Men are greedy to publish the successes of [their] efforts, but meanly shy as to publishing the failures of man. Men are ruined by this one-sided practice of concealment of blunders and failures. Abraham Lincoln (Burlingame, M. (2008). Abraham Lincoln: A Life. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP)
This statement sums up a lot about the failings of the scholarly literature and of the state of humankind’s recorded knowledge, in general.
Found as an epigraph to the Introduction (p. 1) of Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failures by G. Berman and Aubrey Fox. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press, c2010. Cited as in Burlingame, 1977, p. 358) I actually wrote this down a couple years ago now and finally am adding it here as was always meant.
Swift upheld the belief shared by most of the ancients that, properly guided, the lying muses have the power to lead us to the truth. Satire is one very particular form of this lying — ancient in origin but especially prominent in the modern age. More than other literary forms, satire uses carefully crafted lies to convey truths that would be harder to accept or even recognize if presented simply as “fact.” Gulliver’s name may itself reflect this idea: Dr. Johnson’s dictionary tells us that a “gull” is someone who is easily tricked or deceived, yet the “ver” suggests veritas, the Latin word for truth. Gulliver’s journey then, as ours, is one of being deceived into the truth. At its best, satire — like philosophy — is able to make the familiar strange, revealing to us what has been in front of us all along.
In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift challenges the idea — advanced by his Enlightenment contemporaries — that truth, including the truth about human nature, is best understood as a matter of simple factual claims. Swift’s view, as we shall see, was that dedication to this rising scientific view of truth as synonymous with fact precisely misses the very essence of human nature. But Swift’s recognition of the subtle relationship between our capacity for lying and the essential truth about human nature also sets him apart from another modern opponent of the Enlightenment, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche picked up as a kind of motto a mistranslated line from the Second Pythian Ode, a work by the Ancient Greek poet Pindar: “Become what you are.”
The New Atlantis » The Truth About Human Nature Lee Perlman on truth, satire, and Gulliver’s Travels
The essential nature of experiences of this kind, and their personal meanings, would not necessarily be discovered in psychoanalytic therapy because, in such therapy, although aspects of previous relationships may be recognized in one’s relationship the therapist, the theme-like structure of event-leading-to-event, and the way in which such events resonate with selfhood, may not easily become visible. So here is the thought. Might it be that if one is a reader one could take, say, a dozen novels or short stories, or movies, that have especially affected one, and discern in them a common theme (or perhaps several recurring themes)? From these one might not only recognize something deep about oneself, but be able to choose what books to read, what plays to see, what films to watch, to explore these formative issues further?
Resonance Keith Oatley on resonance at OnFiction
The woman is dead, and she is everywhere, pulsing throughout My Poets. McLane’s hunger for poetry and for this woman are tangled; she desires to decipher them in order to possess them. McLane’s critical language is often flush with eros: “I thought I could make Stein mine,” she writes. “I thought I could read Bishop and could know that mind and make it mind my mind.” But such are McLane’s finely developed negative capabilities: She exalts in the waiting. “I am fascinated by that threshold where one hovers, not getting it yet wanting to get it,” she writes. “Where a tentative desire contends with frustration. Where frustration may be converted into desire, and desire into some provisional illumination.” This isn’t the language of criticism; this is the language of seduction, a celebration of yearning, of not-knowing and not-having. Asked to explain a line by Wallace Stevens—“Let be be the finale of seem”—she crows: “I didn’t know and I don’t and I was ecstatic.” Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art. My Poets is that and more; it is an erotics of epistemology. A celebration of meaning and mystification, of the pleasures and necessity of kankedort. As McLane writes, “All honor to those who wave the pure flag of a difficult joy.
It’s hard to be ruthlessly honest when evaluating one’s own Muppet classification. As is the case when going shopping for white pants, your best bet is probably just to trust a friend. It’s not enough to judge by career choice or pastimes. For instance: Order Muppets are musical. So are Chaos Muppets. Some initial clues can be garnered by scrutinizing your CD storage system and spice racks. Chaos Muppets may well be able to recite the alphabet, but they don’t alphabetize anything willingly and usually only do so in exchange for cookies. If your house catches on fire, as you practice a death-defying leap through a flaming hoop while reciting Hamlet, you’re most probably a Chaos Muppet anyhow. But if your house catches on fire and you know precisely how to rescue your Schumann CDs in under 15 seconds, you’re an Order Muppet.
There’s just one other thing you should know before you start describing yourself and others exclusively according to the Muppet System. There’s an enormous amount of false consciousness at work here (Thanks Karl Marx!!!) and many of us are prone to profound misdiagnoses. My 7-year-old told me last night that he is most definitely a Chaos Muppet. He’s not. To tell the truth he and I are both Faux Chaos Muppets—Chaos on the outside, but with hard, rigid, inflexible caramel centers. Like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, we sow chaos throughout the land. But like the good doctor, we do so in an effort to better organize the world.
One of the features that seems to be common to creative personalities is an emotionally-driven exploratory preoccupation. Although I will look forward to reading more about their interpretation of this category, I found it immediately evocative: I have been trying to explain for years, especially to people who find it frustrating that I seem compelled to MAKE things out of ideas, that it is not so much an attachment to the production of creative products, but a compulsion related to the process that produces them. By this logic, creative production involves acting on the compulsion to explore (often by making something exploratory out of it) the dissonance between the way I understand the world to be and the way I am emotionally experiencing it at a given moment.
And the final piece of this small narrative puzzle came into place as I triumphantly described this very satisfying explanation for something that is quite puzzling—because how does that creative production soothe the anxiety and irritation of the billion angry tiny dragons that might bite me anywhere? On my way out of Toronto, one of our neuroscientist colleagues suggested that the process of creative production—as it builds patterns in the bewildering flight of the agents of what is unknown and daunting—helps partly because it creates neural connections that constrain the systems being activated by the dissonance between my understanding and my experience in moments when the unknown becomes immanent via those billion angry tiny dragons that might bite me anywhere. Very satisfying.
The West has an extremely rich philosophical tradition — one of the two or three richest, in fact — and it is eminently worthy of preservation and transmission to future generations. But its richness has always been a result of its place as a node in a global network through which ideas and things are always flowing. This was true in 500 B.C. and is no less true today. Increasingly, moreover, this interconnectedness is something that is not only of interest to the antiquarian trivia collector who can’t wait to tell you where the printing press really comes from. It is fast becoming the defining fact about our geopolitcal reality. In this reality, Western academic philosophy will likely come to appear utterly parochial in the coming years if it does not find a way to approach non-Western traditions that is much more rigorous and respectful than the tokenism that reigns at present.
Philosophy’s Western Bias Justin E. H. Smith at NYT Opinionator blog on Western philosophy’s bias.
His first ambitions, he has told us, were literary. He has also said that once he turned to history, his permanent inspiration became Auerbach’s Mimesis, the reconstruction by a literary scholar of the path to modern realism, from the Odyssey to Virginia Woolf, whose route included Ammianus, Gregory of Tours, Saint-Simon, historians and memorialists along with poets and novelists. Literature thus both preceded history in Ginzburg’s cursus, and has always thereafter lain adjacent to it. There is a long tradition of the practice of history as a branch of literature, but what this has usually meant is either a studied elegance (or unbridled flamboyance) of style – Gibbon or Michelet – closer to works of imagination than of record, or the quasi-reproduction of literary genres in the construction of narratives: for obvious reasons, epic and tragedy – Motley or Deutscher – more frequently than comedy or romance.
Perry Anderson reviews ‘Threads and Traces’ by Carlo Ginzburg, translated by Anne Tedeschi and John Tedeschi · LRB 26 April 2012 Mostly for the Auerbach reference and history as a branch of literature. From a lengthy book review.
For writers who have done Westerners the service of exploring, interpreting, and explicating haiku and the Zen practice that leads to the haiku moment, I suggest Jane Hirshfield, Robert Aitken, William Higginson, Penny Harter, Hasegawa Kai, Earl Miner, Richard Wright, Gary Snyder.
Haiku impressions Ann E. Michaels recommendations for Westerners on haiku