My Review of “Gesturing Toward Reality”

Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and PhilosophyGesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy by Robert K. Bolger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My head is about to explode with all that I learned from this book.

This amazing collection of essays on the philosophy of David Foster Wallace provides insights to David’s thinking and writing which I had not seen before, and I’ve read a lot of DFW and DFW analysis. I learned that David was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer, which I had suspected but did not know, and I certainly didn’t know the extent of the influence.

And while it is well-known that David admired Wittgenstein, it is less well-known (or was to me) that David actually misinterpreted Wittgenstein with regard to what language can do. This made me realize that, when God created the universe, the first law he put in place is that “everyone misunderstands some aspect(s) of Wittgenstein,” with the second law being, of course, E=m*c*c.

I also have a much better understanding of how David fit into the “new sincerity” movement and what the real aims of that movement have been.

What amazed and pleased me the most was that every essay was presented in a way that I could actually understand it, and didn’t have to go out and get a philosophy degree to do so. The writing, by every contributor, is really well-done.

I’ll be reading through this one again.

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Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Here’s me playing Summertime, one of my favorites of the classics:

My Review of “Living With a Wild God”

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about EverythingLiving with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by an author that was more self-centered and pig-headed than the one who wrote this book. The book is ostensibly about the author’s mystical/spiritual experiences in her youth, but discussion of this takes up only a fairly small segment of the book. Most of it is focused on her telling us every thing she did in her life and how smart she is and that anyone who believes in God/gods is an utter dumbass. Her attitude can be summed up by her own words:

“I have no patience with Goethe when he wrote, “The highest happiness of man is to have probed what is knowable, and to quietly revere what is unknowable .” Why “revere” the unknowable? Why not find out what it is?”

Does she not understand that unknowable means unknowable? That you don’t find out what unknowable “is?”

It’s not that I care whether she believes in God/gods or not. It’s her fundamentalist atheist attitude that repulses me, just as fundamentalist anything repulses me. There is no search for truth behind this book, only a search for confirmation of the author’s long-held beliefs.

There is one really well-done section in the book, about midway through, in which she goes into detail about her solipsism. It’s possibly the best account of solipsism that I’ve read. But it wasn’t worth my time and money to read the book to only find one little piece that was interesting.

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Since She’s Been Gone

Until today I had forgotten how very much I have written on the passing of my wife Vickie (her passing occurred almost 13 years ago). But, now that I am thinking of updating my book to a second edition, I am looking back over some past writings and am a little blown away at how much I did write. I am also reminded of some important things that I had put into some of my lesser-visited neurons, and thought I would share a couple of these with you.

One of these is something I wrote about why bad things happen to good people. Specifically, back in 2005, I wrote the following:

I have also learned that doubt is a part of the human condition. I had thought that I must be one of the worst doubters in the world, because of losing Vickie, and maybe I am. But it is human to doubt. Joesph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) explains this so well in his Introduction To Christianity. On page 42, he notes that Saint Therese of Lisieux “grew up in an atmosphere of complete religious security; her whole existence from beginning to end, and down to the smallest detail, was so completely molded by the faith of the Church that the invisible world became, not just a part of her everyday life, but that life itself.” He then goes on to say that we have found occasional wording in her diaries about a desperate loss of faith, a feeling of complete and utter desertion (a feeling that would go away, but that could come back to haunt her at some future point). He then discusses the example of the atheist who wonders, from time to time, “but, what if it’s really true?” (Something I’ve done when I was an atheist.) It’s human to doubt, even for saints and even for atheists.

Ours is a complicated world. We know, for example, from our studies in the mathematics of chaos (chaos theory) that a butterfly’s flapping its wings in China can lead to a hurricane forming in another part of the world. But, when we watch a butterfly flapping its wings, we cannot possibly predict whether that butterfly’s flapping will lead to a hurricane or not. Similarly, we know that good sometimes arises out of disasters, but we have no way of assessing how good comes out of it anymore than we can really assess how much suffering it causes: the suffering can play out immediately (and over time) and the good may not occur for centuries, and perhaps never matches the amount of evil that brought it about (or maybe exceeds it). The only thing we can really know is that the good almost certainly will not come about without direct human effort.

December 2005 Update

The CNN website recently had an article about a theory that the 700,000 ton Taipei building is contributing to increased earthquake frequency in that region of the world. (Imagine 700,000 Tons!) When you consider this and consider that we also displace a lot of earth in building other skyscrapers and roads, and when you also consider how we are contributing to global warming, you can see that we, humanity in general, should probably be taking the blame for a lot of “natural disasters.”

It is so easy for a cynic and skeptic like me to look at an event like the 2004 tsunami and view it as “proof” that there is no loving god. In so doing, I overlook how very much we ourselves contribute to the making of such disasters. Are we so shortsighted that we think we can move 700,000 tons around and concentrate it in one spot and that it will not have an impact on the tectonic plates?

That quote comes from this little piece, which I wrote in 2005.

You may also be interested in this article I wrote in 2003 entitled, The New Age Paradigm. The article appears at Rich Deem’s Evidence For God site, which has tons of fascinating articles. I’m certainly not in agreement with all of his articles, but they all do provide good food for thought.

Anyway, sometimes it can be instructive to revisit the past.

A Hero Is Someone Who Faces Boredom Stoically

Or at least that’s the sense I get out of this quote from David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King:

Gentlemen . . . here is the truth: Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is. Such endurance is, as it happens, the distillate of what is, today, in this world neither I nor you have made, heroism. Heroism. . . . By which I mean true heroism, not heroism as you might know it from films or the tales of childhood. . . . Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality – there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth— actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.

The quote is from a fictional Jesuit who is lecturing IRS agents, who are one of many groups of people who specialize in dealing with boredom, day in and day out. But of course the appeal of the quote, at least to me, is that it does such a marvelous job of describing the steady state of being human.

The United States Supreme Court, LLC

Proposed Wikiepedia entry: A for-profit corporation operating solely for the benefit of other corporations.

I Can’t Help It

If Vickie had not died, tomorrow would have been our 30th anniversary.

The handsome guy on the guitar is of course yours truly.

My Review of “A Severe Mercy”

A Severe MercyA Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Severe Mercy is a very well-written book, as one might expect from an Oxford-trained writer. It was about twice the length it should have been, though, mostly because the author only waited two years after his wife’s death to write it, and therefore put in too much detail on every little decision they ever made. But, I must say again, the book was very well done, so reading the extra material was not painful.

The author’s correspondence with C.S. Lewis was especially good and contained a lot of insights.

Although the author talked at length about his conversion to Christianity, he did not do it in a way that seemed preachy. That is, it did not seem that the book was an attempt to convert anyone.

I highlighted several passages and expect to return to them from time to time.

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Why Write

If you ask many bloggers and even many writers of novels why they write, you will hear them respond that it is to persuade. That doesn’t sum it up for everyone of course, but it is a sensible reason for most writing.

Pater Edmund recently reminded me, though, that writing is especially useful for helping us clarify our own thinking:

But when I think about why I began this blog it seems to me that my main purpose was not so much to teach, sway, or delight my readers, but rather to clarify my own thoughts.

In a sense, it is still a matter of persuasion, in that one wants to persuade oneself to think a certain way, a way that is not yet known to the self.

That sums up a lot of why I write. I’ve found that I haven’t been doing enough of it for the past several months. Not that I have to blog everything I want to clarify my thinking on, but I haven’t even been using my little notebooks. I plan to restart being more regular about this.