Sartre vs Camus

Mentioned earlier enjoying the output of Andy Martin – surfer, Cambridge languages don, writer, film-maker. Tremendous personally-engaging, witty style whatever the topic. His latest book is “Sartre vs Camus – The Boxer and the Goalkeeper (aka Philosophy Fight Club)

The premise of the book is typically personal – read the 5 minute memoir – extracted from the introductory chapter, now published in The Independent. (Funnily enough my own early career starts with the guilt of a “stolen” book – when in my final school year I was awarded a book as the school chemistry prize, I didn’t own up to a book I’d taken from the school library a couple of years earlier “Experimental Chemistry Laboratory Manual” and not returned when I left. Still on the shelf behind me as I type.)

Researching philosophy as I have been, I have been tempted to dip into the French existentialist canon, but every dip has been daunting. After trying Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and finding sense in the later PoMo’s and Lacanian scholar Zizek, I’d concluded I’m already a PoPoMo and Proust, Sartre and Camus would remain left behind as the foggy-froggies I knew of, but would never really know.

Andy’s book provides a sympathetic introduction and summaries as well as the personal back-stories. No surprise to find the reaction to Platonic / Aristotelian ontological certainties mired in the nihilism of suspension in language beyond epistemology and experience of the real. If all philosophy is footnotes to Plato (clearly not true), then all PoMo philosophy Derrida et al, really is footnotes to Nietzche and Wittgenstein. Sartre comes across as grotesque – provocative and experimental living-philosophy sure, but all in-your-face back-story – hopeless – little chance I will actually seek out to read in the original, but Camus, with his balance and mystical Zen interests, comes across altogether more interesting. (Must revisit The Outsider).

Camus realized that in [the] very act of thinking, he was still in some sense a prisoner. Was he not a prisoner now of Plato, of the idea of the philosopher, to some extent chained to these thoughts? … A strange thought – or not even a thought, something more like the opposite of a thought. Camus had the realization, lying in bed, that if he wanted to be a philosopher – seriously – he had to break free of philosophy. He had to overcome thought itself, to somehow outwit and out-manoeuvre the forms of language he had worked so hard to acquire over many years. … In England about the same period, Wittgenstein said that if you wanted to become a philosopher, you should become a car mechanic. For Camus this was too much like hard work and it was enough just to lie there. And light a Gitanes.

He watched the smoke curling upwards towards the ceiling …

Then all at once there was a flash of light as the sun broke through from behind a cloud and illuminated a yellow vase of mimosa in the room. And it was like a bolt of lightning striking the young Albert – a coup de foudre. Transforming him, as if in a magical metamorphosis. He was ‘flooded with a confused and bewildering joy’. He became for a moment something other than he was.

‘I am the world.’

(Ibid, P54/55) Evocative of Pirsig’s motorcycle maintenance and his exhaustion “attempting to outflank the entire body of western thought”. Lots more in there – Peirce, James and pre-conceptual radical empiricism, Kafka, even Ramchandran. And such great chapter titles “Bad Hair Day”, “Fight Club”, “Pen Envy”, “An Octopus and Some Trees”, “New York, New York” and “Philosophers Stoned” to name a selection. About 2/3 through so far. Loving it.

[Post Note : Loved it. This from Stuart Kelly’s very positive review in The Scotsman:

Sartre and Camus are almost a parody of opposites. Camus, the pied noir, had the Bogart-like good looks; Sartre, the Parisian, was notoriously, unashamedly ugly (and usually unwashed). Camus died too young; Sartre lived too long. Camus’s engaged directly with the Resistance as editor of Combat; Sartre “intellectually” resisted (or, as Camus quipped, “aimed his armchair in the direction of history”). Sartre was an indefatigable, profuse writer while Camus aspired to silence, to “writing degree zero”. Sartre joined the Communist Party while Camus declined to be doctrinaire; Camus accepted and Sartre declined the Nobel Prize for Literature; Sartre constantly sought radical disjunctions while Camus looked for underlying continuities. Martin is too subtle a writer (and thinker) to allow these binary opposites to determine the story: time and again we see their positions reversing, merging and shifting.

(Andy Martin’s elegant study of the pair … is one of the most accessible and intelligent books on philosophy I have read this year, as alert to the human drama as the intellectual conflict, and unfailingly observant to the nuances and subtexts.)]

Surfing 9/11 USA

Picked these up last September from Andy Martin (Author of Beware Invisible Cows) but also film-maker and lecturer at Cambridge Uni.

The story 9/13 New York Board Meeting
The film 9/26 New York Surfing

Zen koans and a little religious experience, a subway ride from Manhattan.
(Same gentle style as his Cambridge Languages promo film. I see Andy’s Hawaii connection now.)

No Students Were Harmed

In the making of this film. MML The Movie created as a promo for Modern & Mediaeval Languages at Cambridge Uni. Good to see the old lanes and backs, but also to realize I recognized most of the quotes. Thanks to Andy Martin’s blog Ink. Most recent quote – Steve Pinker:

Time flies like an arrow.
Fruit flies like an apple.

Must seek out some other of Andy’s books. It was his Beware Invisible Cows that caused me to link to his blog.

[Post Note: Interesting to see the press and comments linked in Andy’s blog, regarding the film. Sad and mean opinions varying from pretentious (life’s not really like that) to desperate (Cambridge must be slipping in the Oxbridge rankings). Interestingly, as an 18 year old I’d have struggled to fit in at Cambridge, I was put-off by (and unsurprisingly failed) the selection interview way back then. My appreciation for it (and places like it) is the result of mature, wiser experience of the place and its output. The film ? – quite right, even in modern languages, love is all. Education is (can be) wasted on the young.]

Cosmic Man

Finished Rebecca Goldstein’s “Betraying Spinoza” the other day, and found it an excellent piece of work. Having been very busy for a couple of days, I’ve not really had a chance to compose a detailed review. For now …

Radical objectivism. Ultimately the self-other dualism is dissolved by expanding the scope of self. I am we. We are the cosmos. Enlightened self-interest is not a matter of calculating individual benefit of deferred gratification in a tangle of quid-pro-quo transactions with “others”, but by “identifying” with the whole. What is good for we is good (for including me) [Ubuntu. See post note].

The question is who is we ? In Spinoza’s case, clearly this started with his Jewish identity, and expanded from there to the cosmos itself. Anyway, no time for a more thorough review, but Betraying Spinoza is an excellent resource on Jewish history as well as the life of Spinoza.

I then read in just a couple of sittings, Andy Martin’s “Beware Invisible Cows“. The title is a warning concerning altitude sickness at the Keck observatory on 14,000 foot Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the book and its publicity quotes point to it being a popular science writing on the astronomical and cosmological theory on the origins of the cosmos. In fact that is very much secondary to a beautifully written piece – almost had me in tears – on the limits of physics and metaphysics anchored in family / filial love. What was the question, again – who is we ?

Charles Freeman’s “The Closing of the Western Mind” is already legendary so I recognized it instantly and picked up a copy at Border’s in Brisbane. Obviously I was expecting philosophy, and it does have a potted history of the original Greek schools, but what I hadn’t realized was that it focusses on the history of Christianity aided and abetted by the Romans. That closing of the western mind. In fact only a few pages in I was thinking this is like a modern version of Gibbon’s (Divine) Decline and Fall. Gibbon is eventually mentioned briefly, but historical inaccuracy means it is not a source of scholarly references, more a source of sardonic wit. Also a great deal of history of the bible itself and related Jewish texts, so it follows surprising well on the heels of Betraying Spinoza.

Man, I need to stop reading (*). And I still have Steven J Gould’s 2000 reflections on natural history “The Lying Stones of Marrakech” beside me when I’ve finished the closing mind.

Image result for lippi aquinas

Filippino Lippi’s Triumph of Faith / (Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics) is symbolic in Freeman’s book of Christian faith stamping out wiser philosophies. Ironic given Aquinas later influences. Some say that is Averroes (Ibn Rushd) under his foot.

Oh, and before I forget, the I / we thing. The Ptolemeic / Copernican revolutions ? Nah, what’s the difference, not really revolutions. Just refinements of seeing “we” at the centre. Earth / Sun, what’s the difference in cosmic terms – still me-we-centric. Why is it that the whole universe appears to be expanding uniformly away from “our” galaxy ? Was reminded again by the Hubble and Cosmic Microwave Background pieces in Andy Martin’s book. Anthropocentrism is natural.

And finally, talking of reading:

Image result for book blows mind image

Thanks to Jorn Barger for this one. From Rosie Siman.

[Post Note : an alternative view on the Pinker-Goldstein coupling
– one for the “What’s so funny ’bout …” collection

[(*) Post Note: “Just write something” as Pirsig’s psychiatrist said.]

[Post Note: Tweeted by Banksy

UBUNTU – I am because we are.]

Logic is Autism

Not a new concept, but a very interesting NYT piece by Andy Martin. (Thanks to Steve Peterson on MD for the link).

Thank you, gentlemen, for raising the issue of understanding here. The fact is, I don’t expect people in general to understand what I have written. And it is not just because I have written something, in places, particularly cryptic and elliptical and therefore hard to understand, or even because it is largely a meta-discourse and therefore senseless, but rather because, in my view, it is not given to us to achieve full understanding of what another person says. Therefore I don’t expect you to understand this problem of misunderstanding either. (Paraphrase of Wittgenstein).

Having read The Philosophical Investigations as well as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, I have no doubt Wittgenstein knew what he was doing in his earlier work aimed primarily at inveterate logician Bertrand Russell.

I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems [of philosophy]. And if I am not mistaken in this belief … it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.

Wittgenstein and the Art of Car Maintenance.

Love it. Wittgenstein and the Allusion to Robert Pirsig.
Priceless comment also, from Alan Lamb in the comment thread, hilarious, hopefully tongue firmly in cheek:

Autism as a topic is an interesting launching pad for a discussion of philosphical questioning as you have introduced it but your thesis is certainly not either necessary nor sufficient to conclude that current medical theory explains philosophy away.

Hofstadter would love the strange loop. (And the comment thread is full of people defending Wittgenstein and those with autism … talk about missing the point, being autistic.)

(And thanks to JC also on MD for this link to LogiComix – comic book story of the life of Russell and the failure of logic.)