Philosophy in Five Years

I think the field will be a complete shambles. It’s already imploding from the inside, but in five years most of the distinguished people will be gone. Political schism will continue to tear the profession apart, probably getting even worse. Intellectually things are not going in a good direction. Maybe other countries will assert themselves, leaving American philosophy to deteriorate. I would say that American philosophy is about half as good as it was fifteen years ago and that it will be half as good again in five years.

Hard Day’s Night

I happened to watch Richard Lester’s film about the Beatles. Oh what a time that was! All of John, Paul, George, and Ringo came across beautifully. What struck me was the way the interludes of the Beatles singing songs seemed like oases in a tawdry world: so pure, so innocent, so full of life. Nothing like that could exist today. We have lost so much. I was in a group myself at the time and now think of it as a period of rare optimism and humanity.

NYRB and Robert Silvers

I just want to say that my friend and editor Bob Silvers was a unique individual: iron integrity, playful irreverent humor, scrupulous, fearless, fair. I will miss my phone calls with him, which were always charming and delightful, as well as professional and painstaking. We must do our best to keep up the standards he represented so beautifully.

CEU and George Soros

George Soros is an old friend of mine and I have visited CEU at his invitation. I can state categorically that statements made about him to the effect that he runs a covert international “empire” are completely false. He does, however, oppose totalitarian governments.

Gleam in the Gloom

As centers of free thought and expression, American universities are clearly doomed. Forces from the left and right are conspiring to destroy academic values (i.e. civilization). Universities are already nothing like they were twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. But don’t worry: university administrators will flourish as the ship slowly sinks! What do they care about academic freedom? What has it done for them lately? They will re-make universities in their own image and we will let them.

“Politically Incorrect”

I notice that the phrase, in its current meaning, appears on page 168 of Bend Sinister, published in 1947: “it is better for a man to have belonged to a politically incorrect organization than not to have belonged to any organization at all”. I wonder if this is its first occurrence.

Disgust and Death

My cat likes to catch lizards and bring them into the living room to frolic with. I try to remove them before he kills them. Today I found a writhing detached tail, the rest of the lizard being elsewhere. I felt a rush of disgust at the sight of the still-animated tail. This struck me as a perfect illustration of the death-in-life theory of disgust: attached lizard tails are not disgusting at all, wriggle as they may, but once the tail becomes detached it takes on a death-in-life aspect, and thus invites the reaction of disgust. Neither living lizards nor dead ones evoke this reaction, but the “alive” detached tail excites disgust. (Notice that this has nothing to do with pathogens and disease.)

Bend Sinister

I’ve been reading Nabokov’s early novel Bend Sinister, about political tyranny. I would call it a “crowd-displeaser”: brilliantly written, of course, but deeply depressing about politics and people. It seems to capture our current moment of mediocre pallid (or orange) men with obscene amounts of power and bad personalities. The figure of the ruler Paduk (nickname “the Toad”) is both terrifying and risible. The philosopher Krug used to bully him at school by sitting on his face, but now the tables are turned and you know it’s not going to end well for the philosopher. Nabokov’s theme is Stupidity with a capital “S”. Amen to that.

I have to say this book is the bleakest and most disturbing novel I have ever read. It’s all about political tyranny and bureaucratic incompetence. Yes, that. Human evil in all its revolting forms.