Those who follow my other blog WaywardPhilosophy.com will already know that I am currently in Myanmar, where I’m spending several months teaching a course on global cultures as a part of an exciting new initiative. Whilst I’m away, I’ll be posting more essay-like updates about life in Yangon and beyond over on WaywardPhilosophy, and continuing to use this blog for news about writing and other projects.
Just a quick update to announce the recent publication of two new books to which I’ve contributed chapters. The first is Catalin Partenie’s In Fiction We Trust. My contribution to this one is called “Lies in Which Not Everything is False: Levinas, Philosophy and Fiction”. However — and here I must offer my apologies to English-speaking readers — this one is only in Romanian.
I may look into publishing the English version somewhere else, and if I do, I’ll make an announcement here. For the time being, however, here’s a quick passage from the conclusion.
This plea to read philosophies as stories (and perhaps stories as philosophies) is one that acknowledges that philosophers of Levinas’s calibre are always worth listening to. But it also is one that reminds us that when it comes down to it, they are not wholly to be trusted. If philosophy is a set of lies in which not everything is false, this is not to dismiss philosophy. Instead, it is a call to responsibility. It is to suggest that when it comes to listening to the philosophers, we should remain alive to their artfulness, heedful not only of the question of what may or may not be true in what is said, but also of their tricks and ruses and sleights of hand, or to their blind-spots, the things that they are incapable of seeing or saying. If philosophy truly is a kind of storytelling, this implies we need to listen to it even more carefully, more imaginatively, more artfully — and perhaps also less reverentially. In this way, it might be possible to develop a richer sense of how we might think about our lives collectively and individually, whilst maintaining a commitment to truth, keeping a proper humility about the limits of argument, and holding out for new, unthought possibilities. It is a subtle balancing act. But we owe it to each other.
You can trust me on this. Because this, too, is a lie in which not everything is false.
The second chapter is in Irene Brown and Christian Mieves’s collection Wonder in Contemporary Artistic Practice, now available from Routledge. My chapter here is called “Wonders Without Wonder: Divining the Donkey-Rat”. This grew out of my interest in what might be called the moral imperative to wonder, the idea that — whether in science, in religion, in education, or in the arts — wonder is something that we ought to cultivate. So this chapter takes a strange tale of an ancient Chinese diviner, Guo Pu (郭璞), to explore the possibility of thinking about strangeness without this moral imperative to wonder.
A philosopher’s work is never done. This evening, I realised that Plato and Nietzsche were looking a bit grubby, so I had to give them a bath…
I’m delighted to have another article in the most recent edition of the truly wonderful Unmapped magazine. Unmapped, for those of you who haven’t come across it, is a magazine for travel writing from all those hidden places that are off the map (whatever this map might be). The piece is called The Domed Heaven, the Domed Earth, and is about a strangely religious experience in the tomb of Ali Mardan Khan in Lahore, Pakistan. It is a piece I’ve been thinking of writing for about a quarter century, so I’m pleased that the editor of Unmapped pushed me into it!
Do pay Unmapped a visit and, whilst you are over there, subscribe.They are a fabulous publication.
A quick post this, as I’m fairly busy tying up loose ends and getting ready to head over to Bulgaria. But I thought that I should just pause to share a beautiful image tweeted today by Enthusiast, my Bulgarian publisher, with the translation of the final sentence of [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Descent of the Lyre[/amazon_link].
I love those birds on the power-line.
“Some say it is Saint Ivan of Gela, playing his music to all the angels of heaven; others that it is simply the sound of the world running its course.”
Bulgarian visitors can get hold of a copy of the book from Enthusiast’s website by following the link here.
I just stumbled again upon this wonderful essay by Anne Fadiman, which has been been posted on the Farrar, Straus and Giroux “Book Keeping” blog. The essay is in Fadiman’s lovely little book, [amazon_link id=”0140283706″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Ex Libris[/amazon_link], and FSG have reposted it on their blog in connection with — oh, I don’t know, with some festival or other that is coming up at the end of the week.
The essay is well worth a read. And once you have read it, you should go and buy the whole book. Marrying Libraries by Anne Fadiman.
I was delighted to see that [amazon_link id=”9380905076″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Descent of the Lyre[/amazon_link] has just received an excellent review from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s a brief extract:
Do not mistake this for a mere retelling. This is masterful storytelling, such that one cannot help but sense the ancient thrum, the pulse quickening, and deep down the feeling that the music really has been there all along.
You can read the complete review here.
This morning I have been preoccupied with two things: firstly, baking bread (having made myself a frisky little sourdough starter); and secondly working on the final edits of my Yijing (易經) book. This has involved shuttling between the kitchen and my desk, as I attend to the both creations. Anyway, as I was looking after the loaf in the kitchen, I flicked on the radio to hear an economist talking about the mysteries of global finance. When I returned to the book in front of me, and stumbled serendipitously across the following section, which I thought was worth sharing:
The complex science that in ancient China was known as shuxue 數學 — a term that, when applied to the numerological speculation that surrounds the I Ching, is only inadequately translated as “mathematics” — is no less abstruse than that most divinatory of practices, economics. Indeed, if one wanted to seek out the contemporary equivalents of those ancient diviners, they would be found not amongst the religious, nor amid those strange, otherworldly figures who spend their days enveloped by incense clouds, but instead amongst those other mystics who, schooled in economics and the dark arts of finance, are passionately convinced that in the manipulation of number there might lie the secret of our future destiny.
I’ve been making various small changes to this website, as I’ve decided that I am going to convert this into my primary blog site. What this means is that I’ll no longer be blogging over on my other site, The Myriad Things. The point of The Myriad Things has always been that it should just be “stuff I’m thinking about” (rather than being a blog focussed on any one theme); and I realised recently that, given that this is the case, there was no need for it to have a separate existence from this site. At the moment, I’ve got a lot of writing projects on the go, and a full-time job as well, so in terms of time and juggling these various bits and pieces, it seems more sensible to keep most of my content in one place.
I’ve imported some of the posts from over there onto this blog (WordPress has very cleverly imported the comment threads as well), and I’ll be making a few changes over the next few weeks over here to tidy things up a bit and make the blog here more hospitable and elegant. After that, new updates will largely be taking place here! The Myriad Things will stay as an archive for a while, and the site may transform into something else down the line, although I’m not sure what: after all, who can anticipate the many transformations of the myriad things?
I’ve just had a new piece published on Aeon Magazine about the I Ching, or Book of Changes, and about uncertainty machines. Have a look at the link here.