New Books: Philosophy of the Novel, French conquests

Just wanted to call your attention to Barry‘s newest book, Philosophy of the Novel. Here’s a description:

This book explores the aesthetics of the novel from the perspective of Continental European philosophy, presenting a theory on the philosophical definition and importance of the novel as a literary genre. It analyses a variety of individuals whose work is reflected in both theoretical literary criticism and Continental European aesthetics, including Mikhail Bakhtin, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin. Moving through material from eighteenth century and ancient Greek philosophy and aesthetics, the book provides comprehensive coverage of the major positions on the philosophy of the novel. Distinctive features include the importance of Vico’s view of the epic to understanding the novel, the importance of Kierkegaard’s view of the novel and irony along with his other aesthetic views, the different possibilities associated with seeing the novel as ‘mimetic’ and the importance of Proust in understanding the genre in all its philosophical aspects, relating the issue of the philosophical aesthetics of the novel with the issue of philosophy written as a novel and the interaction between these two alternative positions.

Barry has more on liberty and the novel here and here.

Jacques has a new book out, too, titled Indecent Stories by Decent Women. It’s under a pen name, John René Adolph, for obvious reasons. Here is a 2014 essay by Jacques titled “Why Young Women Are Stupid (If They Are): A Scientific Inquiry.”

A shift in the Great Conversation

I was alerted to this piece in n+1, a left-wing publication, on the decline of reading and writing in Western societies thanks to the newfound power of Twitter and the prominence this power gives to the op-ed (h/t John Holbo over at Crooked Timber).

There is one really good point in an otherwise predictable piece, but first I’d like to highlight why I continue to maintain that the Left is still the reactionary ideology of our times. The editorial’s complaints about technology (Twitter) giving a voice to radical factions (right-wingers like Andrew Sullivan and the Fox News brigade) are just the same ol’ excuses served up by the Leftists of yore to censor views they don’t like. It’s ho-hum all the way down.

At any rate, here is the part that really grabbed me:

Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere, a term we mocked for years until we found it charming and utopian. Blogs felt like gatherings of the like-minded, or at least the not completely random. Even those who stridently disagreed shared some basic premises and context — why else would they be spending time in the comments section of a blog that looked like 1996? Today’s internet, by contrast, is arbitrary and charmless.

I find myself in aesthetic agreement with these reactionaries, again. I’ve always found myself more drawn to the tastes of leftists than conservatives, whose tastes are often too crass for me. (A dead animal’s head on your wall? Really?) And today, I find the internet arbitrary and charmless. Op-eds, and their charmless cousin, the jargon-laden academic paper, are everywhere.

This is part of the reason why I continue to blog. I know that blogging is becoming less and less popular. I understand that clicks and traffic and attention are more important to most people who take time out of their lives to write. I get it.

The intimacy that a blog affords, though, is too good to pass up, especially for someone like me. I like reading voices from Argentina like Federico’s. I enjoy Jacques’ posts on sex and politics. (A true Frenchman, that one, no matter how hard he tries to be otherwise.) Rick, the Canadian-turned-American living in New York, always manages to bring a smile to my face. I like being able to read Michelangelo, an authentic voice from Los Angeles, the crown jewel of the American Empire.

The conversational nature of the blog is not in vogue right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Indeed, if anything, it means that the conversations that continue to play out over what’s left of the blogosphere will be far more important to far more people in far more places than the latest Twitterstorm. Twitter is an incredibly useful place for mining knowledge, but it’s worthless for shaping that knowledge into something useful and precious for today and tomorrow. Only writing can do that.

Op-eds aren’t going anywhere. There’s no use trying to delegitimize them, or ban them. You can choose to ignore them. That’s what I do. Instead of reading an op-ed, I continue to browse the blogosphere, where conversation about ideas and events remains as boisterous, and relevant, and as ever.

PS: I hope you are enjoying my “nightcaps.” The Notewriters have all reached out to me to let me know they’ve got something in the pipeline. Life gets hectic. People get busy. But writing notes on liberty will never get old.

Nightcap

  1. An ancient epic poem recounts the ‘Indian war’ of Dionysus Blake Smith, the Wire
  2. Sketchbook of 15th-century engineer Johannes de Fontana Bennett Gilbert, Public Domain Review
  3. Van Gogh’s love affair with Japan Joe Lloyd, 1843
  4. Relatedness: De-toxifying the mind Peter Miller, Views

“Mohammed — in pictures”

That is the title of this piece by Barnaby Rogerson in the Spectator. There are three beautiful pieces of medieval art (two Persian and one Turkish), and those alone are worth the price of the click. There is, of course, a short essay explaining why there is now so much resistance to depicting Mohammed in art (of both the high and low brow variety). Check it out:

Whatever the heritage of their medieval past, Sunni Islam — in the Arab-speaking Middle East — had decisively turned its back on depictions of the Prophet well before the 18th-century emergence of Wahhabism. Once again there are no definite answers. It may have been a gut reaction to the magnificent art produced by their Iranian Shiite rivals but it also reflects a very real fear that Mohammed was slowly being turned into a demi-god and that in the process his actual prophetic message would be ignored. This was especially true in the far eastern frontiers of Islam, such as India and Indonesia (numerically the two largest Muslim nations in the world) with their ancient syncretic traditions. So the attack on imagery can also be seen to have a constructive element embedded within it, concentrating all attention on the text of the Koran and reinforcing the Arab nature of that revelation.

Take this as you will. My instinct is to suspect “the Arab nature of that revelation” as the initial reason for this change in Islamic aesthetics. That is to say, I suspect that a medieval notion of Arab chauvinism is responsible for the shift.