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Once upon a time, I had this wonderful plan.

I was a little behind.  First there were finals, then there were grades, and then, of course, I got my end of semester cold.

I tend to get a cold at the beginning and the end of every semester, because students are predictable. 

In the first couple of weeks, all of them come, sick or not, because they’ve made resolution.

Then there’s a drop off in the middle. In the middle period, any excuse–a slight sniffle, rain, the fact that it’s Tuesday–will suffice to keep students at home.

At the end, however, there is panic, and once again students show up in all kinds of physical conditions, desperate to get an A.

I am not making that up.  They don’t want to pass.  They want to get an A.

The result is, as I’ve said, that I get sick.

So I intended to wait out the sick part and then start this blog on the first of the year and get it going in a definite direction.

Instead, I couldn’t sleep last night, and I’m making no sense.

And I have no idea how the typing is going.

For what it’s worth–I have, for the last couple of days, been reading a book called The Poetry of Thought: From Hellenism to Celan by George Steiner.

This is not a book I’d recommend willy nilly to anybody.  I like Steiner a lot, and when he’s doing close reading and traditional criticism he’s the best we’ve got.

But this book is incoherent in ways that are, as the saying goes, mindboggling.

I was going to start with this book because I’ve been thinking that its problems are exactly those problems that are a legacy of the Englightment–or, specifically, of the French Enlightenment.

And it occurred to me that I still hadn’t done that exposition on the Enlightenment and the ways in which it changed the purpose and content of Western education.

So I thought I’d go back there, and start with that.

This morning, though, there’s no way I can manage it.

Let me just make a note of the central problems with this book.

Well, maybe central problem singularly.

From beginning to end, Steiner here is so wrapped up in the experience of the “poetry” of various authors, that he seems to feel no need to connect anything they write to anything in reality.

And no, I don’t mean novels and poems and imaginative literature of various sorts.

The purpose of the book is to show a link between poetry and philosophy. 

So we get lyrical odes to the “colossal” importants of the works of Karl Marx that identify his “numbers” as part of the perfection of writing–apparently because Steiner doesn’t know that virtually all of those numbers were wrong.

In several other places, we get other odes to the ways in which Steiner thinks modern poetry and drama (Becket, Genet) express findings in things like physics and cosmology.

It reads like the most embarrassing “philosophy of science” nonsense, and in every case where I know the facts of the science, it is again wrong.

Remember the Sokal hoax?

Well, this is like that, except Steiner is doing it for real.

But that brings me back to where I wanted to go:  the trajectory of Western civilization since the Enlightenments, both of them.

Right now, though, I’m going to spend the rest of the day indulging in a disaster movie called Category 7, which I’m pretty sure is a sequel to one called Category 6, which I watched the other day.

It was everything a disaster movie ought to be–a maximum of disasters and a minimum of lecturing.

That’s about the level my brain is working on today.

Happy New Year.



Written by janeh

January 1st, 2013 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to '2013'

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  1. Welcome back. No, this is pretty much the place to start the two Enlightenments. (Though I’d say British vs Continental, the Germans being even worse than the French.)
    One always has the choice between deriving a theory from observed facts (Aristotle–and the British Enlightenment) or of devising a Theory, and then, if necessary, cherry-picking facts to support it (Plato country–and the Continental Enlightenment.) The latter method dominates the modern university humanities faculty, and once you subscribe to that method, the truth or falsity of the facts is irrelvant. If you were to button-hole Steiner tomorrow and point out every falsified or otherwise fudged number in Marx, he’d stare at you blankly, shrug and tell you the important thing was the concept the numbers supported, not their literal accuracy. The Idea has triumphed over the Fact, and within the humanities faculty there are few left even to dispute the point. It was that bad 40 years ago, and by all accounts it’s worse today.

    Which is why the chemists and engineers are respected where the philosophers are not. If the chemical compound doesn’t behave as predicted or the bridge won’t hold the specified weight, someone’s in serious trouble. How many philosophers or economists) were sacked for the failure of communism?

    About as many as educators have been fired for Rousseau’s deficiencies, would be my count.


    1 Jan 13 at 11:55 am

  2. I was going to suggest that Steiner had a cold when he wrote the book…but then Robert got all academical on us…. ;)

    Anyway, Happy New Year, Jane. My husband has been desperately waiting for 2013 to begin, 2012 having been a shit-full year for him. Me, I suspect it will be as usual, some good, some bad, over FAR too quickly.


    1 Jan 13 at 1:30 pm

  3. Welcome back, Jane, and a Happy New year to one and all.


    1 Jan 13 at 3:07 pm

  4. Welcome back, Jane, and a Happy New Year to you and all your followers.

    I started the New Year with a depressing book called “The Great Degeneration, How Institutions Decay and Economies Die” by Niall Ferguson. Its short and $10 for the Kindle edition. I’m sure Robert and Mique would like it and that liberals would hate it.

    The central thesis is that the development of strong central governments and the cradle to the grave welfare state has put Western Civilization on the road to becoming a “static” civilization. Think of China in the 16th century or the Ottoman Empire in the 1700’s for the concept of “static” civilization.

    I wish I disagreed but I see disaster coming. Probably not the type of Jane’s movies but …


    1 Jan 13 at 4:54 pm

  5. jd, you wrong me. At this stage of my life, I need another book telling me that a centralized state with no feedback mechanism is headed for disaster the way I need a book telling me that there is such a thing as gravity–and giving examples.

    Also, it’s too easy. Imagine a political or economic position you don’t believe for a moment–then pick a dozen or so historical events which might support your false proposition if described the right way. See how easy it is? A good book on Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire, the fall of Rome in the West or 19th Century China might take a lifetime of study. Any History major who can’t write a book saying “X causes the fall of civilizations: here are examples” should be thrown out of graduate school. (So guess which dominate the best-seller lists?)

    That said, when you get a chance, look up C. Northcote Parkinson. He never wrote a bad or a dull book in his life, but the three on point are PARKINSON’S LAW, THE EVOLUTION OF POLITICAL THOUGHT and EAST AND WEST. Not on kindle and I think only LAW is in print–but very much worth the trouble of tracking down.


    1 Jan 13 at 6:58 pm

  6. My brain isn’t working at all due to lack of sleep. All I’m managing is killing goblins and eating. I have to get up early and more or less function tomorrow, too.

    Anyway, best wishes for a happy New Year to you all.


    1 Jan 13 at 8:22 pm

  7. Just ordered a used hardcover of “Evolution” for $2.66 from an Amazon dealer (plus postage, of course).


    1 Jan 13 at 8:58 pm

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