Tuesday, October 09, 2007

[I] Who urges me to think how?

Bob from Brockley (who might or might not be a relation of Robin of Locksley), started a conversation in which he invites a few bloggers to share with him and others the writers/thinkers most influencial upon their politics. Being of a contentious nature and a self-styled centrist, I don't have any political allegiances per se (unless you consider being an Israeli and living outside of Israel makes me a Zionist of the Lobby notoriety). Therefore what I will suggest here as my primary resources for ethical thinking and the examination of self and others are not political but literary and philosophical in nature.

I will list the five authors who influence and guide my thinking, not in any order of priority:

1. Martha Nussbaum:

“I do not go about fearing any and every catastrophe anywhere in the world, nor (so it seems) do I fear any and every catastrophe that I know to be bad in important ways. What inspires fear is the thought of damages impending that cut to the heart of my own cherished relationships and projects. What inspires grief is the death of someone beloved, someone who has been an important part of one’s own life. This does not mean that the emotions view these objects simply as tools or instruments of the agent’s own satisfaction: they may be invested with intrinsic worth or value. They may be loved for their own sake, and their good sought for its own sake . . .. [Nonetheless], the emotions are in this sense localized: they take their stand in my own life, and focus on the transition between light and darkness there, rather than on the general distribution of light and darkness in the universe as a whole.” (From: Upheavals of Thoughts")

2. Hannah Arendt:

"For solidarity, because it partakes of reason, and hence of generality, is able to comprehend a multitude conceptually, not only the multitude of a class or a nation or a people, but eventually all mankind. But this solidarity, though it may be aroused by suffering, is not guided by it, and it comprehends the strong and the rich no less than the weak and the poor;”

“Measured against the immense sufferings of the immense majority of the people, the impartiality of justice and law, the application of the same rules to those who sleep in palaces and those who sleep under the bridges of Paris, was like mockery” (
From: The Vita Activa)

3. Anne Carson:

“ He sometimes saw language-death as a more universal problem: The tendency of meanings to “burn out” of language and to be covered by a “load of false and disfigured sincerity” is one that he here ascribes to ‘The whole sphere of human communicative means”. (Writing of Paul Celan, in "Economy of the Unlost")

4. Jane Austen:

"Where any one body of educated men, of whatever denomination, are condemned indiscriminately, there must a deficiency of information, or... of something else." (Mansfield Park)

5. George Orwell:

“..it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything ..our language… It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. … the English language.. becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.” (Politics and the English Language )


At 11:27 PM EDT, Blogger ModernityBlog said...

you did it so quickly, I found that hard :(

At 11:35 PM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

You know how the study of a talmudic page takes place? Not that I ever studied a page of the talmud (sadly) but I read about how it is conducted. It is done by questions and answers. The students come up with the questions, the rabbi tries to answer them.

I once read a story about the rabbi who told his students: I have such a wonderful, perfect answer; if only someone asked the right question...

Bob just happened to ask the question I was ready to answer for quite some time now:-)

At 5:09 AM EDT, Blogger bob said...

Great list - of course. I figured Arendt would be on it, and Orwell was no suprise. I have to confess I didn't really know much about Anne Carson before - but now I will make sure I know more. Thanks!

At 5:14 AM EDT, Blogger bob said...

P.S. Feel free to tag 5 more bloggers - or not!


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