books chewed, tasted etc

Later 2016

Went to Berkelouw Leichhardt one day and bought these:
David Foster – Studs and Nogs: Essays 1987-98
Clive James – The Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008
Off One’s Tits: Ill-considered rants and raves from a graceless oaf named John Birmingham
D.H. Lawrence – A Selection from the Phoenix
I devoured the Australian ones quickly. Hadn’t read any David Foster before. All 3 are great essayists. Read some of the Lawrence. Reread the D.H. Lawrence episode in Bertrand Russell’s autobiography. Read somewhere else that Lawrence got all his ideas from his wife, who was steeped in the early 20th C German/Vienna philosophies of blood etc.
(Result of 2 minutes wikipediaing: “Mainly through her elder sister Else von Richthofen, Frieda became acquainted with many intellectuals and authors, including the socioeconomist Alfred Weber and sociologist Max Weber, the radical psychoanalyst Otto Gross (who became her lover), and the writer Fanny zu Reventlow.” Otto Gross: “A champion of an early form of anti-psychiatry and sexual liberation, he also developed an anarchist form of depth psychology (which rejected the civilising necessity of psychological repression proposed by Freud). He adopted a modified form of the proto-feminist and neo-pagan theories of Johann Jakob Bachofen, with which he attempted to return civilization to a ‘golden age’ of non-hierarchy. Gross was ostracized from the larger psychoanalytic movement, and was not included in histories of the psychoanalytic and psychiatric establishments. He died in poverty. Greatly influenced by the philosophy of Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche and the political theories of Peter Kropotkin, he in turn influenced D. H. Lawrence (through Gross’s affair with Frieda von Richthofen)” ..well, there sounds something to that.)

Australian Civilization – A Symposium edited by Peter Coleman, 1962
I loved this!! So fascinating. Only read the first half so far – got sidetracked by looking up other books, papers etc related to the topics, or mentioned in it. What a classic. I’d never heard of it. Tocqueville is frequently present, and this book seems to hold a similar place – is it the best book on what Australia is now? At least, I learnt a lot about Australia from reading it; the history, and why it is how it is now.

One fascinating paper I found in connection with that is:
Anna Wierzbicka – Does language reflect culture? Evidence from Australian English, 1986

Donald Horne – The Public Sphere: The Triumph of Industrialism
Nothing particularly original, I think – stuff from J Berger, P Berger, Raymond Williams, Goffman, Frankfurt school etc etc. But well-written and interesting. ‘Reality’, ‘nations’, ‘the news’, culture, ownership, ‘research’, ‘myths’ of the public culture, ‘legitimations’ etc.

OCT 2016

Patterns of Software: Tales from the Software Community, by Richard P. Gabriel
I just looked at this briefly – 5-10 minutes. [Originally on this page I ridiculed his views of Samuel Johnson and Feyerabend. But I deleted that. I will keep only the bit I loved, presenting Borges:]

++++There is a story by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges entitled “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote” (1962) about a writer who wanted to write Don Quixote. But, because Borges was fascinated with hermeneutics, he made this writer want to reproduce Don Quixote word for word, but not as a transcription. The writer’s name was Pierre Menard. Menard wanted to get into a context in the mid-twentieth century in which he would happen to write the same book as Miguel Cervantes had. The story talks about other projects Menard did and how he was able to write Chapter 15 word for word, and Borges talks about the different meanings that the same words had when written on one hand by the seventeenth century Cervantes and on the other by the twentieth century Menard. I quote a bit of it because it’s so much fun:

It is a revelation to compare the Don Quixote of Menard with that of Cervantes. The latter, for instance, wrote (Don Quixote, Part One Chapter Nine):

[…truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future.]

++Written in the seventeenth century, written by the “ingenious layman” Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical eulogy of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes:

[…truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future.]

++History, mother of truth; the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an investigation of reality, but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what took place; it is what we think took place. The final clauses—example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future—are shamelessly pragmatic.
++Equally vivid is the contrast in styles. The archaic style of Menard—in the last analysis a foreigner—suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his precursor, who handles easily the ordinary Spanish of his time.
(Borges 1962)

Borges’ original essay is..well, I had my mouth open in amazement throughout. Did Sterne invent writing this dementedly?! Amazing, must read more Borges. Well maybe. I was more amazed with its perfection and brilliance than laughing constantly, as I am with Quixote and Sterne. And, well. I hardly read fiction, don’t know if I’d want to read something fictional just for its cleverness. Chesterton in his essays is usually ingenious, extremely wacky and saying something important and true, all at the same time.
Pierre Menard Author of the Quixote. (beware of that site, it has a lot of stuff in a similar vein – funny, clever, silly, erudite, ‘quirky’, and—a favourite quality of its anonymous author—not afraid to be itself)

I read in the POSIX standards literature that ‘POSIX’ was to be pronounced ‘pahz-ics’ (like ‘positive’) not ‘poh-sics’ (like ‘pose’). Hmm yeah. Is POSIX just for the USA?! Amazingly parochial. Hopefully that was bad luck and the rest of it is more universal…

G.K. Chesterton – Autobiography
Extremely funny and wise. A succession of illuminating and funny stories. I read it first a couple of years ago. Too many good bits to quote! Advice to journalists:

…I cannot remember that I ever wrote any article that was at all suitable to any paper. …the real advice I could give to a young journalist, now that I am myself an old journalist, is simply this: to write an article for the Sporting Times and another for the Church Times, and put them into the wrong envelopes. Then, if the article were accepted and were reasonably intelligent, all the sporting men would go about saying to each other, “Great mistake to suppose there isn’t a good case for us; really brainy fellows say so;” and all the clergymen would go about saying to each other, “Rattling good writing on some of our religious papers; very witty fellow.” This is perhaps a little faint and fantastic as a theory; but it is the only theory upon which I can explain my own undeserved survival in the journalistic squabble of the old Fleet Street. I wrote on a Nonconformist organ like the old Daily News and told them all about French cafés and Catholic cathedrals; and they loved it, because they had never heard of them before. I wrote on a robust Labour organ like the old Clarion and defended medieval theology and all the things their readers had never heard of; and their readers did not mind me a bit. What is really the matter, with almost every paper, is that it is much too full of things suitable to the paper. – Ch.8

Also I’ve been looking at some books written by his brother Cecil: The Party System (with Hilaire Belloc, GKC’s best friend), about how it’s a sham, The Prussian Hath Said In His Heart (written during WWI – from which he died – tracing German militarism to Frederick the Great’s amoral (‘Atheist’) philosophy – ‘let the people say what they like, and I do what I like’) and GKC: A Criticism, which surprised me with this passage:

++++…I must say a word of the forces which had helped to mould him. Reading, no less than discussion, was in the air of his home, and from his childhood he was a voracious reader. His memory was and is almost as astounding as Macaulay’s, and he always had pages of his favourite authors stored in his head. His taste, then as now, was always for the romantic school. Shakespeare, Dickens, Scott (both prose and verse), Macaulay, were the writers he devoured, I think, most eagerly in his boyhood. I do not think that he gave much attention to contemporary or even to later Victorian writers. Swinburne caught him in his later schooldays ; Browning, I believe, later still ; Tennyson I do not fancy he ever fully appreciated. But just about the time that he was leaving school he met with a book which had a profound and decisive influence on the growth of his mind. That book was Walt Whitman’s “ Leaves of Grass.”
++++The effect which Whitman’s poems produced on him was electric. They seemed to sum up the aspirations of his own youth. They gave him a faith to hold to, and a gospel to preach. He set himself to proclaim “ the whole divine democracy of things,” …He embraced passionately the three great articles of Whitman’s faith, the ultimate goodness of all things implying the acceptance of the basest and meanest no less than the noblest in life, the equality and solidarity of men, and the redemption of the world by comradeship. You will find Whitman’s influence everywhere present in his earlier work, especially in “ The Wild Knight ” and “ The Defendant.” The preface to “ The Defendant ” is instinct with his spirit. “ The Wild Knight ” itself is a Whitmanite poem ; so is “ Ecclesiastes ” ; so is “ World Lover ” ; so is “The Earth’s Shame.” Other forces have since compelled him to modify the Whitmanite faith, and even to emphasize doctrines antagonistic to it—the existence of positive evil and the need of authority and definition. But the robust faith in life which Whitman drove into him he has never abandoned, and in the dedication of his latest book, “ The Man who was Thursday,” he pays a fine tribute to Whitman’s influence on his youth.
++++– Cecil Chesterton, G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism, p23-6

I didn’t realize the size of the Whitman influence. Well, there is this, from GKC’s Autobiography:

++++ In truth, the story of what was called my Optimism was rather odd. When I had been for some time in these, the darkest depths of the contemporary pessimism, I had a strong inward impulse to revolt; to dislodge this incubus or throw off this nightmare. But as I was still thinking the thing out by myself, with little help from philosophy and no real help from religion, I invented a rudimentary and makeshift mystical theory of my own. It was substantially this; that even mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, was extraordinary enough to be exciting. Anything was magnificent as compared with nothing. Even if the very daylight were a dream, it was a day-dream; it was not a nightmare. The mere fact that one could wave one’s arms and legs about (or those dubious external objects in the landscape which were called one’s arms and legs) showed that it had not the mere paralysis of a nightmare. Or if it was a nightmare, it was an enjoyable nightmare. In fact, I had wandered to a position not very far from the phrase of my Puritan grandfather, when he said that he would thank God for his creation if he were a lost soul. I hung on to the remains of religion by one thin thread of thanks. I thanked whatever gods might be, not like Swinburne, because no life lived for ever, but because any life lived at all; not, like Henley for my unconquerable soul (for I have never been so optimistic about my own soul as all that) but for my own soul and my own body, even if they could be conquered. This way of looking at things, with a sort of mystical minimum of gratitude, was of course, to some extent assisted by those few of the fashionable writers who were not pessimists; especially by Walt Whitman, by Browning and by Stevenson; Browning’s “God must be glad one loves his world so much”, or Stevenson’s “belief in the ultimate decency of things”. But I do not think it is too much to say that I took it in a way of my own; even if it was a way I could not see clearly or make very clear. What I meant, whether or no I managed to say it, was this; that no man knows how much he is an optimist, even when he calls himself a pessimist, because he has not really measured the depths of his debt to whatever created him and enabled him to call himself anything. At the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy. There were other aspects of this feeling, and other arguments about it, to which I shall have to return. Here it is only a necessary part of the narrative; as it involves the fact that, when I did begin to write, I was full of a new and fiery resolution to write against the Decadents and the Pessimists who ruled the culture of the age.

Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos & Annie Di Donna, 2009
What a wonderful book. It’s an amazingly well-drawn comic, 300+ large full-colour pages, with some bonus pages of written explanations at the end. It’s largely the history of logic/mathematics in the Bertrand Russell mode, showing a lot of Russell’s early life until WWII, his childhood, home, family, fears and loves, Moore, writing Principia with Whitehead, opening a school with Dora, then quite a lot of Wittgenstein, taking the reader to an understanding of What Gödel Did and why it mattered. Also features Frege, Cantor, Hilbert, the Vienna Circle, and even the authors planning and writing the book itself. Alys, Evelyn, Mrs Frege and Athena play an essential part. The last pages are occupied with a performance of Aeschylus’ Eumenides, the last play of the Oresteia, which surprisingly – or not surprisingly, given how perfectly everything else is designed – fits perfectly the themes of the book – passion, love, violence, reason, madness etc. I found it exhilarating, continually exceeding expectations.
++++I was familiar with the main story – I wondered why they had a tutor, and not Russell’s brother Frank, introduce him to Euclid – then the comic promptly had the authors themselves explaining why! I wasn’t familiar with the episodes when Russell visited Frege and Cantor, or the scenes with all the big mathematics stars together in Paris – and it turned out the these hadnt happened. But I wasn’t annoyed, unlike I sometimes am with documentaries taking liberties. ( – like that movie about Rodriguez. Maybe because they changed his story to make it much more sensational, whereas the changes here don’t really change the essence or significance of the story at all, just make it a bit less dry.) But still, I can’t see how making it Frank instead of the tutor would have made it any drier or more complicated. Most of it seems to be done with complete faithfulness to historical fact. It omits them living in China for a year – that would have been fun! Or Russell meeting Lenin.. or the DH Lawrence ‘affair’.. or.. etc etc. But then it would have been 1000pp. They must have considered including the Lawrence affair, though. No mention of Peirce, which is typical, but hardly fair. He deserved a place at least in the text at the end.
++++Anyhow, it’s written so clearly that just about anyone could read it and enjoy it. They make the job of delivering ‘developments in 20th century philosophy and mathematics’ to a mass audience seem effortless, though I suppose it took a huge amount of planning. And the art is – well, I can’t imagine how it could have been better. Except if Russell and Wittgenstein looked more like themselves! They got the hair right, not the faces though. They did get the spirit of Wittgenstein marvellously right though. hehe. I grew up on stuff like Tintin and the Naunerle Farr illustrated novels, and I sure wish I’d had stuff like this. But there’s nothing ‘like’ those, and nothing like this either. I think! Until these guys do their next. I must write to them in congratulations and thanks. Hot Ziggedy!* hehe.
++++Personally, Russell’s writing has been hugely important to me; not his technical stuff but his essays. He’s a great prose writer, one of the greatest essayists of the 20th C. I rarely (although sometimes) see that acknowledged. He was the first great essayist I discovered, in my late teens. (He really deserves a place in my essayist pantheon of Emerson, Hazlitt, Chesterton, and Stevenson.) (So do James and Santayana. And.. hehe. Nah, that’s about it.) He’s extremely funny. I think I learnt mainly from him the importance of using short words, and an abhorrence of foggy, aimless, confused, weasel-wordy prose. I’ve spent a lot of time with Wittgenstein too, although I think trying to be friends with him would have been very hazardous! And I owe to Alys’ brother Logan a huge debt for putting me onto Emerson, (and Johnson, Halifax etc), thanks to his book of collected aphorisms.
[*explain this gag.]

G.K. Chesterton – George Bernard Shaw. On Nietzsche:

++++…he was a frail, fastidious and entirely useless anarchist. He had a wonderful poetic wit; and is one of the best rhetoricians of the modern world. … All that was true in his teaching was this: that if a man looks fine on a horse it is so far irrelevant to tell him that he would be more economical on a donkey or more humane on a tricycle. In other words, the mere achievement of dignity, beauty, or triumph is strictly to be called a good thing. … all that is credible or sound in Nietzsche could be stated in the derivation of one word, the word ‘valour’. Valour means valeur; it means value; courage itself is a solid good; it is an ultimate virtue; valour is in itself valid. In so far as he maintained this Nietzsche was only taking part in that great Protestant game of see-saw which has been the amusement of northern Europe since the sixteenth century. Nietzsche imagined he was rebelling against ancient morality; as a matter of fact he was only rebelling against recent morality, against the half-baked impudence of the utilitarians and the materialists. He thought he was rebelling against Christianity; curiously enough he was rebelling against the special enemies of Christianity, against Herbert Spencer and Mr. Edward Clodd. Historic Christianity has always believed in the valour of St. Michael riding in front of the Church Militant; and in an ultimate and absolute pleasure, not direct or utilitarian, the intoxication of the spirit, the wine of the blood of God.
++++There are indeed doctrines of Nietzsche that are not Christian, but then, by an entertaining coincidence, they are also not true. His hatred of pity is not Christian, but that was not his doctrine but his disease. Invalids are often hard on invalids. …
++++…the ape did not worry about the man, so why should we worry about the Superman? If the Superman will come by natural selection, may we leave it to natural selection? If the Superman will come by human selection, what sort of Superman are we to select? If he is simply to be more just, more brave, or more merciful, then Zarathustra sinks into a Sunday-school teacher; the only way we can work for it is to be more just, more brave, and more merciful; sensible advice, but hardly startling. If he is to be anything else than this, why should we desire him, or what else are we to desire? These questions have been many times asked of the Nietzscheites, and none of the Nietzscheites have even attempted to answer them.” – GKC’s GBS Ch. 6, The Philosopher

Viewpoints: Mathematical Perspective and Fractal Geometry in Art – Marc Frantz, Annalise Crannell.
Just had a quick look at this today. It seems excellent – interesting in both the maths and art department. Which is true of hardly any book. Interesting statements by artists between each chapter too, great idea. Chapter 6 got me interested, they talk about when conventional perspective isn’t enough, well almost – because really, the lines curve!, but they I think didn’t quite get there. It’s not just something that happens if you’re halfway up a skyscraper, as they suggest. Then they present a guy who paints on spheres. Nice. Anyway, seems like an extremely good book, in a field without a lot of serious competition.

Everything is Bullshit – from the Priceonomics guys.
A quite brief (read it in a couple of hours) collection of essays. Debunks such cultural phenomena as diamonds, wine etc. Should be longer to achieve ‘Madness of Crowds’-type impact/immortality, but it was a great read, enlightening and entertaining; I expected no less, having read dozens of fascinating articles on their website.

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom – Walter Alvarez & Carl Zimmer, 2008
A ringside seat at the comet?/asteroid? that hit 65,000,000 years ago and killed off the dinosaurs.

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World – David Anthony

Yes, I’ve been reading a lot of xkcd webcomic and xkcd What If (serious scientific answers to curious/insane questions from readers) the last week, can you tell? 😀 Both are awesome. I learned and laughed a lot.

John Stillwell – Numbers and Geometry, and The Four Pillars of Geometry.
I read his Mathematics and its History 5-6 years ago. More recently looked at Elements of Geometry, Elements of Number Theory, and others. He’s an amazing communicator. Very influential in the world of mathematics writing, I think. There’s a question on the Maths stack exchange about peoples’ favourite maths books, and Stillwell got mentioned more and more fondly than just about anyone. p.s. He’s an aussie.
++++Hmm I was reading today about the Dehn invariant (which stays constant while you chop up and reassemble polyhedra-type shapes. (polytopes?) I think I can do a similar kind of thing with quite a few things I’m interested in.

Ross Honsberger – Ingenuity in Mathematics – 1998


Watched a lot of Derren Brown (had already watched a lot a few years ago) – Miracle (stage show), Pushed to the Edge (3 of 4 people push a man to his death), The System (horse race betting ‘system’), Behind the Mischief, The Gathering (in front of invited audience, street directory tricks, phone numbers, ends with taxi driver route trick), The Heist (3 out of 4 selected people rob a bank security guard at gunpoint, without even being asked to… it just being subliminally ‘suggested’ during a motivational course.), Trick or Treat s01e01 (Richard wakes up in a photo booth in Marrakech), Mind Control e01 (guessing hands, animal heaven (subliminal messages to advertisers), mind reading), e02 (dual reality hand touching (doesnt show the touches), telepathic/hypno photo guessing with loud pen, transmitting ‘tractor’ to blindfolded person. ‘7 of hearts’ transmission is obvious hand signalling.), -Experiments: Game show, Trick of the Mind s01e01,2,3, The Derren Brown Lecture (a lot of same material as in Pure Effect)
Audiobook: Tricks of the Mind: Magic, Memory, Hypnosis
books: Absolute Magic, Pure Effect
These are such fascinating, intelligent books, rich with philosophy, psychology, spirituality (in the deep ‘Preface to Morals’ (Lippman), ‘Essay on Man’ (Cassirer) sense – depth psychology, mythology, psycho-socio-cultural needs)

Other magic-related videos:
James Brown – The Magic of Belief (a TED MED talk) **
Keith Barry – Deception
Penn & Teller’s Fool Us – lots of episodes
Richard Kaufman – 1 hr card shuffle/pass video on youtube (not sure of title, it was in Russian.)
Lots of Tommy Wonder shows & lectures.

Banachek – Psychophysiological Thought Reading
This has a lot of history, as well as a practical guide. Randall Brown in 1870s became famous touring the US doing ‘mind reading’ (while touching the other person, or connected by fabric, rope etc), it became very popular. Other more theatrical performers were even more successful. The main problem was that many people could do it when they tried it at home. Victorian parlour game “Willing” – one person left the room, the people left decided on a task for them, to move or find an object. The task leader put their hand on the person’s shoulder and they tried to do the task while everyone concentrated on it. This featured as type 1 of Myer’s telepathy categories. For more on ‘Willing’ see (apparently) R. Osgood Mason. Telepathy and the Subliminal Self, 1899)
Also chapters on pendulums, ouija boards, dowsing, table-tilting, etc.
I loved this: Make a row of pendulums attached to a rod, suspended on different-length strings. By focusing on one at a time, you or an audience can make any one start or stop oscillating, or, it sounds like, any group of them. Amazing! (you have to hold the rod in your hand.)
“Do not be surprised if you start to believe in your own psychic abilities once you become proficient in non-contact thought-reading. It has happened to others. Just remind yourself how and where you started to learn these techniques to put you back on track.” – Banachek, p40

Tommy Wonder – The Books of Wonder (2 huge volumes)
These books really are wonderful. What a creative and inspiring guy – magician, craftsman, philosopher, perfectionist.
The Berglas Effects (Book + DVDs). – featuring at least 200 pages alone on the Berglas effect. And interviews, video of his shows, life story etc etc.
Dominic O’Brien – You Can Have an Amazing Memory
Some older classics:
Dariel Fitzkee – Showmanship for Magicians, Magic by Misdirection
Maskelyne & Devant – Our Magic
Henning Nelms – Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers
This one, the Books of Wonder, and the 2 Derren Brown books were my favourites, I think. Am going to make a page on theory of magic; it’s a fascinating subject, involving so many different fields.

Then I got more into comedy magic, watched a lot of that.

December 2016

Started reading (I’d read most of it before years ago) Jean Curthoys’ Feminist Amnesia. It seems very admirable, honest, intelligent. She was one of the 2 feminists that demanded they be allowed to teach a course on ‘The politics of sexual oppression’ at Sydney Uni in the early 70s! (e.g. as recounted in passing by James Franklin’s history here, or by Stove in 1986—Curthoys was one of the ‘boat people’ I believe.) Later feminism seems to her to have forgotten its original aims. It’s an attempt to remember and analyze that forgotten history.

Then I looked up the article on feminist epistemology in the online Stanford Philosophy encyclopedia. I’m not sure why. What I’d read of such things years before (I guess, mostly Australian women post-modern philosophers and what is quoted in Intellectual Impostures, David Stove essays and such places) seemed awful, incomprehensible at best.
++++There was a link to an essay online, and at random I clicked through to the homepage of Elisabeth Lloyd. Who turns out to be a wonderful philosopher of science (and professor of biology). I spent a few hours reading through her replies to critics on her website. Incredible. She’s so amazingly patient, articulate, generous with critics etc. So then I turned to a book of her essays Science, Politics and Evolution (2008) and almost all her papers I could find online, plus what I could read of The Structure and Confirmation of Evolutionary Theory on Google books. What a huge joy to read. A lot of it is related to evolutionary biology/psychology, fields I read a lot in 20 years ago, although I guess not many of the pre-70s original texts (which thanks to her I now have a list of). I have only the highest praise for her and her work. (I had the response she addresses somewhere in her writings – “but this is just good science, not so much ‘feminist’ science” – and she persuaded me that the term is well-justified.)

Spent hours reading articles on music/jazz, Coltrane, Miles, learning, teaching, practising, Europe etc on Dave Liebman’s website. A lot of great stuff. Good on him for making it all available online.

Got Cassirer’s The Philosophy of the Enlightment and downloaded and started looking at the original texts as they came up – Bayle’s Dictionary, Condorcet, Herder, Voltaire etc. Also Cassirer’s Rousseau, Kant, Goethe.

Jordan Ellenberg – How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
A great book that everyone should (and can, it’s formula-free) read. Almost all the material was new to me. The parts on the maths of probability, scientific studies, statistics etc are particularly useful and important. Written in a very racy and funny way. With cute hand-drawn pictures.


Have started watching a lot of political documentaries. Reading Chris Hedges’ The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress, Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated. Both super-inspiringly awesome, if only in their intelligence, style and…courage to face reality. They’ll make it to my great books list I reckon.

Guide to criticism #1: First assume a writer/philosopher is a hypocrite in the most direct, basic, breathtaking, self-defeating way possible. ‘The more front, the more behind.’ (from.. that book by the psychologist). Morals crusaders often secretly hugely immoral. Post-modernists claiming the truth is that there’s no truth.
++++ I made this mistake once in not realizing until too late that the writings of a certain music academic on ‘musical forces’ (which struck me as ridiculous and stupid) were true exactly of (and only of) his own awful jazz playing – he was playing as if his ‘forces’ were the ultimate laws of music. (‘Too late’, as in until after I’d written to him saying his theory was nonsense.)

++++In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old postcards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory. If the traveler does not wish to disappoint the inhabitants, he must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present one, though he must be careful to contain his regret at the changes within definite limits; admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared to the old, provincial Maurilia, cannot compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old postcards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one’s eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through what it has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was.
++++Beware of saying to them that sometimes different cities follow one another on the same site and under the same name, born and dying without knowing one another, without communication among themselves. At time even the names of the inhabitants remain the same, and their voices’ accent, and also the features of the faces; but the gods who live beneath names and above places have gone off without a word and outsiders have settled in their place. It is pointless to ask whether the new ones are better or worse than the old, since there is no connection between them, just as the old post cards do not depict Maurilia as it was, but a different city which, by chance, was called Maurilia, like this one. – Italo Calvino, Maurilia, Invisible Cities

I began doing what came most naturally to me – that is, following the memory of the things I had loved best since boyhood. Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic. – Calvino, ‘Introduction by the author’, Our Ancestors, vii.