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On the one hand, I feel a bit as though I’m just marking time until the end of September when I’ll be heading to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan again.   North Carolina wears on me until I’m fed up with the whole state and need to go north again for sanity’s (and comfort’s) sake.  On the other hand, I feel I really have no right to complain about summer’s lingering choke-hold when I have so many opportunities for good times with friends and family here.  The hot weather did break for a bit last week, and I’m viewing that as a harbinger of more comfortable times in the near future.

Geekery:

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Books: Finishing Ship of Fools took me approximately an age.  Porter is undeniably a talented writer, but never was a book so aptly named: every character in it was one kind of idiot or other.  After 500 pages, I liked some of them even less than when I started.  Maybe that’s why it took me so long to read it; if there isn’t at least one character with whom to sympathize, it’s difficult to care about what happens next.  At the same time, however, I do recognize that her insights into human nature are extremely valuable: we all *are* some kind of idiot or other.  The subtle (at first) hatred between Christian and Jew was eye-opening; suddenly I saw how it must have been terribly easy to fall into that trap unawares in German daily life of the 1930s.  All in all, Ship of Fools is a good piece of literature, if an unlovable one.

Our philosophy reading group recently discussed Nietzsche’s first essay in On the Genealogy of Morality.  Nietzsche reminds me of a curmudgeonly old dog who has a tendency to bite but whom you love anyway, and reading him again after so long makes me want to pat him on his conceited little head.  He probably would take my hand off.  I expect most people don’t have such a fond impression of Nietzsche, but for me he will always be associated with the best and most mind-stretching of the classes I took in school.  My copy of On the Genealogy of Morality is full of marginalia penciled in by me and my friends (we shared books a lot), sometimes in answer to each other.  That said, Nietzsche’s quite the jerk.  The first essay isn’t terribly good or clear, and it becomes painfully obvious how his sister was able to edit his works to sound like they supported the Nazi party.  Nietzsche wasn’t anti-Semitic so much as he was just anti-everything, and he rails against everyone impartially. He does have some good points cloaked in the vituperation, and people who haven’t read him should give him a try before they dismiss him out of hand.

Last week we  read a portion of Hegel’s Philosophy of History.  I had never read any Hegel before, but I think maybe I like him.  His prolixity is dismaying, and Bertrand Russell calls him one of the most difficult to understand philosophers, but I found quite a few of his points fascinating.  His analogies help tremendously; I was lost until he threw in one of those.  Someday, if I’m feeling very, very ambitious, I’d like to try reading some more of his works.

I read East of Eden by Steinbeck and my head is so full of it that I think it will need its own post.  Stay tuned!

Quiet week so far!  The most exciting thing to happen was a leisurely trip the flea market.  Always entertaining, but I didn’t buy anything.  I’m looking forward to philosophy discussion tomorrow; we’re reading a little bit of Nietzsche, and he’s always entertaining.

Hodge podge:

Critters:

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Book talk: I read the last 150 pages or so of Catch-22 in one gulp late at night, which maybe wasn’t the best way to go about it; I don’t think all of the deaths did wonders for my dreams.  Strange how even though I disliked all of the characters in the book, I was still sad to see them go, and if I don’t quite wish Yossarian the best in his endeavors, I at least wish him better.

At the moment, I’m trudging through Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter.  I fell in love instantly with her book The Old Order, but I confess I don’t feel similarly about this one, at least so far.  It’s aptly named, at least: every character on the boat is either a jerk, none too bright, or both, and finding someone with whom to sympathize is difficult.  I’m sure she’s saying something with all of that, but I haven’t figured out what yet.

Moving into a new apartment furnishes a good excuse to get together, so Sam and I had a shindig at our place last Sunday.  A whole mob of friends attended, and we had a fantastic time!  We mainly just ate and talked—everyone is always so excited to see each other again that we really don’t need much else in the way of entertainment—but we did go for a short walk to one of the Lake Johnson overlooks and played a quick game before we all dispersed.  Fortunately, we have reunions spaced pretty evenly throughout the coming months (a big bash at the Langdon farm in September, a wedding in October, a renaissance fair trip in November, and another wedding in December), so the departure felt less like the breaking of the Fellowship of the Ring than it has formerly.

I introduced Sam to Star Trek: The Next Generation recently.  As a hard-core Trekkie, I agonized for ages over which episode to pick: what would embody Star Trek the best, but not be confusing or uninteresting to a newcomer?   I chose “Darmok” because I thought Sam would be intrigued by the linguistic aspect and because it’s a good standalone episode that illustrates a lot of Next Generation values and characteristics: seeking for a deeper understanding of other life forms and cultures, desire for peaceful coexistence and cooperation, the explorer’s curiosity, and very cool literary allusions, along with a healthy dose of technobabble and a brawl with an alien beast.  When I first saw Darmok, I hadn’t read the Epic of Gilgamesh; the episode was much more powerful having read that recently.  While some claim that the linguistic gymnastics don’t quite hold up with how that sort of language must work and the (admittedly fuzzy) explanation of how the Universal Translator works, the fact remains that linguistic teachers have used this episode in class as a teaching aid, and Patrick Stewart himself said, “[Darmok] is something that should have won awards because it was a brilliantly written episode based on the myth of Gilgamesh.”  According to IMDB, Tenagra Observatories, an internet-based network of telescopes sharing information on stellar phenomena, took its name from this episode.  It’s a fan favorite, spawning an xkcd comic, a whole slew of t-shirts, and a whole lot of Trek love.

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I ran across a fascinating Kafka quote the other day:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

I’m trying to figure out whether I agree with that belief.  I think I do, at least in part.  I don’t think we can only read books that wound.  I know I couldn’t.  I read constantly, and perpetual upheaval like that would eventually become ineffective or even self-destructive.  But the books that made the strongest impact on my life (and by that I don’t mean books I loved or even enjoyed—I mean books that changed the way I think in a drastic way) were splintering, careening, written cataclysms that crashed through the brain.  They were usually unpleasant, but “pleasant” or “unpleasant” had nothing to do with the point.  Comfortable books don’t hack through the ice.  Kafka gives me a ready response for all of those people who ask why I’m reading some book that sounds horrible; I’ve been struggling to articulate that in several situations lately.

I re-read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie for kicks the other day.  The book may be about youth, but it is certainly not a children’s book.  Reading it as an adult, I found it a little bit terrifying and quite sad, whereas when I read it as a child I only found it whimsical and slightly annoying.  I hadn’t realized before what a tragic life Barrie led.  It doesn’t really show itself in his works, except maybe as a too-thorough understanding of the careless cruelty of children.  I think that’s what I found so disturbing upon second reading: the idea of an ever-young child with tenuous (at best) morality reminds me a good deal of the capricious gods of mythology.  Immortal immaturity can be awfully frightening.

Somehow I had never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller until now.  I have a vague memory of flipping through it a little bit as a kid and being pretty horrified, and it is horrifying, but I’m an old hand at “horrifying” now.  Reading similarly disillusioned accounts of the Vietnam War made a lot of sense; that was the Vietnam War, a conflict many saw as purposeless, confusing, or downright wrong.  One doesn’t come across sentiments like that nearly as often in WWII accounts (at least the ones I’ve read).  Most soldiers seemed to understand and believe in the cause for which they were fighting.  There is a distinct lack of understanding or belief in Catch-22.  Still, a critique of bureaucracy applies to any modern war, and war of any sort is undeniably a horrible, morality-denting and honor-bruising experience, regardless of whether you agree with why you’re there or not.

If you read to the end of this, you get a high five. : )

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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