coming next will be a collection of black power scriptures, including the holy piby (robert athlyi rogers), the royal parchment scroll of blacksupremacy (fitz ballantine pettersborough), the promised key (leonard howell), the holy koran of moorish sciencetemple (noble drew ali),and spiritual writings of marcus garvey.
we've republished spyder's rebellion, or how to overthrow your school: better size, better cover, better proofreading. also kindle. i think it's pretty damn good, though i would i guess. it would take a special kind of parent to buy it for their middle-school or high-school age kid, though. but no doubt it's a coming sensation; perhaps it can replace my income. yeah, no. but it's fun.
as crispy press rolls on, i have republished - in much better form - the middle-readers/ya/peoplelikeyou book spyder's rebellion, or how to overthrow a middle school (also kindle). it was originally roughed out and kindled in like 2007-8. i started this time around with a document in my hard drive on which my teen daughter emma had labored, on dialogue and characterization particularly.
Spyder (Sarah Paulette Eider) is a 14-year-old anarchist and writing prodigy who more or less overthrows her Pennsylvania middle school, in concert with a wild group of non-conformists and interesting non-non-conformists. One of the few books to take teenagers seriously as political activists and intellectuals, this novel traces the characters' awakening to the problems of the world around them - from animal cruelty to ridiculous authoritarianism. It rollicks through their disagreements, as well as budding romances, party weekends, strange preferences in music, problem parents: in short all the accoutrements of modern adolescence.
If you were thinking of overthrowing a public school (peacefully, more or less), you could get some tips, for the story is based on real events in the lives of the authors. Crispy overthrew Alice Deal Junior High School in 1972.
"Like 'Hunger Games' without the hunger or the games; like 'The Fault in our Stars' with plenty of faults but zero stars." --Bogul S. Purvy
here's a vid i made first time.
one thing i've found out: you're never too old to get expelled from school.
sometimes it's amazing what comes from abebooks. i once got a 1948 edition of the meaning of words by the hyper-obscure american genius alexander bryan johnson. it says 'max black' on the flyleaf. i recently got a copy of felix g. rivera's book suiseki: the japanese art of miniature landscape stones inscribed by the author, but maybe that's not that surprising. but how about this little inscription on a lovely copy of acts of the anti-slavery apostles (1883) by parker pillsbury (which includes a stirring tribute to nathaniel peabody rogers): "This book was presented by the author to me personally in my office of the Buckeye Vidette [that's a newspaper], Salem Ohio." then it's signed pretty illegibly, then "Editor and Publisher."
i find things like this moving. i tried to migrate to kindle a while back, but keep coming back to the physical book for numerous reasons.
i've republished the nathaniel rogers book, in a more competent form. 6x9 size, correctish pagination, and justified margins at little extra cost to you! it's a miracle. looks better on kindle too, and is set up to match american defiance. sorry to anyone who might have bought the first version, which was not many. but the text is there either way, which is what does matter.
gonna say it once again until someone shows me i'm wrong: the most radical writer in the most dimensions alive in the first half of the nineteenth century. other candidates whose lives overlapped: william godwin and mary wollstonecraft, tom paine, percy shelley, pierre-joseph proudhon, robert owen, fanny wright, fourier, marx, william lloyd garrison. not going to cut it, though, i think! on the other hand, there is a lot of the world that isn't england, france, and the us.
anyway, nathaniel peabody rogers was a lovely transcendentalist nature writer to boot.
[From the Herald of Freedom, July 4, 1845]
While I am writing, it is raining most magnificently and gloriously out doors. It absolutely roars, it comes down in such multitude and big drops. And how refreshing! It waters the earth. There has been but little rain, and our sandy region had got to looking dry and distressed. Every thing looks encouraged now, as the great strainer over head is letting down the shower bath. The grass darkens as it drinks it in, with a kind of delicate satisfaction. And the trees stand and take it as a cow does a carding. They hold still as a mouse, while they abide by its peltings, not moving a twig, or stirring as leaf. The dust of the wide naked street is transmuted into mud. And the stages sound over the road, as if they rattled on naked pavement. Puddles stand in all the hollows.
You can hardly see the people for umbrellas, and the clouds look as if they had not done with us. The prospect for the Canterbury meeting looks lowery. Let it rain. All for the best. It is extraineous, but I could hardly help noticing the great Rain and saying this word about it. I think the more mankind regard these beautiful doings in Nature, the more they will regard each other, and love each other, and the less they will be inclined to enslave each other. The readier abolitionists they will become. And the better.
The Rain is a great Anti-Slavery discourse. And I like to have it pour. No eloquence is richer to my spirit, or music. A thunder shower, what can match it for eloquence and poetry! That rush from heaven of the big drops - in what multitude and succession, and how they sound as they strike! How they play on the old home roof and on the thick tree tops! What music to go to sleep by, to a tired boy as he lays under the naked roof! And the great low bass thunder as it rolls off over the hills and settles down behind them - to the very centre, and you can feel the old Earth jar under your feet - that is music and poetry and life. And the lightning strikes you - what of that? It won't hurt you. "Favored man," truly, as uncle Pope says, "by touch ethereal slain." A light touch, compared to Disease's, the Doctor's - or Poverty's. I am no trifler with human destiny, but nothing that naturally happens to a man can hurt him.
Who are the white people that we should fear them? They cannot run fast, and are good marks to shoot at. They are only men; our fathers have killed many of them. We are not squaws, and we will stain the earth red with blood.
In short, as a snow-drift is formed where there is a lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there is a lull of truth, an institution springs up. But the truth blows right on over it, nevertheless, and at length blows it down.
I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.
the essay by douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," given as a commencement address at Western Reserve College in 1854 (!) - is one of a number of little-known treasures.
The relation subsisting between the white and black people of this country is the vital question of the age. In the solution of this question, the scholars of America will have an important and controlling part. This is the moral battlefield to which their country and their God now call them. In the eye of both, the neutral scholar is an ignoble man. Here, a man must be hot, or be accounted cold. The lukewarm and cowardly will be rejected by earnest men on either side of the controversy. The cunning man who avoids it, to gain the favor of both parties, will be regarded with scorn; and the timid man who shrinks from it, for fear of offending either party, will be despised. He that is not for us, is against us.
i think the the paperback of waterway came out great. i'm getting a bit better at making books online. there's more to come, and i'll get there on design etc eventually! we don't actually need the gatekeepers anymore.
If there were a god,
he'd be like water
that brings life to things
Water seeks the lowest place
and cleanses what it touches.
It is as satisfied with the humble
as with the exalted.
Still, deep, clear,
true, kind, useful,
This is also the true man,
liquid, and at ease.
you know, i hadn't looked at the thing in years, and it took years for it to come together with many collaborators and commentators. i remember being dissatisfied with when i left off. but when i dug it up again, i was quite surprised: i do think it is the best translation of the tao te ching into english, and i don't have the sense that i could have done it at all.
i've published a book called 'waterway' on kindle and paper.
it includes my translation of the tao te ching, which i've worked on for twenty-five years or so. it started with chinese-reading grad students at vanderbilt, and underwent many phases; sometimes i taught it along with mitchell or red pine's translations. a version published on my web site in the early 2000s got a little bit of a following on new-agey websites and such.
it presents a very distinctive translation into what i hope is notably unstilted english; it is as different from stephen mitchell's (which i love) as mitchell's is from, say, witter bynner's (which i like). i think you will understand the text differently when you read it.
This book can tell you nothing;
the Tao leaves you where you began.
A maiden can leave things nameless;
a mother must name her children.
Perfectly empty or carrying ten thousand words, you still return,
and return, and return.
Naming things loses what unites them.
Failing to name things loses them into what unites them.
Words are limits that make experience possible.
But form and formlessness are the same.
Tao and the world are the same,
though we call them by different names.
This unity is dark and deep, but on the other hand it is deep and dark.
It opens into the center of everything.
the second part of waterway is what i hope will be a fundamentally new classical taoist text. i've dubbed it the wu wei ching or book of non-action; it is drawn from kuo hsiang's commentary on the chuang tzu. i really think that kuo hsiang's version of taoism gives the deepest statement of taoist metaphysics and of wu wei as a guide to practical action.
Not only is it impossible for not-being to become being, it is impossible for being to become not-being. So from where and how do things and for that matter the absence of things arise? What came first?
If we say yin and yang came first, how did they come? From where; from what?
Maybe nature came first. But nature is only another name for beings.
Suppose I say the Tao came first. But the Tao is only another name for not-being, so how can it arise? There must be another thing or not-thing and so on infinitely.
When you get down to it, we cannot say anything except that things just are, that they arise spontaneously and spontaneously disappear.
as i've often said, i think that american transcendentalism is ineptly named; i'd prefer an antonym, actually, such as 'immanentalism.' now i think the canon needs expanding, and i think the narrative according to which transcendentalism was superseded by pragmatism is simplistic.
so, if i were assembling a set of transcendentalist essays, i might start with rogers. i would certainly include essays by voltairine de cleyre, perhaps 'the dominant idea' and 'crime and punishment.' and i might fetch up with zora neale hurston: i am straight up asserting that zora is an american transcendentalist in the thoreau mould. a volume focusing exclusively on her essays is long overdue.
in the hands of lit and phil profs, the transcendentalists have sunk into quaint american fossils, groovy proto-hippie nature children, with an embarrassing political individualism that no one can believe anymore, or that must be attenuated or vitiated under interpretation. but a good part of the whole thrust is political from the outset in rogers, emerson, thoreau: a radical anti-authoritarianism. and they have a beautiful individualism that is also not at all about economic self-seeking, but derives from protestant notions like the quaker inner light of god in each person. also, this individualism is a radical egalitarianism, as you see in rogers, in voltairine, in hurston. and it is an individualism that connects with the natural world in much the way many had previously connected to god, and then seeks to place us each as an individuals - not as races, not genders, not parties, not classes, not general wills - into the same shared world.
19th-century whiteness studies, from 'rhose island meeting':
rhode island was proposing a new constitution with a color qualification for voting.
To make it go down with the people, the pitiful creatures inserted a color qualification. They must put in white - the color of the gulls you see winging their uncouth flight up and down the harbor - to shut out three or four hundred colored people, who otherwise might, - when they get money enough, go to the free and equal polls, to choose their masters. The patron of the new Constitution had assumed the name of the "Free Suffrage party."
Their freedom showed itself in making a man's hue the test of his rights. They felt free to enslave a man if he was not white as a diaper. One or two of their demagogues came into the meeting. One was a Dr. Brown, a steam doctor, whose political morality seemed about as high as that of a railroad engine with a Jim Crow car to it; or a church with a "nigger pew." The Doctor gave us an exposè of his white ethics. It seemed he wanted to get suffrage for the white folks, in order, by and by to extend it to the black. [But getting the vote] would not have any tendency to help the colored people out. It would prove a worthless boon in their hands. The white folks would not acknowledge them as equals if they were nominally voters. They never would consent to their being candidates for any thing. They would treat them as "niggers" still.
A man has rights, and they are important to him because their observance is necessary to his happiness, and their violation hurts him. He has a right to personal liberty. It is pleasant to him: permanently pleasant and good. It is therefore his right. And every creature, or I will call it, rather, every existence, (for whether created or not, they certainly exist, they are) every existence that is capable of enjoying or suffering, has its rights, and just mankind will regard them. And regard them as rights. The horse has rights. The dog. The cat, and the rat even. Real rights.
i'm telling you this is a discovery: someone's going to have to convince me that a more important straight-to-e book has been published.
A great and almost unknown American writer from New Hampshire, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (1794-1846) was the most radical American political voice of the antebellum period. He is also an undiscovered American Transcendentalist, at his best comparable to Emerson and Thoreau. Both men acknowledged Rogers' influence on them, and Thoreau published one of his first essays - collected here - on Rogers' work, recognizing his excellence as both a political and a nature writer. Anti-slavery drove all his thought, and as an abolitionist writer, only Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips are his rivals. Rogers was an anarchist, a pacifist, a feminist, an environmentalist, a religious heretic, an individualist, an anti-capitalist and an advocate of animal rights.
His writings are collected here for the first time since 1849, along with Thoreau's essay "Herald of Freedom" and other materials about Rogers and American radicalism of the early 19th century.
nathaniel rogers was an amazing radical and an amazing writer, and if you want to see someone in 1840 who speaks up for animal rights, against capital punishment, against slavery, against the state, for environmentalism as that came much later to be understood, for indian rights, and so on, and did so with extreme clarity, creativity and vigor, you've got to check this out. he was a decade emerson's senior, and he is a fundamental american transcendentalist.
as much fun as it is to be floundering around with the alligators in the swamping problem, i think that beauty promises more happiness, whatever that is. what i actually want to blog about is art and books, it may shock you to hear. so i am re-opening a blog i had for a class in 2013: writing the arts. first entry: the hilarious book of the incomparable designer raymond loewy.
let me summarize the problems/coincidences with me and nehamas. we both wrote books titles the art of living. mine was from suny press, 1995; his from california, 2000. In 2004, in my book six names of beauty (routledge), i gave the first thorough and systematic revival of what might be termed an erotic conception of beauty since shaftesbury or perhaps burke in the 18th century. (i am an expert on that.) in 2010 nehamas, in only a promise of happiness (princeton) also revived that view, in a somewhat different form, without acknowledging my work in any way, and was ecstatically received as an innovator, winning the award for best professional/scholarly book in philosophy from the association of american publishers. these books have, as epigraphs, the very same four lines of sappho (in different translations, though). those are the big items. i have not at all scoured for other similarities.
it would be natural to think that we both got the view from arthur danto. danto suggested the epigraph to me, and i credited him for it. indeed, danto himself published the abuse of beauty with open court in 2003. i was corresponding with danto, seeing him at conferences, and so on; we both knew of the other's work and had been in dialogue on the subject of beauty for many years. his approach is completely different and opposed to that taken by me, and by nehamas. danto influenced me in many ways, but not in that one (it sure is a great book, though).
i guess nehamas has replied in daily nous. i'll have a look eventually. here's why it's impossible that he hadn't seen my book, though it is indeed not in his index. so, the first thing i did when i started writing 6 names was go on amazon and search 'beauty philosophy.' i definitely wanted to know what books had appeared recently, assess whether anyone was working in a similar vein, and so on. there was remarkably little; almost the first thing that popped up was mothersill's thing from i think the early 90s, which i'd already read. so, as he set out, or at any point in the process, nehamas certainly was also trying to see what was out there. (if he did not do that, he's an excruciatingly incompetent scholar, and nehamas is not that, whatever the drawbacks). and if he had hit mine he would have immediately seen affinities, if this was already his approach to beauty. so the notion that he never saw it at all - especially, for example, if danto was providing the sappho epigraph - just strikes me as extremely unlikely.
one thing that is very difficult not to notice: that someone has written a book with the very title you are going to use, or that there are two books out there by academic philosophers with the same title. indeed, your publisher is quite likely to make you aware of that fact if, impossibly, you missed it. (titles can't be copyrighted, though.) if nothing else, my book would have brough my aesthetics to nehamas's attention.
all i saw was the quote that said: i had never seen his book; which has that element of sneering so familiar to anyone who has ever run into alexander nehamas; he was so unknown that i didn't notice his book. but anyone who was talking to danto about beauty, or doing a rudimentary search on the topic he was writing a scholarly book about, could not have failed to notice my book.
indeed, if nehamas was talking to danto about beauty, i think 'sartwell' would have been one of the first things out his mouth. we had corresponded as my book was in progress, and he blurbed both books. my book would have shown up in the first few search results on amazon or elsewhere, with a blurb by danto, and a sketch of the basic approach. the idea that you'd decide not to look at it seems to me vanishingly small. so, i do not see any realistic scenario where i am not in the index. if i had been doing 6 names a few years after only a promise of happiness, you would have heard early about the similarities; indeed, i might have been very enthusiastic about the similarities, ready to take account of nehamas's work, and band together as a movement for a new-ancient approach to beauty.
indeed, i can more or less prove that would have been my approach. so unknown was my work on beauty that shortly after nehamas's book appeared, the stanford encyclopedia approached me to do their entry on beauty. despite my misgivings, i associated his work and mine as signs of a renaissance of beauty as a theme in philosophy, and of this approach to it particularly. i didn't pretend not to have read his book. i didn't nitpick or try to show why my book was better, and so on. it's good they didn't get nehamas to do it; his insistence on repressing all signs and memories of my book would have led to a skewed and decidedly self-congratulatory view of the terrain.
when his book appeared i emailed alexander nehamas at his princeton address along these lines: 'we really seem to be working along similar lines! we have books with the same title. we're both working along the same lines on beauty. our books have the same epigraph! we should connect more,' etc. no reply. sometimes it's hard to never have heard of someone or read his work; you've really got to delete a lot of stuff everywhere, especially in your brain.
i figured that the defense would be both sneering and peremptory. but here he just hanged himself. in other words, the defense is so obviously disingenuous that it is tantamount to a self-immolation. the outer shell of elitist arrogance combined with the inner knowledge of mediocrity creates expressions which just cannot be true: true to the facts, or true to the self. alexander nehamas was lost to himself decades ago when he entered into a performance, a simulation that would get him to the highest level of academia. 'i had never seen his book' is the point where the emptiness inside became explicitly external, where there wasn't anything inside anymore, just an automaton playing the Edmund N. Carpenter, II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University.
note to princeton faculty and admin: you are asking yourself whether that last paragraph is libelous. before you do that, why don't you try asking yourself whether it's true.
on the other hand, it is worth saying that the locus classicus of this sort of view is plato's symposium, which is certainly central to both books. and of course, nehamas has worked on that material throughout his career. also our theories are certainly not identical; i'd describe them as being in the same family: again, one fundamentally unrepresented in the literature on beauty since burke. we are interested in very different artworks, and so on. the texts do not overlap.
the biggest difference to my mind is precisely nehamas's centralization of the concept of happiness. i regard happiness as one of the worst things that ever happened to philosophy: not even a concept, but a variable or blank or packing crate where each person or philosopher just tosses everything he thinks he wants. thinks he wants, because for example if there really were any person who only wanted maximum pleasure and minimum pain he would be a non-human monstrosity. anyway, then we call the crate happiness. i actually do not think the concept has ever done anything for anyone, but it has made many philosophies into useless circling around a hole into which have been lobbed a random collection of whatever that person thinks they want. the very worst case is aristotle, who keeps throwing all sorts of dimensions of life and values and so on into the empty pit of eudaimonia. anyone can talk for hours about what aristotle means by eudaimonia. ask them what he means by it, like a fairly compact definition rather than a three-hour lecture, and i'm telling you, no one has any idea what he means. neither did he. he could do all of the nicomachean ethics better if he just forgot that empy-ass shit. so i went with 'longing'; it's a certain sort of very fundamental human experience, unlike 'happiness', which is just a blank song from a charlie brown special. actually, i would attack nehamas's book on many grounds, but that would be the first.
The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments
724 pp. Liveright
Peter Catapano, on the first page of this volume, canvasses some of the things philosophers have been thought to be, or have declared themselves to be: "Truth Seeker. Rationalist. Logician. Metaphysician. Troublemaker. Tenured professor. Scholar. Visionary. Madperson. Gadfly. Seer."
As I suppose will be the case with many of my fellow Rationalists and Madmen, my initial response to this collection of essays from the New York Times' philosophy blog was: where's my damned essay? How come they're not calling me to do that piece on the Hillary Clinton campaign as seen through the lens of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus? Why would they run Freddy? Christ, he wasn't even that good in grad school.
This review requires a disclaimer. I've been pitching the New York Times op-ed page for thirty years. I've hit a few times, missed dozens. I have written many essays intended for the Stone and tossed them at Catapano, the editor of the blog and co-editor of the book. Sometimes I don't even get a response, though they've taken a few. The first thing I looked for in the table of contents was my own name, for that is what a true Metaphysician does; I got stuck part way through Descartes' Meditations, and concluded that I am the only person of whose existence I can be objectively certain. But I do want confirmation of that in a by-line.
Failing to find it, I am justifiably resentful, for I am an exquisitely beautiful writer as well as a slash-and-burn logic-chopping machine who can destroy anyone, including the editorial staff at the New York Times. Also, if there's one thing we Logicians can agree on, it's that I'm right and the mediocrities they are running are wrong.
On the other hand, it may well be that if I write an extremely positive review, praising Catapano and Critchley's amazing acuity, they will view my next submission with more sympathy.
Writing this review, then, is a complex and difficult negotiation between my envy and my ambition, a kind of psychological and ethical crossroads, a dilemma fit for a Tenured Professor such as myself. I have arrived at a solution: I will scrupulously conceal all these factors as I write; that is, I will approach the task with unimpeachable objectivity.
Alright, I do think the Stone is one of the best things to happen to philosophy in some time. If you are yourself a professor or author of philosophy texts, you may have noticed that no one reads philosophy. Well, this may well have something to do with the way we're writing. But the Stone is not only a useful forum and provocation among philosophy professors; it is one of the few places that 'the ordinary reader' might run into the ideas of Thomas Nagel or Slavoj Zizek, Linda Martin Alcoff or Avitall Ronell.
(Nevertheless, the thing is white-male-dominated, which is perhaps reflective of the composition of academic philosophy, but for all that impoverishing. In general, the female philosophers address issues of gender, the black philosophers those of race. I was struck, looking at the table of contents, by the fact that my profession looks a little like American television in 1965.)
In addition, the Stone has noticeably increased the ideological, intellectual, and stylistic range of the Times's opinion section as a whole, which I regard as gratuitously narrow. It has made philosophers regularly part of the public discourse in a way we rarely have been in recent decades. It is a contribution both to philosophy and to opinion journalism.
Some of these people (Nagel, for example) are both extremely impressive Scholars and good prose stylists. But I picture Catapano's struggles with many others and the process by which clotted academese, presupposing that its audience knows dozens of relatively obscure books, becomes something that the readership of the New York Times could want to read and could get something definite from.
In this the Stone is succeeding, I believe. I would hardly have believed it possible. I read most of these essays as they came out, but seeing them all together in this big cube of a book impresses me again with the range of issues addressed, the approaches taken, the variety of voices (albeit a bit toned down by the thorough and extremely competent editorial process).
There are continentals and analytics. There are discussions of the classics and direct addresses to contemporary issues. These essays constitute relatively accessible, relatively clear, relatively well-written ways to introduce students, for example, or my Mom (a faithful reader of the Stone), to the ideas of Peter Singer, Phil Kitcher, or Roger Scruton.
Perhaps a prof here and there regards some or even all of these essays as mere popularizations, or simplistic presentations of complex ideas. Indeed, Truth Seeker Brad Leiter often digresses from such declarations as that Thomas Nagel is the 14th most important philosopher since 1945 to describe the Stone as "an embarrassment" and likes to put scare quotes around its self-description as a 'philosophy' blog. I think he's missing some excellent material, as well as the point of the thing.
We Seers are going to have to come down to earth a little if we want any sort of cultural influence, or if we think that philosophical ways of thinking could be of use in the public sphere or of interest to the general literate population. The Stone, I believe, makes this difficult negotiation extremely well, encourages philosophers to make it themselves, and edits them toward it in a constructive way. Even the length of the essays (1200-1700 words on average, perhaps) makes them relatively inviting to someone who does not want to spend a month or two struggling through Kitcher's last book.
Even for philosophy professors, often specialized in one sub-discipline or even in a single issue or figure, this book may yield a better sense of how philosophy is being pursued in corners of the profession other than the ones they inhabit.
It also yields a responsible vision of the terrain of philosophy today insofar as this can possibly be mapped in relatively ordinary language. Speaking of Logicians, I recently tried to read Timothy Williamson's book Modal Logic as Metaphysics. Now, I was trained in analytic philosophy for a decade, can read a modal logic formula, and am familiar with the basic approaches in the literature to the semantics of modal expressions. That book was too hard for me.
I do not believe Williamson could compress that book into a Stone. But here he is, writing lucidly and accessibly about naturalism, scientism, and the scientific method. Then Alex Rosenberg gives a reply. Then Williamson fires back, quite getting the better of the exchange.
It is a good model of philosophical argumentation, one I intend to try on my introductory students next Fall. I don't think I would build an intro course around this book: the overall effect is too scattershot, the voices and positions too various. But I think it could be an extremely useful supplement to such a course. Have you ever tried to run through Kant's Prolegomena with undergraduates? Sometimes you have to, but I do not recommend it overall. After I did, I'd want to give them something in a contemporary voice that shows that some of these questions are still vital and even applicable. There are a number of essays here that might help me do that.
The Stone Reader includes 133 contributions arranged topically into such clusters as "Rethinking Thinkers" (including Spinoza, Kant, and Kierkegaard), "Old Problems, New Spins" (hence my Hillary/Ludwig pitch), evolutionary ethics (contributors include Edward O. Wilson and Huw Price), "What is Faith?" (where one finds Samuel Scheffler and the flamboyantly brilliant Tim Crane, to whom I'm always pitching reviews), "Black, White or Other" (including Robert Gooding-Williams and George Yancy), and the meaning of America (if any). We will all have our favorites and our whipping boys (again, they're mostly boys), whether we went to grad school with them or not. I find Gary Gutting's contributions rather plodding, but then I already know a lot of what he's trying to explain to a wide readership. His contributions are often solid reformulations of, excellent introductions to, the areas they discuss. Some of his essays might be among the first I'd try on students, or send as a link to non-philosophy-professor friends and colleagues interested in the issues in philosophy of religion to which Gutting gravitates.
As well, there are some lovely curiosities here that made me more optimistic about the current range of what philosophers are doing and the directions we might head from here. For example, a personal essay by Ronell brings together Jacques Derrida and seasonal affective disorder. For another, Lisa Guenther describes her own testimony to a U.S. Senate committee on the effects of solitary confinement. The philosophical frame around the issue is relatively light-handed; the emphasis is on the real horror. But philosophical ethics informs her discussion in a way that I think intrinsically illuminates the issue and also shows the relevance of ethics to urgent contemporary questions.
The Stone began in 2010, and already many excellent pieces have appeared in it that might have come too late to make the volume, for example George Yancy's long series of interviews with various thinkers on race, and his own "Dear White America." I hope that the thing persists long enough to produce a series of volumes, perhaps focusing on sub-disciplines or particular issues in philosophy. Such a thing might indeed by an extremely useful text for a course on ethics, or philosophy of religion, or critical race theory. Given the blog's relative popularity, that is likely.
It's a hard thing they're doing at the Stone, and I think they are doing it about as well as it could be done, except for one embarrassing symptom of ineptitude: like so many prestigious venues today, they desperately need more me: Crispin Sartwell, Visionary.
tim crane's response at the times literary supplement, more or less: we love it! masterful! could you delete the jokes?
i think what kills me about people annexing my ideas is that it is so easy not to, and that can just make your work cooler and better and more creative, right? these are things i would never do, because i want to know what people have said and are saying, and then i want to attack it or build on it. all zagzebski had to say was, as crispin sartwell argued (last year in the journal of philosophy), if a theory of justification must be meta-justified on the grounds that it is truth-conducive, that beliefs that are justified according to the theory are likelier to be true than beliefs that are not justified according to it (actually even that is not quite adequate as the exact statement; i am not going to hack at the weeds right here), then it is either redundant or incoherent. now, this helps me make the following argument. a lot of her work seems to depend on this one idea; that work could still be creative or innovative or important, even if it was built on my idea. nothing could be easier. let's say the nehamas situation is as i describe it. nothing could be easier than to mention my work and immunize yourself from the charge of appropriation (sartwell has developed a related view in his suck-ass book six names of beauty. even just that would be enough; i wouldn't have a problem after that. i obviously do not own sappho (no man did).)
so i say the (alleged) fact that zagzebski and nehamas were influenced by my work, and systematically attempted not to notice that they were, or pretended that they weren't, shows something terrible at their heart. they needed to present themselves as profound innovators, so they needed a new basic idea. i can quite see how i could be a source for that; i've literally had hundreds of them. but because i actually am creative, and confident of my creativity, i have to know, and i want to know, what is out there that i could build on or annihilate or turn inside out, so i can make the basic creative move at all. that they can't do that, yet want to appear in public as though they can by erasing their sources, shows that they can't in fact do very creative work, that they are aware of that fact, and are pretending to be someone (me, to be precise) who can do creative work.
so, i'd say any work produced by a person like that is bound to be mediocre and dishonest. and i don't pretend to be the only grad student or tenured prof who has good ideas. people who do that once do it all the time; that is what their scholarship is and their public persona. i very seriously would check every word these people ever wrote or spoke for charlatanry and appropriation. it's there, believe me.
continuing with the thing below, there have been cases in which novels had some sort of practical effect. apparently goethe's sorrows of werther caused a little suicide outbreak among romantic-era boys. it's often said that uncle tom's cabin increased abolitionist sentiment in the northern us. other than that....
as to the world-shaping cultural centrality of poetry: think about that for just a second. maybe you had a case with virgil or dante, not with the 17 people who read poetry right now.
after a few such cases, the thing consists of vague yet implausible quasi-assertion: novels remake the human personality. novels invented empathy. now, if you think so, i want you to try to square up and notice that the human personality is hard as hell to remake. it cannot be done by laying in bed with a book, even if you seem to yourself to have been profoundly moved and come to some new insights. say you've read a hundred really fine novels in your reading life. i guess your personality's been reforged a hundred times. funny, but you seem more or less just the same as you did last year. i'm telling you that these claims are ridiculous, and a realistic assessment and defense of literature would be much more valuable than a raft of hyperjive, and much less discrediting to its proponents.
the greatest literary novels of the twentieth century had a small, ephemeral effect on a tiny percentage of the population. ulysses remade nothing and no one, except the world of upper-end novel writing and publishing. why you want to pretend otherwise, and why people nod along as you do: really i have no idea. try to say what's true because issuing these giant gaseous clouds of hooey discredits your rationality, self-examination, and claim to be in contact with reality.
i'd say the same about the crazed shit people used to say about painting: oh, "picasso remade the visible world". not. at. all. you might squint funny coming out of the picasso blockbuster; but that's all over by the time you get to the wine bar. maybe these crazed claims are strategies to increase funding. maybe they're intended to get billionaires to make grants, by making what is happening in the arts venue seem superincredibly important, indeed making it seem like god. i love paintings. i go to museums and look at them. and the visible world ticks on just as it did before. that's not under my control, or matisse's, or even all of ours together. the way the world looks is the world's doing.
as to the idea that fiction is the repository of cultural memory, or its essence or something: think about what you just said, ok? because that means our cultural memory is fictional. i'm not saying our 'cultural memory' is not fictional, but of course then its not memory at all, but fantasy. plus the novel is not to a significant extent even the source of our memorious fantasies. but it's still a good thing to write and read good novels, alright? just not the thing you appear to think it is.
writing is a craft. it can produce well-made or interesting objects. it can be an absorbing process, important or central to the life of the writer, pleasurable or challenging to readers. that is enough, right? because that's all you get.