Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summer in Baden-BadenSummer in Baden-Baden : A Novel

Doubling the narrative in style

I was on a train, traveling by day, but it was winter-time -- late December, the very depths -- and to add to it the train was heading north -- to Leningrad -- so it was quickly darkening on the other side of the windows -- bright lights of Moscow stations flashing into view and vanishing again behind me like the scattering of some invisible hand . . .
- Leonid Tsypkin, Summer in Baden-Baden, p 1

So begins a literary doppleganger in the sense that there are two narratives, one of Leningrad and today and Leonid Tsypkin, and one of Petersburg and yesterday and Fedya and Anna. Tsypkin's novel mesmerizes with two stories that enthrall with emotion and truth. A taut gem of historical and literary fiction that gets to the heart of Dostoevsky and appeals to all who have loved his work. The story clings to the real events of Dostoevsky's life torn form the pages of Anna's Diary and other sources that intertwine with Tsypkin's own modern journey. Among the themes of the book are those of all great Russian literature as seen through the painful experiences of Dostoevsky's own vices and the dreamlike desires of the narrator.

I was fascinated as the novel flowed back and forth between the first person I reflecting the narrator's memories and the third person scenes of Fedya and Anna -- between past and present. The taut lyricism that keeps the novel short, even through the use of long sentences is difficult to compare with any other novel I have read. However, in its uniqueness I would place it with Rilke's Notebooks of Malt Laurids Brigge. Different in many ways but just as unique in its ability to haunt one's memory. Sadly, the author did not live to see the English-language publication of this novel. Like other great Russian authors he worked in the medical profession, but he left us a gift based on his passion for literature.

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Summer in Baden-Baden: A Novel by Leonid Tsypkin. New Directions, New York. 2001 (1981).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sonnet for Today

There is no quiet for the soul when dreams fuel your imagination.


Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.

- Shakespeare

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prelude by Synge

J. M. Synge

A poem for today from The Collected Works:


Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon's delight.

I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors, and fens.

- J M Synge

Collected Works. Volume 1: Poems by J M Synge. Oxford University Press, 1962.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reading Steinbeck

Change: From Order to Chaos

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 
― Herman Melville

The scene is changing as we read the opening paragraph of The Grapes of Wrath that begins with the famous line, "To the red country and part of the gray country", and ends with "as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country."

Thus we have at the beginning of the novel becoming -- change in nature witnessed through the landscape of Oklahoma. That signals one of the major themes of the novel. The change is not limited to nature, for the first man who is named, Tom Joad, is also undergoing change. His transition is one from prison to freedom, the freedom of the road and the freedom of parole. But his change also signals another aspect of change. Just as he is moving from the rigid boundaries and rules of prison to the open road and his family the world of the novel and his family, the Joads, is moving from order to chaos. This is not a sudden movement, rather one signaled in steps through incidents and events throughout the novel. Once they arrive in California they descend from the seeming luxury (in their experience) of the "government camp" to the dreary life in the "boxcars". The ultimate chaos, beyond which some will survive, just as a few did with Noah in the Bible, will be the flood at the end of the novel. In between we see the family change and survive severe trials that test their ability to deal with the changes they face.

Within the family the leader is, in many ways, Ma Joad. It is she who demonstrates strength, determination, and, above all, integrity, but as she journeys at the head of the family she also changes. Her change can be seen in her gradual recognition of the importance of the larger community beyond her family as she feeds the children around the family's cook fire (p 253) and, more dramatically in the final chapter of the novel (p 445):

"Ever'body's in the same wagon. S'pose we was down. You'd gove us a han'."
"Yes," Ma said, "we would."
"Or anybody."
"Or anybody." Use' ta be the fambly was fust. It ain't so now. It's anybody. Worse off we get, the more we got to do."

Thus we see in the change of Ma Joad and her family perhaps a reaction to the changing of their world with the gradual descent into chaos. A greater need for community with the scarcity of resources for coping with life -- for living itself. The changes of the family seem also to lead to a purpose in life perhaps suggested by the strange yet noble action of Rose of Sharon at the end of the novel. It reminds me of the words of Erich Hoffer:

We need not only a purpose in life to give meaning to our existence, but also something to give meaning to our suffering. We need as much something to suffer for as something to live for. (Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition, p 88)

For out of the chaos of their world the Joads may yet have found something for which to live.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Penguin Books, New York. 2002 (1939).
Reflections on the Human Condition by Eric Hoffer. Harper & Row, New York. 1973.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reading Steinbeck

Further Thoughts on The Grapes of Wrath

As thinkers, mankind has ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, The senses give us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Transcendentalist

When I first read The Grapes of Wrath, many years ago, I basically read it for plot, and since Steinbeck is a good story-teller there is a good plot line to follow; but upon rereading I find that, like all great novels, there is much more to the book - many more levels of meaning. Steinbeck said as much in his letters:

I know that books lead to a strong deep climax. This one doesn't except by implication and the reader must bring the implication to it. If he doesn't, it wasn't a book for yim to read. Throughout I've tried to make the reader participate in the actuality, what he takes from it wil be scaled entirely on his own depth of shallowness. There are five layers in this book, a reader will find as many as he can and he won't find more than he has in himself. (Steinbeck, A Life in Letters, January 16, 1939: pp. 178-79)
My own rereading finds me wondering at the many levels of meaning and essence of the novel. What started as an examination of The Grapes of Wrath as an example of some aspects of capitalism expanded into other areas of artistic expression of philosophic ideas. The characters themselves represent ideas as their lives and actions intertwine with the journey of the Joad family. I found the former preacher Jim Casy seemed to embody the Transcendentalism of Emerson (and a touch of Whitman) when he rhapsodized on his new life:

I ain't gonna preach. . . I ain't gonna baptize. I'm gonna work in the fiel's, in the green fiel's, an' I'm gonna be near to folks. . . Gonna lay in the grass, opn an' honest with anybody that'll have me. Gonna cuss an' swear an' hear the poetry of folks talkin'. All that's holy, all that's what I didn' understan'. All them things is the good things." (p 94)

While the strongest character, Ma Joad, continually defends the family from outsiders and from themselves,  embodies many virtues, perhaps the greatest being her integrity. Living true to the truths of her family she draws on inner strength to see them through their journey, even when some do not make it all the way to California. Her desire to protect her rebellious son, Tom, creates a sense of danger, but she always maintains a focus on protecting the family from the danger in this relationship. With the other members of the family we see a group of characters that adhere to each other, relying on each others' strengths, providing a paradigm of a community whose members are bound by a strong sense of common purpose. This is an example of collective action, but the family is not always alone in this world. In spite of the malevolence of nature they face from the opening pages of the novel, there are instances of help from strangers, whether an anonymous trucker or the friendly store clerk at the campground, who defy their own insecurities and fears to bond in surreptitious friendship with the Joads.

There are more levels of meaning to explore, including the importance of Nature, seen beginning on the first page of the opening chapter; symbolism and metaphor, as when the "monsters" and "decay" come and the "wonder" goes out of both life and work; and American philosophy, an idealism that is demonstrated in the individualism of Jim Casy when he says,

I know this -- a man got to do what he got to do. I can't tell you. I don't think they's luck or bad luck. On'y one thing in this worl' I'm sure of, an' that's I'm sure nobody got a right to mess with a fella's life. He got to do it all hisself. Help him, maybe, but not tell him what to do.(p 224)

Beyond the exploration of these levels is the transcendence of a great work of art that promises more riches in the next reading, and in doing so pleads with the reader to return again soon.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Penguin Books, New York. 2002 (1939).
The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Brooks Atkinson, ed. Modern Library, New York. 1968.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Achilles' War: The True Story of the Illiad Achilles' War: The True Story of the Illiad
by Caroline Alexander

It is the epic of epics, the most celebrated and enduring of all war stories ever told. - Caroline Alexander, Achilles' War, p 1.

This is an excellent book to read in conjunction with your latest rereading of Homer's Iliad, which is just what I have recently done. Caroline Alexander manages to emphasize the relevance of the Iliad for today by exploring references to other literature and deepening the meanings found within the Iliad by the reader. While Homer's epic stands alone for the serious reader, the addition of these resources widens the breadth of possibilities of understanding for the reader and, in my case, assisted in our discussion of the original text among our study group. What Ms. Alexander has not done is produce a traditional work of Homeric scholarship with commentary on linguistic expressions or the oral tradition. Rather this is more of an extended meditation on war and its meaning as beautifully expressed by Homer through Achilles and his other characters. The result is a successful addition to your reading and enjoyment of Homer but not a replacement for it.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


"And I can say that at the end of the eleven months that this investigation lasted, I was almost surprised that I had ever enjoyed anything other than those rare moments when the judge would lead me to the door of his office, slap me on the shoulder, and say to me cordially, 'That's all for today, Monsieur Antichrist.' I would then be handed back over to the police." (Camus, L'Etranger, Part 2, Chapter 1, pg. 71)

Albert Camus’s first and most famous novel L'Etranger (The Stranger, or The Outsider) was published on this day in 1942. This was the same year as the movie Casablanca was released; the most reproduced photographs of Albert Camus show him looking like Humphrey Bogart — overcoated, cigaretted, and attractively worn-out. More interestingly, people like Victor Laslo, the Resistance leader that escaped Casablanca taking Rick's one and only with him, did so with the help of people like Albert Camus. Camus was Algerian-French, and too tubercular to join the army; instead he while he convalesced on a farm, during his trips to Saint-Etienne he helped the underground railway that shipped Jews and political refugees from southern France to Oran, then west across Morocco to Casablanca, then Lisbon and out.

Another remarkable parallel is that The Stranger also managed to slip by the Nazis. With the paper shortage, getting a book published in France during WWII was difficult enough; getting clearance from the Propaganda Ministry was an even larger obstacle. The Nazis of 1942 were not the avid burners of a decade earlier, but the prohibitions were systematic and effective: nothing against Hitler and Homeland, nothing for Jews, nothing subversive or, in Nazi Newspeak, “inflammatory.” That the watchdogs of totalitarianism should judge The Stranger to be harmlessly apolitical may be one of the larger ironies in the history of publishing and censorship.

The Stranger by Albert Camus. Vintage Books, New York. 1954 (1942).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bertrand Russell

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was born on this day in 1872.

As a philosopher, mathematician, educator, social critic and political activist, Russell authored over 70 books and thousands of essays and letters addressing a myriad of topics. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, "Bertie" was a fine literary stylist, one of the foremost logicians ever, and a gadfly for improving the lives of men and women.

Born in 1872 into the British aristocracy and educated at Cambridge University, Russell gave away much of his inherited wealth. But in 1931 he inherited and kept an earldom. His multifaceted career centered on work as a philosophy professor, writer, and public lecturer.

Russell was an author of diverse scope. His first books were German Social Democracy, An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, and A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz. His last books were War Crimes in Vietnam and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Among his other especially noteworthy titles are Principia Mathematica (with A.N. Whitehead), Sceptical Essays, The Conquest of Happiness, and A History of Western Philosophy.

He was arguably one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century and the greatest logician since Aristotle. Analytic philosophy, the dominant philosophy of the twentieth century, owes its existence more to Russell than any other philosopher. And the system of logic developed by Russell and A.N. Whitehead, and based on earlier work by Frege and Peano, finally broke logic out of its Aristotelian straitjacket. He was also one of the century's leading public intellectuals, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".

Russell was involved, often passionately, in numerous social and political controversies of his time. For example, he supported suffragists, free thought in religion and morals, and world government; he opposed World War I and the Vietnam War, nationalism, and political persecution. He was jailed in 1918 for anti-war views and in 1961 for his anti-nuclear weapons stance.

He was married 4 times and had 3 children. With Dora Russell, he founded the experimental Beacon Hill School. He knew or worked with many of the most prominent figures in late 19th and 20th century philosophy, mathematics, science, literature, and politics.

Active as a political and social critic until his end, Russell died in 1970 at the age of 97.

(Source: Bertrand Russell Society)

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Iliad
Achilles and Priam

"Priam must not see his son."
He feared that, overwhelmed by the sight of Hector,
wild with grief, Priam might let his anger flare
and Achilles might fly into fresh rage himself,
- The Iliad, Book 24, lines 683-6

The final book of The Iliad begins with the games over and the armies scattered, but Achilles remains in grief over the death of his friend Patrocles. He slowly is persuaded that he must return Hector's body to Priam. Even as his mother Thetis mourns the future fate of her son who is also doomed to die, the gods gather and continue to argue over the situation.

Priam prays to Zeus:

And Zeus in all his wisdom heard that prayer and straightaway the Father launched an eagle -- truest of Zeus's signs that fly the skies -- (lines 373-5)

Achilles the leader understands the situation as he returns the body of Hector to his father Priam. Priam, who implores him to "Remember your own father" in a moving speech. But the story may find a fitting summary in the words of Achilles when he says,

So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments -- the gods live free of sorrows. (lines 613-14)

The Iliad by Homer. Robert Fagles, trans. Viking Penguin, New York. 1990

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Memory and Desire

Old Filth 
by Jane Gardam

Memory, he thought. Memory. My memory has always been so reliable. Perhaps too reliable. It has never spared me. Memory and desire, he thought. Who said that? Without memory and desire life is pointless? I long ago lost any sort of desire. Now memory. (Old Filth, p 257)

In the opening scene of the novel we are introduced to an empty chair at a luncheon in the Inner Temple of Barristers. It is the chair once filled by Eddie Feathers, better known as"Old Filth". As a boy he was separated from his parents by death and distance. As a man he was known by his success as a barrister in Hong Kong, thus the nickname "Old Filth" (FILTH being an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong."). But what of this man who had recently left his peers and his life so materially rewarded by his success? Jane Gardam's novel, Old Filth, tells his story through the memories of a man at the end of his life, a man whose desire has faded as his body has withered. Some moments in the story enchanted this reader such as when Eddie goes off to grammar school a stutterer and is cured by the headmaster, "Sir", who provides a model for Eddie's future education. He also meets the first of the friends that would mean much to his life and his success. While his early friend Ingoldby (what an unusual name, perhaps in memory of the author & poet of the same?) would not survive the war, the Ingoldby family would provide Eddie with the family he did not have as a youth, its characters playing a prominent role in the story. Later friends, notably Albert Loss ( Albert Ross of the Coleridge poem) also are important in ways that are not evident upon their first appearance.
It is the way that Jane Gardam intertwined the memories of Eddie Feathers into a coherent whole that impressed me. Her ability to demonstrate his life and memories of it through the structure of the story, along with her fine writing style, made this a very good read and an excellent novel. It is not a perfect novel and I wondered at the seeming lack of passion of Eddie Feathers in spite of his youthful desire. He seemed to be a man who built his life out of reactions to events, with enough luck and desire along the way to make quite an impact on his friends and his peers. Near the end of the novel he reproves himself, "Life ends. You're tired of it anyway. No memory. No desire. Yet you don't want it to be over. Not quite yet."(p 258-9)
This is a sign of his fading life, but there is a stronger omen in the penultimate scene of the novel as he returns to Hong Kong, perhaps for the last time, when,

"The black night shuddered all around the plane. When he next woke there was a pencilled line of gold drawn round each oval blind.
Dawn already.
"We are in tomorrow," said the girl. "It's the sunrise. A happy New Year."(p 286)

We do not see him waking again, but look back fondly on the story of his life with admiration for the goodness of his memories and desires. This alone made the book a pleasure to read.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam. Europa Editions, New York. 2009 (2004).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The System of Vienna: From Heaven Street to Earth Mound Square The System of Vienna: From Heaven Street to Earth Mound Square

by Gert Jonke

In the morning, the city of Vienna is usually shrouded in a low lying cloud, out of which it slowly unwraps itself with great exertion
- Gert Jonke, The System of Vienna, p 87.

This novella reminded me a bit of Calvino in its terse style and bizarre images. Innocence devolves into disillusion and the paranoid appear in unexpected moments. A book that bears reflection and perhaps ultimately will leave questions unanswered and thoughts unresolved. From stamp collecting to lovemaking the book becomes more fantastic as it spans briefly into nonexistence.

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Reading Steinbeck

Thoughts on The Grapes of Wrath

As long ago as 1920, in his book The Acquisitive Society, the English social critic R. H. Tawney wrote about capitalism:

The concentration of authority is too deeply rooted in the very essence of Capitalism for differences in the degree of arbitrariness with which it is exercised to be other than trivial.(p 129)

Without dwelling on the inaccuracies or inadequacies of that statement (or of Tawney's approach to property) it seems like a good starting point for a discussion of the views expressed by John Steinbeck in his early novels, particularly in The Grapes of Wrath. I was merely disappointed when I read Tortilla Flat, an earlier novel of Steinbeck from 1935. In it he depicted a group of paisanos who, soft-hearted, unquestioningly loyal to one another, and in complete disregard of social conventions and expectations, cheerfully resided in a world of idyllic poverty. By 1939 Steinbeck had written The Grapes of Wrath in which, for the most part, the idyllic side of poverty has been blown away along with the dust that covers the fields of the Oklahoma that the Joad family leaves behind as they move to California in search of an Eden. While they do not believe that their journey is doomed, at least at the beginning, they seem to exist in a world where Nature is strong and often dark and where god is a bit player. Ayn Rand would call this a "malevolent universe".

The picture of Oklahoma we see on the opening page of the novel is filled with color, but even in the first paragraph the dark side of nature is seen as, "The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread anymore." Followed in the next paragraph by, "The weeds frayed and edged back toward their roots." they seem to be waiting for better days. The corn and the flowers fare even worse.(p 1) Just as nature is dark, there are other dark presences on the horizon.

One of these presences is a view of capitalism portrayed as dark and foreboding in the images presented to the reader. This presentation is not direct, but one can infer from the people and actions presented the worldview behind it. The first member of the Joad family we meet is young Tom Joad as he is released from a prison and approaches a truck with a windshield displaying the welcoming "No Riders" sign. This is the face of capitalism, ameliorated slightly by the trucker who takes a chance on losing his job to give Tom a ride. In Chapter 5 we see the "owners of the land", all of whom were "caught in something larger than themselves."(p 31) Namely, the mathematics of the capitalist system, a system that breeds monsters:

"The tractors came over the fields and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects, having the incredible strength of insects. . . Snub-nosed monsters, raising the dust and sticking their snouts into it, straight down the country, across the country, through fences, through dooryards, in and out of gullies in straight lines." (p 35)

So much for the world of idyllic poverty. The Joads were on the road west, forced there not by nature alone but also by a capitalism that had no room for the poor outcast sharecroppers. For better or worse, they headed toward California and the promise of a warmer, more vibrant community. What can we make of such a world that is turned upside down? Materialism vs. idealism first comes to mind; but perhaps thoughts on this reading will reveal further clues as to the meaning of such a stark beginning.

The Acquisitive Society by R. H. Tawney. Harvest Books, New York. 1967 (1920)
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. Penguin Books, New York. 1976 (1935)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Penguin Books, New York. 2002 (1939)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sonnet for Today

As I live my life from day to day and the weeks slip by, I find time moving forward faster and faster. This inexorable movement was captured by Shakespeare in his nineteenth sonnet. Note the opening words, "Devouring Time", suggesting the ravenous nature of the beast. While we cannot escape it we can attempt, as Shakespeare did better than most, to create monuments that will withstand its ravages.


Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
- William Shakespeare

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Two Comedies

Last night I saw performances of two comedies by at the Chicago Actors Studio. The students who performed the comedies were uniformly professional. While I enjoyed both one act plays, "Lovers and Other strangers" and "F.M.", the second was my favorite.
The play, "F.M.", takes place in a creative writing class, where a rather prim teacher is at first appalled and then awed by the earthly brilliance of one of her pupils, a whiskey-guzzling, dirty-mouthed rough diamond whose primitive genius puts his dilettante classmates to shame. The characterization was impressive with Maryanne Leach, in the role of the teacher, providing an orderly center for the other characters as she held in her feelings except for a couple of explosive moments of pounding on her desk. The character of Buford Bullough, played well by Kyle Sing, was the catalyst for much of the action. Kyle managed to demonstrate almost multiple personalities as he narrated his story of incest and intrigue for the others. The directions by Edward Dennis Fogell was great and the interaction between all the actors in this very funny comedy was electric. It kept me in laughter except for the moments of wonder at the amazing content of Buford's story. The evening was a delight that included sharing laughter with some friends who with me enjoyed the two comedies.

Friday, May 07, 2010

To the Lighthouse

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.
- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, p 3.

I attended a lecture today, "Image and Invitation in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse", presented by Claudia Traudt, Instructor in the Basic Program of Liberal Education at The University of Chicago.
Claudia's lecture focused on the "understanding of the "betweenness" of lived experience and intercourse with art" in Woolf's novel. She introduced the lecture by claiming that "Woolf's art does not demand or declaim; it invites and allures." Her lecture vividly demonstrated this invitation and the audience responded.

Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse, is structured in three movements; "The Window", "Time Passes", and "The Lighthouse". Suggesting that the arc of the novel follows these three sections, moving us inexorably toward the lighthouse, Claudia shared selected passages from the novel as she providing enlightening exegesis. The allure of the novel consists both in its demonstration of the "entropy of time" and its showing forth through "epiphanies". The resulting nexus of persons leads to a constellation that provides some of the allure that makes this, and other of Woolf's work, a delight to read. The lecture also reminded us of the autobiographical connections between Woolf's fiction and her life.
One quickly discovers that reading Woolf cannot be done quickly for her prose must be savored slowly. The characters are delineated through their thoughts and actions like Mrs. Ramsey's "flashing her needles" as she knits stockings for her children. I was impressed with the subtle references to classic texts such as the suggestion of Oedipal conflict on the second page of the opening movement when James' father disrupts the plans of James and his mother for a trip to the lighthouse. In the last movement, ten years on, the memories of the characters have begun to fade, "the Lighthouse had become almost invisible"(p 208), just as our memories of past events fade, but the allure of the novel does not fade as all the elements combine to provide a scintillating reading experience.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. 1989 (1927).

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement

by Brian Doherty

We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.
- Friedrich A. Hayek, Nobel Laureate

Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism is a riveting and brilliant narrative of the evolution of American libertarianism. He both captures the lives and the ideas of a movement with its roots in the enlightenment and its greatest heroes in twentieth-century America. I was impressed with the detail, breadth, and compelling style of this history of the ideas and people of the libertarian 'movement'. Along the way he uncovers many facts that should be interesting for all but the most knowledgable among libertarian cognoscenti. You may find more information about certain individuals, especially those who are better known, in their respective biographies but the best overview is to be found in Brian Doherty's magnum opus.

Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty. Public Affairs Books, New York. 2007.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

What is Reason?

Reflections upon a Socratic Weekend

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T. S. Eliot

I spent the past weekend, from Thursday evening through Sunday morning, exploring the question: "What is Reason?" with sixteen other individuals who came together under the auspices of the Reason Individualism Freedom Institute to engage in a Socratic dialogue regarding this and related questions. I came away from this weekend, not with answers to the question, but with a better understanding of how to explore this and related questions of fundamental importance for anyone interested in pursuing wisdom.

We came together on Thursday evening, each from different places, backgrounds and ways of life, but each also with common goals and an beneficent spirit of cooperation centered on an agreement that reason was a concept worth exploring. There were several opportunities to do just that as we attempted with increasing success, led by Marsha Enright, the founder of the RIF Institute and Andrew Humphries, to follow the principles of Socratic dialogue in examining texts from Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Ayn Rand, Jefferson and others. The spirit of friendly cooperation in pursuit of understanding each of these texts drove us forward and we shared our observations on the success of each attempt before moving on. Between the discussions we expanded our minds with consideration of the great architecture of Chicago and the interpretation and observation of important works of art in the Art Institute. We also enjoyed a presentation by Jonathan Hoenig on the heroism of capitalists in their pursuit of financial success based on the practical application of reason, and a talk by one successful and talented neurosurgeon, Joel Franck, M.D., about his experiences and views of the ethical and business aspects of practicing medicine in America today.

The combination of all of these experiences and the camaraderie that developed from our interaction with one another made this a rewarding weekend with benefits that will continue to accrue as each of the participants reflect and act upon the knowledge gained through their participation in the seminar. I for one found that in pursuing the question, "What is Reason?", I found a better way of knowing how to use reason both to pursue further questions and live my life. That is an invaluable lesson.