Looking Up From the Gutter: Philosophy and Popular Culture

11 10 2007

Stephen T. Asma in The Chronicle Review

Philosophy has never had a good relationship with popular culture. The two domains seem like different planets, each with an atmosphere toxic to the other. Thales (625?-?547 BC), the first philosopher, is famous for being so out of touch with the mundane world that he once fell down a well because he was distracted by deep thought. Philosophy broods, analyzes, and tends toward the antisocial; pop culture celebrates, wallows, and tends toward the communal. Philosophy is for cynics, and pop culture is for bimbos.

But the recent trend in publishing, dominated by Open Court and Blackwell, has tried to undo those old stereotypes. Perhaps its chief architect, or hardest worker, is William Irwin, an associate professor of philosophy at King’s College, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Irwin was the series editor of Open Court’s “Popular Culture and Philosophy” from 2003 to 2007, generating more than 20 titles, including The Sopranos and Philosophy, Harry Potter and Philosophy, and The Beatles and Philosophy. Open Court’s series originated when the press’s editorial director, David Ramsay Steele, decided to follow up on the success of the one-off Seinfeld and Philosophy. The Open Court series is currently being edited by George Reisch, an instructor at Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies, and the ever-busy William Irwin has moved on to Blackwell, where he’s put seven new titles on the docket for 2007 alone in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series.

Philosophers, who devote much of their attention to remote texts, are seen by many as irretrievably elitist. But elitism isn’t always bad. Professional sprinters, for example, are an elite group, too, but nobody holds it against them.

More here.

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The Historic Significance of Atlas Shrugged

10 10 2007
atlas shrugged

Robert Tracinski in Real Clear Politics

October 10 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged, so in the coming week we can expect to see a flurry of articles about the novel–many of which will, unfortunately, offer highly inaccurate descriptions of its meaning and significance.

That’s a shame, because Atlas Shrugged is a novel that everyone ought to discover and grapple with, because it succeeds at something too few artists and intellectuals have had the courage to do.

The purpose of art and philosophy is to show us truths about human nature, about the nature of the world and our place in it. Philosophy names these truths explicitly, in literal terms; literature dramatizes these truths in concrete terms, revealing its insights through the actions and statements of the characters created by the novelist. A philosophical novel, like Atlas Shrugged, is supposed to do both of these things.

But too often both the philosophers and the artists have simply repeated or project their own prejudices and pre-conceived notions.

More here.





This Is Not a Bob Dylan Movie

10 10 2007

Robert Sullivan in the New York Times Magazine

Because Todd Haynes’s Dylan film isn’t about Dylan. That’s what’s going to be so difficult for people to understand. That’s what’s going to make “I’m Not There” so trying for the really diehard Dylanists. That’s what might upset the non-Dylanists, who may find it hard to figure out why he bothered to make it at all. And that’s why it took Haynes so long to get it made. Haynes was trying to make a Dylan film that is, instead, what Dylan is all about, as he sees it, which is changing, transforming, killing off one Dylan and moving to the next, shedding his artistic skin to stay alive. The twist is that to not be about Dylan can also be said to be true to the subject Dylan. “These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don’t feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I’m about,” Dylan himself told an interviewer in 2001. “It’s ludicrous, humorous and sad that such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life please. . . . You’re wasting you own.” It might sound like a parlor game, or like cheating on Haynes’s part, but to make sense in a film about Dylan would make no sense. “If I told you what our music is really about, we’d probably all get arrested,” Dylan once said.

“I don’t know that it does make sense,” Cate Blanchett says of the film, “and I don’t know whether Dylan’s music makes sense. It hits you in kind of some other place. It might make sense when you’re half-awake, half-asleep, in the everyday lives in which we live. I don’t think the film even strives to make sense, in a way.”

More here.





Francisco’s Money Speech

30 09 2007

Marking 50 years since Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Capitalism Magazine reprints an important speech from the book.

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

“When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears not all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor–your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money, Is this what you consider evil?

More here.





Interview with Phillip Roth

29 09 2007

Warning – badly dubbed. Best listened to rather than watched.

Part 1

Part 2





The Second Annual Seed Science Writing Contest

28 09 2007

From the Seed Magazine editors.

This spring, we invited readers to respond to the following question: What does it mean to be scientifically literate in the 21st century? How do we measure the scientific literacy of a society? How do we boost it? What is the value of this literacy? Who is responsible for fostering it?

Our panel of judges comprised Adam Bly, editor-in-chief and founder of Seed, Chris Mooney, Seed’s Washington correspondent, PZ Myers, Seed columnist and author of the popular blog Pharyngula, and the editors of Seed.

Here, we are pleased to announce the First and Second Prize Winners.

Here.





Why is Philip Roth so great?

23 09 2007
philip roth

Stephen Amidon in The Sunday Times

Philip Roth is America’s greatest living novelist. His books are the most widely anticipated literary events on both sides of the Atlantic – no other writer working today mixes universal critical acclaim with such broad popularity. His latest book, Exit Ghost (his 28th), is due out next month, and is certain to be the most important of the season.

Roth was born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest child of Herman and Bessie Roth, first-generation Jewish-Americans. He graduated from high school at the age of 16 and went on to study with Saul Bellow at the University of Chicago. His debut novel, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), earned him the National Book Award – the first of many big prizes – but it wasn’t until the raunchy, hilarious Portnoy’s Complaint, in 1969, that he became a bestseller. Although always popular, Roth’s work underwent a resurgence during the 1990s, when, over an astonishing five-year period, he won all four of America’s leading literary prizes – for four different books.

One of the keys to his success is his ability to discuss the weightiest of topics – faith, marriage, family – while at the same time being the sexiest writer in the business. Ever since Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth’s work has been characterised by a feverish interest in sex that occasionally teeters on the edge of the pornographic. Yet his work also remains a highly serious discussion of man’s tenuous place in an increasingly hostile world. Like so many prophets before him, Roth sees man as a fallen creature. It’s just that he usually sees man as falling into bed.

More here.