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Playing God: The Rise of the Actor and the Decline of Tragic Art

The following was recently published at The Partially Examined Life. In The Birth of TragedyFriedrich Nietzsche argues that, through his protégé Euripides, Socrates had injected into Greek tragedy the seed of questioning doubt that brought an end to the religious animus of drama, the fire that fueled its creation and sustained it. Thus, cold reason killed tragedy. Although he would later modify this view, it remains a powerful and influential polemic in the history of aesthetics. I would like to propose a variant explanation for the death of drama in the ancient world—one that, while not necessarily throwing out Nietzsche’s metaphysical conception, stands more on the evidence and authority of history, and is thus less complicated than the apparatus of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles Nietzsche used to define tragic motivation. Nevertheless I hope to show that, despite this, Nietzsche might have agreed with at least some of my conclusions. Tragedy before Euripides was very much a…
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Between A Buffoon and A Bore: The Comedian as Orator

“No sense of humor.” The caveat auditor raised by every comedian who failed to raise a laugh and chose to find fault with his audience rather than in himself. It is a lazy way of dismissing criticism and, in the case of paying clients, of perversely blaming the victim for professional incompetence. In recent years this form of scapegoating has devolved into a popular catch-all that helps absolve a multitude of sins---Political Correctness. If you don't get the joke then clearly you are a bore unable to handle a little humor, an over sensitive social eunuch for whom a bit of ribald stimulation is unendurable.

But this is only ad hominem logic at its worst, even more so when it is considered that the term politically correct is nonexistent or, at the very least, a perverted reinvention of the political right to stifle debate or criticism; a fact that should alarm anyone who views comedians as the de-facto public intellectuals of our late-night talk show age. To censure a comedian f…

On The Pleasures of Writing With A Fountain Pen

There are few more exquisite joys than that of a fine nib gliding across smooth paper. There are also increasingly few so antiquated, and thus ridiculous. The keyboard of the modern word processor (so cold and clinical a phrase) lay out our words with misleading typographical elegance and perfect spelling. No longer need we be hopeful that others can decipher our handwriting, nor feel embarrassment that it needs to be deciphered. I am an excellent typist myself and would be lost without the ease and convenience of my computer in shaping the end result. However, I have found that pen and notebook are the fittest and, for me, only way to start putting thoughts in order.

I say this not as some antiquarian with a love for the past as past only and no thought to utility, but as a practicing writer who has tried every helpful hint for better prose and found that sometimes the old-fashioned things are truly best. There are many scientific studies to support the efficacy of writing longhand b…

A Primer For Pessimism: A Philosophical Dialogue

The following was found among the posthumous papers of the great scholar Pietro Giordani. It purports to be the record of a conversation between himself and his good friend the poet and philosopher, Giacomo Leopardi; wherein the great poet discourses upon the reality of life and such cures for life’s ills as he has found useful.

GIORDANI

My dear Leopardi, do you not know how they speak of your view’s? They say that, because you are a hunchback and have been ill since the cradle, your thought’s have been poisoned by your misfortunes which they claim cause you naturally to seek the grave. Your whole philosophy, they contend, is but the bitter fruit of your infirmities and do not present the truth.

LEOPARDI

If only that were true Giordani if only that were so. Yet, even in their mocking denunciations they only prove me right. We philosophers are always depicted in the public mind as officiants on the sacred path of cold reason, following wherever the god Veritas should lead. But, when has re…

The Social Contradiction: Leopardi Contra Marx

With the arrival of each new year, we are led to a sense of the structured progression of time, of the certainty of the calendar year. This, we have come now to accept, is only an illusion. History is not inevitable we are now taught to believe. There can never be confidence in how human affairs will develop. In one sense this is perhaps true, but examined in a qualified sense it is still on the table for discussion.

Is history predetermined? I will seek to argue that it is, but need not be. Building upon ideas developed in the Zibaldone of Giacomo Leopardi, I hope to clarify this confusing distinction by a comparison with the relative optimism of Marx and Marxist theory more generally.

Leopardi, influenced by the thought of Rousseau and Vico, was greatly interested in the development and decline of cultures. He shared with Rousseau a conviction that man in his original state had attained a level of moral perfection which, with the development of society, we have been moving steadily …

Kierkegaard On The Paradox of Faith and Political Commitment

"“Man is so made that when anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish.” — Fontaine
At this moment, when all appears lost when no path can offer certainty, and those who promise certainty cannot be trusted, we face the paradox of commitment, for we must act with nothing but our hope or never look to hope again. This is the paradox of commitment, and above all that highest of earthly commitments, the political.

The political commitment and the commitment of faith are twins in sharing this paradox: reason tells us that they are wishful thinking; that one is possessed of faith is yet to be seen; that a political, and thus economic doctrine, will secure human happiness is likewise unproven until put to the test. Yet, it is just this action to prove that contains the paradox, for a faith that requires proof, is no faith, and a government that has not yet governed cannot prove itself at all.

Under these criteria, it is understandable why the saint might weep in frustration and the…

The Infinite

The following was recently published at Ezra Translation.


Always dear to me has been this lonely hill
And hedgerow, that from all along its length
Blots out horizon and setting sun from view.
But sitting here I contemplate those endless
Spaces far beyond, and those superhuman
Silences in this very deep stillness
I fake my thoughts, and pretend that little
Scares my scarecrow heart. How the wind
When heard rustling among these trees, in that
Infinite silence is a living voice, that heard,
Recalls by comparison the eternal.
Here, past seasons dead, and now this living one
Charged with infinity's hymn; here between
These Immensities I could drown my cares
In my shipwrecked self in so sweet a sea.

The Walk To Kallipolis

The following was recently published in an earlier form at The Partially Examined Life.

Preface

Inspired by Cicero’s dialogues and the letters of Seneca, I have sought to compare the ideas of Alasdair MacIntyre, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Friedrich Nietzsche in a speculative chat on the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, and how both relate to the process of judgment in both spheres.

Although an attempt to be humorous, I refer to these very modern thinkers like contemporaries to my ancient interlocutors out of the conviction that the topics of philosophy are of perennial interest and, her practitioners are forever in dialogue with the great names of the past as philosophy’s past (I hope) will remain eternally relevant to its present and future.
With Aristotle, MacIntyre argues that man has a Telos or end, an end shaped by our community and its traditions. Wittgenstein makes the claim that art can only be understood within a community, or context, that is trained to understand it…