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July 16, 2019

Lugubrious. That's the word for how I'm feeling tonight. That and self-indulgent. So I thought I'd write a blog post. These midnight moods used to ambush me frequently when I was in my 20s, sometimes eliciting sentimental poetry. Now I'm older, not much wiser, more callused, but still susceptible once in a while to the misty melancholy of existential yearning. Diffuse nostalgia,...

September 15, 2018

[Here's an excerpt from a book on 'humanism' I wanted to write back in 2006. It's from a passage in which I was arguing against postmodern forms of literature, with their skepticism of old-fashioned narrative and all the other elements of a traditional literary aesthetic. Juvenile in some respects, this passage might at least contain a few thoughts that are defensible.]

...I’d adv...

June 28, 2018

[Early grad-school notes...] I'm reading about John Brown--David Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights--an excellent, massive book that rehabilitates Brown from the propaganda that he was insane and a fanatic...

John Brown, hero. R. W. Emerson: “John Brown will make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Did...

June 10, 2018

The journal I've kept for two decades is full of notes on books I've read. Sometimes I reread these notes and think it's possible that people might find them of interest, so I post them on my website. Here's one set of old notes on a classic book by the psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott. I happen to be skeptical of psychoanalysis, since it lacks a scientific foundation and consists l...

May 20, 2018

[From Notes of an Underground Humanist.]

How is mass inhumanity possible?— When I ask myself how it’s possible that so many white Southerners used to support slavery even on moral grounds, as having a “civilizing” influence on blacks, I’m led to the conclusion that it is very easy for humans to invent and believe in ideologies which justify activities that bring material benefit a...

February 23, 2017

I'm copying here a "statement of teaching philosophy" I wrote recently for job applications, in case it has any general ideas that others might find interesting or useful.

In the age of Donald Trump, knowledge of history is more important than ever. Such knowledge has always been empowering, for several reasons: it gives one a foundation for more effective and informed civic and p...

February 13, 2017

[From this book.] The more one experiences the world, the more one understands how difficult it is to be “successful” and have integrity at the same time. Maybe most successful people don’t have much of a “core self” to begin with; they’re just malleable, their essence from youth is malleability. Few convictions, certainly no courage of whatever convictions they have. Depending o...

December 29, 2016

In an age when the State is daily demonstrating its willingness, or rather its extraordinary eagerness, to brutally repress dissent and democracy, it may be of interest to recall the experiences of survivors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The following first-hand account was circulated in the weeks after the hurricane hit. As global warming intensifies, massively disrupting commun...

December 24, 2016

[Notes from 2008.] Reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. It’s wonderful to think that the publication (in 1966) of a book full of critical essays like this could have been seen as an important cultural event. What a different time that was from the present! Norman Mailer said that the Sixties were the only time he had ever felt like a human being.

The ti...

November 20, 2016

[From 2008.] Reading Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings, which is about his experiences with post-encephalitic, Parkinsonian patients. It’s a good book, full of good thoughts and superb writing. Sacks emphasizes, as against his colleagues, that Parkinson’s disease is an existential rather than a purely neurological illness. It affects the whole being and not just the body; it is holistic...

June 11, 2016

In a sense, writing history is an intrinsically moral activity -- although different kinds of history embody different degrees of morality. Writing a ‘sympathetic’ history of oppressed and forgotten people is the most moral; writing such a history of states and power-structures is the least. But in both cases you’re asserting human dignity in the face of the absurd, the absurd an...

January 22, 2016

[Excerpt from this book.] There are delights and dangers in adopting a broad perspective on oneself and one’s society. Looking at the “big picture” can either electrify or paralyze one’s will. The latter possibility is obvious, given, for example, the big-picturesque horrors of global warming and capitalist global pollution. Oceanic garbage patches the size of continents, slums t...

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