Skip to main content


lynyrd skynyrd and Proust

  Unexpectedly, a bit of my teen years in suburban Atlanta visited my son's French elementary school yesterday. As part of a show and tell, one of his roommates brought a guitar and played a riff from Freebird. Freebird! I looked down my seventeen year old nose at Lynyrd Skynnyrd and basically all Southern rock of the seventies. But perhaps that music had its revenge on me, for I can, actually, in a mesmeric trance, lipsync Freebird. I wonder what Proust would do with this material? The agents of the memory that unleashes In Search of Lost Time are taste and smell - the taste of madeleines, the most common cookie, and the smell of various perfumes and flowers. If, however, the young Marcel had lived in Clarkston, Georgia, I'm pretty sure the agent of memory would be sound - the sound on the radio of pop songs. Some station in Atlanta, in the seventies, got the kids up to go to high school by playing, every day, Dylan's Rainy Day women song (they stone you when you're go
Recent posts

The expulsion of the giants

  There is a valiant but small tradition of scholars who see the connection between the so called Western tradition and that of the “East”: among whom the most famous is, perhaps, Martin Buber. Before writing his masterpiece in the twenties, I and Thou, Buber published a “translation” of the Chuang-Tzu that was really a translation of the English translation of the Chuang-Tzu made by James Legge. In a wonderful essay by Jonathan Herman, “The Mysterious Mr. Wang: the search for Martin Buber’s Confucian Ghostwriter” (one of those rare academic titles that evokes the Fu Manchu series by Sax-Rohmer), the background of Buber’s effort is exposed. Sinology was constructed in the German speaking countries in the 19th century on terms that were consistent with a long theme in German culture stemming from Herder, which on one reading promoted a basic equality between cultural productions around the globe. The idea that one should accept the Chinese philosopher as an equal in the dialogue of ph

the murder on trolley track b

  From my piker’s point of view, moral philosophy can be illuminated by imaginary scenarios, but it can’t be based on imaginary scenarios. If we treat these scenarios like "experiments" -and if we grant there can be experiments that are, by design, possible only in the imagination - than we have to have some idea of what narration is about, and what varying a narrative does. I think the recent riot of utilitarians all exercising their effective altruism is a case of thought experiment poisoning. Too much depends on the “trolley problem”, and not enough interest is put into analysing the narrative of the “trolley problem” – including the odd use of the word “save” which pops up in trolley prob discussions.  When people start to talk about “saving” others, I start to ask about the psychopathology of the saviour complex. I saved no body today by not driving up on sidewalks and ramming into people. That is a bad, but comic, description of driving down the street.  If a scenario

A stomach ache in the heart: American frauds

  We are all, as Americans – I speak as one of the flock – still at the low stage of civilisation of one of the Mississippi towns in Huck Finn. By a fortunate coincidence, I’ve been reading Huck Finn each night for the last month   to Adam before he goes to sleep. We have an agreement – a page or three of Huck, then A. reads to him from the Vam-wolf-zom book. We are now deep into the Duke and Dauphin’s   greatest fraud, the imitation of an English minister and his deaf and dumb brother to bedazzle a rube Mississippi Valley family and worm out their goods. It is one of the great episodes. I’m revisiting it just as frauds of a larger scale but basically with the same mirthworthy unctuousness   – the FTX fraud, the Elon Musk twitter jamboree – are leading a dance though the papers, and, more importantly, through Twitter. Twitter has taken up the burden of the tabloid, because the newspapers – the WAPO, the NYT – have become so country club that they don’t know what to do with such rich

JR and SBF - It is Gaddis's world, we just live here

  In the popular sport of guessing which novel, philosopher, poet etc. will be read a hundred years from now, the answer seems to be mostly – the novelist, philosopher, poet that I like. One likes to think one’s likes will be immortalized by others who are like oneself. However, I can well imagine a novel and novelist I don’t like at all being read one hundred years from now, and one I adore not being read one hundred years from now. Why not? The community of readers in which I find myself is, I hope, going to socially reproduce. I do my best by writing to help this process along. However, as I am a wee little pea and my writing is certainly not going to be read one hundred years from now, or even one year from now, I am not optimistic about my contribution to the general culture of sweetness and light. It is here that I flash the tears emoticon and move on. This is why I can’t say if J.R. will be one of those novels, like Moby Dick, that re-emerge after a hundred years as one of t


  “Feeds on meat, carcasses, farinaceous grains, but not cabbage; digests bones, vomits up grass; defecates onto stone: Greek white, exceedingly acidic. Drinks licking; urinates to the side, up to one hundred times in good company, sniffs at its neighbor’s anus; moist nose, excellent sense of smell; runs on a diagonal, walks on toes; perspires very little, lets tongue hang out in the heat; circles its sleeping area before retiring; hears rather well while sleeping, dreams. The female is vicious with jealous suitors; fornicates with many partners when in heat; bites them; intimately bound during copulation; gestation is nine weeks, four to eight compose a litter, males resemble the father, females the mother. Loyal above all else; house companion for humans; wags its tail upon master’s approach, defends him; runs ahead on a walk, waits at crossings; teachable, hunts for missing things, makes the rounds at night, warns of those approaching, keeps watch over goods, drives livestock from f

why don't you be stupid instead of smart: on unspelling

  Does it help that Yeats was dyslexic? The editors of his letters, where the texts are raw, have decided that Yeats’ spelling was idiosyncratic. That’s a good word. It doesn’t have the same word-injuring psychosis, the same serial killer among the letters, that is baked into dyslexia. Rather, it understands that spelling is a curious procedure, full of mirrors and disorientations. A spell, as Yeats (who at one point belonged to the same organization as Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn) was always aware, was a matter of magical summoning. Spelling, too, is a magical summoning, made domestic by our schoolrooms and four hundred years of rules, so that the words appear under our pens. That the first words we learn to spell are often animal names makes complete sense from this point of view, for animals were, after all, the first things humans drew. But there’s a certain graffiti impulse that lies just outside the spelling book, under which we run away from the rules concerning what to wr