Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Nietzsche’

Blissful Saturday

In Books, Nature, Philosophy, Reading on October 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I’ve been away all week and the only reading I accomplished was on the plane home from BWI, too tired to pay attention. I was just a robot turning pages. So, I determined that today, after the morning visit to the farmer’s market, I would place my backside in my favorite chair and catch up. It’s been three hours, ass planted in chair, and still going strong, but for this quick break. I’m inside of fifty pages to the end of Julian Young’s new biography of Nietzsche.  It has taken me one hell of a long time to get through this book, reminding me of reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I have an essay about this reading experience at The Nervous Breakdown, called The First Modern: On Nietzsche.

Next up, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Mountain Guide (9th edition). It’s fall in New England and we’re going to take in the foliage. I think we’re heading north, up to Rangeley, and I’m looking for a mountain to climb–a peak with a view.

Along that same line, Worried about getting lost? Then stick with me. Next up in arm chair, Staying Found (3rd edition), The Complete Map and Compass Handbook, from The Mountaineers Books. I became familiar with The Mountaineers Books a few years ago while preparing for a climbing trip to South America. At that time it was recommended that I get, read and study The Freedom of the Hills, the classic text for outdoor studies, now in its 8th edition. I want to sit for the Maine Registered Guide test next year. This, and a few similar texts, is my homework.

Lastly: Settled in the Wild, by Susan Hand Shetterly. I recently exchanged a few emails with an editor from Algonquin Books and wanted to become better acquainted with Algonquin titles. Chris at Longfellow Books suggested the book. I’ve read only a few pages, but have found it exquisite. Shetterly’s voice seems a mix of Annie Dillard and E.B. White, and is infused with the quality of serious chamber music. Stay tuned.

Okay, class, break over. Back to work.

A Pandemonium of Myths…

In Mythology, Philosophy, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom on August 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Nietzsche held that a problem of modernity is that the modern man (and woman) is a “mythless man.” As a result, we take the mundane and lift it to the glorious, making it “shine.” As Julian Young says, “the problem, in fact, is that too many things shine in modernity, and that their shine rubs off too soon.” He continues to cite cultural examples of what so cheaply shines. (You can fill in the blanks; it’s not hard.) As a result there is a “pandemonium of myths…thrown into a disorderly heap,” [Nietzsche]. We live, as Zarathustra puts it, in a “motley” town.

This resonates with me. It feels true and is at the center of a personal quest for authenticity. One effort, along these lines, is the rejection of the shiny.  Or at least a severe analysis thereof. Regardless of what shines, glamor, consumerism, materialism, personality, this, that and the other thing, so often–always?–the shine wears off. We live in a neo-Guilded Age. There is no sustainable myth. (David Foster Wallace wrestled with this theme in Infinite Jest, the idea that our energies are spent on the mundane, seeking addiction in something, so as to fill some nascent unrealized need.) A mindful challenge of the assumptions of modernity correlates with a minimalist approach to living–which brings me to the most emailed New York Time’s article of last week, But Will It Make You Happy? The piece takes a look at the growing American phenomenon at personal down-sizing. (Can you live with just 100 things?) I will not attempt to encapsulate the article. Read it. (I expressed similar thoughts on happiness and the gross domestic product in previous blog entries.) There is also a wonderful blog linked in the article which warrants consideration, a collection of musings  advocating “social change through simple living,” by Tammy Strobel, called RowdyKittens.

As the slow cooking movement began as an Italian reaction to a new Rome-based McDonalds, so might a minimalist, non-consumptive living movement gain purchase against the drive to the abyss which our species seems hell-bent on completing. To paraphrase a personal hero, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, We have marched to the brink of existence, now we have to turn 180 degrees and take a step forward. Backward is no longer backward. It is forward. Can we escape this motley town?

First Sentences – II

In Books, Writers on July 31, 2010 at 11:05 am

“The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.” ~ Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

“Suppose evil scientists removed your brain from your body while you slept, and set it up in a life-support system in a vat.” Consciousness Explained, Daniel C. Dennett

“Then there was the bad weather.” ~ A Movable Feast, Ernest Heminway

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” ~ Ulysses, James Joyce

“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.” ~ The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” ~ Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov

“The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.” ~ All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy

“Seeing that before long I must confront humanity with the most difficult demand ever made of it, it seems indespensable to me to say who I am.” ~ Ecco Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche

Da Capo

In Books, Creativity, Philosophy, Reading, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Uncategorized, Writers on July 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

“There is properly no history; only biography” ~ Emerson

My first choice of reading material is often biography. The biography holds everything: entertainment, knowledge, history, story-telling, insight, and possibly even wisdom. As best I can recall, the first biography I ever read was Mark Twain, though now that I think about it, I believe it was his autobiography, the genre-cousin of biography. I was in elementary school and I recall that it took a very long time to complete–I’m a slow reader. It was a big book written for grown-ups. And I wasn’t–grown-up, that is. I remember I had to write a book report and my teacher checked everyday on my progress, the book being thick and me being slow, and the report not coming when due, and the pressure, oh the pressure…

Young's Biography, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography

Young’s Biography, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography

As an adult I am still a slow reader and still a reader who loves biography. So it was that I saved up my pennies and sprang for the first new book (“new”: not a used book, or a library sale book, or a freebie review book) in quite some time: Friedrich Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography by Julian Young. Young is Professor of Philosophy, University of Auckland, and the book is published by Cambridge University Press. I was turned onto it by a glowing review by Francis Fukuyam in the New York Times Book Review.  Fukuyam includes this line:

“Whether we acknowledge it or not, we continue to live within the intellectual shadow cast by Nietzsche. Postmodernism, deconstructionism, cultural relativism, the “free spirit” scorning bourgeois morality, even New Age festivals like Burning Man can all ultimately be traced to him.”

I have always been fascinated by this enigmatic thinker. Here’s how the biography opens:

“Nietzsche’s greatest inspiration, he believed, was the idea that if one is in a state of perfect mental health one should be able to survey one’s entire life and then, rising ecstatically to one’s feet, shout ‘Da capo!–Once more! Once More! Back to the beginning!–to ‘the whole play and performance’. In perfect health one would ‘crave nothing more fervently’ than the ‘eternal return’ of one’s life throughout infinite time–not the expurgated version with the bad bits left out, but exactly the same life, down to the very last detail, however painful or shameful.”

This idea stops me cold.

…the meaning of doing a thing seriously…

In Creativity, Literature, Music, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on May 16, 2010 at 5:26 am

I was considering an application to grad school last week. I’m 54 and too old (or disinterested?) for school. Maybe. I dropped out of graduate school three times. That was many years ago, when the kids were younger. I think, really, I used them–the kids–as an excuse. Actually, I’m not very good at taking direction. I like to do what I want to do. I’m spoiled that way. And I have authority issues. Graduate school was too confining. But as I was explaining to a friend recently, I’m scattered, I’m all over the place and think some focus would serve me well. He took issue with my logic. He’s a recently retired academic, so he has some perspective. He argued that there are not enough people who simply are curious and pursue their curiosities, wherever they may lead. Academia is good at giving people direction, sometimes too good, he suggested. He has a point. I am a genius at self-imposed discipline. But I am a rebel at other-imposed discipline. I am curious and want to chase my curiosities down the rabbit hole. As I confessed, I’m spoiled that way.

I was saying, I was considering an application for a graduate program and one of the questions asked that I list my influences, intellectual and scholarly influences specifically. It was a good question. It gave me pause. I read a lot and always have. But, as I said, I’m all over the place. As an essayist, I’d have to list Montaigne, E.B. White , and Guy Davenport, as influences. Thinkers include Nietzsche and Thoreau. I’m a photographer too, and in that discipline I consider Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Eugene Smith as top drawer influences. Years ago, I studied classical music and counted Villa-Lobos, Sor and Segovia as influences. No matter the activity, I’ve attempted to recognize who has gone before me and learn from them.

Aside from the list making, the question gives one a chance to think about the meaning of doing a thing seriously–to write, or read, compete, compose, study, invent, discover–and how to measure that activity. If history is a progressive continuum, we are all subject to being measured against it. Has history made itself known personally? If you’re a photographer, whether you realize it or not, you take pictures with an established image-making knowledge. You’re a landscape photographer: Ansel Adams. A journalist: Cartier-Bresson, And so forth for all the disciplines. The application made me take notice of the voices whispering through the fog of the past.

For me, books are the most visual reminder of history’s influences. When I look at my shelves, the names and titles comfort me, like a friend’s hand on my shoulder. Above I used the phrase,  if history is a progressive continuum. When I see books on a shelf, or listen to a Beethoven sonata, history becomes the present, the wafer becomes the body and the wine the blood. If history is a continuum, I am, in these moments, one with it, one with the river in which I am wading. That is the nature of art. That is what makes a thing lasting and the opposite of the ephemeral. The influences of history, when we recognize and manifest them, cease to be passed. They become present. When we embody them, they are the end of history.

Up and at ’em.

In Dogs, Life, Nature, Philosophy, Thinkers on April 13, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I walk the Promenade every morning, specifically the Eastern Prom. It’s about three miles round trip. But it’s not about the exercise. It’s about morning. About air. And clearing one’s head.  Nietzsche said the best thoughts are those that come while walking. (Thanks to blogger-philosopher Phil Oliver for this reminder.) Speaking of philosophers, it’s said that the villagers of Königsberg set their pocket watches by the grand-old rational-man, Kant, making his daily rounds, so precise were his habits. (Supposedly he once forgot his walk. He was reading Rousseau’s Emile.)

It’s only come on me recently how I’ve grown dependent on these morning strolls. This morning the sun had just painted my bedroom wall pink when my eyes opened. I realized I’d missed the sunrise. I immediately was filled with regret, regretting not being up and alert as the sun rose over Bug Light. It’s not a good thing to feel regret before even lifting your head off the pillow, but that’s the way it was. I rushed to make coffee and head out before the morning was spent. Maggie doesn’t seem to share my early-rising enthusiasm. But she comes around and out we go.

I’m not sure how I feel about listening to music while I take these walks. My heart says I should avoid the distraction. But my head tells me that the Goldberg Variations (Gould)  in the morning can only be a good thing. It is classic, this battle between head and heart, and I think it is the essence of human existence. Sleep in or see the sunrise? Walk in silence or listen to the immortals reach forward through the ages’ mist. What to do? There is no correct answer of course, only the tension one experiences when answers are not forthcoming. Is that not the essence of the human condition?

This returns me to the land of thinkers. Schopenhauer said that walking is arrested falling. One would expect that from him. I think more about this–literally–since I had a hip replaced two years ago. Every step is putting the body off balance, trusting that it will recover before falling. My hip has caused me some problems lately and I’m not sure it’s working as it should. That is another matter altogether, except that it isn’t, another matter, that is.. What really is this condition of being human without surprises, pleasant or otherwise?  This is where the morning walks come into play. Everything works in the morning for me. I am fresh. The day is fresh. Maggie is running, nose to the ground. (There is nothing, I feel, more beautiful nor perfect than a dog running in the morning, astride a body of water, the sun rising.) I know that I am not going to fall down, at least not this morning.

I had a conversation with an old and close friend this weekend, a buddy I’ve know for thirty years. As guys with that degree of familiarity will do, in a bar with beer aplenty, we talked about life, where we’ve come and how the hell did it all happen so fast. We knocked around our joint desire to live more simply. It is a theme in the air, common and shared, it seems by a lot of people. (Perhaps we’re spent–morally, emotionally, fiscally, who knows?– and are reacting.) I think, I told him, I’m making progress on that front. He asked me specifics. I wish I’d told him of my morning walks. That is how it all started. That is when the best thoughts come.