Review: ‘A Greater Music’ By Bae Suah

The unnamed narrator, who admits to writing this book (most books written in the first person don’t actually, to my memory, admit that, yes, they are writing a book or something or whatever) is a Korean woman of undefined age (though probably in her twenties) who tried to learn German by living in Germany and who evinces an interest in cold, Teutonic places.

There is no plot; it is the narrator slowly trying to work out the end of a relationship with a woman M (never named beyond that initial; everyone else gets a first name, but no surname). The book begins with her visiting a sort of boyfriend named Joachim who is best described as the opposite of M. Not just that he’s male, but that he is often self consciously anti-intellectual (M being an intellectual of sorts; a writer and researcher on and lover of classical music) and blue collar laborer. It’s not clear how she met him. When other romantic incidents are noted, the other person is a woman (a woman named Sumi, who reminded her of M; and an Icelandic woman who approached her, mistaking her, she said, for her ex-girlfriend).

It took time to hook me, not in the least because it took time for the narrator to finally, honestly grapple with M. As the partner of someone who immigrated to the United States, I also felt sympathy for the challenge of the narrator needing to break things off with M because, well, she couldn’t stay, not legally.

Would I recommend it? I suppose I would. If you like slow, slightly dreamy, yet also quotidian books operating almost but not quite in stream of consciousness style, you might like it. Best I can offer. Also, it’s quite short.

Jefferson On Philosophy

This is, more properly, about my having finally finished my little collection of Thomas Jefferson’s writing (with a short, mostly hagiographic biography at the very beginning). I have, of course, been chronicling those things which struck me upon reading. I have also been putting this down for many other books, including many about Jefferson himself. Despite my wrestlings, he still occupies my mind, rent-free. Something he has really done since I was a young child and my mother took to Charlottesville, Virginia and up the mountain to see Monticello. She preferred the simpler beauty of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, but the erratic intellectual cacophony of Jefferson’s home stayed with me.

So what should I say about this book? I don’t know if the selected letters, which constitute the greatest part of the book, are the best selection possible, but I enjoyed them.

I can say that Jefferson is a fine writer. He has the belle-lettres excellence of the best eighteenth century scribblers and the clarity of the his English and Scottish Enlightenment influences (Locke, Hume).

I can say that he grew a bit resentful in his old age, with the late Alexander Hamilton still receiving approbation two decades after Burr’s ball felled him.

I suppose that I can say that I will continue to read his writings and writings about him.

And, that while not a philosopher, he might have made a fine one, except that his mind wandered towards too many other things. No matter. He has done enough to be remembered, loved, reviled, and revised without a philosophical magnum opus.

I do not think that it is a coincidence that the most obviously philosophical moments are from letters written later in life, when he stepped back from the business of being a revolutionary and a politician.

That said, in 1803, while president, he writes to Dr. Benjamin Rush about a conversation that they had in 1798-1799, before the contentious presidential election of 1800 about Jesus and moral philosophy. He begins to outline the ideas that would come to truest fruition in his ‘edited’ version of the Bible, but roams, comparing Jesus to figures of classical philosophy like Socrates, Epicurus (Jefferson, in other letters, suggests that he is an Epicurean), Epictetus, Cicero, etc, to the purpose of sketching out a moral philosophy (not theology) of Jesus.

He later writes explicitly about his sense of Epicurean philosophy.

Then, towards the end of his life, he wrote to John Adams and lays out an explicitly materialist epistemology (despite bad mouthing Hume and points, the Scotsman would have been proud, though its probably closer to Locke).

But even in the last case, the original topic or, at least, the topic which most directly led to his philosophical musings are religious ones. You cannot escape the conclusion that he is a Deist (in one letter, he praises the Unitarian Church for dispensing with the whole Trinity thing), but also that he ultimately considers religion to be a philosophical topic, rather than an issue of faith.

Harry Crews In The Little Free Library

The late, great Florida writer, Harry Crews has been mostly forgotten, but here you can see his greatest (in my mind) work, Feast of Snakes. Seriously. Read it.

Jefferson On Epicureanism, In A Letter To William Short, October 31, 1819

In a letter to his friend, mentor, and former professor (from his days at William & Mary College), the Scotsman and an, by virtue of his teaching of Jefferson, important evangelist of the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment in American, William Short, Thomas Jefferson sums up his interpretation of the Epicurean philosophy:

Syllabus of the doctrines of Epicurus

Physical. – The Universe eternal.
It’s parts, great and small, interchangeable.
Matter and Void alone.
Motion inherent in matter which is weighty and declining.
Eternal circulation of the elements of bodies.
Gods, an order of being next superior to man, enjoying in their sphere, their own felicities; but not meddling with the concerns of the scale of being below them.
Moral. – Happiness the aim of life.
Virtue the foundation of happiness.
Utility the test of virtue.
Pleasure active and In-do-lent.
In-do-lence is the absence of the pain, the true felicity.
Activity, consists in agreeable motion; it is not happiness, but the means to produce it.
Thus the absence of hunger is an article of felicity; eating the means to obtain it.
The summer bonum is to be not pained in body, nor troubled in mind.
i.e. In-do-lence of body, tranquility of mind.
To procure tranquility of mind we must avoid desire and fear, the two principal diseases of the mind.
Man is a free agent.
Virtue consists in 1. Prudence. 2. Temperance. 3. Fortitude. 4. Justice.
To which are opposed, 1. Folly. 2. Desire. 3. Fear. 4. Deceit.

His description of how the gods interact with humanity does not just reflect the ideas of Epicurus, as we know them, but also deism (which, I would argue, reflects the beliefs of Jefferson and Washington, at least, among the Founders; though it is not typical of the mostly staunchly protestant thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, but rather of the French Enlightenment; of course, that greatest of all figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume, was almost certainly atheist).

‘Devils In Daylight’ By Junichiro Tanizaki

The gleeful eroticism of an early scene, when the narrator (and reader/audience stand-in) looks through a hole in a wooden wall and sees the back of a woman is simply delicious. He can, he says, count the soft, fine hairs on the back of her neck. The whole feeling is heightened by the feverish nature of the novel, driven partly by the more than slightly unstable trust fund man-child who drags the narrator into the mystery.

The ‘mystery’ moves so quickly, that there is no time, really, to puzzle it out. We depend on the deductions of our friend’s fevered mind and his musings on the sexual perversions of women that drive them to kill (we really do get a front row seat to his obsessions).

You may have noticed that I put the word mystery in inverted commas earlier. That’s because it is not a mystery, but a very freaky psychosexual drama wherein a man is willingly conned out of all of his money in order to participate in his thanotic/erotic desires.

Very, very weird.

The Murder on the Links: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

My mother loves Agatha Christie and I was raised on the Masterpiece Mystery broadcasts of BBC shows featuring Ms. Christie’s most famous creations, Miss Jane Marble and the admirably mustachioed Belgian, Hercule Poirot. Though, I must now confess, this was my first Poirot novel.

Rather than dig deeply into the mystery, I will remark upon something that struck me: Murder on the Links directly posits Poirot as the anti-Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is never mentioned, but is unsubtly referenced several times.

Near the beginning, Poirot notes that he has no knowledge of different kinds of cigarette ash nor any interest in learning the subject. In A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes mystery, the great detective notes that he recently wrote a monograph in types of cigar ash. The contrast is made clearer when a French stand-in for Holmes, a French detective, Giraud, appears. He is deeply interested in (physically) small clues, a la Holmes. Poirot shrugs away his crawling on the ground, looking for dropped matches and cigarettes and focuses on his non-Sherlockian technique of psychological investigation into witnesses and suspects.

Of course, this is a misrepresentation of Holmes, who was as keen an observer of people’s minds and motivations as he was of physical minutiae. But it was interesting to see Ms. Christie tackle her rival head on (and also to see an example of Bloom’s theory of anxiety and influence).

Some Peace Made, Some Peace Not

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson responded to Benjamin Rush’s letter suggesting rapprochement betwixt him and John Adams exactly two hundred years before Baiboon was born?

Which is important, but not exactly what first struck me.

While praising his erstwhile friend turned rival, he manages to get in a totally unnecessary dig at the late Alexander Hamilton of recent musical fame.

Another incident took place on the same occasion, which will further delineate Mr. Hamilton’s political principles. The room being hung about with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them were those of Bacon, Newton and Locke, Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: “The greatest man,” he said, “that ever lived, was Julius Caesar.”

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, January 16, 2011

‘TekNet’ Or, The Series Ends

It’s the end of an era.

Well, actually, the era ended almost a quarter of century ago. But this is the last Tek novel. I suppose that since the television show ended a few years before this final book came out, Mr. William Shatner decided it was time to wind up this project. But, heaven help me, I find myself wanting more. Maybe I need to watch the show.

I was nervous about this one because, years ago, I read that Jake Cardigan, the usual protagonist, didn’t appear in TekNet, that it was all about his partner, Sid Gomez. But they both appeared, though Gomez continued a process, begun several books ago, of becoming the real lead (there seemed to be, a while back, an aborted effort to make Jake’s teenage son the next in line, but he was boring, so I’m glad that didn’t happen).

Gomez is problematic, being a bit of stereotype (and also being the target of many ethnic insults tossed by bad guys and passers-by), but he is also much more interesting than Jake at this point.

Without bothering to tell you the story, I will say it revolves around one of his (many) former wives. At the end, he cut ties with her, but acknowledges to his partner that she was very special to him. Near the beginning, Jake was also dumped by his girlfriend on account of not truly being over the love interest who dominated the first couple of books, which felt like the series reverting to ‘canon,’ if that makes any sense. So it did all feel like a decent place to stop, even if I wish it hadn’t.

Review Of ‘Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, And The Rise Of Contemporary Art’

Boom was a nice counterpoint to Warhol, so I’m glad my library holds arrived in such close succession.

Andy Warhol actually appeared prominently in the book and one of the most interesting insights was how much the largest dealers actively worked to make his work valuable in the years after his death.

But though they are a major part of the book, Boom is about the dealers and gallerists, not the artists. And it provided a nice, reasonably in depth, chronological history of major galleries (mostly American, mostly beginning in New York City), beginning just after World War II and continuing up until very nearly the present day.

Of course, the present day, this time of plague, feels so different, so even 2019 can feel like a different world. But, for at least some perspective, the sections on how major economic downturns affected the art market provides possible the best view on how it will emerge from… whatever this is.

Cicero On How We Know The Gods Exist (And An Implied Epistemology)

For the belief in the gods has not been established by authority, custom or law, but rests on the unanimous and abiding consensus of mankind; their existence is therefore a necessary inference, since we possess an instinctive or rather an innate concept of them; but a belief which all men by nature share and must necessarily be true; therefore it must be admitted that the gods exist. And since this truth is almost universally accepted not only among philosophers but also among the unlearned, we must admit it also being an accepted truth that we posses a ‘preconception,’ as I called it above, or ‘prior notion,’ of the gods.

Cicero, De Natura Deorum