7 Quick Takes—02/07/14—Philosophical Cats Edition!

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As I violated my 2-post-a-week resolution last week, I figured I should make amends in a manner sensitive to the cultural mores of the internet. Internet,  I present to you by way of apology this menagerie of philosophical and theological cats. I’m terribly sorry; I’m as guilty as the second cat in this video:

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If I could find a sufficiently large cat picture, and a font size that was highly readable even when very tiny, and I felt like opening up a graphics editor, I would make the following Nietzsche quote into the best philosophical cat meme ever.

Since I’m lazy, you’ll have to settle for this adorable cat picture and Nietzsche’s explanation of what your cat is really thinking. (Technically he’s describing a herd of cows but, you know, same diff…)

This is a hard sight for man to see; for, though he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness … A human being may well ask an animal: ‘Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?’ The animal would like to answer, and say: ‘The reason is I always forget what I was going to say’—but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent: so that the human being was left wondering.
But he also wonders at himself, that he cannot learn to forget but clings relentlessly to the past: however far and fast he may run, this chain runs with him … A leaf flutters from the scroll of time, floats away—and suddenly floats back again and falls into the man’s lap. Then the man says ‘I remember’ and envies the animal, who at once forgets and for whom every moment really dies, sinks back into night and fog and is extinguished for ever. Thus the animal lives unhistorically: for it is contained in the present, like a number without any awkward fraction left over. —Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life”

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7 Quick Takes—05/17/13

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The “weirdest conference ever” seems to have been ripped right from the pages of a Thomas Pynchon novel. If you’ve ever read Pynchon’s fabulously surreal and satirical The Crying of Lot 49, then you’ll appreciate this story from The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Percolator blog. The story is, to all appearances, a clever satire about higher education and capitalism but it is, unfortunately, also true.  In it, a possibly mad—but extremely wealthy—jeweler who claims to have “seemlessly” [sic] joined together the fields of religion and science in a curious self-published tome entitled (wait for it…) the Summa Metaphysica convinces Bard College (yes, that Bard College) to host a week-long conference on his work by making a sizable gift to the school. One anecdote about the oddness of the whole affair: 

I spoke to several of the conference’s participants, including Tammy Nyden, an associate professor of philosophy at Grinnell College, who called the conference “so bizarre.” She felt hesitant about the invitation to begin with, but because it was taking place at a venerable institution like Bard, she decided to go. The conference covered expenses, and it sounded intriguing. But she thought it strange that almost no one attended the presentations, and she was surprised to come across a pile of T-shirts with Summa Metaphysica, the title of Birnbaum’s two-volume work, printed on them. Her brief interactions with Birnbaum did not put her at ease. “It was a very weird experience,” she said. “He keeps saying he has this unifying principle, and it’s ‘potentiality,’ and that’s the most sense I can make out of anything he’s said.”

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So long as we’re on the topic of dubious authors, The Telegraph has a pitch-perfect parody of Dan Brown, in which a day in the life of “renowned author Dan Brown” is rendered in Brownish prose.  A sample:

The critics said his writing was clumsy, ungrammatical, repetitive and repetitive. They said it was full of unnecessary tautology. They said his prose was swamped in a sea of mixed metaphors. For some reason they found something funny in sentences such as “His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack.” They even say my books are packed with banal and superfluous description, thought the 5ft 9in man. He particularly hated it when they said his imagery was nonsensical. It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.

In addition to immensely enjoying the parody, I was able to finally put a finger on what bothers me about a lot of the prose style in airport books: “banal and superflous description.” It’s downright odd, frankly, that completely plot-driven novels feel the need to engage in lengthy, unnecessary, and flat descriptions when, let’s be honest, no one’s reading it for the scene setting.

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In other book news, I’ve been trying to decide how to sell the Catholic grad student group at my school on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited for our summer book club. First I have to confess that I haven’t read the book, I’ve only seen the fab miniseries with Jeremy Irons (streaming on Netflix FYI). I think I did a rather wretched job trying to describe it the first time round. It went something like this: “Well, it’s about the decline of the aristocracy and about Catholicism and about romance and, well, it’s just wonderful.” One person’s interest did seem to be briefly peaked by the “decline of the aristocracy” bit, so I think I’ve found the right catchphrase now for the next time I pitch it: “It’s Downton Abbey meets Catholicism.”

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