‘American Philosophy: A Love Story’ By John Kaag


Within this relatively brief book (less than 250 pages) is a beautiful meditation on the evolution of American philosophy as a unique branch of thought, from Ralph Waldo Emerson through the 1920s, more or less. The conceit holding it together is the private library William Ernest Hocking, a once prominent philosopher who was deeply influenced by William James (the dominant figure in American philosophy, as this book sees it). The books in his library, discovered in a poorly climate controlled and slight dilapidated house in rural New Hampshire, cover almost the entire history of philosophy, but also religion and poetry, and illustrate how great American philosophers, like James, Hocking, and Emerson, and also others, like Josiah Royce and Charles Peirce, are both part of and outside of the main stream of western and world philosophy.

Wrapped around that excellent book is a depressing sort of autobiography about the author’s failing marriage and probable drinking problem (the former is sort of resolved – though he’s clearly a terrible husband; the latter feels like it’s sitting there, like a drunken turd in the corner of Hocking’s library). Kaag does not come across as very likable, but does come across as anxiously self- justifying. I have resolved to read more James and to read the copy of Hocking’s The Meaning of God in Human Experience that has been sitting in my library for far too long. I might also resolve to read some more academic books by Kaag, but not until the bad taste has faded.

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People I (Used To) Like Resigning Because Of Credible Allegations Of Sexual Harassment/Assault


The first time I saw Charlie Rose’s PBS show, it was that now famous interview with the late David Foster Wallace. While few interviews since rose (pun intended) to that level (mostly because few figures are as interesting, intelligent, and polymathematic [is that a word?] as Wallace), I still watched his show many times over the last two decades (though I never watched 60 Minutes). And now he’s gone for some truly heinous behavior. Not even run of the mill chauvinism, but some crazy creepy stuff.

Can we still rewatch that David Foster Wallace? How terrible am I for having some small part of me that wishes he could somehow continue?

Similarly, with Al Franken. He seemed less appealing in a moment that is crying out for the Democratic Party to nominate a woman and/or a person of color for president in 2020, but he once would have been among my favorites for the nomination. Progressive, pro-labor, outspoken. Also, he seemed tailor made to take it to the Party of Trump, née the Republican Party. And now? How do I feel? I don’t want him anymore. I can’t. But I still want to want him.

Egg Temple


We were obliged to come here because we had promised five hundred eggs if our prayers were answered. Actually, I think my mother-in-law promised. Or my better half. Clearly, I’m not sure. But someone promised in such a way that also sort of obliged me, so we all went.

I didn’t take pictures because this was not a tourist location, but a place for legitimate Thai supplicants and for people like my in-laws, who were fulfilling their end of an asked for boon.

You got flowers and incense and a candle and lit the latter two and place the incense in a sand filled brazier and the candles seemed variously left around. The flowers were placed in a large clay jar.

Wrapped around them when you purchased the flower/incense/candle package was a paper prayer and square of thin gold foil. The foil was pressed onto a Buddha covered in them in a room just beyond the incense and candle room.

The eggs were placed on a shelf when you did all this and when we were done, my mother-in-law instructed me to get them again. She left one behind and we took the rest, which were now blessed.

The Royal Crematorium


To my mind, the word ‘crematorium’ sounds industrial, but that’s the way it was translated into English. The remains of the late king, Bhumipol the Great, are not here, but my first impression would have been of a strangely joyous necropolis.

The construction of the place where the king remains are to be cremated was an elaborate process, with strict traditions. At the same time, the king had ruled so long that I doubt there was anyone involved in the process who had worked on it before.

I am not Thai, but I have learned to respect King Bhumipol. More importantly, that it is important to respect the love of the Thai people for him. The closest I can think of to explain the reverberations of his passing is that it combined the nationalist shock of the assassination of Kennedy with the spiritual impact of the death of the long-reigning Blessed John Paul II.

Empedocles On Etna


I’m going to admit that I am liking Matthew Arnold’s poetry better than I would have thought. I still have no desire to go back and re-read Dover Beach again, ever, for any reason, but if you’re willing to adjust yourself to the rhythms of nineteenth century verse (and Arnold, a traditionalist), then you can definitely enjoy him.

Empedocles on Etna, especially, I enjoyed.

While I won’t question Arnold’s knowledge of the classics, you still shouldn’t read him for a detailed and accurate understanding of Empedocles’ philosophy.

But, the worried friend (Pausanias) and the musician-cum-pastoral poet, Callicles following the melancholy Empedocles on part of his journey makes for a nice philosophical narrative.

Even after the suicidal Empedocles asks for quiet, he can still hear snatches of Callicles’ carefree poetry and music as he contemplates his own theories and the lack of job in his life. Arnold makes the philosopher’s decision a little bit political (exile having made him depressed), though he shifts back to the idea of someone maybe too smart for his own happiness (one can imagine Arnold thinking there’s a little Empedocles in himself, too).

If you like poetry, if you have immersed yourself in poetry, so that the style of Matthew Arnold isn’t foreign or anathema to you, you might enjoy it, too.

No, thou art come too late, Empedocles!
And the world hath the day, and must break thee,
Not thou the world. With men thou canst not live,
Their thoughts, their ways, their wishes, are not thine;
And being lonely thou art miserable,
For something has impair’d thy spirit’s strength,
And dried its self-sufficing fount of joy.
Thou canst not live with men nor with thyself—
Oh sage! oh sage!—Take then the one way left;
And turn thee to the elements, thy friends,
Thy well-tried friends, thy willing ministers,
And say:—Ye servants, hear Empedocles,
Who asks this final service at your hands!
Before the sophist brood hath overlaid
The last spark of man’s consciousness with words—
Ere quite the being of man, ere quite the world
Be disarray’d of their divinity—
Before the soul lose all her solemn joys,
And awe be dead, and hope impossible,
And the soul’s deep eternal night come on,
Receive me, hide me, quench me, take me home!