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Zachary Hale (Foster City, CA)
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The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault
The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault
by Alexander Nehamas
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 35.34
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, though not essential, June 23 2003
The subtitle SOCRATIC REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO TO FOUCAULT introduces ambiguity that I feel the need to resolve. It should be rendered--most properly--as REFLECTIONS ON SOCRATES FROM PLATO TO FOUCAULT as opposed to SOCRATIC-LIKE REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO TO FOUCAULT. First and foremost, this work is about Socrates, the interpretation and re-creation of Socrates, and [to a limited extent] the uses to which the fictional character Socrates (not saying that Socrates didn't ever exist, but the figure we have inherited is fictional) has been put by Plato, Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault. Those four figures (with the possible exception of Plato, are NOT the main focus of this work, but subsidiary).
What this book is NOT is a work and synthesis of the theme of the "Art of Living" from Plato to Foucault (as I had hoped). Nehamas's book is much less grand of a project than that--once again, a focus on Socrates and how he embodies the care of oneself. [Perhaps THE ART OF LIVING should have been made the subtitle of REFLECTIONS ON SOCRATES.] Nonetheless Nehamas's analysis is interesting (and would be more so, I imagine, if I were a classics scholar). His Nietzsche (a figure with whom Nehamas has a lot of experience) chapter is notable.
There is a little bit of explication of the "Art of Living" for Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault outside of the realm of Socrates, but not much. Nehamas focuses on a type of ethic, an art of living, a self-creation of one's life as a work of art, that he views as deriving (in some way, however nonlinear or even through confrontation) from the practice of the Socrates of Plato's early dialogues that results in a creation of a self that is not universalistic but that "only [Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault] and perhaps a few others can follow. They do not insist that their life is a model for the world at large" (10). This is interesting, but instead of going deep within each of the later figures that he studies to pull out the details of their projects of self creation, the "Care of the Self", the "Art of Living", etc, Nehamas focuses on their relationship to Socrates in regard to their project. It is only in this regard that I am disappointed.
I got a scholarly study when I expected a great synthesis. But, I guess a scholarly study is what this was supposed to be, though the title certainly is ambiguous.
Interesting, though--I argue--not essential, especially if you are familiar with Nietzsche and Foucault (the "ethics" part of his work near the end of his life). For someone interested in the classics, maybe it is important, but on that I don't feel qualified to pass judgment. (i.e., there is quite a bit of critical engagement with classics scholars like Vlastos)

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: A Novel
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: A Novel
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
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5.0 out of 5 stars An intellectual goldmine..., April 25 2003
This proto-existentialist novel features a main character (Malte) that is frightened by the possibility of faceless-ness; that is, he is terrified by the collapse of a coherent subject/identity in modernity. This work is highly critical of the traditional narrative where everything occurs in a logical and temporal order that is coherent and teleological. Through the character of Malte, Rilke illustrates the decay of such an understanding of one's self and the chaos that results.
Rilke read a lot of Nietzsche prior to writing this book, and many of the same themes Nietzsche contemplated in The Gay Science and Thus Spake Zarathustra are reworked by Rilke in this novel. It is my interpretation that Rilke was trying to work out a theory of modern, fragmented, existential subjectivity and then offer some way to make such a life livable. Rilke explores such themes as memory's transience, unpredictability, and instability, the role of a God in a world after the "death of God", and a dissolving of the conceptual categories between the self and the other, or the inside and the outside, all play into this fascinating book.
The book is written in notebook form, which plays into the notion of fragmentary identity and problematic narrative. Entries jump from the past to the present to imagined futures in an often random and chaotic order. There is no "plot" to speak of, although there are bits and pieces of narratives, but nothing sufficient enough to create a comprehensible 'Malte'. All the while, you are in the mind of a character that is trying and failing to make sense of it all (to 'impose' a narrative).
The later Martin Heidegger always lauded Rilke (despite Rilke's being too metaphysical) for being able to express ways of interacting with the world that were non-humanist. He was especially interested, and wrote significantly about, a passage (p. 46 in the Vintage paperback edition) where Malte imagines a house and its inhabitants from a single mutilated wall that is left remaining. I'm not too sure what his relation to the text as a whole was, so I'll leave it at that.
This book is an intellectual paradise and is rich in treasures as long as you are willing to look for them.

Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence
Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence
by Dale Peterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.85
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and fascinating, Oct. 24 2002
This book is a valuable piece of analysis (albeit popular-based) on the evolutionary biology involved with aggression from one of the top figures in the field of biological anthropology. Seeing as that Wrangham is an anthropologist, this work is much more valuable than a strict work of biology because he integrates and addresses, with the biology, themes from literature, philosophy, and critical theory. For the most part, this is a solid piece of work that is extremely enjoyable to read. For one that tends to enjoy reading mostly philosophy and theory, I certainly was pleased with DEMONIC MALES.
DEMONIC MALES is about a whole lot more than "just" violence/aggression. It provides a general introduction to the evolutionary thinking involved with biological anthropology and evolutionary psychology. However, I do disagree with him on much of his analysis/'refutation' of critical theory. Nevertheless, the viewpoints and the evidence presented in this book are important for anyone that works or studies in the social studies and even the humanities. Human evolutionary heritage does have a major impact on our current behavior, even if it is not as simple as strict biological determinism. The claim of "male-bashing" is simply absurd.
And, finally, Richard Wrangham is great. I am currently taking his "Evolution of Human Nature" course at Harvard. He's spent a great deal of his life working at various African sites studying the chimpanzee, and in this book he takes on the bonobo (a seemingly paradoxical great-ape, since it shows little aggression). Wrangham is very knowledgeable in the field, and his engaging personality shines through his work.

The Story of Philosophy
The Story of Philosophy
by Will Durant
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, July 11 2002
The title of this article is the perfect one to describe the fantastic nature of this book. Not only does Durant summarize some of the most important ideas of the past three millennia, but he does it with incredible style. He'll make you laugh, he'll make you cry, but most of all he'll make you think... Perhaps the most interesting parts of The Story are those concerning the lives of the philosophers. He does a great amount of analysis on the context of the development of the ideas within these thinkers - case studies that are insightful into the evaluation of certain concepts. Of course, it is not an infallible work. He doesn't cover Nietzsche with the fairness that he deserves; Durant misses many of the reasons Nietzsche is considered great and is well remembered and focuses mostly on the superman and the "death of God."
This may be a popular work of philosophy, but that does not discredit its merits for even the most knowledgeable of philosophy enthusiasts. The history of philosophy is too much for one person to ever handle by themselves, so such a interweaved "story" as Durant tells assists in providing a basic understanding of the evolution of thought...important regardless of what realm of thought one prefers - from rationalism, to romanticism, to idealism, to pessimism, to pragmatism, to post-modernism. After reading about each great mind, Durant's narration makes one sincerely saddened at the death of each of the philosophers and the great loss society suffered as a result.
Beautiful...

Notes from Underground
Notes from Underground
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.51
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Novella - Brilliant Criticism and Fantastic Tale, July 10 2002
This review is from: Notes from Underground (Paperback)
Notes from the Underground is divided into two chapters - one in which the nameless narrator speaks from the present, from "underground," and the other in which the failure, distress, and confusion of his life - in the past - is narrated Dostoevsky-style. Both parts serve as complements to each other, but the first part is undeniably profound.
The first chapter contains many fascinating notions, making it the most rewarding section of the work - the concept that consciousness is not necessarily a good which proves to be a critique of intellectual elitism (Why is it that someone that is mentally "challenged" is considered disabled and someone that has excessive intelligence is not, when both are impaired socially?), the delight in perverse suffering, the crippling inertia of excessive consciousness, a stunning critique of the Enlightenment and its utopian rationalistic thought, a assertion of free-will and individuality over scientific/materialist determinism, and much more. Much of it gets right into the issues that were popular at the time in mainstream European philosophy. He touches on such topics as rationalism, romanticism, German idealism, Hegel, the pessimism of Schopenhauer, etc. The ideas are fantastic, yet the narrator is constantly contradicting himself, asserting one existence as superior here and another later. Anyone of "excess consciousness" is likely to relate with this narrator more so than one would ever like. There is something strangely appealing in regards to characters like him, Raskolnikov, Hannibal, etc.
What is noticeably missing, which I would argue is for the better, is Dostoevsky's usual Christian worldview. I have just read that it was actually taken out of the book by the censors, as Dostoevsky actually had included his "Christian alternative" in the first chapter once the narrator had defeated his own ideas with his endless contradictions. I'm thankful for its absence because the ambiguity is what makes this novel so great. Likewise, Crime and Punishment was a fantastic and thought provoking novel, filled with plenty of critical theory and insights about human nature...until the ending in which Dostoevsky uncritically asserted his Christian dogma through the "salvation through suffering" of Raskolnikov at the hands of Sonya. I believe our nameless narrator would call that something that only happens in books.
This novel is fantastic, as Dostoevsky's usually are, and the narrative technique that he used to write this story is a fantastically effective one. This is not very long, nor hard to read...so certainly read it; it will not be a waste of your time.

Buddhism Plain and Simple
Buddhism Plain and Simple
by Steve Hagen
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.70
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good with the basics, awful with the concepts, July 8 2002
The introduction started off wonderfully...it captured the nature of the concerns of many people with (post)modernity. It then went through a fairly persuasive introduction of key Buddhist concepts framed for a Western mind. However, when it came to issues like denying of the self and the flow of existence, Hagen conceptually does not cover enough ground to make the explication adequate. In regards to the former - the denial of the self/individualism - Hagen results to repetitive assertions that are of no good to a critical mind. The second half of the book is almost useless; I threw it aside in disgust several times due to frustration at its lack of conceptual foundations. If you want a basic idea of what Buddhism is, this book might be right for you; but, if you want something that will explain Buddhist beliefs and especially such important keystones as the denial of the self, I would not recommend it.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce
Edition: Paperback
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Nicely Crafted, July 8 2002
This book was never meant to be exciting. If you are at all like Polonius as Hamlet describes, "he's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps," then A Portrait of the Artist is probably not for you. However, it is a wonderful piece of art which expresses the coming-of-age struggle like the best of them. Like most novels of this genre, the main character (Stephen) certainly has characteristics and struggles that everyone can relate with...although in this particular instance I would find it stunning if one related with him completely. Not only does it have narrative value, but the tale of Stephen mirrors the life of Joyce himself and thus can give any curious soul an insight into the inner struggles and development of a genius.
The stream of consciousness is not tough at all in this work and basically has the effect of portraying age, emotion, and train of thought. Note all of the references to sensation and color...from the beginning he shows the signs of an artist. There aren't frequent shifts in time like there are in Benjy's and Quentin's sections of The Sound and the Fury, although there are certain events that do replay in the present from the past.
This is a story of the struggle of a youth against orthodoxy - religious, linguistic, and nationalistic. The sermons given at the retreat are by far the finest part of the entire novel: rich with diction, imagery, and symbolism. Although I am not religious at all, the passages on hell still evoked a fear within me - which could only have been a glimmer of the full effect it had on young Stephen.
Joyce also articulates a philosophy of aesthetics through Stephen later on in the novel, which may more may not be meant to be Joyce's own. I am not going to explain it here, as it falls in with the flow of the novel.
Overall, this novel was enjoyable and artistic although the story was not significantly memorable. Read it as a prelude to Ulysses.

Waking Life
Waking Life

4.0 out of 5 stars Great film for having almost no plot, July 6 2002
This review is from: Waking Life (VHS Tape)
This film was never really meant to have a plot. Perhaps, it only has one so that you'll stay through the entirety of it. It is a college kid flick that concerns itself mainly with semi-random, semi-related ideas in a very schizophrenic manner. The reason for the four stars is that there is a series of mini-lectures/discussions about different philosophical problems in regards to existence/ontology, free will, consciousness, and language. They are ideas that can lead to some significant discussions of the type rarely, if ever, provoked by movies. The animation just adds to the enjoyment of the film as it seems to capture a Platonic form of the person rather than the specific entity, thus making the experience more universal. I recommend this movie to anyone that wants an intellectually stimulating film but I wouldn't recommend it if you care about a significant plot.

Our Posthuman Future: Consequences Of The Biotechnology Revolution
Our Posthuman Future: Consequences Of The Biotechnology Revolution
by Francis Fukuyama
Edition: Hardcover
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment, July 5 2002
I have to admit that I went into this book with great expectations about it from both reviews I had read and the interesting "Our Posthuman Future" title. However, the book was disappointing, and Fukuyama provides no insight that is not readily available in other texts. He attempts with his "Human Nature," "Human Rights," and "Human Dignity" chapters to assert that a system of natural rights is necessary for the future and that such as system concords with reality. However, he fails in his attempt to prove his metaphysic and in the end seems to profess a quasi-religious commitment to a romantic notion of humanity.
He seems to think that the genetic potential is such that we could change our "human nature" and thus threaten our humanness. This is a legitimate fear, but Fukuyama fails to analyze adequately why this is so and what possible implications that might have. He rejects reproductive cloning on the basis that it creates an unnatural family life, but his warrants are not very distinguishable from an adopted child or from a child that looks like their mother or father. His analysis can at times be extremely superficial as if he is just expecting some sort of a confirmation bias since 'everyone disagrees with cloning anyway.'
All in all, this is well researched as far as technologies go, but Fukuyama's attempt to establish a philosophical justification for his policy recommendations fails miserably. One of the biggest issues I have with his recommendation is that he calls for "institutions that can discriminate between good and bad use of biotechnology" and for a "regulatory framework to separate legitimate and illegitimate uses." He further elucidates that this means that one must "distinguish between therapy and enhancement." To be fair, Fukuyama does realize that this is an extremely difficult thing to do; but then he just brushes the concern off with some justification that it must be done anyways and that it is possible since doctors and agencies are currently able to determine legitimate therapeutic uses for Ritalin. However, what F.F. fails to realize (which he does assert in other parts, but there is no cross-application here) is that genetic manipulation is much more permanent that psychopharmacology is, and that the potential uses of prescreening and later germ-line engineering extend far beyond the potential that drugs have. The potential in this realm is an eradication of a certain trait deemed a "disorder" or a "health-risk," that could be in the end devastating to the future of humanity. Some people's genius lie in their abnormality and thus genetic technology risks a normalizing far more profound than institutional structures could ever provide. Fukuyama only lightly addresses postmodern critics like Michel Foucault in regards to the dubiousness of making distinctions between the normal and the pathological. He seems rather poorly read on the subject (for example, he cites the English translation of Foucault's "Madness and Civilization" - a horrible translation, and only a premature model of Foucault's actual thought) - I'm not accusing him of that necessarily, its just that he didn't give such concerns the attention they truly deserve. These are concerns that will have profound implications on the future of society.
In the end, I am left disappointed. The title of the work seemed to me to infer that this would be a much more critical perspective of the implications of biotechnology on social structures, ontology, and knowledge. But instead, the book turns out to be a rather popular-based analysis of technologies and a moderate policy proposal justified by an inadequately discussed moral system of risk to natural right. The most interesting parts of the entire work are the quotes (from Nietzsche and others) at the beginning of certain chapters.

Heart of Darkness: Great Books Edition
Heart of Darkness: Great Books Edition
by Joseph Conrad
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.83
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, June 25 2002
True, this novel is short, but do not let that take away from its splendor. The story itself is great, but the method of telling the story is far greater. Joseph Conrad illustrates a mastery of the English language rivaling Shakespeare (and English is his third language!)-- Marlow's narration of his tale and the tale of the haunting Kurtz expemplifies a brilliant and chilling depiction through imagery; never before has "darkness" carried so much connotation. I would strongly recommend this book to any soul that is enchanted by the artform of prose and desires to delve into some of the dark mysteries surrounding human nature -- the brute and primitive bestiality of man confronted with the isolation of darkness.

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