Category Archives: Books

A World without Lions is Dreary

photo of book cover Lionsbook cover Lions in GermanIt’s the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg who comments that “a world without lions would be dreary [trostlos].” The University of Chicago Press has been promising for a year now the English translation of Blumenberg’s book Lions. The German version appeared in 2001. Amazon now indicates that we can expect to see a copy in mid-September, although it has been scheduled for release almost every month for a year, so don’t sell your children based on the mid-September prediction that a copy will be available to purchase.

Now, to be fair, the University of Chicago Press is serving as the distributor for Seagull Books, so I suppose my complaint would be with Seagull Books, a publishing house that began its life in India, and needs to be forgiven immediately, since they probably have literary tigers and bears to address in addition to lions. Maybe someone from the press will see this, and take pity on those of us whose lives will be trostlos until the translation appears. Luckily, I have my own copy of the German edition, though that heightens the trostlos-ness, because I know what I’m missing.

As a service to others out there longing for lions, I’m including my own translation of a morsel from the book. Lions is one of those Blumenberg books consisting of short anecdotes, reflections, ruminations. The title of the section for the translation is called “The Truth’s Power to Set You Free.”

The moral reprehensibility of lying is one thing, the power of truth to set you free another. You will be able to cope with the lie’s unacceptability, because while we say true things, not everything that is true must be said. The permissibility of silence protects against the difficulties that the prohibition of lying can cause (p. 96 in the German edition).

image of winged lionLater in the snippet, Blumenberg delves into Martin Luther’s translations of Aesop, particularly a story about a lion in a cave. The lion invites some other animals over to ask them about their smell. You’ll need your Latin dictionary to make it through the Luther section – another reason to wish for the release of the English translation as soon as possible. Qui exspectat diutius exspectem?*

*I don’t claim to be able to translate English into Latin, but welcome criticisms of the small part translated from the German above.



Quotation of the Day

John Boyne is interviewed in The Irish Times, and has this to say about the literary life.

 “I just want to write my books. I tend not to go to parties and I stay out of the Dublin literary crowd which can be very negative and almost bullying at times, especially for new or emerging writers.” How so? “There are those who are in the clique and those who aren’t. You can see it by going into a bookshop and looking at the covers of books by Irish writers and seeing the same names come up in the blurbs. They’ve never read a book they didn’t like.”

“There is so Much Falsehood in the World”

Someone is going around saying we ought not to believe what we see, hear, or read. This isn’t a new attitude, and we had best be careful about it, because the claim is like the Cretan liar paradox. If we agree with the someone mentioned above, then we have heard something, and we’re not supposed to believe what we hear. You see the problem.

It’s the fact that this attitude is old that deserves some attention. James Boswell in his Life of Johnson from the 1790s reports the following from Tuesday, 31 March 1778:

In his review of Dr. Warton’s “Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope,” Johnson has given the following salutary caution upon this subject:

‘Nothing but experience could evince the frequency of false information, or enable any man to conceive that so many groundless reports should be propagated, as every man of eminence may hear of himself. Some men relate what they think, as what they know; some men of confused memories and habitual inaccuracy, ascribe to one man what belongs to another; and some talk on, without thought or care. A few men are sufficient to broach falsehoods, which are afterwards innocently diffused by successive relaters.’

In that same entry for 31 March 1778, Boswell tells us that Johnson gave some advice to a woman: “You ought to be perpetually watching. It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.” The woman had noticed and explained that “little variations in narrative must happen a thousand times a day.” A mere 240 years later, some of us wish that our problem were “little variations in narrative.”


Juxtaposing Two Quotations

The first is from Joe Ide’s detective novel IQ.

You go where God calls you. Teacher, doctor, scientist, book writer. I don’t really care as long as you do some good out there. You could make a difference, Isaiah. A big difference. I’m talking about raising people up, easing their suffering, bringing some justice to the world. Money don’t enter into it, you understand what I’m telling you? God didn’t give you a gift so you could be a hedge fund manager.

The second is from today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Most people don’t have much trouble imagining the worst of bankers – even bankers themselves. Anna Smith is a loans officer in Victoria with more than a decade’s experience among the big four banks. In her sector, retail banking, she says, “they’ll employ anybody. People off the street. People come from their parents’ restaurant, from selling second-hand cars. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t have a uni degree, I grew up pretty rough, I had to take care of my siblings financially. The bank gave me a chance.”

Nonetheless, in her opinion, some of her colleagues seem pointedly lacking in any kind of ethical education or moral compass. “Basically, they’re just a bunch of dude bros with their dicks in their hands, going ‘Duhhhh.’ I mean, when I started, people were quoting ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ like it was the Bible.”

Getting the Right Right

If you have seen Hannah Gadsby’s latest special on Netflix, you will be familiar with her powerful critique of those who want to separate famous people’s works from their lives. The example that riles her is Picasso.

photo of Hannah Gadsby

She wants her audience to face up to the usual false separation invoked when things become uncomfortable with a famous person’s history. The art people make, the books they publish, the songs they sing, all are part of a whole. The works and the lives happen together, and should be considered together. Gadsby’s point is that Picasso’s abuse of women cannot be bracketed from his reputation as an artist.

From a similar perspective, it might be time for Heideggerians to end their bracketing of their hero from what he did in his life. See, for example, the April/May 2018 issue of Philosophy, Now and the section called “The Trouble with Martin,” in which people like John Caputo say things like this: “Ultimately what matters is to understand not the authorial subjectivity but the author’s subject matter.” If only John Caputo and Hannah Gadsby could meet.

photo of cover of Dangerous MindsIt’s doubtful Hannah Gadsby will be invited to a philosophical conference Caputo might attend, so that they could discuss their disagreement. However, all Heideggerians can take a look at Ronald Beiner’s new book, Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Right. Beiner quotes Karl Jaspers responding to Hannah Arendt’s wish that “people leave him [Heidegger] in peace.” Jaspers, like Gadsby, will have none of it: “I don’t think it’s desirable ‘to leave Heidegger in peace.’ He is a presence, and one that everyone who wants an excuse for his own Nazi past likes to fall back on. The significance of his behavior seems to me of no small consequence for current politics.” My guess is Gadsby would appreciate Jasper’s brio. Gadsby would be interested in saying something about Heidegger’s relationship with Hannah Arendt when she was Heidegger’s student, and while Heidegger was married. That’s another part of Heidegger’s subjectivity that Caputo would have us ignore.

Beiner presents plenty of evidence to demonstrate that Heidegger did not abandon his National Socialist subjectivity, even after the war ended. For instance, Beiner points to a 20 January 1948 letter from Heidegger to Herbert Marcuse, in which Heidegger says that “it was his yearning for ‘spiritual renewal’ that motivated his political commitment [to National Socialism] in 1933” [Ich erwartete vom Nationalsozialismus eine geistige Erneuerung des ganzen Lebens].

What do Nietzsche and Heidegger have to do with the contemporary political situation? — that’s the question to which Beiner’s book is the answer.

Capitalism Is A Limbo

The author DBC Pierre has been getting some extra mileage lately, thanks to a mention in Errol Morris’s The Ashtray. Morris cites Vernon God Little, but I’d like to point to a quotation in Lights Out in Wonderland (2010):

Capitalism is a limbo.

Not a structure but an anti-structure. Driven not towards a defined end, but hovering over a permanent present, harvesting a flow of helpless human impulses. It builds no safe futures, leaves no great structures, prepares no one for roads ahead. And why would it? We don’t march through an age of civilisation but float between Windows and Mac, treading water.

photo of DBC Pierre

DBC Pierre from article in Telegraph 02/09/2013

The Hans Blumenberg Society Is Open for Membership

Family and friends of Hans Blumenberg have established a Blumenberg Society, and you can join. It costs money, and on this side of the Atlantic, you would have to go through a few hoops to pay the dues, because the organizers will not accept personal checks or credit cards. The membership form explains the details of using the host bank’s information to forward your payment.

photo of book coverAs mentioned in an earlier post, a new English translation of Blumenberg, Rigorism of Truth, is just out from Cornell University Press, and Blumenberg’s book on lions comes out soon in English too, though the publication date has been moved forward for the past half a year. In the past week, it has now jumped from a March 2018 publication date to April.