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What books are you reading now?

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Posted

A book with 3 of Turgenev's stories in it.

Crime & Punishment by Dostoevsky.

The Dark Elf Trilogy by Salvatore.

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Im just half way through catch 22, for some reason it's one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud, ive never read anything like it before.

Also i very much enjoyed the series of books 'the emperor' by Conn Iggolden. Im personnaly interested in the roman empire and the books really bring the battles to life tracking Julius Caesar through his life. Were these books really won me over was the way in which although being historically accurate managed to bring the human emotions through.. the betrayal by Brutus the commradarie of Mark Antony and the way they conquored the known world. Very good read!

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asmorrey1, on the theme of 'laughing out loud', there are two books I recall making me giggle and these have been Don Quixote by Cervantes and Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions whose end was rubbishy but had a really ace beginning and middle. But I think if one ever wanted the experience of the really big guffaw, they should frequent philosophers, and better still the giants of philosophy. I mean, check out what Plato said on good, Aristotle on some primum mobile, Kant on moral law, Nietzsche's will to power, or Marx's alienation and commodification. Even better have look at entire fields like semiotics, religion, some philosophy of, and so on. At first it may be difficult to laugh at such solemnly presented ideas but it's really only a matter of patience and taste. The trick is to disconnect that dubious dichotomy which announces that the important and serious are not laughable and that the hilarious and the farce are not in fact respectable and awe-inspiring. Unlike our human counterpart, laughing at ideas is not to despise them but to ground them in profound understanding and deep respect.

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I finished last week

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Through a Glass Darkly: Bernard Lonergan & Richard Rorty on knowing without a God's-eye view by R.J. Snell. I picked up this book while browsing the library for some epistemology texts. Quite good. A very interesting and insightful give and take, responding to Rortian arguments through Lonergan ( a catholic philosopher) and in so doing giving a detailed and cogent new and rather radical epistemology. The implications are vast though - so far - a Rortian can feast on some of the arguments. Regardless, this is a nice and unique comparison.

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I have been reading Jean Cocteau's The Holy Terrors and I recently finished Evil in Modern Thought by Susan Neiman. Neiman's dealing with Sade and the Western worlds philosophic reaction to the Holocaust I found particularly illuminating.

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Ah, Evil in Modern Thought is a good book - I employed some of Neiman's insights in a recent debate versus this blinkered naturalist who had trouble identifying natural events as evil.

I just completed Armstrong's Battle for God and am in the middle of Gibson's latest: Spook Country and Friedman's The World is Flat. The former is thoroughly enjoyable but the latter is little more than cheap journalism on steroids.

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Through a Glass Darkly: Bernard Lonergan & Richard Rorty on knowing without a God's-eye view by R.J. Snell. I picked up this book while browsing the library for some epistemology texts. Quite good. A very interesting and insightful give and take, responding to Rortian arguments through Lonergan ( a catholic philosopher) and in so doing giving a detailed and cogent new and rather radical epistemology. The implications are vast though - so far - a Rortian can feast on some of the arguments. Regardless, this is a nice and unique comparison.

Sounds interesting, although a search for Schopenhauer didn't turn up anything in the chapter on Neo-Kantians (via amazon). Would you review this book for the rest of us? I will begin reviewing books after I've finished reading the current ones (Charlie Wilson's War). Since Qualia left, we no longer have a reviewer, and I gather it would take the most of us to replace his efforts. :rock:

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I am about halfway through The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff, heir to the throne of Rand's Objectivism. I never thought that Rand was given her due credit as a philosopher; people seem to have a very ad hominem attitude towards her and her works. What kind of a person has a huge dollar sign on her funeral garden plot erected? I find this absolute dedication to her philosophy worthy of respect. Anyways, I must say, while I do not subscribe to an Objectivist view of the world, I have thoroughly enjoyed Peikoff's book thus far. He convincingly argues for an Objectivist interpretation of how and why the Nazis came to power in Weimar Germany; I also have enjoyed his often devastating attacks on the morality of collectivism.

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I've just finished reading The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner. In my eyes this is a masterpiece in style, a beautiful blend of autobiography and philosophy. The Chapter headings leave no room for the imagination and are wonderfully candid, headings like:

The World: Why I Am Not a Solipsist

The Proofs: Why I Do Not Believe God's Existence Can Be Demonstrated

Faith: Why I Am Not an Atheist

Free Will: Why I am not a Determinist or Haphazardist

I am constantly amazed at how much I refer to this book when engaged in philosophic discourse.

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I read a number of books over the Christmas period, including Beevor's history of the Spanish Civil War and McCarthy's Child of God. Perhaps the most interesting, though, was Nicholson's The Society of Others, which is something of a blend of Kafka and Salinger to begin with and would be worth a look for anyone here. The story is marred by a somewhat disappointing and pseudo-profound ending but until that point it's quite something, particularly the book-within-a-book by a philosopher character. It requires a fair bit of credulity but the idea of smuggling philosophy tomes across borders makes it worthwhile, I think. :)

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A couple of books which I recently finished are:

The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple, is about Zafar, the last of the Mughal emperors. What made him the last was the Sepoy Rebellion, or Mutiny, or the First War of Indian Independence (depending on your point of view), which took place in 1857, and this book concentrates on the part of the mutiny which took place around Delhi, inasmuch as what had once been a great empire did not really go much beyond Delhi by 1857 -- not that Zafar could really be regarded as being even the ruler of Delhi so extensively had the fortunes of the Mughals been eroded. Of particular interest is the apparent change in the relationship between the Indians and the British (largely in the form of the East India Company) once proselytizing versions of Christianity started to become more central to Company activities. There is also some indication that the Pakistani and Afghan madrassas of our day are direct off-shoots of Indian jihadi Islam (which was always in conflict with the Sufi Islam of India which was more widespread and popular).

Dr. Mary's Monkey, by Edward T. Haslam, denies being yet another JFK assassination conspiracy book despite the fact that among its main characters are David Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald (of course), Guy Bannister, and Jim Garrison (along with a whole bunch of other folks living in New Orleans at or immediately prior to the time of Kennedy's murder) -- just like in Garrison's On the Trail of the Assassins which was the basis for the Oliver Stone movie, JFK. And, in truth, the book does not set out to, nor does it care about, figuring out who killed Kennedy. It really is about the polio vaccines of the 1950s and early 1960s which were apparently contaminated with at least one type of monkey virus which might have led to an upsurge in soft tissue cancers starting in the 1980s. One particularly interesting aspect of this book is its focus upon Dr. Alton Ochsner, a world-famous physician who happened to also be extremely right-wing politically.

Two of the books I am currently reading are:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (the author of Awakenings) which starts out as very interesting, even thought provoking, but I am hoping it turns out to be something more than stories about people who cannot stop hearing music that is being generated from within their own brains/minds.

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt might tie in with the Between Past and Future thread at some point.

Michael

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Posted (edited)

I got a lot of books for Christmas, including:

Shadow Divers (which I’ve almost finished) – it’s the story of the discovery of the sunken U-869 off of the New Jersey coast. A fun book.

Geniuses by Harold Bloom (self-explanatory)

The History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. I’ve read a chapter or two. The word for “reading” and “speaking” are identical (I learned) in Hebrew and Aramaic, and St. Augustine reports amazement at seeing St. Ambrose reading silently to himself.

The Hemmingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

Exiles: A Novel by Ron Hansen – This is a novel based on the true story of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who gave up writing poetry for a decade or two to concentrate on his Priestly duties, and then was motivated to start writing again when the Deutschland sank, drowning 5 German nuns who had been expelled from Germany due to anti-Catholic laws. I’m halfway through this book, too. Here’s a link to Hopkins’ poem about the incident:

http://www.bartleby.com/122/4.html

Bill James 2009 Baseball Abstract

Fall Quarter by Weldon Kees. Kees has been a favorite poet of mine for decades – but until about 5 years ago he was a secret pleasure. A biography of Kees (who apparently committed suicide in 1955) has revived interest in him, and his novel “Fall Quarter”, which was never published in his lifetime, is now available.

Edited by BDS

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I have spent Christmas and New Year's reading one text - Shakespeare's Richard III, and while it is one of his earlier plays, and not yet imbued with the mastery and control of language we see in his later tragic plays, already announces the mature Shakespeare.

Richard of Gloucester is one of the most diabolically funny evil-geniuses in Literature. Richard's wit, his narcissism, and his theatrical consciousness (that is, his full awareness of the 'actorly' presence, that all he ever does is put on an act, he tells the audience 'this is what I am going to do', and then does it, and then says, 'see how I did it?') is the same consciousness that Iago possesses, but by the time we arrive at Hamlet, we see the maturity of the actor/agent who has come to a very important realisation, a realisation Richard finds out the hard way - that the act is always political and not merely a game. This is Richard's tragedy - he fails to see the consequences of performance.

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Posted (edited)

The word for “reading” and “speaking” are identical (I learned) in Hebrew and Aramaic, and St. Augustine reports amazement at seeing St. Ambrose reading silently to himself.

One could argue that for Indo-European culture, sight was the essential sense. Insight, knowledge, see, understand, know, wise, even the word video, are rooted in words of sight or seeing from Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Roman and Germanic languages.

On the other hand, for the Semites, hearing was the essential sense. ‘Thus spoke…’ ‘Hear the Lord...’ etc. and reading or speaking aloud was an essential component of its practice. This sensory bias gradually developed into the idea (Greek for insight/knowledge) that it was unnecessary, even profane for Semitic cultures to display images of their gods or deities.

One could argue that the emphasis towards a particular sense influences the way cultures and its people come to understand themselves and their world. The Indo-Europeans of sight would have noticed the cycle of seasons, the seed, the blossom and then the fall. A history without a definable beginning, or end. A world of numerous gods depending on one’s perspective, where one was looking at the time, ploughing and hunting. Life from sight: the eternal rise and fall, of birth and death and birth again, and such perspectives probably came to inform ancient Greek philosophy, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

For the hearing-wordly Semites, life was generally linear, as was their sentence and their the spoken line. Life was a one way trip with a start and finish. History, then, also had a marked beginning and end. From the strong emphasis on singular words, the singular object or action, as spoken and heard, one could also argue that the tendency towards monotheistic understandings grew, as opposed to the Indo-European’s multi-favoring of polytheism.

One may also wish to conjecture how the religious and contemplative life developed. Sermon, study, the reading and hearing of scriptures, became essential components in Semitic cultures, whereas reflection, investigation (recall, many of the early Greek philosophers were types of proto-empiricists) and meditation came to mark Indo-European cultures.

This may also help to explain how these two cultures came to understand their own gods. The Indo-Europeans saw deities in all things and thus believed that there was much less distance between themselves, and their gods and its creations. The Semites, from the hearing and speaking of the word, which could never be the thing itself, conceived a greater distance, a greater absence, between themselves and their god.

Edited by Andres

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The extent to which culture (and in particular language) holds a "tyranny on thought" (as Sapir/Whorf put it) is problematical. I don't doubt that thought is influenced by language, or that one culture might be SLIGHTLY more visually oriented than another, but some research suggests that commonalities of human perception dominate language, rather than the other way around.

The Berlin/Kay color research, for example, suggests as much:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_and_Kay

Since each language that has the same NUMBER of color terms divides the spectrum in the same fashion, it appears that language may NOT have a tyranny on thought (or at least not an arbitrary one).

Similarly, although semites may emphasize sound more than Indo-Europeans, inferences drawn from that about different relationships with God are difficult. In American Anthropology, the "culture and personality" school analyzed culture from a Freudian perspective. Such scholars as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict thought "culture is personality writ large." Child rearing practices would have an impact on adult personality, which would be expressed in (for example) religion. So (anthropologists theorized) societies (like Freud's) that had remote and powerful fathers would tend to have a remote, powerful and male God. The problem was that when the Human Relations Area Files were developed in the '50s and '60s (it was a cross cultural research tool that categorized different aspects of culture) it was discovered that scientific analysis of the cross cultural evidence did not actually support these predictions.

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Ay, it is difficult to accept the view that differences between cultures can simply be explained by variations in vocabulary among those cultures and as you rightly point out, to draw inferences about a culture

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I've started Hume's Treatise of Human Nature.

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I'm impressed, Ludovicus. :mrgreen: when you survive that encounter, please feel free to post your thoughts here. That way you actually get more out of the book, because an active reading (writing down initial impressions, chains of reasonings, and amusing digressions) is always richer than a passive reading.

Just finished "shadow of the wind" by zafron, and am in the middle of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Not a big fan of Fanny as much as I was of Elinor Dashwood and Elizabeth Bennet, but the book is still solid.

(Posted via mobile device)

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Manfield Park Essay (with some potential spoilers -- you might wait until you are finished with the book before reading it, Campanella)

Austen writes MP in a different tone than her other novels. I can’t find the quote, but she mentions somebody visiting a family "of lively manners and (probably) morals to match." Is this what we expect from the creator of Emma and Elizabeth? The task she sets for herself is to make the good-humored, fun-filled Crawfords essentially flawed, and the dull, censorious Edmund and Fanny essentially good. But it’s a tough task.

Why does Austen seem to condemn Crawford for flirting with two sisters at once, when she allows Wentworth to get away with it? Why does there always seem to be an extra call for discipline in Crawford? Also, why does Edmund (who doubtless loves Fanny) press Crawford’s suit with her so assiduously? Edmund is blind to Mary’s failings, which is reasonable for a lover, but we surely can’t expect him to be blind to Henry’s sins as well? No. Edmund (as conceited and judgmental as he is) approves of Henry. Yet, somehow, Austen doesn’t.

Austen almost approves of the Crawfords herself. "Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary."

Passages like the above make me wonder what Austen’s opinions about all this really were. Some critics have thought that the religious revival in England influenced Mansfield Park. I’m not so sure. I think there may be "author reasons" for having the book turn out the way it does, rather than "moral reasons" or "personal reasons".

Mansfield Park is a study in character contrasts, and these are symbolic. Edmund is conceited, judgmental and dull. Henry is conceited, judgmental, and exciting. If Mansfield Park can be seen as a search for a home by homeless Fanny, Crawford represents the excitement of the outside world, and Edmund the safety of the country home. Home may be dull, but it is safe. The world may be exciting, but it is dangerous. Maria’s lapses lead her to be banished from home. The Crawford’s moral looseness is the result of their lack of a real home. The play is evil because it physically alters the home.

Austen addresses some of her concerns about “the world” in Mansfield Park. In the standard fairy tale or romance (as seen in Northanger Abbey), the heroine goes out into the world to seek her fortune. MP stands this convention on its head. Fanny seeks her fortune by frantically AVOIDING going out into the world. While Elizabeth may envy Darcy’s “worldliness”, Fanny shrinks from the world, seeing it as a dark, sinful place. The “world” is specifically contrasted to Mansfield, a bucolic Eden:

1) When the Crawfords arrive at Mrs. Grant's house, Mrs. Grant thinks them frivolous in their attitude toward marriage. "You are as bad as your brother, Mary but we will cure you both. Mansfield shall cure you both - without any taking in. Stay with us and we will cure you." Here the battle is explicitly defined: will Mansfield change the Crawfords, or the Crawfords change Mansfield?

2) "Lovers Vows" is dangerous because it brings unknown "outsiders" to Mansfield. The residents argue about who will be least objectionable. But the objections to the play based on modesty and propriety are symbolized by the horrible "alterations" to Mansfield. They are actually (shudder) building a theater. This is where the Crawfords come close to "changing" Mansfield instead of being changed by it.

3) The expedition to Sotherton is about the desire to "improve" the place - a concept which, if reapplied to Mansfield, would make Fanny shudder with horror. "Nothing was fixed on - but Henry Crawford was full of projects and ideas." That's the problem with Henry - too many ideas - too much desire to "improve" things. Next thing you know, he'll want to overhaul Fanny.

Mansfield is also contrasted to Fanny's parents' home in Portsmouth - a loud, cold, dingy place, lacking the warmth, light, and peace of Mansfield. London and Portsmouth represent the sinful world of men. Mansfield is the world of nature - where young men are revered for being ordained, not mocked.

In the Portsmouth scene, Austen uses the weather, setting of the Price household, and contrast of light and dark to set the mood. Mansfield Park (being in the country) represents a sort of bucolic Eden. The Crawfords (having lived in London) represent the almost Satanic effect of “worldly” city life. Portsmouth (another city) is repeatedly contrasted to Mansfield, in order to establish Fanny's almost religious longing for this Paradise.

The Price's Portsmouth home is cold and dark, while Mansfield is light and (despite being frigid hitherto) is warmed on Fanny's last day when Sir Thomas orders a fire for Fanny's room. In Portsmouth, "In walked Mr. Price.... (who called out for a candle no candle was brought.... Fanny, with doubting feelings... sank down again on finding herself undistinguished in the dusk."

Of course even sunshine palls in the city, as Austen makes explicit:

" ...the sun's rays falling strongly into the parlour, instead of cheering, made her still more melancholy for sun-shine appeared to her a totally different thing in a town and in the country. Here, its power was only a glare, a stifling, sickly glare..... There was neither health nor gaiety in sun-shine in a town..."

When Henry visits Fanny, and they walk out by the sea, they reach a point half-way between God's bucolic nature, and the unnatural, stifling influences of the town. Mr. Price's loud voice is softened by the natural setting. The day is lovely, and, like the daily English weather report, filled with "bright intervals." The weather represents Fanny's relationship with Crawford, as it reaches its high point. And Crawford turns to the subject dearest to Fanny's heart:

"(The conversation) turned to Mansfield. He could not have chosen better that was a topic to bring back her attention and her looks almost instantly. It was a real indulgence to her to hear or to speak of Mansfield..."He had a great attachment to Mansfield himself he said so he looked forward with the hope of spending much, very much, of his time there always there, or in the neighborhood."

What's this? Is Henry Crawford (like Darth Vadar) ready to turn from the dark side, and reach out for Eden?

But no. MP is no fairy tail. Fanny's ride to Mansfield with Edmund, where nature glows, and "farther beauty is known to be at hand" reads like a return to the Garden, or the ascension of Eurydice. She doesn't look back.

Fanny rejects the heroic journey into the great wide world in favour of seeking her fortune by marrying a member of her own family (at least since she was 10). Mansfield Park is a rejection of the heroic in favor of the safe; a rejection of wit and talent in favor of stolid moral fiber; a rejection of romance in favor of affection; a rejection of the “world” in favor of the Garden.

Edited by BDS

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The Frege Reader by Michale Beaney and Gottlob Frege by Hans Sluga. Why? I've been mired in some intractable philosophizing about concepts and have been trying to school myself on analytic philosophy on my own. Needless to say, my success is dismal. In any case, while this stuff might be arcane, its been a good read so far.

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I've been reading Stages on Life's Way by Kierkegaard lately. It's always enjoyable to read Kierkegaard - he often puts things in a very different light than I first saw them in. The Young Man's speech in "In Vino Veritas" was quite interesting.

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On the Origin of Species: Illustated Edition. I just got this yesterday and it's a good looking book, pretty hefty with many illustrations of various sorts: animals; family, friends and opponents of Darwin; pages from notebooks, and more. There are also a number of excerpts from other works by Darwin such as The Voyage of the Beagle and his autobiography. The text used for this new edition is that of the first edition published, used because "it was the freshest, the most dramatic and daring and consequential." I hope to fit this in over the course of this coming year in celebration of the 150th anniversary of its publication and the 200th birthday of it author.

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A book caught my eye when I was checking out my school library. "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler.

This book is packed with such great advice for learning to read well. They don't teach you this stuff in school... they teach you how to read just fine in school, but you're missing out on the world if you never consider how to read even better.

Some of the ideas in the book might be worth a discussion later.

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I probably shouldn't be doing this with my schedule but I'm reading Infinite Jest... just to see what all the fuss is about. I noticed right away that this one thick book. What the hell? I am determined to finish it in a short amount of time. Reading the footnotes while reading the main story in tandem works well to break up the tedium of the book. Almost makes it like a Choose Your Own Adventure book! :-P

With this book, as in Wallace's other book Oblivion, I notice the book is polyphonic (and usually the style is corresponds with the subject) non-linear and dense with an encyclopedic level of references. This makes the book a sensory overload and it can give you a headache after a while, but as I already gather from the all the secondary literature I've read it's all for some grand purposes.

Still, a 1,000+ pages of this? Sigh.

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