Archive for the 'books' Category

One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

October 18th, 2013

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films – A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry –  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

Dustbin of History

October 15th, 2012

The window of the local Oxfam bookshop, just now.

[Cue jokes about how it was never about the bike.]

Workshop: Meet the Author: Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride

October 4th, 2012

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.

Organising Committee:
lic.-phil. Lukas Boser (Berne),
Dr. Christian Maurer (Fribourg),
Prof. Dr. Fritz Osterwalder (Berne),
Prof. Dr. Simone Zurbuchen (Lausanne).

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.

More Brooke, I’m Afraid

September 28th, 2012

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.)

Noel Malcolm on “Philosophic Pride”

September 27th, 2012

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.

Fénelon Now!

July 18th, 2012

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 Dauphins 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.

TCB: Lit Crit

July 12th, 2012

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”).

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