E.M. CIORAN, ALL GALL IS DIVIDED

Marked Passages
― Plutarch, nowadays, would write the Parallel Lives of Losers.

― How easy it is to be “deep”: all you have to do is let yourself sink into your own flaws.

― No salvation, save in the imitation of silence. But our loquacity is prenatal. A race of rhetoricians, of verbose spermatozoons, we are chemically linked to the Word.

― …All commentary on a work is bad or futile, for whatever is not direct is null.

― What are the occupations of the age? He resigns himself to seeing, to eating, etc…., he accepts in spite of himself this “wound with nine openings,” which is what the Bhagavad-Gita calls the body.―Wisdom? To undergo with dignity the humiliation inflicted upon us by our holes.

― In this “great dormitory,” as one Taoist text calls the universe, nightmare is the sole mode of lucidity.

― The plant is mildly affected; the animal contrives to break down; in man the anomaly of all that breaths is exacerbated.

Life! homogeny of stupor and chemistry
… Shall we take refuge in the equilibrium of the mineral kingdom? Step backward over the realm dividing us from it and imitate normal stone?

― Death poses a problem which replaces all the others. What is deadlier to philosophy, to the naive belief in the hierarchy of perplexities?

― The Skeptic is perfectly willing to suffer, like other men, for life-giving chimeras. He fails to do so: a martyr of common sense

― Objection to scientific knowledge: this world doesn’t deserve to be known

― …amont theologians. Unable to prove what they propose, they are obliged to practice so many distinctions that they distract the brain; their purpose. Imagine the virtuosity required to classify angels into ten or a dozen species! Not to mention God: how many minds has His exhausting “infinity” cast into deliquescence;..

― …But when, in his impatience, he shot me a glance of distain, I resolved then and there to murder the disciple in myself.

― “I am like a broken puppet whose eyes have fallen inside.” This remark of a mental patient weighs more heavily than a whole stack of works of introspection.

― I gallivant through the days like a prostitute in a world without sidewalks.

― As long as boredom is confined to affairs of the heart, everything is still possible; once it spreads into the sphere of judgement, we are done for.

― To control men, you must practice their vices and add to them. Consider the popes; as long as they fornicated, gave themselves up to incest and murder, they ruled their age; and the church was omnipotent. No sooner did they respect its precepts than they declined, and still do: abstinence, like moderation, has been fatal to them; now that they’re respectable, who fears them? Edifying twilight of an institution.

― You cease being young the moment you no longer choose your enemies, when you are content with those you have within arm’s reach.

― You have dreamed of setting the universe ablaze, and you have not even managed to communicate your fire to words, to light up a single one!

― If I believe in God, my fatuousness world be limitless; I would walk naked in the streets…

― That which lives without memory has not left Paradise: the plants still delight in it. They were not doomed to Sin, to that impossibility of forgetting; but we, cases of walking remorse, etc., etc.

― “Lord, without Thee I am mad, yet with The I am madder still!”― Such would be, in the best of cases, the result of a resumption of contact between the failure here below and the failure on high.

― For two thousand years, Jesus has revenged himself on us for not having died on a sofa.

― In periods of peace, hating for the pleasure of hating, we must find the enemies which suits;― a delicious task which exciting times spare us.

― I believe in the salvation of humanity, in the future of cyanide…

― “When I shave,” this half-mad man once told me, “who if not God keeps me from cutting my own throat?” ―  Faith, on other words, would be no more than an artifice of the instinct of self-preservation. Biology everywhere.

― How I’d like to be a plant, even if I had to keep vigil over a piece of shit !

― Some souls God Himself could not save were He to kneel and pray for them.

― When I was barely adolescent, the prospect of death flung me into trances; to escape them, I rushed to the brothel, where I invoked the angels. But with age, you become used to your own terrors, you undertake nothing more in order to be disengaged from them, you become quite bourgeois in the Abyss.―  And although there was a time when I envied those Egyptian monks who dug their own graves in order to shed tears within them, if I were to dig mine now, all I would drop in there would be cigarette butts.

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Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Bugs, that is what comes to the forefront of my mind when I hear the words Starship Troopers. I was about 13 years old when I first watched the film adaption of Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction novel of the same name; I remember the anticipation mix with pride as I sat alongside my mother and two young friends. You have to understand that this was I time before the Internet was accessible to most children. Before the innocents of youth could and would be eviscerated by a search engine and a base level of curiosity.
This was a big deal, I was about to watch a film intended for adults and my mum had let me bring along some mates. So with my status as the coolest kid on the block secured and my innocence and ignorance intact I waited in nervous excitement.

What followed was earth shattering. Two hours of boobs, dismemberment and horrifying bugs. By the time I came out I knew two things, people could die in horrible ways and Neil Patrick Harris was a badass.

Considering that I have quite a physiological stake in the Starship Troopers franchise, it was a slight shock that the book had nothing whatsoever to do with the movie. More surprising than that, I would discover a tenuous thread connecting this work with two other books I happened to be reading at the time.

So, what do Joseph Condrad’s The Heart of Darkness, Charles Duff’s The Hangman’s Handbook and Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers have in common?

That is a reasonable question, probably best answered by a reasonable person. But unfortunately I am all you get, so I will give it a shot.

Firstly you need to understand that Starship Troopers is about two things, service and society. It is in essence an example of utopian speculative fiction. A world where the army has a country rather than the country an army. Only veterans of service are capable of voting. Everyone who wants to be a citizen must serve. Everyone who serves must fight.

Why this system is superior to our own is discussed at length. The theme of corporal punishment is exceptionally strong. Everyone gets what is coming to him or her in a system that is implicitly fair. The bulk of the story is composed of our protagonist’s realisation and adoration of this supposed fact.

The link to Charles Duff’s The Hangman’s Handbook can be found above, though the link to Joseph Condrad’s, The Heart of Darkness doesn’t reside in the text itself. It can be found in the feeling that this book invokes. It ignites an itch, that sensation of a primal desire crawling around in the back of your brain. The need for adventure, the desire to fill in the blank squares on the map, to know what can be found there and to face it.

I did say the link was tenuous. Upon noticing this link I didn’t look over at a digital clock to find it was 11.11 or cross paths with any black cats, nor did I hear any bumps in the night. What I am trying to say is that serendipity most likely did not play an uninspiring part here. But Starship Troopers does discuss some very interesting humanistic themes.

I think I am lucky I did not read the book before the movie, or I might have enlisted as soon as I was legal. Lucky thing I did not, I mean would not want to have missed out on my amazing career in whatever boring crap it is I do at the moment.

“COME ON, YOU SONS OF BITCHES! DO YOU WANT TO LIVE FOREVER?” – Sergeant Major Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly, The Battle of Belleau Wood.

Strange Monsters

Before we embark, well I had best make a confession, in that I have, on nearly 10 separate occasions, read Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy from front to back – I think I might have even read it back to front once or twice. And now because of this I am struggling to, in any systematic way, form a satisfactory analysis of this curious artefact.

Nevertheless I must bite the proverbial bullet, and the simplest way to begin this exploration as to the purpose and significants of his work, is to paraphrase Russell himself: The aim of this history as opposed to many others nominally like it, is to show philosophy, not as the isolated speculations of remarkable individuals. But as both an effect and a cause of the character of the communities in-which their various systems flourished. (Russell,1967)

It seems necessary to me, that before we embark on this analysis of Russell’s work, we should define the term ‘philosophy’. As I have found that in common parlance the phrase has lost much of its original meaning.

Philosophy can be summarised as that field of thought which attempts to address and to force into the various categories, concepts and ideas that cannot be satisfactorily addressed by any one category. As such, it might be more plainly stated as a process of unfettered enquiry, and subsequently likened to the scientific outlook. Yet in truth, philosophy remains broad enough a field, so as to contain in equal part science and theology, as well as the various categories of thought which lay between and beyond those two extremes.

Nevertheless, in forming our conception of philosophy it is not necessary that we deal with any particular category of thought separately. Because there exists a common point, at which any man or woman might seek to understand, rather than to rationalise, in doing so they will find themselves stepping out into a wilderness of metaphysics and ethics. Deep within that wilderness there exists a cave, and those who dare to enter will find that in that cave strange monsters sleep, and through their dreaming a war of ideas rages in shadows across the cave walls, and as those visitors attempt to interpret that artful shadow play, both dreams and nightmares are made manifest in the world at hand.

It is, I feel, a worthwhile exercise to consider Russell’s work in the social context in which it was created. But this is a topic we cannot approach without first discussing Russell’s technique. The way in-which he, in contrast to many of his cohorts, utilised deft precision and fluid style in the vivisection of those strange monsters. Thankfully, as was his habit, Russell explicitly states for us his approach to discussing objectively, views and ides which may be contrary to his own:

‘In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to have believed in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held.’ (Russell,1967)

Now for the purpose of providing a figure with whom to contrast Russell and his work, I offer Karl Popper who wrote his seminal work, The Open Society and its Enemies (Popper, 2011), during the same period in which Russell laboured on his History of Western Philosophy. As such, both works were contemporaneous with the conflict and tumult of the The Second World War.

Popper’s contribution was a book of war. A battle axe forged by him and swung mercilessly in a struggle against ideologies which he believed to be tearing the world apart. Popper, a young Austrian intellectual recently extradited from his friends and family, shocked many as he rained down titanic fire on the front lines of an intellectual war to the knife.
Popper is an exemplar of both the times, and the means at hand to such cerebral partisans to conflict. Yet Russell was an avowed pacifist on all fronts, and his history is largely unaffected by the current affairs of his day. Though he does mirror Popper in acknowledging the contributions of Plato, Aristotle, Hegel and Marx to the thoughts and ideals manifesting themselves in the conflicts of his own time. But the man who is to Russell his clear adversary in terms of a direct clash of ethics, is Nietzsche, and it is in the conclusion to his discussion of Nietzsche that Russell expresses his own views in apposition to those of Nietzsche, in such a way as to express more than he dare say without resorting to open criticism:

‘For my part I agree with Buddha as I have imagined him. but I do not know how to prove that he is right by any argument such as can be used in a mathematical or scientific question. I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into a duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die. But I think the ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant but internally self-consistent ethic, lies not in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to the emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world. His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it is coming rapidly to an end (my italics).’ (Russell,1967)

My own views, I must admit lay somewhere between those of Nietzsche and Russell.  At any rate, I don’t know what would be gained by me throwing my own line in to that grim fish-less sea along side Russell and Nietzsche – doubtlessly very little. Nevertheless, to me this conflict between that sycophant of aristocracy Nietzsche and the aristocrat Russell is surely the most interesting and telling sections of this history.

With that said, lets delve somewhat deeper into the work itself, starting with Russell’s exposition regarding the Greek philosophers, who you will note, we have already been advised against treating with either reverence or scorn.
The Greeks are treated in great detail and it is obvious that Russell enjoys discussing these men and their times. As such there is an ease and fluidity to this section of his history, which is thankfully a feature of the work as a whole. But note-worthy here, in that it is quit a feat to have turned a history of ancient Greek philosophy into such a page-turner.

Leading on from the Greeks, the dark ages of inquiry are detailed through a brief overview of the Christian and Mohammedan influence and the development of the Papal state.

What follows is described as a period of stagnant orthodoxy. It was as if a blanket had been thrown over the flames of enquiry. A fire that would not be rekindled until centuries later, with the speculations of Descartes, the apostasy of Spinoza and the seeds of innovation sewn by Leibniz – not to mention those virulent ideas as to state craft and personal freedom spread by the followers of Locke.
But as we are shown, this happy period of relative progress was radically shaken by a shift of popular thought, away from scientific reason and towards irrationalism. This shift was in part a reaction to David Hume’s complete destruction of Empiricism. Hume that boogie-man lurking in the closet, under the bed and in the back of the mind of every sure scientist, every lover of truth and pretender to knowledge.
It is worth noting here that Russell treats Hume with the respect owed to him, by not shying away from Hume’s dramatic conclusions nor their implications, where other commentators would surely have cut the gordian knot, to save from inadvertently hanging from it.

The reaction to Hume is then found manifest in the dry scholasticism of Kant and tangled dialectical movements of Hegel.

Russell’s history then moves on to address the purely ethical philosophers. Men like Lord Byron, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Bergson. Men who’s ethic and conception of the world was drawn from their personal feelings, which were inherently irrational and therefore immune to Hume’s scepticism.

The work culminates in the communion of both Bergsonian irrationalism and scientific reason, as represented by the Pragmatists. A movement comprised of men such as William James and to some extent Russell himself.

The history concludes with a summary of the Modernist movement, of which Russell was the foremost practitioner of the time. An epithet which Russell would, in his later years, pass on to Popper, as the next most eminent practitioner of enquiry, another in a long list of remarkable individuals, who have come to fill the ranks of the history of western philosophy.

This book is a remarkable work and a valuable cultural artefact, not just because of Russell’s excellent style, nor the extreme clarity of his thoughts, not even because of the shear volume of knowledge and understanding that it conveys. The true value of this work as it exists today, forgotten and overlooked as it might be, is in it’s accessibility and integrity. For all of these reasons and more, I believe this book is important, it has the power to incite people into the pursuit of understanding and art of enquiry.

Yet if I am realistic, I note that we live in a time where even a seemingly intelligent adult cannot sit down for more than five minutes without looking at their phone. What hope do we have that they might sit and strain to read and aspire to understand first hand, the abstract thoughts of long dead philosopher, to wonder through that wilderness, only to stand at the mouth of that cave and risk losing themselves in that place, that den of dreams, where strange monsters lay?

Goodbye

I loved how you always commented on how tall I was when we hugged. And I loved that I knew that you always cared for me. I loved the letters that traveled around the world five times but still managed to arrive on my birthday. I loved the sincere, honest and dignified manner in which you conducted yourself and the way spoke. I can still remember your voice…

I loved that you always wanted to gather your family around you, I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see you before you left. I wanted to see your face when I told you my news – that I had taken your advice. I wish I could have done it sooner so that you could have enjoyed it.

I still have a childhood full of memories that you will live on in. And there is a brilliant streak of you that runs through my dad – hopefully some part of that might, if I am lucky, have ended up in me.

In ways you will live on through the people you loved. But…

I will miss you.

With love,

Your Grandson

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