29 December 2007

Quotes from Dewey, Hoyt, and Freud

The achievements of the past provide the only means at command for understanding the present. ...The institutions and customs that exist in the present and that give rise to present social ills and dislocations did not arise overnight. They have a long history behind them. Attempt to deal with them simply on the basis of what is obvious in the present is bound to result in adoption of superficial measures which in the end will only render existing problems more acute and more difficult to solve.
Growth depends upon the presence of difficulty to be overcome by the exercise of intelligence.

John Dewey
--Experience and Education

Excerpts from a history of the Great Depression:

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching had investigated college athletics earlier in the year (1929) and found them to be the same across the country - "sodden with commercialism." Of 112 schools investigated, only 28 did not offer improper subsidies to athletes. But instead of hanging their heads in shame, many colleges defended their athletic activities. A Brown University professor attacked the foundation for meddling. ...The Big Ten's commissioner of athletics defended the practice of buying college players.
One telephone operator in one of the city's largest hotels wore a new sealskin coat. Her spending was typical. She was playing the stock market on a broker's margin account, and boasted neither a bank savings account, insurance, nor a penny in the world except what she earned from week to week. But would she take her profits and convert them to bonds, as President Hoover wanted her and all Americans to do? She would not even consider it, for the gambling fever had her, as it had a million other Americans. The fever had her and them in red-cheeked, bright-eyed frenzy.
For billions of dollars were lost that day, including those of the young telephone operator in the New York hotel who had invested everything she owned in her sealskin coat and in a margin account on the stock exchange. A hotel resident, unable to complete a telephone call that night, had gone to the switchboard himself, to overhear her talking to her broker, her voice breaking and eyes bathed in tears. All the telephone operator had left at the end of this Black Thursday was her sealskin coat and her job.
That night the relatives of Abraham Germansky, a wealthy real estate man who lived in Mount Vernon, New York, put in a frantic call to police to help them find Germansky. He had last been seen late Thursday on Wall Street, tearing up ticker tape and scattering it along the sidewalk.
Hunger was not debatable.

Edwin P. Hoyt
-- The Tempering Years (a history of America between 1929 and 1939)

It is clear that in their play children repeat everything that has made a great impression on them in real life, and that in doing so they abreact the strength of the impression and, as one might put it, make themselves master of the situation. But on the other hand, it is obvious that all their play is influenced by a wish that dominates them the whole time - the wish to be grown-up and to be able to do what grown-up people do. It can also be observed that the unpleasurable nature of an experience does not always unsuit it for play. If the doctor looks down a child's throat or carries out some small operation on him, we may be quite sure that these frightening experiences will be the subject of the next game; but we must not in that connection overlook the fact that their is a yield of pleasure from another source. As the child passes over from the passivity of the experience to the activity of the game, he hands on the disagreeable experience to one of his playmates and in this way revenges himself on a substitute.

Sigmund Freud
--Beyond the Pleasure Principle

27 December 2007

2007 book recommendations

The following list includes the books I've read this year that I enjoyed the most and that had the biggest effect on me. I give the highest recommendation to all of them, and I've bolded the top five.

Akhmatova, Selected Poems
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison
Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun
de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition
Frye, The Educated Imagination
Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics
Hamsun, Pan
Hamsun, Growth of the Soil
Hamsun, Victoria
Hardy, Selected Poems
Ienaga, The Pacific War 1931-1945
Krakauer, Into the Wild
McCann, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry
Petterson, Out Stealing Horses
Pieper, Hope and History
Rilke, The Duino Elegies
Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Steinbeck, East of Eden
Steinbeck, The Pearl
Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs

If you are interested in checking out last year's list of recommended books, click here.

24 December 2007

Quotes from Hamsun, Krakauer, and Campbell

He wanders eastward, toward the sun, he comes to a mountain. A voice calls: are you near a mountain? Yes, he answers, I'm standing near a mountain. Then the voice says: That mountain you are standing near is my foot; I am lying bound in the uttermost part of the earth, come set me free!


Later, when he came to think about it, he acknowledged that those hours had had a significance for him that no one could realize, and if it was true - as had just been said - that at times his writing sparkled, then it was his memories of that time that had kindled the spark; it was a reflection of the happiness his two playmates had bestowed on him in his childhood. For that reason they could claim a large share in his achievements.


But his days varied, the good alternating with the bad, and sometimes he would be working at his best when a thought, a pair of eyes, a word from the past would strike him, quenching his inspiration. Then he would get up and begin to pace his room from wall to wall; he had done this so often, he had worn a white path across the floor, and the path grew daily whiter....

Knut Hamsun

And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness.

Boris Pasternak
--Doctor Zhivago (quoted in Krakauer, Into the Wild)

Because I was alone, however, even the mundane seemed charged with meaning. The ice looked colder and more mysterious, the sky a cleaner shade of blue.


It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.

Jon Krakauer
--Into the Wild

The universal triumph of the secular state has thrown all religious organizations into such a definitely secondary, and finally ineffectual, position that religious pantomime is hardly more today than a sanctimonious exercise for Sunday morning, whereas business ethics and patriotism stand for the remainder of the week. Such a monkey-holiness is not what the functioning world requires....


A single song is being inflected through all the colorations of the human choir. General propaganda for one or another of the local solutions is superfluous - or much rather, a menace. The way to become human is to learn to recognize the lineaments of God in all of the wonderful modulations of the face of man.

Joseph Campbell
--The Hero With a Thousand Faces

22 December 2007

Quotes from the week's reading

I was in the grip of a strange and glorious flow of ideas, the heavens opened, it was a warm summer day for my soul, an angel proffered wine, I drank it - strong wine, which I drank from a garnet bowl.


Forgive me if I'm hoping too much, believing too much, it's so lovely to believe blindly for once.


Such is the nature of love. No, no, it is something different again, like nothing else in the world. It visits the earth on a night in spring when a young man sees two eyes, two eyes. He gazes, he sees. He kisses a mouth, and it feels as though two lights have met in his heart, a sun that flashes at a star. He falls in her arms, and for him the whole world becomes silent and invisible.

Love was God's first word, the first thought that sailed across his mind. He said, Let there be light, and there was love. And every thing that he had made was very good, and nothing thereof did he wish unmade again. And love was creation's source, creation's ruler; but all love's ways are strewn with blossoms and blood, blossoms and blood.


The days came and went: mild, lovely days filled with the bliss of solitude and with sweet memories from childhood - a renewed call to the earth and the sky, the air and the hills.

Knut Hamsun

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes form our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

--Chris McCandless, quoted in Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Civility dies with the death of dialogue.

--John Courtney Murray

Understandably enough, a direct relationship exists between out-group hostility and in-group cooperation. The more intensely the enemy is loathed and feared, the greater the loyalty and cohesion within the group.


A perversion is someone else's pleasurable excitement that you disapprove of. You may disapprove of it for sound reasons, but you are making a value judgment, not an objective statement.


Attachment to parents provides the emotional basis for later adult attachment and loyalty to leaders; while early dislike of strangers provides the behavioural and psychic paradigm of later adult hostility to "the enemy."

Anthony Stevens
--The Roots of War and Terror

18 December 2007

17 December 2007

Excerpts from the week's reading

-My friends and I listened to over an hour of Barack Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father on our way back from our road trip to Appalachia yesterday. As everyone in the car was a member of the University of Chicago cross country team, we especially enjoyed hearing a story about a game of basketball Obama played in Henry Crown Field House, where we practice every day. I'm two-thirds of the way through the audio book, and it is very good - it's on an entirely different plane than The Audacity of Hope, which is more of a vague, guarded political manifesto.


No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to know these mountains...One day's exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books.

--John Muir

Thousands of different things, from fine holiday weather to world peace, can be objects of human hope and are, in fact, such objects. Yet, once again, there appears to be only one single object that, by being hoped for, renders a person simply "one who hopes."
The aspect of Plugge's findings that is really worth thinking about, if also likely to surprise at first, seems to me to be his observation that true hope does not emerge and show its face until the moment when one's various 'hopes' are finally disappointed, fall to pieces, and lose their meaning - only then can "fundamental hope...most convincingly be grasped"; this is actually an opportunity offered by disappointment for the "purging of all illusory hope"; "out of the loss of ordinary, everyday hope arises authentic hope".

"Disappointment" is thus to be taken...as a "disillusioning" that frees from illusion (or deception). The illusion, the perhaps at first totally unavoidable self-deception, consists in our believing that the attainment of certain goods in the objective world, including bodily health, constitutes existential well-being or is at least necessary to it. ...Every deep disappointment of some hope whose object was to be found in the worldly sphere potentially harbors an opportunity for hope per se to turn, without resignation and for the first time, toward its true object....

Josef Pieper
--Hope and History

In (slavery) cases, time and again, the judiciary paraded its helplessness before the law; lamented harsh results; intimated that in a more perfect world, or at the end of days, a better law would emerge, but almost uniformly, marched to the music, steeled themselves, and hung Billy Budd.

Robert M. Cover
--Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process

We cannot remain uprooted from the earth for too long without losing our sense of what it means to be fully alive.

Fred D. White
--Essential Muir: A Selection of John Muir's Best Writings

The causes attributed to past wars by historians are not really causes at all, but merely the triggers that set them off.
If the psychodynamic investigation of our warlike propensity has any advantage over other approaches, it is that it gets closer to the core of the problem. It underlines the truth that wars do not begin in senates, parliaments, or military headquarters but in the minds of men. It demonstrates that the rational use of force for political objectives and the rational use of strategy to attain military goals are based on an irrational substrate in the human organism which makes military behavior an available resource at the disposal of governments, chieftains, tyrants, and warlords. On this foundation of unreason do our reasoned strategies proceed.

Anthony Stevens
--The Roots of War and Terror

Despair is the anticipation of nonfulfillment. There is also, of course, the anticipation of fulfillment, but that is equally at odds with the reality of our existence as wayfarers (viatores).

The one who hopes, and he alone, anticipates nothing; he holds himself open for an as yet unrealized, future fulfillment while at the same time remaining aware that he knows as little about its scope as about its time of arrival.

Josef Pieper
--Hope and History

11 December 2007

Quotes from Petterson, "Out Stealing Horses"

I don’t switch on the ceiling light at once but leave the room in twilight so the yellow flames in the stove flicker brightly over the floor and walls. The sight of them slows my breathing down and makes me calm as it must have done for men through thousands of years: let the wolves howl, here by the fire it’s safe.

But each time he came home he had changed a little, and I had to concentrate hard to hold on to him.

My father looked almost happy then, and I could see by the way he looked at me that I did, too.

And she waves briefly and slams the car door and it starts to roll down the slope. I go up the steps and turn off the yard light and walk through the hall to the kitchen. Lyra is at my heels, but even when she is behind me the room feels a bit empty. I look out at the yard, but there is nothing but my own reflection in the dark glass.

He is watching the news. I don’t know when I last watched the news. I did not bring a television set out here with me, and I regret it sometimes when the evenings get long, but my idea was that living alone you can soon get stuck to those flickering images and to the chair you will sit on far into the night, and then time merely passes as you let others do the moving. I do not want that. I will keep myself company.

‘Would you rather I hadn’t come?’ she says again, insistently.
‘I don’t know,’ I say, and that is also true; I don’t know what to think of her coming out here, it was not part of my plan, and then it strikes me: now she will go away and never come back. That thought fills me with such sudden terror that I quickly say:
‘No, that’s not true. Don’t go.’

So I get up. Six fifteen. Lyra leaves her place beside the stove and goes to the kitchen door to wait. She turns her head and looks at me, and there is a trustfulness in that look I probably do not deserve. But maybe that is not the point, to deserve it or not, perhaps it just exists, that trust, disconnected from who you are and what you have done, and is not to be measured in any way. That’s a nice thought. Good dog, Lyra, I think, good dog.

Per Petterson
--Out Stealing Horses (highly recommended; check it out here on Amazon.com)

10 December 2007

Belief isn't for the unimaginative; let kids see 'The Golden Compass'

The following editorial was published in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer:

I was thrilled to learn that The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, was going to be released as a movie on Friday. I read the trilogy first in middle school and again in high school, and it was my favorite story for a long time. It is filled with imagination and erudition, and it is a significant cut above the vast majority of works aimed at young adults.

But the story's greatest strength - its infusion with ideas - is as much a threat to pundits and "protect-the-children" types as it is a joy to readers. Pullman is an atheist, and the books reflect his negative view of organized religion. Some religious advocacy groups are, accordingly, up in arms over the release of the movie.

I have already received my first mass e-mail warning me about the dangers of The Golden Compass and advising me to keep my kids inside, with doors locked. The movie will, I am told, "kill God in the minds of children"; its objective is to "bash Christianity and promote atheism" and "sell atheism to kids."

But Pullman's real quarrel is less with belief itself than with the intolerance that organized belief systems sometimes foster, an intolerance demonstrated every time some busybody condemns a book without having actually read it.

There are a lot of sophisticated theological and philosophical ideas woven into the "His Dark Materials" narrative. The story speaks as positively about religious concepts such as soul, spiritual existence and love as it speaks negatively about intolerance and bigotry. It opens a window in the reader's mind and invites him or her to investigate all of these ideas further.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that "His Dark Materials" will threaten some readers' identities and beliefs. To listen to and take seriously alternative viewpoints is to make oneself vulnerable; it raises the possibility that our certainty is not as justified as we had thought.

Complaints about Pullman's books and calls for a boycott of the movie are based on several seriously flawed assumptions: that parents should shelter teenagers from views that don't seem in accord with those of the parent; that young adults cannot or should not think critically and engage in dialogue about serious ideas; and that imaginative fiction threatens religious belief.

In fact, great stories are the stuff of which religious belief is made. Literature shapes and expands our imagination, and imagination is critically important to our ability to believe.

In religious practice, for example, we are asked to internalize symbols, such as the cross, seeing them not as mere shapes or designs but as signs that point toward the infinite. We are asked to believe in unseen forces that never register on scientific instruments. We are asked to imagine ourselves as part of a human community larger than ourselves and our families, and we are asked to imagine our lives not as isolated, meaningless evolutionary aberrations but as part of a grander narrative of creation.

Belief is not for the unimaginative. If it were, perhaps religious wisdom would be passed down through history in some more concrete form than the symbols, stories, myths and parables we have inherited.

Parents who want their children to grow up with faith should take them to the fiction section of the local library or bookstore and give them free rein to explore. It is in literature that they will find the most convincing evidence for eternal things, and it is through exposure to literature that they will develop the imagination that belief requires.

Ryan McCarl is a masters student in international relations at the University of Chicago and a freelance writer. His blog is ryanmccarl.blogspot.com.