Friday, August 23, 2019

“I’ll teach you differences.”

Wittgenstein suggested an epigraph for Philosophical Investigations might be a line from King Lear: “I’ll teach you differences.”

Elsewhere, he wrote:
The older I grow the more I realize how terribly difficult it is for people to understand each other, and I think that what misleads one is the fact that they all look so much like each other. If some people looked like elephants and others like cats, or fish, one wouldn’t expect them to understand each other and things would look much more like what they really are. 


Thursday, August 22, 2019

More "Milton in Outer Space"

Peter Dizzoza introduces and preforms the piece:

Milton has been called the first poet of Space. Previous literary excursions used the underworld as the "remote sphere" that protagonists visited.  If I remember correctly, in one of his dialogues the satirist Lucian has his protagonist fly to the moon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Reviewing the Quinque viae, concluding with a celebratory haiku

It has been a slow day here at the Highbrow Commonwealth, so we might as well review St. Thomas Aquinas’s five arguments for the existence of God:

Prima Via: The Argument from Change: Change is everywhere. Someone causes it---so there must be a God like Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover.”

Secunda Via: The Argument form Causation: Who causes causes? Is there a first cause, itself uncaused? There is. God is the original Uncaused Cause.

Tertia Via: The Argument from Contingency: How do we account for contingency in nature? Only by a Necessary Being beyond contingency.

Quarta Via: The Argument from Degrees of Excellence: We notice degrees of excellence in nature. This implies the notion of perfection, which in turn implies what we might call a Perfect Being.

Quinta Via: The Argument form Harmony: Everywhere we look is “adaptation” or “accord.” Fish need to swim so they have fins and tails. Dogs need to chew bones so they have strong teeth. These are evidence of design—the manifestation (evidence/existence) of an Intelligence that organizes things.

Francisco de Zurbarán, The Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1631)


St. Thomas expounds
Church Doctors review with care
This is a nice day

(Attribution: my summary of the Quinque viae is from old notes, and I take they had been borrowed and paraphrased from various sources, long since forgotten.)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

Heroic advent of technocracy glimpsed from a rugged armchair, etc.

Raymond Massey in Things To Come... Korda and Menzies’ film of the H.G. Wells novel

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Philosophical Terminology, Conceptual Abstraction, and Confused Understanding

From "Dance Curves: On the Dances of Palucca,”
Wassily Kandinsky (1926)

Kandinsky's dynamic drawings are wonderfully pleasing. They underscore the beauty of the original subject as well as represent impressions that move us emotionally. 

They also elegantly illustrate the principle of conceptual abstraction.

Many philosophical terms and concepts are similarly abstractions. An erudite fellow in a lecture hall can equivocate endlessly about "absolutism" and "relativism", "freedom" and "determinism", but he is not talking about the real world. He is talking about abstractions--he is talking about mere "sketches" that represent only "parts" of the real world.

Compare two-dimensional cardboard stage scenery in a theater, and picture the erudite fellow acting as though these cut-outs aren't flat pieces of scenery, but are actual buildings, real trees, three-dimensional hills hundreds of feet tall, or what have you. The lecturer can deploy all sorts of learned "examples" and "statements" (that is,
effervescent terminology and exhilarating traces of cogitation concocted by other philosophers) to create the impression that these are important concepts, and he can speak and act as though his fluently equivocating upon these abstractions is discussing the real world, but the fact remains the lecturer is merely discussing abstractions--fanciful sketches that suggest or thinly evoke reality, but are actually illusions, wispy figments, evanescent nebulae, and fading imitations.

For further elaboration, see Bacon's remarks on the Idols of the Theatre in the
Novum Organum, or Melville's dilation upon the images of whales in chapters 55, 56 & 57 of Moby-Dick.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Peter Dizozza presents: Eye on the Space Race

Peter will perform "Milton in Outer Space" (see Emanations: Chorus Pleiades) to open his August 4th Cabaret Show at Pangea. The show is called Eye on the Space Race, next Sunday at 7. New York City. 

Please click HERE for tickets.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Ebi Robert receives awards in Nigeria

Emanations contributor Ebi Robert has received a national award for contributing to the poetry renaissance in Nigeria, and a Certificate of Appreciation from the President of Poets In Nigeria.

The Award of Recognition was presented to Mr. Robert for the establishing the Poets In Nigeria Yenagoa Connect Centre, which is key to advancing a poetry renaissance in Nigeria.

The Certificate of Appreciation was presented for the successful hosting of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize, 2019 in Bayelsa State, as Secretary of the Local Organizing Committee. 

These awards came just after Mr. Robert received the award of Human Rights Defender by the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, and the Distinguished Service Award from Educare as a jury member of the Essay Competition in commemoration of World Peace Day.

Ebi Robert is a poet, playwright and short story writer. He is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He was a Research Assistant with the Federal High Court, Nigeria. He currently works as a Co-Editor with The Nigeria Lawyer (TNL), and serves as the General-Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and Lead-Rep of Poets In Nigeria, Yenagoa Connect Centre. He is also the An Administrator of World Poet Institute, Bayelsa State Chapter. Ebi Robert is a member of the International Authors Board of Editorial Advisors.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Coming soon...

Next month, there is a new book from William Weiss, who collaborated with Gareth Jackson on Escape Trajectories.

The new book--68 Cantos--is a carefully edited "cut-up" that William Weiss made with two of Michael Butterworth's science fiction novels, published some decades ago. The resulting production reads like a novel--a very strange novel. It is more properly characterized as a prose poem. It is very well done, and it should be available the first week of August.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Confirmation from Professor Aronnax

Hard to make out?  Click HERE for a larger version.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Questions in Ethics

1. The film A Clockwork Orange presents us with difficult questions concerning freedom of choice, the politics of social control, the nature of justice, and the nature of good and evil. Describe how the film presents these themes, and resolve your understanding by reflecting upon them in a clear and organized fashion. As the film shows, these issues are shot through with paradox, contradiction and irony. Can we hope to come to some sort of conclusion about them?

2. Technocracy and moral philosophy: consider the relationship between normative ethics (or prescriptive moral philosophy) and technocracy.  With this relationship in mind, explain how analytic philosophy (or meta-ethics) critiques moral philosophy.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dr. Jones Denied Tenure

Please click HERE to view the memorandum from the department chairman.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Republic XF-103 Thunderwarrior: Highbrow Mach 3 Cold Warrior

Big, heavy, and fast. The Republic F-103 Thunderwarrior (see also HERE) bears all the trademarks of Republic Aviation's chief designer, Alexander Kartveli: big, heavy, and fast. It never went beyond the mock-up stage. If you feel so disposed, click the above hyperlinks to learn more about the aircraft, and I will take care of the droll captions for the following images.

This model delightfully captures the aircraft's key features, including sleek lines, periscope housing, and extended crew compartment.

XF-103 mock-up in a Republic hanger. A study in supersonic enthusiasm.
Cockpit mock-up featuring the forward-looking periscope.

Upper view of the Thunderwarrior in the markings of the 5th FIS, "Spittin' Kittens."

General layout. Note ram-jet section aft.

A Canadian Armed Forces "3" dissuading a flight of Soviet bombers from violating North American airspace.

What might have been, alas.

Alexander Kartveli with his creations. According to Wikipedia, because of security concerns, including fears of kidnapping and assassination, Kartveli was shielded from the public, and "his identity was unknown to nearly everyone outside his workplace and in military archives."

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Was there an Enlightenment?

About twenty years ago, one of my former professors suggested I look up what the historians have to say about the "Enlightenment." I went to the main writers on 18th century history, and they had very little to say about it. There really wasn't much of a movement there; more significant factors include advancements in statecraft (today, we might call these advancements "statism" and "totalitarianism"), European power politics, competing trade empires, and so on. Off the top of my head, it might be suggested the phrase "Enlightenment" has been reified by the postmodernists into a straw man towards which they they can hurl invective.

The actual de facto enlightenment was talk and writing circulating around Paris. And beyond those Paris salons and bookstalls, and beyond a scattering of royal courts in the countryside, beyond the publication of encyclopedias, beyond the career of Voltaire's enthusiasms and disappointments, or beyond Jefferson's admiration for a few French discussions (and maybe his enthusiasm for fashionable Republican haircuts), was there really much to it? Apparently, the answer is "no." The "Enlightenment" was no Glorious Revolution or Good Old Cause. The "Enlightenment" was no American Revolution. And so on.

Did the Enlightenment end in the French Revolution? And was the French Revolution the Enlightenment's apotheosis, or its antithesis? After the Enlightenment, did Newton's laws of motion expire?  Did Force no longer equal the product of Mass and Acceleration (FMA)? and so on...

It might be interesting to see if Kant originally coined the phrase in his essay "What is Enlightenment?"  And, if so, what was he getting at politically, or how was he attempting to parse the history of his time?

My point here is that "The Enlightenment" isn't used by historians. It is a phrase that is used by people in Philosophy and English, and I suppose the Social Sciences. That is, it is used by people who are prone, because of their professional orientations, to see history focused (and distorted, one wonders) through the prisms of their own subjects.

But let's return to the historians:

The historians of European history refer to the period as the "Age of Absolutism," which is marked (like "The Enlightenment") by 1688 and 1789. That is, by the Glorious Revolution and the publication of Locke and Newton's books, at one end, and, at the other end, by the French Revolution.

After the period of the French Revolution, the next period is described by historians as the Age of Nationalism, I believe.

In the Norton series on Modern European History, Leonard Krieger's book on the period (1688-1789) is titled Kings and Philosophers, and I suspect that this book over-emphasizes the influence of philosophy upon history; this was originally suggested to me by another of my professors, nearly 40 years ago. My professor felt that Krieger, in placing great emphasis upon the importance of ideas (shall we call them "fashionable intellectual trends"?) was rather "German" in his approach to the subject, a point which the professor underscored by pointing out the long-winded and convoluted structure of Krieger's prose (and these are criticisms reflected in the Amazon reviews of the book, incidentally; and which can be viewed HERE).

Monday, June 24, 2019

Michael Butterworth's Butterworth, backchannel note

Highbrow readers may recall an April 17 post relating Abel Diaz's reflections upon Michael Butterworth's new book, My Servant the Wind.  (It can be viewed HERE.)

Now I've received a missive, again from Mr. Diaz's to Michael Butterworth, concerning the latter's other new book, Butterworth.

Here it is:
Dear Michael,
I finished reading Butterworth today. I took me longer than I expected, because I couldn’t simply breeze through these stories. Light, airy, undemanding—these are NOT the words I would use to describe the tales in Butterworth. There was an earnest intention to the work and a preoccupation with form that demanded I take it slow, and where I couldn’t understand I could at least experience the resonance of the text. In this way, even when I didn’t “get” the story, I was frequently rewarded with fantastic imagery or masterful prose. “Memorandum of the World Council of Journalists No. 14257594827465” was one such story. Even though I couldn’t get my head into it, there was that wonderful, mysterious paragraph standing like a lone black monolith on the moon:

“The new spaceships, designed to enter other star systems, have been found to be unworkable. Not the probes themselves, but the method of propulsion into the matrix, would seem to be at fault, and there is even stronger evidence to suggest that the matrix itself probably does not exist.”  My friend, I don’t know if you realize this, but you predicted the Matrix movies decades before they were made!

Sometimes, the payoff was in the form of a satisfying surprise, such as the ending of “The Explorer.” That last paragraph really made the whole story work, and it left this reader with a delicious sense of cosmic horror and awe: “Looming up, slowly at first, then more swiftly as he approached the edge of memory, came large, grape-like shapes as grey and mysterious as the black hills.” Terrific!

Often, the reward was a single, marvelous idea that left me happily contemplating it for days. An example of this would be “Bulletin of the Association of Amorphous Writers (North West Branch) Extract Vol 1 No 3, June 30th 1979.” The concept of writers “combining” across great distances of time could easily be the genesis for a much longer work—hell, a whole series of avant-pulp novels. I’d like to read one about Michel Houellebecq combining with the literary spirits of Jean Ray, Lovecraft and Poe, but that’s only because I’m a morally compromised fan of weird tales. The possible combinations are infinite, however, and could speak to every possible permutation of taste in literature.

Please allow me to mention one more tale that offered high concept and engrossing philosophy in a story that I otherwise found completely impenetrable.  It was “The Cosmic Diary” section of “Scatterhead” where you laid out the fantastic idea that social media serves as a group mind and kind of “telepathic primitivism” for the masses. I never thought of it that way, but now I’ll never think of it any other.

The ending of “Disintegration” was opaque to me, but I really enjoyed the rest of the story, especially the idea. Once again, you predicted the future by many years. The plot of this one is more or less the same as one of the better episodes of the British television series “Black Mirror.” I thought the use of textual imagery to evoke the narrator’s dive into mental limbo was well executed too.

The “Concentrate” stories were great. They were like cut ups of prose poems, full of rhythm and color and a sense of undefined momentum. “From the tops of the deep freeze unit he could see the tops of monsters lumbering into the green dark of the planet’s other half…” Good stuff! I remember reading at least part of “Concentrate 2” in the Savoy Book a long time ago. I had the same reaction then: It’s impossible to understand but great fun to read!

“Sequences” was similar to the Concentrate stories in that its form seemed as important as its content. To me, this was a story that very successfully used the language of science fiction to make everyday events seem alien and strange:

The flies were large, and had a metallic lustre, rising angrily in glinting clouds as I journeyed by. In the hedgerows and occasional copses larger insects, heavier and physically better protected, crawled. Sloping-green organisms, translucent and buried in the cool depths, rustled the canopies of leaves and bent the giant stems of the cow parsley in the ditches.

Not only is this language beautiful, but without context one could be forgiven for thinking this passage described a distant planet.  It was this focus on disorienting descriptions that kept the story great and I think it was one of the strongest in the collection.

To be honest, there was so much experimentation and rule-breaking on display in this book that by the time I got to “Figures in a Landscape,” I was hungry for a straightforward yarn, and I think I got it with this one, perhaps the least complicated in the collection. That might be why I enjoyed it so much. I liked that there was an element of comedic horror in the uncertainty about whether Ankle was telling the truth about the demons he saw in the foul depths below. It was a good story and it held up well against its more demanding counterparts.

The second best story, however—the absolutely second best of them all—was the stellar “The Baked Bean Factory.” Goddamn, but this was good! The prose was dense, very dense, and I had to start over several times to get a firm grasp of what I was reading, but again it was worth it. The imagery was first rate. For the “bomber spheres” I pictured colossal versions of those flying balls in the movie Phantasm, raining spectacular destruction upon a scorched and cracked planet. There was so much poetic language in this one that I am tempted to overquote it, but I’ll forbear. The image wars that occupied the night shift of Locklar Ford reminded me in a way of the phantom adverts from your novel. Aside from the beautiful language, what really stood out about this story is how different it is from everything surrounding it. It speaks to your range as a writer and the fact that you were in control of your style and not controlled by it. If I didn’t already know that this was the same author as My Servant the Wind, I would never guess it.

The final story I’d like to mention is the one that moved me the most and was, without question, the best: “Das Neue Leben.”  Obviously, as a dedicated devotee of Lord Horror, it’s fascinating to me that this is one part of his enigmatic origin story, but “Das Neue Leben” is so good that it deserves discussion on its own merits, and should not lay buried in the shadow of what came after.

Let me start by saying this story was also radically different from every other entry in the collection. I can only imagine that a burst of intense creativity overtook you when you endeavored to write it. There are passages in here that are truly powerful. Your description of Hitler’s heroin high carried more impact and poetry than any William S. Burroughs offered. The swamp waters of the flooded forest ebbing and flowing in a rhythm synchronized to the flow of his own blood rose to the level of pure art. In addition, there were many scenes in the story, such as the picnics shared by der Führer and Schmidt, that were so idyllic and lovely that you easily forgot the main character was Adolf Fucking Hitler. Couple that with the lush and dreamlike descriptions of the jungle and all the weighty philosophical musings (from “The world had become a bad dream…” to the close of that section two pages later), and you begin to realize that the atmosphere, the total effect, of the story far outshines any shock value that may or may not have been intended with the inclusion of he-who-has-already-been-named.

What is more, there is a thread of melancholy and regret running through the tale that I found very hypnotizing. It almost rendered Hitler a sympathetic character, which is no easy feat.  The story is not without its humor, however. My favorite part of all was Hitler’s indignation that the snake who ate his dog also ate all that unhealthy candy. It made me laugh out loud; it was hilarious, perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read that you have written.

As surreal as this story is, it could be a parallel universe prequel to The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. The events that take place BEFORE the Israeli commandos show up… All in all, “Das Neue Leben” is an amazing work of art, Michael. An accomplishment to be truly proud of.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m sorry if this email was too long. I know you never asked for my opinion, but I wanted to share one reader’s reaction to your book. It was large, it contained multitudes, it was brilliant, it was difficult, it was puzzling, sometimes it was even impossible, but it was extremely well written and it was worth every hour I spent with it. And now I’m mentally exhausted (in a very good way!) and I’m going to read something super dumb and super easy. Best of wishes, Michael! You continue to challenge and inspire me as a reader.


Abel Diaz

Please click HERE to purchase Butterworth.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Nationalism: Ethnic and Philosophical Formulations

Professor  Hodges has been engaged in a polemic on the subject of "Nationalism."  See HERE, HERE and HERE for a sample of his exchanges (apparently back-channel) with an anonymous interlocutor.

A number of remarkable remarks have been made; perhaps the most useful is Professor Hodges' distinction between "ethnic " and "civil" nationalism, which parallels the distinction I draw between, respectively, "ethnic" and "philosophical" nationalism.

Many years ago in an 18th century European history course the professor made a good case that European nationalism(s) and American nationalism are distinct. Here is his idea, embellished with my own thinking on the matter:

European nationalism is configured around language, ethnicity and culture (and religion is a component of this). On the other hand, American nationalism is based on political philosophy, law and the US Constitution. Now, the law and the Constitution (and the Declaration) are clearly descendants of English and Scottish culture and political movements, and linguistically are tied to the English language, as the law (the Constitution) is written in English. But importantly in American nationalism, the operative principle are coherent legal and ethical philosophies rather than ethnic identification.

European ethnic nationalism vs. American legal-philosophical nationalism represents an important distinction, and this distinction should be kept in mind when considering arguments on the subject. Nationalism, of the American variety, is a pretty good apparatus for protecting property, advancing the equitable distribution of wealth, and creating new pathways for promoting social justice.

An early formulation of such a nationalism--creating institutions protecting a broad middle class, and the political philosophy that under-girds such a project--can be found Aristotle. See HERE, for example.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson formulate the plan for a new nation.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Highbrow Hiatus

I am off on an expedition. See you next week.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

WAH Center Opening: Permanent Collection, Part 3: Selections from Artists' Rescue Team, 3/11 Japan

Show dates: June 15th - June 30th, 2019. Opening reception: Saturday, June 15th, 4-6pm

The Williamsburg Art & Historical Center will conclude the 2019 fiscal year with the final section of the "Permanent Collection Show, Part 3: Acquired between 2010 to 2012."

In 2011, The WAH Center organized a team of volunteers and artists to host the WAH Center Artist Rescue Team for Japan. Directed by Yuko Nii, this two day art benefit included over 230 artworks for sale and dance performances. The WAH Center worked towards sustaining continuous aid and effort to Japan and keeping the momentum for recovery with their efforts. Through this benefit, and several other fundraisers held throughout New York City, the WAH Center acquired a number of artworks that both enriched the YNF’s collection and provided much needed financial support to those affected by the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan, collectively known as “3/11, Japan”.

During the show, the WAH Center is holding a special Silent Auction in the small gallery. The proceeds will be split evenly between the WAH Center and the artists. 

Please click HERE for the full press release with Curator's Statement 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

William Poole's Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost

The other day, I picked up William Poole's new book Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost.

I am about half way through the book, and I have found Poole's remarks on Milton's scholarship, poetic theory (Tasso gets good mentions) and theology to be enlightening. Just ahead in my reading, in the second half of the book, Poole describes Paradise Lost. Thus far, I see some interesting reflections of my own questions and "hunches." Indeed, I am inclined to think that this is the best book I've ever read on Milton and Paradise Lost.  This study will certainly be helpful as I seek to appropriately and accurately apply Milton to my ideas on the subject of philosophy and literature.

Two remarks:  1) Poole's treatment of the scholarship is exhaustive, to-the-point and well-selected. 2) He is making it very "easy" (if that is the right word) for me to take Milton's ideas and apply them to things I find interesting in Locke, Jonathan Mayhew, Hawthorne, Melville, Nabokov, Wittgenstein, and the authors of the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution.  Reminding us at the beginning of his book that the subject of Milton and politics has been done over and over again, Poole dismisses any anticipated claims that his project could be construed as "whiggish," and he states instead that his subject is chiefly Milton's theology. It is a pleasant statement.

Please click the cover image to visit the Amazon sales page:

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Stellarium is a free planetarium for your computer.

Please click HERE.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Jupiter is Near

Jupiter will be in opposition the next several days. June 10 is the date of opposition, but because of our elliptical orbits, June 12 is the date of greatest proximity. For the next few days, Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede--Jupiter's four largest moons--should be "clearer-than-usual" through binoculars. Let's hope the atmosphere will be cooperative.

Please click HERE for more information.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Emanations: Chorus Pleiades in Nigeria

Emanations 7 came out over six months ago. Today, I received news from contributor Ebi Robert that the book has at last reached him in Nigeria.  Ebi's poetry has been appearing in Emanations since our fourth volume.  Enjoy the  pictures, and please click the cover image at the bottom of this post to buy the book.

Ebi Robert is a poet, playwright and short story writer. He is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He was a Research Assistant with the Federal High Court, Nigeria. He currently works as a Co-Editor with The Nigeria Lawyer (TNL), and serves as the General-Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and Lead-Rep of Poets In Nigeria, Yenagoa Connect Centre. He is also the An Administrator of World Poet Institute, Bayelsa State Chapter. Ebi Robert is a member of the International Authors board of editorial advisors.