1812)

****

  • George Madison Priest, The Classical Period of German Literature (1941)
  • Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Europäische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter) (1948)
  • J.Knight Bostock, A Handbook on Old High German Literature (1955)
  • Richard Marius, Luther (1974)


Oct 31 2018

Scribblings and Droppings no. 03: the Writer as Victim and Victor

Mark Twain in Athens

Scribblings and Droppings no. 03:
the Writer as Victim and Victor

Have you ever been involved in a creative project over a long period of time?

Did you reach a point where you felt the project was kicking your ass? Maybe you had to put it aside, like Goethe did with Faust Part II and Coleridge with Christabel?

This kind of thing happened to me when I was trying to prune an essay from 10,000+ words to under 4,000.

Was there a moment after having endured strife when you finally started to feel like you were kicking the project’s ass? Was there a moment when you realize you’d reached the apex and had overcome the obstacle?

It’s like Stephen King says: writers have to kill their darlings. (In a sick sense, you’ve got to be like Frau Goebbels.) You gotta figure out how to detox your own text, purge it of its poisons.

Now that the essay is done, I feel older, exhausted, and sore. But there’s no time for self-sympathy. Gotta get up and do all again, like the Chairman says:


Oct 28 2018

Scribblings and Droppings no. 02: On Editing, Empathy, Words, and Wars

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna, Italia

Scribblings and Droppings no. 02:
On Editing, Empathy, Words, and Wars

Some more thoughts on editing the thoughts of others in order to understand one’s own:

Do you remember the corny, WASPy nostalgia that is Dead Poets Society (1989)?

Do you remember how its exordium and dénouement are constructed around the act of standing on classroom desks while literally invocating Whitman’s “barbaric yawp,” to gain a new perspective on things?

No, the movie hasn’t aged well. Nonetheless, that’s what editing and proofreading the works of others is: getting, imagining a new perspective on things.

All editing (and self-editing) requires empathy. Editing is empathy.

But self-editing doesn’t mean empathizing with yourself. It means the level of quality you reach in editing your own words is measured in your capacity to empathize with your potential readership.

In other words, how well can you the writer put yourself in the shoes of a would-be reader you have never met?

This discussion of empathy reminds me of its importance in a different context: Errol Morris’s The Fog of War (2003), a documentary about Robert McNamara (1916–2009), who was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

In discussing the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara says (I can’t find a clip of it):

 In [former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Llewellyn E.] Thompson’s mind was this thought: Khrushchev’s gotten himself in a hell of a fix. He would then think to himself, “My God, if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people: ‘Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it.'” Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought Khrushchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. That’s what I call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.

This clip follows up on the above quotation:

Empathy can prevent nuclear war. (If only editing could be so powerful!)

 
 
 
 
 
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Oct 25 2018

Scribblings and Droppings no. 01: Building Community by Reading and Writing (and Rereading and Rewriting)

pencil shavings

Scribblings and Droppings no. 01:
Building Community by Reading and Writing
(and Rereading and Rewriting)

I’ve been working on a major book review/philosophical essay for at least six months.

I’m done now (I think), but for a lot of those months I was stuck in a rut. 

It was more fatigue than “writer’s block.”

I think part of what dislodged me from that rut was doing some proofreading and editing for some friends and family.

One was a two-page essay for a musical appreciation undergraduate course.

The other was an eight-page essay/writing sample for a graduate school application.

There is nothing novel in the observation that composition classes in high school and college often assign students to critique each other’s work.

And when you’re stuck in the tunnel-vision of your own writing project, it’s wise to get perspectives from other readers (if you can find them).

But it’s also wise to get better, more diverse perspectives by reading what others are working on, that is, via proofreading and editing.

The results: my essay is done, submitted for publication, and now I await a reply.

The student with the two-page essay (from Austin) got a grade of 100%, and the graduate school applicant (from Lubbock) was accepted.

So my local community is now stronger, my state community is stronger, and hopefully my writing will get stronger.

Read Scribbings and Droppings no. 02 here.

 
 
 
 
 
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Oct 3 2018

To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

From the always cheerful Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) on what one should read (and otherwise):

The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for food always finds a large public. — A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.

“On Books and Writing – no. 16” in Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (New York: Penguin, 1970), p. 210.



And this is not something that was just practiced in the old days. There are people, good people like Gary here, who continue to practice today what Schopenhauer preached long ago (at least concerning this particular topic):