Monday, April 30, 2012

Whither the philosophical novel ...

Witold Gombrowicz

Martin Walser interviewed by Alexander Görlach on 'the old wound of lacking justification': 'The authors Franz Kafka and Karl Barth have quite a bit to say on that question.'

On Aussie radio, Alan Saunders interviews Henry Sussman about Kafka and philosophy.

Zdenka Pregelj on 'Kant's Aesthetics in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground'

 A Guardian list of philosophical novels. From 2010, Rebecca Goldstein's top five 'novels of ideas'.

Jennie Erdal's April 7 article on whether it's still possible to write a philosophical novel; a central European response. And James Ryerson's Jan., 2011 NY Times article on this topic (with much about David Foster Wallace).

Added May 1:  Daniel Kehlmann has a new play about Gödel called 'Ghosts in Princeton': 'The play is about the Viennese mathematician Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), who by age 24 revolutionized the logic of mathematics. ... Kehlmann follows the giant footsteps of Gödel and Adele on their journey from Vienna to Princeton. Breakthrough thinking, brilliant logic and a self-destructive rationalism characterized Gödel’s remarkable history.' (via Literary Saloon)

Milan Kundera in a 1989 interview (first published in Review of Contemporary Fiction): 'I’m not thinking of the so-called "philosophical novel" that really means a subordination of the novel to philosophy, the novelistic illustration of ideas. This is Sartre. And even more so Camus. La Peste. This moralizing novel is almost the model of what I don’t like. The intent of a Musil or a Broch is entirely different: it is not to serve philosophy but, on the contrary, to get hold of a domain that, until then, philosophy had kept for itself.'

Added May 1: From David Winters' review of Eli Friedlander's new book on Walter Benjamin as a philosopher: 'Friedlander advanced a similar argument in previous books on Rousseau and Wittgenstein, contending that these authors' "literary" inclinations—for instance, Rousseau's accounts of his personal reflections and religious reveries—are inseparable from their philosophical systems.' Winters adds, 'Friedlander claims that Arcades is a work of "philosophical history" whose style and substance are systematically interwoven. ... By reframing "the truth that philosophy has traditionally aimed at" as a matter of "the presentation of historical material," the project redefines philosophical practice as an activity grounded in concreteness.'

Ben Hutchinson reviews George Steiner's The Poetry of Thought: 'If the relationship between philosophy and poetry underlies much of Steiner’s work, The Poetry of Thought tackles the Arnoldian “and” head-on. From Parmenides and Heraclitus to Sartre and Heidegger, Steiner traces a typically ambitious arc through the history of Western thought, arguing that what defines philosophy is its manner as much as its matter.' Hutchinson adds, 'Steiner sees in Wittgenstein’s paratactic, aphoristic style a conscious attempt at “counter-rhetoric”.'

'[William] Gass is also a philosopher. He did his graduate work at Cornell after serving in the Navy for three years during World War II. ... The effects of his admiration [for Wittgenstein] are most evident in the nuts and bolts of his own prose style. He has made sure to weed out the cant and jargon from his sentences. But even more revealing is his handling of the evidence. It’s not just that every abstraction is matched to a concrete example; whether he’s writing fiction or nonfiction, Gass will connect an initial example to a second one, and from the second will derive a third.'

From an IEET blog, 'The Hierarchy of Exclusion in “Ender’s Game” — a starting point for thinking about personhood'

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Old Vienna

Three new Random House books are adorned by Klimt's art. First, there's Eric Kandel's new book: 'Kandel's key contribution to neuroaesthetics in The Age of Insight, Zeki says, is to focus on the work and milieu of three Austrian Expressionist artists: Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele, all of whom Kandel has studied extensively and whose work he and his wife have collected since the 1960s.'

Next, also featuring on its cover the painting of  Adele Bloch-Bauer, is Anne-Marie O'Connor's book about that portrait, The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. All Things Considered has a clip about this book.

Then there's Tim Bonyhady's book about his art-collecting, Viennese ancestors, Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900, on the cover of which is Klimt's portrait of Hermine Gallia.

Guy Cunningham on the new English translation of Oliver Matuschek's biography of Stefan Zweig, and Miranda Seymour on the same bio in the Literary Review.

Anthony Heilbut reviews Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters (trans. & ed. by Michael Hofmann): 'If you want a high literary experience, to be rocked between emotional extremes by a writer with perfect pitch in any realm, you won’t do better than this collection of letters by an impoverished alcoholic, who died with two bedraggled suitcases to his name.' Daniel Johnson on the same collection in the Literary Review. From Stefany Anne Goldberg's review of Roth's letters: 'The fact that these people, like Zweig, continued their relationship with Roth, bearing the constant criticisms which came attired sometimes in white gloves, sometimes in vitriol, is both a testament to their devotion and to their position in Roth’s life as intimates he could keep at arm’s length.' Here's Philip Hensher's review; and Tess Lewis'; and Adam Kirsch's; and, finally, here's Michael Hofmann on his collection of Roth's letters: 'Still, I like the idea of a sort of accidental biography, told in the subject's own words, the sort of book that isn't nine parts starch, that is always medias in res, and that doesn't begin with a date of birth.'

Update (April 8): Jonah Lehrer interviews Kandel about Age of Insight. (ht Man Without Qualities) The above clip is the audio for Paul Holdengräber's interview with Kandel at the New York Public Library.

'Fin de siècle Vienna was, in the words of Jewish satirist Karl Kraus, a “research laboratory for world destruction.” Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler agreed; his play, Professor Bernhardi, was one of the first plays in German to confront the rising tide of anti-Semitism in early 20th-century Central Europe.'

Albert Lichtblau on the Jewish population in Vienna (1848-1938): 'The tension specific to Vienna was not only characterised by a tradition of distance between the Jewish and non-Jewish population ... but also by ... economic as well as social and political crises. The short phase of relief for the Jewish population, as a result of the emancipation of 1867, was shattered by a massive economic crisis, which was followed by a fundamentally political one.'

Adele Bloch-Bauer from Sebastian Cosor on Vimeo.