Archive for the 'books' Category
On Friday and Saturday, 30 November and 1 December 2012, the Philosophy Department of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) will host a workshop entitled “Meet the Author: Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride“.
This interdisciplinary workshop is of interest for philosophers and historians working on the 17th and 18th centuries. It is coorganised by the Universities of Berne (Department of General and Historical Educational Science), Lausanne (Department of Philosophy), and Fribourg (Department of Philosophy).
The workshop centers on themes from Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau (Princeton 2012), with quite some interest in Rousseau.
The workshop language is English. Participation is free, but please register by 23 November.
For registration, further information and a detailed program please contact the coordinator in Fribourg: christian.maurer(at)unifr.ch; or visit the conference website.
Two new small things just published.
One is a review of Jan-Werner Müller’s recent book, Contesting Democracy for Renewal (which has a splendid new editor, Ben Jackson) and which you can get as a pdf here.
The other is a few pages of Self-Evident Truths?, edited by (the equally splendid) Kate E. Tunstall, which presents the published versions of the 2010 Amnesty Lectures. (I wasn’t an Amnesty Lecturer, obvs, but they asked me to write a short response to James Tully.)
From this week’s TLS:
It is one of the many strengths of Christopher Brooke’s fascinating new study, Philosophic Pride, that he is aware of the multifarious nature of his subject; he knows that he is dealing with a fluid cluster of ideas and themes, not as a unitary philosophical movement. Not that he has set out, in any case, to write a history of (Neo-)Stoicism; his task is both narrower and harder than that. The subject of this book is the relationship between Stoicism and early modern political thought; since there was scarcely such a thing as a worked-out body of Stoic political theory (unless we count Seneca’s fanciful portrayal of the monarchical ruler – Nero, of all people – extending the empire of reason), this means that an already elusive subject is considered here from a variety of oblique angles…
It’s a long review, too, filling all of p. 5.
Various Philosophical types in my twitterstream are drawing attention to this story in today’s tehgraun about an Italian town that has appointed a municipal Philosopher. What an excellent idea, they say, appointing a municipal Philosopher. And perhaps it is. But when I read the article, my first thought was, my goodness, this is Fénelon’s Salentum, isn’t it?
So what’s that about, and why is this interesting (to me, at least)?
Corigliano d’Otranto is a dinky little town with six thousand inhabitants, right down in the heel of the Italian boot. As the article points out, it’s in a part of Italy called Grecìa Salentina, ‘a stronghold of Italy’s ethnic Greek minority, which has been there since long before Plato put pen to papyrus’. Historically, that’s right, and Greeks have been in that part of the world for a very long time indeed. Mythologically, the story begins with Idomeneus (the subject of Mozart’s opera), who fights at Troy, sacrifices his son when he gets back home to Crete, and as a result goes into exile, winding up in this bit of Italy.
Now (changing direction for the moment), hardly anyone reads Archbishop Fénelon’s book Telemachus these days, written at the close of the seventeenth century, which is a shame, as it’s a cracker. I have a particular reason to remember reading it for the first time five years ago, which is that what I thought was the cramp I report in this old blogpost after the strenuous activity of sitting on the sofa all afternoon reading Fénelon turned out to be a rather painful tear in my rotator cuff (and, incidentally, a clear sign that I had passed into middle age). But happily there’s a lot more to Fénelon’s book than a trivial episode in my medical history, and it’s sometimes said–though I don’t really know on what evidence–that Telemachus was the most popular book in France in the first half of the eighteenth century, other than the Bible. (Given that it was never intended for publication, that’s quite an achievement.)
Fénelon was a royal tutor, in charge of the education of Louis XIV’s grandson, le petit Dauphin. In the end, he never became king of France, because his father, le grand Dauphin, died in 1711, he himself died in 1712, the Sun King kept on going on the throne for 72 years (!), and, when he finally died in 1715, was succeeded by the infant Louis XV, the king’s great-grandson and le petit Dauphin‘s son. Telemachus was written as part of Fénelon’s educational programme for the young prince, and it was important to Fénelon that it not be published, as it contained very sharp criticism of the king’s policies. Indeed, the book presented quite detailed and only somewhat veiled instructions for how a new, virtuous king might rescue France from the disastrous legacy of Louis XIV. The manuscript leaked, the book was published, and Fénelon was banished from the court.
Telemachus was Odysseus’s son (in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus), and the first few books of The Odyssey describe him setting out from Ithaca in search of his father. What Fénelon did was to imagine how his adventures continued, after Homer’s spotlight shifts back onto Odysseus, drawing very heavily on plot devices from Homer and also from Virgil’s Aeneid to tell another story of extensive wandering around the Mediterranean. And just as Odysseus and Aeneas have their divine protectors, so Telemachus is accompanied by Mentor, who is in fact the goddess Minerva in disguise, and Mentor ensures that Telemachus receives, along the way, a thoroughgoing education for future kingship.
Like Aeneas, Telemachus ends up in Italy. He encounters Idomeneus, who has founded the city of Salentum, and joins in the wars in that part of the world. But Salentum has become corrupt, and while Telemachus is off on campaign, Mentor reorganises Salentum in order to purge it of the luxury ‘that poisoned the whole nation’, and to enable it to live in peace with its neighbours. And this is the heart of Telemachus. Unreformed Salentum is a thinly disguised version of Louis XIV’s France, and Reformed Salentum presents Fénelon’s vision of what France might become.
Running an economy devoted to the production and consumption of luxury goods made war more likely, Fénelon argued, as those without access to luxury goods were tempted to use violence to acquire them, and it made that war more dangerous, because ‘these superfluities enervate, intoxicate and torment those who possess them’, making them less able to fight. In Mentor’s reorganisation, much of the urban population is resettled in the countryside, and the economy is recentered on agricultural production, foreign trade is strictly limited, and the profits of agriculture are used to purchase domestically-manufactured armaments, in order to provide military defence.
To a quite remarkable extent, the story of political and economic thought in the eighteenth century in Europe is the story of a series of responses to Fénelon’s blueprint for Reformed Salente, and we can’t really understand what Bernard Mandeville, Jean-François Melon, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, and others were doing without taking seriously the challenge that Fénelon threw down. Those who were attracted by his vision often faced the problem of how-to-get-there-from-here, since Fénelon’s extensive reorganisation certainly required the exercise of absolute power, but absolutism was not an especially attractive prospect in a world in which virtuous monarchs were in pretty short supply. Those who were not so attracted had to explain where Fénelon went wrong in his diagnosis (hence the rest of the luxury debate). But the eighteenth century understood the centrality of Fénelon to its debates, in a way that often we do not: Benjamin Vaughan wrote in 1788, for example, that ‘the seeds of all the sentiments, if not all the doctrines of modern political œconomy’ were to be found in Telemachus, and Fénelon remained a key point of reference throughout the controversies of the French Revolution. (Robespierre is supposed to have whispered to his neighbour after one of the speeches in one of the debates in the Convention on the price of grain, ‘that man is the Fénelon of the Revolution’, and, coming from him, it was meant as a compliment.)
Corigliano d’Otranto, then, is pretty much exactly where the fictional Salentum was supposed to stand. Graziella Lupo is the new municipal Philosopher there, embarking on its Reform. Minerva is a tough act to follow. But I’m sure she is up to the task.
Some of you will have seen this before–it appeared on Facebook a while ago–but I think it deserves a second outing: this is–I am afraid to say–Ptolemy’s reaction to my book, Philosophic Pride.
It’s been charitably suggested that he isn’t so much yawning as roaring his approval, but when the photo was taken the only vocalisation that Ptolemy could really produce was a still-surprisingly-kittenish “mew!” (though he now has a noise which I first thought meant, “I am dissatisfied”, but I now realise means, quite specifically, “I am disappointed in you”).
One of the things I’ve been finishing off this Summer is the book project that’s been kicking around for far too long, Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and the Politics of Self-Love from Lipsius to Rousseau.
And for entertainment and instruction, here’s a slightly-squished Wordle of the full manuscript, so you can see what it’s about. (Click on it for the full-sized, less-squished version.) I like Wordles.
Over the last three days, I’ve been reading Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey, and tweeting.
Twitterfeeds can be fiddly creatures, especially since things appear in reverse order, so, for easy reading, I’ve reproduced the results below the fold in a more sensible format.
Go on, then: what are you all reading this Summer, and what do you recommend?
Quas res melius aliis gentibus gesserunt Britanni? Neque in sphaeristica, ut puto, neque in coquina neque in fabulis musicis fingendis omnibus antecellunt. Sed si fabulas ad puerorum delectationem inventas examinaverimus, adfirmare fortasse audebimus nullum esse populum quem ea in arte non superaverimus. Praeterea, magna pars eorum qui libros pueris optime scripserunt Oxoniam nostram habitavit; plerique in hac universitate studuerunt atque docuerunt. Tamesis prope ripam Grahameius ventum inter salices susurrantem audivit; qui etiam hac in urbe est sepultus. Oxoniae Alicia terram mirabilium intravit; Oxoniae gens hobbitorum nata est; Oxoniae porta ad Narniam est aperta. At hic quem nunc produco hunc ipsum locum vel maioribus laudibus ornavit, quippe qui in suis fabulis Oxoniam lepide descripserit et, ut ita dicam, dramatis sui personam fecerit.
Primus Carolus Kingsley, ut videtur, cum de infantibus aquaticis scriberet, id genus fabulae invenit quod puerum vel pueros in alium mundum transfert et aliquando in nostrum rursus reducit. Quem secutus est Ludovicus Carolus, ubi Aliciam ad terram mirabilium et per speculum misit, postea etiam is qui de Petro Pane scripsit, mox Clivus Lewis, denique hic quem hodie videmus. Hoc tamen modo ab aliis differt, quod mundo illo ficto ad naturam animi humani scrutandam usus est. Socrates quidem daemonis se monitu saepe corrigi credidit; hic daemona unumquemque hominem, sive iuvenis sit sive senex, manifeste comitari fingens, arcana indolis et ingenii nostri in apertum protrahit. Itaque cum puerulos delectat innumerabiles, tum lectores adultos alicit atque arrigit. Quare ut Horatius Romanae se lyrae fidicinem vocavit, ita nos Lyrae Oxoniensis cantorem salutemus.
Praesento textorem fabularum sollertissimum, Philippum Nicolaum Outram Pullman, Excellentissimi Ordinis Britannici Commendatorem, Collegii Exoniensis et alumnum et socium honoris causa adscriptum, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.
[over the fold for the translation]
There’s a copy of Hegel’s Outlines of the Philosophy of Right in the window of Blackwells with a “buy one, get one free” sticker on it.