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August 27, 2010


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Sorry to go off topic here, but I wanted to tell you that I got Bahiyyih Nakhjavan’ book Paper. It was $.99 from some seller in UK (plus of course postage). Entertaining read, but not nearly entrancing as her The Saddebag. A nice meditation on paper, perhaps timely since so many books are paperless now. Speaking of which, I got a Kindle version of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence the day the English version came out, Oct 20, which by coincidence was the day I arrived in Istanbul. My host lives in Nisantasi, where much of the action takes place. My impression of the book will always be colored by the fact that each day I was walking through many of the other places named . . . maybe more on this later. Anyhow, since the hardcover version is $28.95 (discounted to $16.95 on Amazon plus postage: the Kindle version was $9.99 and of course no postage) you might want to wait for the paperback. A very interesting examination on obsessive love (who hasn't been there?), to say nothing of an nearly anthropological look at Upper Middle Class (Upper Class?) life in Istanbul in the 70s, but still, I don't think I myself would spring for the hardcover. And I have everything else by Pamuk in English!


I think, in fact, to be skeptical of collective mood is precisely what one does not want to do-- as this is in part what can lead to both personal and collective lack of responsibility. (if one believes that they stand apart from collective mood, I imagine that it would all that much easier to remain unconscious to the fact that collective mood does in fact affect our decision-making processes. One example of this is the issue of the drones. That people in the US experienced a collective mood which washed over them staining them with the colors of that mood in 2001 is to my mind without doubt. This mood was what was behind the body politik sending the message out that it wanted to be safe "no matter what" and the community in that way now goes about its business unconscious of the way this mood as reflected in a kind of political collective will is unfolding. It is not as if individuals have all come to a kind of collective decision but rather a mood comes over the community and Das Man does not in principle stand back and try and make "authentic choices about this in terms of mood." (This "fleeing from responsibility" to borrow a phrase from Sartre is in contrast to say Pamuk who was conscious and attempted to form an authentic relation to the mood of his time and place. We see him doing this both culturally as well as politically.)

This actually leads me back to where we started when you and I first met-- back to Fingarette's version of Confucius-- as my instinct remains that mood and authenticity function in very similar ways in heidegger and Confucius, and that Fingarette got it wrong.

Hi Don,

Oh, I wish I knew that since I also ordered a cheap copy of Paper from a used bookseller in the US (tho it was more like $15!) You know I love that painting on the cover, though, so I could hardly resist. Well, I shall have to read both. But I am really looking forward to reading the Miniaturist. That along with Rushdie's latest (haven't read Rushdie in a decade!) So, I think I will wait for the paperback of Museum of Innocence. What was your opinion of the book? I really don't know how you can take the frigid temperatures there... Of course, I am from LA so I freeze as soon as the temp dips down past 50ish!

Re Heidegger's Nazism -- it's easy to overstate his allegiance. In fact, it's barely more than an uneducated pot-shot in most cases.

Heidegger had some troubling associations, whose legacy people are still working through. I think it's safe to say that the jury's no longer out (he's been forgiven by the establishment), but he hasn't been welcomed back into the fold with open arms.

On the one hand, the problem is what he achieved. Rejecting Heidegger and purging the libraries and textbooks of his thought would be clumsier than Soviet airbrushing, because how would we explain how we got here?

On the other hand, the problem is the nature of his Nazism. Had his job been to conduct medical "experiments" on live subjects, or to open the gas valve in the chambers, or even working in the camps in any way, he would've been rejected.

But it wasn't, and therefore -- lucky for everyone -- his achievement outweighs his guilt. I say lucky because of what would've happened if he had written Being and Time _and_ been the maniacal butcher-type of Nazi. I think the western philosophical establishment would've found some dishonest way of coopting his ideas ("he was actually just stealing from this other guy"), because they are absolutely necessary to what has come later in philosophy.

Sam Crane is blogging about the season over on his blog-- Useless Tree. Like Sam, I also feel November is the saddest season of all. I left this comment and video for him there


I always loved Melville's advice for whenever he found himself "growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul..." that he would take to the sea. Since I live in the only prefecture in Japan not on the water (not to mention I am afraid of boats) I always take a really long walk when I feel damp and drizzly in my soul..like today. And like yesterday.

In classical Japanese poetry, October is the time when love affairs die and then as the leaves fall from the trees, the poems really almost start to sound as if all has been lost. Late October into November.... A friend was telling the story of when the "king of kings" Xerxes, leading an army of a million men (!!) arrived at the Hellespont in preparation to do battle with the Greeks, he looked down at the water full of warships and the hills crowded with men and supplies and at first he was greatly pleased. But then he inexplicably sat down and wept.

He said: "Yea, for after I had reckoned up, it came into my mind to feel pity at the thought how brief was the whole life of man, seeing that of these multitudes not one will be alive when a hundred years have gone by."

I doubt he was heading for battle in late autumn but that emotion certainly is the stuff of the season (unless you live in LA-- then you might never even notice).

Mono no aware

Hi Sam,

Here is another nice video about mono no aware-- the MOOD of late fall par excellance, The Sadness of Things

In Pamuk's book, Istanbul, toward the end he wrote about his family and it has stuck in my mind and I don't know what to make of it except that nowadays we have TV so maybe mst families do not even have this experience of being silent together open to them as a possible shared experience (think about that for a moment!):

"For me, the thing called family was a group of people who, out of a wish to be loved and feel peaceful, relaxed and secure, agreed to silence, for awhile each day, the jinns and devils inside them and act as if they were happy."

Hi Marc,

Was so happy to wake up and find You here :)

Did you happen to notice that article in the NYT about the new book by French scholar Emanuel Laye on the dangers of Heidegger, An Ethical Question: Does a Nazi Deserve a Place Among Philosophers?

You know how I like the work of Henry Corbin. Talking about Corbin, my friend POD (comment above) recently remarked that with Corbin it is hard to know when he is expressing aspects of his own spiritual worldview or illuminating that of others. It's so true and that is in fact precisely what drew me to Corbin (as well as in many ways to Chinese philosophy) in the first place. That the gap between philosophy and philosopher is not so jarring.

Yesteday, I was re-reading some Sartre-- really enjoying it too-- until I would stop and recall our conversation on facebook about Sartre's willful non-understanding of Stalin. It makes you stop and think at least. And with Heidegger, it is increasingly seeming that he was more of an active Nazi then it was portrayed 10 years ago for example. I mean, in Arendt's terms, I think one would have to say that he was certainly a cog in the wheel (of the banality of evil).

As you know, I studied Continental philosophy and so how a philosophy is lived is supposed to be one important aspect that you are meant to consider. So, what to do with Heidegger... or Sartre, or any of them really since, let's face it-- so many of the greatest thinkers and greatest artists in the western tradition at least have been very dubious as people.

So, for a long time I turned away from their work and became more interested in religious studies and literature. But like you I have to say that in the end one cannot really walk away from Heidegger. He is absolutely the most important philospher of modern times. I really feel that. Not Wittgenstein and-- no way-- not Rorty. Heidegger was the main influence on too many thinkers after him to be shelved in the way the French scholar above is suggesting. And really in the end, in terms of Laye's argument (as spelled out in the NYTimes at least) if you just simply step back and take a look at the phenomenology itself, whether it be on an individual or a collective level, reading Heidegger just doesn't show itself to have the dangerous effects that drinking poison does, right? (That's his example not mine.

I sent the article to you already and am going to send it to POD later, but Andrew Mitchell wrote an article on Heidegger and Terrorism that I was reading last night and once I got past my usual horror at Heidegger's impossible jargon-- well, I was floored so perfectly did Heidegger I feel get at the essential issue. And the issue is-- just as Heidegger insisted-- veiled or withdrawn from immediate understandability. I know this because I hesitate to even summarize the argument here. You know why? because I am sure it would be offensive to 90% of people reading this post. And, I don't want to argue about politics here. But, his argument about both the ontological causes of terrorism as well as "terror" being the great mood of the age are right on. His achievements were really, like you said, something one cannot or should not be too quick to dismiss. If you haven't read Lilla's articles from a few years ago for the NYRB you should! I linked to them here

More later on facebook :)

Hi Peony,
I began reading Pamuk's Istanbul some years ago but had to abandon it midway. I've been to Istanbul and have also grown up in decaying cities with long histories, but his relentless melancholy, or hüzün, struck me as entirely his own, not that of his city. His was not an authentic description of a collective mood, I thought, more the view out of his tinted glasses. Then there was his excessive nostalgia for the aristocratic lifestyle of his youth, the loving details of summer homes along the Bosphorus, and the obsessive recording of unremarkable details from his boyhood—it eventually proved too tiresome for me.

Darius weeps, Jimmy Cliff in the background.

Yang Chu wept at the crossroads because any road he chose would lead to new crossroads, and could never lead back. Mo Tzu (or maybe Mencius) wept because natures which were originally the same and potentially good would diverge and become good or evil.

Ever since I read Nishitani's sympathetic-critical Buddhist treatment of Heidegger ("Religion and Nothingness") I've had no desire to read more Heidegger. I've always disliked Heidegger's writing and persona, politics aside (Nishitani has been accused of fascism too).

Did you ever read the Garden of Forking Paths by Borges? It is one of my favorite stories. If you have read it, be sure to take a look at this post on Y by an old friend of mine, a certain Mr. Roth You will enjoy it.

About Heidegger, people don't read him for his personona nor for his writing style. Without a thorough grounding in Heidegger, thinkers like Foucault will hardly be understandable. (As Foucault's philosophy is grounded on later Heidegger). And anyone interested in modern or contemporary philosophy would almost be required to be pretty familar with his ideas, I think. Robert Harrison did a fabulous short program on Heidegger for his show entitled opinions (available on that site or via iTunes) with the scholar I mentioned above who wrote on heidegger and terrorism. Harrison does a far better job than I could on explaining how and why Heidegger is the most significant thinker for our time today. Really recommend the show.

Alan Baumler also had a great post over at Frog in a well about tears and sincerity , Did you see it? Interesting and related to Barthes' ideas about "sighing"

The Heidegger and Terrorism paper is $35, alas.

No one reads Heidegger for his persona or his writing style, but some of us don't read read him because of these two things.

I read Knut Hamsun, so I can't claim that Heidegger's Naziism is the reason.

Ignore Heidegger at your own intellectual peril. If you said the same thing about any other philosopher except Descartes, I would just laugh since it doesn't really matter...but heidegger really is pretty significant to understanding post modern and contemporary philosophy.

At least listen to the Harrison show. I will send the paper on terrorism when I find it-- I may not be able to till I get back to my machine in Japan, tho....

I actually have only a moderate interest in postmodern and contemporary philosophy, or as far as that goes, analytic philosophy. Except for Foucault, it doesn't seem to provide usable tools. For me philosophy isn't something to understand but a way of understanding, and I rummage around in philosophy for things I might find helpful.

I was in Istanbul very briefly, will be going back for a longer period and am reading Pamuk's book. I wouldn't invalidate his view. As a tourist, how can I see what it's like to live inside a culture? I can just catch glimpses. And even in my hometown of Los Angeles, my experience of growing up in LA is completely different than other people's. It all depends on where you live, who you are, what your parents teach you, how you interpret things.... So, I'm not sure it's possible to validate or invalidate Pamuk's views. All his work carries that feeling of melancholy, especially "Snow".

But I definitely believe in collective mood. In America we use it to explain moments like the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination, the effects of Martin Luther King, the 60's, and the "national malaise" of the late 70's. Funks come over whole countries as does elation. What else explains the fact that celebrations broke out as nations marched into war at the beginning of World War I?

I can't wait to hear more about your travels in Turkey, Eric.... Of course, people's individual perspective is important and makes a difference, but that is something very different from culture or worldview or ontology or mood (or whatever you want to call it) concerning place.... Huzun is something collectively felt, he argues, and so it is something which can be validated or not...but only by those living it. I think it is also something different from a collective reaction too.

I am reading Pamuk's Museum of Innocence.

Have you ever heard of the concept, nobility of failure? A friend did a very long interview with Pamuk that I assume he will publish in a book since it was so long. In the interview Pamuk too talks about the concept. We don't know how our personal failures, or even the great failures in life will effect or change the course of history. Yasushi Inoue is a master of this genre of writing about the nobility of failure and it has always interested me.
Proustian ethics turn our modern ways of seeing success upside down really.

So, yes, it's true all his work carries this collective melancholy-- crmbling empires and life on the Provinvial sidelines... but there is a heroic aspect to this, don't you think? Some say that some of the greatest literary art has been created precisely by those on the edge (not in the center of empire at its peak) but from the edge... I am not sure but it is interesting to consider...

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