Articles from 01/2013

29 January 2013

How to Live - A Life of Montaigne

How to Live - A Life of Montaigne In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer-by Sarah Bakewell

“WINNER OF THE 2010 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR BIOGRAPHY”

In this new book, Sarah Bakewell takes the already-readable Montaigne and makes him that much easier to read. The main themes of his writing are distilled and presented within the historical and biographical context that makes it all come alive.

How to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you…Read

Even Nameless Horrors must be Named

To what extent can an aestheticisation of mass murder be seen as acceptable or valid? Is it question of content or purpose, or rather about who is doing the actual writing? And if one kind of aestheticisation is legitimate, on what basis should another be disallowed?

This is a complex question. Those seeking to answer it can easily find themselves drowning in noncommittal goodwill statements of the “this must be shown” variety, without touching on the complications involved in all literature based on things that really happened. Just as there is no such thing as…Read

Fragmented Memories

“If I can remember, I can talk.” Perjovschi (2006)

Order and disorder are well known concepts in various fields, such as mathematics, physics, biology, but also literature, linguistic, and social sciences. For instance, the transition theories—starting with Rustow (1970) up to the most recent work of Carothers (2002) and O’Donnell (2002)—address, in some way, the uncontrollable, chaotic, and hybrid characteristic of a society in transition to democracy. As such, while analyzing the collapse of the organizational system of the Zunis, in Southwest US, Stone calls the anthropologists to have a look at the…Read

Trauma

During the Christmas holidays  I read a book by José Saramago called Blindness which details what happens when nearly everyone in a city goes blind and everything starts going horribly out of control. This is a frightening story but at the same time it portrays a group of people that even in such catastrophic circumstances exhibit courage and reason as a means to re-creating a safer environment. However, there are examples of people’s selfishness, opportunism, and indifference.

Towards the end of the story the question is raised, “why did we become blind,…Read

Why Sartre Matters

The 21st June 2005 was an auspicious date – the summer solstice, the tipping point of Gemini into Cancer, and the centenary of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre. And on 15th April 1980 – just 32 years ago – Sartre died. These two dates are worthy of note because, in the intervening 75 years, Sartre created a legacy that is not only memorable but is also, and more importantly, an appeal to an unconventional worldview and, by implication, to action.

Sartre’s attainments as writer and intellectual suffice in themselves to ensure his eminence in the canon of French literature.…Read

The Second Sex

This article first appeared in the Guardian Newspaper.

'It changed my life!'

Everyone should read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, argues Toril Moi

An accomplished novelist, Simone de Beauvoir won the Prix Goncourt for The Mandarins in 1954. She is also one of the most important French memoirists of the 20th century. Yet it is to The Second Sex, her epochal essay from 1949 on the oppression of women, that we should return.

Ever since it was published, The Second Sex has provoked intense responses. In 1949, it unleashed a sexual…Read

The Limits of authenticity

Ben G. Yacobi asks if it possible to live authentically

We are told: “To thine own self be true!”

But what do we mean if we say that somebody is an authentic person, or a very genuine person? Personal authenticity is often defined as being true and honest with oneself and others, having a credibility in one’s words and behaviour, and an absence of pretence. Its meaning is then often clarified by contrasting it to inauthenticity, like comparing light to darkness. But in the absence of any…Read

Sam Spade Existential, Hero?

Perhaps the most popular existential work of the 20th century was written by a man who has not usually been identified as a philosopher, but whose work clearly embodies existential themes. Dashiell Hammett, creator of the hard-boiled detective novel, applied an existential viewpoint to his writing. His novel The Maltese Falcon is an excellent example of literature in which existential themes run through the story.

The Maltese Falcon begins when a young and very attractive woman, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, approaches private detective Sam Spade and his partner, Miles Archer. She wishes to hire them to rescue…Read

Existence unplugged

There’s something about the word ‘existentialism’ that conjures up the image of serious-looking Frenchmen in a dimly lit cafe, discussing the absurdity of life and the inevitability of death in between slow inhalations of tobacco. They carry coffee-stained notepads from which they earnestly recite poetry on the human condition, and (for the more serious listener) their philosophical musings.

Freedom is the cause celebre of the modern age. For existentialists, though, the full acceptance of human freedom seems to place an almost terrifying weight upon our shoulders. We are, as Sartre puts it, condemned…Read