what books do

In first year uni philosophy, one of the essays we read was titled – does literature humanize? I went on to study literature for four years, and since then – decades ago – the question of the role of literature, now in our culture almost entirely sidelined, niggles.

In this video is a case for what literature does from the School of Life, and below are pulled quotes done by Brain Pickings. Reading literature opens new worlds, makes us sympathetic and human, offers comfort and companionship, and confirms the fragility and imperfection of life. This is a list based on the idea of the consolations of philosophy – a very powerful and necessary truth.

I also think that literature has a macro effect that isn’t as evident in this consolations view. For instance, could we say that as a humanizing agent, literature – and the humanities at large – is our most significant defense against intractable fundamentalisms and ideologies of control? I think so. Do we want a strong stand against the reductive teachings of some preachers, MBAs, cults, CEOs, mullahs, mobs, clubs, and isms? Try an educated population.

Literature frees us, yet some of the deans of our universities want to get rid of it, either because they don’t see the connection, or they’re not interested in the kinds of freedom the humanities engender and sustain.

Video above (duh) and the pulled quotes here:

    It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver — because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

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the stars are very near and bright
June 12, 2014, 2:46 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

 In Norm MacDonald’s online interview with Russell Brand they talked about sex and love. MacDonald, a Canadian, is a sad repressed 50 year old who clearly has had trouble throughout his life with loving. Brand is a Brit who has had many trysts and I suppose relationships too. MacDonald’s schtick is naïve bumpkin – the language of the repressed; Brand’s is erudition, the tool of the seducer.

Playing a naïve bumpkin is a trap: you’re put in the role by upbringing and then you are held there for life by your own fear. Freya Stark said, “the thwarting of the instinct to love is the root of all sorrow and not sex only but divinity itself is insulted when it is repressed. To disapprove, to condemn –the human soul shrivels under barren righteousness.” Teach me how to get out of the pit – MacDonald pleaded between the lines with Brand.

Here’s another example of erudite lover to help us dig our way out. Must read more love letters; and even better, must write more.

Come back. Because tonight you are in my hair and eyes, And every street light that our taxi passes shows me you again, still you, And because tonight all other nights are black, all other hours are cold and far away, and now, this minute, the stars are very near and bright. Come back. We will have a celebration to end all celebrations.

Excerpt of love letter by Kenneth Fearing, The Lost Art of the Love Letter, The School of Life


the conditions of love

In his book Love: A History, professor of philosophy Simon May makes a distinction between conditional and unconditional love.  Unconditional love is what we believe in today:  the selfless, giving prescription that is rooted in an arriviste secular theology of love is all.

Conditional love on the other hand – for which May is making a case – is messy, grounded, engaged and emotional; a personal longing and search for a place – embodied in a person – to call home.

Unconditional love – ungrounded and selfless – can cause us to want to be godlike, to have unreasonable expectations, and will erode away our relationships.

Here is May on the difference between conditional and unconditional love:

all love (very much including romantic love) is thoroughly conditional: it is a desire for one whom we experience as indestructibly grounding our life, as a harbinger of ‘home’; so that to see it as the opposite – as entirely unconditional – is to infuse our relationships with false expectations and so to sabotage them from the start.

Love’s tremendous capacity to give and to sacrifice arises not from ‘disinterestedness’ or ‘selflessness’, but precisely from the rapture we feel for those people who inspire in us the hope of such an indestructible grounding for our life. This is the rapture that sets us off on – and sustains – the long search for a secure relationship between our being and theirs.

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