May 29, 2012

Happy Birthday G.K. Chesterton

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Today is the birthday of one of my favorite philosophers -- indeed, in my book a writer legitimately termed a philosopher, though many would rather recall him as a novelist, a cultural critic, an essayist, perhaps even in a sense a theologian -- Gilbert Keith Chesterton.  If I had to adduce only one reason for calling him that, I might cite his own words from the first page of his own Orthodoxy, where he tells us:

I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe.  I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it.  God and humanity made it; and it made me.
Now, as one of the so down-to-earth-characters into whose mouth that author inserted so many excellent quips, paradoxical assertions, and deductions, might have said, we ought not allow ourselves to be followed into concluding that someone is actually a philosopher, simply on the say-so of their speaking of having a philosophy, even of believing in one -- or still yet attributing it to others and claiming to have been shaped and reformed by it.  After all, people are prone to say all sorts of things about themselves, true, false, sage, foolish, deceptive, furtive, bold, craven -- even sometimes to reveal to the attuned eye or the attentive ear realities they only dimly know themselves. 

May 22, 2012

Is Kierkegaard's Present Age Our Own?

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I've been rereading a lot of Soren Kierkegaard's works over the last several weeks, in preparation for a new video venture -- a series of course lectures on Existentialist philosophy and literature -- and I was grateful and gladdened to get to return to one of his short works which I have enjoyed since I was an undergraduate nearly two decades ago, though admittedly I had much less of an appreciation for what he was doing in that text then:  The Present Age.  I shot roughly an hour of discussion of the key themes (available soon in YouTube), and as I find so often is the case, the mere act of explaining and unfolding the text, even before an essentially imaginary audience, not only highlighted certain themes for me, but also filled me with a greater sense of passion about the author, the ideas, their applicability.

We often talk as if the "life of the mind" was a matter of isolation, ivory towers, individual contemplation -- when the reality is that the more deeply we think, the more we also feel, and the more we find ourselves within fascinating conversations antedating ourselves, entangled with the lives and thoughts of others.  Perhaps more ought be said about that in a later post -- but for the time being, back to Kierkegaard and his diagnosis of the dangers, character, and opportunities for what he called the Present Age.  He wrote those words over a century-and-a-half in the past, though, so are they -- could they be -- as relevant today as when he wrote them?  I'd argue that some portions, certain ideas, several concerns are even more applicable to our own present situation than they were in Kierkegaard's own day

May 13, 2012

Revisting Conan the Barbarian

Commenting on my post back in January in which I gave mixed reviews, along explicitly Aristotelian lines (derived from the Poetics), to the recent remake of the classic (1982) version of Conan the Barbarian, James Brown brought up several very interesting points, which I'd pledged to follow up on:

conan barbarian film movie aristotle poetics plot character scene style thought ethos dianoia mythos music tempo dialogue philosophy aestheticsI think of cinema as being primarily of a kind with the visual arts like painting, not with drama. It is, at base, moving pictures more so than filmed drama. We’re smack dab in the middle of imagery and representation where color and optical illusions sway the spectator the way eloquence and rhetoric sway the listener. . . . John Milius accomplishes what a film-maker tries to do – that is, he is able to draw the spectator into the world of images he created. Once we’re there into that world, we are then in a position to reflect upon the themes that undergird the movie, as you point out.

He goes on to explore this distinction in a bit more detail, culling out its implications for several different movies:

May 5, 2012

Happy Birthday, Søren Kierkegaard

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More than half of my life now, Søren Kierkegaard has occupied a top seat in the shifting chorus of my favorite philosophers -- something one would hardly guess by looking at my scholarship, which has focused much more upon other thinkers: Aristotle, St. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas,Thomas Hobbes, G.W.F. Hegel, Maurice Blondel, Alasdair MacIntyre, each of which I've found sufficiently fascinating to be drawn into reading and rereading, taking notes upon then writing, and when lucky, publishing articles about, each one of them a great philosopher in his own right, worth studying, engaging in intellectual dialogue and musing reflection full-time the rest of my remaining lifetime.

Yet, given the choice at any given moment about whose book to pull off the shelf, crack the pages open, and begin reading anew, I find it tempting not to select Kierkegaard, particularly these days his Philosophical Fragments, The Concept of Irony, and The Sickness Unto Death. That attraction has altered over time, not so much changed in the sense of transmuting entirely from one thing, away from that and towards yet another, different thing in its place.  Rather, I'd say, as with a wine, or port, or liquor whose aging permits flavors, scents, textures, already there to be sure but only in potency, to unknot their bonds, to freely mingle and wax into a more complex, symphonic taste -- that's what happened with my appreciation of Kierkegaard, though along these lines of analogy, it would be better to say that my palate gradually took on the sharpness to distinguish and more deeply enjoy drinking in the flights of draughts he assembles and then offers.