Steve McGhee metro murder
December 30, 2012, 1:30 pm
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steve mcghee metro murder


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December 30, 2012, 1:24 pm
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the great American desert

broadway trafficIt’s not likely an American will care what a Frenchman thinks of his city or town, and maybe even less likely that a New Yorker will.  This holds true in the respective mythologies of what a Frenchman thinks and whether a New Yorker cares, but I tend to think people everywhere deep down care about what people think of where they live.

At the end of this post are notes written by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre on his impressions of Manhattan.  I suppose New Yorkers don’ t care, but they are good insights into the city.  They have inspired me to write my own ideas following:

To many of my friends New York is the ‘greatest city in the world’ – perhaps because they live there and they care about what people think of where they live, their relative life successes etc.  Others leave it behind for quieter, less aggressive places.  I’m still trying – four years into my sojourn here – to formulate an opinion of what New York is (while trying hard to skirt the temptation of accepting populist memes – greatest in the world etc. )

So far I’m struck by three ideas of New York:  its density, its privatism and its shopping – you’ll see evidence of all three when you visit.  For me, the idea of New York’s density is well described by Rem Koolhaas in the 1980s:

Manhattanism is the one urbanistic ideology that has fed, from its conception, on the splendors and miseries of the metropolitan condition—hyper-density—without once losing faith in it as the basis for a desirable modern culture. Manhattan’s architecture is a paradigm for the exploitation of congestion.

In a sense New York has taken the idea of proximity which is an essential attribute of a city – to social life, markets, resources, creative capital – and ramped it up to such a degree that the place may actually begin to look like a city on steroids or to not feel like a city at all.

My second idea, privatism can be seen in the avenues of New York:  ten of them that run north- south, often six or eight lanes wide, teeming with aggressive yellow cabs, sinister black SUVs and 24 hour goods carrier trucks, and with hapless workers and tourists making their way in endless streams across the avenues with trepidation when lights say it’s alright to cross.  New York’s avenues are basically freeways; you won’t see anything like them in any other non American major city in the world.  Here, like in America at large, the car is king and the drivers in New York routinely bully pedestrians and cyclists with their speed, horns and aggression.  Why privatism?   Continue reading

you can be delivered from a state of disquiet

greek marketplacePhilosophy isn’t an esoteric inaccessible pursuit; it is lessons that can have a very real affect on life.  Often philosophers write about simple reactions and observations to life’s problems.  Montaigne for instance – I just learned – wrote mostly about everyday almost pedantic and sometimes domestic topics.

In his book Exercices Spirituel, and excerpted below, the writer Hadot tells us how philosophy is a spiritual exercise.  How with practice it can turn isolated unhappy wrecks into reflective, meditative, flourishing souls.

From Exercices Spirituel:

[Ancient philosophy schools]

agree that man, before his philosophical conversion, is in a state of unhappy disquiet [un état d’inquiétude malhereuse]. Consumed by worries, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself [il n’est pas lui-même]. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself, and attain a state of perfection [un état de perfection].


we have forgotten how to read: how to pause, liberate ourselves from our worries, return into ourselves, and leave aside our search for subtlety and originality, in order to meditate calmly, ruminate, and let the texts speak to us. This, too, is a spiritual exercise, and one of the most difficult.

Pierre Hadot, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique (Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault)