Descartes – pothead?

May 13, 2010

Monty Python did a song about famous philosophers that included the lines:

Réne Descartes was a drunken old fart,
I drink therefore I am!

Now the real truth has been brought to light by that brilliant scholar of the great thinkers of the West,  Frédéric Pagès.  Monsieur Pagès, better known today for his championing of the thought of the forgotten philosopher, Jean-Baptiste Botul, wrote this book, Descartes et le cannabisPourquoi partir en Hollande in 1996.  All of France was celebrating the 400th birthday of the man who started modern philosophy, the one who coined its most famous proposition:  cogito ergo sum [I think, therefore I am.]

Well, what he should have said is, I think, therefore I know that I am, but that’s a trifle.  Of course, how does the I know that it knows, before the I has determined that it knows that it, the I,  is? Pretty obscure.

Pagès brings light to this dark murk by applying the Cartesian method to the mystery of why the most French of philosophers lived most of his adult life in Holland.  And why did this man change his residence practically every year?  The answer: cannabis.  Descartes was a dealer and toker. Amsterdam is the place to be for that.

This explains so many things.



The greatest philosopher who never was!

May 5, 2010

You don’t know who he was?  Read these posts

Et puis, achetez-vous votre T-shirt ici!  Or for you non-francophones,

Buy your T-shirt here!


Nieztsche and the Demon at Noon

April 30, 2010

One post here that has received a tremendous number of comments is my statement about why I think Nietzsche is an overrated thinker.  The fury of many of the comments surprised and amused me.  I might also add, it confirmed me in my opinion of the great philosopher.

Those who disagree, and who have a sense of humor, should read this book by J.B. Botul (Frédéric Pagès), the celebrated “hoaxer” who fooled Bernard Henri-Levy.  Et voilà!

Adolescent j’ai dévoré ses livres.  Certains anti-nietzschéens prétendent d’ailluers que c’est un philosophe pour adolescents…J’avais de cet homme l’image d’un héros, d’un chevalier glorieux marchant d’un pas résolu vers la conquête du monde par la seule force de sa pensée.

As an adolescent, I devoured his books.  Some anti-Nietzscheans claim elsewhere that he is a philosopher for adolescents.  I had an heroic image of this man, a glorious knight marching with a firm step towards the conquest of the world, with only the force of his ideas.

I am reminded of the character in the comedy film, Little Miss Sunshine, the teenager under a vow of silence, who is always “devouring” the pages of Thus Spake Zarathustra.

 


What’s on a philosopher’s mind?

March 2, 2010

When I posted my thoughts on why Nietzsche is an overrated thinker, little did I know that it would evoke such a reaction.  I believe it has gotten more comments than any other post of mine, and some of them are passionate, to say the least.  Well, who says people don’t care about philosophy!  I continued my application of the biographico-critico method of philosphical analysis by weighing in on Ludwig Wittgenstein – was he a phoney?  Not so many reactions there.  Ludwig is not a pop cult figure.

In my Whiner post, I justified my method with this passage:

Look, I know that personal details of biography are not supposed to be the substance of intellectual critiques, but the fact is, a lot of intellectuals develop their complex systems to work out their personal problems. (Wittgenstein was another.) I suspect that for many, their intellectual systems compensate them in some way for something they feel they lack, but that’s my speculation. Some people compensate with serial murder, pedaphilia, adultery, greed, or generally unpleasant behavior: intellectuals do it with ideas.

My delight knew no bounds when I received confirmation and support for my methodological approach in this brilliant passage regarding Immanuel Kant’s metaphysics, written, of course, by Jean-Baptiste Botul, in his groundbreaking work, La vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant. Botul is discussing the fear of “loss of self” that infects many thinkers, and its impact on Kant, as well as his preoccupation with the ability of the mind to grasp the ultimate nature of things, the “thing in itself.”

Un remède contre cette perte: construire une enveloppe.  Les philosophes appellent ces cocon système et consacret leur vie à le tisser.   C’est un remède contre la fragilité.  Tous les philosophes qui en bâti des systèmes ont vécu dans un intense sentiment de fragilité et de précarité.  Spinoza, Kant, Hegel:  ils n’ étaient rien socialement, il leur faillait un toit et des murs, une cuirasse des concepts.   . . .

Il est temps d’en parler, et particulièrment de cette chose en soi, das Ding au sich, la chose qu’elle est réellement, que Kant appelle le  noumène, qui existe mais dont nous ne pouvons rien prover.

Curieuse théorie de la connaissance!  Comme si la science avait affaire à des «choses», des objets permanents, stables.  La science moderne n’étudie pas des «choses» isolées mais des relations, des flux, des champs, des systémes.  Il y a dans la noumène  kantien un fétischisme de la «chose» étonnant.

La Chose, c’est la Sexe.  C’est evident.

Once again, I call on my imperfect translation skills to bring this work to a wider, Anglophone audience:

There is a way to prevent that loss:  construct a protective envelope.  Philosophers call these cocoons systems, and devote their lives to weaving them.  It is a protection against fragility.  All the philosophers who build systems have lived with an intense sense of precariousness and fragility.  Spinoza, Kant, Hegel:  they were never sociable – they built for themselves a roof and walls, a breastplate of concepts.  . . .

We must now speak of these concepts, particularly of  “the thing in itself,” daas Ding au Sich, the thing that is reality, which Kant names noumena, and that exists despite our not being able to prove it.

Curious theory of knowledge!  As if science is concerned with “things,” permanent and stable objects.  Modern science does not study isolated “things,” but the relationships, fluxes, and fields of systems.  There is in the Kantian notion of noumena a stunning fetishism of  “the thing.”

The Thing – it is sex.  It’s obvious.

So true. What else could it be?  Such wisdom.  Bravo Jean-Baptise Botul!


Kant – Dylan – Botul!

February 26, 2010

In an earlier post, I chortled about the gaffe of BHL citing the non-existent philosopher, Jean Baptiste Botul, founder of the philsophical school, Les botulistes, and his book The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant. Thanks to the silly Monsieur BHL for leading me to Frédéric Pagès, the brilliant satirist responsible for it all.  His book on Kant is, as one reviewer called the author of another book of parody that I adore, a work of “gob-smacking genius!”

Consider this:

Quatrième Causerie

DES GRILLONS PLEIN LA TÊTE

Le Dégoût de Vivre:

Ne soyons pas dupes de sa vie apparemment tranquille.  La régularité de son emploi du temps et la montonie de cette vie studieuse cachent des aventures épouvantables, des excursions aux confins de la folie.  Les monstres rôdent.  Les lubies kantiennes sont une camisole de force qu’il s’applique héroiquement pour ne pas bascule dans l’immonde.

Inventé-je?

My best effort at translation:

Fourth Presentation

A HEAD FULL OF CRICKETS

Disgust with Life:

We must not be duped by his [Kant's] apparrently tranquil life.  The regulated way he spent his time and the monotony of his life of study hides frightening adventures, voyages to the edge of madness.  Monsters prowl there.  Kantian ideas are a straight-jacket that he made for himself in a heroic effort to keep from falling into the filth.

Am I making this up?

All this about a man, the apex of Englightenment, nay, Western philosophy, who had habits so regular and dull, that you could set your watch by his schedule of walking around the castle grounds of his university town.  Monsters prowl there, indeed!

The brilliant humor of this parody is that it appears to take on the corpus of Kant’s philsophy, but with only one question in mind:  Did he or did he not have a sex life?  As one who has dipped into biographical material on Wittgenstein and Nietzsche to make some critiques of their work, I was mightily amused!

And the connection to Dylan…you may ask as J. P. Botul rhetorically asked in the passage above, “Am I making this up?”  The phrase, a head full of crickets has, by my reading, the same sense as Bob Dylan’s well known lyric from Maggie’s Farm:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
Well, I wake in the morning,
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane

It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

Kant as tormented, alienated artist?  Oppressed and unappreciated Everyman?  Venture no further – monsters prowl there!


Botulism

February 10, 2010


Philosopher Left to Muse on Ridicule Over a Hoax:  Bernard-Henri Lévy, France’s most super chic intellectual, a founder of the New Philosophers movement in the post May ’68 reevaluation of Marxism seems to have put his foot in his mouth.  In his latest book, he cited The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant, an actual book (You can buy it, but only in French) supposedly written by Jean-Baptiste Botul, developer of the philosophical school of  the Botulists, who is actually the fictional creation of a well known French philosopher and satirist, Frédéric Pagès – here’s his blog.

Unlike the foolish dupes of the brilliant Sokal hoax, in which a professor of physics at NYU published a bogus and incomprehensible paper in Social-text and was roundly denounced by its fans for showing that the emperor was naked, Mr. Levy reacted with relative good grace.

“It was a truly brilliant and very believable hoax from the mind of a Canard Enchaîné journalist who remains a good philosopher all the same,” Mr. Lévy wrote in an opinion piece. “So I was caught, as were the critics who reviewed the book when it came out. The only thing left to say, with no hard feelings, is kudos to the artist.”  [see NYTimes link above]

However, being a talker, and a talker, and one who lives by being a talker, he couldn’t keep from…talking too much:

Appearing on Canal+ television, he said he had always admired The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant and that its arguments were solid, whether written by Botul or Pages. “I salute the artist [Pages],” he said, adding with a philosophical flourish: “Hats off for this invented-but-more-real-than-real Kant, whose portrait, whether signed Botul, Pages or John Smith, seems to be in harmony with my idea of a Kant who was tormented by demons that were less theoretical than it seemed.” [Times Online]

Words, words, and words, to cover up the foolishness in his blizzard of words.  In other words:  It doesn’t matter that I credulously believe fake stuff that is written for fun – including accounts of German emmigrants forming a colony in Paraguay to live by the metaphysics of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason – they agree with me!

Get your J.P. Botul T-shirt here!


Superman at Canterbury?

January 17, 2010

Was Thomas Beckett, murdered archbishop of England, a Nietzschean Superman?

Despite my raging Anglo-philia of boyhood, I never saw Beckett (1964) with Peter O’Toole as HenryII, and Burton as Thomas Beckett, his Chancellor, and then archbishop of Canterbury.  Based on Jean Anouilh’s play, it is the story of an intense friendship between two men who understand power a little differently.  King Henry, a bit of a spoiled child and also a lonely soul, rages at the stuffy imbecility of his courtiers, but he takes his royal job seriously, and he has no intention of ceding royal power to anyone.  Nay, he wishes to increase it.  Beckett, his friend, his servant, then his chancellor, seems to be happy to go along for the ride, the food, the girls, but he knows that he has a tiger by the tail, and he knows how to keep himself safe when he is so close to the live wire of absolute power.

Then Henry makes a mistake – he makes Beckett the head primate of the Church in England, thinking he will then rule heaven and earth, with his friend a pliable and cooperative bishop.  Beckett is transformed by his new position, and finds the higher vocation that has eluded him thus far – he commits himself to the defense of churchly principle against secular power, driving his former companion to his wits’ end.

This was a central conflict played out during the Middle Ages again and again:  sometimes the brute kings won, as when the French king kidnapped the pope and dragged him off to ‘Babylonian’ captivity in Avignon, bringing on the Great Schism; and sometimes the Popes won, as when Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire was reduced to waiting in the snow at the door of the papal palace in Canossa.  The State lost this round – Henry’s thuggish courtiers murdered Thomas while at services, thinking they were doing the king’s bidding.  Henry did severe penance, Beckett was quickly made a full-blown saint.

Both characters in the play are motivated by the ‘will to power,’ and their different allegiances.  Henry is left to rule the miserable earthly realm, while Thomas, standing tall while he is murdered without resistance, triumphs in true Nietzschean-Jesus fashion, over the pigs who think they can really kill him.  His person becomes venerated, and he casts his spell for centuries over England and its kings.  Good thing too, or we wouldn’t have gotten the Canterbury Tales!  He knows what he’s about:  His last words as he dies are, “Poor Henry…”

Of course, when one thinks of Richard Burton, one cannot help thinking of his on again, off again mate, Elizabeth Taylor.  As a very young boy, I asked my mother who was Elizabeth Taylor, and was told, “She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.”  Well, maybe so…

Finally, back to Chaucer, Beckett, and Canterbury, sort of…  I post here what I think is the most hilarious pastiche from an amazing book, The Holy Tango of Literature.  (Earlier post here and the text online here.)

CARRY HUGE COFFEE
anagram of GEOFFREY CHAUCER

In tholde dayes of the towne Seatel,
Of whos charmes Nirvana fans yet pratel,
Al that reyny land fayn slepen late.
Thus ofte a sutor failled to keepe a date;
And werkers reched offices at noon,
Noddyng of although the sunne shoon;
Husbondes were too tyred by the eve
A staf for plesyng wyves to acheve.

Now to this citie in a languor stukke,
Came a fair knyght cleped Sterrebukke,
Beryng benes from a forein land
Ygrounde to a poudre in his hand,
From which a potent brew could he deryve
That causeth wery peple to revyve.
Whan word aboute his draghte hadde sprede,
To his shoppe the custumers al spedde
Til everich veine felte a rush of blood,
With humours boyed upward by that flood.
Soone men who herd the crowyng cok
Wolde rise withoute cursyng at the clok,
The thoughte of facyng daylight not so bleke
With coffey bryngyng roses to the cheke
And helpyng them to holde their swords alofte
And shethe them before they falle softe.

Sterrebukke so bygan to thynke
Of other ways to selle the same drynke.
With stemed milk and sprenkled cynamone,
’Twas fit, he sayde, for kynges on the throne;
The capuchino joyned thus his wares,
As wel as mocas, sweter than eclares,
And lattes riche in creme, ofte fresen
And beten to a froth in sumer seson,
And tall espressos armured with cappes
To stoppen scaldyng spilles into lappes
As may hap when one is in a hurry
Upon a pilgrymage to Caunterbury.


Halt, Dynamos!

April 4, 2008

A Dynamo

Do not work harder than required to work,
Young men should sit around and drink all day;
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Though poor men may apply to be a clerk,
Because their jobs are not exciting they
Do not work harder than required to work.

Rich men, who sell and buy, eat at Le Circque,
And take their “business trips” to Saint-Tropez,
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Old men around retirement age who lurk
At desks and hope no tasks will come their way
Do not work harder than required to work.

Smart men, in school, who learn with blinding smirk
That coasting through a class still earns an A,
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

Don’t visit every world like Captain Kirk;
Picard knows that the bridge is where to stay.
Do not work harder than required to work.
Laze, laze, ignore the pressure not to shirk.

From Holy Tango of Literature, by Francis Heaney, one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. The author takes the names of great figures in English literature, makes anagrams of their names ( “holy tango” is an anagram of “anthology”) and provides hilarious pastiches of their work. Halt Dynamos is an anagram, if you didn’t guess, of Dylan Thomas, and this is a spoof of one of his best known poems, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.


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