Saturday, April 20, 2019

Methuselah Star HD 140283

















"The star could be as old as 14.5 billion years (plus or minus 0.8 billion years), which at first glance would make it older than the universe's calculated age of about 13.8 billion years, an obvious dilemma."

Please click HERE for the story.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Michael Butterworth's My Servant the Wind, backchannel note

I've received a note by Abel Diaz to Michael Butterworth concerning the latter's new book, My Servant the Wind.
12 April 2019

Dear Michael,

Last night, I finished reading My Servant the Wind.  I don’t know why I thought it would be a straight-up science fiction novel, but I was not prepared for how experimental it was—a genre unto its own: Meta-temporal-epistolary-apocalypse fiction.  I’ve never encountered its like!

It was quite disorienting.  I don’t think I truly found my footing until the funny but deeply unsettling routine in entry “May 30th 2030” that ends with the warped exclamation: “I’ll goddamn go to bed with your bones!”

Another hilarious and twisted routine of this nature occurred later on page 48 with the fat woman protecting only her hat while the rest of her is pelted with stones and metal and such.  (There are several other routines I enjoyed immensely, but this letter would quickly become a catalog if I listed them all.)

These routines, while belonging to the same genus of those by Burroughs, are definitely their own species.  For one thing, they are faster and leaner.  I guess the word “condensed” that you used several times when describing the techniques of Ballard would be a better way of describing it.  Some of them are so concise and funny that they could be successfully delivered by a talented stand-up comedian.  And so I strongly agree with you when you said in your afterword that you were never so in thrall to your inspirations that you could not form your own distinct style.

Discussing a book like this (are there any books like this?), is really daunting and intimidating for me.  There are huge, HUGE gaps in my knowledge of New Wave and Sci-Fi and every genre in-between.  I worry that I missed or misunderstood some of what was intended in MSTW -- even with the benefit of your very informative afterword.  Couple that with my decidedly un-academic mind, and I’m sure my thoughts are going to sound shallow at best.  But I still want to share with you what I liked most about your novel.

In addition to the many entertaining stories scattered throughout the diary entries (the King comes to mind, the many lively soldier sketches as well), there are two exceptional tales that were such a joy to read that they stand as my favorite parts of this book.  The first is “April 9th 1971”; the story about Ron Fathaway and his Adventure Hut.  Not only were the descriptions of this hut super cool and evocative, but I grew damn giddy as Hob Leg recounted, “We were billeted in a trench…”  The story within a story that follows is so fun and enthralling.  The betrayal by those bastard Huns is so vividly portrayed and described.  The atomic blast at the end is so surreal and weird.  I just really loved this whole entry and I think it was a blast of inspiration!

The second is the entry “August 2nd, 1971.”  This tale of the narrator and his man Scrat reconnoitering that vast plateau was suggestive of old-timey adventure tales in all the best ways.  You revealed that the inspiration for this piece was Edgar Allan Poe, but if so then this is further proof of your ability to take your favorite authors as starting points, then march deep into new territory to stake for your own.  The sudden interjection of that one horrific image—the half eaten baby face donor kebab—really packed a punch.  A few posters of that scene strategically placed around the city of Manchester would surely convert the masses to veganism!  Also, the phantom advertisements were a wild and well executed idea.  I have no reason to think you like Jack Vance, but it reminded me of a Dying Earth moment (which I love and which is intended as a good comparison).

The most powerful moment in the whole novel, however, was a short paragraph found on page 151.  It begins, “My lonesomeness is returning…” and ends, “I will miss him while I face whatever I have to.”  I don’t know if this passage was intended metaphorically or as a riff on something else entirely or as pure parody, but it doesn’t matter to me.  I took it straight, with no hidden meanings, and to me it was the most poignant, impactful passage of all.  It evoked a sense of sorrow and grief that many other moments in the novel approached, but never achieved with quite this intensity.

There is one final passage I feel deserves a special mention.  It can be found on page 142 and it is presented as the words of a friend about how they found a cold newt on a trail and warmed it up with their hands.  I found this moment so touching and endearing that I sat with it for a while, wondering if this was a true story and who had said it to you.  The very last sentence is the one that especially resonates with me: “We had a good ‘encounter,’ and this sort of thing is more in keeping with who I am, what I like to do, and what I like to think about.”  I couldn’t agree more.  It really is a lovely moment in the book.  And it’s one of those descriptions that are vivid and meaningful enough to become an actual memory in the reader’s head.

Well, that’s all for now.  I had a great time reading your novel.  It packed a hell of a lot into a small package.  It had its challenging moments, I won’t lie to you, but it was damn good and it was significant and I’m glad I read it.  I believe the passages I noted above will stay with me for a very long time.  I might even have to build my own Adventure Hut now!

Next up, I’m going to read your new collection of short stories.  I can’t wait to see what gems I’m going to find.

Sincerely,
Abel Diaz
To view the Amazon description of My Servant the Wind, please click the cover image:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Creation of the World, revised review

I was browsing on Amazon the other day, and I noticed that L. Sterns Newburg has revised his review of the International Authors translation of Torquato Tasso's Il mondo creato (Creation of the World).

The review, which contains some encouraging remarks, follows:

Il Creato Mundo in English - Amazing

Genio: Come stai, Torquato?
Tasso: Ben sai come si può stare in una prigione, e dentro ai guai fino al collo.


An impressive piece of scholarship, and a valuable practical document for those interested in the great Italian poet, Torquato Tasso. This is a translation of Tasso's Il Creato Mundo, and the translators have been faithful - I want to say "lovingly faithful" - to the spirit and the words of the original. Tasso's original is in some ways an eccentric performance, so this translation presented numerous technical challenges, most of which have been surmounted.

The most difficult part of Tasso to recreate in English is the music of the original Italian. Any translation from a Romance language to English that somehow recreates such music engaged in a species of legerdemain, and inevitably, it results in subtle departures from sense of the original. The translators did not attempt to recreate Tasso's music.

Tasso cannot, perhaps, really speak to us in English, but the able translators have given us something far superior to a mere crib. Bravissimo!

Tasso's reputation in English-speaking countries has mutated over the years. Tasso influenced not only Milton, but Edmund Spenser and Samuel Daniel. He was at one point one of the luminaries of world literature, and after Dante, people tended to discuss Tasso and Ariosto. Something happened in the 19th Century, I gather, and their reputation outside Italia declined. Also, the later work of Tasso is somewhat problematic because he seemed desperate to conform to religious requirements as seen according to the lights of the Counter-Reformation. Alas.

His lyrics, his play Aminta, and Jerusalem Liberated are all very important, but the legend of Tasso as time went on exerted as much influence as the man's work. Leopardi wrote a fictional dialogue between Tasso and his "familiar spirit," and Goethe wrote a famous play. There are other uses of his personal history-as-mythology. It's almost the way Chatterton's life gets used.

This translation could help in a revaluation and understanding of this significant poet, something that is overdue.

To view the book, please click the cover image:

Friday, April 12, 2019

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."





















A rather grotesque--even juvenile-- logo.  A National Reconnaissance Office spokesperson explained:
NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature. Emblematically, enemies of the United States can be reached no matter where they choose to hide. 'Nothing is beyond our reach' defines this mission and the value it brings to our nation and the warfighters it supports, who serve valiantly all over the globe, protecting our nation.
I think I prefer a B-24 with a scantily clad girl on the nose, but anyway...

Please click HERE for the story.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Terrance Lindall named President of the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts & Letters


















I am happy to announce that Terrance Lindall has been named President of the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters.

Please click HERE for the homepage of the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters.

Please click HERE for the biographies of the membership.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Martian Moon Deimos Crosses the Sun













Images from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, Sunday, March 17, 2019. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Friday, April 5, 2019

Wittgenstein in Retrospect

In a series of architectural notes Wittgenstein made while building the spare and block-shaped family home in Vienna [see yesterday's Highbrow post], the philosopher proposed that aesthetic reactions consist of feelings or impressions associated with distaste—“discontent, disgust, discomfort”—and the expressions of these forms of aesthetic distaste were formulated as instructions for reform and improvement—“Make it higher! . . . too low! . . . Do something to this.” If I am not wrong, these notions may lead to a characterization of Wittgenstein’s philosophy at its highest level. This characterization is as follows:

The essential thrust of Wittgenstein’s philosophy is the search for an appropriate response to phenomena. In order to identify this elusive appropriate response, it is necessary to construct a synoptic surview; that is, an imaginative overview or “story” in which the phenomena in question can be regarded with clarity and precision. Our conceptual confusion can cloud our overview and lead to an inappropriate response, be it in our understanding, in our pronouncements, or in our actions. Our use—but of course more essentially our misuse—of language can lead to conceptual confusion and philosophical credulousness, and hence the attention paid in analytic philosophy to the use of language; thus the analysis of propositions is the activity, but the philosophy itself is the quest for an appropriate response, and an understanding of the world that both supports and is incumbent upon that appropriate response.

In an age which has mythologized science—or, indeed, in past ages which have mythologized sympathetic, superstitious and magical relationships—and as well amongst a species (Homo sapiens) which tends toward uniformity, conformity, rationalization, and following the habits of custom—empirical explanation is generally accepted as the end of all serious intellectual inquiry. While offering empirical explanation is the appropriate response to some phenomena—exploiting a pharmacological reaction for medical purposes, for instance—empirical explanation is an inappropriate response to other types of phenomena, such as aesthetic phenomena, which are more appropriately approached with the idea of getting hold of some sort of understanding. This understanding chiefly consists of understanding where we stand in relation to the phenomenon we are examining.

Interestingly enough, our understanding—our nurtured and cultivated understanding, which is rooted in an understanding of our feelings—can and has reformed our science, which (since Bacon, Locke and Newton) has been taken from a level of pursuing empirical (or theoretical) explanation to a level of an on-going skeptical-empirical inquiry. In our cultivated response to poetry we have learned that our poetry (our mythological expression) is in a state of “semiotic flux” and transformation. When our myths become fixed, they stultify and breed orthodoxy and barbarism. Our myths must therefore become supple and changing, yielding softly to the shifting impressions of the philosophical consciousness (compare Aristotle's conclusions regarding the nature of Eudemonia). Civilized science—the skeptical-empirical method—is in a like state of flux. Aristotle’s notion of potentiality and actuality is revised by Galileo’s emphasis on the quantitative measurement of the physical characteristics of motion, which is revised by Newtonian "mechanics", which is revised by Einstein’s relativity, which is revised by quantum mechanics, and so on. These different models are “right” for different times, at different scales, for different tasks, and they all the time progress along a path weaving in and out through ever more subtle and deft articulations of understanding. We don't believe in them, but rather believe in what they can show us, or what they can do for us. They are not essential models, but tools we pick up and set down as we go about engineering new methods for dealing with (and in) the world.

To be continued...


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Witgenstein: a handful of quotes

Consider the following as synoptic overviews of various philosophical problems:
Perhaps the most important thing in connection aesthetics is what might be called aesthetic reactions, e.g. discontent, disgust, discomfort. The expression of discontent is not the same as the expression of discomfort. The expression of discomfort says: ‘Make it higher . . . too low! . . . Do something to this.’

What makes bright colors bright? Does it reside in the concept or in cause and effect? There is no luminous gray. Is this inherent in the concept of gray or is it part of the psychology, that is, of the natural history of gray, and isn’t it strange that I don’t know this?

What is called an alteration in concepts is of course not merely an alteration in what one says, but in what one does.

Duration of sensation. Compare the duration of a sense-experience of sound with the duration of  the sensation of touch which informs you that you have a ball in your hand; and with the “feeling” that informs you that your knees are bent (Z §478).

It is quite possible that he glands of a sad person secrete differently from those of someone who is glad; and also that their secretion is the cause of sadness. But does it follow that the sadness is a sensation produced by the secretion? (Z §509).

We should hardly ask if a crocodile means something when it comes at a man with open jaws. And we should declare that since the crocodile cannot think there is really no question of meaning here (Z §522).

What is the difference between these two things: Following a line involuntarily--Following a line intentionally? What is the difference between these two things: Tracing a line with care and great attention--Attentively observing how my hand follows a line? (Z §583).

The limitlessness of the visual field is clearest when we are seeing nothing in complete darkness (Z §616).

I should like to ask, not so much ‘What must we do to avoid contradiction?’ as ‘What ought we to do if we have arrived at a contradiction?’(Z §688).

To understand sums in the elementary school the children would have to be important philosophers; failing that, they need practice (Z §703).
[The first three groups are from architectural notes he made while working on the family house in Vienna.  The others are from Zettle, (“slips of paper”).]

Haus Wittgenstein

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Appropriate Response to Phenomena: Empirical Explanation vs. Understanding


Let’s take Frazer’s The Golden Bough as a point of departure. Wittgenstein was unsatisfied with Frazer’s reading and conclusions regarding Frazer’s own anthropological findings. Wittgenstein asserted that the human rituals Frazer cataloged went beyond the simple expedient of an empirical explanation, and that, indeed, understanding Frazer’s discoveries does not require an empirical explanation. Frank Cioffi describes this in Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer: “Whatever relevance empirical method may have to the question of the nature and origin of ritual practices . . . is not the central question which Frazer raises and is not, in any case, the question which arises for us when we contemplate human sacrifice and the ritual life of mankind.”1  Wittgenstein voices the same objection to psychoanalytic explanation. Again, according to Cioffi, “Freud advances explanations when the matters he deals with demand clarification, that is, they call for an elucidation of the relation in which we stand to the phenomena rather than an explanation of them.”2  Again, as to aesthetics, “causal hypotheses are conceptually inappropriate responses to requests for the explanation of aesthetic experiences and . . . they are not what we really want.” 3  Melville also makes this distinction in Moby-Dick. In Moby-Dick, Melville is rejecting scientific, philosophical and religious explanations in favor of what he really wants, which is a kind of self-understanding regarding various phenomena, or an understanding of how he stands in relation to the scientific, religious and philosophical language others offer to explain various phenomena.  4


1. Frank Cioffi, Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer, (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1998), 2.
2. Ibid., 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Carter Kaplan, Critical Synoptics, 117.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Professor Hodges on Butterworth and My Servant the Wind

Professor Hodges' recent blog post has led to some remarks (in the comments) regarding analytic philosophy. Please click HERE.

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Analysis of Intellectual Mythology

In the days of the Enlightenment, science was rightly seen as being in the forefront of the struggle against religious mystification, superstition and dogma. Today science has replaced religion as the source and authority of truth. Every source of truth must, in the nature of things, also be a source of falsehoods, against which it must itself struggle. But it may also be a source of intellectual mythology, against which it is typically powerless. One great and barely recognized source of such mythology in our age is science itself. The unmasking of scientific mythology (which is to be distinguished from scientific error) is one of the tasks of philosophy. For philosophy is not the under-labourer of the sciences, but rather their tribunal; it adjudicates not the truth of scientific theorizing, but the sense of scientific propositions. Its aim is neither to engage in nor abjure science, but to restrain it within the bounds of sense, to curb the metaphysical impulse that is released by misinterpretations of the significance of scientific discoveries, to restrain scientists and philosophers (who have been beguiled by their myth-making) from metaphysical nonsense.

-- P. M. S. Hacker. Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy Oxford: Blackwell, 1996 (p.123).

Jan Matejko, “Copernicus” (1872)