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.

For example, consider the remarks of reviewer Robert Kleinberg:

Many sections are long-winded and dull, culminating in tangles like this:

"Government was relevant to the social classes because it required their support and because the policies it adopted affected their destinies, but government was also independent of its social base because of the specifically political dimension - external and internal security - in its policies."

Please click HERE for related remarks.

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.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"Thinking about Thinking"

What is Philosophy?

Our second answer is:

2) Philosophy is thinking about thinking.

When viewed in this way, our initial response is to turn to the study of logic.  The study of logic is an instructive and useful pursuit, but students and philosophers who are serious about thinking should shift their attentions to a consideration of grammar—to an exploration of the context, sense and meaning of propositions.  The progression of the history of logic suggests this shift; moreover, while logic is a broad field, the key touchstones of its history can be summarized rather briefly. They main points of this progression begin with Socrates’ elenchus, which is a sort of prosecutorial cross-examination that reveals inconsistency, credulity, or fraud.  Plato (if indeed he is to be fully distinguished from his teacher) places emphasis on taking simple noun-predicate sentences as the basis of logical structure, though his contextualization of such statements as elements of dialogue needs to be acknowledged as central to his assessment of the meanings of expressions.  Aristotle represents the emergence of logic as a distinct and formal discipline; his efforts yielded deductive logic, and the classification of ordered chains of premises and conclusions, or syllogisms, with emphasis upon sentences beginning with “all”, “no”, and “some”. We might note here, that Aristotle’s “all”, “no”, and “some” are attached to nouns and verbs, while he neglects words like “if” and “then”, which link sentences and trace the progress of our inferences. But we digress. In order to evaluate and classify different kinds of syllogisms, Aristotle attached schematic letters to these statements, and symbolic logic was born.  Aristotle’s activity with logic was to create a tool (organon in Greek) to clarify scientific and philosophical problems. His model of a "systematized” and “categorized” method of logic, however, will later enable figures like Kant and Russell to attach metaphysical significance to logic (or to reason) and so create the mirage (as I call it) that philosophers are somehow equipped to do something “scientific.” Through their obscurantist (elaborate, potted, sophistic) activity exercising dazzling logical architectures, some philosophers make a claim upon scientific, moral and political authority, which in our time is among the greatest threats to democracy, rule-of-law, equality before the law, human rights, freedom of speech, integrity of property, the right of employees to negotiate with employers, and the fair and merit-based distribution of goods and services. Here it is appropriate in this discussion of systematized logic to ask how far we are departing from “thinking about thinking” and discovering an appropriate overview of how we really think in the world. Aristotle’s contribution, his influence and the re-discovery of his methods in the Scholastic period deserve careful consideration. Nevertheless, in his wake there follows a long hiatus in the development of logic as a tool for thinking about thinking, and our formulation of a useful exposition of the “real” thinking we’re seeking to uncover. The key transition occurs, first, with the emergence of inductive reasoning, which is the activity of assembling long lists of variously related statements, facts, and data-points, and clearly saying intelligent things about them. The second point of transition comes with William of Occam’s observation that logic is properly the analysis of philosophical and scientific language. Still, we have not said much about what it means to think about thinking, and moreover this task is complicated by the fact that such notions as “thinking” (regarded as a sort of neurological activity resembling a computer process) and “ideas” (in particular the notion that ideas are the “objects” of thought) are abstract and misleading. Consider: thinking is an activity that is expressed through language, and ideas are not really “objects.” So, we should wish to move away from these abstract concepts and rather talk about what we are really doing when we are thinking. What do we see when we look at ourselves thinking? To find out, we must clearly understand where we are, what we are doing, what we are discussing with one another, what we are attempting to do—such is the point of thinking itself, and which is properly revealed when we look at the language of our expressions and our dialogues. Such questions as “What is the context of my statement?”, “What do I mean when I say X?”, “What am I doing when I say X?”, and what am I seeking to do when I say X?”,  help us to expose the nature, the sense and the meaning of our expressions, and reveal to us the usefulness, the suitability, the legitimacy, and the appropriateness of our “thinking.” At this point, we should do well to define thinking as “coming to an understanding.” When we do good philosophy, we are creating a synoptic overview of our thinking, in which we can see ourselves thinking—or writing, or talking. Thus, we seek to clarify our language, seek to understand the context of our discussions, seek to assess the appropriateness of our language, seek to clarify questions, seek to answer questions, seek to solve problems—and in these ways we prepare to take good actions.  All the while, we are keenly aware of how our actions are linked to our understanding, and that our understanding is an on-going process continually subject to revision and improvement. 
Please see HERE for a note on propositions, and please see HERE for a discussion about setting up synoptic overviews for assessing our use of language. Also, please see HERE for a bit of therapy in regard to these matters. After looking closely at this stuff, a bit of therapy is in order.

This post is part of a series:

Giuseppe Bottani, “Athena revealing Ithaca to Ulysses”