Posts Tagged ‘Robert Pogue Harrison’

The Ethos of “Cool”: Robert Harrison on Jim Morrison and The Doors

Friday, January 5th, 2018
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The Doors in 1966: John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison.

We know what you’re thinking: Is the high-toned Book Haven, lovers of Brahms, Bach, Beethoven and Byrd, getting into bed with rock ‘n roll? 

Just this once. Stanford’s Robert Pogue Harrison is a huge rock fan. So the latest podcast on Entitled Opinions’ new channel at the Los Angeles Review of Books features one of his favorite bands. We listened to it, wrote about it, and … well, found it fascinating. You might, too, especially Robert’s exposition of the “ethos of cool.” (Or go straight to the website to listen to it here.)

Here goes:

“Hot is momentary. It quickly turns to ashes. But cool stays cool.”

Fifty years ago, the award-winning album The Doors was released into the world – a landmark debut for what would become L.A.’s biggest band. The Doors and its lead singer Jim Morrison have few champions as articulate and passionate as Entitled Opinions host Robert Pogue Harrison, who interprets the band’s legacy in this podcast.

“The beginning holds sway over the entire unfolding of the story,” he explains, describing how Morrison was “incubating his future on a rooftop,” as he lived for weeks in “a high-perched nest in Venice, California.” He had little more than a blanket, candles, oranges, notebooks, and LSD, which was cheap and legal at the time. He meditated. He filled his notebooks with poems.

Although he’d never studied music, nor played a musical instrument, songs swirled in his head – and eventually “the ghosts became flesh,” says Harrison. Morrison described what happened this way: “I was just taking notes at a fantastic rock concert that was going on inside my head.”

These were most critical weeks of his life. “In little more than a month, Morrison had undergone a metamorphoses,” according to Harrison.

Harrison discusses Morrison’s military family, and how the young man was “raised to military code of order, discipline obedience, and stoical formalism.” He also explores the ethos of “cool.” Although many see Morrison’s music as a Dionysian expression, Harrison points out that “what you never hear is a convulsive maniac in need of an exorcism.” Morrison always returns to form, measure, restraint. “In the final analysis, Apollo always dominated over Dionysius.”

Potent quotes:

“Morrison had one of the great screams in the history of rock.”

“Jim Morrison had a great deal of fire, but it was the cool that prevailed and always called the shots.”

“Cool does not crave. But our age is craven.” 

“Morrison always withheld something, even when he appeared to let it all hang out.”

“The slowness of cool is not lymphatic, it’s the deliberate withholding of speed.”

“Jim Morrison was in a hurry only when it came to finding a way to die.”

 

Listen to the whole podcast here.

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Stanford celebrates Frankenstein on the bicentennial of its publication – be there on Jan. 24!

Monday, January 1st, 2018
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Artist: Lynd Ward, provided by the Estate of Lynd Ward

Today is more than the usual New Year’s Day. It marks the bicentennial of the very day the 20-year-old Mary Shelley published her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus on January 1, 1818. It was an immediate popular success. The book would rock the world, and inspire films, theater adaptations, television shows, video games, sequels, and spinoffs. But today’s public conception of the hero may owe more to Boris Karloff‘s iconic 1931 film role than to the “the Creature” that Shelley created in her classic, with its complicated and troubling humanity.

Hence, the winter “Another Look” event spotlights Shelley’s Frankenstein. The discussion will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 24, at the Bechtel Conference Center. Frankenstein will be a special two-hour event with four panelists. So far, we’ve seen a lot of interest in this one from the medical and technology  communities – at Stanford and beyond. We’re bracing for a full house.

Another Look’s winter event on Frankenstein is part of Stanford’s year-long celebration of the bicentennial of the book’s publication. Shelley’s tale has proved timely, even prophetic, given our current concerns about artificial intelligence, stem cells, and animal-to-human transplants. Frankenstein explores the role of conscience in creation, and asks: What does it mean to be human? Is it wise to play God? What are the creator’s moral obligations towards his or her creation?

While the campus-wide Frankenstein@200 will explore the moral, scientific, sociological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the book, Another Look will focus on the book as a literary work: a flowering of the romantic imagination, as well as a pioneering landmark in science fiction.

According to critic Harold Bloom, “The greatest paradox and most astonishing achievement of Mary Shelley’s novel is that the monster is more human than his creator. This nameless being, as much a modern Adam as his creator is a modern Prometheus, is more lovable than his creator and more hateful, more to be pitied and more to be feared, and above all able to give the attentive reader that shock of added consciousness in which aesthetic recognition compels a heightened realization of the self.”

Acclaimed author Robert Pogue Harrison will moderate the discussion. The Stanford professor who is Another Look’s director writes regularly for The New York Review of Books and hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions. He will be joined by three panelists who have all taught Frankenstein at Stanford: French Prof. Dan Edelstein, Classics Prof. Andrea Nightingale, and former Stanford fellow Inga Pierson.

The panelists will be focusing on the original 1818 version of the novel, rather than the later 1831 edition – and discussing some of the differences between the two. You can find the Oxford edition of the original at the Stanford Bookstore, Kepler’s in Menlo Park, and Bell’s Books in Palo Alto. (But don’t worry if you’ve read a different edition!)

The Another Look book club takes on short classics that have been forgotten, neglected, or overlooked—or may simply not have received the attention they merit. The selected works are short, in order to encourage the involvement of Bay Area readers whose time may be limited. Subscription at anotherlook.stanford.edu is encouraged for regular updates and details on the selected books and events.

All Another Look events are free and open to the public – and please bring your friends!

A chevalier moderne: Cécile Alduy raised to glory!

Saturday, December 9th, 2017
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An intimate winter gathering at the home of the French consul. (Photo: Anaïs Saint-Jude)

On Thursday night, Cécile Alduy was raised to glory (we’ve written about her here and here). She was admitted to what the French Consul Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens called “one of the most select clubs on earth.” Its ranks include René Girard, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Salman Rushdie, Peter Brook, Jeanne Moreau, and many others – and more recently, Stanford’s Robert Pogue Harrison (we wrote about the occasion here) and Marie-Pierre Ulloa. In short, at the San Francisco hilltop home of the French consul general, Cécile became the most recent “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres,” one of the highest cultural honors France offers.

Consul General Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Cécile Alduy, and cultural attaché Juliette Donadieu (Photo: Anaïs Saint-Jude)

Lebrun-Damiens noted that the order was created in 1957, and strongly supported by André Malraux when General de Gaulle created a Ministry of Culture for France in 1959. Then he praised Cécile.

“At the core of your work, you specialized in analyzing and deconstructing the notion and origins of the myth of national identity,” he told her. “You have used your exceptional artistic, aesthetic, and analytical sensitivity towards expanding artistic, political, and cultural horizons.”

“As a young researcher at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, you decided to dedicate your thesis to great Renaissance French poets and to study how they shaped the notion of national identity through their creative writing. Following that path, you eventually exceeded your original academic discipline – literature – and shifted towards contemporary political analysis, with a particular interest for the ideology and rhetoric of the French extreme right,” he continued, acknowledging her articles in The Atlantic, The Nation, The New York Times, Le Monde, and others.

Cécile’s children also attended the celebration, and gamboled with a few others in the room where she received the small green-and0white striped ribbon and medal. Their participation was fitting and significant: it highlighted the theme of generations that informed both her remarks and those of the General Consul: Lebrun-Damiens noted the role of both her grandmothers. Her paternal grandmother, Jacqueline Alduy, was the mayor of a little town Amelie-les-Bains in the Pyrénées-Orientales, holding the office for 42 years until age 77. “As a woman of convictions, she was especially proud of your work on the extreme right and the analysis of Jean Marie and Marine Le Pen’s discourse,” he added.

Her maternal grandmother figured not only in his remarks, but in hers.  Excerpt below:

Three Stanford chevaliers: Marie-Pierre Ulloa, Robert Harrison, Cécile Alduy. (Photo: Anaïs Saint-Jude)

My first thoughts go to those who instilled in me the sense that literature matters, that beauty matters, that the arts matter, more maybe than anything else. That they are not just the salt of life, a little extra spice or pastime, but rather the soul of the human experience, what makes us uniquely, truly human, what keeps us alive, that by which we might be redeemed as a species, and as individuals.

You named already some of the benevolent figures who imparted on me a love for words: my maternal grand-mother, Madeleine Daumas, a bookseller at one point, a typist who copy-edited the numerous books of her husband, but mostly an avid, yet quiet, composed reader. She read and re-read start to finish all the works by Racine, Montaigne, Balzac, Stendhal, Perec, Butor, Claude Simon, Steinbeck, Nabokov, Faulkner, Julien Greene, Kundera, Philippe Labro, Sollers, Yourcenar, de Beauvoir, John Le Carré, Simenon, Michel Serre. Each Christmas, we counted not the gifts, but the number of pages to read she had received. She was the first to read my first poems, short stories, essays, thesis… (and knowing she was made me pay scrupulous attention to spelling) …

In her family, her parents made “arts and literature and cinema the normal thing we do as a family, like going outdoors or watching the news. Yes, I have to admit that I was not always a happy camper after hours walking through the Pompidou museum staring at contemporary art installations, or visiting Greek ruins under a 110 degrees sun in the Summer. But thanks to them I learnt how to see: colors, and light and shadows; I learnt the shape and tastes of cultures close and far.”

An added bonus: the tree…

Then she spoke of the mission of the chevalier: “enriching French culture is not a matter of celebrating ‘roots’ and ‘land’ as the nationalist rhetoric goes, that culture defies borders and fructifies anywhere, everywhere, that arts and letters and the values they embody not only travel but flourishes by contact, migration, pollination.”

“If anything, this medal and this city rewards the work of bridging, of crossing boundaries (national boundaries but also the boundaries of academic disciplines and methodologies), of traveling across cultures and languages, of being on the move and in several places and cultures at once.

“At a time when borders and walls are erected, I am extremely proud to declare myself a migrant, an immigrant, a bi-national, and a citizen of the world.”

It was, she said, not an achievement as much as a beginning: “a peaceful military draft of sorts, a call to arms to resist the spoliation of our common right to a world where words mean what they say, where principles apply, where cultures are respected and humanistic values upheld.”

…and the flowers

“Being called to become a Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters is less a recognition of past works than an invitation, a request really, to fight for the arts and literature: it’s a call to arms to defend with the means of sharp thinking, and eloquence, and sensitivity, and aesthetic form the value of artistic creation, which is another word for the work of being human.”

With the beautiful decorations for holidays, there was plenty to please everyone. Only one expressed mild disappointment. Her four-year-old daughter asked a thoughtful question: if her mother was now a chevalier – where was her sword?

The only way up is down: Rachel Jacoff and Robert Harrison discuss Dante’s Inferno

Thursday, December 7th, 2017
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The fatal kiss of Francesco da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, as portrayed by William Dyce in1837.

The world of Dante scholars is a small and close-knit one, and Rachel Jacoff is one of its leading luminaries. In this Entitled Opinions conversation, she discusses The Divine Comedy, and more particularly The Inferno, with her former student, our Entitled Opinions host Robert Pogue Harrison, himself a major Dante scholar. It’s over at the Los Angeles Review of Books here. (It’s part one of a three-part series – but don’t worry; each operates as a stand-alone interview.)

They begin with the setting of the Divine Comedy, and the spiritual, existential, biographical, and political crisis in which it is born. The epic poem takes place in the Jubilee year 1300, when the Florentine was 35 years old, at the midpoint of his life. He was in the middle of two prose works he couldn’t finish, Convivio and De Vulgari Eloquentia. Instead, he undertakes the major work for which he is most remembered, The Divine Comedy.

Da man.

Entitled Opinions host and guest discuss the great poem’s background, the spiritual crisis that gave birth to it, the mysterious role of Virgil as Dante’s guide, and the role of women in the drama (both as mediators to Dante’s spiritual climb, and as sexual sinners in the Inferno). And, inevitably, they discuss the renowned Canto V, with the adulterous lovers Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. (More about the doomed couple from two other Stanford scholars, René Girard and John Freccero here.)

The discussion begins with the First Canto, and Harrison’s comments on the Florentine’s immortal opening to his Divine Comedy. Dante has hit an impasse, and the only way up is down:

“There’s always a before, and always an after, to the beginning. Every beginning starts in the middle of something. That’s what the ancients meant by in media res. For Dante, in medias res meant in the middle of a forest: ‘In the middle of our life’s way, I found myself in a dark wood, where the straight way was lost.’ What kind of middle of the way is this, where forward motion hits a dead end, where life’s vital energies come to a terrifying standstill, where every step you take could be your last step? This is the midpoint, a strange and uncanny place. It’s not the halfway point on a straight finite line. It’s not equidistant from beginning and the end. No, it’s a sentiero interrotti – a path without issue. It’s a place where all footing is lost, and where, if there’s to be any resumption of motion, it will have to be on a different footing altogether. That’s what it means to begin in the middle of the way. To find a new footing, and in so doing, to undergo a turn, a swerve, a clinamen, rather than continue on the same rectilinear course. The midpoint represents a turning point. … The only way up is down.”

Potent quotes:

Jacoff @Stanford

Rachel Jacoff:

“If we only had only the first canto, we wouldn’t know anything about the political crisis, we wouldn’t know about the exile, we wouldn’t even know Dante was a Florentine. … The language is deliberately vague enough so that almost everyone can find their own mid-life crisis in this language.”

Rachel Jacoff:

“People have read this as a poem about depression, they have read it as a poem about many different things, because they’re able to connect with the sense of a dead-end.”

“It has collective epic community, but also lyric individuality. It becomes a first-person epic, which distinguishes it. There is an ambiguousness about its autobiographical nature … and yet it is generic. There is a way in which Dante has to be an everyman.”

“Reading Virgil might have given him the idea that maybe he was writing the wrong book. He shouldn’t be writing a philosophical book, he should be writing a poem – and a poem informed on many levels by The Aeneid, in particular, the journey to the other world.”

“It is a very Christian poem; Virgil is a pagan. This is a primary, extraordinary fact. Unlike other texts with visions of the journey to the other world, in which the guides are angels or saints, Dante chooses a poet, and perhaps the most important thing to Dante, a poet of Rome and of the Roman Empire.”

Go to the new Entitled Opinions channel at the Los Angeles Review of Books here.

Robert Harrison:

“In Dante’s age, there was no analysis or psychotherapy, no prozac. Help took a different form – the form of a literary ghost, the ghost of Virgil who comes on the scene.”

“Wouldn’t it also be fair to say that Dante was also chosen by Virgil? … He had been rereading Virgil’s Aeneid massively. Something changed in rereading of that poem about the founding of the Roman Empire. He landed in a dead-end as a result of reading Virgil, and so perhaps only Virgil could get him out.”

“Sometimes the living adopt their ancestors, but sometimes the dead have a way of adopting the living.”

“Dante was primarily a lyric poet before he wrote The Divine Comedy. Virgil perhaps provided a model for how he might go from being a lyric poet to writing a Christian epic.”

 A triumph for Sándor Márai’s little-known classic Embers

Monday, October 23rd, 2017
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Another Look director Robert Harrison, with founding director Tobias Wolff

If you felt a slight tremor in the earth on Wednesday, October 18, the epicenter was at Stanford’s Encina Hall. The Another Look book club took on Sándor Márai‘s Embers – and the whole room rocked!

The event was close to a record-breaker, with about two hundred participants – not bad for an off-the-beaten track Hungarian novel (and only equaled by Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God).

Sándor Márai’s taut and mesmerizing novel, published in 1942, opens in a secluded Hungarian castle, where an old general awaits a reunion with a friend. It is 1940, and he has not appeared in public for decades. The long-estranged companions talk all night – or rather, the general talks, as the evasive visitor listens to the general discuss love, intimacy, honor, betrayal, and a beautiful, long-dead wife.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian empire, and shares the melancholy wisdom of its narrator: “We not only act, talk, think, dream, we also hold our silence about something. All our lives we are silent about who we are, which only we know, and about which we can speak to no one. Yet we know that who we are and what we cannot speak about constitutes the ‘truth.’ We are that about which we hold our silence.”

Acclaimed author Robert Pogue Harrison moderated the discussion. The Stanford professor who is Another Look’s director writes regularly for The New York Review of Books and hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions. He was joined by renowned author and National Medal of Arts winner Tobias Wolff, professor emeritus of English at Stanford, and Jane Shaw, Stanford’s Dean for Religious Life at Stanford.

Toby Wolff, Another Look’s founding director, opened by praising the courage of author Márai to sit down and create a remarkable novel about an all-night conversation – two men meet, but only one of them talks, and they persevere till dawn. The end. A daunting creative challenge that Márai pulls off magificently.

We were happy to see a lively Hungarian contingent in the audience, too – including the Hungarian Consul General for the Bay Area. And boy, did the Hungarians have a different take on the book – they praised Carol Brown Janeway‘s translation, but said that the richness of their native tongue is AWOL. And while Márai is little known west of the Danube, they assured us his books are everywhere in Budapest.

The podcast is here. And all photos, as always, are by by loyal Another Look aficionado David Schwartz.

Is Henry David Thoreau a philosopher, too? Andrea Nightingale votes yes.

Friday, October 20th, 2017
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“He thought you could be awake every day.”

“He wanted to hear the language of the earth…”

This year our nation celebrates the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau. But few of the commemorations have considered Thoreau as a philosopher, focusing instead on Thoreau as a champion of civil disobedience and the author of Walden.  Los Angeles Review of Books’ new Entitled Opinions channel fills the gap here.

Thoreau the philosopher? It’s a tough sell, according to Stanford Prof. Andrea Nightingale, who teaches a course on Thoreau and is the featured guest for this episode. Philosophers don’t consider Thoreau one of their tribe because “he didn’t mount arguments.” She continued: “Then and now, intellectual labor has always been privileged over manual labor. For Thoreau, you needed to learn things with your hands. You needed to get your hands dirty… I think manual labor is part of his philosophy in a very significant way.”

Nightingale and Robert Harrison discuss a common phrase in Walden: “to be awake,” which Thoreau took in a spiritual sense as a state of being. For him, it involved a deep sense of attunement to the natural world, in what Thoreau called an “infinite expectation of the dawn.”

Potent Quotes

“Your metaphysical desire can have an infinite object which is God. If you let go of that, your unlimited desires just want more and more and more.”

Harrison at the mic (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

 

“Thoreau found in nature an infinite manifestation of something deep and fulfilling – and it kept expanding and getting more vibrant.”

“He wanted to hear the language of the earth. … He was very interested in the wind in the trees – one way in which nature is publishing a set of ideas.”

“He thought you could be awake every day.”

“His point of course was to learn how to dwell on the earth in this mode of vibrancy.”

Check out the whole interview here.

Nightingale the philosopher

By the way, Nightingale writes and teaches Greek and Roman philosophy and literature – but she also teaches a course on Thoreau. And she has written on the philosophy and literature of ecology as well. Nightingale, a frequent Entitled Opinions guest, is the author of Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy and Spectacles of Truth: Theoria in its Cultural Context (both with Cambridge University Press) and Once out of Nature: Augustine on Time and the Body (University of Chicago Press).

And read more about Robert Harrison’s thoughts on Thoreau here.

Robert Harrison’s acclaimed “Entitled Opinions” radio show gets a makeover

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
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Robert Harrison as DJ (photo: L.A. Cicero)

From Stanford Report:

Robert Harrison‘s radio show Entitled Opinions has devoted fans all over the world – from Australia to China, Mexico to Russia. One blogger called the intellectually powered interviews, broadcast from KZSU (90.1 FM) and available for free download on iTunes, “one of the most fascinating, engaging podcasts in any possible universe.”

The Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature, who is also an acclaimed author and regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, has recorded more than 200 conversations since 2005, featuring some of our era’s leading figures in literature, philosophy, science, and cultural history, including Richard Rorty, René Girard, Peter Sloterdijk, Shirley Hazzard, Orhan Pamuk, Colm Tóibin, Marilynne Robinson, Paul Ehrlich, Michel Serres, Hayden White, and Abraham Verghese. It also provides an international platform to Stanford faculty.

But until very recently, the website still used the ancient html format created for the French & Italian Department website, with its long, unmemorable URL. Searching for past shows was clumsy and often impossible. Visitors had to scroll down through a seemingly endless chronological list of past episodes to find what they were looking for.

Among the guests: Pamuk

Harrison was beginning to worry about how to ensure that the program remain available in the future – it’s goldmine for scholars, as well as average listeners who “don’t consider themselves observers or listeners, but full-blown participants in the conversation.”

Meanwhile, journalist Cynthia Haven, who works with Harrison on Stanford’s Another Look book club, was trying to make the high-caliber broadcasts available to an even wider audience. Together, they found solutions.

A generous donation from outgoing Stanford president John Hennessy helped fund a redesign for the website, making it more searchable and up-to-date, with a new URL anyone can remember: entitledopinions.stanford.edu . Moreover, the show has forged a new alliance with The Los Angeles Review of Books. The Entitled Opinions channel on the journal’s website is boosting each featured episode by thousands of viewers. The channel also offers summaries of the conversations – another first for the show.

Among the guests: Girard

“Robert Harrison’s interviews are always incisive, smart, interesting. We are so excited to have Entitled Opinions as a new channel at the Los Angeles Review of Books,” said Managing Editor Medaya Ocher. “He has a devoted following around the world but we wanted to make sure that these conversations reached an even broader public. We’ve loved listening to his show over years and it’s a privilege to host these exceptional interviews on our site.”

In another move to preserve Entitled Opinions, the university librarian is now archiving Entitled Opinions as an important part of Stanford’s cultural legacy and history, even as more episodes are being added.

What keeps Harrison going? His fans, he said. A young woman recently wrote, “I am finally getting my oxygen in the barren and orthodox land of Pakistan where lunacy rules and religious fundamentalism along with brutal patriarchy destroys all the critical and creative potential in every thinking person.”

Another listener added: “your show accompanied me through pretty stressful times of intense military and political conflicts in Israel, when heavy objects were falling from the sky on both sides of the border and people were saying pretty dreadful things about other people. … The shows certainly helped me remain sane.”

Said Harrison, “When you look at the whole archive, it’s a lifeline to a world of intellectual ideas.”

We’ve describe the genesis of the changes – but two essential names must be mentioned in its implementation: the heroic Vittoria Mollo, who worked tirelessly to get the new website up and running, and academic technology specialist Michael Widner, who effected the redesign.

Last call for Sándor Márai’s Embers: We’ll explore lies, betrayals, secrets, and honor on Wednesday, Oct. 18!

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
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Little-known Hungarian author

Last call for Sándor Márai‘s taut and mesmerizing Embers, published in 1942. The novel opens in a secluded Hungarian castle, where an old general awaits a reunion with a friend. It is 1940, and he has not appeared in public for decades. The long-estranged companions talk all night – or rather, the general talks, as the evasive visitor listens to the general discuss love, intimacy, honor, betrayal, and a beautiful, long-dead wife. “We are our secrets,” he says.

The autumn “Another Look” event at Stanford will discuss Márai’s superb novel. The discussion will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 18, at the Bechtel Conference Center.

Haven’t got the book? There’s still time: go to Stanford Bookstore on the Stanford campus, Kepler’s in Menlo Park, or Bell’s Books in Palo Alto. It’s a quick read, as are all the Another Look books.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian empire, and shares the melancholy wisdom of its narrator: “We not only act, talk, think, dream, we also hold our silence about something. All our lives we are silent about who we are, which only we know, and about which we can speak to no one. Yet we know that who we are and what we cannot speak about constitutes the ‘truth.’ We are that about which we hold our silence.”

Acclaimed author Robert Pogue Harrison will moderate the discussion. The Stanford professor who is Another Look’s director writes regularly for The New York Review of Books and hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions. He will be joined by renowned author and National Medal of Arts winner Tobias Wolff, professor emeritus of English at Stanford, and Jane Shaw, Stanford’s Dean for Religious Life at Stanford. Wolff is founding director of Another Look, and of course many of you will remember Jane Shaw from our discussion of J.L. Carr‘s  A Month in the Country.

For Another Look newcomers, a map for the Bechtel Conference Center is here. The nearby Knight parking structure, underneath the nearby Graduate School of Business, has plenty of room for free parking (see here for a map). In addition, parking is available on Serra Street and in front of Encina Hall itself.

The Another Look book club takes on books that have been forgotten, neglected, or simply haven’t received the attention we think they merit. Again, all books are short, so they can be read in a few sittings.

All our events are free and open to the public – and please bring your friends! Come early for best seating.

 

 

“We are our secrets”: Hungarian author Sándor Márai’s Embers at Stanford on Oct. 18

Monday, October 2nd, 2017
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Little-known Hungarian author

Sándor Márai‘s taut and mesmerizing Embers, published in 1942, opens in a secluded Hungarian castle, where an old general awaits a reunion with a friend. It is 1940, and he has not appeared in public for decades. The long-estranged companions talk all night – or rather, the general talks, as the evasive visitor listens to the general discuss love, intimacy, honor, betrayal, and a beautiful, long-dead wife. “We are our secrets,” he says.

The autumn “Another Look” event at Stanford will discuss Márai’s superb novel. The discussion will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 18, at the Bechtel Conference Center.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian empire, and shares the melancholy wisdom of its narrator: “We not only act, talk, think, dream, we also hold our silence about something. All our lives we are silent about who we are, which only we know, and about which we can speak to no one. Yet we know that who we are and what we cannot speak about constitutes the ‘truth.’ We are that about which we hold our silence.”

Acclaimed author Robert Pogue Harrison will moderate the discussion. The Stanford professor who is Another Look’s director writes regularly for The New York Review of Books and hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions. He will be joined by renowned author and National Medal of Arts winner Tobias Wolff, professor emeritus of English at Stanford, and Jane Shaw, Stanford’s Dean for Religious Life at Stanford. Wolff is founding director of Another Look, and of course many of you will remember Jane Shaw from our discussion of J.L. Carr‘s  A Month in the Country.

The Another Look book club takes on books that have been forgotten, neglected, or simply haven’t received the attention we think they merit. Here’s another draw: all books are short, so they can be read in a few sittings.

All our events are free and open to the public – and please bring your friends! Come early for best seating.

 

Bourgeois liberal democracy? “It’s done more for human happiness than the Buddha ever did.”

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017
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“What revitalizes philosophy is some genius suggesting new way of thinking.”

“Bourgeois liberal democracy has always been a very fragile creation … It’s easy to imagine after a nuclear terrorist attack that we’ll lose all our civil liberties overnight.”

Harrison as radio host (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Richard Rorty is considered one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century – and one of his last interviews is now available on the Los Angeles Review of Books’ new Entitled Opinions channel here.

Rorty is credited with reviving the philosophical school of American pragmatism and challenging the accepted pieties of analytic philosophy. He championed “quietism,” which he says attempts “to dissolve, rather than solve” sets of problems that should now be considered obsolete. This November 23, 2005, interview with Robert Pogue Harrison is among his last; he died in 2007.

Rorty came to Stanford as a fellow at the Humanities Center in 1996 and then joined the faculty of the Comparative Literature Department in 1998. Beginning in the 1970s, he challenged the notion of philosophy as a discipline that could discern timeless truths about the world. Such attempts were motivated by western philosophy’s misguided reliance on Platonic metaphysics, the notion that there are underlying structures, realities or truths that stand firm against the vagaries of history and social mores. Rorty insisted that we have only a linguistic and causal relationship with the world, so any attempt to find some kind of transcendent, unmediated knowledge about it is futile. He famously urged that intellectuals shift their focus from “the problems of philosophy” to “the problems of men.”

Harrison and Rorty on air, 2005

His Entitled Opinions conversation with Harrison moves to the limits of philosophy in describing the nature of reality, and then whether philosophy should tackle human aspirations for greatness or stick to maximizing human happiness. In an occasionally testy exchange with Harrison, Rorty makes a controversial defense of bourgeois liberal democracy, arguing that the rest of the world should be more like America, and America should be more like Norway. The potential cost for cultural diversity? “That’s the price we pay for history,” he says. He takes a number of provocative positions in the conversation. Does he stand alone? As he notes, loneliness is the lot of mankind: “If you don’t have any sense of loneliness you probably won’t be interested in religion or philosophy; if you do, you will.”

Potent Quotes

“Quietists say there is no such thing as the nature of the world. Science doesn’t tell it to us. Nothing tells it to us. The whole question is a bad question. You can ask about a real Rolex and a fake Rolex, or real cream and a non-dairy creamer, but you can’t ask about reality in general. ‘Real’ only has a sense when it’s applied to something specific.”

“The problems of analytic philosophy keep changing with each generation. It’s given rise to a literature that goes out of date every ten or twenty years.”

“The main problem with metaphysics is that it’s a game without rules … anyone can say anything and get away with it.”

Is mankind “on the right track”?

“The development of bourgeois society in the last two hundred years has put mankind on the right track.”

“The best we can ever hope for the globalization of the society we’ve managed to create in the modern West.”

“Bourgeois liberal democracy has always been a very fragile creation … It’s easy to imagine after a nuclear terrorist attack that we’ll lose all our civil liberties overnight.”

“With all the nuclear weapons floating around, I didn’t realize how likely it was that they would be used on American cities before 9/11. Now I think it’s overwhelmingly likely.”

On bourgeois liberal democracy: “How about it’s the best thing anyone has come up with so far? It’s done more for human happiness than the Buddha ever did.”

“We secularists lead as spiritual a life as anybody has ever led, but our focus is on what might come to pass here below, in the human future.”

“What revitalizes philosophy is some genius suggesting new way of thinking.”

Check out the whole interview here.