Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ray Bradbury on the Public Library

" I never went to college. I went to the library. " -- RAY BRADBURY, American science fiction author, interviewed by AARP Magazine.
The introduction to a recent edition of Bradbury's short stories published in the Everyman's Library series tells of his remarkable career. From grade school days he was writing stories. His aunt read to him from L. Frank Baum's series of Oz books when he was 7. She began to read to him the stories of Edgar Allan Poe when he was 8.

Bradbury's college was the Los Angeles Central Public Library. He began his process of self-education upon graduating from high school and completed his self-directed curriculum at the age of 28.
Obviously, few people can be successful as autodidacts the way that Bradbury was, but there is something of value in his example. Instructors are essential in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curriculum, but in the areas of the humanities and the social sciences, one may be all the better off by being one's own instructor.
I don't mean to knock college. I went to college and never left. I am, however, skeptical about the proposition that more college graduates means more human capital. Return on that investment long ago began to go into decline. One must suspect that the general college degree has been pushed into a "bubble" status as overblown as that in which housing came to be.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

H. G. Wells on Neaderthals, the Lure of Islands

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  December 28, 2008)

The Neanderthals We Once Knew

Liberalism's egalitarian dogma, the insistence that all of the various breeds of mankind must be equal in their potential, would seem to be sorely tried by the spectacle of the Neanderthal man.   First, there is the great problem of the Neanderthals' disappearance without evidence of their assimilation into the ranks of modern humanity.  Secondly, the reconstructions of Neanderthal seemed to suggest a species of human distinctly and definitely lacking in intellect as compared to modern humanity.  They left virtually no cultural artifacts while their contemporaries, the Cro-Magnon people, at least left behind them imaginative cave paintings.   Despite all of this, though, modern publicists of the prehistoric adamantly insist that Neanderthals were in all ways our equals.  (One must wonder who or what denied them an equal opportunity to survive?)

H. G. Wells's The Outline of History again exhibits his good Anglo-Saxon common sense when he comes to consider the question of the disappearance of Neanderthal man.  Recognizing that their successors' refusal to take the women of the defeated side and interbreed with them must be accounted for somehow, Wells surmises that:

    " We know nothing of the appearance of the Neanderthal man, but this absence of intermixture seems to suggest an extreme hairiness, an ugliness, or a repulsive strangeness in his appearance over and above his low forehead, his beetle brows, his ape neck, and his inferior stature.  Or he -- and she -- may have been too fierce to tame.  Says Sir Harry Johnston, in a survey of the rise of modern man in his Views and Reviews:  ' The dim racial remembrance of such gorilla-like monsters, with cunning brains, shambling gait, hairy bodies, strong teeth, and possibly cannibalistic tendencies, may be the germ of the ogre in folklore. . . . '  "      

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 6, 2008 )

H. G. Wells on the Lure of Islands

The lure of islands appears again and again in literature.  One thinks of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, of Jackson's Island in Twain's Tom Sawyer, of Robinson Crusoe's island, of the island of which Sancho Panza becomes governor in Don Quixote, of the island of Utopia in Sir Thomas More's work of that name, of the wanderings of Ulysses from island to island.   Having first read H. G. Wells's The Outline of History almost 55 years ago,  I am now slowly reading it again.  Recently, I came across this passage which may explain the lure of islands:

    "  Very soon the seafaring men must have realized the peculiar freedom and opportunities the ship gave them.  They could get away to islands; no chief nor king could pursue a boat or ship with any certainty; every captain was a king.  The seamen would find it easy to make nests upon islands and in strong positions on the mainland.  There they could harbour, there they could carry on a certain agriculture and fishery; but their specialty and their main business was, of course, the expedition across the sea.  That was not usually a trading expedition; it was much more frequently a piratical raid.  From what we know of mankind, we are bound to conclude that the first sailors plundered when they could, and traded when they had to.  "

This quotation is taken from the chapter "Sea Peoples and Trading Peoples" and concerns the period around 2000 B.C.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Some Thoughts on Jonah

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 25, 2008 )

Some Thoughts on Jonah

It is appropriate to look at Jonah on this day. Halley's Bible Handbook maintains the historicity of Jonah, citing Christ's reference to it in Matthew 12: 39-41. Central to the book is the theme of entombment and resurrection. Looking at Jonah as a parable, however, it offers much for analysis. The whale has always stolen the show, of course. Halley calls it a "sea monster," not truly a whale. As a beast more serpent-like than mammalian, it is central to the axis of falling into darkness and rising again to the light.

There is another axis within the book of Jonah, that of east and west. Jonah flees the Lord's command to go east to Nineveh, He boards a ship at Joppa and seeks to go as far west as possible in the then-known world, to Tarshish. According to Wigoder's dictionary of the Bible, Josephus interpreted Tarshish as being Tarsus in Celicia. Smith's dictionary of the Bible maintains that Tarshish is the Aramaic name for Tartessus, in Spain. If one dares to contradict Josephus, it is intriguing to think of Jonah as seeking to flee to Spain. Paul announced his intention of going to Spain.

The meaning of the whale is too big to take on as a topic of speculation here. Better it is to linger over that mysterious plant (4:6-10) that gives shelter to Jonah. The New Revised Standard Version calls it simply "a bush," but offers a footnote: "Heb. qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." Smith translates that Hebrew term as Ricinus communis, the castor bean plant. He notes that this grows to be a tall tree in India, but is only a bush in England, at most 3 or 4 feet in height. Luther's Bible translates the plant as "Rizinus," an obvious Germanization of the Latin name for the plant. In the New International Version, it is only "a vine." The King James Version preserves something of grandeur. Therein, it is "a gourd."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

H. G. Wells Had Darwinian View of the Trojan War

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 7, 2008 )

H. G. Wells studied biology at the University of London and, later, consulted with Julian Huxley in writing his The Science of Life.   His appreciation of evolution theory is evident throughout his Outline of History, but especially in the following account which he gives of the origin of the Trojan War:

    "  The Illiad makes it clear that destruction came upon Troy because the Trojans stole Greek women.  Modern writers, with modern ideas in their heads, have tried to make out that the Greeks assailed Troy in order to secure a trade-route to Colchis or some such fine-spun commercial advantage.  If so, the authors of the Illiad hid the motives of their characters very skilfully.  It would be about as reasonable to say that the Homeric Greeks went to war with the Trojans in order to be well ahead with a station on the Berlin to Bagdad railway.  The Homeric Greeks were a healthy barbaric Aryan people, with very poor ideas about trade and 'trade-routes'; they went to war with the Trojans because they were thoroughly annoyed about this stealing of women.  It is fairly clear from the Minos legend and from the evidence of the Cnossos remains, that the Cretans kidnapped or stole youths and maidens to be slaves, bull-fighters, athletes, and perhaps sacrifices.  They traded fairly with the Egyptians, but it may be they did not realize the gathering strength of the Greek barbarians; they 'traded' violently with them, and so brought sword and flame upon themselves. "

If Wells had believed the economic explanation of the origin of the Trojan War to be a credible one, Wells would have adhered to it because he was a Fabian socialist.  Unlike the Marxist socialists, however, the Fabians were always ready to give full weight to humanity's biological nature.  Wells and other Fabians recognized the impact of heredity as well as of culture, and also supported eugenics and recognized differences among the major human subspecies or races.  In this, they were totally at odds with the anti-Western Marxists who have always believed that culture determines all and that the culture is simply a superstructure built over the economic substructure.  

This theory of the origin of the Trojan War is central to Jonathan Gottschall's The Rape of Troy:  Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer (Cambridge University Press, 2007), a pioneering work in the new field of Darwinian literary criticism.  Literary studies may well be revolutionized by the new Darwinian literary criticism, although one would expect the leftists in academic departments of English to be adamantly opposed to it.

Other researchers in Darwinian literary criticism, studying folk tales as well as the myths and legends of peoples all over the world, have concluded that the sense of human beauty, as a concept in literature and elsewhere, has a real basis in evolutionary biology.  Myths and legends of the world's peoples also indicate that romantic love is not just a product of the culture of Medieval Europe; that, it too, has an evolutionary-biological basis, is widespread throughout humanity at all times and places.  Their researches give added weight to the assertion that human values, leftists to the contrary, are not just a product of "the culture."  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

H. G. Wells Anticipated Asteroid Impact Theory of Dinosaur Extinction

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on October 8, 2008 )

In 1980, Walter Alvarez, a geologist at the University of California, Berkeley, advanced the theory that the dinosaurs went into extinction 65 million years ago when the earth was struck by an asteroid, which caused a catastrophic change in the earth's climate.

In his book The Outline of History, first published in 1920,  H. G. Wells anticipated the same theory.  Dismissing the theory that the dinosaurs went into extinction because they lost in competition with the mammals, Wells concluded that the extinction of the dinosaurs had to be the result of a catastrophic event which radically changed the earth's climate.  In his words:

    " The Reptiles perished for the most part, . . . . But no one has ever been able to suggest a force that could suddenly twist our spinning world in that fashion.  We do not know what jars and jolts the solar system may have suffered in the past.  We are left guessing.  Some huge dark projectile from outer space may have come hurtling through the planets and deflected or even struck our world and turned the whole course of evolution into a new direction.   Little projectiles of that sort are always striking us.  They come flying into our atmosphere and catch fire with the heat of their rush through the air and burn -- the shooting stars.  Most of these meteors are burnt to nothing before they reach the ground, but many have reached and continue to reach the earth.  Some in our museums are several yards in diameter.   Perhaps once one was big enough to produce a change such as we have supposed.   But this is a lapse into pure speculation. "

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ouspensky on Nietzsche

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on April 13, 2008 )

Of all the occult and New Age materials which I have read (by authors such as H. P. Blavatsky, Fabre d'Olivet, Ignatius Donnelly, Edgar Cayce, Rudolf Steiner, Sylvia Browne, Courtney Brown), the most impressive work for me, by far, has been P. D. Ouspensky's A New Model of the Universe.   Dover Publications has recently republished an English translation of this work, originally published in 1931 by Alfred A. Knopf.

A New Model of the Universe is divided into twelve chapters, but each of them can be read as a separate essay.  Among them I recommend "Esotericism and Modern Thought," "Superman," "Christianity and the New Testament," and "What is Yoga?"   Much plain common sense is contained in these essays.

"Superman" acknowledges Nietzsche's use of that concept, which he probably took from Goethe's Faust in which the word Uebermensch appears in the opening scene, but dispels several popular misconceptions.   Nietzsche would agree with Ouspensky that the Superman is not to be understood as a biological type, but Ouspensky offers other corrections which are possibly not so Nietzschean.

Ouspensky opens his essay by noting that "Side by side with the idea of hidden knowledge there runs through the whole history of human thought the idea of superman. . . . The idea of superman is as old as the world.  Through all the centuries, through hundreds of centuries of its history, humanity has lived with the idea of superman.   Sayings and legends of all ancient peoples are full of images of a superman.   Heroes of myths, Titans, demi-gods, Prometheus, who brought fire from heaven; prophets, messiahs and saints of all religions; . . . . " (p. 113).

Ouspensky stresses the role of esoteric knowledge in understanding the superman:  "The idea of superman is directly connected with the idea of hidden knowledge.   The expectation of superman is the expectation of some new revelation of new knowledge" (p. 125).   In a footnote (p. 127), he argues that Nietzsche knew contemporary occult literature.   Ouspensky, obviously, rejects the monistic epistemology of Nietzsche:   " . . . . the idea of superman has never existed apart from the idea of higher consciousness" (p. 140).   "Superman in the past, or in the future, does not stand in contradiction to the possibility of higher consciousness in the man living now.  On the contrary, the one reveals the other" (p. 145).

The UFO, the UNO and the Local Librarian

(  Originally written and posted on MySpace on March 23, 2008 )

We are accustomed to having an expanse of time before us,  but, facing the imminent coming of my 65th birthday, I have experienced a sudden reversal of the expanse of time.  Now, it has become the past, not the future.  The word "bouleversement" comes to mind, a word first encountered when I read Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon back in 1953 in an English translation held by the local public library.  That word seems to me to suggest the sensation of being overthrown, head over heels, backward, with only a vista of the past.  In Verne’s book, the bouleversement changes the vista of the travellers from the earth to the moon.  The great reversal occurs when they cross the point where the gravitational fields of the earth and the moon are of equal strength.  

Thinking of the past, thoughts arise of the many books that I have given away, thrown away, or even sold (for a pittance) to some used book dealer.   Among these was M. K. Jessup’s The Expanding Case of the UFO (1957), a book which I once owned but gave up when I went through my collection in preparation for a geographical move from point R to point S or wherever.  I do wish that I still owned that curious book.  (While deploring wrong decisions made in the past,  mention will be made of my discard of the box of comic books which I owned back in the period from 1950 to 1953!)

Jessup’s The Expanding Case for the UFO came to mind when I discovered that someone has put on the Internet the text of Jessup’s The Case for the UFO (1956), a book by Jessup which I have never read until now and never owned.   Had I read The Case for the UFO, I would have better understood its sequel The Expanding Case for the UFO.   The latter seemed to me to be a strange agglomeration of accounts of activity on the moon, strange lights, etc., references to UFO in the Bible, followed with a discussion of the similarities of meteor craters in Mexico to lunar craters, the massive ruins of the Mayans, mysterious falls of ice and other objects from the sky, and an account of the pygmies of equatorial Africa and Malaysia.  It all seemed so heterogeneous,  unwieldy, unorganized, but it had an underlying theme, which becomes apparent upon reading The Case for the UFO.

Although my local public library had a copy of Desmond Leslie and George Adamski’s better-known Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), it never acquired a copy of Jessup’s The Case for the UFO.   I asked the librarian if a copy could be ordered.  Her reply was:  "You must mean The Case for the UNO."   During the later 1940s and the early 1950s, the United Nations was often referred to as the United Nations Organization or UNO.   The librarian made it evident that she would welcome a request for a book on the UNO more than for a book on the UFO, which I explained meant Unidentified Flying Objects.  (Leslie and Adamski’s work was a best seller, which probably accounts for its presence in the library.)

That was my first intimation, though not one that surprised me, that public librarians were enthusiasts for the United Nations even as the public schoolteachers were.  Not long before this, around 1954 or 1955, our teacher had praised the UN and wanted us all to know how foul the USA was because it had "stolen" the Panama Canal Zone.  In an earlier entry, I have noted how teachers and librarians alike, mostly dependent on public tax monies, are, by that very circumstance,  nudged over to the left.   The early effort of the teachers to innoculate us against the virus of patriotism was obviously, in retrospect, due to their fear that, otherwise, we might be susceptible to the patriotic pretensions of the anti-tax party, the hated Republicans.

Getting back to  Jessup’s The Case for the UFO, part of which I have now read for the first time,  it seems that the disparate investigations of The Expanding Case for the UFO are all linked by the hypothesis that Jessup presents in The Case.   Jessup’s hypothesis is that intelligent beings, possibly extraterrestrial in origin, though not necessarily so, had discovered the means to lift heavy masses, thus accounting for the massive megalithic ruins, and that they were little people, thus accounting for a  genetic trace which they may have left on earth’s surface, the pygmies.  All of this occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Now these beings had at least one site for their habitation:  the sun-earth-moon gravitational neutral area.  This is about 160,000 to 170,000 miles from earth, thus closer to the moon.  The signs of activity on the moon were traces of these beings.   Their mother ships, from one mile to ten miles in length, were more or less parked in the gravitational neutral zone (or Lagrangian point).  From these mother ships, they sent forth the scout ships, the "flying saucers" seen by earthlings.

Jessup’s hypothesis seems to owe something to Charles Fort, particularly his speculations in his works The Book of the Damned and New Lands.  It is one of the more ingenious speculations about UFO.  While not as entertaining as accounts of George Adamski’s meeting with a Venusian or Billy Meier’s encounters with alien beings from the Pleiades, it is much more down (or at least closer) to earth.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Enchanted Castles (according to E. Cobham Brewer)

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on March 30, 2008  )
Frequently, during the last few minutes before I go to bed, I turn to the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer’s The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words that have a Tale to Tell.   First published in 1870, it had grown to more than 1300 pages in length by 1894 when it appeared in its "Classic Edition."  (This version was reprinted by Avenel Books in 1978, the edition from which I quote.)  Brewer is far from being soporific, rather more relaxing.  At times, though, entries appear which are really unexpected.  Consider, for example, the following:

"Enchanted Castles.   De Saint Foix says that women and girls were subject to violence whenever they passed by an abbey quite as much as when they approached a feudal castle.  When these victims were sought for and demanded back, the monks would sustain a siege rather than relinquish them; and, if close pressed, would bring to the walls some sacred relic, which so awed the assailants that they would desist rather than incur the risk of violating such holy articles.   This, he says, is the origin of enchanters, enchantments, and enchanted castles.   (Historical Essays.)"

This reminds me of the "liberal" monks who inhabit today’s academic abbey.  They hold aloft to all challengers the sign "Equality!"   That is supposed to be enough to stop in their tracks all inquirers who might dare to think for themselves.   While we recognize equality of rights for individuals and groups, as well as equality of opportunity as a desirable goal, the denizens of today’s academic abbey expect one and all to bow before this holy relic proclaiming that all individuals and groups are equal in their inherent abilities. 

I could say as much against those "conservatives" who uphold the holy relic of "Free Enterprise," a state of the economy which never existed and never will exist.   What a blessing it would be if we had more true liberals, people who believe in being free thinkers about all topics, and authentic conservatives, people who know that what should be conserved is something more basic and primordial than the economic system of capitalism.

Getting back to Brewer, there are occasional entries which are really puzzling.  Consider the following brief entry, which seems to involve a reversal of reality:   "Poe (Edgar Allan).   The alias of Arthur Gordon Pym, the American poet.  (1811-1849.)"   Did Brewer put this in his dictionary to catch any miscreant who might plunder his work for materials to produce a dictionary under a different name? 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Nietzsche as Lamarckian; Tom Hayden and SDS

 ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on  February 12, 2008 )

 Was Nietzsche a Lamarckian?

[ I ] cannot resist the temptation to ask stupid questions about Nietzsche.   The last one at this "blog" site raised the question of why Nietzsche has his Zarathustra, a cave-dweller, fulminate against newspapers.   Admittedly, Nietzsche's Zarathustra is not the Zoroaster of old, but the reference to newspapers seems rather too anachronistic.

Dover Publications has recently reprinted in facsimile the 1911 translation by J.M. Kennedy of Nietzsche's The Dawn of Day.   The price, at $9.95, is slightly more than it should be, but I could not resist buying a copy, if only to have an opportunity to read once again an interesting work from Nietzsche's middle period.   My attention was caught by aphorism 241, which follows:

    " FEAR AND INTELLIGENCE    --     If that which is now expressly maintained is true, viz. that the cause of the black pigment of the skin must not be sought in light, might this phenomenon perhaps be the ultimate effect of frequent fits of passion accumulated for century after century (and an afflux of blood under the skin)?   while in other and more intelligent races the equally frequent spasms of fear and blanching may have resulted in the white color of the skin?      For the degree of timidity is the standard by which the intelligence may be measured; and the fact that men give themselves up to blind anger is an indication that their animal nature is still near the surface, and is longing for an opportunity to make its presence felt once more.     Thus a brownish-grey would probably be the primitive colour of man -- something of the ape and the bear, as is only proper. "

Here Nietzsche implicitly accepts Lamarckianism,  the belief that acquired characteristics can become hereditary.   Of course, Nietzsche did not know about Gregor Mendel's researches into inheritance.  Lamarckianism, with its belief in willful uplift, might explain why Nietzsche in his Ecce Homo dismisses as a misconception the notion that the Uebermensch can be the outcome of deliberate breeding.  The Dawn of Day came after Thus Spake Zarathustra in which the Uebermensch is first proclaimed. 

Some readers may be troubled by what they see as "racialism" in this aphorism by Nietzsche, but even more troubling (from the perspective of this reader) is its implicit acceptance of a belief that one can become what one thinks.   How is this all that different from New Thought and "thinkers" such as Kahlil Gibran or Napoleon Hill?  
( Originally written and posted on MySpace on February 3, 2008 )

Tom Hayden Speaks at A.L.A. Mid-Winter Convention

Few people will be surprised that the star speaker at the A.L.A.'s Mid-Winter convention was Tom Hayden.   Hayden was a prominent spokesman for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the leading New Left organization during the 1960's.

Sometime during 1967 I heard Tom Hayden speak on my campus, a large state university in Ohio where I was enrolled as a graduate student.   It was not immediately obvious why he had risen to become a prominent SDS leader,  but the same principle may have applied that was involved in the elevation of Earl Browder to the leadership of the Communist Party, USA, during the 1930's.   It was said, jokingly, that Browder was selected to head the CPUSA because he was the only leader who did not speak with a Bronx accent. 

Something similar was going on with the SDS.  I attended a couple of the SDS open meetings which were held on campus at the end of 1966.   Overhearing the comments of the attendees was revealing in itself.   Rather than condemning "the capitalists" or even "the rich," they focused their hatred on "the middle class" and especially "WASPs" and "rednecks."    None of the SDS adherents I encountered came from the working class.   Their fathers were owners of stores or lawyers or even doctors,  quite unlike the small town  Ohio "WASPs" of modest income with whom I could identify.   Many of them had spent their summers touring Europe.   Some had trust funds.

These liberators of the working class really hated "the rednecks" most of all.  Perhaps they really feared the "rednecks" because the main fault of the rednecks seemed to be their racism and their anti-Semitism.   The rednecks were perhaps America's equivalents to the Cossacks.  These same SDS adherents were ready to explain that they had enrolled in a state university in Ohio only because "the quotas" had kept them from enrolling in an Ivy League institution back east from whence most of them came.   The people behind these "quotas" were the evil WASPs.

No, the students of SDS back then were certainly not promoting a class war.  Quite the contrary, they were promoting a culture war and had plenty of support among faculty members and people in the mass media.   They seem to have won their culture war.

One of the leaders of SDS on my campus eventually became an account executive at his family's stock brokerage firm.  (As Dave Berry says, I am not making this up.)   One of the leaders of the Young Workers' Liberation League on campus had a father who was a doctor.   She explained to me that a doctor could really be a member of the working class. 

Decades after the New Leftists "did their thing," the traditional culture of the USA, what little there ever was of it anyway, has been devastated.   Capitalism, however, their supposed enemy, has gone from one strength to another,  threatens to rage on out of control forever.  Was all this supposed "liberation" just one big cruel hoax orchestrated by someone somewhere?   There is not enough evidence to jump to that conclusion.

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 26, 2007 )

Nietzsche on Socrates: A Paradox

In his book Nietzsche and Paradox (2006), Almeida quotes the following assessment of Socrates which Nietzsche offers in the second part of his Human All-Too Human:

    " SOCRATES. If all goes well, the time will come
    when, in order to advance themselves on the path
    of moral reason, men will rather take up the
    Memorabilia of Socrates than the Bible, and when
    Montaigne and Horace will be used as pioneers and
    guides for the understanding of Socrates, the simplest
    and most enduring of interpretative sages. In him
    converge the roads of the most different philo-
    sophic modes of life, which are in truth the modes of
    the different temperaments, crystallised by reason
    and habit and all ultimately directed towards the
    delight in life and in self. The apparent conclu-
    sion is that the most peculiar thing about Socrates
    was his share in all the temperaments. Socrates
    excels the founder of Christianity by virtue of his
    merry style of seriousness and by that wisdom of
    sheer roguish pranks which constitutes the best state
    of soul in a man. Moreover, he had a superior in-
    telligence. "

What seems paradoxical about this positive assessment of Socrates is the fact that elsewhere -- in his The Birth of Tragedy and in Twilight of the Idols -- , Nietzsche condemns Socrates as a decadent and a promulgator of decadence, as the destroyer of the Dionysian sense among the ancient Greeks,  the subverter of the great tragic sense of the Greeks. 

Does Nietzsche contradict himself?   Human All-Too Human is dedicated to Voltaire.   Does that offer a clue?   Does Nietzsche in this book see Socrates as a kind of Voltaire in his ancient Greek society?   Both men persisted in conducting a piercing and relentless inquiry after the truth.   Both raised questions that leading elements of their respective societies had no wish to ponder. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nietzsche as Stylist and Celebrity

 (  Originally written and posted on MySpace on  December 24, 2007 )
Probably Byron was the first modern creative writer who successfully marketed himself as a celebrity.   Long before the age of photography and illustrated newspapers, his name was recognized by millions.   Schopenhauer first saw Byron when he was in Italy with his Italian mistress.   She alerted him to the presence of Byron, the handsome Englishman.   Schopenhauer was fearful that the glamorous Byron would steal her away from him!   The most recent avatar of this writer-as-celebrity tradition was probably the late Norman Mailer.  From Byron to Mailer, the writer-as-celebrity has known how to build the circulation of his works.

Only somewhat after the time of Byron did the creative writer discover how to be taken seriously by the critics of academe in addition to the critics of the press.  Fame generated by the press could be fleeting, but fame generated in the departments of academe is also longed for by creative writers.   Was it James Joyce who pioneered in the technique of playing to the audience of academic critics by writing obscurely?   The results are evident.   Articles on Joyce's novels still fill up the pages of the refereed journals, but there are few articles on Robert Louis Stevenson,  who was too close to being a simple storyteller.

Even philosophers early discovered that obscurity extended their "shelf life."   Again, the journals of philosophy are full of articles essaying an explication of the murky writings of Hegel,  while the straightforward Schopenhauer wins not even a slight fraction of as much attention.   (Being basically conservative in his societal impact is probably another reason for the neglect of Schopenhauer.)  The late Jacques Derrida was the latest practitioner of the higher obscurity.   His acolytes fill up the pages not only of philosophy journals, but also the journals of literary-critical theory.

One hesitates to place Nietzsche among the practitioners of the higher obscurity, much less to regard him as one who consciously sought celebrity.   It was only after his collapse into insanity that Nietzsche was catapulted to the heights of celebrity.   Next to Socrates, he is probably best-known philosopher of today.  Even Jean-Paul Sartre, who was a vigorous self-promoter, has gone into a kind of eclipse, but Nietzsche is still a figure of urban legend.    Everyone has seen somewhere this famous graffito:   "God is Dead!" --  Nietzsche.   "Nietzsche is dead!"  --  God.

Nietzsche may have been less a conscious practitioner of the higher obscurity than a virtuoso of stylists.   He occupied a pivotal point between being a poet and being a philosopher, never being simply reducible to one or the other.   Rogerio Miranda de Almeida makes the following observation in his book Nietzsche and Paradox :   

     " The old adage that one cannot dissociate an author from his or her style gains considerable force if one considers the variety of styles, genres, and tropes that serve Nietzsche as a means of expressing a thought that is itself multiform and paradoxical.   He has effectively cultivated poetry, aphorism, autobiography, dialogues, philosophical treatises, maxims, parables, and proverbs. "





Saturday, October 6, 2012

J. B. Priestley on Nietzsche

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on October 12, 2008 )

In his Literature and Western Man, published in 1960, J. B. Priestley displays some of the plain English common sense that is often evident in H. G. Wells's The Outline of History.   The same common sense is often apparent in Thomas De Quincey and in Samuel Johnson, but Priestley and Wells in particular have won the disdain of the herd of professors who write hyperspecialized articles for refereed journals which, in turn, go unread save by other professors preparing hyperspecialized articles for publication in yet other refereed journals.   Priestley dares to write on the whole of literature, just as Wells dares to write on the whole of history.   Such daring is anathema to academe.

Some of Priestley's common sense appears in his synopsis of Nietzsche.  After explaining that Nietzsche began as a great destroyer -- announcing the death of God -- ,  he notes that Nietzsche then encountered a great dilemma:

    "  A new myth, then, had to be found.   It was here, turning from the negative, in which his brilliant insights cannot be questioned, to the positive and what must be done, that Nietzsche goes from strength to weakness.   He had rejected so much:  Christianity, rational liberalism (he thought John Stuart Mill a vulgar blockhead), the Hegelian state, Marx's Communism, French or English socialism, Russian anarchy; all were useless.   So, not unmoved by vague dreams of his Greek and Renaissance heroes, he offered his own myth of the Supermen, towering high above the herd, beyond present good and evil, tyrant-philosopher-artists who by the splendour of their richly individual lives would more than justify the toil and servitude of common men, the masses that would find their own drab lives enriched by the mere existence of these magnificent beings, by a dazzling new myth.   The idea is neither ignoble nor completely absurd, though Nietzsche, as he goaded himself on, in the shadow of madness, wrote both ignobly and absurdly all round it, over-compensating  his own feeling of inferiority by insisting upon his supermen being ruthless, violent, cruel, and devils with the women.  (In fact, respectively like Hitler, Goering, Himmler and Goebbels.)   Nevertheless, he was demanding the impossible.   He was asking for qualities that cancel each other out:  for beings at once more sensitive and less sensitive than ordinary men are, for ruthless tyrants with the tenderness for life of artists, for military bullies who could turn themselves inside out and be philosophers, for lovers of women who, whip in hand, could not know how to love women.   The myth is so inadequate, the positive so pitiful after the negative, the destructive force of his criticism, that it is as if a man had blown up a city in order to stage a second-rate pageant. . . .  "

Of course, Priestley oversimplifies,  but one must appreciate the delightful image at the end of this accounting.   Those on the left who make use of Nietzsche,   such as the late Jacques Derrida or Herbert Marcuse, obviously shun the Nietzschean Uebermensch, either as too problematic or too preposterous.  Priestley here attacks the Nietzsche of the nationalist, militarist, German right, who was probably closer to the real, original Nietzsche than the present-day Nietzsche of the leftist deconstructionists.

Perhaps one text-critical note is relevant:   Priestley first refers to "Supermen," the new myth, and then shifts to "supermen," when he exposes the concept's emptiness.   Was the shift from upper case to lower case an error which passed by a proofreader, or was it intentional?    I suspect the latter, that the craftsmanship of Priestley explains this.   Also,  Priestley gives evidence of having read Nietzsche's works.   Something more than a glib dismissal is involved in his assessment of the Uebermensch, but it should be noted that Nietzsche writes of der Uebermensch, singular not plural. 

Prentice Mulford, latter-day follower of Thoreau

The conclusion to Prentice Mulford's The Swamp Angel (1888), 
an account of his attempt to imitate Thoreau's Walden (1854):
"I had imagined 
I could live happily alone with nature, 
and largely independent of the rest of 
the human race. I couldn't. I don't 
believe anybody can. Nature has taught 
me better. I found that the birds went 
in pairs and in flocks; that plants and 
trees grew in families; that ants live in 
colonies, and that everything of its kind 
had a tendency to live and grow together. 
But here I was, a single bit of the 
human race, trying to live alone and 
away from my kind. The birds and 
trees were possibly glad of my admira- 
tion for them, but they said: 'You 
don't belong to us. You shouldn't try 
to belong to us. You belong to your 
own race; go join them again; cultivate 
them. We live our own lives; you can't 
get wholly into our lives. You're not 
a bird, that you can live in a nest and 
on uncooked seeds; or a squirrel, that 
can live in a hole in a tree; or a tree, 
that can root itself in one place and stay 

there, as you've been trying to do. A 
hermit is one who tries to be a tree, and 
draw nourishment from one spot, when 
he is really a great deal more than a 
tree, and must draw life and recreation 
from many persons and places. A bear 
is not so foolish as to try and live among 
foxes; neither should a man try to live 
entirely among trees, because they 
cannot give him all that he must 
have to get the most out of life. So 
I left my hermitage, I presume for- 
ever, and carted my bed and pots 
and pans to the house of a friend 
perched on the brink of the Palisades 
opposite Tinker's." 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Machiavellians: Key to Political Understanding

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on December 14, 2008 )

In an entry a couple of weeks ago regarding Lovecraft, I mentioned that the late Samuel T. Francis, the most significant paleoconservative in America, had written a number of essays on Lovecraft, which now are in manuscript form only, but which I hope will eventually be published.  This would be a second posthumous gift from Sam Francis.  The first, which he gave to us in life, but which we should all the more value after his passing, is his insight into the process of political analysis.  As a prelude to an understanding of this process Sam Francis recommended a reading of James Burnham's book The Machiavellians:  Defenders of Freedom (1943).

The opening chapter of this work presents an analysis of the political writing of Dante versus that of Machiavelli, which gives us a fundamental tool for political analysis.  We should consider, first of all, Burnham argues, the often great distance between the formal meaning of a political work and its real meaning.  The formal meaning of Dante's De Monarchia is a defence of universal peace and world citizenship.  The real meaning, however, is something much less admirable.  It is Dante's defence of the Holy Roman Empire, even if it means the suppression of all freedom and cultural identity among the city-states of Italy.  Contrarily, according to Burnham, the formal meaning of Machiavelli's Il Principe, a work which ostensibly advocates hard-boiled amoral Realpolitik, is a cover for its real meaning, a call for the Italians to unite on behalf of national determination and a warning against tyranny.

Burnham does not offer this observation, but it is obvious that Machiavelli's Il Principe, written in the vernacular, was intended to be read by as wide a readership as possible, a readership far beyond the narrow circles of princes and their hangers-on.  Dante's work, on the contrary, written in Latin, was addressed only to the learned, unlike his great poetic works, Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, which were all written in the vernacular.

Burnham proceeds from his analysis of Machiavelli to a presentation of the basic ideas of Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, and Robert Michels.  All of these are still worth reading, especially Mosca's The Ruling Class.  The Machiavellians are defenders of freedom, according to Burnham, because they recognize that freedom has a chance only when the ruling power is met by some countervailing power.  Furthermore, a recognition that all societies are ruled and run by a self-seeking elite is a warning to commoners that they must limit state power as much as possible.  This is a fundamentally conservative stance, the very beginning of conservatism in its recognition of the limits of all human institutions, a stance contrary to the disingenuous idealism typified by works such as Dante's De Monarchia.