Tag Archives: 2017

What Philosophy Is

With my presumptuous title, I imitate Arthur Danto’s What Art Is (2013), mentioned in my last post, “Some Say Poetry.” The book is fine, and I have learned from it; but Danto could have learned from Collingwood’s Principles of Art.

Picasso, The Tragedy (1903), National Gallery of Art, Washington Continue reading

Some Say Poetry

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

I originally set out to preserve here, for future reference, a poetry review that I liked. A remark on being a student had drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

I shall try to say more about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics, after quoting the review in its entirety. It constitutes the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017.

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Women and Men

This began as an update to “Confessions,” which concerns the man called G. H. Hardy and the woman called Sylvia Plath. I had originally included a photograph of the subjects’ respective books. On Hardy’s, the author poses reluctantly; on Plath’s, a woman applies powder in a compact mirror.

Plath’s book was the 2013 Faber and Faber 50th Anniversary Edition of The Bell Jar, and the cover is controversial. See Alexandra Topping, “The Bell Jar’s new cover derided for branding Sylvia Plath novel as chick lit” (The Guardian, Friday 1 February 2013). I learned of the controversy from Emily Van Duyne, “Sylvia Plath Looked Good in a Bikini—Deal With It,” in Electric Literature, hosted by Medium (October 9, 2017). Medium had promoted the essay to me when I read Brian E. Denton, “The World Will Not Quarrel: Day 282 of A Year of War and Peace.

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Fascism As Abetted by Realism

Fascism is class warfare waged on behalf of the capitalists. This should be realized by anybody who is attracted to accidental features of Fascism such as nationalism, racism, or militarism. The Fascists are not on your side, even if they share your nationality or “race” or fascination with weaponry and military discipline.

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Romance

At the end of Shakespeare’s romance called The Tempest, Prospero plans to retire to Milan, where “Every third thought shall be my grave.” I remember these words from reading the play in school and college. I also have thoughts of my grave, and their frequency may increase as the years pass. However, for each of those thoughts, I seem to have more thoughts that are based on memories of youth and childhood.


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NL XXV: The Three Laws of Politics

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The the three laws of politics are that (1) within the body politic, there is a ruling class, which is a society proper; (2) the ruling class can take in members from the ruled class; (3) the ruled and ruling classes will resemble one another, so that e.g. rulers of slaves will become slavish themselves. I compare such laws with physical laws, as discussed by Einstein; but on this subject, a look ahead to Chapter XXXI, “Classical Physics and Classical Politics,” would be in order. Meanwhile, by the Second Law, the body politic, or its ruling class, can be a permanent society; Nazi claims about the youth or senility of different states are bogus. There are further gradations within the ruling and ruled classes, according to strength of will; a weak will can be strengthened by another person’s stronger will through induction.


A pervading theme of the New Leviathan is freedom of will. Whether we actually have it is only a pseudo-problem (13. 17). Some persons have been fooled into thinking it a problem, perhaps by the misleading myth that free will is a divine gift, like life itself, breathed into our nostrils when, in Genesis 2:7, God forms us of the dust of the ground. As Collingwood observes at the end of Chapter XXIII, “The Family As a Society,” we are born neither free nor in chains. We have to grow up. Growing up is becoming free.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb (New York: Norton, 2009)

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Note added May 5, 2019. This may be the post I return to the most, of those on the books of the Iliad so far (through Book XIV). I begin with Chapman’s four-line “Argument,” but his two-line “Other Argument” for now serves better:

Iota sings the Ambassie,
And great Achilles sterne replie.

The stern reply is that Achilles will not fight, and his mind will not be changed by material gifts. Agamemnon has violated the “general laws of virtue,” according to lines 610–9, in the modernized spelling of the Wordsworth Classics edition (2003):

He answer’d: ‘Noble Telamon, prince of our soldiers here,
Out of they heart I know thou speak’st, and as thou hold’st me dear:
But still as often as I think how rudely I was us’d
And like a stranger, for all rites fit for our good refus’d,
My heart doth swell against the man that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place; not for my private bane,
But since wrack’d virtue’s general laws he shameless did infringe,
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and give mine anger swinge,
Without my wisdom’s least impeach. He is a fool, and base,
That pities vice-plagu’d minds, when pain, not love of right, gives place …’

Achilles defends not only virtue, but his own right to disrespect somebody who lacks virtue. This is not really part of the “blow for civilization” that I shall attribute to Achilles, except insofar as it results in inaction rather than action.

The moral investigations are specific to Chapman, who makes ten lines out of Homer’s six (643–8), even while passing over most of the first of these:

τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς:
“Αἶαν διογενὲς Τελαμώνιε κοίρανε λαῶν
πάντά τί μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἐείσαο μυθήσασθαι:
ἀλλά μοι οἰδάνεται κραδίη χόλῳ ὁππότε κείνων
μνήσομαι ὥς μ᾽ ἀσύφηλον ἐν Ἀργείοισιν ἔρεξεν
Ἀτρεΐδης ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην.”

In Murray’s literal prose, some words of which I rearrange to make lines corresponding to Homer’s:

Then in answer to him spake Achilles, swift of foot:
“Aias, sprung from Zeus, thou son of Telamon, captain of the host,
all this thou seemest to speak almost after mine own mind;
by my heart swelleth with wrath whenso of this
I think, how hath wrought indignity upon me amid the Argives
the son of Atreus, as though I were some alien that had no rights.”

A twofold reason why I return now to Book IX and this post:

  1. The book’s words such as Julian Jaynes cites, to argue that Agamemnon and Achilles are not conscious.
  2. The post’s mention of the Finnish movie Upswing, which offers a counterargument.

In Book XIX, Agamemnon will attribute to Zeus the taking of Briseis from Achilles. For Jaynes (on pages 72–3 of Origin), “this was no particular fiction of Agamemnon’s to evade responsibility.” That seems right, but not the conclusion that Agamemnon “did not have any ego whatever.” In our terms, Agamemnon’s abnegation is an accepting of responsibility for an ego that caused the Greeks to suffer. Responsibility is shown by self-humiliation.


Book IX of the Iliad is easily summarized. Chapman does it in four lines.

TO Agamemnon (vrging hopelesse flight)
Stand Diomed, and Nestor opposite:
By Nestors counsell, Legats are dismist,
To Thetis sonne, who still denies t’assist.

These lines hide a wealth of thought. To suggest some of the gems of the book, I expand the summary.

Dog and seaweed on shore opposite Lesbos, 2017.09.14

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NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The subject of political theory is the kind of community called a body politic. For the Ancients, this is a society, composed of, for example, the citizens of Athens, excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners. In medieval times, all human beings in the community compose a body politic, which is thus non-social, though having within it the societies called estates; sovereigns rule by force (e.g. by the bribery called the granting of liberties), but may in turn be ruled, as is the husband, sovereign of the wife. For Hobbes, a sovereign can also rule by authority. An eristic argument would insist that only one of these accounts of the body politic is correct; but the world is in the flux described by Heraclitus, and the way to come to terms with it is not eristic, but dialectic, as described in the Meno of Plato.


Dialectic is the way to come to terms with a world of constant change. On the internet in particular, too many persons engage in eristic, staking out a position like the Greeks at Troy, who built a wall around their ships on the shore and tried to defend it against all comers.

Dogs stake out their positions in the shade,
2017.09.14

In the argument of the New Leviathan, we pass from the family to the state, which Collingwood calls the body politic. This is what political theory must give a scientific account of (24. 1). We consider three phases of political theory:

  1. ancient,
  2. medieval, and
  3. modern.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book VIII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

In the eighth of the twenty-four books of the Iliad, the battle is even all morning, until Jove weighs out the fates of the two sides. The fate of the Greeks is heavier. They are driven back to the wall around their ships. Juno and Pallas try to help them, until warned off by Jove. The Trojans camp outside the Greek wall, lighting fires, at Hector’s command, so that they can see through the night whether the Greeks are trying to escape.

Altınova 2017.09.13

In the fourteenth of the sixteen chapters of the 1884 novel Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (in the translation by Margaret Mauldon, Oxford World’s Classics, 1998/2009, from the French original, A rebours), the narrator describes a thought of the main and indeed only character that is connected to the aim of the present series of articles on the Iliad.

Many times had Des Esseintes reflected upon the thorny problem of how to condense a novel into a few sentences, which would contain the quintessence of the hundreds of pages always required to establish the setting, sketch the characters, and provide a mass of observations and minor facts in corroboration. The words chosen would then be so inevitable that they would render all other words superfluous; the adjective, positioned in so ingenious and so definitive a manner that it could not legitimately be displaced, would open up such vistas that for days on end the reader would ponder over its meaning, at once precise and manifold, would know the present, reconstruct the past, and make conjectures about the future of the souls of the characters, as these were revealed by the light of that single epithet.

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NL XXIII: The Family As a Society

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018):

1.
The society at the nucleus of the family is temporary, ending with the death of one of the two members.
2.
The family has a life-cycle, with three phases: (1) before children; (2) after children, but before they have free will; (3) after the children have free will.
3.
The community consisting of husband and wife is now a society. It was not a society when a marriage was arranged by the groom or the groom’s father and the father of the bride. The non-social aspect of a marriage survives in the custom of formally “giving away” the bride.
4.
If today a bride and groom do not quite recognize themselves as forming a society, they may come to do so in time.
5.
Contraception helps clarify that a marriage is normally for the sake of having children.
6.
In order to grow up and leave the nursery, the child must be educated. The work of this is both the child’s and its teachers’. Parents must also allow the child to leave the nursery and join their society.
7.
There are three possible needs, and they are distinct: (1) to have a baby, (2) to have a child, (3) to have a grown-up child.
8.
Any of those three needs is fulfilled by an act of will; there is no parental “instinct”—not a scientific term anyway, though it is used popularly for an appetite or desire.
9.
Born without free will, we are not born in chains either, since this would mean suppression of a will that didn’t exist.

The last chapter was called “The Family As a Mixed Community,” because the family consists of both a society and a non-social part, called the nursery. Now we are looking at “The Family As a Society.” We are not in contradiction, but are in the flux that Heraclitus observed in all existence (24. 62). The inmates of the nursery normally grow and join the society of their parents: the family as a whole is a society in this sense.

Altınova bazaar, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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