Dec 9, 2019

The Fans Have Spoken - Ballard, King, and Pratchett Join The List!

We ran a poll last week to determine which three authors would get placed in the final three slots for my monthly talk series, Worlds of Speculative Fiction, which is about to enter its 5th year.  A bit earlier, I had solicited suggestions from my viewers, subscribers, and followers, and out of the 30 or so writers suggested, I took the top 6 recommendations.

You can see the results above.  Ballard, King, and Pratchett easily outpaced the other three authors.  So I'll be adding them to the October, November, and December dates for the sessions.  They're all relatively new to me.  I did read a good bit of Stephen King back in my teens and early 20s, but not the Dark Tower series, which is what the recommendations centered around.  I'd read a bit of Ballard - his novel, Crash - back in my late 20s.  I remember being unimpressed by it at the time, but I'm certainly willing to give him another set of reads.  Pratchett, I've never read.  So, I've got my work cut out for me, but I've got months to get on it.

I can now definitively announce the line-up for Worlds of Speculative Fiction 2020:
  • January - Mary Shelley's Modern Worlds (Frankenstein, The Last Man)
  • February - China Mielville's Bas-Lag Novels
  • March - Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
  • April - Liu-Cixin's Rememberance of Earth's Past Series
  • May - Veronica Roth's Carve The Mark Universe
  • June - Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind
  • July - Margaret Atwood's Gilead Dystopia
  • August - Larry Niven's Ringworld Series
  • September - Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Series
  • October - J.G. Ballard's Modern Dystopias
  • November - Stephen King's Dark Tower Series
  • December - Terry Pratchett's Discworld Universe
We meet monthly, second Thursday of each month, 7:00 PM at the Brookfield Public Library, here in the Greater Milwaukee area.  You can find dates on my Facebook author page events, or on the ReasonIO calendar

Dec 4, 2019

Six Podcast Episodes on Rilke's Letters To a Young Poet

In November, I resumed editing my video lectures into episodes in the Sadler's Lectures podcast.  After finishing up a series on Aristotle's Metaphysics book 1, I started work on the set that I shot earlier this year on the great Existentialist poet, novelist, and writer Rainer Maria Rilke, specifically on his short work, Letters To a Young Poet.

It's a great little book, a sort of crystallization of key themes of Rilke's own creative process, his own reflections, and his engagement with a young would-be writer.   It thus offers a window into Rilke's own ideas, commitments, and process. But generations of creative people in all sorts of fields have also found it useful for clarifying their own work and lives.

If there is one most central idea in the work, it is that of "solitude" (Einsamkeit, in German), and I devoted one entire lecture just to that notion.  But Rilke explores many other key concepts and realities as well - love, desire, criticism, development, time, just to name a few.  

All told, these podcast episodes amount to about an hour and a half of listening time.  Here are those six lectures:

Nov 22, 2019

Nine Authors Selected for Worlds of Speculative Fiction 2020

Year 5 of my monthly talk series - Worlds of Speculative Fiction - starts in January, and I already have nine of the twelve authors we'll be reading and discussing picked out.  I had selected seven of them by the time I arrived at our session last week to discuss Bram Stoker.  Two of the regular participants in the discussions contributed two other excellent suggestions.

Next week, I'll start soliciting more suggestions about the remaining three slots for 2020.  I'll create a video, and likely a blog post, and then use the comments on those - and on social media posts - to come up with a list of the top 6 or so choices, and then we'll do an actual vote. That's how we wound up with Aldous Huxley, Bram Stoker, and R Scott Bakker for the 2019 series.

We have quite an interesting mix of speculative fiction authors, series, and narrative worlds for 2020.  Here they are:

  • January - Mary Shelley's Modern Worlds (Frankenstein, The Last Man)
  • February - China Mielville's Bas-Lag Novels
  • March - Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
  • April - Liu-Cixin's Rememberance of Earth's Past Series
  • May - Veronica Roth's Carve The Mark Universe
  • June - Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind
  • July - Margaret Atwood's Gilead Dystopia
  • August - Larry Niven's Ringworld Series
  • September - Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Series
If you've got ideas about what other authors you'd like me to consider for the 2020 series, don't post them quite yet - keep them for next week.  

Here are the authors we've done already (or will have done by the end of this year:  J. R. R. Tolkein, A. E. Van Vogt, C. S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Leguin, Michael Moorcock, Philip K. Dick, Mervyn Peake, George R.R. Martin, Philip Jose Farmer, Madeline L'Engle, Douglas Adams, Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, Iain Banks, H. P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, C. L. Moore, Octavia Butler, Jorge Luis Borges, Fritz Leiber, Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, Andre Norton, Arthur Clarke, Robert Howard, Gene Wolfe, C. J. Cherryh, Jack Vance, Edgar Allan Poe, G. K. Chesterton, Mary Shelly, Lewis Carroll, Tanith Lee, Piers Anthony, Gordon Dickson, August Derleth, Karl Edward Wagner, Aldous Huxley, Bram Stoker, and R. Scott Bakker.

If you'd like to watch any of the videorecordings of the sessions so far, here's the playlist.

Nov 20, 2019

Eight Podcast Episodes on Aristotle's Metaphysics book 1

As my heavy-load semester begins to grind to an end, and I see some of the proverbial light glimmer at the end of the tunnel, I've been able to set aside some time to resume converting my core concept videos into Sadler's Lectures podcast episodes. Right now I'm working on a set of lectures on Rainer Maria Rilke's work, Letters to a Young Poet (I released the first of those today). 

One of the other texts that I teach very frequently is Aristotle's Metaphysics, and I generally stick with book 1 of that work, in which Aristotle engages in a number of important things.  He discusses the nature and objects of modes of human cognition, leading to the disciplines, and to philosophy.  He also introduces his famous distinction of the "four causes" (material, formal, efficient, and final).  Then he provides us with a a critical and developmental overview of metaphysical accounts up to his own time, including that of his own teacher, Plato.

If you missed any of these podcast episodes when they first came out, you can find them all here.  They take you through the entirety of Metaphysics book 1, providing you with my overviews and explanations of what Aristotle is up to at each point.  All told, they're about 2 hours of lecture that you can listen to anywhere. Here they are:
If you'd like to support my ongoing work taking the 600+ core concept videos I've produced over the years, and turning them into these downloadable podcast episodes, available to learners worldwide for free, consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon, or just make a one-time donation to Buy Me A Coffee

Nov 19, 2019

Philosophers in the Midst of History Year 5 Scheduled!

Earlier this month, we had the final session for this year in the Philosophers In The Midst of History public talk series, discussing the 20th century existentialist and feminist thinker, Simone de Beauvoir (watch the videorecording here).  She is probably best known for her work The Second Sex, but we also devoted some discussion to another important book of hers, The Ethics of Ambiguity.

That session was number 16, which brings a close to the fourth year of this quarterly series.  We already have a fifth year scheduled, hosted again at the Frank Weyenberg Library (located in Mequon, Wisconsin), and we'll be doing a bit more public promotion of these events in the year to come.

I imagine that my readers are probably more interested in what thinkers we'll be covering next year than in the details about planning and public outreach, and I'm happy to be able to announce them.

For the Ancient period, we'll be focusing on Epicurus.  We've already discussed Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and the Stoic philosopher Epicteus, so it's about time we bring in some discussion of the founder of this major philosophical school of antiquity.

For the Medieval period, I decided that it would be interesting to discuss a rather controversial figure.  I don't mean Abelard, Scotus, or Ockam (I did consider doing Abelard and Heloise) - but rather the 13th-14th century German Dominican philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart.  That focus will provide a nice supplement to the talks already given on Augusting, Boethius, Anselm on Canterbury, and Thomas Aquinas.

For the Modern period, we'll be looking at the all-too-often neglected philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft.  She's someone I teach frequently and occasionally give talks on, and I'm hoping that preparing this lecture might also provide me with the needed impetus to get some papers on her I've been working on for several years brought to fruition and sent out for publication.  We've previously focused on Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, John Lock, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in that time-period.

We end each year with a philosopher from the 19th or 20th century, and this time I thought I'd give it a bit of a twist, discussing someone who clearly is a philosopher, but whose works tend to be read more outside of that discipline, the great French writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, who, among other things authored works exploring the French Revolution, the American prison system, and the nature of American democracy by contrast to European democracy.  This will add him to the four thinkers from that period we've already covered, namely Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, and Simone de Beauvoir.

If you'd like to watch or listen to any of the previous 16 sessions - they're roughly 75-90 minutes or so in length - here's the YouTube playlist of the series.

If you're in the area, and you'd like to attend, you might want to mark your calendar - the talks will be coming up at 6 PM on February 5, May 6, August 5, and November 4, hosted at the Frank Weyenberg Library.

Nov 17, 2019

Eighteen-Year-Old Me Is A Terrible Judge

There is a passage by Nassim Nicolas Taleb - taken from a commencement address he gave at
American University in Beirut - that has been circulating around the web a good bit recently.  It has to do with how we ought to understand "success".  His proposal is interesting, and it has some merit to it, but it's also very limited in scope.  I can say unequivocally that in my case, it would be a terrible idea to follow.

Here's what Taleb said:
For I have a single definition of success: you look in the mirror every evening and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life. 
Let him be the only judge; not your reputation, not your wealth, not your standing in the community, not the decorations on your lapel. If you do not feel ashamed you are successful. All other definitions of success are modern constructions; fragile modern constructions.
The general idea isn't bad at all.  Getting away from wrongheaded criteria for what constitutes "success" might even comprise part of what a more genuine conception of success would look like.  Reputation, wealth, social status - all those things that ancient philosophers called "external goods" or even (in the case of the Stoics) "indifferents" - it's been a commonplace for millennia that fools use those as their criteria.  We could add to that other external goods like power, authority, bragging rights, and the like.

But making your eighteen-year-old self the judge of how you're doing?  For many of us, that's a terrible idea!  Looking back on it, my eighteen-year-old self was a mess, for a variety of reasons.  I could write at length about that, but I'll confine myself to noting just one example here of not-so-great decision-making. 

Despite years of scoring highly on a range of tests, and doing well enough in honors classes, I didn't even bother to take the PSAT, let alone the SAT or ACT, since I wasn't planning on ever going to college. Instead, I was going to join the Army, with the idea of translating that experience into working as a mercenary. Sounds ridiculous from the vantage point of three decades.  That's enough - in my view - to disqualify that eighteen-year-old as a judge of anything for this forty-nine-year-old.

I wouldn't really say that my earlier self was any more or less "uncorrupted by life" at eighteen than he was at twenty-eight, thirty-eight, or last year.  I'm sure that there are some people to whom Talib's strangely idealistic, weirdly neo-romantic vignette of the wide-eyed, passionate kid still inside of the jaded older person, ready to provide them an insight they've lost actually does apply.  I would expect they're in the minority, though.  I'd hope that as we grow older, we become less foolish, and perhaps better judges for what counts as success, and whether we're making any progress towards it.

Nov 13, 2019

Moving Video Premiere Date to November 30

One of the new series of videos I started this year provide viewers with my expert advice about how to engage in self-directed study in the field of Philosophy.  Once I have produced a video in this series, I premiere it on YouTube.  That allows anyone who is interested in the topic and the particular thinker to join in via live chat, while everyone watches it for the first time.  I answer questions and address comments over the hour that the video airs.

This month, the plan is to produce, release, and premiere a video focused on how to productively study the range of writers that fall under the rubric of "early Christian philosophy".  This includes a host of thinkers from the very early generations of that new religion, way of life, and indeed in some cases, philosophy all the way though what we might call the "era of Augustine" (though some are his contemporaries).

There were quite a few early Christian writers who explicitly framed Christianity as a "philosophy" and sometimes even called themselves "philosophers".  These were almost invariably Christian writers who had a substantial background in a wide range of the philosophical schools, ideas, and controversies of ancient Mediterranean culture, and who engaged some of those movements and thinkers as interlocutors.  Sometimes they willingly borrowed from pagan thinkers, when there was something of value to incorporate into the new synthesis and the new philosophy as a way of life, centered around the figure and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the developing community of the Church.

In the case of some of the authors I'll be discussing - Justin Martyr, Lactantius, Clement of Alexandria, John Cassian, as examples - I've been reading and thinking about their works (and occasionally teaching them as well) for about two decades.  So I've got a lot of advice to assemble and organize for the video.  Given my extraordinarily heavy teaching load this semester (seven classes), I'm a bit behind on video production.

I was hoping to have this next video on self-directed study in philosophy ready to premiere this Saturday, but now think that unlikely.  Accordingly, I'm moving the date for this release - and the Q&A session - out to Saturday, November 30.  In the meantime, here's the other videos in the series: