More Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

So, if last round was the Greatest Hits, this time’s for the album tracks and rarities—not everything here will be to everybody’s taste, some of these will be to almost nobody’s taste (well, except maybe yours, Asher), and at least a few of them should be loved by none. Continue reading

Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

Now that Newman Books is closed, DC doesn’t have a really good philosophy/theology bookshop. Okay, granted, Newman’s selection could be pretty spotty at times,* and Kramerbooks can be surprisingly good,** but that’s beside the point for those of us who want our critical Latin editions of Ockham and Scotus, 5 different translations of Augustine, more stuff on the Reformation than most stores devote to religion, or a whole section on Aquinas. We want our bookstore, complete with people who know a critical edition from a public domain Latin version. It’s something you just can’t get from Amazon—well, along with the feeling you get from not sending money to Satan’s minions—and will be sorely missed.

But. But! I’m gonna give you the next best thing: a series of lists (what is this, Buzzfeed?) of books worth reading on any number of philosophical*** topics, complete with caveats, explanations, and my own opinions, which are completely right and you should never question ever because they’re right. Some of these are syllabi for imagined courses I’ll never get to teach, but have always wanted to—a few of them I’ve been developing since reading Plato’s Republic, scarily enough—while others are just “look, don’t read bad translations like I did, try these instead.” It’s advice I’d give to hypothetical customers or students, written up in a big ol’ binder at the front of the store that you could whack me over the head with when you disagreed with something I said.

You don’t get the binder, but you do get my opinions. Sorry ’bout that. Continue reading

Philosopher Shaming!

Time for some philosopher shaming.  Things I actually and truly believe, but know I probably shouldn’t:

  • There is no way we can have anything worth calling knowledge of objective scientific truths.  This shouldn’t bother us, though.
  • We can have knowledge of moral truths.  It may be that it’s not that hard to know what they are, even; it’s just that, since they make inconvenient demands of us, we choose to act like we don’t know them.
  • I studied Thomas Aquinas mostly because I thought he was respectable and Blaise Pascal wasn’t.
  • I really, really dislike reading Aquinas, and I don’t think burnout explains all of why.
  • Thomas Hobbes is nowhere near as shocking, modern, or cool as Marsilius of Padua once you understand the latter’s philosophical context.  Seriously, writing a work in the middle ages without a lengthy discussion of human nature or happiness?  If that doesn’t start ringing all sorts of alarm bells, you evidently didn’t spend way too much time studying Scholastic political philosophy.
  • Basically, Kant was right.
  • John Duns Scotus may just be the most brilliant person who wrote during the 12oo’s.  That’s saying a lot.
  • Realizing I’ve always had sympathies with French continental philosophy was . . . well, I still feel kinda dirty about it.  Also that I should have saved it for 11 October.
  • I sometimes read feminist philosophy just for the great titles.
  • The more Aristotle I read, the more I’m convinced he’s the third most overrated philosopher ever.  One and two are Berkley and Lacan, by the way.
  • On Tuesdays, I think David K. Lewis was right.

A Guide to Philosophical Book Covers, Abridged

Lots of people worth reading have posted about what book covers mean for our society, its views on race, and what exactly happens when a cover gets picked to sell books, forget what the book itself says.  Yes, it’s important stuff—really now, if the author says the main character isn’t white but you put a Nordic-looking blonde on the cover, summin’ ain’t right—but I like to lurk in the dark underworld of academic humanities publishing.  Thus, how to judge books by their covers, or make your Dusty Tome look like something worth reading.

Continue reading

Yves Klein and Interpretation, Part 2: The Strange Hell of Beauty

I left off last time with the idea that Klein’s works seek to create a void, to instantiate a nothingness.  Why, exactly, is this such a horrifying idea?

Short answer: anyone can play God; Klein’s trying to become Anti-God.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Creating the Immaterial Zone—annihilating gold in the Seine

Now, the idea of creation ex nihilo is something that drives philosophers batty; to make a very long story short, it’s something only God can get away with.  Of course, creation has a flip side in annihilation; anything that now is, can just as easily not be.

This is the key message of Yves Klein.  To return to the original primal void requires more than simple destruction, but rather an act of God, a true annihilation of being.  Klein, time and again, attempts to create this utter nothing, to sell “zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility” to those willing to embrace annihilation and negation: Continue reading