Chicago on the Edge

In the previous post – more on the interminable God vs Science saga – I concluded with a reference to Chicago.

Firstly, the reason I was browsing Mary Hrovat’s Thinking Meat was because I noticed she’d blogged an initial look at this year’s Edge question, which I’d not done yet, but she already concluded as I have done a couple of times before

As always, no matter how many of the answers I read, I feel like I’ve just barely dipped my toes in. However, here are a few that I found particularly interesting …

Anyway, I must take a look myself and see if there is anything or anyone interesting this year.

Back to Chicago. There has been a vague Chicago thread in my stuff; Greeks, the Great Books movement, Pirsig, Rorty, US pragmatist philosophy and some kind of second city vs the east coast seats of learning angle. Led me one way or another to reading Saul Bellow, though someone (Georganna ?) initially steered me off this avenue.

So far with Bellow I’ve read Dangling Man, Dean’s December, Herzog and Humboldt’s Gift. Dangling Man was simple and reflective. I liked it and blogged about it.

Dean’s December I enjoyed its mix of Chicago and Eastern European settings, but it didn’t seem deep. Chicago underworld, race, city authority and academic politics meets a dark depressing European farce, the latter reminding me of Ishiguro’s “Unconsoled”.

Herzog I struggled with and still haven’t completed – I even forgotten what its theme was, except that there was a large dose of Bellow as god’s gift to women / love interest which kinda jarred with the philosophical threads.

Humboldt’s Gift, I must have already bought because I can’t imaging why else I would have picked it up to read after Herzog. Glad I did, despite the fact that there is till a strangely prominent sexual power, fame and fortune thread which ties together the gangster and intellectual writer & name-dropper stories within stories. So many subjects evocative of Pirsig too – post-war emergence of society from Victorian attitudes and the place of intellect in that. Much of Bellow’s content was copyrighted in ’73 and ’74  when published as extracts in Esquire,  Pirsig’s  ZMM was published in ’74 and Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift in ’75. Pirsig’s Lila not until ’90.

There was something in that Chicago air.

Significantly also, the first thing I’ve read that has joined these themes to my interest in T E Lawrence. I am no longer alone there.

[Post Note : Unexpected subject in Humboldt’s Gift is a strong Steiner / Anthroposophy thread.]

Continuing reading … started both Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” over the holiday but neither gripped me, the latter I’ll not bother to pursue though I’m glad I investigated both first-hand.

I also started Jorge Luis Borges collection “Labyrinths”. Read a couple of his before in collections / extracts by others and read five stories / essays so far. Weird and thought provoking stuff all of it. Next to read is “The Library of Babel” which I’m looking forward to as a Dan Dennett fan. Recognized “The Garden of Forking Paths” from a a previous encounter – a “many worlds” analogy. “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” was an excellent surprise – a PoMo grammatology exercise on how someone could write word for word exactly the same huge text (as Cervantes’ Don Quixote) over 300 years later and still be considered to have written the original – by virtue of different times, different society, different history – effectively different language with different meanings despite the same words. Wittgensteinian word games writ large, and of course leading nicely into the mount improbability uses by Dennett of the Library of Babel metaphor. Can’t wait.

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