What I’ve been reading

by on September 18, 2017 at 1:04 am in Books | Permalink

1. Peter Sloterdijk, Selected Exaggerations: Conversations and Interviews, 1993-2012.  No, he’s not a fraud, and this volume is probably the best introduction to his thought.  Is there an extended argument here?  I am not sure, but I did enjoy this bit:

The existential philosophers have greatly overstated homelessness.  In fact, people sit in their apartments with their delusions and cushion themselves as best they can.

But why does he have to follow up with?:

Living means continuously updating the immune system — and that is precisely what foam theory can help us show more clearly than before.

In the German-speaking world he passes for one of the most important world thinkers.

2. Declan Kiberd, After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present.  A very high quality and original look at how Irish literature reflects the nation’s development, though it assumes a fair knowledge of the works being discussed.

3. Fred Hersch, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life in and Out of Jazz.  How someone from a previous generation a) became a star jazz pianist, b) discovered gay liberation, and c) woke from a coma to resume a miraculous career.

4. Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.  In general I am a Greenblatt fan, and not persuaded by the critics of his popularizations, but this book is not doing it for me.  For the Hebrew Bible I prefer to read densely argued Straussians.

5. William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of DisgustMiller’s books from the 1990s remain an underrated source of “stuff for smart people.”  His book on disgust could be the best in that series, for me this is a reread and yes it did hold up.

1 Finishes Last September 18, 2017 at 1:10 am

First among equals

2 Thor September 18, 2017 at 2:59 am

Miller is a national treasure. A living breathing riposte to those Euro-envious types who don’t think we have fascinating and capable public intellectuals. The difference is that Miller doesn’t pose with Maoists etc.

And his book on aging is great.

Bonus opinion: Sloterdijk, quirky but worth 3 vainglorious West hating Zizeks.

3 Anonymous Bosch September 18, 2017 at 3:06 am

5. Miller’s books about the Icelandic sagas (e.g, “Why is your axe bloody?”: A Reading of Njáls saga”) are really excellent.

https://www.amazon.com/Why-your-axe-bloody-Reading/dp/0198768923/

4 dan1111 September 18, 2017 at 4:16 am

What does it signal about someone if the first thing that must be said about him is “No, he’s not a fraud”?

5 Magnus September 18, 2017 at 4:36 am

What are the Straussian books on the Hebrew bible?

6 Reader September 18, 2017 at 9:05 am

Thomas Pangle, Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham
Robert Sacks, A Commentary on Genesis
Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom
Strauss himself has an essay On the Interpretation of Genesis

7 Matt September 18, 2017 at 10:21 am

Why would anyone think that reading Kass, an MD and biochemist who thinks that licking an ice cream cone is somehow inherently disgusting, on the book of Genesis is a good idea? He is neither qualified to comment on it nor does he display any surfeit of good sense. Calling his readings “Straussian is just saying that they are full of garbage.

8 Ryan September 18, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Kass for a long time taught a seminar on the book of Genesis at the University of Chicago.

9 Evan Harper September 18, 2017 at 7:03 am

1. Who is this clown, some kind of right-wing Žižek? But, gee, as long as Tyler says he’s definitely not a fraud…

10 Bliksem September 18, 2017 at 7:21 am

> “In the German-speaking world he passes for one of the most important world thinkers.”

Given that the German-speaking world also gave us intellectual disasters like Hegel and Heidegger and Horkheimer, I’m not sure whether you intended this to be understood as a recommendation or a rejection?

11 Thor September 18, 2017 at 11:33 am

Hegel has been giving a bad rep by buffoons like Marx. Under the acres of turgid prose there are nuggets.

When you are awake at 3 am thinking about mortality, Heidegger — creepy pseudo Nazi though he may have also been — was there before you. In other words, he tried to diagnose in his philosophy what is salient to finite beings: their coming to an end.

12 Bliksem September 18, 2017 at 11:55 am

> “[Heidegger] tried to diagnose in his philosophy what is salient to finite beings: their coming to an end.”

By the time I was halfway through “Being and Time”, I was praying that my end would come soon. Prose like that ought to be forbidden by the UN’s convention against torture.

13 Matt September 18, 2017 at 7:59 am

As a philosopher I can say that, after reading a little bit, I’m glad that Sloterdijk has absolutely 0 standing in contemporary English-language philosophy. (I expect that he has very little in academic, as opposed to pop, German-language philosophy, too, giving citations and the like by well-known German philosophers.) His views are a prime example of a mixture of banality and bull-shit, as far as I can see – things that either every reasonably educated person accept (lots of old “dualisms” a faulty!) and nonsense spouted about science by someone who obviously knows nothing about it. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that Tyler likes some of this stuff, but it does disappoint me nonetheless.

14 Thor September 18, 2017 at 11:27 am

I bet I’m as analytically minded as you are, but I think Sloterdijk is interesting. You are confusing him with an academic philosopher, toiling in topics like meaning or reference or? ?? whereas he is more of a public intellectual asking meta philosophical questions. He asks, in The Critique of Cynical Reason, how does cynicism come about, how can it be confirmed or disconfirmed.

The style of (most) continental philosophy obscures the fact that some of it has genuine substance.

15 Matt September 18, 2017 at 11:37 am

I don’t especially mind “continental” philosophy at all, and these days, at least, don’t read much on meaning or reference (mostly history of philosophy, political and legal philosophy, and philosophy of the social sciences) but Sloterdijk has no impact on these topics, as far as I can see, even among German-speaking philosophers. He seems to be a pop-culture phenomena – like the German Sam Harris or even worse.

16 Bliksem September 18, 2017 at 1:22 pm

> “The style of (most) continental philosophy obscures the fact that some of it has genuine substance.”

The most interesting recent philosophers tend to combine the style of analytic philosophy with the substance of continental thinking. Ian Hacking is a good example: strongly influenced by e.g. Foucault, but far more clear and cogent.

17 Matt September 19, 2017 at 9:56 am

That’s right. Hacking in particular is excellent. There are lots of other examples.

18 Bliksem September 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm

I’ve read most of Hacking’s books and many of his articles. “Re-writing the soul” is my favorite. If you have particular recommendations of similar work by other philosophers, I’d much appreciate it.

19 Guy Makiavelli September 18, 2017 at 8:52 am

In general I am a Greenblatt fan, and not persuaded by the critics of his popularizations, but this book is not doing it for me. For the Hebrew Bible I prefer to read densely argued Straussians.

That’s kind of like saying that you are fine with Edward Said reading Joseph Conrad, but for the US Constitution you prefer Scalia.

20 Wilhelm September 18, 2017 at 9:01 am

1. “In the German-speaking world he passes for one of the most important world thinkers.”

I’m not sure about this. There is a very specific “Feuilleton” reading type of person who likes his bonmots. There are right-wingers who enjoy his polemics against Merkel and other politicans. But there are very few readers who take his philosophy seriously. Most people think he is a clown but tolerate him as an aphorism generator.

21 who? September 18, 2017 at 9:17 am

One aspect of Ireland that makes me optimistic is the country’s relatively high birth rate for the region.
Also, the income per capita is higher than the United States.
When combined with my having Irish ancestry, I am thinking seriously of trying to marry a girl with Irish citizenship.

22 Peter M. September 18, 2017 at 9:55 am

I just finished Fred’s Hersch’s book. I think it will appeal mostly to those already familiar with his music. However, you owe it to yourself, if you like piano music and jazz, to explore his work. A few recommendations — his combining of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and the love theme from “Spartacus.” The familiar “Both Sides Now” gets a bracing remake. “Red Square Blue” is his remaking of Russian classical music into jazz. I normally hate these jazz transformations but this one works. His version of the Liadov Prelude is just genius.

23 Dan September 18, 2017 at 10:01 am

RE: “For the Hebrew Bible I prefer to read densely argued Straussians.”

Who would those be?

24 Dan September 18, 2017 at 10:03 am

And specifically, what articles/books?

25 Dan September 18, 2017 at 10:05 am

Nevermind… asked and answered. See Magnus’s comment above.

26 Anon. September 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

Why am I seeing Sloterdijk EVERYWHERE lately?

27 jseliger September 18, 2017 at 11:01 am

For the Hebrew Bible I prefer to read densely argued Straussians.

As often happens when Straussians are mentioned, I’d like to see recommendations or places to start, as in: “For the Hebrew Bible I prefer to read densely argued Straussians, such as ____________ and _________.”

28 Traveller September 18, 2017 at 11:35 am

It’s spelled “Declan” Kiberd.

29 Herman Spitta September 19, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Sloterdijk is excellent. By far one of the greatest continentals philosophers of today. Some of his stuff is difficult though. His You Must Change Your Life highly recommended.

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