What’s So Funny ?

Fun (pleasure or jouissance), was part of Zizek’s agenda noted below. I finished his “Living in the End Times” a week or so ago; a good provocative read in many places, but I was just left with an inconclusive anti-climactic “so what ?”, and no further specific review subjects to publish, so I moved straight on to Rebecca Goldstein’s “36 Arguments for the Existence of God“.

The cover headline says “A Hillarious Novel …” ? Hardly. A very good novel, some very good writing as well as a well crafted story. So well constructed as to be almost contrived in the intersecting points of the actors’ life stories. Plenty of humour and wit in the narrative lived through these intelligent fictional actors, some of it really very funny, but as a novel it’s deadly serious, and very successful in its aims. Particularly clever, the book within the book, written by “New Atheist” Cass Selzer having an appendix summarizing 36 arguments and responses on the existence of god, as advertized, but potentially a distraction – only an appendix, no, really. Despite the 36 chapters all entitled “The Argument From ...” there is in fact little parallel between the chapters and the actual arguments. The appendix represents an excellent potted resource – they’re all there, succinctly and soundly summarized, so far as I can tell – for those participating in god vs reason debates, but the former is another excellent love conquers all parable. Recommended.

Aside [Amor Vincit Omnia][Amor Vincit Omnia again] Spooky – finished 36 Arguments at Changi too.

By way of further aside, after taking an interest in the Goldstein’s 36 Arguments, and having ordered a copy, I was pointed at some links to YouTube “interviews” of Goldstein with partner Steven Pinker (I’ll spare you the links). I’ve been a fan of Pinker too, too starstruck to actually speak when I found myself sat beside him (and her, I now surmise) in a Cambridge hotel bar. But the doey-eyed mutual love – jouissance – between the two kinda got in the way – get a room guys ….

I’m glad I ignored that initial prejudice. Having thoroughly enjoyed 36 Arguments from 2010, I’ve gone straight into “Betraying Spinoza” Goldstein’s 2006 book. (Less than 1/4 through.) [Post Note : review after finishing here.]

Jewishness is front and centre in 36 Arguments, and there are plenty of philosophy references, by the nature of the characters’ working lives. (William James is particularly prominent, Thoreau / Walden central, but all the US Pragmatists, Wittgentsein, Locke, and many more.) And Betraying Spinoza is published in the Jewish Encounters series … devoted to the promotion of Jewish literature, culture and ideas.

(Spoiler warning – don’t read on until you’ve read 36 Arguments.)

Now with a little hindsight, it’s easy to see child prodigy Azarya Scheiner genius character in 36 Arguments as  Spinoza. Although Azarya’s tale is ultimately a reversal of Spinoza’s excommunication in the more enlightened times we inhabit, both in fact choose love. In Azarya’s case love for his people and culture, despite the depth of his logical and mathematical prowess – his thorny blessings.

Goldstein’s “Betraying Spinoza” is significantly autobiographical (and dedicated to Steven) as well as a wonderful biographical resource (so far) on the life and times of Spinoza (that damn 30 years war again !) and written very readably. So what is so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding ?

“Though [Spinoza] was a man who had given himself over entirely to the search after truth […] still he would not speak the truth so long as his doing so might hurt those whom he loved. […] I felt that I loved him.” – Goldstein.

And …

“Spinoza is the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. Intellectually, some others have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme.” – Bertrand Russell, 1945.

Love being the highest form of truth.

And, finally,

“Metaphysics [narrowly defined] is the attempt to use pure reason, as opposed to [empirical] experience to arrive at a description of reality [by deduction].”

“Metaphysics [more widely defined] is ontological commitment concerning what sorts of things exist in the world. Paradoxically, even analytic philosophers [and scientists] have this kind of commitment to [faith in, love of] rejecting the very possibility of metaphysics in the narrow non-empirical deductive sense.” – My paraphrase of Goldstein.

[Post Note : Intriguing, eclectic collection of Kerouac references, following up on the “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and … ” meme. Weird. ]

5 thoughts on “What’s So Funny ?”

  1. Thanks for this very interesting review. I must move on asap to “Betraying Spinoza”. I like your asides too. Not sure what I would do if I found myself sitting next to that pair. But I know I would probably not open my mouth. I’m still pondering your final paraphrase of Goldstein. Incidentally, when you get to “Absence of Mind” by Marylynne Robinson she is no fan of Steven Pinker.

  2. Hi Marde,

    When I “bumped into” Pinker (Oct 2008), I think if he’d been alone or with others in an academic or business context, I probably would have said “Hi”, but since they appeared to be a couple, I didn’t feel like intruding.

    Yes, Marylynne Robinson I need to look out for again too, I’ve not read anything since I heard her on Thinking Allowed. I can imagine her lumping Pinker along with Dawkins, but I see him as closer to Dennett, and despite all being evolutionary scientists, they are widely different – some of them even have souls 😉


  3. Hi Ian,

    I see what you mean about not interrupting a close couple. I remember Rebecca writing she was in awe of Steven before they met. Yes, I agree, get a room guys before I vomit! 😉 But before I pass judgments on any of these guys I ought to actually read them, not just others’ reviews. I’ve read very little of Dennett or Pinker. Need to close that gap, and several others, although I did look up Nick Maxwell the other day, as a result of your referencing him, and found him very interesting. A good motivator for me might be to see if I can tell which have souls and which not! 😉 Of course, I can rule out Dawkins right away — but maybe his soul has been captured by Hell. 😉


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