Cheese, Chinese and Chauvinism

Recently I’ve been watching some philosophy programmes from Beijing Open University. It’s a slow process—transcribing as I go—but good as a way of practising my Chinese. I have realised that when it comes to language learning, you need to make use of materials that are themselves interesting. So when I bought Harry Potter (or Hali Bote 哈利波特) in Chinese because I thought it might be a good, easy read, I forgot that I’d never had the slightest desire to read more than three pages of the English version, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised when trying to read the book in Chinese did not improve the experience for me. You’d think that reading five pages of philosophy in Chinese would be more arduous than reading five pages of Harry Potter; but in Chinese, as in English, I find that the reverse is true. Read more

Philosophy, children’s literature and the question of branding

A couple of months ago, my children’s book, [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link], was published. It has been one of the most demanding and delightful projects I’ve ever been involved in. Who would have thought that eight hundred words would require quite so much redrafting?

I fell into children’s literature somewhat by mistake, after becoming friends with the illustrator Thomas Docherty. Tom is a wonderful artist, and a lovely man; but when we decided to have a go at working together, I can remember feeling a little apprehensive. Part of the reason was that I was not sure I could write for this age group. Another part of the reason was that I was a writer who spent his time working on philosophy and novels for adults, and I couldn’t really see how writing children’s books fitted in. Read more

Nocturnal Philosophising

Well, I survived the My Night With Philosophers event at the Institut français, and so I’m now heading home after a long night of heady philosophy for some serious sleeping. It was an excellent and astonishingly well-attended event. I suspect that the organisers were surprised by the turn-out: you could see the light of panic in their eyes as the foyer filled up with more and more people, as the photocopier began to malfunction, as the coffee supply failed to keep pace with the incessant demand, and as the queues for the sessions grew longer and longer…

But, for all that, it was a wonderful, graciously organised, friendly and stimulating night. The people at the Institut did a remarkable job at programming and organising the event, and the volunteers did a good job at staying sane and cheerful throughout what must have been an exceedingly busy and very, very long night for them all. There was some thinning out of the crowds from two o’clock onwards, but at four o’clock in the morning the main lecture theatre was still densely populated, and most of us were still awake and alert, coffee or no coffee. Read more

“One must not sleep…”

In his book, [amazon_link id=”0810113619″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Discovering Existence with Husserl[/amazon_link], Emmanuel Levinas writes “one must not sleep, one must philosophise.” I’ve long been a little sceptical of this. Many times I have thought, whilst being held hostage by some philosopher or other until late in the night, that quite the reverse is true: in other words, at times one must not philosophise, but instead one must sleep.

Nevertheless, I’m heading down to London tomorrow for an insomniac night of philosophy called My Night with Philosophers, at the Institut français in South Kensington. The event is free, plenty of coffee is promised, and there are some truly excellent speakers laid on. But because I’m not quite as hard-core as Levinas, and I think that on balance both philosophy and sleep are good things, I’ve bought an open ticket home, just in case I flag and want to hop on the last train. However, from where I am sitting just at the moment, it all looks so damnably interesting that I’m tempted to stay the whole course. Read more

Propaganda, Home and Away

This weekend is the Diamond Jubilee weekend here in the UK. What this means is that our head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, has now sat on her throne (we still have thrones in this quaint little nation of ours) for sixty years. And so extra holidays have been proclaimed, people are hanging out flags, and the Queen herself is planning to begin her celebrations of this extended weekend by going to the Epsom Derby—one presumes to take a flutter on the horses.

There are various other kinds of celebrations extending all the way to Tuesday: street parties, beacons being lit across the country, flotillas, concerts… And there is no denying that many people seem very, very happy about the whole affair. Just down the road from us, somebody has gone to the trouble of painting a union jack to cover the entirety of the wall in front of their house. That’s how happy some people are.

Divination and Doubt

For the last seven years or so, I have been up to my ears in one of the strangest books in the world, the Yijing 易經, or Book of Changes. The Yijing  (or, as it is often more popularly known, the I Ching) is, by any measure, one of the oddest books in existence: a bronze-age manual for governing, a divinatory text, one of the foundations of Chinese culture, a book that made Leibniz’s pulse race, and one of the texts most beloved of flaky New-Agers in the West. And because, perhaps, I like to think of myself as more or less sane, I have tended to be a little shy of talking about the Yijing. It is, after all, a book that attracts all kinds of quixotic crackpots and loons, a motley and curious company to find oneself amongst. Read more

The Thing Is…

When I was casting around for a name for this new blog—naming things is always a tricky business—I eventually settled on ‘The Myriad Things’. I tried out a few other names as well, but ‘The Myriad Things’ was the one that stuck. I toyed with ‘Myriad Things,’ without the definite article; but I thought that it sounded a little too much like an online store. I also thought about ‘All the Myriad Things’, which had nice rhythm to it; but to my ear it sounded a little too much like the title of one of those delicate, nuanced novels in which nothing very much happens. So in the end I settled for ‘The Myriad Things.’ And the more I think about it, the more I think that the name fits. Read more

Welcome to the Myriad Things

Ten Thousand Riplets on the Yangtze — Ma Yuan

Well, here it is—after a hiatus of about a year or so, I’ve started blogging again in earnest.

And so welcome to The Myriad Things. As some visitors here may know, for a long time—five years in all—I ran a blog over at thinkBuddha.org. It was a huge amount of fun; but back in late 2011, I decided to retire thinkBuddha. I felt that I had come to the end of that particular road, I needed a break from blogging; and, besides, I had plenty of other things on at the time, with a number of writing projects that I was working on and that were taking up my attention.

So I had a break from running a blog for a year or so. But then, a couple of months ago, Steve Himmer invited me to be a guest blogger (it was a bit more fancy than that: Steve called it a ‘writer in residence’) over on his wonderful website, Necessary Fiction for the month of April 2012; and getting back into the swing of blogging was just so much fun that I thought perhaps it was time to return to the fray. I thought for a while about reviving thinkBuddha; but eventually decided that it might be better to set up an entirely new blog.

There were several reasons for my decision to start up something new. Firstly, I wanted somewhere that I could explore matters both philosophical and literary; and thinkBuddha was always a decidedly philosophical kind of a project. It simply wasn’t the kind of place that I felt I could just post a short story if I felt like doing so. Secondly, there was the question of Buddhism. thinkBuddha existed, in part, as a way of grappling with the various traditions of Buddhism. These days, I grapple rather less with Buddhism. Although it remains an abiding interest and influence, it is just not a thing for grappling in the way that it was. Over the past year, I’ve occasionally come up with some things that I thought I might like to blog about, but that didn’t really seem to fit with the kind of approach I had taken on thinkBuddha. The overtly Buddhist nature of the previous blog was becoming a bit confining. And my own website willbuckingham.com is more a kind of general newsy kind of site, and not so much the kind of place suited to extended reflection.

As a result of all of this, I’ve decided to set up a new blog. It may be a bit more freewheeling and eclectic than thinkBuddha was. I’ve chosen the name The Myriad Things  in part because it a name that almost invites this kind of eclecticism, and in part because my philosophical interests have become increasingly entangled with my study of Chinese thought, from whence the notion of ‘myriad things’ comes. thinkBuddha will remain online, although I’ll not be posting new articles over there (other than the occasional post in the news section), and after a while I’ll be closing down the comments, so I can focus on this blog.

I do not know what form or shape The Myriad Things will eventually have. I’m aiming to keep things very loose and broad at first, so that I feel free to post on whatever I like: literature, philosophy both Eastern (in particular, at the moment, Chinese) and Western, other on-going projects in the field of philosophy, writing, current affairs, science, ethics—and yes, from time to time, Buddhism as well. We’ll see how it goes.

A single post does not make a blog: and what a blog actually is generally only becomes apparent only once it has been running for a while. But I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of blogging; and I’m looking forward to renewing some old blog connections, as well as forging many new ones.

Image: 長江萬頃 Ten Thousand Ripples on the Yangtze by Ma Yuan. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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